Holocaust remembrance conference in Swedish city hit by antisemitism results in pledges to act

The conference, Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism, was hosted by Swedish Prime Minster Stefan Löfven and gathered representatives from 50 countries, international organisations and social media platforms.

“I have personally promised survivors to do what I can as Prime Minister, and as a human being, for Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism,” the Prime Minister said at the concluding press conference (13 October). “I intend to keep that promise. I sincerely hope that the Malmö Forum will work as a catalyst for international cooperation and increased action.”

Originally planned to take place in October 2020, 75 years after the end of WWII and the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Forum was postponed for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Forum took place 21 years after the adoption of the Stockholm Declaration, the founding document of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

It followed the recent adoption by the European Commission of an EU strategy on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life in Europe against the backdrop of rising antisemitism in member states fuelled by conspiracy theories during the coronavirus crisis and outbreaks of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The strategy, described as the first ever of its kind and structured around three pillars: Preventing and Combating, Protecting and Fostering, and Educating and Researching, has inspired Sweden and other countries to draft their own national action plans to tackle antisemitism, antigypsyism and racism in their societies.

European Commission Ursula von der Leyen addressed the conference via videoconference. “I am proud that, last week, the Commission adopted the first-ever ‘EU Strategy on combatting anti-Semitism and fostering Jewish life’,” she said.  “Antisemitism is a threat to Jewish people, but it is also a poison for our democracies, our values and our open societies.”

It was not by coincidence that the conference took place in the city of Malmö in South Sweden. Jews fleeing across the Öresund strait between Denmark and Sweden during WWII arrived in Malmö. The White Buses of the Swedish Red Cross carrying survivors from concentration camps were also received there. Many of these survivors remained in Malmö for the rest of their lives.

The location, however, was also controversial because today Malmö has become a hotbed of antisemitism mainly due to migrants from the Middle East and the complacent attitude by the former Social Democratic mayor of the city, leading to Jews leaving Malmö and a once flourishing Jewish community.

Stefan Löfven, the leader of the Social Democratic party, recognised in an interview in local media that there had been problems in his own party in the Skåne county. The party did not react in time against the mayor and even kept him in its central board with new assignments after he resigned from his post.

With a new administration in the city, the fight against antisemitism has become a priority but still teachers do not dare to teach about the Holocaust and Jewish pupils are harassed at schools. The situation might improve once the new Swedish action plan against antisemitism is fully implemented.

Pledges to follow up

“What we need now is not fine words and lofty phrases, we must ensure that more concrete action is taken,” the Prime Minister explained.  “I hope that the fact that all Remember-ReAct participants are coming to the Forum with concrete pledges will result in our being able to jointly make real progress in this important work.”

“We have made several pledges in connection with the conference (“Remember-ReAct”) to contribute both to the memory of the Holocaust and to preventing antisemitism today and in the future,” he added.

“Sweden pledges to preserve and pass on the memory of the Holocaust; to promote education to prevent antisemitism and other forms of racism and to strengthen Holocaust research; to combat antisemitism, antigypsyism and other forms of racism – online and offline; and to promote Jewish life, strengthen Roma inclusion and enhance security for civil society.”

Among concrete measures, he listed the establishment of a Holocaust Museum in Sweden in 2022, the establishment of language centres for Yiddish and Romani, the promotion of education and research to prevent antisemitism and antigypsyism, and funding to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation.

He especially mentioned the need to put an end to hate speech on social media and to criminalise organised racism and support for organised racism. The Government will also consult the Parliament and appoint a parliamentary committee of inquiry to unbiasedly consider whether Holocaust denial should be more clearly criminalised.

For this to happen, Sweden would have to rethink its own approach to freedom of expression on social media and its transposition of existing EU legislation, such as the Framework Decision from 2008 on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law.

The conference saw a significant number of pledges made by all participants to strengthen the approach to Holocaust remembrance and tackling Holocaust distortion, denial and contemporary antisemitism. The pledges will be implemented in the coming years and are critical to countering the rising tide of antisemitism and distortion of history.

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven assured at the press conference that Sweden will follow up all the pledges.  Sweden will take over the presidency from Greece of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) as of April 2022. “This gives us an excellent opportunity to follow up all pledges, including our own.”

Just before the hand-over of the presidency, Greece plans to organise an international conference in March 2022 in Ionannia under the heading “Combating antisemitism and Holocaust denial and distortion on the digital battlefield”.

M. Apelblat
The Brussels Times

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