Title

Co-Chairman Hastings Remarks at "Where Walls Still Stand," 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Congressman
Alcee L. Hastings
Newseum, Washington, DC
United States
Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Thank you, Chairman Cardin. And thank you all for being here.

Standing here today with this concrete icon before us, the images and lessons of history are inescapable. From the guard tower where officers had shoot-to-kill orders for anybody trying to escape the East -- to the stark contrast in coloring on either side of this barrier, the fall of the Berlin Wall is truly one of the finest chapters in freedom’s story.

A few inches of concrete formed the line between a world of free expression and one of repression.

And now, 20 years later, it stands as a bold testament to the fact that a people empowered to express themselves cannot be contained, the march of freedom cannot be stopped.

Seeing the liberation that took place in November 1989 resonated with me personally. In my lifetime I’ve faced my share of walls – the walls of a segregated South, the walls of lingering racism and discrimination. But I overcame Jim Crow’s walls to be Florida’s first African-American federal judge and then its first African-American in Congress since the post-Civil War era.

And I stand here today, in this same building amid the ballot box that brought democracy to a land of apartheid; bombed out signs from sniper alley where journalists covered Europe’s worst massacre since World War II; and here by the largest piece of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany – to remind us of how far we have come, and the work that remains to uphold the dignity of all, regardless of their background.

I am happy to see that as of last month we have a new assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor in Michael Posner. But I’m disappointed that this position was filled at the slowest pace in 28 years, and this administration has still not yet nominated an ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. For a president who so strongly supports international engagement and reinvigorating multilateral institutions, I expected better. I know it is early and the agenda is long, but I hope we will have an ambassador nominated by year’s end.

The events of 1989 showed the power of civil society to spur change through the exercise of fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, association and movement. And because of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, we now live in a very different and better world.

And while personal and political freedoms have greatly expanded throughout the OSCE region over the last two decades, some countries continue to limit these basic rights.

In particular, I am concerned about backsliding of a free press and places where political and ethnic minorities are blocked from participating in civic life.

Across Eastern Europe and Central Asia, press freedom is too often lacking. Discussing the region recently, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media Miklos Haraszti was direct: “The iron curtain is still there.”

As long as journalists face unjust fines and penalties designed to literally halt the presses, the press is not free. And if journalists continue to see their colleagues kidnapped, beaten, or killed with no sincere pursuit of the criminals – the press is not free.

Our politics can get nasty in this country, but you never see anybody thrown in jail just for running against an incumbent. Today, in too many places, we still see rampant political repression, perversions of the electoral process, and scare tactics used to marginalize those who simply seek to add a new voice to their country’s governing process.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, we’ve seen new walls erected. Right now, Russia is building a virtual wall in what is internationally recognized as Georgian territory, escalating its effective annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Elsewhere walls are isolating minorities, and -- even here –keeping out immigrants. I’ve never been convinced that fences make good neighbors, and for a world endeavoring to lift up its people, walls are hardly a sign of progress.

The success of nationalistic parties, which campaigned on messages of hate in this year’s European Parliamentary elections, concerns me.

The violence and systemic exclusion of Roma is nothing short of scandalous.

Don’t get me wrong – historic progress has been made. But we are not done. And our country has much work to do as well.

For our country to advance freedom around the globe, we know we must advance it here.

This wall did not come down so that we could build new barriers. And those who fought for freedom in the East did not struggle so that their sons and daughters would have to take up their fight anew. We at the Helsinki Commission pride ourselves on giving voice to the voiceless, providing a forum for human rights defenders who often lack even the slightest megaphone for their cause. But like the activists and artists who painted this wall calling for the people to rise up so communism could fall -- we too know something about people power. We know a community galvanized for good, fighting for freedom cannot be stopped. And wherever such defenders of liberty rise up, we will stand up to join them. Through your words and through your work, I know you will be with them as well.

Thank you.

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    From June 27 to July 3, 2014, a bicameral, bipartisan delegation of eight Members of Congress represented the United States at the annual session of the OSCE’s 57-nation Parliamentary Assembly in Baku, Azerbaijan. The delegation, which was organized by the U.S. Helsinki Commission, also made side visits to Georgia and Moldova. The congressional delegation was led by the Commission Chairman, Senator Ben Cardin (MD), while the Co-Chairman, Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04) was head of delegation at the Assembly session. The Commission’s Ranking Senator, Roger Wicker (MS) and House Commissioners Robert Aderholt (AL-04) and Phil Gingrey (GA-11) also participated, along with Senator Tom Harkin (IA) and Representatives David Schweikert (AZ-06) and Adam Schiff (CA-28). A central concern at the Assembly meeting, as well as during bilateral interaction with the authorities and people of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Moldova, was Russian Federation’s annexation of Crimea and its incursions into eastern Ukraine. The congressional delegation was highly critical of Moscow’s attempt to reassert its domination over the affairs of its neighbors more than two decades after the Soviet Union’s collapse, and it reassured friends and allies of the deep and continuing commitment of the United States to security and cooperation in Europe and throughout the OSCE region.

  • Persistent Anti-Semitism in OSCE Region Threatens Security and Stability, Says U.S. Helsinki Commission

    WASHINGTON—Ten years after the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) adopted the Berlin Declaration on Anti-Semitism, which outlined concrete measures to fight anti-Semitism in the OSCE region, leaders from the United States joined their counterparts from other OSCE participating States at an anniversary conference to discuss challenges posed by contemporary anti-Semitism. High-level government representatives and political leaders at last week’s event in Berlin highlighted their concerns about persistent anti-Semitism in the OSCE region, noting that it poses an ongoing threat to security and stability in the area. Participating States were encouraged to intensify efforts to counter anti-Semitic acts and hate crimes. “Ten years ago, the United States, Canada, and countries from across Europe held a critical meeting in Berlin to fight a surge in anti-Semitism,” said U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission.  “I wish I could say this were purely a commemorative meeting to acknowledge what was achieved in the last 10 years, but facts dictate this must be a working meeting focused on resurgent anti-Semitism. First and foremost, this means addressing the rise in violent attacks like those we have witnessed in Brussels and Toulouse… I am also concerned about overly restrictive laws or regulations that may make it more difficult for Jews and Muslims to practice their faiths, including those relating to circumcision, ritual slaughter, and religious attire. We must break this cycle so that another decade is not lost to hate and instability.” Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, was Chairman of the Commission at the time of the original Berlin meeting in 2004 and spearheaded the movement that led to the original Conference, where the OSCE became the first intergovernmental organization to adopt such meaningful commitments against anti-Semitism. “Over the past 10 years we’ve made progress in getting the OSCE and its member states to recognize their responsibility to fight the terrible social evil of anti-Semitism,” said Co-Chairman Smith, who met with European officials and activists on the topic of increasing anti-Semitism in Europe in advance of the conference. “Now we’re going to hold their feet to the fire on their commitments.”

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Welcomes Candidacies of Germany, Austria for Future OSCE Chairs

    WASHINGTON—On November 4, Germany formally announced its candidacy for the 2016 chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), followed by Austria, which announced its candidacy for the 2017 chairmanship. In response, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), Co-Chairman of the Commission, issued the following joint statement: “We welcome the initiative demonstrated by the German and Austrian governments during a pivotal moment in the history of the OSCE. The leadership of these nations, which have been committed to the Helsinki Process from the very beginning, will be vital. We thank them in advance for their willingness to lead and for their drive to advance the cause of human rights, democracy, and international cooperation among our participating States.” The OSCE Chairmanship rotates annually among the 57 participating States, and is decided by consensus. The post of the Chairperson-in-Office (CiO) is held by the Foreign Minister of the participating State selected to hold the Chairmanship. The CiO is assisted by the previous and succeeding Chairpersons; the three of them together are known as the Troika, which ensures continuity and consistency in the OSCE’s work. Switzerland currently holds the OSCE Chairmanship, and Serbia will assume the OSCE Chairmanship in January 2015.

  • Helsinki Commission on Opening of Europe’s Largest Human Rights Meeting

    WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), Co-Chairman of the Commission, released the following statement ahead of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) annual high-level meeting on human rights. From September 22-October 3, civil society and government representatives of OSCE participating States will gather in Warsaw, Poland, for the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting to discuss compliance with the full range of OSCE human dimension commitments, with special focus on migrant rights, minority issues, and combating violence against women and children. “The Human Dimension Implementation Meeting takes place while Russian aggression in Ukraine continues to threaten basic OSCE principles. I expect this will be a major focus of the meeting, as well as Russian actions at home that are cynically rolling back the ability of civil society to comment on or contribute to how that country functions," said Chairman Cardin. "I am pleased that Professor Brian Atwood will head the U.S. Delegation at this critical time. The promises OSCE states made to one another almost 25 years ago, that respect for human rights within any country is a matter of concern for all states, has guided us and must continue to do so. I also welcome the leadership of the U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Daniel Baer, who will be taking a high-level study group to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp." Co-Chairman Smith said, “The Russian government’s gross human rights violations in Ukraine must be a central topic of discussion at the Human Dimension meeting. HDIM is an indispensable tool for holding states accountable to OSCE commitments and most effective when both government and civil society representatives have equal opportunity to debate each state’s human rights record.  One issue that states and civil society must discuss this year in Warsaw, and at the OSCE “Berlin Plus 10” anti-Semitism conference in November, is the alarming rise of anti-Semitic incidents in the OSCE region.  The OSCE must also continue to combat trafficking in human beings, including through fulfilling commitments taken last year to train transportation workers to identify possible victims and to improve law enforcement information sharing internationally on potential sex tourists. Commitments are made to be kept.”

  • Commission to Hold Hearing with OSCE Human Rights Appointees

    WASHINGTON—Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced the following hearing: Anti-Semitism, Racism and Discrimination in the OSCE Region Tuesday, July 22, 2014 10:00 a.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 562 Following an escalation of anti-Semitic hate crimes a decade ago, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) intensified efforts to combat prejudice and discrimination throughout Eurasia and North America. Since 2004, three Personal Representatives have been appointed annually by the OSCE Chair-in-Office (currently Switzerland) to address anti-Semitism; racism, xenophobia, and discrimination including against Christians and members of other religions; and intolerance and discrimination against Muslims. In an official joint visit to the United States, the Personal Representatives will address progress and ongoing challenges in the OSCE region a decade after the creation of their positions. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Rabbi Andrew Baker, Personal Representative on Combating Anti-Semitism Professor Talip Küçukcan, Personal Representative on Combating Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims Alexey Avtonomov, Personal Representative on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination, also focusing on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians and Members of Other Religions

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Commemorates Romani Revolt at Auschwitz, Deportation of Hungarian Jews

    WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) marked the 70th anniversary of the mass deportation of Hungary’s Jews and the Romani revolt at Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. “On May 16, 70 years ago, 6,000 Roma at Auschwitz used improvised weapons to resist efforts to transport them from their barracks to the gas chambers. Sadly, their desperate and heroic efforts only delayed their mass murder," said Chairman Cardin. “I am appalled,” he continued, “when government officials, sometimes at the highest level, characterize Roma as criminals or ‘unadaptable’ using stereotypes that are reminiscent of Nazi racial theories. Remembering and teaching about Romani experiences during the Holocaust is critical in combating anti-Roma prejudices today.” Approximately 3,000 of those who participated in the Romani revolt were sent to Buchenwald and Ravensbruck concentration camps as forced labor, where most of them died. On August 2-3, 1944, the so-called ‘Gypsy Family Camp’ was liquidated and the remaining 2,879 Romani men, women and children were sent to the gas chambers. Altogether, 23,000 Romani people from 11 countries were deported to Auschwitz and approximately 19,000 perished. Some died as a result of inhumane medical experiments by Dr. Joseph Mengele. “This year also marks the 70th anniversary of the start of the final wave of Hungary’s war-time deportation of Jews,” noted Chairman Cardin. “Plans to empty the Romani camp at Auschwitz were, in fact, intended to make room for Jews arriving from Hungary.” Anti-Semitic legislation was introduced in Hungary with the 1920 Numerus Clausus, which established limits on the number of Jewish university students. In 1941, more than 17,000 Jews were deported from Hungary to German-occupied Kamenets-Podolsk, where they were executed. Between May 15 and July 9, 1944, 437,402 Hungarian Jews were deported in the largest deportation of Jews to Auschwitz in the shortest period of time from any country. One of every three Jews who died at Auschwitz was from Hungary. Cardin concluded, “I welcome the participation of Czech Prime Minister Sobotka in the memorial service held on May 10 at the site of the concentration camp for Roma at Lety. I urge the Czech Government to take steps to reflect the historic significance of this site for Romani survivors and their families everywhere.” Lety was the site of one of two concentration camps for Roma in the war-time Czech Republic. The construction of a large pork processing plant on the site during the communist period has generated continuing criticism. The Helsinki Commission supported the transfer of microfilm copies of its archives – the only known complete surviving archives of a Romani concentration camp – to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2000. On September 18, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial will hold a public symposium on new research regarding Roma and the Holocaust.

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