Speech by Thorbjørn Jagland,
Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Opening Ceremony of the Conference on Democracy and Human Rights 2012
“Remembering Raoul Wallenberg”
Budapest, 28 June 2012
Check against delivery
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have come together to remember Raoul Wallenberg, in the city where he saved so many lives. It is fitting that we do so close to his hundredth birthday. But it is also a shameful fact that, as we do so, we still do not know for sure whether he is dead or alive, even if the balance of probability now overwhelmingly favours the former.
I can hardly imagine the pain and stress that this has caused his family in the sixty-seven years that have passed since he disappeared. Surely somewhere in the former Soviet Union there must be hard evidence about what happened to him. I appeal to anyone who has access to that evidence to bring it to light. Surely now it can no longer harm any living person. But it can still bring some comfort to his living relatives, and to all of us who yearn to know the full truth about the fate of this remarkable man, whose example has inspired so many.
It is a great honour for me to be asked to speak at this opening ceremony. I am well aware that I owe this honour not to any personal merit, or any personal connection with Wallenberg, but to my office.
And just as it is absolutely right that this conference on democracy and human rights is devoted to his memory, I also believe it is right that I should be here, as Secretary General of the Council of Europe – because democracy and human rights are the essential values which Wallenberg stood for, and so bravely exemplified; and it is those same values that the Council was created to uphold, only four short years after his disappearance.
From ten member states when it was created, the Council has expanded to 47, and now embraces virtually the whole of Europe. But its work of upholding democracy and human rights – together with the rule of law, which underpins both – is no less essential now than it was in 1949.
As our founders were thankful then that Europe was no longer under the jackboot of National Socialism, so we can all be grateful now that half of Europe, including the place where we are meeting, is no longer subject to Communism. But there are many subtler threats to freedom, and many forms that intolerance and racism can take.
Once again, as in the early 1930s, Europe is living through a profound economic crisis. Once again we are threatened with recession and unemployment. Once again many of us react by taking refuge in populism, xenophobia and extreme nationalism. And once again it is minorities and the most vulnerable among us who are most immediately threatened.
I don’t want to be alarmist. I see no reason to believe that this time we will descend into war, let alone that we shall see again in Europe the death camps from which Wallenberg saved tens of thousands, but in which millions were murdered in cold blood. I feel confident that we can hold fast to our principles, as well as our human instincts of compassion and solidarity.
But I feel confident only because I believe we will not forget the lessons of that terrible time, even though every year there are fewer of us who actually lived through it. That is why it’s so important that we keep alive the memory of men and women like Wallenberg – of their extraordinary courage, and the extraordinary evils that it took such courage to confront. It is that memory that can keep us true to our fundamental values, amid the new and old challenges of this new century.
We will remember him, and we must.
Thank you very much.