During the seminar ‘The Holocaust and Extremism: Have We Really Learnt from the Past?’ that took place in Bratislava on 29 November 2017, knowledgeable experts from Comenius University, the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, and the European Jewish Congress explained the causes and course of the Holocaust in Slovakia and Europe, the reasons for the radicalisation of society, and the legal possibilities for combating extremism.

“Freedom and democracy are not automatically guaranteed values. It is up to us to protect and develop them,” said Comenius University Rector, Professor Karol Mičieta, in his opening address.

The importance of the topic was underlined by the presence of the President of the Slovak Republic, Andrej Kiska: “The reason why we should talk about the Holocaust and remind people of it is that we should never allow such a fate to become the future of our children.“ The president also said that extremism often arises as a sign of defiance: “People are resorting to extremism as proof of their disappointment, anger, or frustration with how society operates. It is the role of each of us who cares about the development of our country to think, within our own circles, about how we can help. Politicians are the most powerful force in this matter. However, the church has a role as well. It is also the role of teachers, professors, and the academic community to explain to young people that even primary school children should know how the country is supposed to work and what good and evil is.”

The seminar participants were also addressed by Israeli Ambassador to Slovakia H.E. Zvi Aviner Vapni. “Today is a very special day for us, even though we did not plan it like this. Today is the 70th anniversary of the United Nations adopting Resolution 181, which allowed the establishment of the State of Israel. And this was possible thanks to the support of Czechoslovakia,” said the ambassador in commenting on that event on 29 November 1947. “Czechoslovakia was on the right side of history and we are grateful for this,” the Israeli ambassador added.

Benjamin Fischer from the European Jewish Congress gave an overview of antisemitic incidents in Europe, introduced the students to the concept of modern antisemitism, and engaged in a discussion on freedom of speech and legislation combatting hate speech online. Quoting Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, he referred to antisemitism as the “canary in a coal mine” and expressed his deep appreciation for the numerous participation.