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2021 Mediterranean Basin Lemkin Seminar – Online Edition

From May 24 to July 4, the Auschwitz Institute organized the first edition of the 2021 Mediterranean Basin Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention –  Online Edition, with the support of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, and the Claims Conference. This virtual version of the Raphael Lemkin Seminar was tailored specifically for the Mediterranean Basin region and featured the participation of 23 attendees from 11 countries in Southeastern Europe (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia). The discussions were facilitated by AIPG’s instructors and were monitored by an independent evaluator and an academic observer. A complete list of participants and the seminar’s agenda can be found here

The Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention is AIPG’s longest-running program and is grounded in the belief that preventing genocide and other atrocity crimes is an achievable goal through the recognition of signs and symptoms as well as stakeholder preparation and commitment. The 2021 Mediterranean Basin  Lemkin Seminar was organized as a 6-week online program that featured a bespoke virtual tour of the Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II–Birkenau concentration and extermination camps developed in collaboration with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. The virtual tour consists of archival images, video materials, and two interactive maps of the camps, allowing the participants to experience Auschwitz’s unique “power of place.”

The first week of the seminar’s curriculum was dedicated to analyzing the Holocaust as a process, introducing participants to the historical context, and examined the Nazi’s “Final Solution.” Theoretical and historical analysis of the Holocaust undertaken during the initial days of the seminar was complemented by the virtual tour. At the end of the tour, participants had the opportunity to engage with the Museum’s expert and Director of the Center for Research at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Dr. Piotr Setkiewicz, who responded in detail to their questions.

The following week of the program included an overview of the concepts of genocide, mass atrocities, and their prevention. The module began with the introduction of Raphael Lemkin’s fundamental work  — a Polish-Jewish lawyer who first coined the term genocide and spent his entire life working for its codification in law through the passage of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide  — before participants examined legal definitions of genocide and the other categories of mass atrocities: crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing. The week ended with a presentation of AIPG’s three-phase approach to mass atrocity prevention. 

During the third week, participants were introduced to primary or “upstream” atrocity prevention, and discussed the concept and established norm of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and its three pillars. Upstream prevention measures focus on analysis that takes place before atrocity violence occurs. This analysis centered on the longer-term governance, historical, economic, and societal factors that leave a country at risk of genocide and other mass atrocities. 

For the fourth week of the seminar, participants focused on secondary or “midstream” prevention and ended the week with a discussion of the wide range of tools available in the midstream prevention “toolbox,” including political, legal, economic, and military. The following two weeks were dedicated to tertiary or “downstream” prevention, and participants were introduced to the concept of transitional justice, which encompasses a variety of legal and other means by which a society can address past atrocities and human rights violations. These discussions covered processes that shape downstream prevention, especially those related to the pursuit of truth and justice, as well as reparations and other measures for transitional justice.

In the sixth and final week of the program, attendees learned about the role of memory as a vital component of transitional justice and prevention. Participants also examined the significance of memory within the context of downstream prevention and its relationship to ideas of truth and justice. The seminar concluded with a closing discussion about different initiatives that focus on the role of memory, such as civil society activism, historical dialogue, education programs, arts, and sites of memory, as well as key aspects of the politics of memorialization.

The active participation of attendees and their commitment to adapting to the remote learning format of the first Mediterranean Basin Lemkin Seminar created opportunities for a plethora of constructive conversations and were essential to the success of the online program. Dr. Gabriela Ghindea, Program Director of the Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, explains:

This year, one of AIPG’s pillar programs, the Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, was characterized by two premieres. After a successful first virtual edition of the program which was implemented at the global level, our team dedicated a new online edition of the program to a selected group of experts from the Mediterranean Basin region.

I am particularly delighted with the development of the first Mediterranean Basin edition of the Lemkin Seminar, especially during these turbulent times! This part of the world is a complex, heterogeneous space, marked by overlapping conflicts and tragedies, with different root causes and outcomes. Some of the wounds in the region’s collective memory have never healed and the willingness to address a difficult past varies between communities. 

Nevertheless, Southeastern Europe has also a long history of dealing successfully with diversity. Despite many challenges, there is still an uninterrupted opportunity for constructive dialogue on vital topics, such as the desire to prioritize atrocity prevention policy development and training within each country and throughout the region as a whole. In an age of revisionism, populism, hate speech, identity-based violence, and the revival of concerning narratives, these are, no doubt, encouraging signs. I am grateful for the privilege of welcoming so many kindred spirits into our expanding AIPG alumni community!

*All references to Kosovo should be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).