The President of Malta

Diskors mill-E.T. George Vella, President ta’ Malta, waqt il-Kommemorazzjoni tal-Olokawst, (Diskors bl-Ingliż)

Year in year out, over these last years, we have come together, with sad soul and deep emotions to commemorate the world’s worst ever recorded deliberate mass killing of civilians.

We commemorate the planned, deliberate, well-executed programme of ethnic cleansing, involving men, women, children, and the elderly. It was part of a bigger plan of world domination by a regime that had ideas of superiority and had become obsessed with power.

It was a regime that had espoused a doctrine that was dictatorially enforced down the lines of command to the smallest dignitary and officer, as clearly evidenced in the different trials that ensued the Holocaust.

What have we done in our meetings every year up to now?

As expected, and with the deepest genuine remorse, we have remembered the victims, and reminded ourselves of the sufferings, hardships, humiliations, and atrocious acts they were subjected to, before meeting their untimely deaths.

We have grieved at the extermination of millions of law-abiding citizens, who were guilty of no other charge, beyond the fact that they belonged to a particular race, religion, or sexual orientation.

Year after year, we condemned without any reservation this heinous episode of history. We condemned the persons responsible, as well as all those who for various reasons refrained from acting, and denouncing the regime, when they could have done something.

During these meetings over the past years, we often had the opportunity to reflect on human frailty, human depravity, and on the depths into which humans can descend when guided only by extremist ideas of advancing a supreme race by enacting policies of grandeur, and amassing power through physical and psychological threats. As a consequence, respect for human rights, other persons’ fundamental freedoms, and the sanctity of life were simply discarded.

Some of us also had the occasion to recall our visits to the death and concentration camps where these atrocities took place, and that made us more disposed to understand, and somehow in a very small way, experience first-hand the atrocities lived by people imprisoned by the Nazi regime.

Repeatedly on every Remembrance Day, we solemnly proclaim that we will do everything to keep these memories alive, and do all in our power to see that such barbaric and horrendous atrocities will never happen again.

My question to you here is: Is that enough? Does that placate our conscience? Does it give us enough moral comfort between one Remembrance Day and the next in a year’s time?

The annual remembrance days undoubtedly served us as an occasion to discuss history, and speculate on what would have been the outcome, had different decisions at various levels been taken in due time.

They served us as excellent occasions in which to reflect and ponder on the role played by extremist ideology, and on the possible philosophical and political origins of such outrageous notions justifying the annihilation of millions of people, through depersonalisation, arrest, torture, and killings.

Rightly or wrongly, we found solace, and assuaged our consciences, by pointing fingers and accusing the perpetrators of these heinous crimes; looking at this most condemnable episode as if it were an event completely detached from what had led to it, and from the consequences on world history, and the gradual appreciation of human rights that followed it.

In all our remembrances, we were never short of outpouring our sincere sorrow and compassion to the victims, their relatives, and dear ones, and of expressing our utmost respect to the few survivors, whose numbers, as expected, are dwindling away with the passing of the years.

Above all else, we have also always joined our voices in warning ourselves that what happened in the Shoah should never happen again.

So far so good, and I hope and wish that this Holocaust Remembrance Day carries on being organized, to remind, to educate, and to warn present and future generations of the extremes to which human nature can descend if left unchecked to be guided only by its baser instincts.

Against this background, let us reflect on what has been achieved in these 80 years, and on whether humanity has learnt any lessons from the Holocaust.

Do we feel comfortable enough that the Shoah has served humanity a lesson?

I have my doubts.

It is beyond the imaginable that anything on the scale of what happened during the Shoah, will ever happen again, anywhere around the world. Let me not be interpreted as saying that we need not commemorate the Shoah anymore; on the contrary. What I am hinting at is to make these commemorative events in the future, more as an occasion to warn ourselves to be more vigilant, less acquiescent, and more critical of injustices present in 2023. More than being just occasions to commemorate a historical event, our meeting today should be an occasion to denounce all political and military activity aimed at subjugating, humiliating, or segregating human beings on the basis of nationality, ethnicity, religion, or race.

We owe it to the victims who paid the ultimate price, and to their family members who till this very day continue to mourn what happened decades ago. We have to make the most of the lessons we should have learnt.

Most importantly, we owe to the men, women and children still suffering persecution today. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the many international protocols advancing the well-being of humanity should act as our guiding light and refocus our resources towards the building of bridges that unite and bring peace over the prevalent culture of mistrust and fear.

As I look around me, 80 years after the Shoah, I still see a mentality of death and subjugation; I see traits of policies that came together at that moment in time to bring about the extermination of so many millions of innocent people, still being practiced and implemented around the globe with little or no shame or remorse, justified through domestic legislation and diplomatic allegiances.

The biggest and most deplorable fact during the Holocaust was how humans were treated as numbers, deprived of all respect, identity, and basic human rights.

Today unfortunately, some human beings continue to face these atrocities, albeit not in such large numbers together.

The ideology that certain people are superior to others still exists. Whether we admit it or not, this is at the basis of racism, xenophobia, discrimination, and apartheid.

With hand on heart, can we honestly see any iota of respect to human dignity in white slavery? In human trafficking? Or in drug trafficking where vulnerable human beings are literally disparagingly dehumanized and referred to as animals by being called ‘mules’?

Millions of unborn babies are killed before they ever have the chance to see the light of day.

Others, also in their millions, are living in the most abject of conditions, deprived of the bare essentials for a dignified life, steeped in poverty, lacking food, in a permanent state of malnutrition, deprived of even the most basic health services, and complete lack of any educational services.

The irony of all this is that, in many cases, such deprivation is experienced by people who are living in countries rich in resources, which unfortunately are exploited by multinational business interests, and the politics of greed, leaving the local inhabitants in poverty and desperation.

Millions more around the world are refugees, searching for security and stability in their lives, internally displaced or living in refugee camps offering very bleak opportunities for children and young people trapped in these circumstances.

Besides refugees in refugee camps, we also see thousands upon thousands of deprived people experiencing homelessness, living for years on end in some makeshift camps on the pavements, and sidewalks of most of our ever-expanding mega cities. These human beings are just surviving bereft of all human dignity.

Speaking of suffering, and negation of any shred of respect to human dignity, also brings to mind the millions, including women and children, displaced by regional strife and conflicts, where displacement of whole populations follows wars encouraged by the procurement of arms, armaments and ammunition, supplied by an arms producing industry, on which whole national economies depend.

This is the industry that gobbles down billions and billions of dollars worldwide… dollars that could well be used to relieve poverty, provide better health and education, and help achieve in a shorter period of time the objectives of the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030… dollars that if diverted towards development, could help us prove that we have really learnt the lesson to respect human dignity and treat all human being as equals.

As duty bound, we have over the years commemorated the victims of the Holocaust… and we should carry on doing so in the future.

However, we should also, as from now, reflect and raise our voices on the ongoing suffering of the unfortunate millions who become victims of the politics of division and the machine of war, and who fall within the categories of the disenfranchised, the poor and the forgotten I referred to in my reflection today.

If we do not do it now, who will be organizing a Remembrance Day for these people in the future?

Segregation through political and legal means, and the use of dehumanizing language and policies erecting mental and physical demarcations between ‘us’ and ‘them’, continue to be at the root of human suffering and injustice.

Despite the repeated commitments and all the agreements signed in multilateral political fora, such as the United Nations, inequality and atrocities continue to be the order of the day.

With all the professed good intentions on an international scale, and all the promises not to let the human degradation experienced by millions during the Holocaust ever to happen again, we should be doing better. We should denounce the politics of division, and instead promote the politics of peace, dialogue, and inclusion.

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