A fruitful relationship - Portugal and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)

In December 2019, at the Luxembourg Plenary, Portugal was accepted as a full Member of IHRA, having been an Observer since 2009 and a Liasion Country for the previous year.

One of the participating countries in the 2000 International Forum on the Holocaust that adopted the “Stockholm Declaration”, it had been the intent of the Government to have proceeded rapidly and smoothly through the different stages leading to full membership of the organization. The unexpected financial and economic crisis that hit the country delayed the whole process.

Let me be very clear: this unusually long period spent as an Observer was no time wasted. The same stringent financial and budget constraints that forced us to limit our ambitions in the status upgrading process, allowed us to concentrate more time and efforts in the domestic front or, as the Head of another delegation suggested, in doing our “homework”.

And our homewok we did! Holocaust education gained visibility and importance in the compulsory education curriculum. Teacher training in Holocaust issues – a field that had been launched in the country by the NGO Memoshoá, with the assistance of Yad Vashem – gained proeminence with the active involvement of the Direção-Geral de Educação (DGE) of the Ministry of Education that signed memoranda of urderstanding or of cooperation with various national and international institutions, in particular with Le Memorial de la Shoah. In the past six to seven years, this french organization has colaborated with portuguese institutions (NGOs, universities, associations) in the area of Holocaust education and has been instrumental in the two, or three annual teacher training seminars on Holocaust related issues that DGE has been organizing for the past four or five years.

As a full Member, Portugal participated in the adoption of the “2020 IHRA Ministerial Declaration” at the First Ministerial Meeting of IHRA that took place in January 2020, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the “Stockholm Declaration”. This new document not only reaffirms the values of the “Stockholm Declaration” but also develops and expands the commitments of the participating countries.

“Recommendations for Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust” were adopted by IHRA at its Luxembourg Plenary. Their translation into Portuguese was done by DGE and posted in both its and IHRA’s sites. According to IHRA Permanent Office, this Portuguese version was the most visited translation, averaging three times more visitors than any other translation from the original English text. Brazil having recently been accepted as Observer Country, more visitors should be expected in the future.

The current SARS CoV-2 pandemic has shown how Holocaust distortion is being used in the development of all sorts of antisemitic conspiracy theories. As expected, IHRA produced a set of “Recommendations for Recognizing and Countering Holocaust Distortion”. Again, its Portuguese translation by DGE will soon be available on IHRA´s and the Ministry of Education's sites.

If these are some of the direct results of Portugal´s membership in IHRA, our  involvement in the organization has had other indirect and positive consequences, the Projeto Nunca Esquecer being one of them, or the fact that the Resolução do Conselho de Ministros 101/2021, of July 28, that approved the National Plan on Combating Racism and Discrimination,  states that, in the development of initiatives in the framework of the same Plan, the works of IHRA, its “Recommendations on Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust”, as well as its legally non-binding working definition of Antisemitism should be taken into account as important references.

As a final note, I want to recall that, at the request of the Chair of the Museums and Memorials Working Group of IHRA, I made a short presentation on the Holocaust Museum of Oporto. There is a great interest in this Museum among IHRA diplomats and experts and I believe that a more developed presentation by a member of its board should be envisaged for the future.