I am Julie Ward, a British Labour Member of the European Parliament representing the North West of England. I apologise for not being able to be with you today at this important event, especially as I am the proud President of Greater Manchester Stand Up To Racism
Seventy-three years after the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, people have been gathering all around the world to remember and honour the victims of the Holocaust. As we witness a sharp rise in all forms of discrimination in our country and in the rest of the world, it is of crucial importance to remember and commemorate the horrifying events that took place during the Second World War.
Since the Brexit referendum took place, there has been a shocking rise in hate crimes in the UK. Racist, antisemitic, anti-gypsyist and Islamophobic behaviours have sadly become more and more accepted in people’s minds. Whipped up by a right-wing media, the Brexit vote has given confidence to hateful people, and minorities are paying the price.
As we remember the Holocaust, we must also remember the years that led up to it and the circumstances that allowed it to happen. Genocide becomes possible because of the normalisation of discrimination against many individuals on the basis of their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender identity or political opinion. It is very important to remember the series of laws and policies put in place by the Nazi state in the years that led up to the war. These laws and policies are frighteningly similar to some that the far-right are now successfully pushing onto the political agenda of countries such as the USA, Israel, Russia and certain European countries such as Poland, Hungary and Turkey. We have even seen shocking behaviour in our own country with certain Conservative MPs calling for lists of people to be drawn up, eg. Amber Rudd’s suggestion that businesses make lists of foreign workers, and Chris letters to universities asking for the names of teaching staff involved in European studies.
As a co-founder of the Elie Wiesel Network of parliamentarians who commit to raising awareness of genocide and genocide denial, I have visited many sites of conscience and places where genocide and mass atrocities took place. In Rwanda, for example, the state had ready-prepared lists of Tutsi and the call to begin the killing went out from the parliament building, the heart of the government itself. The Armenian genocide began with the forced transportation of academics by the Turkish government.
I would like to mention the Roma Holocaust, which is too often overlooked in Holocaust commemorations. There are few survivors still alive today, and it is very important that we listen to them and learn from their experiences before it is too late. Roma people are still the victims of widespread human rights violations and discrimination in Europe, and recognising them as victims of the Holocaust is an essential part of our fight against anti-gypsyism. In this respect I am proud to have supported the ‘Dignity for Lety’ campaign which saw me join the Czech Minister of Justice and Roma from across Europe at the site of a Nazi Roma concentration camp near Prague last June which had been turned into a pig farm. I am pleased to report that in August the Czech authorities announced that they would buy the site and turn it into a permanent memorial for the Roma victims of the Holocaust, proving that civil society working hand in hand with political representatives can be very effective.
We must also remember the specific experience of women, and Roma women in particular, who faced persecution in the form of forced sterilisation, forced abortion and attacks on their newborns.
Similarly, the LGBTIQ+ victims of the Nazi regime are seldom mentioned in public commemorations of the Holocaust, therefore undermining their grief. LGBTIQ+ people still face countless obstacles in many areas or life, and are discriminated against by our laws as well as our policies. Active remembrance of the treatment they were subject to under the Nazi regime means taking action to end all forms of discrimination against them now.
Along with my Socialist and Democrat colleagues in the European Parliament, I campaign for the recognition of every victim of the Nazi Holocaust and subsequent genocides and mass atrocities. We also demand reparations for victims and their families, as we consider reparations to be an essential part of the path to justice. I have a parliamentary responsibility for Bosnia in Herzegovina and Kosovo and I am a Board Member of Remember Srebrenica North West. By using my parliamentary position I have been instrumental in speeding up the process of compensation for victims of sexual violence in war in Kosovo.
I am also a member of Parliamentarians for Global Action which campaigns on many human rights issues. I was present at a 2 day PGA Annual Forum in Milan recently whereby more than 100 parliamentarians from 54 countries gathered to debate and agree a plan of action to prevent violent extremism and mass atrocities.
I am proud to stand by my feminist friend and colleague Soraya Post, a Roma Member of the European Parliament from Sweden, as she speaks out for the fair treatment of all victims of the Holocaust.
Finally, let me say that as a committed European, the perspective of my country turning its back on the peace project that is the European Union is extremely worrying. The EU is not perfect, and it needs to be changed in many ways. However, it is important that we recognise that after centuries of wars and despair, the EU provided a platform for fighting our battles through debate rather than killing each other. The fact that the U.K. is now pursuing a UKIP agenda via Brexit, and withdrawing from this platform for cooperation and human rights deeply saddens and worries me. We must remain vigilant to the dangers of ‘othering’ and discrimination which led to the Holocaust.
Wishing you a fruitful discussion this evening. I hope to be able to join you in person very soon.