ATHENS, 10.06.2021 – The IHRA has successfully concluded its first plenary meetings under the Greek Presidency, guided by the priorities of advancing Holocaust education and countering Holocaust distortion. Hosted online from Athens, over 250 experts, political representatives, and representatives of civil society met over two weeks to discuss the latest developments in the field of education, remembrance, and research of the Holocaust and the genocide of the Roma.
In his welcome address, Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias emphasized the continued relevance of the Holocaust and its lessons for today. “We do not want to see the memory of the Holocaust as an echo of the past,” he said. “We see it as a living reality and a force for the preservation and advancement of our freedom and our way of life. […] The memory of the Holocaust can be a shield of 21st century democracy.”
Secretary General for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy John Chrysoulakis emphasized the importance of Holocaust education in his address to the Plenary. “As fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors—eyewitnesses to the genocide—are alive to share the lessons of the Holocaust and speak the truth, a sound education about the Holocaust is more indispensable than ever, especially in our current media environment, which allows Holocaust distortion and antisemitism to flourish,” he said.
IHRA Chair Ambassador Chris J. Lazaris echoed these sentiments in his opening remarks. “We are united in our continuous commitment to a fact-based approach and to ensuring the truth prevails, both today and for future generations,” he stressed. The IHRA Chair underlined the importance of promoting the IHRA’s useful practical tools to help in this effort, such as the recently published Recognizing and Countering Holocaust Distortion: Recommendations for Policy and Decision Makers and the #ProtectTheFacts social media campaign, both of which have received overwhelming support.
At a time of increased antisemitism around the world, the IHRA adopted by consensus a statement strongly condemning recent antisemitic violence and hate speech in response to the escalation of violence in the Middle East in May 2021, emphasizing that “while freedoms of speech and protest are essential pillars of all democracies, nothing can justify hate speech.”
The IHRA’s expert Committee on the Genocide of the Roma was tasked with the drafting of Recommendations for Teaching and Learning about the Genocide of the Roma, which will provide an impactful tool for governments and organizations around the world to counter anti-Roma sentiment.
The Plenary also welcomed the Republic of Cyprus as a new Observer Country. The IHRA now consists of 34 Member Countries, 1 Liaison Country, 8 Observer Countries, and 8 Permanent International Partners.
In addition, the Plenary confirmed that the UK will take on the Presidency of the IHRA in 2024 , for the third time in the alliance’s history.
The IHRA’s experts in its Working Group and Committees dealt closely with the impact of the pandemic on the field and a number of other issues. In their meetings, they investigated the resurgence of nationalism and its effect on research, online education on the Holocaust, Holocaust distortion on the internet, the pandemic’s effect on memorials and museums, digital remembrance, new forms of antisemitism related to the pandemic, and the safeguarding of sites and commemoration of the victims of the genocide of Roma.
Special features and events also included the screening of the documentary film “The Song of Life” by Tony Lykouressis, and guided virtual tours of important Jewish sites in Athens and the Acropolis Museum.