Past Events

Days of Tolerance in Europe, November 9-16, 2008

Address by the Chairman Of European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation Alexander Kwaśniewski at the Special Event Promoting Tolerance Throughout the European Continent

Ladies and Gentlemen!

Let me start by saying how delighted I am to be able to address a gathering of so many outstanding politicians in the heart of Europe, in the European Parliament. I have been here several times before in the capacity of the President of Poland. Today I stand before you just as a European citizen, a former politician who has dedicated part of his political life to the matter of tolerance and reconciliation. I am pleased that these efforts brought me here again to speak to this audience.

Europe is becoming increasingly diverse and multicultural. Western Europe experiences that for long decades, the new EU member states are just starting to experience it stronger. But all of European citizens have still to learn how to cope with that challenge. And it is obvious, that the most certain and most effective fundament that allows both human groups of various cultures as well as different individuals to coexist with one another is tolerance. Tolerance, that is respecting the right to be different, the right to one’s own nationality, customs, language, faith or views continues to be a valuable stance. It ensures harmonious coexistence, especially in the situations when people of different nationalities and cultures meet in the same territory, cooperating in furthering common economic or social goals, as in our Union. As it was put by the great Pole, Pope John Paul II “the one and the other…. so never the one against the other.”

There is no doubt that such a model requires an active virtue of tolerance. As to be tolerant does not merely mean to tolerate, bear other people, their different culture or religion. Tolerance is something more. It is friendly opening up to the different, it is getting interested in the world, curiously, but also tactfully. We must not allow true tolerance to be replaced with casual indifference and passivity. This passivity has after all various faces. One of them is the consent to evil. History has taught us that not only immediate evil, but also passivity and indifference towards evil is a moral offence. We remember well – on the 70 th Anniversary of the Kristallnacht – what has happened in Europe just few decades ago. We all know what were the results of indulgency for the criminal march of fascism on the part of democratic countries and societies. We can only imagine how many lives would have been saved if the world had adamantly stood up to fascism in time.

Today we can see more clearly than before what dangers can be brought about by adopting a permissive attitude towards troubling and pathological phenomena, that in the future might become sources of unpredictable conflicts and tragedies. We must not be indulgent to hot spots where hatred, xenophobia and racism emerge. We must not ignore the fact that young generations do not know what intolerance can lead to and who do not know what Auschwitz-Brikenau was about. And we must not remain indifferent to the phenomena which are the breeding ground for the most dangerous plague of our times, that is terrorism.    

Ladies and gentleman,

Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said, and I quote: “Those who desire to treat politics and morals separately will never understand anything of either of them.” I have always did my utmost to be a honest politician. And an honest politician can summon his courage to say unpleasant things. But in so doing he will not strike up the pose of a preacher. He will pinpoint a problem – and offer a solution instead. And this is exactly what the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation - a new European NGO – is going to do. The Council which I am honored to chair gathers distinguished representatives of the civic society in Europe. Among us are such personalities as Vaclav Havel, Goran Persson, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Jose Maria Aznar and others. The members of the ECTR have all proven with their past and current activities the importance of remembering the past, reconciling nations, promoting tolerance, combating racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia today in Europe.

Moshe Kantor said just a few minutes ago that what we need today is to create firewalls that withstand the fading memory. There could be many such firewalls. Education, legislation, economic and social development, freedom of speech, strengthening solidarity and the feeling of security. And – last but not least - reconciliation between peoples and nations, a process that still has a long way to go on the European continent, especially in its Eastern part and in the Western Balkans.

And the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation wants to contribute to the efforts of establishing such firewalls. One of these concrete proposals is the draft of a European Framework Convention On Promoting Tolerance And Combating Intolerance. Some may say – why do we need a new legal act on Tolerance? In fact, a number of documents have been adopted in the past dealing with specific forms of intolerance, mainly relating to racial bias. However, there is no convention document to cover all forms of intolerance. This constitutes a deficiency in international humanitarian law, a deficiency of our European legal basis. The necessity of such a document is clearly evidenced by the escalating manifestations of intolerance in the past ten years and their increasing threat to society. Extremists can often freely diffuse the poison of intolerance, creating an atmosphere of impunity for various forms of extremism. Thus the Framework Convention is designed to give definitions of tolerance and intolerance, reveal the dangers of religious and racial intolerance, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, nationalism and direct the introduction of national legislation to punish every act of intolerance. The Framework Convention goes beyond calls to fight intolerance and aims to create a system for fostering tolerance based on the intercultural dialogue.

Another projected initiative of the ECTR provides for monitoring the level of tolerance in European states with periodical publication of an White Paper on Tolerance. Many reports in Europe and beyond generally focuse on emphasizing negative facts of intolerance. Rightly, but not sufficient enough. In contrast, our White Paper will emphasize the positive experiences and a spirit of competitiveness in promoting tolerance. It will provide a platform for politicians, scholars and members of society to express their attitudes to pending or eventual challenges and suggest ideas for public discussion. It will be used to promote Tolerance, proliferate it, give inspiration and provide good examples for all institutions and NGO’s in Europe.

Both documents will be available for you after our event here is finished.

Ladies and Gentleman,

It is obvious that official political declarations, even the most beautifully sounding ones do not erase with a single signature or vote the prejudices, animosities and grievances accumulated in human minds. Therefore I strongly believe in the role of leaders and politicians to overcome barriers and to show the ways. Therefore I call on you, European Parliamentarians to bear a special responsibility for promoting Tolerance by concrete means and actions, and to support all initiatives in this regards, also the adoption of the European Convention on Tolerance. And I am sure that thanks to our solidarity and common action we will prevail in building a European house of our dreams.

Thank you for your attention.