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Address by Slovenian President Borut Pahor at the main ceremony of Holocaust Remembrance Day

Maribor, 24. 1. 2013 | press release, speech

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On 1 November 2005, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution designating 27 January as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which coincides with the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in 1945. At the first ceremony to mark this day on 27 January 2006, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan emphasised: 'It is inadmissible to distort the facts of the Holocaust, a tragedy beyond any comparison. We must remember it, with shame and disgust, as long as the human memory exists. By only remembering, we will demonstrate due respect to all victims. Millions of Jews and members of other minorities were murdered in the most barbarous ways imaginable. We must never forget those men, women and children, or their agony.'
Govor predsednika Republike Slovenije Boruta Pahorja na osrednji slovesnosti ob mednarodnem dnevu spomina na žrtve holokavsta
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

In Slovenia, we mark Holocaust Remembrance Day within a project managed by the Sinagoga Maribor Centre for Jewish Cultural Heritage. For the fourth in a row, this year's commemoration is taking place throughout January at various locations in Slovenia and Austria and features various events, including the opening of the Anne Frank exhibition, an international scientific symposium on the Holocaust and the persecution of Roma and Jews in Slovenia and Croatia, and today's main ceremony – in which I have the honour to participate – with the opening of the exhibition entitled 'JUDE SEIN = BEING JEWISH'.

An attempt to exterminate an entire people and their culture, the Holocaust is one of the most horrible events not only in the 20th century, but also in the entire history of humanity. Therefore, it is astonishing that it took a full 50 years to introduce a memorial day. We probably did not want to remember the horrors of the time. We were also ashamed that such things could have happened at all in our cultural and civilized environment. It was indeed high time to adopt a decision on a memorial day. Due to the long period of time and the progressive loss of historical memory, reinterpretations of history and views on the Holocaust began to emerge. Having strongly shaken the foundations of our modern civilization, the Holocaust must therefore be remembered, marked and studied. Studying and marking those events are indeed the best way to stimulate the next generations to reflect on and to better understand the consequences of prejudice, racism and stereotypes characterising contemporary society.

The reports on the Holocaust reflect human behaviour and speak not only of extreme situations, hatred and cruelty, but also of courage and humanity, while also raising moral and ethical questions that we all must answer ourselves. The Holocaust is evidence of how dangerous silence and indifference to the oppression of other people can be.

Any society that does not consider fundamental values such as peace, freedom and respect for human rights is doomed to decline. It is a tragedy that the world still witnesses acts of genocide. Let us not forget the sorrow, tears and suffering of Srebrenica and many other places. Even today, whole peoples are fleeing their homes. Therefore, let us be aware that an open and responsible society can only be built on tolerance of difference, solidarity and humanity.
Govor predsednika Republike Slovenije Boruta Pahorja na osrednji slovesnosti ob mednarodnem dnevu spomina na žrtve holokavsta
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

Even if it does not always escalate into genocide, intolerance can have devastating consequences. We should by no means underestimate the current crisis, which exacerbates intolerance in people, particularly those in distress. But it is not always those people who are in distress as a result of intolerance who reduce the required level of tolerance. Intolerance can also be exploited by those who have specific political plans to achieve certain goals. And this is indeed something to be taken into account by everyone – even we who have thus far not been forced to deliberate it.

Let us not underestimate any incident, including the brawl last night in Maribor, no matter if it was entirely coincidental at first sight or not too violent. If we remain silent and take no notice, we may well be increasingly confronted with such incidents. A situation characterised by the lack of the necessary civility and political ethics in public appearances and conduct will inevitably lead us into a situation in which growing intolerance will be increasingly difficult to stop, without us being capable of giving any guarantee that it does not escalate into violence.

I am aware that some of you consider these words too harsh. However, one of the eternal questions regarding tolerance in a society is to what extent may we be tolerant to intolerance, also by underestimating it or being indifferent to it. I am not indifferent, and I may not be indifferent, I am asking you not to be indifferent, because you must not be indifferent. Freedom and a tolerant society are the achievements of the generations who had to strive for them with all their might. Being their heirs, we may not be weaklings.

The day commemorating the victims of the Holocaust is both a day of remembrance and a day of admonishment; the day commemorating the victims of the Holocaust and other genocides and collective acts of crime. This is a day reminding us of how vulnerable our society is and how careful, attentive and active we must be in order to prevent such evil deeds from happening again.