It is my privilege to be in Budapest today and present the U.S. Embassy’s Active Citizenship Award to the March of the Living Foundation. Each month, Ambassador Kounalakis recognizes citizens and organizations that are working to make a difference in their communities. This year, the Embassy has already recognized seven outstanding partners in Active Citizenship. I am honored to be able to help dedicate July’s Active Citizenship Award to an organization that does so much to promote tolerance and combat hate.
President Obama has directed all U.S. government agencies engaged overseas to look for partners and international organizations in the fight against discrimination. The March of the Living Foundation is a tremendous example of an organization that promotes active citizenship through its dedication to promoting tolerance.
The March of the Living Foundation has grown into one of the leading NGOs in Hungary, combating racism and anti-Semitism through education and public awareness. Its focus on the youth of Hungary ensures that the next generation remains cognizant of the past and vigilant toward the future. Through its education programs, the March of the Living Foundation reaches out to both Jewish and non-Jewish young people to teach tolerance, mutual respect, and responsibility.
Each year, the March of the Living Foundation organizes hundreds of Hungarians–mostly young people, students–to travel to Auschwitz to join thousands of others to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day. The March of the Living Foundation also organizes an annual torchlight procession through the streets of Budapest to remember victims of the Holocaust. The Budapest march started 10 years ago with a mere 300 participants, and has grown into an annual event that attracts nearly 30,000 people.
The March of the Living Foundation is not only an example of active citizenship, of individuals working to improve their community, but it is also a great promoter of active citizens in their own right. Despite their many activities, including the annual Holocaust memorial procession in Budapest, the Foundation has no office and is organized by five core volunteers. But those five are a true force-multiplier. Over the last ten years, they have developed a cadre of hundreds of volunteers to help organize the march and other events, and to carry their education programs to every corner of the country, travelling to more than 50 cities around Hungary.
Their work is, and will continue to be, extremely important. It seems especially timely now, given the recent wave of anti-Semitic incidents in Hungary and current efforts in some quarters to rehabilitate fascist-era figures.
Of course, I appreciate and encourage national dialogue about the past—it is an important process in any democratic nation. I believe, though, that people must speak out clearly and unequivocally against the veneration of any individuals who allied themselves with or participated in a fascist regime, which represents the absolute antithesis of the democratic values we all share.
The work of March of the Living Foundation strives to educate young people about the consequences of unrestrained, unchecked hate. It is also a great example of what we try to encourage in the 2012 Hours Against Hate campaign. Special Representative to Muslim Communities Farah Pandith and I created the Hours Against Hate campaign in 2011. This campaign encourages young people to volunteer an hour or more of their time to help people who look, live, or pray differently. It is an opportunity to work together to build a more tolerant world, one hour at a time. The initial goal was to raise 2,011 volunteer hours in the year 2011, but our expectations were greatly exceeded, as more than 15,000 hours were pledged by last December.
This grassroots momentum continues this year and the program has been re-launched as 2012 Hours Against Hate. This year’s campaign has been adopted as one of the tolerance campaigns for the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games to encourage greater diversity and community engagement during the Summer Games. Next week, Special Representative to Muslim Communities Farah Pandith and I will be in London for 2012 Hours Against Hate/Walk a Mile events, including a rock concert July 24th and a children’s sporting event on the 25th.
Hours Against Hate is a campaign to stop bigotry and promote pluralism and respect across lines of culture, religion, tradition, class, and gender. Hate is hate, no matter the victim. The campaign aligns with Secretary Clinton’s goal of increasing engagement and partnership with civil society on human rights. As the program targets youth under age 30, Hours Against Hate also aligns with the March of the Living Foundation’s focus on engaging young people from different backgrounds to promote tolerance. So, for all of our young people in the audience – and I understand that there are also many in the audience who work with youth – I encourage you to think about what you too can do to be an active citizen and to commit yourselves to volunteering against hate in 2012 and into the future.
Without further ado, I am honored to recognize the March of the Living Foundation for its work and I would now like to present the Embassy’s Active Citizenship Award to March of the Living. Congratulations!