The Holocaust should serve contemporary societies as a guide about how far racism and hate speech can go and as an ongoing reminder that Democracy needs to constantly fight against toxic and dividing ideas. Such issues were dealt with by the participants in the Panel Discussion of the Symposium on “Combating Racism and Hate Speech: Lessons from the Holocaust” which has been co-organized by the Greek Presidency of the IHRA and Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center within the Athens Democracy Forum, on September 30, 2021.
Daniel Holtgen, Council of Europe’s Secretary General Spokesperson and Special Representative on Antisemitic Hatred and Hate Crimes, moderated the Panel Discussion which took place with the participation of Ambassador Chris J. Lazaris, the current Chair of IHRA, Irina Bokova, former Secretary General of UNESCO and Chair of Board of Governors, Democracy and Culture Foundation, and Father Patrick Desbois, Founder and President of the Yahad-In Unum organization.
Ambassador Chris J. Lazaris underlined that we need to be particularly careful about how societies can resist hate speech. He also stressed that it is important to maintain a continuous dialogue as populism has the potential to erode democratic values. The Ambassador further noted that it is very important to put emphasis on the continuing education of the future generations as the more distant from the Holocaust the easier it will be for extremist voices to try to polarize societies. During the panel, Ambassador Lazaris also took the opportunity to emphasize once more that “the IHRA Working Definition on Antisemitism is an essential tool in the fight against these phenomena”. “The Definition has been achieved through intense democratic debate among stakeholders over a long period of time; it has been proven effective and is already in widespread use”, he underlined.
Mrs. Irina Bokova, former Secretary General of UNESCO and Chair of the Board of Governors, Democracy and Culture Foundation, said there must be credible voices that will remind and educate societies about the Holocaust. She added that societies should be shielded by anti-discrimination values and human rights defence. She also stressed that the pandemic increased hate speech and division of societies and proved that there should be no complacency whatsoever.
Father Patrick Desbois, Founder and President of the Yahad-In Unum organization and Head of the Academic Council of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, pointed out that unfortunately the imprint of Hitler’s evil still exists all over the world, as organizations such as ISIS and Boko Haram have the same characteristics as the Nazi regime. Father Desbois further noted that at a time when criminal Antisemitism is on the rise, societies must remain united and there must be ongoing Holocaust education and remembrance reminding how far hate speech can go.