THE REPUBLIC OF LITHUANIA
Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania
At the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance
Durban, 1 September 2001
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Lithuania supports the statement of the European Union as read out by Vice Prime Minister of Belgium, H.E. Louis Michel. Nevertheless, I should like to make some additional remarks.
The decision to organize a world conference to address the sources, forms and contemporary manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance hinted at the willingness of the international community to prove to itself it had evolved intellectually and morally. This vision of moral progress evokes two ideas. First, the readiness to strip ourselves of euphemisms that are sometimes used to hide responsibility: we have to admit that religion, ethnicity and cultures do NOT hate or kill, individuals DO. Second, the readiness to affirm a liberal response to wrongdoings, not just by strengthening the national and international structures that are necessary for the true realization of reconciliation with the past, but also by committing ourselves to some sort of an affirmative action, inter alia, through enhanced development cooperation policy, so as to make sure that we all start from equal footing. That was a vision or at least that was what we hoped for. The fact that we come to this conference without an agreed upon document and the difficulties we have encountered in the recent negotiations serve to underscore the limitations put onto our common vision of universal moral climate. Yes, we, the delegations, are striving to frame "the truths" in more convenient ways, consequently presenting very polarized positions, but aren't we losing the ability to communicate our ideas and vision clearly to a wider audience?
Since there is no such thing as understanding the world in the Platonic sense - from a neutral standpoint outside time and history - I shall start from the regional perspective which nicely delineates the space in which Lithuania is contextualized.
Lithuania was pleased to be an active part of the European Conference "All different, all equal: from principle to practice." The General Conclusions emphasized the priority action at national and local level, and by government in conjunction with civil society, especially through improving education and training and increasing information and awareness of such phenomena so as to break the vicious circle of racial discrimination.
Although the normative influence of the international community and of international legal order is not all-determining (and thus requires some further actions), Lithuania is proud to state that it appropriates the meaning of intolerance and racism in accordance with all main international legal instruments - of which Lithuania is a party - that prohibit discrimination on grounds, inter alia, race, nationality or ethnical origin.
On its own part, Lithuania develops general and comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation on national level. Presently, numerous legal acts in national legislation contain prohibitions against racial, national or ethnic discrimination, including relevant provisions in the Constitution and the newly adopted Criminal Code. These aspirations are also reflected in mass media and education spheres.
By forgetting their past, people or peoples are condemned to live it all over again. Hence, in the context of reforming Lithuanian education system and in co-operation with wellknown historians and Jewish organizations, the issue of Holocaust in Lithuania was introduced in the textbooks as well as into university curriculum. To get rid of the burden of old stereotypes, a comprehensive Lithuanian National Holocaust Education program was developed in April 2000. This program is aimed at uniting initiatives of the public and the state, thereby fostering co-operation of Lithuanian authorities, NGOs and various foundations in the field of Holocaust and the history of the Lithuanian Jews. It is also intended to strengthen intolerance to discrimination, xenophobia and anti-Semitism in the younger generation and society at large.
As limitation of time compel me to move forward, a brief summary of our recent initiatives will suffice. First, September 23 has been proclaimed the day of the Genocide of Lithuanian Jews and is thus included in the list of National commemorative dates. Second, International Vilnius Forum on Holocaust Era Looted Cultural Assets was held in October 2000. Remembrance is not one-dimensional and therefore is not restricted to research of the past, but also to the past lending the present a helping hand, thereby encompassing what was, what is, and what will be.
I will now turn to yet another complexity urgently in need of dialogue. Currently Roma community, albeit very small in numbers (3000), is the least integrated ethnic group into the Lithuanian society. On the one hand, the reasons for such an outcome might be well explained by the specific life style of Roma, their strong customarily traditions and ethnic isolation. On the other hand, one could not deny the influence of stereotypes that still persist in our society and that might be one of the reasons for Roma remaining less integrated in social and economic spheres. It is in this context, that the Government of Lithuania had developed and is now in the process of implementation of the multidimensional Project on Roma Integration into Lithuania's society.
In conclusion, I want to reiterate the importance of a constructive dialogue among cultures and civilizations, as has recently been called for at the Vilnius International Conference on the Dialogue among Civilizations and World Youth Festival on Dialogue among Civilizations, held also in Vilnius, since such a dialogue not only entails the ethical postulate of preserving and promoting plurality, but also leads to a recognition of diversity and opens the mind to the mutual acceptance. Dialogue between cultures and civilizations does not harbour the ambition of establishing a yardstick to appraise the moral rightness of different cultures, rather it is the path to building of a reconciled world.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.