Speech of President Rumen Radev at The 6th Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism 2018

2018-03-22 11:40:00

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to thank you for the honor of being a guest and speaker at this forum.

Being at this high stage, I remember the opening ceremony of the first – and for us historical - Bulgarian presidency of the Council of the European Union on January 11, this year. As a head of state, it was my duty and honor to address the nation and the EU. Elaborating on my very short speech, I faced a heavy problem – how can I embrace 13 centuries of Bulgarian history, full of glorious events, in 2 sentences? It seemed to me as a mission impossible.

Then I decided to point out one of the brightest pages of our history – the saving of the Bulgarian Jews during the darkest period of the European history, revealing the moral strength and humanity of my people.

The horror of Holocaust is a history. However, the shadow of Anti-Semitism, xenophobia and hatred continues threatening our societies.

“When you hear someone insulting the Jews, pay attention; he is talking about you.” These are the words of a French philosopher from Martinica. He was not Jewish, but he still had the living memory of the ships’ holds full of slaves and the nostalgia for the long-lost homeland.

To shiver with horror at the thought of anti-Semitism, it is not enough that we have heard and read about it. That we have seen the pictures of the bulldozers burying human bodies in Treblinka. No, this is not enough. Years ago, Elie Wiesel, who lived through this horror, wrote with despair: “Auschwitz did not succeed in curing mankind of racism”. Why even this Biblical genocide did not help people build an immunity against inhumanity? Is there any chance of success ever?

The answer seems clear to me: it is because personal experience of pain and horror, disappears with the people who suffered them. The memory of society keeps the evidence in books, pictures and films, that become more distant with every new generation. ?Memories of what had been experienced fade away as time passes by?. Therefore, in order to prevent the virus of anti-Semitism and all other forms of xenophobia, we need to be very sensitive to pain. The hedonistic society of today, worships enjoyment. However, it is pain and compassion; it is the emotional culture of suffering, that act as an insurance against this horror happening again.

In the spring of 1943, in the midst of the Holocaust, Bulgaria saved its Jews. The Orthodox Church, the leading politicians and intellectuals, united their efforts to protect them. Not even one Jew, citizen of Bulgaria, had been deported to the death camps. This bright rebellion of our people against the darkness, that had fallen on the whole of Europe, we can explain not only with the courage of the righteous, but also with the living memory of the Ottoman yoke. The personal experience of injustice is one of the reasons,that racial theories crashed into the firm human decency of the Bulgarians of that time.

The second reason for the persistent virus of anti-Semitism is the intellectual and cultural backwardness. Anti-Semitism and other forms of xenophobia provide easy explanations for personal and group frustrations. “Racism is the snobbery of the poor” is a quote from Raymond Aaron and this applies to the highest degree to anti-Semitism. In the increasingly polarized world of today, anti-Semitism takes deep roots in the socially disadvantaged groups, including those in Europe. This is why it is worth considering how to cure social disharmony, which facilitates the work of those who preach anti-Semitism.

Third, we should mention the anti-Semitism as ideology. This is the moment when ignorance and hatred towards humanity, become dressed up as knowledge and create conspiracy theories leading to barbarity. This type of anti-Semitism is created by opportunists, who cash in the ignorance, frustrations and dark emotions of the masses. Sometimes this anti-Semitism sneaks even in the official positions of certain states. This point of view is not only a threat to Israel. It is ethically destructive and dangerous for the global peace. I believe we should fight it not only with the arguments of history but also with the arguments of universal humanism. We should see its victims not as persecuted Jews, but as our brothers and sisters. Israel should not only be seen as a state, but also as a sacred land for billions of people all over the world, whose faith has a strong connection to this place.

In 1943, the Bulgarians saved their fellow Jewish citizens but, in fact, they also saved themselves. They saved their own corner of civilization. They saved their dignity. And may I venture, they stood up for the dignity of Europe. The Old Continent was a scene of unmatched tragedy: the industrial annihilation of people. Bulgaria was also dragged into a situation, which did not allow us to protect in the same way the 11 343 Jews from neighboring countries, who were not Bulgarian citizens. Today we, the people of Bulgaria, grieve about them and all victims of the Holocaust.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to thank you for the honor of being with you today. I consider your invitation as a sign of respect to the Bulgarian people and to my country – a country, which has stood against the winds of history, which has lived through many tragedies and has won numerous victories, including the one against anti-Semitism during its reign of Europe.

Thank you for your attention!



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