Gariwo: the gardens of the Righteous

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"The Righteous. Normality that rebels against evil"

Interview with Milena Santerini

On 10 May 2012, the European Parliament established the European Day in memory of the Righteous, to be celebrated annually on 6 March, to remember those who have taken on personal responsibility to oppose crimes against humanity and totalitarianism. Also our country, where this initiative was first conceived, shall feel committed to officially commemorating with a Day in memory of the Righteous of the Humanity those who, over history, have stood out for having the strength to defend human rights and the love of truth, even under the most difficult and inhumane circumstances, and have been able to bravely oppose injustice".

This is how the draft bill for the establishment of the Day in memory of the Righteous of the Humanity, scheduled to discussion in the Constitutional Affairs Committee on Thursday, 8 September, begins. We talked about it with Milena Santerini, President of the Parliamentary Alliance against hatred and racism of the Council of Europe and promoter of the bill.

What is the time frame and what will be the next steps for the approval of the bill?

We had been waiting for scheduling of the bill in the First Committee, i.e. the Constitutional Affairs Committee, for months, the bill obtained a wide consensus, it was signed by deputies of all parties, nonetheless it was difficult to find room for discussion during the Committee's proceedings, because of the high number of law drafts scheduled.
The scheduling is the start of a process, it means a bill draft is set for discussion. This will be followed by other passages, like the discussion between the members of the Committee, some possible audits, a possible restricted committee to deliberate on the draft and then, in case the Committee approves it, the appointment of a speaker and the passage of the bill over to the chamber for discussion. 

I am very optimistic about the possibility to see it soon approved, as the scheduling was already made by the Committee, and I really hope despite the many drafts on the agenda there will be room for discussing it also in the Chamber.

After the approval in 2012 of European Day of the Righteous, what does it mean for Italy to establish a Day dedicated to the memory of the Righteous at the national level? What signal can our country send through the approval of this bill? 

It is a very important signal, especially in a moment, in which we witness an upsurge in hatred, terrorism, and extremism. Placing our attention not on an "enemy" but on personal responsibility is essential in order to break this vicious circle of violence. This law therefore has a very high cultural and moral value, it reminds the country of the importance of Good, through History and the stories, also of nowadays. 

At the core of this bill there are schools and the initiatives targeting young people. What is thus the role of education - and memory - in  this process?

The establishment of the Day in itself can hardly be enough - and we know that the rhetoric of memory runs the risk over time to become corrosive - but nonetheless it is clear that the stories of the Righteous are an inexhaustible source of narration about the Good. In the face of a history full of episodes of Evil, we must then demand education - schools in particular, indeed - to draw not only from the past, but also from current events, to let these hidden resources of History and society, which lay underground and of which the Righteous are the bringers, emerge.

In the bill draft you read that "the courage of a lonely man can make the difference between Good and Evil". In the face of the challenges of our times, how can the example set by the Righteous help us?

The Righteous are examples of courage, normality that rebels against evil, they represent an originality against the mainstream, a capability not to yield to resignation and the idea that violence is everywhere. This is particularly important today, when Islamic terror with its cruelty kind of led us back to the idea of primitive violence, impossible to get rid of. The Righteous, as positive examples of civil and moral resistance, show us that we can always opt for Good, and give us hope in the humanity. 

The law to establish the Day in memory of the Righteous also calls us to "enact all possible measures for the prevention of genocide". It is a recall that has been repeated many times after World War Two, and has yet remained way too often unheeded. Are there any effective and feasible ways in the short run to achieve a real genocide prevention?

Unfortunately, every new case of genocide makes us fear that education and any other prevention effort were vain. And yet, I do not believe it is really like this. There are, and have been, many voices that have warned us from repeating the errors of the past - voices drawn from the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, Rwanda, Darfur... The problem is politics, which does not heed such voices, making realpolitik or economic interest prevail.

In the light of all this, who can be in your opinion the "Righteous of our times"?

They are all the people who do not yield to hatred. I deal with the Parliamentary Alliance against Hatred of the Council of Europe, a group of deputies who fight against intolerance, racism and antisemitism. I thus feel like saying that the Righteous do not surrender to hatred, they do not think it is unavoidable. I think also of the figures remembered by Gariwo, those who have fought during the Arab Springs, or have stemmed fundamentalism, or also rescued migrants in the Mediterranean Sea…
Just like the people who during the Holocaust forged documents for Jews or saved human lives from persecution, also today, albeit differently, the Righteous remind us that also in the gloomiest times of history we always have an option to choose the Good.

Martina Landi, Gariwo editorial staff; translation by Carolina Figini

15 September 2016

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Multimedia

Paolo Kessisoglu's speech

on Holocaust Remembrance Day 2015