Terezija, at the beginning of your Presidency you expressed that it was terrifying to see the resurgence of antisemitism, hatred, historical revisionism, and the return to war in Europe, stating that it shows the world has not yet drawn the right lessons from the past.

One year on, are you still fearful of these phenomena?

Terezija: In reflecting on the trajectory of my fears since assuming the Croatian IHRA Presidency, I must admit that they have intensified rather than abated. This realization dawned during my official visit to the United States in April last year, where discussions with key stakeholders like the State Department, American Jewish Committee, and Department for Homeland Security highlighted the alarming resurgence of antisemitism, not just domestically but on a global scale. Deborah Lipstadt, in her pivotal address as Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism, underscored the gravity of this issue, stressing its corrosive impact not only on Jewish communities but on the very fabric of democracy.

The subsequent events, including the terrible attack by Hamas on Israeli civilians last October, only served to exacerbate these concerns, causing an unprecedented rise in antisemitic sentiments worldwide. Despite concerted efforts and advocacy, antisemitism persists as a pernicious threat, necessitating a unified response from organizations like the IHRA and individual nations.

As I reflect on our efforts during the Croatian IHRA Presidency, I am reminded of the urgency and relevance of our mission. While my fears have deepened, I remain steadfast in my belief that through collective action and unwavering commitment, we can confront and mitigate these troubling phenomena, ensuring a future where remembrance is not just a duty but a guiding principle for societies and generations to come.

Sara, during the Q&A at the beginning of your Presidency you expressed the need for civilization to address the post-survivor future of global Holocaust remembrance and to make sure that we remain authentic and empathetic.

What does this look like following the 7 October attacks and their antisemitic aftermath?   

Sara: I couldn’t have foreseen that at the beginning of the Presidency remaining authentic and empathetic – which is at the core of the future of remembrance – would become political. The 7 October attacks changed everything and shifted the focus of our Presidency. This started with putting out a statement as part of the Troika following the attacks, which required a delicate and compassionate approach. The situation brought me back to something President Biden said during his visit to Croatia in 2015: “leadership is personal.” The 7 October attacks were personal to so many of us in the IHRA, highlighted by our delegations coming together to support one another emotionally in the weeks following.

When I was asked if I would like to include my personal story of visiting Auschwitz with my father for the first time in the foreword of the IHRA Charter for Safeguarding Sites, I was ambivalent. I felt it was more important to include his words, not mine. Three things were happening simultaneously within a period of six weeks. One, the upcoming Zagreb IHRA Plenary and a very delicate agenda. Two, the SECCA statement on the rise in antisemitism, which was endorsed by so many of our Heads of Delegations. Three, being asked to speak at a program marking the 30th Anniversary of Schindler’s List in New York. I was questioning my own ability to cope emotionally but I did decide to open up about my grandmother and father in the IHRA Charter. The next step was to talk in detail about my grandfather’s story during the Zagreb IHRA Plenary.  

Leadership is personal.

With the 30th anniversary of Schindler’s List in the background, I was flooded by memories of all the survivors my father worked with on that film. In the wake of the unprecedented rise in antisemitism, I felt it was my job to convey the legacy of Professor Bauer’s lecture on why the Holocaust was unprecedented, why the best stories about the Holocaust are about ambiguity. I took the pressure I felt from continuing so many legacies and turned it into a tribute to my family and to all the survivors who taught me about survival and compassion. Those deeply personal feelings were an opportunity to further the IHRA’s mission and I am still humbled and grateful that I was offered the opportunity to be a part of the IHRA Charter. Remaining authentic, while leading the IHRA, mixing the personal and professional, in order to create a space where everyone else could also be authentic and empathetic was hard, but really worth it.  

Your Presidency marked the 10th anniversary of the IHRA’s working definition of Holocaust denial and distortion and as such focusing on this issue was a priority of your Presidency, what steps have you taken to combat this emerging issue?

Sara: Our goal was to follow up from the German IHRA Presidency, which oversaw the adoption of the Recognizing and Countering Holocaust Distortion: Recommendations for Policy and Decision Makers. We really wanted to understand the challenges of monitoring Holocaust distortion at an international level, and this meant consulting individual Member Countries to understand local manifestations of distortion. This was a collective effort across the year, encouraging IHRA Member Countries and Permanent International Partners to cooperate with us and produce short reports on this issue in their countries. The result is the digital report: Protecting the Facts, Protecting the Future: The IHRA’s Ongoing Commitments to Counter Holocaust Distortion. The report provides us with information on how our membership uses and implements the IHRA’s tools on recognizing and countering Holocaust distortion. It outlines the accomplishments of each Member Country and Permanent International Partner over the past decade, along with future objectives and acts as a tool to bolster the second pillar of the IHRA strategy.  

It was truly amazing to see how each contributor to this report took the task seriously and delivered reports diligently, remaining open to feedback and bilateral exchanges. The result is a report that underscores the legacy of our Presidency and the need to continue to address distortion during future Presidencies. 

How has chairing the IHRA impacted Holocaust remembrance in Croatia? 

Terezija: This year has had an immense impact on Croatia itself. We will never be the same Member Country as we were before the IHRA Presidency. Streets in Zagreb named after prominent persons of the Ustasha regime are being renamed, reflecting a conscientious effort to rectify historical injustices. 

Urban spaces have also become part of Holocaust remembrance with an Anne Frank Park opening in Pula and new have IWalks developed for Dubrovnik and Zagreb.  

All three IHRA working definitions have been adopted by the Government, by the Croatian Football Association, the Croatian Olympic Committee, the Paralympic Committee as well the Universities of Zagreb, Split, Zadar, and Rijeka. 

The Act on Misdemeanor Offences Against Public Order and Peace has been amended. Hate speech is now punishable with a fine of 700-4000 €, a substantial increase from the previous amount of around 20-100 €. 

Croatia was the first to implement the IHRA-UNESCO Capacity Building Training on Holocaust distortion and we were the first to see the principles of the IHRA Charter for Safeguarding Sites implemented at Jasenovac, a process that is ongoing.  

The IHRA community helped us begin to address issues that at first seemed impossible. All these activities, all these successes, truly belong to the IHRA, they are the result of tireless work, insight, cooperation, and support from the whole community. These multifaceted efforts collectively signal Croatia’s dedication to confronting the dark chapters of its history and fostering a future rooted in tolerance and remembrance – fortified by this IHRA Presidency. 

Your 3 main hopes for your Presidency were: To deliver on your priorities; aim to see the adoption of the IHRA Charter for Safeguarding Sites Project’s Charter; hope to launch the Future of Remembrance Initiative in a way that results in long-term impact.  

How did these hopes evolve over the year and how far have you come in achieving them?   

Terezija: The Concept Note on Strengthening the IHRA’s Procedures and Effectiveness was drafted during the Croatian Presidency and approved during the Zagreb Plenary, following thorough discussions and consensus-building. We were therefore able to deliver on one of our top priorities. This is a process that has been years in the making and while the IHRA took a significant step forward during the Croatian Presidency, this journey will need to continue. Better processes mean greater effectiveness and that means an IHRA that is fit for the challenges facing the Future of Remembrance. 

Our successes have also been marked by continued international cooperation. The #ProtectTheFacts campaign gained the Council of Europe as a new partner, helping to strengthen global commitment to counter Holocaust distortion. Moreover, the IHRA gained a new Permanent International Partner in GAAMAC, helping us to move towards the IHRA’s vision of a world without genocide. 

Other key achievements included the adoption of the IHRA Charter for Safeguarding Sites and Recommendations on Archival Access.   

Sara: Yes, watching the products of IHRA projects come to fruition is something I will cherish forever. And the secret formula was working with the Permanent Office and project groups to support them in finalizing these tools and building consensus around them. With these tools the IHRA has empowered leaders, local communities, researchers – we have empowered our societies and made them excited about safeguarding the record – strengthening the future of remembrance. 

It was an unbelievable moment during the Museums and Memorials Working Group meeting in Zagreb when so many representatives from memorials and museums volunteered immediately to have their site included in the data visualization tool that accompanied the Charter. And to see how many countries are willing to implement the Charter!  

We gained champions in the Working Group on Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life which we addressed prior to International Holocaust Remembrance Day on the importance of safeguarding sites.   

The Second International Conference on the Genocide of the Roma advanced discussions by focusing on countering distortion and anti-Roma discrimination through research and education. I am looking forward to seeing the Recommendations for Teaching and Learning about the Genocide of the Roma adopted in the coming months.  

All these achievements point to the exemplary work of our experts. Time and again, we were so impressed by their wealth of knowledge, forward thinking, and commitment.  

The results of this work helped to carry on the legacy of Professor Yehuda Bauer, the IHRA Honorary Chairman who we bid farewell to during the Dubrovnik Plenary. We had the honor of being the first to contribute to the 50,000 EUR Yehuda Bauer Grant, which will continue his work for many years to come. This grant sits alongside the newly relaunched IHRA Grant Program, one of the most effective ways for implementing IHRA tools. 

We will never be the same Member Country as we were before the IHRA Presidency.

How has the Croatian Presidency lived up to the motto “The Future of Remembrance”?   

Terezija: The motto encapsulates our realization that we are the final generation with the ability to interact with Holocaust survivors. As they leave us, the responsibility falls upon us to shape the global memory of the Holocaust. Throughout our tenure, we’ve tirelessly highlighted this crucial reality within the IHRA community, igniting a collective determination to act. As we navigate this pivotal moment in history, the Croatian IHRA Presidency stands at the forefront, championing innovative resources to safeguard our past and shape a future steeped in remembrance.  

Sara: The beauty of the ˝Future of Remembrance˝ is that it adapts to different contexts. One of my favorite parts of being Co-Chair of the IHRA was honoring longstanding delegates who were stepping down and watching them hand the baton to a new generation of young IHRA delegates. These moments made me realize that the ˝Future of Remembrance˝ is about the people: the younger generation of experts who are stepping up and taking responsibility. 

What are your takeaways from serving as the IHRA’s first Co-Chairs? 

Sara: Chairing the IHRA may look like a solitary sport but it’s really a team effort. Of course, we were in the unique position of being two Chairs working together and we were able to learn from one another and prop each other up when needed. But, the team is far bigger than that. Since we took on such an ambitious priority, now known as the Zagreb Plenary Decision on Strengthening the IHRA’s Procedures and Effectiveness, looking back and looking forward, we Chaired the IHRA with a big team – there’s the IHRA Troika, the incoming and outgoing Working Group and Committee Chairs, our fantastic team here in Croatia, the staff at the Permanent Office, and Rob Williams as Advisor to the IHRA. My job was just connecting the past and the future of the IHRA. I think we did a good job because a rising tide lifts all boats. 

Terezija: That’s right, we knew we could only achieve our goals through courage, perseverance, and treating everyone as equals, this is how trust is built, which was crucial for us as the first Co-Chairs, and me personally as a newcomer to the IHRA.  

Co-Chairing made it possible to approach each challenge from at least two different angles and enabled us to support each other in finding the right approaches and solutions. We had to understand the different hats we needed to wear to achieve our common goals. 

Chairing the IHRA may look like a solitary sport but it’s really a team effort.

Sara: So true, being Co-Chair really taught me how important it is to share in joint success and joy, both with Terezija and all those who had long-term success come to fruition during our year. This year is as much theirs as it is ours. 

In terms of the IHRA uniting the political and expert level, I think about the introduction I gave for my boss, our Prime Minister’s, speech at the Zagreb IHRA Plenary. Building consensus during nearly impossible situations is something I learned from him. It’s his expertise I leaned in on. The five C’s of Consensus made it easy to always intuitively know what #FORtheIHRA is, what we are fighting for, never against. Consensus requires clarity of vision, communication, consistency, commitment, and maybe above all else compassion. And there is the 6th C, something that Yehuda imparted at the Stockholm Plenary when he told us that “we are made of glass”. Therefore, the 6th C of consensus is crystal. This is something I hope future Presidencies will keep in mind; we are living in fragile times and it is so important to be kind and respectful, to really take care of each other and continue with empathy, in the spirit of our logo: #FORtheIHRA.