"NEVER AGAIN" Association SPEECH AT THE FORUM OF NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS EUROPEAN CONFERENCE AGAINST RACISM. European Contribution to the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Council of Europe, Strasbourg, 11-13 October 2000

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Yesterday I broke the principle of free speech. I saw a sticker with a symbol of a French fascist party in the street close to this building and I removed it.

Was my act in breach of the fundamental principle of free expression? Probably. Do I regret it? No, because I felt it was justified.

I believe that in the everlasting conflict of values, free speech is important, but it is not the only value and it does not have priority over all other considerations. Those other rights, which in my opinion are not less fundamental than the right to free speech, include - for instance - the right to live without fear and intimidation, the right to dignity (both on the personal and on the group level) and the right to be a member of society on an equal footing with others, without suffering discrimination and exclusion.

The conclusion drawn from the European historical experience is unambiguous regarding the spreading of racist views which led to the Holocaust.

It must be emphasised that racist views are not just like any other views present in society to be reflected in the media. Racism is not just an opinion, but a deadly poison responsible for death and suffering. Racism is not a view, it is a crime.

It is the media which shapes our perception of the social world. It is the field of a battle for cultural hegemony, a battle waged by racists against democratic society. It is a matter of professional ethics not to give a free platform to racist and extreme-right organisations.We must not let the media become tools of racist propaganda.

As Konstanty Gebert rightly points out in his discussion paper on the media for the European conference, the example of the former Yugoslavia illustrates yet again that incitement to ethnic hatred can have a deadly effect. All over Europe everyday racist violence is accompanied and preceded by racist speech.

Today almost nobody questions the fact that hate speech is a dangerous phenomenon. However, the question how to counteract it is still a much debated one. Should racism be penalised or ostracised? In my opinion both options should be used simultaneously.

Perhaps in some European countries, where civil society is stronger, ostracism works well enough without an excessive use of the law. But it must be emphasised that in many other countries, most notably in the new democracies, civil society is not strong enough to confront hate speech without the support of the state.

Both the international law (eg. the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) and national legal provisions allow for hate speech to be prosecuted. What is lacking in most cases is not the necessary legislation, but the will to use it on the part of the authorities. Non-governmental organizations have good reasons to criticise governments for their hypocrisy in not implementing the existing provisions against hate speech.

"My country needs support but it also needs pressure", said the famous Russian dissident Andrei Sakharov. I believe the new democratic governments of Europe in particular need support but they also need pressure to take adequate action against hate speech. Laws against hate speech must be observed with an active participation of governments, judicial systems as well as journalists and their professional organisations.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe it is a task of this gathering of representatives of non-governmental organisations to ask the European governments what they have done to follow the 1997 Recommendation of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers urging them to take specific measures against hate speech?

Racist activists are sometimes portrayed as victims of censorship or martyrs to the cause of the freedom of speech. This is a travesty of facts. In reality it is the extreme right who try to censor critical analysis of the phenomenon of racism whenever they have a chance to do so. Examples from across Europe illustrate attempts by the extreme right to silence criticism from anti-racists by using physical threats as well as libel law. I believe that such intimidation of the independent media is unacceptable. The existence of a European network of anti-fascist magazines (such as Searchlight, Nigdy Wiecej, Toum Balalaika) must be noted as a very important part of the international struggle against racism and neofascism.

The conventional media is not the only means of transmitting ideas which can be both positive and constructive as well as negative and devastating. The Internet and rock music in particular have become vehicles for spreading the message of racial hatred, but also: anti-racism and multiculturalism.

The neo-nazi movement poisons the hearts and minds of young people through the Internet and the nazi music industry. (This is an example of an international racist music compilation produced freely in Poland). The extreme-right groups using the new media (such as Blood and Honour, Hammerskins, and the International Third Position) are co-operating on a transnational level and they can only be fought through international co-operation. The existing international monitoring bodies (such as ECRI) and law enforcement bodies can be used for that purpose and new bodies should be created where appropriate, in co-operation with interested non-governmental organizations. In my opinion the NGO Forum should welcome the inclusion of the topic of Combating hate speech and racist material on the internet in the draft General Conclusions of the European Conference. A positive example of using the Internet is Internet Centre Anti-Racism Europe (I CARE), which, among others, is transmitting the message of this conference to the outside world.

The mainstream media, too, can be blamed for outbursts of xenophobia edging on racism, e.g. strengthtening negative stereotypes and stirring up anti-refugee hysteria. Whole ethnic groups, be it the Roma or the Chechens, have been stygmatised. Through a racialised discourse the media construct a racialised social reality. It is important the mass-media are sensitised to the vocabulary they use and realise their responsibility for maintaining good inter-ethnic relations. The media should reflect the pluralism and richness of today's multicultural societies. The participation of ethnic minorities with their cultural capital in the media is especially beneficial to society as a whole.

On the other hand, the very existence of the problem of racism is too often denied or played down by politicians and the mainstream media alike. It is impossible to deal with the problem without a public debate about it. By refusing to cover eg. cases of racist violence the mainstream media, too, take the responsibility for tolerating dangerous social tendencies. Racist activities must not be allowed to pass by without any independent and critical media scrutiny. It is important for the media not to deny or trivialise the problem of racism and intolerance but to raise awareness of those issues.

Responsible journalism is not about re-publishing press releases, but about investigating the truth about what is happening in our societies. Thank you for your attention.