From 8-10 March Ambassador Jan Deboutte took part in high-level political meetings and commemorative events in Skopje. Ambassador Deboutte, who was IHRA Chair in 2012, was accompanied by Solvej Berlau (Danish Delegation to IHRA) and Andrea Szonyi (Hungarian Delegation to IHRA), members of the IHRA Steering Committee on Holocaust Memorial Days.
The IHRA has a strong focus on Holocaust Memorial Days, both as part of the IHRA grant strategy and as a specific internal programme. The IHRA believes that Holocaust remembrance is the responsibility of the whole society and aims to ensure that remembrance activities have the support of political leaders and governmental initiatives. The need for mainstream Holocaust remembrance was recognized by the international community through adopting the Stockholm Declaration in 2000, which states: "We share a commitment to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and to honor those who stood against it. We will encourage appropriate forms of Holocaust remembrance, including an annual Day of Holocaust Remembrance, in our countries." In view of the importance of Holocaust remembrance, a roundtable on Holocaust Memorial Days with three IHRA Observer Countries was held in 2015 with the aim of profiling the concrete activities of IHRA Observer Countries and to understand of how the IHRA can support remembrance initiatives. The current visits are a follow-up to the roundtable of 2015.
The visit to Skopje began on 8 March with a meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and with the Minister of Education and Science. The IHRA delegation then took part in a tour of the "Holocaust Memorial Centre for the Jews of Macedonia".
The IHRA visit coincided with the promotion of an IHRA co-sponsored publication entitled “Diplomacy and Deportation of the Jews from Macedonia in 1943" and Ambassador Deboutte had the opportunity to address the audience following the introduction by Mr. Sadikarijo, director of the Holocaust Memorial Centre.
On 9 March Ambassador Deboutte travelled to Bitola with the IHRA national coordinator, Ambassador Tegovski, where they visited the Jewish cemetery, a Jewish kindergarten and participated in a reception at the Municipality of Bitola Mayor’s Office. The day concluded with a wreath-laying ceremony at the monument of the deported Jews from Bitola and the Monument of the National Hero Estreja Ovadija Mara, followed by the opening of the exhibition “Haunted Memories – View into the Future”. Ambassador Deboutte also participated in the “March of the Living - 11 March 1943 Never Again” organized, for the first time, by five NGO from Bitola and was joined by, inter alia, a large group of young people from Macedonia, Germany and Israel.
Simultaneously in Skopje the IHRA experts participated in a workshop for primary and secondary school teachers entitled “Enhancing education and research policies and activities with a view to further improving the commemoration of the Holocaust memorial days” held as a follow-up of the IHRA roundtable in 2015, at the "Holocaust Memorial Centre of the Jews from Macedonia" in Skopje. On this occasion the IHRA teaching guidelines “Why teach about the Holocaust”, “How to teach about the Holocaust in Schools”, “What to teach about the Holocaust”, “Working Definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion” and “International Memorial Museums Charter” were translated into the Macedonian language by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and will be distributed to all schools in the country. The Workshop was followed by a commemorative musical concert by the students of a secondary school “Vasil Antevski – Dren” from Skopje and promotion of the book “Let us not Forget” by Bistrica Mirkulovska.
On 10 March the full IHRA Delegation took part in the commemorative event at the Monopol/Tobacco Factory where addresses were held by the President of the Jewish Community, Ambassador Deboutte and Ambassador Tegovski, IHRA national coordinator.
Ambassador Deboutte was representing the current IHRA Chair, Ambassador Benno Bättig of Switzerland. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is one of IHRA’s eleven Observer Countries.
Image: Address by Ambassador Deboutte at the commemorative ceremony on 9 March