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The Shared Experiences of African-American and Roma Communities
A Cause for Collaboration
Thursday, August 06, 2020

By Erick Boone,
Max Kampelman Fellow

While the OSCE participating States have committed to promoting tolerance and protecting the rights of diverse communities, the most ardent advocacy often is done by individuals who are members of those groups. Their activism often leads to changes that benefit not only the disenfranchised but also society at large.

The United States has a rich history of demonstrating for civil rights and social recognition. The 20th century alone saw the birth of a multitude of social movements, including the civil rights movement organized by the African-American community to end racial discrimination and secure equal rights under the law.

African-Americans have faced centuries of injustice in the forms of slavery, segregation, brutality, and discrimination. The racial hierarchy in the U.S. was bolstered by legislation that either ignored discrimination or condoned it. Still, African-Americans resisted subjugation, leading boycotts, protests, and sit-ins. They formed alliances that brought attention to issues and created civil society organizations that pushed for change. Community leaders also campaigned for elected office to change the system from within. Their efforts led to reforms in law that protected the rights of African-Americans throughout the United States. Thanks to the contributions of activists, extraordinary social progress was made.

The fight for social equality continues to this day. In the United States, a new generation of activists contribute to the struggle. Yet, the fight against injustice is transnational—on the other side of the Atlantic, another group whose historical experiences share striking similarities with those of the African-American community is also engaged in a struggle for civil rights.

The Roma Community

Roma, the largest ethnic minority group in Europe, migrated from Northern India nearly 1000 years ago. Romani communities’ migration would eventually bring them to Europe, arriving first in Southeastern Europe and then Western Europe.

Given the vast geographic spread of the Roma, the various European societies in which they settled differed greatly. The ways in which those societies responded to Romani settlement also differed. The one constant, however, was the mistreatment of Romani communities.

For example, in what is present-day Romania, the local rulers as well as members of the monastery and aristocracy forced the Roma into slavery during the 14th century. Romani people worked as servants for the church and the state, with little more than the right to life. Romani men and women were made to work as domestic servants, blacksmiths, ironmongers, and a host of other professions. Roma slaves were seen as property that could be punished or sold as their masters saw fit. After nearly 400 years, Romania finally outlawed slavery in 1855.

In other parts of Europe, Roma faced discrimination driven by beliefs of their racial inferiority. When the Nazi party took power in Germany, they turned their sights on addressing the so-called “Gypsy problem.” This began with discriminatory laws that targeted the Roma and ended with the systematic slaughter of Romani men, women, and children throughout Europe. An estimated 200,000 to 500,000 Roma were murdered during the Holocaust, representing 25 percent of the continent’s Roma population.

Today, Roma still face stark inequalities. The European Commission launched infringement proceedings against the Czech Republic in 2014, Slovakia in 2015, and Hungary in 2016 for discriminating against Roma in their educational systems. In all three countries, Roma are channeled into almost completely separate schools and classrooms—with disturbing parallels to the segregation African-Americans faced for decades.

A Cause for Collaboration

Comparisons between the struggles of African-Americans and the Roma are not new.

Romanian activists first drew parallels in the 19th century when Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book depicting the harsh realities of slavery in the United States, was translated into Romanian. Its criticism of slavery helped energize the campaign to abolish slavery in Romania.

This shared historical experience, along with several others, is the basis on which many African-American and Roma activists form modern partnerships. These partnerships have expanded thanks to the efforts of both individuals and organizations.

For example, in 1995 in the town of Szentendre, Hungary, former U.S. civil rights activist Michael Simmons organized what would come to be known as the Szentendre Exchange. African-American Veterans of the U.S. civil rights movement met with Romani activists to discuss their efforts to further civil rights in their respective communities. Each group was invited to share stories of victories, challenges, and the methods that were the most successful. 

In 2018, Harvard’s Center for Health and Human Rights hosted a similar event for its annual celebration of International Roma Day. The event featured a panel discussion titled, “Alone Together: Strength and Solidarity between the Roma and African-American Communities.” Margareta Matache, leading Roma rights activist, and Cornel West, renowned political philosopher, served as speakers on the panel. The two noted that with increased solidarity and cooperation, African-American and Roma advocates can learn from one another and achieve greater change.

Ivan Ivanov, the executive director of the European Roma Information Office, also cites the U.S. civil rights movement as an inspiration for his work. Ivanov, who studied international human rights law at Columbia University, heads an organization that focuses on anti-discrimination policies in the fields of education, employment, healthcare and housing.

The OSCE has facilitated dialogue through its Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Larry Olomoefe, former ODIHR Adviser on Combating Racism and Xenophobia, has worked with Roma to advance their rights and lead workshops on civil disobedience and political activism. Olomoefe notes that a component of these seminars entails teaching the history of protests like those led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and determining how it relates to the issues the Roma face today.

Helsinki Commission efforts build on this history of exchange and collaboration. Helsinki Commission staff invited Soraya Post and Romeo Franz, two Roma Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), to participate in congressional events on Roma and meet with U.S. government officials and civil society. This included meeting with members of the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus and a visit to Howard University in Washington, D.C. The two learned of the role that Howard University and other Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have had in supporting African-Americans’ struggle for civil rights.  

Progress

The campaign for greater civil protections for Roma has seen moderate success due in large part to the work of the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), a strategic law organization comprised of human rights lawyers and activists inspired by the NAACP’s legal victories during the U.S. civil rights movement.

The ERRC enjoyed a major victory in 2007 when the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the Czech Republic for its practice of placing Romani children in separate classrooms under the guise of special education.

Dubbed “Europe’s Brown v. Board of Education” after the seminal court ruling that outlawed de jure segregation in the United States, the “Ostrava Case” outlawed this form of school segregation and paved the way for future desegregation cases.

The ERRC has achieved similar success in cases involving illegal deportations of Roma, disparities in access to clean water, and police brutality.

The Helsinki Commission has supported Roma and minority rights since its inception. It has advocated for the recognition of the enslavement and genocide of Roma. Helsinki Commissioners have also spoken out against the systemic inequities that many Romani communities still face. Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20), the commission’s first African-American chair, has frequently highlighted the importance of International Roma Day and, along with other Helsinki Commission leaders, in 2019 introduced a resolution celebrating the contributions of Romani Americans.

Challenges

Despite these victories, Roma continue to face discrimination and prejudice. A 2015 study found that an average of one out of five Europeans would feel “completely uncomfortable” working with a Roma colleague. In some countries that number rose to 50 percent. Still, promoting tolerance can only be achieved through a concerted effort.

Although government support is necessary to create substantive change, it is not enough. The most successful campaigns for social change occur when governmental institutions form meaningful partnerships with civil society organizations. 

The grassroots organizations that found success during civil rights movements were bolstered by progressive legislation and generous funding from the private and public sector. Similar partnerships can be formed to support the work of not only the organizations that focus on Roma issues but also those who seek to collaborate. The history of African-American and Roma collaboration suggests that there are possibly shared solutions to be gained out of a shared experience.

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Hate Speech: The need to strike a balance between protecting freedom of speech and the protection of vulnerable groups and individuals was discussed. Despite calls for defamation of religion laws, it was generally recommended that publicly speaking out and unequivocally condemning intolerant speech, not legislating against it, was the best response. Self-regulation, codes of conduct, internet monitoring and training for the media and other sectors of society, including the positive involvement of political leaders, was discussed as a means to best counter hate speech. The Conference ended with a declaration drafted by the Spanish CiO, which: reaffirmed that racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, discrimination against Christians, and discrimination against Muslims, are against the core OSCE commitments, offered support for the three Personal Representatives, and, called upon the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to strengthen the work of its Tolerance and Non-Discrimination Program on intolerance and discrimination against Muslims. The conference was preceded by a one-day Civil Society Preparatory Meeting hosted by the Spanish CiO with the goal of providing NGOs with an opportunity to prepare recommendations to be presented to the Cordoba conference. Of great concern were allegations that the Spanish CiO attempted to restrict the participation of NGOs in the preparatory meeting and at the Cordoba conference at a time when human rights defenders have increasingly been under attack within the OSCE. Generally, because there was such interest by participating States to speak during the opening sessions of the conference, there was little time to adequately discuss solutions to many of the issues on the Cordoba Conference agenda. While this suggests the need for a follow-up OSCE conference as proposed by the OSCE Mediterranean Partner, Algeria, few participating States explicitly outlined whether and how the OSCE should implement efforts discussed at the conference. Further consideration should therefore be given for ways to ensure the expeditious implementation of mechanisms that combat intolerance towards Muslims within the OSCE. This assertion was underscored one week later at a University of Michigan conference entitled, “Islamophobia/Islamophilia: Beyond the Politics of Enemy and Friend” where Muslim and non-Muslim scholars from around the world addressed the global security implications and human rights concerns associated with not successfully combating prejudice and discrimination against Muslims and mischaracterizations of Islam.

  • Introducing Legislation to Honor Theodor Criveanu for Saving Romanian Jews During the Holocaust

    Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to introduce legislation with my colleagues and friends Representatives Dan Burton, Chris Smith, andLinda Sanchez that will properly recognize the selfless efforts to save innocent lives during the Holocaust of Theodor Criveanu and all other righteous individuals.  Non-Jews who sacrificed their lives in an effort to save Jews from their fate at the Nazi's hands are known to the world as the ``Righteous Persons.'' The most renowned among these righteous persons is probably Oscar Schindler. Oscar Schindler should rightly be recognized as the altruistic and extraordinarily courageous non-Jew who saved more Jewish lives from the gas chambers than any other.  But many other brave individuals risked their lives by rescuing Jews during the Holocaust that have still yet to be recognized.  Thousands of these hero's stories have remain untold because the Nazis mercilessly ended their lives. For those that survived the Holocaust and for those that did not, I rise today to honor their heroism and their memory.  In 1963, Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Israel, initiated a worldwide project to grant the title of Righteous Among the Nations to individuals who were not Jewish and who risked their lives to rescue and protect Jews and others during the Holocaust. To date, more than 21,000 heroic individuals have been honored as Righteous Among the Nations.  Theodor Criveanu was one of such courageous righteous individuals.  When serving as a reserve officer in the Romanian military, he was assigned the task of presenting military authorities with a list of Jews who would be given work permits to work in the ghetto instead of being deported to Transnistria. Risking his life to defy Nazi orders, Mr. Criveanu secretly issued work permits in numbers that exceeded the work permit quota and to Jews who were not essential to the workforce, saving countless of innocent Jewish lives.  The brave efforts of Mr. Criveanu have not gone unnoticed. On August 8, 2007, Yad Vashem named Theodore Criveanu as Righteous Among the Nations, posthumously honoring him for his courageous work to block the deportation of Romanian Jews to Nazi death camps.  Today I rise to honor these individuals for their bravery and humanity. Mr. Criveanu and other such individuals deserve to be remembered and revered by the United States Congress.

  • Support for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews Act of 2007

    Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support H. Res. 3320, introduced by my friend and colleague, Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. This bill would authorize the United States to provide $5 million to assist in the development of the permanent collection of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.  This past May, I had the opportunity to travel to Poland and, while there, met with Jerzy Halbersztadt, the director of the museum, and Ewa Wierzynska, the deputy director. The museum they are helping to establish is truly an historical undertaking and one that deserves the support of the United States.  Warsaw was once home to the largest Jewish community in Europe, and if we are to truly understand what was lost in the Holocaust, we must try to wrap our minds not only around the figure of 6 million, but around the 1,000 years of Polish Jewish life that preceded that tragedy. Poland is not only a place where Jews died, but a place where they lived and flourished. Moreover, it is estimated that 80 percent of all Jews and over nine million Americans trace some of their ancestry to the Polish Jewish community. This museum has the potential to touch the lives of our own citizens in deeply personal ways.  As chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I am heartened by the educational role this museum can play in fulfilling the goals that the OSCE participating States have undertaken in the field of combating anti-Semitism. I believe this museum will contribute to tolerance and mutual respect in Poland, will help counter the broader phenomenon of anti-Semitism in Europe, and will serve as an inspiration to the thousands of visitors who will come every year. The historical record of the Polish Jewish community must be preserved and shared with future generations.  Unfortunately, my own schedule did not permit me to return to Poland for the June 26 groundbreaking ceremony for the museum, which will be located in the heart of the pre-World War II Jewish district and next to the monument to the Jews who resisted the Nazis during the 1943 ghetto uprising. However, I did send a member of the Helsinki Commission staff, who witnessed firsthand the extraordinary turnout for this event. Among those present was the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv Meir Lau, whose parents were from Poland and who suggested that invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has denied the Holocaust, be among the first to visit the museum.  I don't know if the Iranian President will accept this invitation, but I have no doubt that many Americans will be among the 500,000 people who are expected to visit the museum on an annual basis. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this extraordinary museum, with an extraordinary mission.

  • Combating Hate Crimes and Discrimination in the OSCE

    Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the CSCE, held a briefing on hate crimes and discrimination in the OSCE region.  Joining Chairman Hastings at the dais were Helsinki Commissioners Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-CA).  The briefing focused on intolerance and discrimination within the 56 countries that make up the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  Congressman Hastings emphasized the discrimination against the Roma and other minorities of Turkish, African, and south Asian descent when they attempt to apply for jobs, find housing, and get an education The panel of speakers – Dr. Dou Dou Diene, United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance; Dr. Tiffany Lightbourn, Department of Homeland Security, Science & Technology Directorate; and Mr. Micah H. Naftalin and Mr. Nickolai Butkevich, UCSJ: Union of Councils for Soviet Jews – spoke of the rising popularity of right-wing extremist party, who espouse vicious anti-Semitic slogans and appeal to a 19th century form of European ethnic identity.  In addition, Urs Ziswiler, the Ambassador of Switzerland, attended the briefing and commented on the rise in xenophobic views in Switzerland.  

  • OSCE Chairman Addresses Helsinki Commission in Advance of Madrid Ministerial

    By Ronald J. McNamara, International Policy Director Spain’s Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, appeared before the Helsinki Commission on October 29, in his capacity as Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, to discuss developments in the 56-nation OSCE before ministers meet in Madrid in late November. Similar hearings with the top political leader of the Vienna-based organization have been convened annually since 2001. Finland will assume the year-long chairmanship beginning in January. In prepared remarks, Commission Chairman Alcee L. Hastings noted, “While the participating States may share a common view of Europe on paper, translating that vision into reality is another matter altogether. While all OSCE commitments have been agreed to by all of the countries, the fact is that there are human rights commitments that have been on the books for many years that would not be agreed to by some today. Indeed, the OSCE, and its precursor, the CSCE, have served as barometers for relations among the participating States. Frankly, the current barometric pressure is low, signaling a likely impending storm.” Commission Co-Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin, also in a prepared statement, commended the Government of Spain for organizing the 2005 Córdoba Conference on Anti-Semitism and on Other Forms of Intolerance. He noted that the Helsinki Commission has been particularly active in the face of the spike of anti-Semitism and related violence in the OSCE region. “We appreciate your efforts to keep this important issue on the OSCE agenda with the reappointment of the personal representative on different aspects of tolerance as well as the related conferences convened this year in Bucharest and Córdoba,” said Cardin. The October 2007 Córdoba Conference focused on intolerance and discrimination against Muslims, a priority concern of the Spanish chairmanship. Commissioner Louise McIntosh Slaughter, who chaired the hearing, expressed particular appreciation for the Minister’s recognition of the distinctive contributions of parliamentarians to the Helsinki process. Slaughter has been a long-time active participant in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. She welcomed the timeliness of the hearing and recognized the complicated dynamics evident in the lead up to the Madrid Ministerial. “I know you have an ambitious agenda for the Madrid meeting and the Russians and others may complicate your work given the OSCE rule requiring consensus,” she said, continuing, “over the years, I have appreciated the opportunity to work closely with fellow parliamentarians from throughout the OSCE region, from Vancouver to Vladivostok. The OSCE PA has provided important leadership on issues from combating anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance to promoting projects aimed at protecting the environment, to combating the scourge of human trafficking and advancing security among the participating States.” As one of Congress’ leading voices on equal rights for women, Commissioner Slaughter also commented on the OSCE PA’s trailblazing work in this area, as well. Moratinos’ testimony covered a wide range of accomplishments during the Spanish chairmanship as well as the numerous outstanding and potentially contentious issues on the OSCE’s agenda. On Kosovo, the Minister stressed, “We have managed over the years to maintain a neutral and unbiased position in regard to the status of Kosovo and the communities recognize this effort of OSCE. While the OSCE is not directly involved in the status negotiation, we are, as OSCE, contributing to the process of creating the necessary conditions on the ground for the implementation of the status settlement.” In response to a query from Slaughter about a possible unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo and the prospects for renewal of OSCE’s current mandate covering operations in Kosovo which expires at year’s end, Moratinos stressed that “it's very important that OSCE maintain its engagement in Kosovo, whatever is going to be the future status. We are ready to stay in Kosovo in order to focus on monitoring protection of the rights of communities, particularly regarding the centralization and the protection of cultural and religious sites.” With regard to longstanding conflicts in the OSCE region, the OSCE Chairman-in-Office pointed to the Organization’s continuing work to facilitate a settlement on the Transnistrian issue in Moldova, through participation in the "five-plus-two" negotiations. Regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, he reported that while ongoing mediation efforts by the OSCE Minsk Group have not resulted in a breakthrough in the settlement process, the parties nevertheless remain committed to continuing the negotiations. Moratinos cited concern over serious incidents both in Abkhazia and the zone of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict. He discussed the chairmanship’s efforts in the aftermath of the August 6th missile incident between Russian and Georgia, stressing the need for forward-looking measures to build confidence between the two OSCE countries and avoid similar incidents in the future. Turning to Afghanistan, the OSCE's newest Partner for Cooperation, Slaughter remarked, “When I first flagged the concerns regarding the problems in Afghanistan in the OSCE context, some people said ‘that isn't our concern, it's outside the OSCE region.’ Well, one of the lessons of September 11 is that events in seemingly faraway lands do matter for the people there and ultimately for our own security.” Moratinos, in response, said “The situation in Afghanistan continues to have a substantial impact on security in Central Asia. In this respect, the OSCE is considering a serious border management project, particularly in Tajikistan. We hope to encourage counterparts in Afghanistan in these border related activities.” Spain is proposing an informal discussion on the margins of the Madrid Ministerial on the OSCE’s role in promoting the stability and future of Afghanistan. Slaughter referred to a recent meeting she had with Afghanistan’s President Karzai in which she underscored the importance of the movement of women in that country and the benefits of educating his young Afghan girls. An outspoken supporter of Kazakhstan’s longstanding bid to chair the OSCE, Moratinos remarked, “this bid has been welcomed by all members of the Organization and we hope and we are sure that this is an excellent opportunity for Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and the OSCE as a whole. For now, there is not a final consensus regarding the date of the chairmanship by Kazakhstan, but as Chairman-in-Office, Spain is actively seeking to build a consensus amongst all OSCE states on this important decision for the Organization.” Broaching concerns over observation of upcoming parliamentary elections in the Russian Federation scheduled for December 2, Commissioner Slaughter cited remarks by a senior Russian elections official suggesting that there would be a numerical limit to the number of international observers, including OSCE observers to 400 in total. Slaughter pointed out that the OSCE alone deployed over 450 in 2003 for the last election to the State Duma, Russia’s parliament. In response, Moratinos stated, “If there is a danger in the debate of election observation, it is that some participating States, to a certain extent, would like to shift the discourse away from commitments and the fulfillment, or lack of fulfillment. We find it unhelpful to call into question the well established OSCE practice on election observation, which so far has proved most fruitful. In this respect, it is our concern that the announcement made by the Russian representative in Vienna indicating that the invitation to observe the Duma election would be ‘ala carte.’” On the thorny issue of Russian intransigence in the OSCE, Ranking Minority Member Christopher H. Smith, in a prepared statement, underscored that the power of ideas remains a meaningful force today as witnessed by the drama being played out in the arena of the OSCE between those committed to pluralistic democracy and those pursuing authoritarianism, euphemistically termed “managed democracy, and dictatorship, as in Belarus and others. “Compromising on core values or watering down longstanding commitments is not the solution to the current impasse. Rather, our responsibility is to remain steadfast to these values and principles to which all participating States – including those now recalcitrant – have promised to uphold in word and deed,” warned Smith. Moratinos concluded by focusing on the future of the OSCE against the backdrop of discontent among some participating States, notably Russia, Belarus and like-minded countries with some of the activities of the Organization and its direction as well as uncertainty over sustained funding of OSCE, including potential gaps between U.S. rhetorical support and actual commitment of resources. On the former, the Minister suggested that perhaps the time was ripe for the convening of an OSCE summit meeting of Heads of State or Government from the participating States. The last OSCE summit was held in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1999. Skeptics might question the prudence of organizing a summit now, given the acrimony over fundamental aspects of the OSCE standing in stark contrast to the 1990 Paris Summit which opened a new chapter in the Helsinki process firmly rooted in a commitment to pluralistic democracy and free and fair elections. On the question of U.S. funding of OSCE, Moratinos voiced concern over “some rumors” regarding possible cuts in support and enlisted the support of members of the Helsinki Commission in addressing the matter. “I know that the Helsinki Commission plays a unique role as a forum for debate on the burning issues of the day facing the OSCE and the region. In so doing, this Commission pays unique tribute to the longstanding and continued engagement by the United States with the OSCE and the values that underpin it,” said Moratinos.

  • U.S. Delegation Initiatives Win Wide Approval at OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Meetings in Kyiv

    By Robert Hand, Staff Advisor More than 200 parliamentarians from throughout the OSCE region, including 13 members of the U.S. Congress, assembled in Kyiv, Ukraine from July 5 to 9, 2007 for the convening of the Sixteenth Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA). Also in attendance were representatives from several Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation countries, and delegates representing Afghanistan, the newest country designated by OSCE as a Partner for Cooperation. The U.S. Delegation was led by the Chairman of the (Helsinki) Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Representative Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), a past president of the OSCE PA serving as President Emeritus. Commission Co-Chairman, Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) co-chaired the delegation. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), a past Commission chairman and the highest ranking Member of Congress ever to attend an annual session, also participated, joined by the Commission’s Ranking Republican Member, Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Reps. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY), Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL), Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Hilda L. Solis (D-CA), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Michael R. McNulty (D-NY), Doris Matsui (D-CA), and Gwen S. Moore (D-WI). The designated theme for this year’s Annual Session was “Implementation of OSCE Commitments.” Assembly President Göran Lennmarker (Sweden) opened the Inaugural Plenary Session which included an address by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who stressed Ukraine’s commitment to democratic development. The OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, also addressed the plenary and responded to questions from the parliamentarians. Starting Off at the Standing Committee At the start of the Annual Session, Chairman Hastings participated in the meeting of the OSCE PA Standing Committee, the leadership body of the Assembly composed of the Heads of Delegations of the 56 OSCE participating States and the Assembly’s officers. He presented a summary of his activities as Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs, including his visits in June to Israel and Jordan. During the Kyiv meeting, he also convened a special meeting on the Mediterranean Dimension of the OSCE, attended by approximately 100 parliamentarians from Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the participating States. Ongoing Committee Work Members of the U.S. Delegation were active in the work of the Assembly’s three General Committees: Political Affairs and Security; Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment; and Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions. The committees considered their respective resolutions as well as nine “supplementary items,” additional resolutions submitted before the session. Senator Cardin introduced a supplemental item on “Combating Anti-Semitism, Racism, Xenophobia and other forms of Intolerance against Muslims and Roma.” Seven other U.S. delegates introduced and secured passage of a total of 25 U.S. amendments to the various committee resolutions and supplementary items, including Chairman Hastings and Majority Leader Hoyer on OSCE election observation; another Hastings amendment on past use of cluster bombs; Smith and McIntyre amendments regarding trafficking in persons; another McIntyre amendment on Belarus; Solis amendments on migration; Moore amendments on the use of “vulture funds,” and a Butterfield amendment on human rights. The U.S. Delegation was also instrumental in garnering necessary support for supplementary items and amendments proposed by friends and allies among the participating States. The supplementary items considered and debated in Kyiv, other than Senator Cardin’s, included “The Role and the Status of the Parliamentary Assembly within the OSCE”; “The Illicit Air Transport of Small Arms and Light Weapons and their Ammunition”; “Environmental Security Strategy”; “Conflict Settlement in the OSCE area”; “Strengthening OSCE Engagement with Human Rights Defenders and National Human Rights Institutions”; “The Ban on Cluster Bombs”; “Liberalization of Trans-Atlantic Trade”; “Women in Peace and Security”; and “Strengthening of Counteraction of Trafficking Persons in the OSCE Member States.” Guantanamo Bay Raised Following her appearance before the Helsinki Commission in Washington on June 21 during a hearing on “Guantanamo: Implications for U.S. Human Rights Leadership,” Belgian Senate President Anne-Marie Lizin, the OSCE PA Special Representative on Guantanamo, presented her third report on the status of the camp to a general Plenary Session of the Assembly. This report followed her second visit to the detention facility at Guantanamo on June 20, 2007 and provided the Assembly with a balanced presentation of outstanding issues and concerns. Senator Lizin concluded the report with a recommendation that the facility should be closed. Engaging Other Delegates While the delegation’s work focused heavily on OSCE PA matters, the venue presented an opportunity to advance U.S. relations with OSCE states. During the course of the Kyiv meeting, members of the U.S. delegation held a series of formal as well as informal bilateral meetings, including talks with parliamentarians from the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, parliamentary delegations from the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation, including Israel, and Afghanistan. The U.S. Delegation hosted a reception for parliamentary delegations from Canada and the United Kingdom. Electing New Officers and Adopting of the Declaration On the final day of the Kyiv meeting, the Assembly reelected Göran Lennmarker (Sweden) as President. Mr. Hans Raidel (Germany) was elected Treasurer. Four Vice Presidents were elected in Kyiv: Anne-Marie Lizin (Belgium), Jerry Grafstein (Canada), Kimo Kiljunen (Finland), and Panos Kammenos (Greece). Rep. Hilda Solis was also elected, becoming the Vice Chair of the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions, which is responsible for addressing humanitarian and-related threats to security and serves as a forum for examining the potential for cooperation within these areas. She joins Senator Cardin, whose term as Vice President extends until 2009, and Congressman Hastings as OSCE PA President Emeritus, in ensuring active U.S. engagement in the Assembly’s proceedings for the coming year. The OSCE PA concluded with adoption of the Kyiv Declaration which included a series of concrete recommendations for strengthening action in several fields including migration, energy and environmental security, combating anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance throughout the OSCE region and promoting democracy in Belarus. The declaration also addresses a number of military security concerns, including an expression of regret at the lack of progress in resolving so-called “frozen conflicts” in the OSCE region based on the principal of territorial integrity, especially those within Moldova and Georgia. For the full text of the Kyiv Declaration, please visit http://www.oscepa.org. The Seventeenth Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will be held early next July in Astana, Kazakhstan. Other U.S. Delegation Activities While in Kyiv, the U.S. Delegation met with Ukrainian President Yushchenko for lengthy talks on bilateral issues, his country’s aspirations for further Euro-Atlantic integration, energy security, international support for dealing with the after affects of Chornobyl, and challenges to Ukraine’s sovereignty and democratic development. The President discussed the political situation in Ukraine and the development of the May 27 agreement that provides for pre-term parliamentary elections scheduled for September 30, 2007. The Delegation also visited and held wreath-laying ceremonies at two significant sites in the Ukrainian capital: the Babyn Yar Memorial, commemorating the more than 100,000 Ukrainians killed during World War II – including 33,000 Jews from Kyiv that were shot in a two-day period in September 1941; and the Famine Genocide Memorial (1932-33) dedicated to the memory of the millions of Ukrainians starved to death by Stalin’s Soviet regime in the largest man-made famine of the 20th century. Members of the delegation also traveled to the Chornobyl exclusion zone and visited the site where on April 26, 1986, the fourth reactor of the Chornbyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded, resulting in the world’s worst nuclear accident. While in the zone, the delegation visited the abandoned city of Prypiat, the once bustling residence of 50,000 located a short distance from the nuclear plant. Members toured the Chornobyl facilities and discussed ongoing economic and environmental challenges with local experts and international efforts to find a durable solution to the containment of large quantities of radioactive materials still located at the plant. Advancing U.S. Interests Summarizing the activities of the U.S. Delegation, Chairman Hastings commented on the successful advancement of U.S. interests. Specifically, the Chairman noted the delegation “represented the wonderful diversity of the United States population” and “highlighted a diversity of opinion on numerous issues.” Moreover, he concluded it advocated “a common hope to make the world a better place, not just for Americans but for all humanity,” thereby helping “to counter the negative image many have about our country. “In a dangerous world, we should all have an interest in strengthening our country’s friendships and alliances as well as directly raising, through frank conversation, our concerns with those countries where our relations are stained or even adversarial,” Chairman Hastings asserted. In order to put the recommendations of the PA into action, the members of the U.S. delegation wrote a letter to Secretary of State Rice, asking that the State Department press several issues within the OSCE in Vienna in the run-up to the November Ministerial Council meeting. First, the State Department should ensure that the role of the Parliamentary Assembly is increased in the overall activities of the OSCE. Second, the OSCE should increase concrete activities to fight anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia, including against Muslims and Roma. Third, The OSCE should strengthen its work on combating trafficking in persons and fighting sexual exploitation of children. Fourth, the OSCE should support and protect the work of human rights defenders and NGOs. Lastly, the OSCE should step up dialogue on energy security issues.

  • Sustaining the Fight: Combating Anti-Semitism and Other Forms of Intolerance within the OSCE

    By Mischa Thompson, PhD, Staff Advisor, Erika Schlager, Counsel for International Law, and Ron McNamara, International Policy Director The OSCE Conference on Combating Discrimination and Promoting Mutual Respect and Understanding, held in Bucharest, Romania was the much anticipated follow-up to the 2005 OSCE Cordoba Conference on Anti-Semitism and on Other Forms of Intolerance. A goal of the Bucharest Conference was to continue to provide high level political attention to the efforts of participating States and the OSCE to ensure effective implementation of existing commitments in the fields of tolerance and non-discrimination and freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief. In addition to Cordoba, prior conferences took place in 2003, in Vienna, and in 2004, in Berlin, Paris and Brussels. The conference was preceded by a one-day Civil Society Preparatory Meeting in which the three Personal Representatives to the Chair-in-Office on tolerance issues participated and NGOs prepared recommendations to the Conference. Official delegations from the OSCE countries took part in the conference, including participation from the U.S. Congress. Representative Alcee Hastings, Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), participated as head of the Official OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation in his role as President Emeritus of the Parliamentary Assembly (PA). Representative Eric Cantor served as Chair and Ranking Republican Member of the Commission, Christopher H. Smith served as Vice-Chair of the U.S. delegation. (Delegation listed below.) The conference was divided into two parts, with the first part focusing on specific forms of intolerance and discrimination and the second part devoted to cross-cutting issues. Side events on various topics ranging from right-wing extremism to forced evictions of Roma were also held during the conference. Romanian President Traian Basescu opened the conference addressing tolerance concerns in his country. Romania's desire to host this conference -- assuming a considerable organizational burden and drain on Foreign Ministry resources -- reflected the government's recognition of the importance of these issues and a desire to play a leadership role in addressing them. However, in advance of the meeting, several developments underscored the extent to which Romanian society still struggles to combat anti-Semitism and racism. First, in December 2006, a Romanian court partially rehabilitated the reputation of Romania's World War II leader, Ion Antonescu, who had been executed after the war for a variety of crimes including war crimes. Second, right up to the start of the meeting, government leaders struggled to find a way to withdraw a national honor (the Star of Romania) that had been awarded to Corneliu Vadim Tudor, a notorious extremist, by President Ion Iliescu in 2004. (Although a mechanism was found to withdraw that award prior to the OSCE conference, after the conference a court suspended the withdrawal of the award.) Third, during a Romanian Senate confirmation hearing in April for Romania's Ambassador to Israel, nominee Edward Iosiper was subjected by some members of the Senate to a degrading inquiry regarding his Jewish heritage. Finally, only weeks before the conference started, President Basescu made unguarded comments -- unaware that they were being recorded -- in which he called a Romanian journalist an "aggressive stinking Gypsy." Like developments in many countries, these events served to underscore the continuing challenges that OSCE participating States face in promoting tolerance and combating anti-Semitism, racism, and other forms of bigotry. President Basescu opened the conference linking the importance of tolerance to democratic development and the need for his country to improve its efforts to combat anti-Semitism and discrimination, especially against Roma. His remarks were followed by a speech from a Romanian civil society group - Executive Director of Romani CRISS, Magda Matache – underscoring the unique opportunity the OSCE accords NGOs at some OSCE meetings to have equal footing with governments. Ms. Matache addressed the need for the Romanian Government to better address the discrimination directed towards its Romani population (the largest in Europe) and called upon government officials to set an example, making reference to the negative comments the President made prior to the conference. Following the conference opening, Chairman Hastings, representing the OSCE PA, delivered remarks at the opening plenary session. He highlighted the OSCE PA’s role in instituting the tolerance agenda within the OSCE in response to a spike in anti-Semitic acts in Europe in 2002. He also urged the OSCE to sustain its work in combating all forms of intolerance and addressed the plight of Roma, making special note of his recent visit to Roma camps in northern Kosovo. Rep. Cantor also delivered remarks on the need to sustain efforts to combat anti-Semitism. As in previous years, a major focus of the conference was on anti-Semitism with the first plenary session being dedicated to the issue. Many OSCE participating States reiterated their concerns about the continued presence of anti-Semitism throughout the OSCE region and the need to maintain the fight. States detailed the specific legal, educational, and cultural tools they were employing to counter anti-Semitism, such as Holocaust education in the schools. In the session on discrimination against Muslims, many of the same measures designed to address anti-Semitism, racism, and other forms of intolerance were being called for to combat intolerance issues in the Muslim community. In particular, the need for data collection, education, and increased civil society work were highlighted. Religious discrimination issues concentrated mainly in Eastern Europe included government enforced laws requiring registration of religious groups, increased taxes, property disputes, and other harassing behaviors. The rights of ‘non-believers’ were also raised. Race and xenophobia issues focused on the increase in physical attacks on racial minorities in both Eastern and Western Europe. Of note, religious issues raised were often acts of discrimination as opposed to hate crimes, and perpetrated by state actors through government enforced laws, which underscored some participants’ calls for religious issues to be viewed and treated as a fundamental right. Chairman Hastings served as introducer for the fourth session on data collection, law enforcement, and legislative initiatives to combat intolerance within the OSCE. Hastings detailed his personal experiences as an African-American during the U.S. civil rights era that spawned anti-discrimination, hate crimes legislation, and other initiatives. Citing statistics on U.S. anti-Semitic incidents, he noted the need for sustained global engagement on anti-Semitism issues, in addition to continued U.S. support for issues affecting Roma, Muslim communities, and the work of the three Personal Representatives on tolerance issues. Speaking during the closing session, Representative Smith praised the OSCE’s work on Holocaust education and reiterated the need for a focus on anti-Semitism. The Conference ended with a declaration drafted by the Spanish Chair-in-Office noting the continued presence of all forms of intolerance in the OSCE region and the need to continue efforts to combat them. Generally, the multitude of issues on the agenda of the Bucharest Conference, coupled with scheduling difficulties, left little time to focus on solutions or implementation, despite the many efforts Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Parliamentary Assembly, and participating States had demonstrated in attempting to identify and address tolerance issues. Thus, the larger question of whether sustained engagement on tolerance issues within the OSCE would continue remained unanswered, as the conference did not provide answers to the following three questions: Whether the current mandates for the three personal representatives with their three distinct portfolios would be extended by the incoming 2008 Finnish chairmanship? What form future follow-up, including the possible location of future conferences and other initiatives on tolerance-related matters would take? How to sustain a focus on anti-Semitism, while addressing emerging concerns around discrimination towards Muslims and other religions, and increases in racism and xenophobia? While it is clear that further consideration must be given as to how best to continue addressing tolerance issues within the OSCE, it is also important to note that much has been accomplished since the OSCE began its intensified efforts in the tolerance arena only five years ago. Some examples include that ODIHR has: developed guidelines for Holocaust memorial days and anti-Semitism and diversity education materials; launched a website dedicated to providing country reports on statistics, data collection, and anti-discrimination legislation (TANDIS http://tandis.odihr.pl/); and drafted annual reports on hate crimes in the OSCE. Within the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, resolutions on tolerance, such as the one introduced by CSCE Commission Co-Chair Senator Ben Cardin this year, have been adopted five consecutive years in a row. Thus, despite the growing pains experienced during the conference, in part due to scheduling and logistics issues, a cautionary note must be sounded. Past efforts, including the role of parliamentarians in supporting these issues, should not go unnoticed and should be continued. However, this does not mean that improvements cannot be made. In particular, the role of conference organization in terms of scheduling and location of sessions and side events can play in developing perceptions around the importance of an issue should not be overlooked. A greater focus on the planning stages is a necessity for future tolerance events. Further consideration should be given for ways to increase collaborations and support for combating all forms of intolerance by participating States and civil society to prevent perceptions that some forms of intolerance take precedence over others, as it takes focus and energies away from the actual goal of combating intolerance. Delegations should give greater thought to diversity and how members of their delegation can address the various sessions of conferences as well as side and other meetings. The U.S., in particular, has the ability to provide a leadership role in this regard given the diversity of our population and histories in addressing tolerance issues. Topics further exploring the benefits of diversity and means to communicate them to a larger populace must be included. Consideration for whether religious issues should be separated from racism and xenophobia issues at future events should be given. Lastly, a greater focus on implementation is needed to parallel or supplement the substantial conference activity on tolerance issues. U.S. DELEGATION (All delegates named by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and approved by the White House): Head of U.S. Delegation, Congressman Eric Cantor U.S. Delegation Vice-Chair, Congressman Christopher H. Smith Ambassador Julie Finley, U.S. Mission to the OSCE Gregg Rickman, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism J. Christian Kennedy, U.S. Special Envoy on Holocaust Issues Jeremy Katz, Special Assistant to the President for Policy and White House Liaison to the Jewish Community Imam Talal Eid, Islamic Institute of Boston & U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Director, Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations Dr. Richard Land, President, Southern Baptist Ethics & U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Deborah Lipstadt, Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, Emory University   U.S. ADVISORS TO THE U.S. DELEGATION (All advisors named by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and approved by the White House): Rabbi Andrew Baker, American Jewish Committee Stacy Burdett, Anti-Defamation League Dan Mariaschin, B'nai Brith Mark Weitzman, Simon Wiesenthal Center Radu Ionid, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Paul Shapiro, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Lesley Weiss, National Conference on Soviet Jewry Catherine Cosman, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Joseph Grieboski, Institute Of Religion and Public Policy Paul LeGendre, Human Rights First Angela Wu, Becket Fund

  • Remarks at the OSCE Conference on Combating Discrimination and Promoting Mutual Respect and Understanding

    Thank you and good afternoon. I have been on the road the past 2 weeks in Warsaw, Poland, Israel, Ramallah, and in a Roma camp in Kosovo. As many of you know, I am the immediate past President of the OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly. In that capacity, and as a member of the United States House of Representatives, I have worked with my colleagues in the OSCE PA like Ambassador Strohal and Professor Gert Weisskirchen to help institute a focus on anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance within the OSCE. Today I will tell you a little about my history as an African-American living during the civil rights era and how the United States came to develop some of its tolerance laws. I hope we can all learn from my words how best to tackle the scourge of anti-Semitism, racism and other “-isms” that exists in each of our countries. It was only 40 years ago when “separate but, equal” was a law in the United States and Whites could legally discriminate against blacks and others by having separate facilities. Legally, I, nor any other black person, could sit next to a white person on a bus, eat at the same restaurant, or even use the same restrooms, or drink out of the same water fountains. While facilities were separate as the law required, they were definitely not equal. After years of struggle, I and many others of my generation, standing on our forbearers’ shoulders, created the climate that enabled Congress and then-President Lyndon Johnson to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That groundbreaking law ended legal discrimination in the United States and served as the foundation for other laws; such as the historic Voting Rights Act, which prohibited discriminatory voting practices, and the Fair Housing Act, which prohibited discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. However, the days of colonization and slavery, made it difficult for whites to accept laws now stating that blacks and others should be treated equally. To maintain the status quo, white supremacy groups attacked blacks and their supporters to instil widespread fear in the black community and anyone else calling for change. The Kennedys, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated. Black churches were burned. But the violence had the unintended effect of bringing Americans together to support civil rights legislation. Americans realized that extending Constitutional rights to some and not all would be the undoing of America. So, in the 80s and 90s, the brutal murders of racial and gender minorities and flames atop the rooftops of churches and synagogues again became a beacon for change. Congress reacted by passing hate crimes laws to collect statistics, impose longer prison sentences, and investigate arsons and rebuild churches and refurbish synagogues that had been decimated. Until the Civil Rights Act in 1964, race and class-based preferential access had been reserved for whites. For example, the U.S. government funded GI bill, predominantly provided free college education and housing assistance to white World War II veterans. And, so called ‘legacy rules’ guaranteed college admission to family members of white alumni. Affirmative action did help make up for the decades of missed opportunities by qualified blacks blocked from attending top universities and upper-level jobs irregardless of their intelligence and skills. Now, while my country may be seen somewhat as a model for tolerance and anti-discrimination laws, I sadly must admit that our work is not yet done. Just last year, the U.S. Congress reimplemented its historic Voting Rights act the right. Those of you watching our presidential elections in 2000 and 2004 may remember the irregularities that prevented thousands of predominantly poor and minority voters from having their votes counted as a result of discriminatory tactics. This was purposeful and has forever altered United States and world history. Our hopes are that in passing these new voting rights laws, Americans will no longer experience discrimination at the voting booth. We are all aware of the OSCE’s unmatched work in election observation that hinges upon the teaming of ODHIR bureaucrats with seasoned elected officials from the PA under the great leadership of my peer Ambassador Strohal. I urge you all to watch our elections, and when the invitation to monitor comes next year… Come. Monitor our elections and see if our laws are being upheld. And I encourage you all to do the same in other OSCE spheres. Just months ago, the U.S. House of Representatives expanded our hate crimes laws to include individuals targeted because of their gender, sexual orientation, or disability. Though controversial, Americans ultimately agreed that there is an obligation to protect not only those with whom we share common characteristics, ideas, or belief systems, but all Americans. Assuring the protection and rights of all has also been a concern in the wake of September 11th for Muslim Americans. Despite a recent survey showing that most Muslims came to America and here in Europe in search of a better way of life, desire to work hard, uphold democratic values, and reject religious extremism, they are now often treated as second class citizens. They question whether European or American dream is still achievable for them, or even truly exists. As an African-American who lived during the Civil Rights era, I, too, have loudly questioned whether the rights enshrined in our United States Constitution applied to me. However, I now understand that the beauty of my country is that it allows for the capacity and space to change our legal and legislative system as time and circumstance dictates. The difficulty is determining whether the time for change is now and what changes should be made. I hope that under the Chairman-in-office’s recommendation, the upcoming conference in Cordoba will raise further awareness about anti-Muslim sentiments and stereotypes throughout the OSCE region. This is a growing problem and anti-Semitism continues to be a problem both of which we must address, whether all of us in this room are willing to admit it or not. There are no overnight solutions. Sustained activity on issues of tolerance and civil rights by introducing new laws when necessary and ensuring implementation are a necessity if we are to keep history from revisiting itself here in the EU, United States, and elsewhere in the world. We cannot forget that only 40 years ago, civil rights legislation in my country was non-existent. And without it, it is safe to say, I would not be standing here today. Places where I was once challenged to vote, restaurants where I was unable to eat... Today’s children are clearly in need of the same and hopefully a better situation than mine. Be they in the United States or elsewhere in the OSCE region. When I see Paris burning, I see the Detroit and LA riots and wonder if affirmative action or other inclusionary laws will follow. Requirements for religious registration in some places in Europe cause me to wonder where continued anti-Semitism and the world’s fear of Islam may lead and if it will ultimately trample on our freedom of religion. Just this past Tuesday, I was in the northern Kosovo Roma camps. When I think of the abject poverty I saw there along with testaments of Roma being sent to different schools than their peers despite their intelligence, I can only think of my own experiences riding to 60 miles to school each day with hand me down books, no cafeteria, and no foreign languages taught. The OSCE with the support of the United States must continue its focus on the situation of the Roma and Sinti. When I addressed this conference yesterday, I pointed out the critical role that the OSCE PA played in establishing this conference. Indeed, it is fair to say that we have come a long way. Many of the countries sitting in this room today have written and passed anti-discrimination laws as a direct result of the OSCE’s work to combat anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism, and other forms of discrimination. Now we must implement them! And I for one stand in support of the Special Envoy, Personal Representatives, and NGOs. All of us are necessary to achieve positive results. The reality remains that anti-Semitism – the initial reason why we called for a convening such as this – continues to run rampant in all of our streets, including my own. In fact, over 1500 incidents of anti-Semitic acts were recorded in the U.S. alone last year and the continued stereotypic misperceptions of Jews within the OSCE region are only increasing the propensity for violence. In my country, we are trying to stop these attacks. All of you in these countries with our help must do the same in yours. Member states need to collect such statistics, for anti-Semitic attacks and all hate crimes. It is in this way that we can best fully monitor and address these heinous actions. In the words of the African-American scholar WEB Dubois, “There can be no perfect democracy curtailed by color, race, or poverty. And I would add religion and gender. But with all, we accomplish all, even peace.” America’s history and its use of legislation to combat intolerances and discrimination can be a working blueprint for peace. I urge you to use this blue print and learn from our successes. I also urge you to learn from and not repeat our mistakes. It is time to implement our wonderful ideas from five years of these conferences. But, please – more action and less talk! Thank you very much.  

  • Remarks of Rep. Chris Smith to OSCE Conference on Promoting Tolerance Closing Plenary Session, Bucharest, Romania

    On behalf of the United States delegation, I would like to thank our Romanian hosts and you, the ministers, ambassadors, NGOs and my fellow delegates for engaging in a discussion of how to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance in the OSCE. Let me also commend the Romanian Foreign Minister, Mr. Adrian Cioroianu for proposing to host a regional anti-Semitism meeting. That is a magnificent gesture from Romania. On a more personal note, it is deeply gratifying for me, as a Congressman for 27 years who has focused on defending human rights, to see the representatives of so many OSCE States gathered here to reaffirm their commitment to combating intolerance. I was, to steal a phrase from former American Secretary of State Dean Acheson, “present at the creation” of this series of conferences. I remember when, at a hearing I chaired in 2002, in response to what appeared to be a sudden, frightening spike in anti-Semitism in some OSCE countries, including my own, we first proposed the idea for an OSCE conference on combating anti-Semitism. Dr. Samuels of the Wiesenthal Center in Paris testified at that hearing and said, “The Holocaust for 30 years after the war acted as a protective Teflon against blatant ant-Semitic expression. That Teflon has eroded, and what was considered distasteful and politically incorrect is becoming simply an opinion. But,” he quickly warned, “cocktail chatter at fine English dinners can end as Molotov cocktails against synagogues.” Convinced we had an escalating crisis on our hands, the U.S. teamed with several OSCE partners—especially Gert Weisskirchen from Germany—to push for action and reform. Those efforts led to Vienna, Berlin, Cordoba, and to Bucharest today. From the start, before any conference had even taken place, there were colleagues who thought the struggle against anti-Semitism should be folded into a more general effort against intolerance. Well-meaning as that might seem, it would have diluted our focus and resolve. Let’s be frank. Anti-semitism is a particularly insidious form of hate that has had horrific consequences, including genocide. In the span of human history, the Holocaust was yesterday. So I believe we did the wiser thing. We launched a new struggle against anti-Semitism, and a concurrent battle against other specific forms of intolerance such as discrimination against Muslims, Christians, members of other religions, and against racism, xenophobia, and other related forms of discrimination. We have moved ahead on all these issues. Those of us who helped birth the Vienna and Berlin conferences certainly never meant to restrict the OSCE’s field of concern. But we did believe that the OSCE should put and sustain a special emphasis on anti-Semitism. We believed that anti-Semitism is a unique evil, a distinct form of intolerance, the oldest form of religious bigotry, and a malignant disease of the heart that has very often led to murder. Next a brief word on implementation. In each of the conferences OSCE Participating States have made solemn, tangible commitments to put our words into action. Although in some countries progress has been made, anti-Semitic acts have not abated in others, and in some nations has actually gotten worse. So the United States welcomes the OSCE commitment to focus on individual problems and tailor responses to their specificity. This approach is reflected in the mandates of the three personal representatives and we call on more states to support and cooperate with their efforts to put increased muscle behind combating these problems. We welcome and encourage the continuation of ODIHR programs to develop curricula on teaching about the Holocaust, assisting States to enact hate crime legislation, to train prosecutors and police, especially peer-to-peer like the law enforcement officers program. And we should convene follow-up expert meetings and another implementation meeting in 2009. We can't allow human rights fatigue and indifference to set in. Finally, each of us knows we can and must do better. For our part, let me assure you that the members of the U.S. delegation will return home with fresh enthusiasm, commitment and resolve to eradicate the scourge of hate. We return home to insist that the purveyors of criminal acts of hate be vigorously pursued and prosecuted. Prosecutorial discretion is a wonderful concept in the administration of justice but our society is ill served when law enforcement looks the other way at anti-Semitic hate crimes. And we return with an urgent mission to expand Holocaust education and remembrance so that the words, “never again” finally have meaning, and to educate both young and old alike that human rights and tolerance are not fanciful words, but the only way a civilized, compassionate, and caring society can survive and prosper.

  • Remarks at the OSCE High-Level Conference on Combating Discrimination and Promoting Mutual Respect and Understanding

    I am privileged to address you today as the representative of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to the Bucharest Conference, an outgrowth of the work begun by the Assembly in 2002 in response to an alarming spike in anti-Semitic incidents and related violence. Indeed, the Assembly’s timely initiative has led to a sustained focus, by parliamentarians and diplomats alike, on combating this and other forms of intolerance, including racism as well as discrimination against individuals because of their religion. The reality is that none of our societies is immune from the ignorance, indifference or outright hatred that fosters discrimination, intolerance, and ultimately destruction of every sort. Faced with such social afflictions, each of us has a choice whether to remain complacent, some might say complicit, or to take action. The choice is there for each of us to make. It would be foolhardy for any of us to suggest that he or she could single-handedly wipeout these virulent viruses that plague society. But the enormity of the challenge should not deter us from taking action within our own spheres of influence no matter how limited they might seem. From our home, school or workplace to the football stadium, town hall square or pages of our local newspaper, each of us can make a difference. As elected officials, we must recognize our unique responsibility – our obligation -- to combat intolerance and discrimination as well as to promote mutual respect and understanding. First we have a duty to use the public platform entrusted to us to speak out when manifestations of hate occur. As Elie Wiesel has rightly observed, “neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Additionally, we can and must work to help our governments and people come to terms with the historical truths of our collective past. Perpetuating myth as history only serves to impede this vital and healthy process. Access to accurate information, including archival materials, is particularly relevant in this regard as well as the textbooks used to educate our young people. Education – whether at the dinning room table or the formal lecture hall – is a powerful instrument for overcoming the legacy of the past, promoting social justice in the present, and building a brighter future. As government officials we have a duty to ensure adequate resources for such programs, including Holocaust education. Government alone cannot accomplish all that needs to be done. To be successful, we must reach out in partnership to civil society. Finally, as legislators, parliamentarians are uniquely positioned to shape laws that help define the limits of conduct in society. At times a daunting task, we face the challenge of ensuring appropriate protection of the targets of hate while preserving fundamental freedoms and human rights. While we may differ on approaches, one thing that we can all agree on is that there can be no neutrality or silence when violence is used against an individual or group. I have traveled across the breadth of the OSCE region and beyond in connection with my work with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Having just been in the Middle East, I am mindful of the unique role the Mediterranean Partners could play in promoting mutual respect and understanding. During the course of my travels I have made it a point to be in contact with a wide spectrum of society, from the displaced Roma forced to live on the extreme margins and members of minority faith communities denied the right to freely profess and practice their faith to ethnic and racial minorities constantly living in fear for their safety. In each instance, they simply seek the dignity that should be accorded to every human being. Far too often there is a fixation on differences that blinds us to our common humanity. In closing, I would note that this year marks the bicentennial of the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, which banned the slave trade in the British Empire. The words of a courageous abolitionist in the House of Commons, William Wilberforce, should serve as an inspiration to all of us that we must take a stand no matter the seemingly insurmountable odds against success. “So enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did the [slave] trade’s wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for abolition. Let the consequences be what they would: I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected its abolition.” May we display such determination and dedication in our common efforts to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance and discrimination and work energetically to promote mutual respect and understanding. You and I can make a difference, if we care to. Your presence here in Bucharest is a good starting point. Thank you.

  • Confronting Global Anti-Semitism: a Transatlantic Partnership

    Anti-Defamation League National Leadership Council Thank you for that kind introduction, and for inviting me here tonight. It is a true honor to sit on this panel with three proven leaders in the global fight against anti-Semitism. The ADL is a one of the premier human and civil rights organizations in the world. I do not need to tell you what you have in Abe Foxman. He is a dear friend of mine and to countless others worldwide. When he speaks, I listen. I also want to welcome the more than 20 activists from South Florida with us tonight. Make sure to thank them for bringing the warm weather. I have been asked to keep my remarks brief. So please forgive me if I am a bit cryptic, and do not hesitate to ask me questions later. Elected officials have a unique platform from which to address anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance. In fact, we have a moral obligation to do so. As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission and the immediate past President of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, I been working to improve trans-Atlantic relations to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance for years. Both organizations have provided an invaluable political impetus for this issue to receive the attention which it deserves by all 56 OSCE countries. The reality is that we are seeing a resurgence not only of anti-Semitism, but all forms of intolerance, throughout the entire world. The need for us to combat these evils is growing every day. In Romania, for example, the courts are attempting to rehabilitate the reputation of General Ion Antonescu, an individual responsible for the killing of between 280,000 and 380,000 Jews during the Holocaust. In Hungary, the U.S Holocaust Museum is being denied access to Holocaust archives. And, in Bad Arolson, Germany, one of the largest Holocaust-era archives in the world remains closed to the public because four countries – Italy, Greece, France, and Belgium – have not yet ratified certain amendments to the Bonn Accords. Realize, had it not been for the actions of the Helsinki Commission and others, including the ADL, the situation in Bad Arolson would be worse today than it already is. The Commission first acted on the issue last year with a public briefing. And just last week, the House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution I authored calling on European countries to expedite the opening of these archives. Indeed, we will not be successful in this and other endeavors unless we work together. Almost every day, I meet with various senior officials, ambassadors, parliamentarians and other dignitaries. Hardly a meeting passes without me engaging my colleagues on common concerns of justice and fairness. Essential aspects of such dialogue are an acknowledgement that we don’t have all the answers, and when it comes to anti-Semitism, no country is immune. It is, therefore, critical that we partner with those who share our awareness, concern, and passion to confront and combat these evils. But let me not sugar coat the issue. Time and time again, I am met with resistance from certain quarters of the international community to these efforts. Some want to talk about the problem and its manifestation, while others refuse that a problem even exists. Institutions built to combat anti-Semitism and protect human rights are key to refuting the deniers. As such, countries would be wise to create their own Helsinki Commissions to serve as a mechanism under which these issues can be addressed. Further, I can not stress enough the importance of face-to-face dialogue. In early June, I will travel first to Warsaw to keynote a conference on the U.S.-Polish-Israeli relationship, then to Israel with the current President of the OSCE PA. My journey will end in Bucharest, Romania at the next OSCE conference on anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance and discrimination – a conference which I and other legislators helped create almost five years ago. High-level government officials will be there with NGO’s, including the ADL, and it is my sincere hope that Secretary Rice will be among them. Her presence would send a very powerful message. Friends, we can no longer live in a world which encourages and fosters the manifestation of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and all other forms of bigotry. Our shared dream for justice and fair treatment of all citizens alike is attainable with continued commitment to working together and a willingness to confront anything that comes our way. Thank you.

  • Commission on Slavery Established in Romania

    Madame Speaker, two hundred years ago, the movement for the abolition of slavery achieved a major victory with the passage of a British law banning the trade in slaves – an anniversary that is getting heightened attention with the release of a new movie chronicling those events. Ending the trade in slaves was not the same as actually ending slavery, but it was a critical beginning to the end.  Other developments have also caused us to revisit the legacy of slavery in our own country. This includes the decision by the legislature of the Commonwealth of Virginia to apologize for that state’s role in the slave trade, and reports that Maryland and Missouri are considering similar steps.  With a view to our own country’s painful and complicated history of slavery, and as the first African-American Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I was particularly interested to learn about commemorations held on February 20th in Romania, marking the beginning of the end of slavery in that country. In the case of Romania, however, slaves were not kidnapped and transported from a faraway land. Instead, those enslaved were Roma, a people that had settled in Romania by the 14th century.  This ethnic group – somewhere around 1,000 years ago – migrated to Europe from what is now India. Today, Roma make up the largest ethnic minority in the European Union, conservatively estimated at 10 million people.  Romania, with an estimated 2 million Roma, has the largest Romani minority on the continent. And in that country, beginning in the 14th century and ending with the establishment of the modern Romanian state in 1864, slavery to the crown, to nobility, and to the monasteries was the exclusive status of Roma.  To be clear, Roma were not serfs; they were slaves, bought and sold like cattle. In 1837, the great Romanian historian and statesman Mihail Kogalniceanu described their situation as follows:  On the streets of the Iasi of my youth, I saw human beings wearing chains on their arms and legs, others with iron clamps around their foreheads, and still others with metal collars about their necks. Cruel beatings, and other punishments such as starvation, being hung over smoking fires, solitary imprisonment and being thrown naked into the snow or the frozen rivers, such was the fate of the wretched Tsigan [Rom]. The sacred institution of the family was likewise made a mockery: women were wrested from their men, and daughters from their parents. Children were torn from the breasts of those who brought them into this world, separated from their mothers and fathers and from each other, and sold to different buyers from the four corners of Romania, like cattle. Neither humanity nor religious sentiment, nor even civil law, offered protection for these beings. It was a terrible sight, and one which cried out to Heaven.  Unfortunately, it appears that the history of slavery in Romania -- and the impact of slavery on the lives of Roma -- has received little scholarly attention. As a corollary, little is taught in Romanian schools about this important chapter in the nation's history.  I was very heartened, therefore, to learn that Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu announced on February 20 that the Romanian Government will establish a commission to study the enslavement of Roma. The National Agency for Roma will play a central role in setting up this commission, and the commission will produce recommendations for the teaching of Romani history and promoting Romani culture.  Madame Speaker, there is an awful lot of hand wringing about the deplorable situation of Roma today. Across the OSCE region, they face profound discrimination, sometimes manifested in the worst forms of racially motivated violence. Moreover, in 2003, the United Nations Development Program issued a report on the situation in five Central European countries, concluding that, “by measures ranging from literacy to infant mortality to basic nutrition, most of the region’s Roma endure living conditions closer to those of Sub-Saharan Africa than to Europe.”  But if you want to know where you're going, you have to know where you came from; if we want to change this status quo, we have to understand the past, which makes this new commission vital for Roma. With respect to Roma, that means three things. First, it means understanding the history of Roma before World War II, and in the case of Romania and Moldova, that requires teaching, studying, and acknowledging the enslavement of Roma. Second, the genocide of Roma during World War II must also be remembered, and more must be done to study and understand the diverse experiences of Roma during the war in different European countries. Finally, we must put an end to the pernicious, dangerous myth that communism was "good" for Roma.  With all this in mind, Prime Minister Tariceanu's initiative is really an extremely important step in addressing so many of the problems that Roma face today. I commend him for his leadership and I look forward to following closely the work of this body.

  • Parliamentary Elections in Serbia Reveal Progress in Democratic Development but also Support for Nationalist Causes

    By Clifford Bond and Robert Hand On January 21, Serbia held elections for the 250-seat parliament, the National Assembly. Monitored by more than 300 international observers under OSCE auspices, including two members of the Helsinki Commission staff, the elections were overwhelmingly viewed as being conducted in a free and fair manner. The outcome and related institutional questions, on the other hand, indicate that Serbia’s political development remains burdened by the legacy of the Milosevic regime that ruled for over a decade before being ousted in 2000, even as the country moves in an increasingly democratic direction. These elections were held in the aftermath of the dissolution of the state-union between Serbia and Montenegro following the latter’s declaration of independence in June 2006. Serbia subsequently adopted a new constitution in October 2006. Looming over these formal developments and new elections, however, is the larger question of Kosovo’s future status. The actual timing of the elections was used as a pretext for delaying a UN recommendation on Kosovo, which is expected shortly. Based on the conduct of previous elections in Serbia, there was little concern that these elections would fall short of international standards. However, some concerns were raised regarding the conduct of the earlier constitutional referendum, which witnessed a strong, last-minute push of voting in some regions with the apparent purpose of ensuring a positive outcome. The constitution itself is controversial, particularly in its numerous references to Kosovo as an integral part of Serbia, which may have led some segments of Serbian society to boycott the referendum. Undoubtedly, more important international concerns include the uncertain direction of Serbia’s political development and a desire to strengthen Serbia’s democratic institutions. OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Goran Lennmarker, a Swedish parliamentarian, was designated by the OSCE Chair-in-Office to lead the short-term election observation mission as Special Coordinator. The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) conducted a long-term observation effort headed by retired German Ambassador Geert Ahrens. Perhaps the chief criticism of the election process was the obvious gap between the voter’s choice and the actual selection of the person who ultimately takes a parliamentary seat. The Serbian voter chooses a political party or coalition on the election list, but, once it is determined how many seats a particular party/coalition gets, the party leadership then has ten days in which to select which of the 250 persons on its submitted party list actually take a seat. This method of selecting parliamentarians has been criticized for lacking transparency and effectively concentrating attention not on specific candidates and their views or abilities but on the political party leaders who retain control over their members. This leadership control may be further strengthened by requiring deputies to sign undated letters of resignation which can be used to remove them if they fail to observe party discipline. On the other hand, efforts were undertaken – albeit not without some opposition -- to modify existing law and encourage minority representation, including lowering the number of signatures for parties representing ethnic minorities from the normal 10,000 to only 3,000 and dropping the threshold needed to enter the parliament from 5 percent of the votes case to 0.4 percent (1/250) of those cast. Two Hungarian and two Romani political parties joined a Bosniak coalition from the Sandzak region and an Albanian coalition from southern Serbia on the election ballot. Albanian participation was the first since 1997, although two Albanian-based political parties which originally joined the coalition subsequently withdrew and supported a boycott of the elections. The election campaign was long by Serbian standards and quite intense. In contrast to the constitutional referendum campaign, the issue of Kosovo’s status did not dominate campaign rhetoric. Instead, there was considerable and perhaps refreshing discussion of economic issues, for example, reflecting the fact that despite significant economic growth, unemployment remains high. EU enlargement may also increasingly isolate Serbia and its people within the region. Some parties focused more heavily on corruption, property restitution and other economic issues. The democratic and nationalistic range of the dominant Serbian political parties differed on integration mostly in their degree of enthusiasm and differentiation between support for joining the European Union on the one hand and joining NATO on the other. They likewise differed on Kosovo mostly to the degree to which its loss to Serbia was an acknowledged inevitability. Comments by politicians and diplomats from other countries supporting reformist parties late in the campaign prompted cries of interference from more nationalist parties. Observers monitoring media coverage of the campaign reported a very balanced approach, particularly among the broadcast media, as well as a positive tone indicating almost too much official instruction about how to remain neutral. The print media’s performance was more uneven in its campaign coverage, but low reliance on print media in Serbia made such differentiation of questionable significance. Election day was largely dry and unseasonably mild, and this contributed to high voter turnout of above 60 percent. This reversed trends toward voter apathy in previous elections. Out-of-country voting also took place for Serbian citizens in 34 other countries. Upon visiting their designated polling station, over 8,500 in all, voters typically encountered a polling board enlarged by political party representation to often as many as 20 to 30 or more members. Nevertheless, with few exceptions the polling was conducted in a professional manner that respected the secrecy of the ballot and made election-day manipulation, if any was intended, difficult to accomplish. The ballot presented the same list of 20 political parties or coalitions to voters across the country, albeit in different languages depending on concentrations of ethnic minorities residing in the area. Unlike the referendum in which the constitution would either pass or fail, polling board members represented political parties that had no real expectation of an outright victory and merely hoped to achieve or maybe exceed the high end of predictions based on public opinion polls. This likely reduced tension on election day, including during the critical counting of ballots once polls closed, despite significant political differences within polling boards. The Center for Free Elections and Democracy (CeSID), a civic non-governmental organization, helped reduce tension by peppering Serbia with close to 4,000 domestic observers to discourage irregularities. The day after the election, before final results were announced, the International Election Observation Mission held a press conference to announce its preliminary conclusions. As Special Coordinator, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Goran Lennmarker released the joint statement which began with the clear statement that the “parliamentary elections in Serbia were free and fair. They provided a genuine opportunity for the citizens of Serbia to freely choose from a range of political platforms. The 20 lists of political parties and coalitions vigorously competed in an open campaign environment. The election campaign was calm, and checks and balances ensured that the election reflects the will of the people, in line with the OSCE’s Commitments as well as with the Council of Europe standards.” The OSCE’s ODIHR released an additional report of its preliminary findings based on the month-long observation of its 28-member team. Despite the overwhelmingly positive assessment, the Republican Election Commission did cancel results in 14 polling stations due to irregularities. World reaction to the results focused heavily on the continued support among the Serbian electorate for the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) led by indicted war criminal Vojislav Seselj, which garnered 28.7 percent of the vote, up from 27.6 percent in the last elections in 2003. That, of course, rightly leads to concern about Serbia’s inability to reject the extreme nationalism fostered by the Milosevic regime throughout the 1990s. On the other hand, the Democratic Party (DS) of President Boris Tadic came in second with 22.9 percent of the vote, an increase from 12.6 percent in 2003 and an indication that entrenched nationalist sentiments have not negated strong support for democratic development and integration. The coalition led by the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of the current Prime Minister, Vojislav Kostunica, gained only 16.7 percent of the vote, compared to 17.7 percent in 2003. The DSS, which bridges the nationalist/democratic divide in Serbian politics, appears to be replaced by the DS as the leading reform-oriented party in Serbia. G17-Plus, which has focused heavily on economic reform, saw its percentage of support drop but retained enough for parliamentary representation, as did the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), once led by Slobodan Milosevic. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), a newer party led by Cedomir Jovanovic which more completely than any other rejects the Milosevic legacy, crossed the 5 percent threshold by leading a coalitions of like-minded parties. The Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) of Vuk Draskovic, which traditionally featured prominently in Serbia’s multi-party political history, did not. One Hungarian and two Romani parties, along with the Bosniak and the Albanian coalition, won one or more seats in the National Assembly. The odds that the SRS will be part of a coalition government appear to be slimmer than one year ago, when that was a major concern. Instead, the hope is for the DS and the DSS to overcome differences to form a new government with the support of other democratic forces, such as the G-17 Plus. Such a coalition could advance Serbia’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic community. Prime Minister Kostunica’s past government relied on SPS support to stay in power, and he has indicated an unwillingness to enter a coalition with the Radicals. Personality conflicts, as well as differences over important issues such as cooperation with the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the appropriate response to an expected UN proposal on the status of Kosovo could complicate coalition formation. Most leading Serbian parties have counted on international concern over Serbia’s political direction to delay an expected UN recommendation, but that appears increasingly unlikely. A proposal on a new status for Kosovo will jolt the Serbian political scene. Many in Serbia feel victimized by the Milosevic regime. They fail to fully appreciate, however, the tremendous damage and suffering inflicted on the neighboring peoples of the former Yugoslavia during the Milosevic era through the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and a deep distrust resulting from Serbia’s inability to acknowledge that reality. Serbia will not fulfill its democratic promise until it fully comes to terms with this recent history. For that reason full cooperation with The Hague Tribunal remains essential. Over the longer term, democratic forces inside the country should prevail and advance Serbia’s reconciliation with its neighbors and its full integration into Europe, but without a mental break with its past this task will take longer and be more difficult to accomplish.

  • In Honor of Vaclav Havel Statement by Senator Benjamin Cardin

    Thirty years ago, the Charter 77 movement was established with the simple goal of ensuring that the citizens of Czechoslovakia could “live and work as free human beings.” Today, as Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I join with my colleagues in celebrating the founding of Charter 77 and honoring those men and women who, through their personal acts of courage, helped bring freedom to their country.  When the Charter 77 manifesto was issued, three men were chosen to be the first spokespersons of this newly formed movement: a renowned European philosopher, Jan Patocka; Jiri Hajek, who had been Czechoslovakia’s Foreign Minister during the Prague Spring; and the playwright, Vaclav Havel. They had the authority to speak for the movement and to issue documents on behalf of signatories.  Tragically, Jan Patocka paid with his life for his act of bravery and courage. After signing the Charter and meeting with Dutch Ambassador Max van der Stoel, he was subjected to prolonged interrogation by the secret police. It is widely believed this interrogation triggered a heart attack, resulting in his death on March 13, 1977. In spite of this chilling message from the regime, Jiri Hajek and Vaclav Havel continued to work with other Chartists, at tremendous personal cost. Two-hundred and thirty signatories were called in for interrogation; 50 houses were subjected to searches. Many supporters lost their jobs or faced other forms of persecution; many were sent to prison. In fact, the harsh treatment of the Charter 77 signatories led to the creation of another human rights group, the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted, known by its Czech acronym, VONS. In October 1979, six VONS leaders, including Vaclav Havel, were tried for subversion and sentenced to prison terms of up to five years. Perhaps the regime’s harsh tactics reflected its knowledge that, ultimately, it could only retain control through force and coercion. Certainly, there was no perestroika or glasnost in Husak’s Czechoslovakia; no goulash communism as in neighboring Hungary. And so, the regime was threatened by groups that might have seemed inconsequential elsewhere: by the psychedelic band, “Plastic People of the Universe;” by a musical appreciation group known as the Jazz Section; by environmentalists, historians, philosophers and, of course, playwrights. 1989 was an extraordinary year – a year in which the regime sought to control everything and, in the end, could control nothing. In May, Hungary opened its borders. In June, free elections were held for parliamentary seats in Poland for the first time in decades. By August, 5,000 East German were fleeing to Austria through Hungary every single week. Demonstrations in East Germany continued to rise, forcing Eric Honecker to resign in October. On November 9, the Berlin wall was breached. But while communist leaders in other countries saw the writing on the wall, authorities in Prague continued to believe they could somehow cling to power. Ironically, the regime’s repressive tactics were part of its final undoing.  On November 17, 1989, significant student demonstrations were held in Prague. Human rights groups released video tapes of police and militia viciously beating the demonstrators and these tapes were rapidly and widely circulated through the underground. Shortly thereafter, VONS received credible information that a student demonstrator had been beaten to death. The alleged death so outraged Czechoslovak society that it triggered massive demonstrations. Within days, Czechoslovakia’s Communist regime collapsed like a house of cards.  As it turned out, no one had actually been killed during the November 17 protests; the story of the student death had been concocted by the secret police to discredit VONS, but was all too believable. As concisely stated by Mary Battiata, a reporter for the Washington Post, “. . . a half-baked secret police plan to discredit a couple of dissidents apparently boomeranged and turned a sputtering student protest into a national rebellion.” On December 29, Vaclav Havel – who had been in prison just a few months earlier – was elected President of Czechoslovakia by the Federal Parliament.  Jan Patocka once wrote, “The real test of a man is not how well he plays the role he has invented for himself, but how well he plays the role that destiny assigned to him.” It seems that destiny had a particular role for Vaclav Havel, not one that he invented or envisioned for himself, but one that he has played with courage and grace, with dignity and honor. Today, we honor Vaclav Havel and the Charter 77 movement he helped to found.

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