Holocaust Memorial Oct00: Party Conference Bournemouth

Holocaust Memorial & Race Relations

Preconceived opinion, that is biased without justification, can offend and injure fellow citizens. Young children are introduced to racial and religious prejudice at home, in their schools and on the playfields. Such prejudice, if not tempered by education and good upbringing, can quickly fill the minds of those who are idle, disadvantaged, unemployed or socially insecure. Such people use their prejudice to offend, abuse, maim, injure and kill in order to achieve satisfaction for themselves.

The social history of human beings has always reflected the consequences of the evil of prejudice. Prejudice has played its part in war, political domination and persecution of tribal groups all over the world.

Constantine the Great made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire and the Crusaders offered the Jews the choice of baptism or death. From 1215 to 1492 in Europe, the Jews were victimised and expelled from England, France and Spain. They ended up in Turkey (Ottoman Empire), the Balkans, Palestine, northern Italy and Holland. Many fled Germany to go to Poland where they lived in ghettos.

During the 1500s there were many in Germany, including Martin Luther, who wanted to isolate and expel the Jews. Many anti-semitic books were published. In the 19th century Wilhelm Marr, a German, had claimed that the Germans were a master race.

Such a history of religious intolerance, social exclusion, jingoism and national pride in Europe had laid the seedbed of hatred for the 20th century. The Turkish massacre of the Armenians before the First World War, the horrific mass murder of Jews in Hitler’s Germany and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans are some examples of the legacy of prejudice born and bred in Europe.

European imperial powers also sowed the seeds of hatred in Africa, Asia, America and the Middle East. Africa was carved up a hundred years ago by the European powers without any regard to tribal lands and African social traditions. Genocide in Nigeria, Rwanda, Burundi and the Congo are consequences of such European political decisions.

In the last two years, there has been in Europe, especially in East Germany, an alrming upsurge in extremist violence reflecting racial and religious intolerance. It is directed against ethnic migrants, refugees, Jews and Moslems. Increasing number of the young  - disillusioned with life without work – seem to vent their frustration in this manner. Such behaviour is universally condemned by the European politicians and the clergy but little is actually done to prevent it.

What is the European Union doing about religious and racial prejudice? What has it learnt from its own history in general and the holocaust in particular? Why is there a resurgence of the neo-Nazis in Germany?

Articles 6, 7 and 29 of the EU Treaty and Article 13 of the EC Treaty clearly establish the outright opposition to and condemnation of any kind of racism in Europe. On 21st September, 00 this year, the European Parliament in Brussels, confirmed its opposition to racism and xenophobia. It  expressed support for the Council of Europe’s Conference on racism to be held in Strasbourg on the 11th of October. The European Parliament has also urged the Council of Europe to present a common EU position at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism. 

The European Monitoring Centre on Racism (EMCR) in Vienna has been established to enable the EU to have a better understanding of the causes and effects of racism and xenophobia. It works closely with the UNHCR, the Council of Europe and the European Commission Against Racism (ECIR). Such work is expected to help the EU to devise appropriate policy to prevent and punish those guilty of racism and xenophobia.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is sad but true that religious and racial prejudice are still deep rooted in our society. They continue to inflict hardship, insult and death on inncoent people.

Do our politicians have the courage to tackle such prejudice? Is there genuine support from the majority of our people? What can be done to combat racism?

I believe we must do the following:-

  1. Have a better understanding of the root causes of racism and xenophobia.
  2. Step up preventive action against such prejudice by launching a massive public awareness programme that will  impact on our population. We must influence our children to be more tolerant and respectful of others with different faiths and traditions.
  3. Have effective punishment for those guilty of racial and religious intolerance irrespective of their political or social standing.

It is time to learn the lessons from our history; it is time we accept and promote that Europe is multicultural and multiethnic; it is time to move from policy formulation to effective  implementation; it is time for firm action that will rid our society of the evil of prejudice.