Climbing the Kanridge

The European Day of Tolernce was a two-day event (09-10 November) in 2008 in the seat of the European Parliament in Brussels. The main purpose of the event was to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht and to launch a new program of tolerance across Europe.The events were part of a week promoting tolerance that extends from the anniversary of the 1938 pogroms in Nazi Germany (‘Kristallnacht’) to the official UN International Day of Tolerance, on the16th of November.

The events were co-organized by the European Council for Tolerance and Reconciliation, European Jewish Congress, Yad Vashem and the World Holocaust Forum.

Participants included the President of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Pöttering, Jacques Barrot on behalf of the European Commission, and also the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Prime Minister of Belgium and a number of politicians, diplomats and dignitaries from across Europe.

Hans-Gert Pöttering, President of the European Parliament, told the audience of dignitaries "Kristallnacht was the beginning of Auschwitz. Some, many, too many - in the name of appeasement - failed to see the omen." Pöttering said that lessons from the Holocaust have been learnt by Europeans and this is a major success of the European Union. "We have let ourselves be guided by one particular value which gives the European Union its true soul: this value is tolerance. And it took us centuries to learn this.”

Chairmen of the European Council for Tolerance and Reconciliation, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and President of the European Jewish Congress Moshe Kantor also laid out their plans for a more tolerant Europe. Both men presented a 'White Paper on Tolerance', listing in detail practical measures that the council would seek to promote. Including senior and respected politicians, the council will seek to lobby European governments to adopt stronger laws and policies against intolerance, racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. Kwasniewski said that the Council will create a list to favourably judge those nations that institute practical measures to fight intolerance. The former Polish head of state also called for the citizens of Europe to do their part in the battle against extremism. "The world watched ‘Kristallnacht’ without reacting. We must react and organise public opinion, without it authoritarian regimes will move forward with their plans," he pointed out.

At a diplomatic dinner hosted by the ECTR and other partner organizations, Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme was awarded the “Navigator of Jerusalem” Prize for his commitment against Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism. Referring to his award, Leterme said that it was apt that he receive such a gift as much of Europe has taken its moral compass from Jerusalem, the birthplace of the three great monotheistic religions.

Many of the numerous speakers throughout the events of the European Day of Tolerance spoke about two recent developments that bode well and less well for promoting tolerance. The election victory of Barack Obama in the United States was seen as a very good example of tolerance and inclusion. However, many speakers also warned that the economic crisis could signal a turn for the worse for peace and reconciliation.

The French Holocaust survivor and author Samuel Pisar spoke at the European Parliament about the significance of a worsening economic situation and its history of unleashing extremist forces. "This is a sombre moment in history. Economic misery always looks for scapegoats and at the fore of the list are always Jews," Pisar said, noting the rise of Nazism shortly after the 'Great Depression' in 1929.