Kolkata Mass Violence and Tolerance Conference Draws on Salzburg Global Expertise




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Apr 21, 2017
by Charles Ehrlich
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Kolkata Mass Violence and Tolerance Conference Draws on Salzburg Global Expertise

Salzburg Global Fellows and staff attend international conference in India on the prevention of violence and promotion of tolerance (l-r) Stephanie Rotem, Navras Jaat Aafreedi, Charles Ehrlich, Edward Mortimer

Salzburg Global Seminar featured prominently at an international multi-disciplinary conference on “Prevention of Mass Violence and Promotion of Tolerance: Lessons from History” at Presidency University in Kolkata, India, on 27-28 February 2017. Convened by Salzburg Global Fellow Navras Jaat Aafreedi (Fellow of Holocaust and Genocide Education: Sharing Experience Across Borders), this conference brought together scholars from Australia, Austria, Canada, India, Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Participants included Salzburg Global Program Director Charles Ehrlich, Senior Advisor Edward Mortimer, and Fellow Stephanie Rotem (Cultural Institutions without Walls: New Models of Arts-Community Interaction).  

The conference took place as part of a high-profile series of events to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of Presidency University, India’s oldest institution of higher education – originally founded as Hindoo College in 1817. The celebrations aim to draw visibility to some of the university’s accomplishments, and this particular conference highlighted a new course on Holocaust and genocide studies established at the university this academic year, the first of its kind in South Asia. Aafreedi established the course in part drawing from his experience participating in the Salzburg Global Holocaust Education and Genocide Prevention (HEGP) Program.

“History, the way it is being taught, is often a victim of propaganda. Regimes often place their stooges in all the key positions at the premier institutions of the country for the creation of a vicious atmosphere. Political regimes can't succeed in carrying out their evil designs if scholars do not give them the backroom support for petty gains,” Aafreedi told the Times of India, one of India’s leading broadsheets, which featured it with a front page article.

Ehrlich, invited as the current director of the HEGP Program, presented a paper on “Holocaust, propaganda, and the distortion of history in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union,” and chaired the final afternoon roundtable discussion. 

Mortimer, who founded the HEGP Program in 2010 during his tenure as Chief Program Officer, chaired the introductory panel on “Prevention of Mass Violence” and presented a paper on “Reflections on the Responsibility to Protect.” Rotem’s paper focused on “Holocaust Commemoration in Museums: Teaching Universal or Unique Lessons.”

The conference discussions, and in particular the final roundtable chaired by Ehrlich, examined what one participant called “truth as the first victim” of intolerance and whether to regulate or combat hateful or false speech; unhelpful conflicting narratives both of “comparative genocide” as well as definitions of “victimhood”; and whether the role of education should be for the purpose of aiding healing, dialogue, apologies, prevention of future atrocities, or some combination thereof. Although the participants did not necessarily agree across the discussions, the common conclusion emerged that it is important to ensure the next generation has the analytical tools to learn from history in order to combat intolerance.

Since 2010, Salzburg Global Seminar has implemented the HEGP Program in partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Through a series of global and regional gatherings, the multi-year series has engaged participants from more than 30 countries, the majority of which are non-Western countries outside the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and many of which have a recent experience of mass atrocities. The program series has established a network of individuals and NGOs across East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union, and strives to deepen and extend their collaborative work, allowing practitioners to identify cross-regional strategies to empower institutions and individuals with tools for ethical education and peaceful conflict resolution.

Currently, with support of the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Salzburg Global Seminar is supporting the implementation of activities in Cambodia, Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan, Rwanda, and South Africa to promote pluralism and combat extremism, using the lessons learned from the Holocaust and other mass atrocities as examples of what can happen when hatred goes unchecked, connecting educators, activists, and others dedicated to preventing mass atrocities and genocide to advance knowledge exchange, test institutional development plans, and design long-term strategies to combat extremism and its consequences.