Mary Ann Hennessey 2013

The European Day of Remembrance for the Righteous calls upon us to honour the memory of those who “preserved human dignity” when faced with inhumanity or indifference to human suffering.  But more than this, this Day calls upon us to embrace the example of the Righteous in our everyday lives.  I might even be so bold as to say to take literally, as individuals and as nations, our European commitment to human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Even though there are still tragic and terrifying circumstances of war and violence, even on our European continent today, most of us are fortunate enough to live in peaceful times.  Peaceful times, however, require no less efforts from the Righteous. 

I will skip this opportunity to quote the Rev Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Ghandi or Robert F. Kennedy, but instead I will cite the words of Professor Albus Dumbledore, Head Master of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  He said: “There are all kinds of courage, and while it takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies, it requires a great deal more to stand up to your friends”. 

To stand up, to speak up, and to work for change from inside of your community, is to risk the loss of friendship, respect, support of the very people, the very society, that you care enough about to want to help.  This kind of civil, even civic, courage alone can, from the inside, push, harry, nudge or drag our societies towards progress.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in this region, it often feels very lonely to stand up to your friends - be they an ethnic group, religion, political party or language community - even to defend what is right.  The forces of tribalism (and other isms) conspire to make it uncomfortable, disadvantageous or even dangerous to stick your head out or speak the truth - even to say the obvious, such as how we educate our children today is how we can expect our future to look, or to simply refuse to let segregation, intolerance, inequality, discrimination, intimidation or hate speech to be considered ordinary facts of life.

This DuskoKondor Award for Civil Courage is a sign of appreciation and recognition for the people we honour today.  But I sincerely hope it is also a message to all who hesitate to speak up for what we know is right, to stand up to our friends, that their examples of civil and civic courage show us we are not alone and give us hope, strength and determination.

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Who bears the most blame for the lack of civil courage?


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