Gariwo’s philosophy: educate to optimism and responsibility through the memory of the Righteous

by Gabriele Nissim

Below we publish the analysis by Gariwo president Gabriele Nissim on the philosophy of Gariwo and the educational value of the Gardens of the Righteous in society. The reflection is extracted from the book by Nathan Stoltzfus, Mordecai Paldiel and Judy Baumel -Schwartz "Women defying Hitler. Rescue and resistance under the Nazispublished by Bloomsbury in 2021.

Memory as education to choose at this time

In the last few years, Gariwo has publicly proposed a new culture of responsibility in Italy and Europe, dealing with the theme of memory of the Holocaust and genocides of the twentieth century.

It has done it by focusing on the theme of the Righteous, a new concept that had never been sufficiently developed, since attention to the victims and perpetrators of evil prevailed in public debate, underestimating moral mechanisms of those who resisted.

This is why, since its establishment at a conference at Padua University in 2000, Gariwo has worked to build hundreds of Gardens all around the world and has focused on important actions of education in schools. In this process, Gariwo has obtained the official celebration of the Day of the Righteous on 6th March, the day when Moshe Bejski died, first from the European Parliament in 2012 and then from the Italian Parliament in 2107.

The starting point was to question a deterministic view of history that does not recognize the active role of individuals, considering them completely powerless before political evil.

The Righteous, that is individuals who save lives in genocides, defend human dignity in dictatorships, try to prevent the mechanisms of hatred that lead to the conditions for extreme drift, engage in their daily lives to preserve dignified conduct, even when the world is heading in the wrong direction, and unequivocally show that human beings can always choose.

In any crisis, indifference, complicity with perpetrators, voluntary servitude, or decisions made by responsible men, who can always change the course of events, can win.

Even though we turn our glance back to catastrophes of the past, observing the actions of those who tried to defend human dignity, we realize that evil would not have been inevitable at all, if others had followed their example.

It may seem paradoxical, but even few Righteous can save the idea of ​​hope and of the future, because they show that human beings, though fragile, can become the judges of their destiny.

Thus an optimistic message is conveyed from extreme evil. If every human being takes his or her responsibility, situations can be overturned, even if the outcomes are not quantifiable and immediate.

Through this approach, Gariwo has given a new ethical dimension to the theme of memory and has tried to convey to young people a new perspective in interpretation of the past.

First of all, it is a matter of reading Shoah and genocides not only starting from compassion for the victims, but focusing on decisions made by human beings. Evil therefore appears to be a big battlefield where the grey area of ​​complicity and that of responsibility are opposed. Nothing is taken for granted, because history can take a different direction at any moment, starting from the judgment and behaviour of human beings.

If one grasps the mechanism of choice through exemplary actions of the Righteous, then it becomes possible to imagine that this battlefield does not only concern the past, but also involves ever new dimensions even at the present time.

Unlike in the past, when the Righteous could only resist and save few lives, acting now could mean becoming the architects of prevention of evil.

Therefore, the main challenge for young people is to understand the past taking responsibility in their own time.

Many are convinced that remembering only means preserving past events against all forms of oblivion and revisionism. This would be the most important proof of solidarity vis-à-vis the victims, and it was the big desire of Holocaust survivors who demanded justice, when in so many European countries complicity that had led to extermination was erased, or even silenced, as it happened during communist totalitarianism, the Jewish identity of the victims of Nazism.

But not forgetting is only a part of it. Indeed, there is a higher form of redemption that allows us to make memory alive and responsible: acting at the present time so that the mechanisms of hatred and dehumanization of human beings are not repeated. This is the highest pact that those who survived or were lucky enough to be born in peacetime can maintain vis-à-vis the victims. Etty Hillesum had understood this very well, claiming in Westerbork prison camp that the final victory against Nazism could only be that of the birth of a world without hatred and without enemies. If this future had not been imagined, Nazis would have corrupted the world even after the end of the war.

Today a short circuit often takes place. Remembering only becomes rhetorical when taking a stance on the extermination of Jews or Armenians, but then commitment is not felt at the present time.

In some cases it becomes melancholic memory, which leads to resignation and distrust in the world. One can continue to cry for the crimes of the past. In other cases it becomes an alibi to justify indifference and selfishness at the present time. For example, those who take part in Remembrance Days claim they are against anti-Semitism and on the side of Jews (of yesterday), but then have no qualms about building barriers against Muslims and migrants. Trump is almost a caricature. He declares he is a friend of Jews and Israel but, like Hungarian Victor Orban, he is the great champion of walls all over the world and has no scruples in delivering Kurds to Erdogan’s executioners.

The plurality of the Righteous

How does Gariwo convey an optimistic vision of the future and of the possibility of choosing for human beings under any circumstances through the message of the Righteous?

First of all, by extending the idea of ​​the Righteous stemming from the Holocaust to all genocides and crimes against humanity.

We made it possible for the intuition of Moshe Bejski[1], who was the most passionate creator of Jerusalem Garden of the Righteous, to become a universal idea.

At the end of a life dedicated to research and appreciation of those who saved Jews, Bejski came to this staggering conclusion. There was no place during the Second World War where someone had not tried to save Jews, be these concentration camps, houses, factories, even parliaments in the hands of fascists. Therefore there was always room for action, but very few took this decision.

Choosing good is therefore a possibility within the reach of all human beings when history takes a bad direction. Contexts are always different, but the mechanism of choice and responsibility was similar in dictatorships, genocides, totalitarian regimes, as it was in Shoah.

Choosing is an act of individual freedom that allows all human beings to use their body as a barrier against evil. Even if they don’t succeed, they leave a trace that can be picked up by others and become an example beyond their own time. The outcome of a choice is not always quantifiable and ensured, but it is a defeat for one’s own personality when individuals give up thinking and decide for their quiet life to turn their head away.

Reinterpreting the stories of the Righteous in the dark moments of human kind has a therapeutic effect in that it shows the actual foundation of hope.

Many ruins in history could have been avoided if there had been more responsible individuals, institutions and states, but in any case those who tried managed to preserve dignity and became a moral reference upon whom we can rely when we are forced to make decisions in the world we were cast into.

Choosing, as Hannah Arendt argued in Life of the Mind, her most mature work, means feeling uneasy when individuals around us are dehumanized and made unnecessary for political and economic purposes; choosing means thinking independently and judging by putting oneself in the shoes of others and challenging well-established ideas of the majority and unfair laws that justify oppression; choosing means acting with an act of will that defines, as Heraclitus[2] argued, the character of someone who decides to be involved and to bring about an action.

But how can a young person or a citizen of today understand the mechanism of choice in history that preceded us? Activating knowledge, memory and imagination is the prerequisite, but it is not sufficient if individuals are not constantly used to making comparisons not only in different contexts, but also between past and present.

For example, it may seem that it is sufficient for youngsters to visit Auschwitz death camp or Platform 21 in Milan, from which trains transporting Jews left, to understand the depths of the past and then tell the stories of the few Righteous who tried to resist. It is the first step of knowledge, but it is still an unfulfilled void, because it is always the relationship with reality and with people in flesh and blood that makes us touch and better understand the past.

This is why Gariwo recommends that students, after visiting Auschwitz, go and see refugee camps in the Mediterranean, in Lampedusa, enter prisons or, as suggested by Marek Edelman, deputy commander of Warsaw ghetto revolt, spend a whole night in an emergency room to see new suffering firsthand.

In this way a virtuous path is created where the past of genocides illuminates the present, allows us to suggest questions on the current condition and the direct relationship with suffering leads to better understanding what happened yesterday.

Through this approach, in the Gardens of the Righteous, Gariwo enhances moral individuals who saved lives during the Holocaust and the other genocides of the twentieth century, along with more contemporary individuals who saved lives in Rwanda, in Syria; those who committed to helping migrants at sea or worked hard to protect people during terrorist attacks.

Showing youngsters the direct testimony of those who have made a risky decision in an emergency context allows them to understand the universal mechanism of choice and opens up a completely different perspective in the interpretation of the Righteous during Shoah or the Armenian genocide.

Through this methodology, Gariwo strives to show that the type of Righteous is never defined a priori, but changes throughout time depending on the challenges of the time in which we happen to live. We inherit the examples of the Righteous who acted in the past, but human beings must think for themselves from time to time, because good and evil always take on new dimensions and are never the same. It is like the flow of a river, as Heraclitus suggested. The course of water follows the same path, but water is always different. This is what poet René Chair said in an aphorism that perfectly describes the condition of human beings facing a new beginning: “Our inheritance was left to us by no testament.”

This is why the interpretation of the present and the assumption of responsibility are a risky leap in a largely unexplored territory, where those who march in a bad direction happen to use misleading cultural references. The example of Soviet totalitarianism that used the flag of anti-fascism, the fight against anti-Semitism (at least at the beginning) and of equality for the creation of new despotic regimes is valid for all. Those who understood the semantic deception then had to struggle against well-established prejudices and often faced almost impossible battles in solitude. Those who helped the newly persecuted were indeed stigmatized as traitors of a just cause. It was then difficult to be Righteous, when an act of humanity and responsibility was considered to be an action against the very idea of ​​justice, therefore an illegal action against the laws of the new political morality.

To facilitate the path of choice in our time, Gariwo constantly tries to ask questions on unsolved problems: climate change, immigration, hospitality, the fight against terrorism and fundamentalism, hatred on social media, in political debate and in sport.

As it always happened in the past, virtuous conduct of responsible individuals anticipates possible solutions and indicates new ways that can be emulated.

This is why Gariwo tries to foster and make young people aware of those who can be called the Righteous of our time. Scientists who investigate and work on the field for environmental protection of the planet, Muslims who take responsibility for terrorism, those who promote peace and hospitality in a hostile environment, those who insist on imagining a world without walls are forerunners of the great future battles that await human beings. As it happened to the Righteous of Shoah or Soviet dissidents, today they are often on the margins or are looked upon as deluded do-gooders, but through their example they show it is possible to choose in today’s world and make us understand the new existing battlefield and the opportunity of a new beginning.

Good is not sacrifice

But how can one convey realistic hope and explain the concept that every human being can count in the world and always make a difference?

It may seem like gambling, but also through the reinterpretation of many positive testimonies it is necessary to educate young people to understand that acting for the good of others never involves sacrifice or privation, but is instead a path that can make life more fulfilling, richer and more beautiful.

Happiness is found by doing good to others, because doing the good of others is good for oneself. This is the fundamental message of the Righteous.

On the other hand, it is not educational to claim that self-sacrifice is a value or the mandatory path to a better world. The idea that good is renunciation paves the way to removal of responsibilities.

“Who makes me do it, why should I suffer for good?” is the common reaction to this type of request.

Behind this concept the idea is that earthly life is only transitional and that our sacrifice will be truly awarded in afterlife. Therefore human beings would be condemned to suffer to find glory in another world.

Moreover, if virtue is associated with deprivation and renunciation of one’s life, good becomes possible only for saints and heroes, therefore a metaphysical option beyond human dimension.

Teaching is totally different that in many situations putting oneself in other people’s shoes and acting for the justice of others means cultivating one’s character and personality. Keeping one’s word, keeping one’s promise, means standing publicly behind it and doing an act of will that also involves risks.

It always takes character and determination to act. It is not sufficient to have the right opinion or to click on social media for a cause, as one would say today. We must get involved in our lives as Stoic philosophers taught. Active decisions are always leaps into the void, because results are never ensured.

However, if we look at the genesis of the behaviour of those who acted in extreme conditions in current dictatorships and genocides, we realize that the starting point leading to courageous actions is always the protection of one’s humanity and moral well-being.

We risk to save another human being, to safeguard our happiness.

This is how Hannah Arendt explains the secret of the Righteous, pushing them to resist and act: “The non-participants (to Nazism)... were the only ones who dared judge by themselves; and they were capable of doing so not because they disposed of a better system of values or because the old standards of right and wrong were still firmly planted in their mind and conscience… they asked themselves to what extent they would still be able to live in peace with themselves after having committed certain deeds; and they decided that it would be better to do nothing, not because the world would then be changed for the better, but simply because only on this condition could they go on living with themselves at all. Hence, they also chose to die when they were forced to participate. To put it crudely, they refused to murder, not so much because they still held fast to the command “Thou shalt not kill”, but because they were unwilling to live together with a murderer – themselves.”

Possible good of human beings

To always keep hope of possible good within everyone’s reach, one must not fall into the mistake of sanctifying the Righteous and telling their stories as if they were the work of perfect individuals.

We have to get used to thinking that someone who is a swindler in life, someone who has embraced the most absurd ideology, someone who helps others without giving up their small and big vices, those who live in the most disorderly way, those who apparently look like the worst selfish individuals can become righteous. The way they behaved previously does not matter, what actually matters is how they changed. It is wrong to seek absolute consistency: one must look humbly at fundamental decisions made by individuals in crises of humanity. No pure good exists on Earth, but always fragile and contradictory good. One must accept the ambiguity of good because it is not the work of a God, but of human beings who, throughout their limited life, struggle first of all for their survival and can never be bearers of absolute good.

Even those who have the best intentions will make mistakes and will never be up to an absolute categorical imperative, as Agnes Heller observes.

Human beings can ideally embrace the world[3], but cannot help all those who suffer. And even when they do their best, taking care of people around them, they will leave someone behind and therefore appear inadequate.

Recognizing without any rhetoric that most human beings can be responsible only by doing small things[4], as emperor philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote in his Meditations, is not however the sign of the impotence of human beings before extreme evil, but indeed it is their actual opportunity to take a small step that can change the world in every situation.

Moshe Bejski observed that great moral responsibility during the Holocaust was not that of those who feared for their lives and did not sacrifice themselves to save Jews, but rather that of indifferent individuals who, despite the opportunity to make small gestures, only watched and did not act.

Culprits were therefore those who could do something without risking too much and who, on the other hand, turned their heads away for their quiet life and did not do the right thing.

The worst things in history do not happen because saints, great heroes or individuals who are aware of everything beforehand are missing, but because individuals often prefer to escape small responsibilities they could take in their daily life.

What is missing is therefore not absolute and impossible good, but fragile and imperfect good.

This is why it is pedagogically wrong, when stories of the Righteous are told, to emphasize unapproachable heroism, which paradoxically removes responsibility of those who are prone to indifference.

The truest and most sincere answer would be: “Why should I do it if I have to give up my pleasure, my family, my own life to help someone in danger? Sorry, maybe I am a coward, but I don’t feel like being a hero. You are asking me something that is out of my human reach. I’m not a superman. The Righteous have nothing to do with what they really are. I can then understand those who only watched and did not act.”

In order to be effective, work on the memory of the Righteous must therefore humanize and make clear all their contradictions, ambiguities and even smile at all their flaws without censoring them.

Remembering for example[5] that Giorgio Perlasca pretended to be a Spanish diplomat and saved so many Jews in Budapest because he allegedly fell in love with a beautiful Hungarian girl or German writer Armin Wegner[6], who after denouncing the persecution of Jews in a letter to Hitler, wrote a defensive memorial to save his own life, in which he said he was willing to work for the Third Reich, when he was arrested and then tortured in prison.

The shorter the distance between a normal individual and a virtuous individual, the more one shows that possible good is within everyone’s reach because the Righteous are not beyond the human dimension: they are fragile as we all are.

The function of the Gardens of the Righteous in society

What is the function of the Gardens of the Righteous in society? Why do we suggest extending them in schools and in every city of Europe and the world as a new experience in the framework of memory and education to responsibility?

First of all because we believe that the beauty of good individuals should not remain closed in the hidden vault of a museum, but rather become usable for the whole society as a constant source of example and emulation.

It would never occur to anyone to hide a work by Raphael or Michelangelo from people’s sight. The same should apply to the actions of the Righteous who have taken responsibility in the darkest moments of human kind. They give us pleasure and joy as a beautiful work of art does.

We know that those who do good actions do not do it to appear, but for their well-being.

This is emphasized by the stoic Marcus Aurelius[7] and by Saint Matthews[8], who warn that good should never be done to seek reward, but rather for the sake of it.

And yet, it is the awareness of the fragility of human beings that should make us understand that those who perform an act of humanity, taking all their personal risks, should never be left alone and even find public recognition in some way.

Even the best individual with the strongest and most determined character gives up or succumbs when neglected and forgotten.

Those who do good are not gods or supermen but need to feel the warmth of gratitude to move forward.

This is why Gariwo believes that planting trees in the Gardens dedicated to the Righteous fosters public opinion to constantly give thanks. Indeed, there is not only indifference vis-à-vis victims, but also vis-à-vis those who have come to their rescue.

Thus educators who foster the Gardens turn into pearl fishermen who, as Walter Benjamin observed, bring back to light fragments of humanity that would remain hidden in the depths of history due to the distraction of most people.

Such visibility not only breaks the wall of oblivion, but also conveys to society the taste of remembering good and the value of gratitude.

The discovery that acts of good and responsibility give relief and convey hope for the future often leads to a thrust to gratitude: the pleasure of knowing and admiring the beauty of good individuals creates a new mechanism of emulation.

People who find with the Righteous a sense in life and greater trust in human kind thus feel the need to value and take care of those who are committed to good and human dignity.

The Gardens encourage gratitude not because society only feels it as a moral duty, but because people experience the moment of thanksgiving as an existential pleasure enriching their human dimension.

This is why the multiplication of the Gardens in different cities leads to a new civil phenomenon: hundreds of requests to plant new trees arrive to Gariwo and municipalities and many people feel the need to tell even personal stories that would otherwise be forgotten.

The method of indirect communication

However, the Gardens are not a place of commemoration, but rather a structure the purpose of which is fostering consciences and educating to responsibility.

The method is indirect communication.

In the Gardens visitors do not listen to sermons, but to stories of individuals pushing them to reflect.

Pierre Hadot explains this well when recalling Kierkegaard’s teaching, as he speaks of the educational value of indirect message encouraging free and never imposed choice[9]. There is nothing worse than a moral appeal looking like a peremptory order or an absolute truth.

If one says directly what to do, conduct is dictated with a tone of false certainty. Instead, through the description of experiences lived by others, one can let an attitude be glimpsed and suggested, let a recall be grasped that the other can accept or refuse. It is up to this individual to decide. He or she is free to believe or not to believe, to act or not to act.

The whole architectural structure of the new Garden of the Righteous of Milan was designed for this purpose.

First of all, visitors are stimulated to compare the various stories of responsibility in the different genocides or totalitarianisms. Those who walk among the trees and the plaques are pushed to have a universal vision of the human condition and not only to stop in front of a story touching them closely, as for fascism in Italy. They know indeed several stories of moral resistance concerning other countries and different historical contexts.

The following step is to foster a comparison between past and present, because alongside the stories of the Righteous of Holocaust, of gulag, or of the Armenian genocide, they find examples of moral responsibility concerning our time. Thus they receive the message that the mechanism of choice for human beings before evil never ends in history. They better understand the present because they read it through the memory of the past and, reflecting on difficult decisions of our contemporaries (for example, those who risk their lives today to save migrants or fight against terrorism or for women’s freedom in religious fundamentalism), they become more empathetic vis-à-vis the Righteous of the past, who no longer appear to them as if they lived in a tragic film that does not concern them.

At the end of their journey they find themselves in two squares. The first, a smaller and more personal square, where they can sit on a bench and meditate, alone or with a friend.

The second square hosts a larger amphitheatre, designed to foster collective debate for a school, an association, a neighbourhood group...

Visitors can thus leave their anonymity and question themselves before a small polis, where they can publicly express their stances. They get involved and, after their visit, promise to take responsibility: they first discover the stories of others and must now begin to narrate their own.

It is a sort of spiritual exercise that begins that day, but which then, through an act of free choice, can be extended to their active and daily life.

Thus the Gardens have a Socratic maieutic function. Through the stories of the Righteous visitors wonder and can perhaps question themselves and face their own prejudices without any constraints, which Socrates called frozen thoughts.

The Gardens also play an important role in sharing and dialogue of minorities living in metropolitan cities with experiences, religions, different cultural references; for Jews, Armenians, Rwandans who survived a genocide; migrants from Eastern Europe who lived in communist totalitarian regimes; women who experienced religious obscurantism in Africa and Asia; Muslims in Bosnia and Thailand who suffered ethnic cleansing. For all of them the experience of good and evil and the very concept of Righteous and responsibility have different values. They are all inclined to shut themselves up in their story by creating competition of memories that often makes empathy of minorities complex.

The structure that is not by chance called Garden worldwide breaks barriers and is designed through original guided tours aimed at creating shared memory.

Muslims who visit it learn the condition of Jews and the importance of those who fought against anti-Semitism, and on their turn, Jews learn about those who tried to save lives in the Armenian or Rwandan genocide.

And even Western Europeans who are linked to the historical experience of anti-fascism can open up to the knowledge of resistance to communist totalitarianism, the understanding of which is still difficult today and leads to many delays in the political and cultural construction of Europe. Too often the academic debate on those who have suffered the greatest evil is likely to cover up evil with another evil. When dealing with crimes against humanity, the concept of lesser evil can never apply.

Through this universal approach, Gariwo tries to show that a genocide or a crime does not only concern the minority that has suffered it, but must become the memory of all human kind.

Until now, a misunderstanding has often occurred, although never explicitly. When we talked about the Righteous we thought (although claiming the opposite) they only concerned the memory of people who were oppressed. Instead, the idea must be affirmed that every time a genocide occurs, the whole world is hurt. For this reason, a Righteous who comes to the rescue of an individual of a persecuted minority always becomes a guardian of all human kind. And the Righteous do not exist for a single historical context since in every circumstance there are courageous and responsible individuals who act to defend human dignity (and today I would say also the planet).

The Garden also indicates that ethical and responsibility decisions taking place in different contexts have a common moral matrix. There is indeed no difference between those who helped an Armenian, a Jew, or a Muslim. There is common humanity in all gestures of solidarity.

When elaborated, the memory of good allows bridging gaps and prejudices: the beauty of good individuals plays an extraordinary function because it allows understanding common belonging to the human race. A Righteous no longer has a homeland in particular, but rather belongs to the whole world and has the strength to move and amaze.

The experience of Charter ‘77 and education to responsibility

How can the Gardens of the Righteous stimulate great decisions made by individuals?

It is crucial for them to always be surrounded by a collective thinking brain that can convey thorough knowledge of the time in which we live.

Its task is not to suggest a priori solutions, but to indicate areas in which human beings have to choose in historical conditions in which they have been thrown into their existence.

Gariwo has taken as a reference the historical experience of Charter ‘77, which in Prague during the years of resistance to communism led people of different cultures and backgrounds to come to terms with their own time, indicating possible itineraries and virtuous behaviours.

To be good and virtuous it was necessary to understand the context, because all citizens in their small edge of possibility, as Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, had to straighten their time. Moreover, this task never ends in history and occurs from generation to generation.

This is why Jan Patocka and Vaclav Havel, the founders of the Charter, proposed documents on which the citizens of Prague were encouraged to reflect and think.

With the same spirit, together with philosophers, thinkers, scientists, scholars, Gariwo draws up from time to time Charters of responsibility on the big issues of today.

Currently the great challenges that no responsible individual can escape concern defence and protection of the planet threatened by global warming; the choice between global responsibility and closure in dangerous nationalisms; defence of political democracy against suggestions of populism and illiberal democracy; preservation of peace and non-violence in wars and terrorist threats.

Knowledge is therefore necessary to act, as Havel realized, which good teachers must be able to convey to society.

Education to thinking as a spiritual exercise, which Pierre Hadot indicated in some practices taken from the classical world[10] (the ability to look at the world from above and to stand from a universal point of view, the willingness to always put oneself in other people’s shoes, the awareness of the fragility of life that unites human beings that should push them to cooperate and to be friends, the exercise of will leading to the character and freedom of individuals), must therefore be complemented by knowledge of the dynamics of the world.

An example among all: if at the time of Shoah information on concentration camps and Nazi politics had been disseminated in a much clearer way, societies would have been more likely involved in the rescue of Jews. Many governments were responsible for such removal, such as the American and Soviet governments, which did not alert public opinion, and so the Jews themselves did not realize the danger they were facing.

As Anatolij Kuznecov wrote in Babij Jar, a book censored during the years of communism, Jews in Ukraine at the time of German invasion did not realize the danger they were facing because Soviet newspapers after the Ribbentrop Molotov pact “did nothing else than magnifying and exalting Hitler, the best friend of Soviet Union, and gave no news of the condition of Jews in Germany and Poland. Thus Jews in Kiev could even include enthusiastic admirers of Hitler, considered to be a talented statesman[11].”

This is why the task of the Gardens of the Righteous through promotion of positive individuals is to warn citizens about decisions they are all called to make in new present emergencies.

How to be Righteous in our time? This is the question that educators promoting the Gardens ask to the society.

The method, as Vaclav Havel well understood in his splendid book, The Power of the Powerless, is not however of the Enlightenment type with abstract indications coming from above, but rather consists in indicating positive practices that everyone can follow in their daily life.

The playwright, inspirer of Charter ‘77, understood then that conveying knowledge had to create alternative life forms through which totalitarian power could be eroded from the bottom.

The awareness of negative time, in which Prague inhabitants were crushed, had to stimulate citizens to create a parallel society that implemented experiences of virtuous life.

It was not a matter of attacking power and pointing out enemies, once again proposing a totalitarian logic according to which the Jacobin conquest of the Palace was the solution to all issues, but rather of building good practices that changed the way of living of people.

The strength of this perspective lay in the creation of a collective emulation movement that educated even the worst individuals to repent and change course.

This is why, though resisting against a totalitarian power, like Etty Hillesum, Havel never fell into the logic of a final showdown between us and them (at the basis of the enemy’s culture), but always set out to create collective self-education movements.

With this same spirit, Gariwo has tried to give an answer to the mechanisms of hatred and contempt that we see today in social media and politics and that can become, unless properly addressed, dangerous germs of evil and generate dangerous conflicts.

Today two phenomena are occurring, correlated to each other at the level of Power, but also in widespread customs of society.

The first one is how politicians use social media for campaigns that generate contempt and create enemies among people.

Once dictators like Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin manipulated individuals using squares, through an innovative technique that galvanized people through mass gatherings and direct communication where tyrants from a balcony addressed the crowd directly and presented themselves as their absolute representatives; conversely, today, the worst politicians have created new balconies to influence people through unscrupulous use of social media and the dissemination of fake news on the web.

Through specially-designed systems, they disseminate political campaigns that bypass traditional institutions and media and from time to time create enemies against whom people should hurl. A tweet that speaks to people’s guts and triggers the worst instincts against migrants or political opponents can have the same impact as a speech by Mussolini in Piazza Venezia against Jews and the Masonic Jewish power in banks.

This mechanism of communication leading to contempt and insults does not only concern the worst politicians, but has also become a negative practice in the way of speaking in the web.

Today there are so many people in social media who present themselves as the bearers of an absolute truth and stigmatize those who have different opinions, pushing the tribe following them to insult and isolate these individuals using very harsh words. Everyone can say what they want without having any competence in the matter, but only by hearsay. So often people almost unconsciously get used to looking for enemies on all sides, ready to receive the worst political messages and to bring them in their daily life.

This is why we have proposed a Charter of Responsibilities in Social Media that encourages people to create a parallel society (according to Havel’s teaching) watching over hatred and fake news and in which people speak gracefully and respectfully with the others. If one gets used to this virtuous behaviour, it will be easier to isolate professional haters and stop the line of personal contempt in politics. We need to create a Web of friends and not of enemies.

The second theme is that of contributing in sport to good Competition, as Greek poet Hesiod said, which fosters respect of the opponent and friendship in competition, in support and in the narration of sporting events.

Agonism in sport that involves a relationship in which human beings compete with each other, for better or for worse, indicates the degree of civilization of human kind.

It can be used by dictatorships to convey the message of superiority of a race or of a nation and become an ideological propaganda tool for totalitarian regimes; or it can become the expression of moral wealth of a democratic society enhancing equality in sport competition and the purpose of which is always exalting individual or collective performance in a spirit of friendship.

In recent years the most significant experience of good agonism has come from South Africa, where, after the years of apartheid, President Nelson Mandela wanted the national rugby team to become the vehicle for reconciliation of white and black people, the symbol of possible integration in his country.
Conversely, the football match of 13th May 1990 at Maksimir stadium between Dinamo Zagreb and Red Star Belgrade unleashed a bloody guerrilla war between the relevant supporters that anticipated the civil war in former Yugoslavia. Supporters in that stadium did not cheer for sport, but rather considered the sport competition as the fight against an enemy that had to be destroyed. That match, exploited by nationalists, therefore laid the foundations for the imminent war. Opposing footballers were hated and the ball was to be replaced by weapons. Today, in a dangerous time where hatred and nationalisms are coming back, where in the name of a religion massacres are committed, where black athletes are insulted in stadiums, where an Arab athlete is prevented from competing and shaking hands with an Israeli athlete, it is necessary to bring back the values ​​of good and positive competition in sport.
As history taught us, sometimes sport can save the world, because the behaviour of athletes, supporters and even sport journalists can positively impact on the democratic life in our societies. For this reason we have drawn up a Charter of Responsibilities in Sport signed by great Olympic champions, by athletes of all sports and by well-known journalists, since current hatred in society is fed by degeneration in sport cheering as the worst communication practices are on social media.

What is at stake is collective awareness of the culture of the enemy and of hate speech in our fragile democracies.

The Gardens of the Righteous of our time have a task that nobody would have ever imagined: raise awareness on the Righteous who have understood that protecting the planet is crucial to safeguard the future of human kind, as is the creation of a movement fostering collective responsibility that can break all barriers.

In this case, the Talmud principle should be updated. It is no longer sufficient to say those who save a life save the whole world, but we must save the whole world together.

[1] Gabriele Nissim, Il tribunale del bene, la storia di Moshe Bejski, l’uomo che creò il giardino dei giusti, Milan, Mondadori, 2003.

[2] Heraclitus. “A man’s character is his fate.”

[3] “Responsibility for others begins with those with whom we are truly united by bonds of mutuality and reciprocity, and expands towards those with whom we may enter into this relationship. As for all the others with whom we share this earth, we can do much for them, we can hold them in the embrace of charity and solidarity, but we do not necessarily take responsibility for them.” Agnes Heller, An Ethics of Personality, the Other and the Question of Responsibility, in Agnes Heller, La bellezza della persona buona, DIABASIS, La Ginestra.

[4] “Do not wait for Plato’s Republic, but be happy if one little thing can lead to progress and reflect on the fact that what results from such a little thing is not, in fact, so very little.” Marcus Aurelius quoted in Pierre Hadot, What Is Ancient Philosophy?, Turin, Einaudi, 1998, p. 270.

[5] Gabriele Nissim, Il bene possibile, essere giusti nel nostro tempo, Utet, Milan, 2018, p. 5.

[6] Gabriele Nissim, La lettera a Hitler, storia di Armin Wegner combattente solitario contro i genocidi del Novecento, Mondadori, Milan, 2015, p. 175.

[7] “What would you more, when you have done a man a kindness? Is it not enough for you that you have acted in this according to your nature? Do you ask a reward for it? It is as if the eye were to ask a reward for seeing, or the feet for walking… So man, formed by nature to do kindness to his fellows… whenever he acts kindly, has fulfilled the purpose of his creation, and has possession of what is his own.” Marcus Aurelius, Ricordi, Einaudi, Turin, 2015.

[8] Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Saint Matthew, Gospel, Edizioni San Paolo, Milan, 2008.

[9] “If you say directly ‘Do like this or like that’, conduct is dictated with a tone of false certainty. Instead, thanks to the description of a spiritual life lived by another, it is possible to glimpse and suggest a spiritual attitude, let catch a call that the reader has freedom to accept and reject. It is up to the reader to decide. The reader is free to believe and not to believe, to act or not to act.” Pierre Hadot, “Philosophy As a Way of Life”, Turin, Einaudi.

[10] Pierre Hadot, Spiritual Exercises and Ancient Philosophy, Turin, Einaudi.

[11] Anatolij Kuznecov, Babij Jair, Adelphi Edizioni, Milan, 2019, p. 104.

Gabriele Nissim

Analysis by Gabriele Nissim, Gariwo Chairman

21 December 2021

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