Proposal of Pavel Žáček for the establishment of a Platform of European Memory and Conscience


Europe 70 Years After the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
Conference in the European Parliament in Brussels, October 14, 2009

Contribution of Pavel Žáček, Director, Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, Czech Republic to the conference panel:
Strengthening Research and Increasing Public Awareness: Possible Initiatives at the EU Level


Ladies and Gentlemen:

First of all, let me thank you for your invitation to this conference and for giving me the opportunity to present our proposal for the establishment of a Platform of European Memory and Conscience.

The enlargement of the European Union means joy and a reason for celebration for the former Communist countries. It has opened the way into the family of European nations and the way to a common European future in freedom and democracy after a century of terrible wars and dictatorships.

At the same time, the enlargement and unification of Europe also reminds us that communism is a common European legacy, together with fascism and Nazism. Until Europe accepts its common past and comprehends its common responsibility, it cannot be truly united.

This was the central idea of the international conference European Conscience and Communism held in Prague in June 2008, which took place in the Czech Senate under the auspices of then Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs, Mr. Alexander Vondra. Politicians from Western and Eastern Europe, members of national and European parliaments, historians, journalists and former dissidents as well as representatives of state and non-governmental institutions all took part in this conference, which concluded with the adoption of the now well-known Prague Declaration. This Declaration, among others, calls for the establishment of an Institute of European Memory and Conscience: a European research institute for totalitarianism studies and a pan-European museum/memorial of victims of totalitarian regimes, with the aim to commemorate victims of these regimes and raise awareness of the crimes committed by these regimes.

Platform of European Memory and Conscience - steps to date

In November 2008, the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes convened an international workshop in Prague, bringing together representatives of governmental and non-governmental organizations to form a Working Group for the establishment of a Platform of European Memory and Conscience and to jointly prepare the program for a public hearing on this topic. The working group, which exists and is active today, is comprised of representatives of EU member states and representatives of organizations dealing with totalitarian regimes, including a total of 19 partner institutions from 16 EU member states, as well as Serbia and Ukraine. It was very important to us that representatives of partner institutions or organizations from Western Europe be included among the active members of this working group.

Within the scope of the Czech Republic’s presidency of the Council of the EU, the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes then organized a public hearing in the European Parliament on March 18, 2009, on the topic of “European Conscience and Crimes of Totalitarian Communism: 20 Years After,” in cooperation with MEPs supporting the Prague Declaration.

The participants of the Hearing adopted a final document, “Conclusions”, focusing on three key points: the establishment of a Platform of European Memory and Conscience, the strengthening of existing financial instruments in this field, and the proclamation of August 23 as a Remembrance Day for the victims of Nazism and totalitarian communism.

Each of these points was included in the European Parliament’s Resolution on European conscience and totalitarianism, which it adopted on April 2, 2009.

Further, the Council of the European Union, in its June 15, 2009 Council meeting for General Affairs and External Relations, concluded that it shares the European Parliament’s view expressed in the April resolution, recognizes the effort made in this field by Member States and the European Commission, and welcomes the European Parliament’s call for the establishment of a Platform of European Memory and Conscience.

Concerning the platform’s establishment, I would like to clarify that the intention is not to create a new European bureaucratic institution that would substitute or subordinate existing national institutions.

Rather, the Platform should support existing institutions and its activities by:

  • coordinating in order to prevent duplicity
  • ensuring that the results of the institutions’ activities are available to all EU states
  • securing international projects
  • ensuring an integrated grant policy
  • uniting the documentation of crimes of totalitarian regimes
  • ensuring a clear legal framework within the EU with respect to free and unlimited access to archives containing information on the crimes and activities of totalitarian regimes
  • ensuring the reciprocal exchange of information
  • securing cooperation towards united, European-wide education concerning totalitarian regimes
  • creating scientific and educational projects
  • ensuring monitoring and results in English or other EU languages
Platform of European Memory and Conscience - further steps

The next important event the Institute is organizing together with partner institutions from the working group on the Platform of European Memory and Conscience is an international conference “Crimes of the Communist Regimes,” to take place in Prague on February 24-26, 2010. This conference could become one of the key moments on the European road of coming to terms with the communist past. All of our partner institutions and organizations from the new EU member states, Germany, Russia, the former Yugoslavia, the Ukraine, Belarus and the Balkans are invited to present a summary of crimes committed by the communist dictatorships. The conference has three aims:

  1. to put together an overview of the crimes committed during the communist dictatorship in Europe,
  2. to ascertain, with the help of international legal experts, whether and which of these crimes were crimes against humanity, and
  3. to suggest, with the help of international legal experts and Members of the European Parliament, a way in which to attain justice for the victims and perpetrators of these crimes alike.

We are convinced that the limited awareness of the criminal nature of the communist regimes in general, the limited disclosure of the crimes and the limited justice done after 1989 have been at the root of many of the problems our societies in transition have had to face over the past 20 years. The ultimate goal of the conference is therefore to facilitate reconciliation within the post-communist societies and strengthen European integration across the former East-West divide.

As of today, several Members of the European Parliament have kindly agreed to be patrons of the conference – Ms. Heidi Hautala from Finland, Chairwoman of the Human Rights Subcommittee of the European Parliament, Ms. Sandra Kalniete of Latvia, former dissident with personal experience from the Gulag, Mr. Tunne Kelam, respected personality of the Estonian dissent, and Mr. László Tökés, bishop of Timisoara, one of the leaders of the Romanian revolution of 1989. Another honorable patron is Mr Göran Lindblad of Sweden, rapporteur of the Resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe from 2006, “On the Need for international condemnation of crimes of totalitarian communist regimes.” A further partner of the conference is the International Center for Transitional Justice, an organization with first-hand expertise from the UN tribunals on former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

As another side-effect, we hope that the conference “Crimes of the Communist Regimes” and its results will help to establish the working group for the Platform of European Memory and Conscience as an important international expert gremium in the field of coming to terms with Europe’s totalitarian past. Therefore, we would like to use the occasion of the conference in February 2010 and the gathering of our colleagues and collaborators in Prague to reach another step in the status of the Platform itself.

The conclusions adopted at the meeting of the working group on the Platform of European Memory and Conscience in Prague in November 2008 suggested that the Platform take on the form of an organization based on an intergovernmental agreement. Drawing on our consultations so far, we indeed favor this model over that of, for instance, an international non-governmental organization. The Platform of European Memory and Conscience as an organization based on an intergovernmental agreement would have better options to secure funding and to become a partner of European institutions, notably the Council and the Commission.

Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to announce that we are looking for partner institutions willing to work with us on founding this intergovernmental organization. Together, we need to draft the statute of the organization, which will then be passed in each of the countries according to the required legislative procedure. In the Czech Republic, the process consists of having the statute approved and passed by the Government and subsequently by both chambers of Parliament. We could aim at starting the operation of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience as an intergovernmental organization under the Polish EU-Presidency in the first half of 2011.

We would like to use the occasion of the conference in Prague in February 2010 to present a draft Statute of the intergovernmental organization “Platform of European Memory and Conscience.” The Statute will be formulated in an open way, so as to allow the accession of any further member states. We would be honored if our colleagues from the working group would agree to having the seat of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience in Prague, the crossroads between the East and West, the North and South of Europe, a city which survived both the terrible totalitarian dictatorships of the 20th century.