The Chair of the Greek Presidency of the IHRA, Ambassador Chris Lazaris, promoted IHRA fundamental positions and goals, as well as the aims and the key thread of the IHRA Greek Presidency in the following opinion article published in the New York Times International Edition Special Report dedicated to the Athens Democracy Forum 2021:
“COVID has been a curse in more ways than one. Apart from the trail of death it has left behind, it has also highlighted how much even the most advanced societies are vulnerable to panic, hearsay and far-out conspiracy theories. It is unsurprising then, that one of the most iconic of deadly idiocies, Antisemitism together with its associated evils such as Holocaust denial and destortion, should rear its ugly head after more than seventy years in the boondocks of History.
However, this time we cannot claim that we don’t know. In fact, to make sure, we have set up mechanisms and organizations to keep the memory alive and transmit the underlying message that such atrocities should never be repeated.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) is perhaps the most emblematic of these bulwarks established by Humanity and Democracy to keep any prospective neo-barbarians at bay. It is uniting Governments and experts in their efforts to safeguard the Memory of the Holocaust and uphold the truth against those who deny it. IHRA 34 Member Countries share a commitment to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and to honor those who stood against it. They also focus on safeguarding the historical record of the Holocaust by the preservation of sites associated with it, alongside the genocide of the Roma; seeing the killing grounds with one’s own eyes is a potent reminder indeed.
The IHRA is also the principal provider of the conceptual “weapons” modern Democracies require to formulate their laws against those trespassing on these memories. Chief among these, is the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism, the result of a long, in-depth and sincere dialogue among the vast majority of the stakeholders in the field, including States, academics, institutions and survivors. The achievement alone represents democratic consensus at its finest and is ostensibly an endeavor almost impossible to repeat, given the vast effort it entailed.
As fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors – eyewitnesses to the genocide – are alive to share the lessons and speak the truth, a sound education about the facts is crucial, now more than ever.
Between April 1st, 2021, and March 31, 2022, Greece is holding the Presidency of the IHRA with “Teaching the Holocaust: Education for a World with no More Genocides” as the key thread. Greece sees the Holocaust experience from a dynamic angle: as a warning –a lesson for the present and the future– and considers education to be the most powerful weapon in the fight against denial and distortion, but also in the defense of Democracy, of our freedoms and of our way of life. As new threats arise today on the digital battlefield, with hate speech, racism, discrimination, Antisemitism and Holocaust denial, making an unwonted though not necessarily unexpected return, education once again becomes our weapon of choice.
Among a number of planned events, the Greek Presidency is currently organizing a dedicated International Conference, to be convened in March 2022, in the north-western city of Ioannina, under the heading: “Combating Antisemism and Holocaust Denial and Distortion on the Digital Battlefield”. In order to carry the legacy into the second part of the 21st Century and beyond and ensure the transmission of the Holocaust memory and message, the use of leading-edge technologies, evolving with the threat itself, is now proving a critical addition to our armory.
Another key event was the “Combating Racism and Hate Speech: Lessons from the Holocaust” Symposium at the 2021 Edition of the Athens Democracy Forum on September 30th, 2021, in co-operation with the Greek IHRA Presidency, which examined the rising incidents of hate speech and racism in today’s societies.
The Symposium opened with welcome remarks from Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias, and was followed by a keynote address by Father Patrick Desbois, founder of the Yahad-In Unum, an organization dedicated to locating mass graves of Jewish victims of the Nazi death squads (Einsatzgruppen) in the former Soviet Union and a panel discussion which included Irina Bokova, former Director General, UNESCO, and Chair of Board of Governors, Democracy and Culture Foundation.
Greece hopes that its Presidency of IHRA will contribute – even in a small way – to helping ensure that “The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance” (Psalms 112:2)”