Hate speech
13.11.-20.11.2016, IYMC Oświęcim/Auschwitz
6.03.-10.03.2017, Internationales Forum Burg Liebenzell
IYMC Oświęcim/Auschwitz, Internationales Forum Burg Liebenzell
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„Learning from History: Hate Speech”
A German-Polish-Ukrainian seminar

November is considered to be the most depressing month of the year. But not in the International Youth Meeting Centre in Oświęcim/ Auschwitz. On November 13th young people from Poland, Germany and Ukraine came to the IYMC to spend a week together gaining new knowledge and creating social posters. Hate speech in the public sphere and ways of countering it were chosen as the topic of this year’s edition of the project “Learning from History”, realized by the IYMC in cooperation with the International Forum Burg Liebenzell.

The beginning was not difficult, quite on the contrary: on the first day the participants established contact and got to know each other during integration games, heard the 800-years’ history of the city of Oświęcim and learned basic phrases in Polish, German and Ukrainian. The most important thing, that we managed on the day, was to create a friendly atmosphere, which lasted through the following days.

The second day was the time to deepen the historical knowledge about the Nazi Germany, WWII and the violence against particular ethnic and social groups in Central and Eastern Europe. While preparing for the visit at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Site, we made a time line, discussed the development of the Nazi policy in the years 1933-1945, the course of WWII on the territories of the participants’ countries as well as violence against and murder on Jews, Sinti and Roma, political prisoners, people with disabilities and other social groups. One of the important aspects of the Nazi policy, which predetermined its success in the German society then, was propaganda. To understand its mechanisms and focal points, we have analyzed propaganda posters of the time from the artistic and ethical point of view.

Continuing the historical perspective, we have visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Site. For some of the participants the visit had a personal connection. “Shortly before the project my mother told me, that one of the members of our family died in Auschwitz. I have found her photo among other photos in the corridor,” – shared her story a participant from Poland. For others being at the Auschwitz Museum was a very impressive experience due to the authenticity of the place and the enormity of the tragedy that happened there. “For me this visit is not mere history, but the motivation to think about what we should do today to avoid the repetition,” – summed up a participant from Ukraine.

In the next days of the seminar we focused on the issue of hate speech. The days four and five were dedicated to workshops conducted by Franziska Seitz from the International Forum Burg Liebenzell. Firtsly, the youth tried to answer the questions: what is hate speech? can we find its elements in the Nazi propaganda? where and in what form does it function today? In the practical part the young Ukrainians, Poles and Germans searched for and analyzed examples of hate speech against Jews, Roma, people with disabilities, of different skin colour or sexual orientation in the Internet. “Unfortunately, all groups, which were victims in Nazi Germany and Auschwitz, are also victims of hate speech in the public sphere today,” – so concluded the working groups, which dealt with particular examples.

On the following day a hearing of the European Court of Human Rights took place. In Oświęcim instead of Strasbourg, with the participants as judges and sides in the trial concerning hate speech in the public sphere, television in particular. Upon hearing the arguments of both sides, the judges announced their verdicts – almost all of them in favour of the person who filed in the complaint. “The most difficult part for me was to make the decision upon listening to the sides. But it was very interesting to try myself in this role,” – commented a participant, who had the role of a judge.

The participants processed the new information and their reflections during a poster workshop, conducted by Dr. Tomasz Kipka and Martyna Sobolewska from the Silesian University. It was a really enriching experience for the young people. In small working groups they worked out sketches, which later were edited in graphic designers on computers to became full-sized social posters.

On Friday evening the youth from Germany, Poland and Ukraine presented the results of their work in the Forum of the IYMC. The guests had a closer look at the posters and heard the stories behind the ideas. The Director of the IYMC Leszek Szuster expressed his gratitude to the participants for their excellent work and informed, that the posters will be presented in smaller print during the opening of the 6th International Biennale of Social-Political Poster in Strasbourg later this year.

But everything comes to an end, this youth meeting as well. On November 19th the participants left the IYMC with a lot of impressions, new knowledge, pleasant memories, and nice wishes, to meet in the same group in Germany in March 2017.

The project is sponsored by the German-Polish Youth Cooperation in the framework of the „Wege zur Erinnerung” program and the “Verein zur Förderung der Internationalen Jugendbegegnungsstätte Oświęcim/Auschwitz, Wolfsburg e.V.” Foundation.


Nataliia Tkachenko, IYMC

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