Address by Viatcheslav Kantor, President of the Russian and European Jewish Congresses at the Memorial Event on the Occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day
Central House of Writers (Moscow), January 27, 2009
Today is a day of mourning. It is a sad day when we commemorate the tragedy of our fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, the tragedy of our families and friends. January 27 is a day that connects our past to our future.
The Holocaust was the first-ever attempt to destroy an entire nation. It was a failed attempt – today the number of Jews in the world is reported at slightly below the pre-Shoah level. But do not imagine that the danger has passed. We must always remember those who perished to forewarn those who live of the possible recurrence of the tragedy.
A virus of the disease called xenophobia is still in the air, and it has infected many people. Xenophobia gives rise to wariness and fear which further mutate to enmity and hatred and lead to aggression, attempts to put blame on “others” – those who have a different religion or nationality – and then to get rid of those “others.” Our past has seen all this. The future may see this tragedy recur yet again.
Over the last few years we have organised a number of large-scale international initiatives aimed at telling the story of the past tragedy – the Shoah – to forewarn this generation of the dangers. Holocaust remembrance forums under the common slogan – Let My People Live! – were held in Krakow in 2005 and in Kiev in 2006. These were landmark events in preserving the Shoah memory. The Kiev forum revealed that we should move further, that only by learning the science of Tolerance and Reconciliation can our generation live in peace, free of hatred and aggression, as Tolerance is the driver for human development and innovations in all spheres of life – technology, the humanities, economics and politics. Tolerance helps us overcome our fears and accept and understand those who are different from us.
When we speak about tolerance we do not see a finished product, an endpoint of our efforts. We say that tolerance is a long and hard journey. A journey from the Holocaust, the culmination of intolerance, to total reconciliation. We have to develop a roadmap that will enable us to stay on track. We have to travel this journey to the end.
The 2008 European Week of Tolerance linked Brussels, Prague and Kaliningrad, and commemorated 70 years since die Kristallnacht. This event jump-started a new initiative aimed at promoting tolerance and reconciliation throughout Europe and was backed by top European politicians, including the leadership of the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. The gala event of the European Week of Tolerance was a memorial evening commemorating die Kristallnacht in Kaliningrad, arranged by the Holocaust Centre and Fund with the support of the Russian Jewish Congress. It is the first time the federal government has supported such an event in Russia. President Dmitry Medvedev sent a welcome address to the participants.
What we did during the European Week of Tolerance had a deep meaning: we built a bridge between the past and the future, and this bridge is the tragedy of our people. Europe heard our message. The leaders of Russia and the European Union backed our initiative. The public is waiting to hear our future proposals and to see our future efforts.
We must remember that tolerance is not good intentions. Tolerance is specific action.
I am glad we are making this journey together.