23 August marks the day when Europe was divided by Nazis and Soviets, and acknowledges the suffering caused by totalitarian regimes on many families.
On this day Europe remembers all those who fell victim or fought valiantly against these regimes. Representatives from Ministries of Justice of EU Member States, FRA and youth delegates gathered in Vilnius to mark the occasion, organised by the Lithuanian Presidency. Friso Roscam Abbing, Head of the FRA Communication Department delivered a speech underlining the importance of this day: “We are here to look back, understand and learn from the past to build a better future. But we are also here to remember the tragic loss, the tremendous suffering and the incalculable damage that totalitarian Nazi and Soviet regimes inflicted on the people of Europe for all those years.”
He spoke of the achievements that Europe has made over the years to make Europe ‘a better place’, as was acknowledged by the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. However, he also reminded participants that “suffering persists. Fear persists. Violence persists,” and that “too many groups in our EU society continue to suffer discrimination, hate crime and harassment.” He referred to recent cases across the EU and to recent FRA work, such as its survey on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender hate crime and discrimination and its antisemitism survey. He pointed to the need to be vigilant and to combat hate crime. That’s why this year, FRA’s Fundamental Rights Conference, on 12-13 November, in Vilnius, hosted together with the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, will bring together over 300 decision makers and practitioners from across the EU to explore effective strategies to combat hate crime through legal and policy measures.
He acknowledged the important role that remembrance days and memorial sites play in providing a bridge to the future in preserving the memory of totalitarian regimes and their victims through education and rights awareness. Underlining the importance of such remembrance events, he concluded with the words of one Danish student who witnessed the shock and horror of the atrocities committed by such regimes:
“[Remembrance days and] visits to memorial sites can provide a broader understanding of what human rights are. They help you to understand how important it is to create a world with room for everyone.”