Feierliche Eröffnung des HumanistenTag 2018. Ansprache von Giulio Ercolessi, Präsident der EHF.

Opening ceremony of the 2018 German Humanist Day. Address speech by Giulio Ercolessi, EHF president.

Historischer Rathaussaal, Nürnberg, 22. Juni 2018

Ancient Town Hall, Nuremberg, June 22nd 2018


Eröffnung des HumanistenTag Nürnberg 2018

Liebe Freunde, lieber Michael,

einige unserer Vorstandsmitglieder erinnern sich vielleicht, dass ich, als wir uns letzten November in Valencia trafen und die technischen Details unserer Generalversammlung hier in Nürnberg diskutierten, sagte, dass wir alle noch sechs Monate Zeit hätten, Deutsch zu lernen. Da ich mit wenig Erfolg versucht habe, mein sehr schlechtes Deutsch aufzufrischen, möchte ich zuerst unseren deutschen Mitgliedern, dem Humanistischen Verband Deutschlands und dem Humanistischen Verband Bayern und insbesondere Michael, in ihrer Sprache dafür danken, dass sie uns die Möglichkeit gegeben haben, uns im Rahmen des Deutschen Humanisten-Tages zu treffen. Und das in dieser Stadt, die, nachdem sie von der Tyrannei zur Hauptstadt gewählt wurde, jetzt eine der moralischen Hauptstädte der Bundesrepublik ist: Letzere ist, meiner Meinung nach, wahrscheinlich das bestgeimpfte aller unserer Länder, geimpft gegen die totalitären Krankheiten, die wir bisher in den letzten siebzig Jahren in Frieden und Freiheit verhindern konnten, zumindest in diesem Teil Europas. Und ich persönlich denke, wir sollten ihre Institutionen als Vorbild nehmen, als wir uns für ein besseres Europa einsetzen. Aber damit ist mein Deutsch leider fast komplett zu Ende: auch später, keine Fragen auf Deutsch, bitte.

I suppose that was enough of an effort, but I have now to switch fast to English.

We are altogether living bleak times in Europe and throughout what used to be called the Western world. Most of the taboos that were established after the end of WW2 in defence of our restored or newly established democracies have been broken and this has been largely accepted by public opinion and electors. If much of liberal democracy consists in “government by discussion”, our public discourse is growing more and more uncivilised. What has been proudly defined “illiberal democracy”, by one of the elected authoritarian leaders of Europe, is a model that is apparently gaining momentum in many of our countries. The most basic human rights are being trampled in many of our countries. What in the last seventy years used to be called, rightly or wrongly, the leader of the Western world, the USA, has surrendered to a tycoon who appears to be totally unaware of the basic principles of constitutional government and of the rule of law, beginning with international law.

Whatever the details and the legal, economical and technical provisions, each of us may prefer, we must do whatever we can to avoid the sinking of our civilization, of what most deserves of it to be preserved and handed down to the Europeans of the future: liberal democracy, secular institutions, the rule of law, human rights, government through rational discussion, freedom of belief, freedom of the media. In short, the heritage of the Enlightenment.

At a time when the progress of scientific research and its achievements might theoretically open us the way to a global Golden Age, the political and cultural developments seem to move in an opposite direction, pushed by the new religious fundamentalism, by the autochthonous religious conservatives that seek to regain power and influence thanks to them, by populist and nationalist politicians and mass media that are, without even being aware, leading our civilization to the same road, opposite to integration, and opposite to supranational democracy, that led to the two attempted suicides of Europe in the 20th century.

We should fight the populist and fundamentalist narrative, restore education to citizenship, fight the “barbarism of specialisation” that is disempowering even highly educated electors: all these forces and phenomena are pushing toward a downfall of our civilization, for reasons that are utterly the opposite of those outlined by the intellectuals that first used that formula one hundred years ago.

Yet, there are also positive signs. Along with the steady growth of societal secularisation, at least in Western Europe, traditional authoritarianism appears no longer capable to reverse the trend towards individual self-determination and individual freedom to choose. That kind of traditional authoritarianism based on religious prejudice may unfortunately be brandished as a rhetorical tool to stigmatise strangers or to revitalise nationalism, jingoism, xenophobia, even open racism, sexism and homophobia. But that kind of traditional authoritarianism cannot be realistically re-imposed on our citizens: the triumph in the Irish abortion referendum, three years after that on equal marriage rights, is there to show that impossibility. On Lgbti rights and end-of-life regulations our cultural battles are winning, and there is no sign of a reversion in the path towards individual self-determination. That is probably also the case or reproductive rights, and freedom to choose, even though we must be aware that the new narrative adopted by our opponents, that is now based on a distorted use of human rights and ecological or animal rights jargon, requires an updated response from us. And, when and where it retained its independence, the judiciary, and also most of our legal culture, are not reversing the basically slow but steady progressive trend of the past decades.

But even those achievements could be jeopardised by a downfall in the quality of our democracies. There is a huge disproportion between our duties and the resources we have at our disposal.

I would be insincere if I said that I am satisfied with what we were able to do in the past year, but with your help, with our small but brilliant and talented staff, we should redouble our efforts in the great challenges we are bound to face in the next year. This will be a crucial year, because Europe, of which the European Union is no minor political actor, carries more responsibility than ever in the defence of the tradition of the ethical-political values and of the legal principles of the Enlightenment and of its civilisation, that is our own.


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