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Message by the President of the Lower House of the Austrian Parliament, Heinz Fischer
Message by the Bulgarian Minister of Culture and Communication, H.E. Dimitar Dimitrov

Message by the President of the Lower House of the Austrian Parliament, Heinz Fischer
Fischer, Heinz

Eliminating the concept of people as enemies

I should like to begin by offering my friends in Sweden my warmest congratulations and by thanking them for taking the trouble to organise a second very important conference on the topic of  “Combating Intolerance”, and for making such a superb job of it.
And I am delighted to have an opportunity to make a few remarks after the Deputy Prime Minister, Lena Hjelm-Wallén.

I would like in particular to emphasise the importance of eliminating the concept of people as enemies.

I know that we are concerned with difficult issues, and sometimes – when we read in the press about brutal acts of xenophobia or see examples of racist riots on our television screens – we might feel rather like Sisyphus and ask ourselves whether we have any chance at all of making lasting progress. Is the great stone of xenophobia and racism too heavy for us to shift, and to shift in the right direction?

When all is said and done, however, I set against these justified doubts a cautiously optimistic view:

I look at the second half of the 20th century in comparison with the first half, for example, and come to the firm conclusion that progress has been made. And I am confident that further progress will be made in the first half of the 21st century.

We must succeed in extending the rule of law at national level to the rule of law at European level.

In this context, we must also succeed in stopping people of different origins, different languages or different religions and so on from seeing each other as enemies, and must bring about a more harmonious relationship between these people and groups of people.

It will only be possible to accomplish this in small steps, and there will be setbacks along the way.

But all in all, I have confidence in our ability to learn and in the prospect of rational developments.

The last Stockholm International Forum, which was concerned with strategies for reappraising the Holocaust, took place here in Stockholm exactly a year ago, and in the meantime an EU Charter of Fundamental Rights has been adopted, Article 1 of which reads:

“Human dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected.”

That too is a step in the right direction. And we are all responsible for the task of making this proposition a reality.

I know, of course, that it is a long journey from formulating a charter to making it social reality. But we know in what direction we must move, and that is of crucial significance.
Our efforts to stop people from seeing each other as enemies have to be multi-faceted. School, the parental home and the political world must all play a part. And I wish to emphasise and condemn the often brutal, hostile, insulting and polarising language used in the political world in particular. In this context, I would like to mention by way of example a book which has now become compulsory reading at many French schools:
Its title is “Le racisme expliqué à ma fille” (“Racism explained to my daughter”), and in it the author, Tahar Ben Jelloun, who has been living in Paris for 30 years, talks to his daughter about such complicated issues as xenophobia and racism. It is a moving book which takes the form of a conversation that includes the following declaration of belief: “Every human face is a miracle. It is unique. You will never see two identical faces. What does beauty or ugliness mean? Those are relative terms. Every face is a symbol of life. Every life deserves respect. No one has the right to humiliate another person. Everyone has a claim to human dignity. A person who respects other people is thus acknowledging life in all its beauty, in its magic, its diversity and its unexpectedness. And a person who treats others with dignity thereby shows respect for himself.”

Moving words ..........

The antithesis of these moving words is the hostile and aggressive basic attitude of young – often very young – people on the extreme right towards people and faces that are alien and unfamiliar to them.

In the years following the Second World War, it was hoped that right-wing extremism and racism would disappear almost automatically once the National Socialist era was far enough in the past and a new generation had grown up, but unfortunately this has not been the case. Despite all the progress made, our society still produces the roots of right-wing extremism and people with inhumane hostile attitudes, so that we are compelled to tackle the problem impartially and intensively – and perhaps also to ask self-critical questions.

Do many unacceptable extreme-right remarks or suggestions perhaps also represent cries for help from disoriented young people who cannot find a place for themselves in our contradictory world, and who, in the absence of guidance and appropriate social provision and models, take refuge in extremist ideologies?

Never before in the history of mankind have several successive generations had to cope with such rapid developments as we are currently experiencing in many areas of the economy, technology and society. And despite frequent claims to the contrary, our efforts are focused less and less on the individual and more and more on efficiency, market success and global competition.

There is obviously no one-dimensional explanation for this, but in my view we need to take these aspects into account as well. Many studies confirm the connection between xenophobia and feelings of personal uncertainty and anxiety about the future.

It is vital for a pluralistic society, free of aggression, to fight against poverty, to ensure a fair distribution of opportunities in life, and to make it possible for the individual to put down roots in his local environment and in society.

For all these reasons, the conclusion I come to is as follows: the fight against right-wing extremism, aggressive acts and concepts of people as enemies must go hand in hand with efforts to bring about a just, pluralistic, humane and tolerant society, in which people find a place for themselves, see a life goal for themselves and can live together rationally with their fellow citizens.

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