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Within the turmoil of allegations over authoritarian and undemocratic practices, Hungary celebrates the centenary of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II, writes Zsolt Németh, Hungary's state secretary of Foreign Affairs.
"The challenges confronting Europe and particularly Hungary have been much discussed in recent weeks. And some of our European partners have expressed concerns about the direction in which Hungary is heading. It is reasonable that Hungary should be asked to account for its actions, and that Europe's institutions should ensure that our reforms comply with the European treaties, as the European Commission is currently doing. I can assure our partners that Hungary will make the necessary amendments to bring our laws into line, if they are found to be non-compliant.
But amidst the disagreement and turmoil in the capital markets, we also have occasion in 2012 to celebrate something that unquestionably binds all Europeans closely together. Hungarians are determined not to let our disagreements overshadow an important opportunity to reflect on our past, and celebrate a life that embodied the European values to which we all ascribe.
In 2012, the world is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II. The young diplomat travelled to Hungary in 1944 and took on the task of saving the lives of persecuted Jewish citizens. He distributed vast numbers of Swedish protection passes; set up more than 30 safe houses where thousands could hide; and successfully intervened between the Hungarian and German authorities to prevent the massacre of inhabitants of the Budapest ghetto.
Wallenberg risked his own life to accomplish his mission. As Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Bildt recently acknowledged, “no other Swede in modern times has made such major, such manifest and such difficult contributions to the service of mankind or humanity.” In Israel, he is honoured as one of the Righteous among the Nations. In both the United States of America and Canada, he is an honourary citizen.
Hungary is more indebted to Raoul Wallenberg than any other country. He saved the life of thousands here. This is why the government has made 2012 Wallenberg Year. We will be hosting a series of events to commemorate his life and applaud his achievements.
The opening of Wallenberg Year took place on 17 January, the 56th anniversary of the day Wallenberg was last seen alive. The ceremony was co-hosted by the Swedish and Hungarian foreign ministers in the presence of an Israeli government minister, Yossi Peled.
Wallenberg Year will give us an opportunity to remember the tragedy of the Holocaust. It will be an occasion to remember the hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews who could not be saved, despite the heroic acts of Wallenberg.
It will also be a time for reflection. First, on the question of responsibility. However painful it might be, it is essential that we do not diminish the responsibility of those who were active perpetrators of inhumane acts. Equally, we must acknowledge the individual and collective responsibility of those who remained silent or turned their heads away.
But there is another issue to reflect on. We need to look at our public life today in the light of the lessons learned through the Shoah. We need to keep a close watch on worrying developments across Europe. We need to act whenever hatred, racism or anti-Semitism raise their head.
And we need to work together to devise ways to prevent the proliferation of these poisonous ideologies wherever they appear. To this end, Wallenberg Year will be an important instrument in our country. It will serve as an important and timely reminder of the ultimate dangers of intolerance.
It is also well-known that the man who saved the life of so many thousands was himself much less fortunate. He fell victim to Europe's other brutal dictatorship in the 20th century – the Soviet Union. We still do not know what happened to Wallenberg after 1945. He was taken by the communists because his values and actions were an embarrassment to them. Wallenberg’s life reminds us about the brutality of the communist dictatorship, and it strengthens our commitment to remember its innumerable victims.
But, as well as being an opportunity to remember and reflect, Wallenberg Year is also be an occasion to celebrate. It gives us occasion to celebrate the victory of humanity over evil, the true values of our shared Western culture, our respect for human dignity and the solidarity that is expressed even in personal sacrifice. These are things Europeans must celebrate, however difficult our day-to-day relationships sometimes become."