The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, Nikos Dendias, opened the Symposium on “Combating Racism and Hate Speech: Lessons from the Holocaust” which has been hosted on September 30, within the 2021 Athens Democracy Forum, in association and with the participation of the Greek Presidency of the IHRA and Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center. In his welcoming address speech Minister Dendias mentioned the following:
“It is a great honor and a pleasure, if I may say, to address the Athens Democracy Forum. I am particularly pleased to welcome the participants at the Symposium “Combating racism and hate speech: Lessons from the Holocaust”. The significance of this event is manifold:
• It commemorates the eightieth anniversary of the massacre at Babyn Yar, in Ukraine; A massacre, which signaled the turn of the Nazis’ “Final Solution” towards the murder of millions of innocent people across Europe.
• It is also the contribution of the Athens Democracy Forum and the Democracy and Culture Foundation to the Greek Presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) for 2021- 2022.
• Finally, it is an important milestone on the thread running throughout the IHRA Greek Presidency, that is “Teaching the Holocaust, for a World without Genocide”. This will culminate in the closing events, in February and March 2022; hopefully in physical form, COVID of course permitting.
COVID, in a way, is the elephant in the room; not only because it has played havoc with almost every international event during 2020 and 2021; but also because it reminded us how, even the most advanced and sophisticated societies, can fall prey to: misinformation, hate speech and conspiracy theories.
We had always felt, we have felt it in our bones, that our societies might be vulnerable to such evils, even before COVID; we have now witnessed it firsthand.
This is, therefore, what makes such events important: They allow us to take stock of facts and data and measure them against the effectiveness of the policies we have implemented. It is also a way to warn the various promoters of hate, racism and strife that we have not lowered our guard; we have not lowered our defenses. That our defenses are strong. That we are on the alert.
In this context, we have built over the years:
• Dedicated international organizations, such as IHRA;
• An in-depth investigation of what happened in the dark years of Nazism;
• A huge body of solid (social) studies on the Holocaust; not only on the victims and the perpetrators –“Hitler’s Willing Executioners”, as Daniel Goldhagen rightly branded them–, but also on our societies as a whole.
We did believe that it was unthinkable that this could happen. But the unthinkable did indeed happen. This is the reason why we can never say: “our work is done”.
In 1945, Democracy’s triumphant Armies gave the hate-mongers of the time a lesson they would never forget. Yet, neo-nazi criminal groups attempt to reappear; in our world; in our own countries; selling their own deadly merchandise once more. And while they remained in Greece a fringe group for many years, they grew in popularity over the years of the economic crisis.
The response, as you are aware, and my personal commitment, was firm. Such criminal gangs that denied crimes against humanity and continue to propagate neo-nazi ideas have no place at all in Greek society.
Those who, even today, attempt to poison with their repulsive ideas and actions the younger generations, have to be fully aware that their efforts will fail. Our institutions and our societies are resilient, and they will remain vigilant, if those ideas try to resurface.
May I be allowed to reiterate here, today, what I said in the Greek Parliament on 24 August 2012, addressing the Golden Dawn at the time in Parliament. I told them: Storm troopers will not be tolerated. Not then, not now, not ever, never.
We are here, to counter their despicable actions with reason, with firmness and having faith in our democratic institutions.
Let Athens, Democracy, Holocaust and Remembrance, those four words that frame today’s event, to be our guiding light in our efforts; For the memory of the victims; For our children’s future; For generations to come.
Thank you so much.”