In Defense of Democracy in Europe:
Call to Action
While the immediate issues in the Haider crisis in Austria reach far into the political fabric of Europe and democracy the world over, they are nevertheless rooted in fundamental issues which send shivers down spines of Holocaust survivors, their descendants, and all thinking people.
A Forum is being opened today for discussion of these issues and what we can do about them; here we bring a series of activity ideas, information and links.
To set the recent events in the context of all three contemporary arenas - Austria, Sweden and the UK - please read the following:
1. Haider's coalition "putsch" in Austria
Joerg Haider - leader of the Austrian People's Freedom Party - has led his party into coalition with the right of Center majority party to form a new Austrian government. His party received 1 million votes in the spring elections which is around 30%, no trivial achievement; it would stand to receive even more votes if new elections were declared.
The Freedom party is a nationalistic, xenophobic party with a populist anti-European, anti-immigration platform; part of its success is due to reaction to post-war socialist governments and Austria being the East/West buffer for immigration into Western Europe. There can be no doubt that it has widespread Nazi and neo-Nazi sympathies among its supporters. Haider has also played down crimes of Nazis, called the Waffen SS "decent people of good character" and has never rescinded this publicly.
There is a legitimate discussion as to how the party came to power, especially in view of the rigid laws on racist, neo-Nazi and Holocaust denial platforms in austria. It would seem that the contemporary xenophobic platform is, however, founded on a traditionally xenophobic power-base which has not changed over the years - although a lot of people are protesting this trend and Haider's possible inclusion in the government.
The options facing the president, Thomas Klestil, were not easy: "against personal judgement", he finally authorized the coalition government agreement, rather than declare new elections - which would have favored Haider's party - or a state of emergency which would have generated constitutional problems. Hitler also came to power by popular vote.
14 European Union members, plus the US, threaten isolation & sanctions. The strongest are Portugal, France, Belgium, Germany and Sweden. They are alarmed at the emergence of a specter from the past, one with which many have contended in recent times, and wish to make it clear to all candidates for future EU membership that this kind of development is not acceptable in would-be member states.
- Is the inclusion of an extreme right-wing party in the Austrian government trivial?
- What is the message that Austria is sending the world
- Is Austria's action moral?
- What should be the level of reaction?
- What messages are being sent by the EU reaction?
- What are the options of influence and will the EU keep this up?
- What can we do?
2. Stockholm conventions - messages; action
There were three smaller conventions beside the major convention in Stockholm, known as the International Holocaust Forum. Almost 50 countries sent senior government representatives, Prime Ministers and Presidents to the International Holocaust Forum; dozens of specialists participated in the panels and workshops. Indeed, participation went far beyond anticipation, with countries queuing up to gain access to this Forum. Some of these countries are involved in indictments of former Nazis; many are involved in Holocaust claims. This is, indeed, a big step from the Task Force of 9 countries towards widening the circle of Holocaust education and awareness in many communities where this is an ignored or peripheral issue.
Task Force members made some very strong statements about responsibilities and intentions, and some seminal quotations are brought here; follow the proceedings from the links below or start from http://www.holocaustforum.gov.se/
- Sum up several of these messages, their implications for your own country, and the kind of steps and programs you would like to follow from this.
- What message did your country send and how do you feel about that?
- What is your message about Holocaust Education, Commemoration, and the lessons to be learnt for the future?
3. British High Court libel hearing
David Irving, self-styled historian and questioner of history, is commonly described as a Holocaust "Revisionist", and his various books deny the deliberately planned genocide of Jews across Europe, express respect and admiration for Hitler, reduce the victims of the Holocaust to a fraction of the dimensions and label their causes of death as circumstantial to their incarceration. He associates - despite his denials - with neo-Nazi speaker events and has been refused entry visas into the US, Germany and Australia. Germany's statute books include a law prohibiting Holocaust denial and incitement, even under the rights of free speech; in other countries, free speech is much more "liberal" to messages of this ilk.
Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, Professor of History at Emory University has written books about Holocaust deniers, including Irving. Dr. Lipstadt (as the author) and Penguin Books (the publisher) have been indicted in the UK for libel, precisely because the antiquated libel laws in Britain place the onus of proof upon the plaintiff. In effect, she has to "prove established facts", as one of the reviews phrased it - i.e. to go through all the statements about methods of genocide and 3rd Reich policies and the perpetrators in order to prove conclusively that absolutely everything happened as she presented it in her book. Documents have been removed, witnesses have died in the interim: the chances of Lipstadt's total vindication are therefore low, and the costs will be high, both financially and morally. If this happens, Lipstadt is not to have the right of free speech and publication in the UK - but David Irving would!
- What is libel?
- What do you feel should be legislated in every country which came to the Holocaust Forum in Sweden?
- What price now Robin Cook's statement to the Holocaust Forum [see quotation below]?
- What can you do to help?
- Do you see a link between all three arenas?
1. Inform yourself via the suggested resources.
Read and react to what happened at the International Holocaust Forum in Sweden: http://www.holocaustforum.gov.se/conference/official_documents/declaration/index.htm
Was your country there - what part did it take and what is it doing now? See list below and the Index of Delegates on http://www.holocaustforum.gov.se/conference/participants/countries/
- Write to your delegate[s] about the Austrian situation
- Write to the British Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary about the British libel case
2. Online Discussion
How would you report the events? [Use the CNN newsdesk options to get clips and information, or create your own, as below, using copies of the background resources and any clips you have recorded from news reports.]
- Divide into 6 small groups, each reporting from one of five centers, plus an anchor-person's group [see below].
- Each group prepares its own scenario for "LIVE" reports on the upcoming news magazine. Use photocopies of the background information supplied to provide an opening and closure from the anchor desk and 5 short on-the-spot reports. Allow 20 minutes for reading, time for extra research and time for scripting and rehearsal. Members of the group act out reporter/interviewee and background roles for each scenario, plus some scenic decor.
- If you can actually produce these in video [extra time needed for filming undisturbed, preferably with in-camera editing - this will take a couple of hours], you will have a discussion document for other groups or classes, as well. If not, while your reports are being presented, you will have a studio audience and you can add a panel of experts to discuss them [20 mins.].
- After the newsdesk event, review the differences/similarities in your reporting and actual news transmissions you have watched.
- Where are the emphases?
- What messages are coming from the media in general?
- What messages would you like the media to emphasize?
- How can the media help to carry the messages which you feel are important?
- What are you going to do in your community?
Newsdesk Report scenarios:
- Our reporter in Vienna and the cradle of the PFP - what does the Austrian person-in-the-street expect and think about the events?
- Our reporter in London - Ask the legal experts on how the system works against the plaintiff - can Lipstadt win? Ask people in the street and British Jews what they think should be the reaction to the events in Austria?
- Our reporter in Jerusalem - interview Efraim Zuroff, Nazi-hunter of Jerusalem's Wiesenthal Center about how Nazi crimes are downplayed and even condoned by turning a blind eye to groups and extremists; interview the Ambassador to Austria about Israel's diplomatic relations with Austria and why he was returned from his post.
- Our reporter in Brussels - what sanctions are the EU really proposing and how will they affect Austria? Interview the Minister for Education: how is Holocaust education being changed after the Stockholm conference, and why is it important?
- Our reporter in Stockholm - how is Sweden addressing its own history of rescue and collaboration? how will it act today? how have the recent conventions influenced policy in the US, UK, France and other countries?
From Inside Austria, with local reaction links
Jerusalem Post Editorial on Response to Haider
Message board you can join; links
"Whoever denies the crimes and the genocide of the past paves the way for the murders of the future." --Simon Wiesenthal
"We all felt that in remembering the victims, we prevent their second murder." Eli Wiesel, Stockholm International Conference on the Holocaust
"Who has the right to place themselves above human dignity? The answer is: no-one. No-one. And yet, as the 21st century dawns - there are people and regimes that are prepared to do just that. We should have learned more." Swedish PM Persson, ibid.
"The gravest form of false witness is to deny the full horror of the Holocaust. We must ensure that those who peddle that lie are exposed and defeated. The least we owe the millions of the victims of the Shoah is to be frank and honest about their fate. [...] never forget their full horror." Robin Cook, British Foreign Secretary, ibid
"With humanity still scarred by genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, the international community shares a solemn responsibility to fight those evils." Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust
David Irving's libel case against Penguin Books & Dr. Deborah Lipstadt et al. in the British High Court:
Pamphlet: Who is David Irving? by Jamie McCarthy http://www.holocaust-history.org/pamphlets/irving/pamphlet.shtml
Nizkor website http://www.nizkor.org/
Institute for Jewish Policy Research http://www.jpr.org.uk/antisem/index.shtml
European Commission against Racism & Intolerance [incl. national legislation] NB: Access did not connect! http://www.ecri.coe.int/
Simon Wiesenthal Center sub-sites:
Teaching Steps to Tolerance - see also the Resources http://tst.wiesenthal.com/
Responses to Revisionists and other resources: http://www.wiesenthal.com/resource/index.html
http://www.holocaustforum.gov.se/ Main Page
http://www.holocaustforum.gov.se/conference/official_documents/speeches/poem.htm Eli Wiesel
speeches/perssonfinal.htm Swedish PM Persson
http://www.holocaustforum.gov.se/conference/official_documents/speeches/ all delegations
List of Forum's Participant Countries:
United States of America
|Observer status: The Holy See