Days of Tolerance in Europe, November 9-16, 2008
Speech by President of European Jewish Congress and Russian Jewish Congress Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor at the Joint Press Briefing with Chairman of ECTR Aleksander Kwasniewski
With my big pleasure I welcome all of you to participate with us today in the event at the European Parliament and I have to report to you that this is a very important day to all of us.We are completing the first five-year cycle of commemorating program. We use our tragedy is a base to understand how to move in future, how to help Europe create a society ready to face challenges of the 21 st century.
But before moving to the future, we have carefully examined the lessons of the past. That’s why we made a very strong commemorating event together with our dear friend and colleague President Aleksander Kwaśniewski. The first event took place in Krakow to commemorate 60 th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation. Presidents from fifty countries participated in it. Then we organized together in Babi Yar for the commemoration of the tragedy of so-called “hidden” Holocaust – the Holocaust of Eastern Europe, where in five thousand places in Europe other three million Jews were mass murdered.
Finally, yesterday we commemorated in the Great Synagogue of Brussels the 70 th anniversary of die Kristallnacht – the start of the tragedy, which was not identified as a lesson for the humanity. This lesson not identified in time caused a problem. The problem is called the death of six million Jews, about 10 million Germans and what is very important – about 14 million non-Jewish and non-German lives. It means observers in number paid the largest price.
What do we see today? We see the same things. Not identified lessons. We see that so-called problematic countries, not involved in any international treaties or agreements, are trying to have nuclear weapons. It’s dangerous not only for their neighbors – like Russia or Israel – it’s already dangerous for the whole Europe, taking into consideration the means of delivery they have in their possession. I am the president of the Luxembourg Forum on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe, where we have the best sixty experts in the world taking care about the prevention of the nuclear catastrophe, we can say to you openly today that they have already the first experimental nuclear bomb; I am speaking first of all about Iran. They have it already. They don’t have the constant technology to produce bombs one by one, but they do have their first bomb. Should we wait for new lessons, for new victims of somebody’s ambitions?
No, I don’t think so. That’s why we propose to construct a building of protection – and not only for protection, it is a building for constructing a future society for innovations in Europe, for any type of innovations. This building is called tolerance and reconciliation.
The Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation, and my dear colleague President Aleksander Kwaśniewski will tell you about this, this body will come today with the initiative how to organise real steps to promote this thing. I’ll tell you very shortly my own attitude to this project.
Tolerance is not like a pill with immediate effect –you take a pill and you wake up next morning completely tolerant to your neighbours and to immigrants from other countries. Not at all. It is a very long process. This thing is very interesting. How many years will it take us to educate a first-class specialist in nuclear physics? 20-25 years – from kindergarten to university and PhD. The same thing with tolerance. It’s a very complicated program, with directions and sub-directions.
I can tell you a secret. We tried to make a program for one of the countries – one of the biggest in Europe. And we tried just to list only the agenda of the future work – without contents, just naming the directions. Four hundred page document about legislation, governmental acts, non-governmental activities, civil society, migration, culture and of course media (together with Internet)! But only with this routine and very complicated approach we can reach the result without genetically engineering future generation.
We believe – and that’s why we started this work – that this goal is achievable, and this goal will be achievable only if in the base of this building is a triangle of countries – united Europe, Russia, and the United States.
Your opinion on anti-Israeli propaganda:
Ives Leterme, the Belgian Prime Minister has recently pronounced a very interesting formula – anti-Israeli attempts are just attempts to hide anti-Semitism. We agree with this. It is very important. We share this position. We will do our best and will follow our own directions to deliver the product we promised to you today, to put on the table. We will pay attention to negative effects we always have around the corner. But we do not care about this. We understand that this world is the world of competing ideologies, of competing ideas. I think that after many years of experiments we found with the help of all our programs a very good product to be delivered. This product is tolerance of the society, tolerance and reconciliation of the society. It will be very pragmatic. I appreciate the position of the Council on Tolerance, because this Council is the council of wisdom and experience. It’s not the council of former presidents and prime ministers. It is a council of the integral experience and wisdom. This is very important to understand. That’s why we rely so much on this Council which will be able to support initiatives which are very much demandable in Europe.
Your view of the current state of tolerance in Europe
I want to share with you a few words about the ideas we took into consideration creating the concept of the White Book. It should not criticize somebody or something. We have enough critical literature. We do not say that such publications are not important – they do their business. But we want to do something very positive. It’s like a list of achievements in different directions. We appreciate any kind of positive movements in the sphere of tolerance and reconciliation, any types we can imagine. We want countries to compete between themselves to be included into the Book and promoted by it and with the support of the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation.
You asked a very important question. Do we, the Jews, feel more comfortable in Europe today, seventy years after die Kristallnacht, as compared with post-WWII period? The answer is no. We feel much worse than after WWII. We have a shortage of historical memory – the disease of any civilization, including civilization of the 20 th and 21st centuries. What politicians and governments are allowed today in Europe – we could not imagine ten or twenty years ago. This is the case. The number of Neo-Nazis and pro-Nazis in Europe is bigger than the number of the Jews. It’s the same in almost all European countries. The problem is in banalisation and trivialisation of these issues. We often hear opinions like this: “Why are you speaking about anti-Semitism? Why are you speaking about the Holocaust? It should be in the books of history. Let’s turn the page – let’s speak about identity, integration, etc.” And at the same time we see destruction of our tombs, neo-Nazi books, neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic newspapers on a regular basis. Governments tolerate this. It is a new effect, the effect that again we came to the level of shortage of historical memory, and it’s very symptomatic. If we examine in detail the period in which die Kristallnacht happened, we’ll see that it was exactly in the time of economic crisis in America. It’s a very interesting moment, because after die Kristallnacht there was another test for the humanity: the story of St.Louis liner. Hitler – a very careful politician, sent 1,000 Jews to Cuba with Cuban visas – practically to nowhere, because during the trip visas were cancelled. Nobody accepted the Jews, especially they were not accepted in the first part of their journey, they were not accepted by America. The vessel was in Miami marina, but it was not accepted. Why? Because America was in crisis. American businessmen and American society didn’t want to take care about Jews, because they wanted to collaborate with the developing economy of Germany. What do we see today? I have already told you how many companies collaborate with the criminal regime of Iran. 5,000! The turnover of European companies collaborating with Iran is 100 million dollars. Today we are facing the economic crisis again. So we are obliged to say: we are in danger. Not only Jews. The world is in danger! But as history teaches us, all programs usually start with Jews. Because we still don’t have our country – in Europe. Thanks G-d we have the State of Israel, it’s our biggest insurance – which we didn’t have 70 years ago. So, today the world is in danger, and we should be extremely careful today with all these triggers and challenges in front of us.
About hate materials spreading from the U.S.
Yesterday one of the journalists asked me a very interesting question: Do we accept if somebody physically or in some other aggressive manner forces somebody to be tolerant? It’s a really interesting question. And we say: yes, if it is legal. If it is according to the legislation in this very country, according to national law. The greatest expression of Talmud says that every Jew in every country in case of danger has a priority of national law in comparison with Torah. It’s the foundation of survival. It is a very deep thing. But the regulation of Internet today is not sufficient. This is a big question of legislation. If we want to have a tolerant society, we should start with legislation of Internet. But not before – we cannot punish anybody in so-called “manual” regime. It should be systematic and only in compliance with legislation.