MESSAGE TO THE ELSE-LASKER-SCHÜLER SOCIETY
Wuppertal, Germany, 15-17 November 2002
It gives me great pleasure to send my greetings to the Else-Lasker Schüler Society.
Your commitment to freedom of expression and active engagement in the fight against intolerance are important contributions to the work of the United Nations.
Racism and prejudice plague all countries, scarring our societies, undermining development and marring our work for peace. Some forms of discrimination and intolerance are all-too-familiar. Artists, writers and intellectuals are censored and jailed. Immigrants are attacked, and their customs mocked. Politicians – democrats as well as dictators -- use race-based appeals to seek and maintain power. But in the past decade or so, we have seen new types of intolerance, new targets and new tools with which to spread it. The Internet, for example, a tool with extraordinary power to educate and enlighten, can also be a high-tech messenger of hateful words and dehumanizing imagery.
Freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of thought, conscience and religion, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are among the essential building blocks of human coexistence and progress. These are rights to be fought for, not blessings to be wished for. Indeed, peoples and cultures have always been enriched by the exchange of knowledge, ideas and artistic expression. It is the lack of education, and the dearth of knowledge, that can become a chief source of misunderstanding, hatred and violence.
I wish you all success in your efforts to sustain the literary, artistic and humanitarian legacy of Else Lasker-Schuler. In that spirit, please accept my best wishes for a successful forum.
Kofi A. Annan
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