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Introductory remarks at the 2018 Holocaust Remembrance Lecture by Margot Wallström


Stockholm, 26 January 2018. Check against delivery.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends:

I want to welcome you all to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and to the 2018 Holocaust Memorial Lecture. Let us first take a moment to remember the many victims, in silence. [...]

Thank you for coming here and for joining us in showing the importance of remembering the Holocaust, which remains an iconic, atrocious crime - and a disastrous wound in the history of mankind.

We have today the opportunity to listen to Professor Yehuda Bauer give his thoughts on the Holocaust, and on one of his most important life-long themes: preventing genocide from ever happening again.

I want to thank Professor Bauer for coming to Stockholm – and for accepting to speak to us. We are all eager to hear your thoughts - and engage in a conversation with you.

This week – and especially tomorrow, on January 27 – we remember the Holocaust more intensely than on other days of the year. January 27 was, as you all know, the day when Auschwitz was liberated in 1945, seventy-three years ago.

The images and the testimonies from Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps are gut-wrenching. The world could – and can still - see with their own eyes the unprecedented and unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust.: a dark period of human kind when Jews, Roma, LGBT-persons and persons with disabilities where victims of genocide, mass murder and persecution.

"Never again" is a phrase that has often been mentioned with reference to the Holocaust, but the collective international delivery on that resolve still must happen. Crimes against humanity did not stop with the Holocaust: as Professor Bauer writes in one of his books, "Genocide is among us". Professor Bauer will speak about the mechanisms causing atrocious mass crimes around the world in the post-World War II-era: from Africa to Asia, the Balkans and beyond. One is forced to realize that in the 73 years since the Holocaust, the world has not learned enough.

The same attitudes, movements, hatred and conspiracy theories that once caused the Holocaust are still visible in the society.

Indeed, we are now witnessing an increase in intolerance and hatred in Sweden, around Europe and the rest of the world – on the internet, in the streets, and around religious institutions. Very recently, we have seen appalling criminal acts against the Synagogue in Göteborg, and continued threats against other religious institutions and individuals. This intolerance is directed at minority groups such as Jews, but it is a threat to all of us, and to the democratic societies that we Europeans have historically fought hard to build.

Sweden is a pluralistic and democratic country – and we are determined to protect these core values of our culture and society. We strive in all fields to create a just, more equal, democratic and peaceful world - where dialogue and exchange of ideas rule, and where war, terrorism, and violence are renounced. The rights of women, minorities and young people need to be strengthened around the world.

Jewish life is part of Swedish life, and Jewish culture is an important thread in our European social and cultural fabric.

Everyone living in Sweden should be able to lead a life based on equality, safety and dignity – and without fear or threat when practising one's peaceful religion. The right of religious freedom and belief is a fundamental human right.

The Swedish government's condemnation of the threats and violence against religious institutions and against people expressing their peaceful belief or faith is unequivocal and clear: we will not tolerate this.

A range of actions are taken to protect Jewish life in Sweden, with particular focus on education, media literacy, knowledge about history and the Holocaust, and on strengthening democracy, building civil society, enhancing security for religious institutions – to name the most important. The government has recently given increased support to enhance the security of Jewish buildings. Financial support to schools for visiting sites of the Holocaust to educate about this genocide has been allocated.

Moreover, the Government in 2016 adopted a new national plan to combat racism and hate crimes, which also addresses the anti-Semitism that the Jewish community is subjected to.

A year ago, the Prime Minister announced that Sweden in the year 2020 will host an international conference on the memory of the Holocaust. It is important that international cooperation is increased.

Anti-Semitism is a global problem, and not limited to any national setting or regional context.

For centuries, Jews have been the target of unfair blame, wrongful accusations, senseless hatred and violence – simply because they are Jews.

Anti-Semitism has deep and historical roots and it has taken many different forms. The Nazis cannot claim authorship of the anti-Semitism that caused the Holocaust.

This 'hatred of the other' has always had both local and transnational characteristics.

But with the advent of the internet, new borderless environments have been created in which age-old conspiracy theories can take additional forms. It is important to underline that Human Rights are as valid online as they are offline.

Fighting anti-Semitism online is a huge challenge for the open and democratic world.

Here, governments need to cooperate with the media industry, civil society and specialists.

The EU Code of conduct on countering illegal hate speech online is an important step, but much remains to be done in terms of monitoring, implementation, accountability and enforcement.

Continued international cooperation is important. The EU, the United Nations and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance are vital in this work. I appointed in 2016 an ambassador for Human rights, who now heads the Swedish delegation to the IHRA. In 2016, I also appointed for the first time a Swedish Special Envoy to combat anti-Semitism and Islamophobia on a global level.

Bilateral consultations and cooperation with Israel, the United States and partners in Europe remain a priority.

Anti-Semitism must also be viewed within a larger context of hate and intolerance, online and offline.

We see how anti-Semitism flourishes in the same environment as violent extremism – in spaces where democratic values are replaced by violence.

The ongoing wars around the world, continued terrorist attacks against cities in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe, and the ongoing refugee crisis underline all too clearly the need to address the root causes of intolerance, hatred, violence and armed conflict.

Through international cooperation – in the EU and the United Nations, with education, legal measures, and enhanced security – we must devote our efforts to long-term confidence-building, conflict resolution and a culture of dialogue with respect for human rights in all contexts.

It is clear that no single country can solve or combat these problems alone.

And it is clear to us that no set of countries or governments can solve these issues without working in close cooperation with civil society organisations.

An active civil society is key in this endeavour; education and dialogue are, without doubt, the most important cornerstones of a peaceful and tolerant society.

Again, I want to really thank you for joining us in the conversation today, and with that I want to welcome Professor Yehuda Bauer to the floor to give the 2018 Holocaust Memorial Lecture.