What lessons can be learned from European conflicts?

Croatian conference brings together European leaders to talk tolerance and reconciliation and apply lessons to Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Croatian conference 311 (photo credit: Ferdi Limani)
Croatian conference 311
(photo credit: Ferdi Limani)
DUBROVNIK – Tolerance and reconciliation. These powerful words, loaded with meaning and endless room for debate and interpretation, took a further step forward in their quest toward pertinent consolidation at the end of a two-day conference on Monday in Dubrovnik, Croatia titled “Towards Reconciliation. Experiences, Techniques and Opportunities for Europe.” Initiated by the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation (ECTR) as well as the German-based Bertelsmann Stiftung and Robert Bosch Stiftung, the gathering brought together current and former heads of European nations to “collect European experience in reconciliation, and offer them to the Balkan nations,” as Aleksander Kwas´niewski, former President of Poland and chairman of ECTR said in his opening remarks. Panels and speeches on the theory and practice of reconciliation and tolerance in relation to religious dialogue, the media, legislation, memory and forgiveness and civil society, to name a few, were what the hundreds of participants engaged in from the beautiful Croatian city overlooking the Adriatic sea.
The idiom stating that “the trouble of many is half of comfort,” taken from the Book of Mitzvot, could be relevant to Israeli ears weary of hearing of the troubles with the Palestinians; there is nearly no European country that hasn’t problems with its neighbors, or minorities, and those issues were raised over the two-day conference by distinguished speakers, such as George Vassiliou, former president of the Republic of Cyprus, Kjell Magne Bondevik, former prime minister of Norway; former federal chancellor of Austria Wolfgang Schüssel, and Kwas´niewski, to name a few. Not to mention the closing panel of the event, comprised of Ivo Josipovic´, president of the Republic of Croatia, President of Montenegro Filip Vujanovic´, and Bakir Izetbegovic ´, designated member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Sarajevo, who spoke of the measures taken by their states to promote dialogue, tolerance and reconciliation, not always easy goals for their still-hurting states, laden with unresolved sentiment toward their neighbors and minorities.
This coalition of prominent public European figures and lawmakers, gathered under the auspices of the ECTR to seek ways to influence tolerance promotion in Europe and fight all forms of racial, ethnic, religious and cultural discrimination, is actually the result of the demand of the General Assembly of the European Jewish Congress to form such a body, “and completely correspondent to my own vision of our dire need for a very wide coalition of all forces fighting and promoting our values of coexistence, in the Diaspora and the State of Israel with other states and nations,” Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress as well as founder and co-chairman of the ECTR, said on Monday.
“That’s why the idea was to establish something with every top reputable in politics – former presidents, prime ministers, who can be organized and coordinated by some NGO with goals corresponding to ours. That’s why we established the ECTR,” which first met two years ago, Kantor said.
“Our main goal is to speak about the Mideast problems, and those that exist in the Diaspora,” Kantor said, adding that it is at times easier to find solutions in settings similar to those of the original trouble-zone. “That’s why we decided to have the discussions on the base of Balkan conflict. The rules of the creation of the conflict are the same,” with a fluctuating balance of ethnic, religious and territorial components. “People are the same everywhere,” he asserted.
“The Jews in the Diaspora and Israel are not the most tolerant nation in the world, and [the European model of legislation] should be a good study for educating the Jews ourselves...We ask tolerance for us, but do we guarantee tolerance for others? We are obliged to give tolerance, including within our communities, our society.”
“Tolerance and reconciliation should not be respected as just an intention,” the businessman said, noting the politicians, philosopher, and legislators attending. “Establishing the dialogue is the result,” he said, “But it should not stop here.”
“Dialogues are very important for creating the ideology. Negotiations, talks, media discussions, education are very important. But finally, what will our children inherit from us? More discussions, more return to the same values?” Kantor elaborated.
“No, if we are thinking of future generations, we should produce something visible for them. The decisions on questions. And the only thing mankind has established to that end is legislation. Then we come to practicing it. And then to modify legislation and practicing it, we should again switch on to the next stage of ideological discussions. This wheel should constantly be moving ahead.”
Kantor also mentioned the ECTR’s intent to issue a letter to President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, demanding the establishment of a University of Global Security and Secured Tolerance, an institution that would be the base for future European legislation as a mandatory research and education center for European Union functionaries, and hopefully legislators. “It should not be a Jewish initiative or that of an NGO,” but rather come from the commission, he argued.