20 years "Promoting Tolerance" Towards Democracy and Pluralism
“Little helps as much to break down prejudice as face-to-face conversation and the personal experience of other people. It is easy to speak badly of other groups and people, especially if you do not know them”. With these words Markus Löning, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, summed up the programme “Promoting Tolerance” that the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) have carried out for the past 20 years with young leaders from the transition countries in Central, East and Southeast Europe, South Caucasus and Central Asia.
The deepening of liberal dialogue, the exchange of experiences and the strengthening of the Euro-Atlantic value system in the civil societies of the new democracies are consequently the focus of the programme. In addition to seminars, which take place every year in a different country in the region, the core of the program is completed by a study and informational trip to several U.S. cities. Their topics are human, civil and minority rights, but above all the experience of pluralism and how tolerance is lived in the United States. Thus on the base of their personal experiences the participants contribute to both the anchoring and spread of liberal principles, as well as to pluralistic and democratic political projects in their home countries.
A short video shows the impressions and lessons learned by the Alumni:
To celebrate the anniversary of over 20 years of successful German-Jewish cooperation against exclusion, xenophobia, chauvinism and anti-Semitism, the Foundation for Freedom together with the AJC invited guests to the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences. A conference was devoted to the subject of the significance of the culture of remembrance and the shared values in an increasingly unified Europe two decades after the end of dictatorship and tyranny. In the ensuing ceremony, initiators, supporters and alumni took stock and ventured a look into the future of the program. Here all speakers agreed: the strengthening of the Euro-Atlantic value system still remains a challenge for the coming years - "Promoting Tolerance" remains an important contribution to the development of democracy, freedom and pluralism in the European transition countries.
Human rights require the rule of law
R. KlaffRené Klaff, head of the regional office for Central, East and Southeast Europe, South Caucasus and Central Asia of the Foundation for Freedom, guided the day’s agenda and simultaneously highlighted the objectives of "Promoting Tolerance". Its graduates are characterized not only by fostering and promoting tolerance, but also by active engagement. The concept of tolerance here is about recognizing the essence and potential of others, accepting differences and seeking common ground, in order to advocate for a pluralistic order, in which minority groups participate equally and without discrimination in the shaping of the community.
This active engagement, often under difficult conditions, impressed Markus Loening. For him the struggle for tolerance, democracy and human rights is the core element of liberalism. Education is essential in addition to direct contact to break down prejudice. Furthermore, human rights always require the institutions of a democratic state. "The independence of the judiciary is far too infrequently stated together with human rights, while it is actually the central instrument for the protection of those rights, particularly for minorities.” He called on European leaders to be much more often active and open about the values of freedom and democracy in countries with human rights problems. The essence of the European Union is its base of common values. It finds its rationale in the acceptance and protection of human rights; the enlargement of the European Union is thus one of the best components for the spread and strengthening of the rule of law and human rights. Therefore, it is important to allow all European countries a realistic prospect of membership.
Panel discussion by former programme participants
Most of the subsequent panel discussion was by former programme participants. The first panel addressed the subject of the culture of remembrance and common European values and was led by Jürgen D. Wickert, the former head of international policy of the Foundation for Freedom and one of the "fathers" of the programme. Irina Sherbakova from the Russian human rights organization ‘Memorial’, former Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy and Prof. Martin Butora, former Ambassador of Slovakia to the United States, were impressed by those people who campaign actively and repeatedly for human rights, especially in the former sphere of influence of the now defunct Soviet Union, most recently after the elections in Russia. It illustrates that freedom is not self-evident, but should rather be fought for every day anew.
Heike Dörrenbächer, general secretary of the German Association for East European Studies, moderated the second panel on nationalism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism as a threat to the value system and unity in Europe. The discussion involved the Alumni Tomas Kraus of the Czech Republic, Vice-President of the World Jewish Congress, Prof. Andras Kovacs, director of the Institute for Jewish Studies at Central European University in Budapest, and Arastun Orujlu, director of the East-West research centre in Azerbaijan. New forms of populism, nationalism and exclusion in the Internet age were handled as well as the persistence of anti-Semitic tendencies in the region.
Tolerance does not grow on trees
"Tolerance does not grow on trees, but you can sow it very well. It can grow through lived and applied experience and it must be defended." With these words Michael Link, Federal Foreign Minister, summed up the experience of ‘Promoting Tolerance’. In his speech, he examined with particular care a specific form of intolerance: the intolerance against globalization. Instead of constantly evoking its dangers, one must use globalization as an opportunity for the dissemination of such values as human and minority rights and tolerance. At the same time the West must be vigilant to defend its model of enlightened societies inward and advance it further, especially when populists utilize the understandable fears of people in the current economic and financial crisis for other political purposes.
"A triple bridge towards tolerance, pluralism and freedom," is how Irmgard Schwätzer, a former Federal Minister and a member of the board of the Foundation for Freedom, described his view on ‘Promoting Tolerance’. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, societies that had experienced decades of oppression, fear and injustice gained their freedom. Once fought for and won, freedom must now be formed and practiced. This includes also bearing responsibility. Bridges must be built to connect people; to this the program ‘Promoting Tolerance’ has a triple commitment. It promotes contact, dialogue and cooperation between civil societies in the transition countries; it makes an important contribution to the integration of these countries into the Euro-Atlantic community of values; and finally, it is an outstanding example of viable, successful German-Jewish cooperation.
Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director for International Relations of the AJC, explained what “promoting tolerance” meant: the development of partnerships and networks, as well as cooperation towards common goals and values. Prejudice is not genetically installed; it is rather a learned behaviour. History has shown what people are capable of, when prejudice is not broken down and intolerance prevails in societies. In order to actively counteract such developments the Foundation for Freedom and the AJC started their cooperation on ‘Promoting Tolerance’ - and have created an outstanding example of successful German-Jewish cooperation against all uncertainties and initial resistance despite the obvious historical burden.
The study tours in the United States were not initiated under the illusion that America has ready answers for all the problems of minorities and the rule of law. Rather, it was to show through practical experience how such problems, including anti-Semitism and racism, are dealt with in an immigration-based country as the U.S., and what strategies are available to people in a democratic, liberal and pluralistic society. Thereby applies the wisdom: The struggle against intolerance, prejudice and exclusion is an on-going process - everywhere! The importance of ‘Promoting Tolerance’ is increasingly proved, especially in times when parties and groups with nationalist and populist slogans are getting in vogue again.
Former Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy, who as an alumnus presented the perspective of a former participant in the programme, emphasized this connotation. In order for non-violence and tolerance to become the norm, a lived “togetherness” is necessary, in which all people, including minorities, can follow their respective life plans and grant this to others as well. As a multi-ethnic country, his native Bulgaria had no other choice but to allow tolerance to become reality. Now it is ready to share its experience. Nevertheless, populism has become a new pest in Europe and a threat to tolerance. Therefore, ‘Promoting Tolerance’ remains a programme necessary for the next 20 years.
G. KoppThe Parliamentary State Secretary of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Gudrun Kopp, stressed the importance that the Ministry and the Foreign Office attach to the programme for the future as well. Tolerance is a value that must be constantly maintained and lived in Germany too. "Tolerance requires information, the courage for freedom, the courage to accept the other”. It is the only way to develop together a liberal perspective for the future. Populist tendencies need to be a warning, to argue for tolerance again and again. The focus on human, civil and minority rights is a key provision to reducing prejudice. A society cannot be pluralistic if minorities are only endured. Pluralism means rather true recognition and equality. Mrs Kopp argued for the continuation of the programme, whose nearly 300 alumni have become outstanding personalities and ambassadors of tolerance and human togetherness. In her words, "20 Years of Promoting Tolerance stand for freedom, democracy and pluralism which is performing a real peace mission."
Following the anniversary events the Foundation for Freedom and the AJC led the two-day 2012 seminar in Berlin on the subject of ‘Minority Rights and Equal Opportunities’. This year, participants were invited from eleven countries in the region, including Belarus for the first time.
We invite you to check our annivesary brochure for a glimpse of over 20 years of successful German-Jewish cooperation.