IHRA Chair, Ambassador Lazaris, welcomes delegates to the Thessaloniki Plenary 2021

“My most respected Honorary President, Professor Yehuda Bauer,
Dear Heads and members of national Delegations,
Dear colleagues and coworkers of the IHRA Permanent Office,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Here we are already, at the second IHRA Plenary under Greek Presidency and Thessaloniki remains as elusive as ever. Though COVID is to blame, we had hoped, back when predictions on its course appeared more positive, that we would celebrate the event properly, on the shores of this most hospitable of “the metropolis of the South”, as the song goes.

It was not to be and the Permanent Office, very sagaciously, suggested we should aim for physical presence a bit later, in safer circumstances and this we shall do.

Thessaloniki, Saint Demetrius’s Citadel for Christians, Melek Yisroel, the Queen of Israel, for Jews and the Bride of the Aegean for Greeks of all faiths, is still very much on our minds, as we are embarking on our second Plenary, mindful of her extraordinarily rich Jewish tradition, rivaling that of other European communities further North. Unfortunately, as we know, Jewish communities, South and North, also share another historical memory, that of the Holocaust. This is what is bringing us here today.

We have quite a full program ahead of us and one touching on a plethora of important items, such as the decisions on the possible acceptance of new members and observers into IHRA, the present and future shape of the budget, country reporting and ideas on revision of the country reporting mechanism and on the extension of the IHRA Strategy, recommendations on terminology for Holocaust comparison, selection of Chair candidates for Working Groups and Committees for 2023, guidelines on Holocaust research documentation, proposals on specific programs and more.

At the same time, I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to take stock of what the Presidency has done so far and to briefly touch upon what it intends to do.

We have had the first Plenary and, as we have been told –I hope not in a consolatory mood– it went well. Our partners, the Ministry of Education, have run, under the Presidency’s aegis, thirteen Seminars, educational programs and workshops, over a period of six months, on teaching the Holocaust and training educators, law enforcement officers, clergymen and other public officials, mostly in collaboration with such countries as Austria, Bulgaria and North Macedonia, or then institutions as Yad Vashem and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. A number of commemorative events have also taken place in this time-frame.

There will be another three such Seminars coming up, from today to the end of the Greek Presidency, plus two major International Conferences, in physical form, on the application of leading-edge technology, to explore the past, transfer the Holocaust narrative to the new, technology-driven learning environment of the second half of this century and to combat Antisemitism and affiliated evils on the digital battlefield. The first will take place in Kalamata, a city near Sparta, with the collaboration of the United States Government, and the second in Ioannina, in Greece’s alpine North-west, both in the period of February – March 2022, aiming to be as far from a new pandemic wave as possible. Final dates will be fixed soon — His… Majesty Corona permitting.

Under the Presidency’s auspices, the Jewish Museum of Greece has also held three main exhibitions of Greece’s Jewish culture. They are preparing another eight, to end March 2022, some of them in cooperation with the Governments of the United States and Switzerland. They are also participating in several of the Ministry of Education Programs and, of course, in the two International Conferences mentioned.

May I conclude this enumeration by referring to the Presidency’s participation in organizing, on September 30th, a Symposium on Holocaust and Hate Speech, within the ambit of the Athens Democracy Forum, a major political and academic event in Southern Europe, with the collaboration of the New York Times. Greece’s national Delegation to the IHRA also participated at the Malmo International Forum Remember- React.

There are more and I am probably being unfair to the many smaller events organized by Embassies and other agencies or individuals, on the occasion of Greece’s Presidency of the IHRA, but time is not on our side. A word of thanks, however, to the small and diminishing band of my collaborators, who make “those few, those happy few, that band of brothers”, sound like a crowd.

A last reverent thought to persons who have done much for IHRA and our cause, Austria’s Ambassador Thomas Baier and Norway’s IHRA Chair Tom Vraalsen, who have both recently left us. They will be much missed but also well remembered.

Thank you all”