Chair of the IHRA opening message to the International Roma Conference 1971-2021

Ambassador Christodoulos J. Lazaris, Chair of the IHRA and Special Envoy of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Combating Antisemitism and Safeguarding the Memory of the Holocaust, addressed the following opening message to the International Roma Conference 1971–2021 which was organized by the Panhellenic Confederation of the Greek Roma, ELLAN PASSE, on April the 8th and 9th, 2021, in order to celebrate half a century since the First World Roma Congress, held in London in 1971, as well as the bicentennial anniversary of the Greek Revolution of 1821.

“As Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, I would like to warmly salute the International Roma Conference, wishing you success and all the best for effective proceedings.

In 2021, Greece celebrates the bicentennial anniversary of its National Re-birth, with pride in her achievements. In the social field, the integration of all our citizens into the national fabric has been a perpetual pursuit. Thus, Greece’s participation in the Alliance, as a full member, since 2005, has always aimed to deal with the threefold of academic research, education and the preservation of the memory, for a world without discrimination, without prejudice and with no more genocide. IHRA focuses on the above mentioned threefold with the Jewish Holocaust and the Roma Genocide during World War II being its prominent points.

The emphasis placed by the Alliance on the Genocide of the Roma has materialized into the multifaceted work of the IHRA Committee on the Genocide of the Roma, as well as into the various actions taken on by the IHRA Presidency and the Plenary of the Member States.

The Committee aims to raise awareness about the Genocide of the Roma. It also encourages the inclusion of this Genocide in the school curricula. Its aim is to pinpoint and highlight the continuing prejudices manifested against the Roma before, during and after World War II, as well as to underline the link between the legacy of discrimination and persecution against the Roma and their current situation. Towards this goal, there is an absolute necessity of educational programs that combat stereotypes and focus on Roma resistance rather than their victim status, and that, in addition, emphasize on the strength of the Roma culture.

In this context, the Alliance organized, among other actions, the Expert Meeting and Conference on the Genocide of the Roma, in 2014, in London. Two years later, in 2016, the Committee presented the short-term research project entitled “The Genocide and Persecution of Roma and Sinti. Bibliography and Historiographical Review”, commissioned by the IHRA. Furthermore, the Alliance, after many years of efforts, achieved that certain places were recognized as places of martyrdom of the native Roma. Cases in particular were the Lety Concentration Camp in the Czech Republic, and Komárom in Hungary.

At the same time, the Committee, impelled by the persistence of prejudices and negative stereotypes against the Roma, accelerated its multi-year efforts to formulate a non-legally binding Working Definition of antigypsyism/anti-Roma discrimination which was consequently adopted unanimously by the Alliance plenary meeting.

Our country’s active presence has been a determinant factor in all stages of this process.
All these efforts culminated in the adoption of the Working Definition of antigypsyism/anti-Roma discrimination by the Plenary Session of the Alliance in October 2020.

A few months earlier, in February 2020, the Ministerial Declaration of the Alliance, adopted in the presence of the Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, had reaffirmed, among other things, that the proclaiming Ministers commemorate the Genocide of the Roma and acknowledge with concern that the neglect of this genocide has contributed to the prejudice and discrimination that many Roma communities still experience today.

Furthermore, on the 1st of July 2020, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, a permanent international partner of the IHRA, acknowledging IHRA’s long-term efforts and accumulated knowledge on the genocide of the Roma and beyond, approved and recommended to its Member States to work with IHRA’s teaching, educational and research tools, publications and all kind of material prepared with the aim of integrating Roma history into the school curricula. Furthermore, the Committee of Ministers encouraged all forms of cooperation with the IHRA, on national and international level, for the purpose of promoting education in and the memory of the Roma Holocaust.

The main theme of the 2021 Greek Presidency of the IHRA is “Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust: Education for a world with no more genocide.” In this context, we have included in the Presidency’s program various events which focus on the education of the younger generations, as well as of the whole society, about what the Holocaust means and what genocide means, so as these atrocities never happen again.

In the IHRA Committee on the Genocide of the Roma, Greece is represented by two members, one of them coming from the Greek Roma community. The Greek Presidency of the IHRA attaches great importance to raising awareness and enhancing understanding of the particularities of the Roma Genocide as well as of its historical and contemporary consequences such as structural poverty, Antigypsyism and human rights issues; thus, our Presidency will warmly support the Committee in its work and proceedings during the IHRA Plenary Meetings of Athens and Thessaloniki.

In closing, I would like to wish you every success to all the goals of the Conference, for the benefit of our Roma fellow citizens as well as the Roma citizens of all the countries hosted in the Conference. Meanwhile, the immediate benefits of raising awareness for the wider community are invaluable.

I wish you well for a very successful Conference.”

The International Roma Conference 1971–2021 a major event for the Greek Roma community, has received the patronage of H.E. the President of the Hellenic Republic, Ms. Katerina Sakellaropoulou, while it was also addressed by His All-Holiness Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, by a moving speech.
The International Roma Conference 1971-2021 is scheduled to take place in three two-day sessions. The inaugural virtual session of April 8-9 will be followed by two more sessions, on June 20-21, and September 14-15, with separate topic pillars: history, education, arts and culture, in June, and political organization and participation, in September.