Remarks by the Honorable Rosen Plevneliev
President of Bulgaria
April 30, 2013
ADL Centennial Gala
Dear Mr. Foxman, Honorable Members of Congress, Representatives of the US Administration, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends - Two months ago in the European Parliament, a wise and respected president said: “Better economic crisis than moral catastrophe, better economic problems than historic shame.” These words came from the President of the State of Israel, Shimon Peres whom I consider a living legend and global visionary. President Peres and I opened an exhibition to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews. In his speech he described the Bulgarian people as humble, unobtrusive and yet genuinely heroic. Against all odds, Bulgarians gave the world an unprecedented example of courage and humanity by making a moral choice in defiance of the greatest evil in history, the Nazis.
In the dark years of World War II, Bulgaria did what no other nation in Europe did – it succeeded to save its entire Jewish population within the country of nearly 50, 000. Unfortunately, Bulgaria was in a situation where it could not do the same for the Jewish people from Northern Greece and parts of Yugoslavia, as they weren't Bulgarian citizens.
We deeply mourn the loss of their lives as well as all the victims of the Holocaust, whom we will always remember.
Professionals, intellectuals, workers, political, social, and spiritual leaders – they all came together in a common drive to rescue their Jewish compatriots. At this point I must highlight in a special way the crucial role played by the Deputy Speaker Dimitar Peshev and other parliamentarians. The most important role, however, was that of the ordinary Bulgarian citizens, people from all walks of life – the ones who placed their own lives at risk to peacefully, yet firmly stand up for their fellow Bulgarians and forge a “human shield” to protect their Jewish classmates, friends, and neighbors. We, Bulgarians, made it clear that it is within the power of the civil society and ordinary people to change history; that through unwavering determination and resolute resistance even the worst of evils may be averted. Seventy years ago the Bulgarian society saved not just its Jewish population, it also saved itself.
Dear friends, it is a great honor to be among you tonight when we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Anti-Defamation League. I highly value your commitment and dedication to fight anti-Semitism and discrimination. I admire the courage of ADL's founder Sigmund Livingston, who dared challenge the stereotypes and devoted his life to the pursuit of justice and equality.
It has been a hundred years now that the Anti-Defamation League has been defending the democratic values through its actions, initiatives and programs, educating generations in the spirit of tolerance, respect for human rights, and equality. “When you teach your son, you also teach your son's son,” a Jewish proverb says and I truly believe that education is the right way to eradicate prejudice – the language of hatred and discrimination.
Tolerance and understanding are values which represent the very foundation of modern democracy and are shared by the international community. I believe that the efforts of all democratic countries are focused on building a peaceful and just world. Bulgaria, together with its strategic partners – the United States, Israel, all EU and NATO member states – contributes actively to the fight against hatred and violence.
I firmly believe that history needs to be remembered and told accurately. Any disregard for human suffering is unacceptable. Defining and teaching the critical lessons of the Holocaust is fundamental to upholding highest regard for the basic human rights and freedoms, the values of tolerance and mutual respect. And as such, they are essential to building a better future for generations to come.
Dear friends, I grew up in the small Bulgarian town of Gotse Delchev, where people of different religions live together in peace. My grandfather's house was just feet away from a church, a mosque, and a synagogue. Everybody prayed to their own God, but everybody loved their Muslim, Jewish or Christian neighbor. To us, the citizens of this beautiful, small, ordinary Bulgarian town, it was always clear, that God was wise enough not to allow anyone to believe they could dominate over the others. We are all born equal, born in peace, to live in peace and to work for peace. And as I am telling you this story of my town I promise you, that wherever I go, whatever I do, I will always be telling the story of tolerance among people and religions.
Today I serve my nation as Head of State. Just across my office, in the very heart of the Bulgarian capital Sofia, there are temples of different religions – a well-preserved 9th century Byzantine church, an Orthodox church, a mosque, and a synagogue. They have all coexisted peacefully for centuries. This is a great example of tolerance, of wisdom, and respect for diversity.
I believe that a more peaceful and prosperous world can be built by those who make the choice of being proactive citizens. By those who step forward with their names and faces to champion the choice they believe in, the cause that is worthy. I know that the Anti-Defamation League will continue to fight for tolerance and mutual respect, for our right to dream. Together, we can build a world without hate.
History keeps the names of those who have set bright examples of solidarity and compassion that help us preserve our will to strive for tolerance, non-violence and understanding. People like Dimitar Peshev and Sigmund Livingston – people who can change the world for the better and preserve our hope for a just and humane future.
To all of you here today, I would like to say - let us never accept or tolerate injustice. Let us never cease investing our hearts and energy into creating a world, where cultural diversity is treasured, tolerance is shared, and humanism is held up high.
Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Today, maybe more than ever, we cannot afford to do nothing. Let us do our best and God bless the good people of our planet to make and write history.