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Institute of Research and Training on European Affairs- I.R.T.E.A. Favierou 39, Athens, P.C.: 104 38,Greece

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INTERACTIVE ON-LINE WORKSHOP “REMEMBER THE PAST- REACT FOR THE FUTURE”, 20/10/2020

On the 20th of October, the online workshop “Remember the past – React for the future” was carried out under the coordination of the partner organisation JuBUk. The main aim of the workshop was to draw participants’ attention to the paradigm of Holocaust, how the Nazi-fascist crimes were rooted in that ideology, and how its debris still affects people towards stereotypes, prejudices and xenophobia.

The workshop consisted of two parts of 115 minutes each, divided by a 15-minute break after the first half and more than 80 participants from the partner countries Greece, Germany, Slovakia and Poland attended the event. 

During the workshop, the participants together with the trainer discussed how the whole world face the paradigm of the Holocaust. Participants were involved in discussions about what we can learn from the past and how we can find ideology from the past in the present in the same or slightly different form. We talked about different forms of racist propaganda, about how to identify it in the picture or meme in the social media. Together we thought about the effect of picture/mem/poster through interactive online activities and talked about values like dignity, freedom, diversity and integration.

Mr. Stefano Merzi, the trainers of the workshop, motivated the participants to actively participate in the discussion and captivated the interest of the participants. Together with the participants he analyzed caricatures in an interesting and deep discussion and also talked about nower days politics and the situation in the world.

 The first session started with a general introduction of the project, followed by a presentation of the trainer and his work on memory and youth education on a memory site. Due to the large group of participants, the possibility to have a round of get to know was bypassed and substituted by the question “Did you visit any memory site connected with Holocaust and Nazi crimes? When and in which form?”. Those who answered often took the opportunity to mention their personal connection with the topic.  Since the majority of the participants apparently visited memory sites as part of their school curricula, and some mentioned that in their countries it represents a mandatory school trip, the following group reflection was centered on the importance of memory. “Why do we remember those tragic events?”. Different people gave slightly different answers, underlining a wide range of causes for the European remembrance of the Holocaust. From memory as a duty towards those who lost their lives, to the memory work perceived as a tool to prevent similar horrors to happen again. The following step was then to reflect on why, despite all the institutional efforts and the many initiatives aimed at realizing that “never again” European countries promised themselves after the end of second WWII, we observe more and more an increasing of right-wing extremism, both in the form of political parties on the rise, and in the form of attacks to minorities and racist behaviors.

Many participants attributed this apparent contradiction to the fact that empathy for the victims is not always followed by a self-critique on your own behaviors, as if the condemn of the Nazi-regime doesn’t necessary lead to the recognition of similar mechanism in contemporary societies. The suggestion was then to deepen our analysis, examining form of propaganda. If we understand how people were manipulated in order to accept and even empower systemic discrimination back then, it may help us recognize similar dynamics in our present. Keeping in mind that to understand doesn’t mean at all to justify.

The workshop on propaganda consisted of an analysis of different propaganda materials from the years ‘35-’44, most of which caricatures produced in Nazi Germany and aimed at German people, but we discussed also antisemitic propaganda created in the same time-span in fascist Italy and USA. The latter was a useful reminder that democratic states are not immune to racism and introduced the topic “conspiracy theory”, useful as a bridge to the next session.

 The second session, dedicated to the analysis of the same mechanisms in nowadays media, saw the participants deconstructing memes and comic strips. Participants identified several forms of discrimination such as xenophobia, antisemitism and discrimination based on gender. The use of irony, especially in memes, was evaluated as particularly dangerous since it can make it harder for the audience to actively decode racist implications.

The conclusions focused on what can be done to reduce discriminatory behaviors, as a way to move towards a more inclusive society based on respect for human rights. Many participants agreed on the importance of self-vigilance, because the first step is to be aware of your own stereotypes and prejudices. Some of them also mentioned the need of a careful choose on which content we decide to share on our media and communication, in order to avoid the spread of unintended racist ideas.