Speech by Rosen Plevneliev during the Closing Session

President Zeman, President Schulz, parliamentary speakers, ministers, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends.

After such a brilliant performance of world-class music and artists, words are needless. But we need to speak again and again. We need to repeat ourselves again and again. We need to come back to this place again and again, get together, share again and again our message as well as this brilliant music, but also need to share our feeling of unity, our message of integrity and our message of tolerance, our message of humanity to the people of the world.

It is the responsibility of every one of us to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. When we commemorate those who died, as we listen to the stories of those who were witnesses, we ask ourselves: ‘How could this happen, how did the civilized world allow this to happen?’ A tragedy of this scale cannot be explained by just pointing at those who initiated and executed all the repression and mass murder. What about those who have been indifferent, what about those who were afraid? What about those who thought, ‘Well, this has nothing to do with me… ’?

We should not forget the crimes of Nazism. We must not let the memory pass away with the last survivors, with the witnesses. We cannot have progress if we do not know our past, which will help us to measure the progress we have achieved seventy years later. If we cannot learn from history, if we make the same mistakes time after time, then Churchill will be right, history will repeat itself again and again. And as a president, I am strongly committed to this, I am engaged with the plight of the victims of totalitarian regimes. For me and for the Bulgarian people, it is a topic of the utmost importance.

Almost two years ago, in the European Parliament, the very heart of European democracy, we got together with a wise and much-respected President, who 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.

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 showed 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 the World War II, Bulgarians succeeded in saving the entire Jewish population within the country, nearly 50,000 people.

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 Holocaust, whom we will always remember.

We must not forget that in every society there will be always someone who would prefer the sword, not the pen. There will always be fanatics and extremists who will try to kill innocent people in the name of God. But a brutal murder has nothing to do with God. Because God does not want anyone to dominate over others. Because God is telling us that we are all born equal and in peace. We should work for peace and should make sure that nobody dominates. God is teaching us that every life matters, regardless of faith – Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or any other. Every life is important.

The events that shocked Paris recently unleashed a wave of solidarity amongst those who share this belief. And together, united, the citizens of Europe openly stated that they would continue to defend human life, dignity and freedom for everyone. Let us support every initiative against fanatism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.

Tonight, in solidarity with the campaign of Jewish organizations such as the European Jewish Association, the lights of the presidential building in Sofia will remain on, in order to remind us that even today there are people in Europe who are fearful for their safety. This gesture has a symbolic meaning. It shows that sometimes even the smallest action, the smallest effort, is enough to drive out the darkness and bring back hope and light. Even the worst of evils will be stopped when people with different religions, with different ethnic, cultural and social backgrounds, just firmly say ‘no’ to hatred, when they think, ‘It’s up to me,’ and when they act.

So we are all impressed by the words of a young Muslim man who risked his life to save other people during the hostage crisis in Paris recently. This young Muslim man said, ‘We are brothers. It’s not a question of Jews, Christians or Muslims. We are all in the same boat. And we have to help each other to get out of this crisis together.’

Today, just across the way from my office, in the very heart of city of Sofia, we have wonderful temples belonging to different religions. We have a well-preserved 9th-century Byzantine church, we have a mosque, we have a wonderful synagogue, we have a Catholic church. They have coexisted peacefully for centuries. And that’s a great example of tolerance, of wisdom, and of respect for diversity. Let us all – politicians, activists and citizens alike – never forget that it is up to all of us to shape the world we live in. Let us not stop making it a better place.

Thank you.