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Remarks of President Barroso upon being awarded the Centennial Medal of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation

European Commission - SPEECH/14/181   04/03/2014

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European Commission

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José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Remarks of President Barroso upon being awarded the Centennial Medal of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation

IRWF Centennial Medal Award Ceremony

Brussels, 4 March 2014

Dear Mr Eurnekian,

Dear Mr Tenembaum,

representing the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation

Excellencies,

Distinguished guests,

Dear friends,

I would like first and foremost to thank you sincerely for your kind words, and also for honouring me so markedly by awarding me this medal full of meaning and of symbols.

I would like too to welcome you in Brussels, as you said at the heart of the European Union, in this very iconic building the Berlaymont, the headquarters of the European Commission. I was also pleased to hear you, Mr Eurnekian, saying that you feel at home here in Brussels. It brings indeed to light the friendly character of Belgian people but also the tradition of hospitality in Europe.

In saying this, I do not want to underestimate the very dark side of the European history, whose your community have suffered so much.

It is in reaction to that terrible time that the European idea arose and asserted itself: those who built a Europe of peace wished never to relive the tribulations and horrors of the past.

There is no doubt that Anti-Semitism and also other forms of racism and discriminations have no place in European society, should indeed have no place in any society. We are a Union that treasures diversity and protects the rights individuals to lead their lives as they wish. As the President of the European Commission, I want to express you my cogent commitment to constantly and vigorously oppose the forces of Anti-Semitism and any other forces that are against minorities or that do no respect values of Human dignity. This I will never tolerate, and I intend to battle unremittingly against those who feel that the future of Europe should be a place of less hope, less tolerance and less freedom.

Hopefully, in the history of the Shoah, the absolute desperation that overcame so many families went hand-in-hand with the admirable deeds of men and women whose courage and altruism saved many other lives.

As a Portuguese citizen, and as a former Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Portugal, I am particularly delighted that my compatriot, that we have quoted, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, was one of those men, one of the "righteous among the nations"; his heroism and selflessness have made him a true legend of modern history. And I'm pleased also to notice that the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation is associated as fiscal, as financial sponsor of the movie "The Consul of Bordeaux", which deals with the life and feats of that Portuguese diplomat saviour. We have indeed to encourage all that is done to help divulging the story of this hero.

By the way, let me tell you that in my experience in the government of Portugal it happened to me very often that when I went to New York and in gatherings, sometimes at the end of my conferences, someone was approaching me and saying, "look, I come here not specifically because I am interested in the topic of your conference but because my family was saved by Aristides de Sousa Mendes or my family could escape Europe through Lisbon". It happened to me in conferences in New York three or four times. It shows that these memories of those families are kept after all these years.

It is always a source of pride and inspiration for me and I think it is important that these cases are better known, because one thing is, of course, to read history, to read figures, to read big categories of History, another thing is to know History by the deeds of concrete men and women and it illustrates in a much more dramatic way what happened. That is why we have here also today the memory of Raoul Wallenberg, alive.

I would like to thank you for keeping the memory and the acts of one such person, a great Swedish diplomat, a truly hero alive. These are the kind of examples we need also for our daily life.

One of the main lessons of our recent history is indeed not to forget the courage and hope which is inspired by those people that have also commitment to Humanity and that in Europe we are also fighting for peace. It was one of the reasons why the European Union received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. If I may say so, personally it was one of the greatest moments of my life, when representing the European Union I had the honour to be in Oslo to receive for the European Union that Nobel Prize, precisely recognizing that Europe and the European Union are some of the greatest constructions to keep peace. That is one of the reasons why I can't be pessimistic about the future and I continue to believe deeply in Europe.

I thank you very much.


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