IHRA Chair Ambassador Chris Lazaris welcomes delegates to IHRA Athens Plenary 2021

“Excellencies, Heads of National Delegations, IHRA Colleagues, Dear Participants,

Welcome to Athens!

I do hope the video you have just viewed has enticed you to visit the “City crowned with Lillies” as the ancient tragedians called her, by yourselves and not just virtually. Incidentally, the name refers to Athens’ spectacular sunsets, that can best be savoured from atop the Acropolis.

Apart from the sunsets and the Acropolis, Athens, together with Corinth and Thessaloniki, is also home to the first Israelite community on European soil and this from the time of Alexander the Great, 23 centuries ago. The Community is always here, as rock- solid as the Acropolis itself and I am really happy to salute several of its members and dear friends, among the participants in the Plenary.

At any rate, the pandemic is on the way out and soon we shall be able to organize events in physical form, including the second Plenary at Thessaloniki, in November. So you will have a second chance at getting a taste of Greece, unless, of course, you decide to have a vacation in our country before.

Coming now to the work at hand:

The challenging developments over the past year, during a global pandemic have meant the IHRA needed to take on additional tasks. These include addressing the digital turn in remembrance, the question of online education about the Holocaust, as well as the increasing Antisemitism and distortion of the Holocaust both online and offline. I find it particularly troubling, that during the recent events in Gaza, there were a few countries where even high officials seized the opportunity to vent their deep-seated national or personal antisemitic prejudice.

I am pleased to see that the Working Groups and Committees are working hard to address these issues. These are issues which the Greek Presidency has also highlighted as its priorities, as can be seen from the events already undertaken, from its start up to the present day and by the projects coming now on stream.

We are united in our continuous commitment to a fact-based approach and to ensuring the truth prevails, both today and for future generations.

Our experts have already started working on some tools to help in this effort. This includes the Guidelines on Terminology by the Committee on the Holocaust, Genocide and Crimes against Humanity, as well as the Recommendations for Teaching and Learning About the Genocide of the Roma, which is being supported by the IHRA’s Member Countries.

I am confident that both these important resources will help us tackle distortion in the field of the Holocaust and crimes against humanity, as well as in the field of the genocide of the Roma.

As to ongoing and future IHRA Projects:

After the delays encountered in 2020, IHRA Projects are about to make great strides in 2021. Motivation is high and great results are expected throughout the year. As was seen with the IHRA Recommendations for Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust, engagement in projects from all across the IHRA network is crucial to making an impact and driving success.

We therefore look forward to hearing from the different IHRA projects both at this Plenary and at Thessaloniki. I would urge all IHRA delegates to take advantage of these meeting opportunities and to participate so as to deeply root these projects in the IHRA community.

With reference, in particular, to the Global Task Force Against Holocaust Distortion, may I remind the audience Holocaust distortion remains a priority of this Presidency and we look forward to working closely with the IHRA experts on this issue. We will support the dissemination of recent resources, particularly the campaign #ProtectTheFacts and the Recommendations on Recognizing and Countering Holocaust Distortion.

These recommendations provide an action plan for policy and decision makers and I encourage all delegations to think about how to take action against distortion.

We are finally welcoming the intention of more countries to acquire permanent member or observer status to IHRA, among them Cyprus, applying for observer status in this Plenary and we are looking forward to the IHRA’s decision on this matter.

The events programmed by the Greek Presidency for 2021- 2022 follow precisely the lines described above and keep in the track initiated by the preceding Luxembourg and German Presidencies. We are focusing on “Teaching the Holocaust”, which is the thread running throughout our tenure, not only in the classroom- where we enjoy a track record second to none- but also in day- to- day life and, especially, on the digital battlefield, on the Social Media and in the dark Internet, where we witness a resurgence of extremist ideologies, often driven by Holocaust negationists and their ilk.

A Conference on this particular issue is being programmed, as the closing event of the Greek Presidency, along with the inauguration of the Permanent Exhibition of Greece in Auschwitz, a joint project with the Greek Parliament.

The tools we are developing to this purpose will not only serve to forestall Holocaust denial and distortion and fight antisemitism, but will also serve as our sword and shield, to defend our democratic values and our way of life, as free men and women.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I feel deeply honoured to be in the presence of the finest minds working on this noble venture, assembled, as it were, under the same roof in unity. As Psalm 133 goes:

Hinneh mah tov umah naim

Shevet achim gam yachad

Behold how good and how pleasing

For brethren to sit together in unity

Thank you”