“We share a commitment to throw light on the still obscured shadows of the Holocaust.”
-- Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust
Ambassador Michael Baier, Head of the Austrian Delegation to the IHRA, explains about the OSCE meeting on antisemitism held in Berlin on Monday 19 June.
Ambassador Baier, what brings you to Berlin?
I am always happy to come to Berlin, but this time I was invited to an expert meeting hosted by the German Chairman-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on the question of antisemitism. As the IHRA has recently adopted a working definition of antisemitism, my Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked me to attend the OSCE meeting.
What type of experts were invited?
The OSCE Chair-in-Office invited those countries who have special envoys on antisemitism or on related issues, for example I am the Austrian Special Envoy for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. It is a purely government conference and almost all OSCE Participating States were represented: those countries who were not represented by Special Envoys were represented by their embassies here in Berlin. The IHRA Chair and the IHRA Executive Secretary were also invited because the IHRA has done some pioneering work on combatting antisemitism, as the first international organization to adopt a working definition of antisemitism.
The OSCE deals with security issues in Europe, what is their interest in the topic of combatting antisemitism?
Well, the OSCE is an organization which focuses on security as well as on the human dimension. The OSCE established an Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in Warsaw which has a department that focuses on antisemitism. Moreover, the OSCE German Chair-in-office intends to adopt a working definition of antisemitism for the OSCE countries during its chairmanship.
What happened at the meeting?
The meeting consisted of two elements: the first part was devoted to an exchange of views from countries on how agreement on a working definition of antisemitism could be reached and the second part was devoted to presentations by participating states on their own educational tools and implementation methods for combatting antisemitism. The discussion of positions which took place in the morning will form the basis for further work to refine the working definition of antisemitism on the expert level in the working bodies in Vienna.
Were other IHRA Heads of Delegation in attendance?
There were indeed a number of other IHRA Heads of Delegation in attendance although some IHRA Member Countries have different representatives for IHRA and for antisemitism issues. I can say though that almost all IHRA Member Countries are also Participating States of the OSCE so they were all aware of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism and there was a strong nucleus of support. The working definition adopted by the IHRA should essentially be the same text which is put forward for adoption by the OSCE Participating States at the final ministerial meeting of the German OSCE Chair-in-Office in Hamburg in December.
Both IHRA decisions and OSCE decisions are not legally binding, so how would you explain the importance of the adoption of a working definition of antisemitism by these bodies?
It is important because such a working definition would provide useful tools to help OSCE Participating States formulate their own teaching materials on combatting antisemitism, especially for judges, lawyers and police but also for monitoring institutions. The Austrian Minister of Justice, Wolfgang Brandstetter, recently met with the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Combating Anti-Semitism, Rabbi Andrew Baker, and envisages developing an advanced teaching programme for lawyers and judges on issues of antisemitism in Austria and for working on materials like these this working definition would of course be very helpful.