Speech at Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Exhibition, Helsinki, 26.10.2012

Ladies and gentlemen,

it is my privilege and honour to welcome the invitees to celebrate the memory of a truly great man, Raoul Wallenberg on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth.

 I salute the decision taken by Hungary to announce the year of 2012 a Raoul Wallenberg Year and to celebrate him both in Hungary and other countries around the world.

At the Inauguration Ceremony of the 2012 Wallenberg Year Mr. János Martonyi, my distinguished colleague, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary reminded also of the other rescuers who like Wallenberg manifested healthy morals rescuing close or distant acquaintances, friends, colleagues and even complete strangers. Humanity is indeed indebted to these courageous people.

In this speech given at the Hungarian National Museum early this year Mr. Martonyi touched upon the role of the Hungarian State during the Holocaust and told it was painful for him as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary to say, and I quote:

“It could not protect its citizens, what’s more – even if under foreign occupation – it assisted in their extermination.  This is how hundreds of thousands of Jewish Hungarians became ‘fateless’: aliens in their own country, deprived of their Hungarian status and of their human condition.”

He then added that the conscious decision to open the Wallenberg Commemorative Year in the Hungarian National Museum was itself a testimony that Hungary had forever broken with the dark spirit of the 20th century.

While Europe was in the middle of the Second World War and the Nazi regime persecuted the Jews across Europe, Hungary was, despite the discriminating laws, initially able to resist the deportation demands until 1944. After the German occupation of Hungary the conditions of the Jews turned worse and the implementation of the Final Solution was put into effect.  As the news about the humanitarian crisis in Hungary spread abroad a dangerous rescue operation was launched to stop the transfers of people to death camps.

A 31-year-old Swedish businessman Raoul Wallenberg was appointed to lead the operation and was sent to Budapest in July 1944. He saved a countless number of Hungarian Jews from an inevitable death by issuing protective passports. He also rented several buildings in Budapest, giving them Swedish consulate status and placed thousands of Jews under diplomatic protection. Regardless of the self-sacrifice, Wallenberg’s own destiny turned tragic after the Soviet forces reached the capital of Hungary in 1945. The latter days of his life have been the focus of extensive research, but we still do not know for certain what his fate was. What we do know is that he did not receive the deserved respect for his humanitarian work during his lifetime.

 Wallenberg was inspired by courage and respect for all human rights even during the darkest hours of European history.  Honouring the work of Raoul Wallenberg reminds us about the outmost importance of defending humanity and of the non-violent courage that he so nobly represented. His actions led the way for the ratification of multilateral human rights conventions such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The recognition of all equal and inalienable rights of peoples is the cornerstone of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

Wallenberg fought against hatred, violence and inequality and felt responsible to protect the Jews. He acted as an example to a fairly new concept we today call the ‘Responsibility to protect’. Every state has a responsibility to protect their own citizens from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity as enshrined in the outcome document of the 2005 United Nations World Summit. Wallenberg was truly a pioneer of this principle, although he acted in the capacity of an individual, and his own operations were implemented by these principles to confront racism and ethnic discrimination.

Today, as we celebrate the legacy of Mr. Wallenberg to mankind, we would do well to remind ourselves of the lessons this dark chapter in human history has given to us all. We must relentlessly speak for the respect of basic human rights and the rule of law. No repetition of the Holocaust or similar horrors of ethnic cleansing must never be allowed again.

And the young people present here, I advise you all to be heroes. The atrocities that Raoul Wallenberg tried to prevent were rooted in prejudice, racism and hatred. Unfortunately, there is no society without those evils. We see them around us all too often. It is up to all of you not to tolerate racism or discrimination anywhere you see them. When saying “no” to racism and discrimination, you are walking in the footsteps of Raoul Wallenberg.    

I urge you especially to pay attention to the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Exhibition. You personally have no recollection of the horrors of the Second World War, let alone the Holocaust. However, it is up to you to take the torch of the memory of Mr. Wallenberg and his work and making sure that his legacy will live on as generations change.

Thank you.