Ref. HRA 2000/2
2000Human Rights Awareness


Person of the XXth Century

Our choice of a person of the century wants to mirror the choice of TIME magazine to testify the “buried history of hatred”. The person of the century has million of names, and  is nameless, too: it is a person among the ones who perished as victims of genocide, war, hatred, and bigotry during the countless human rights tragedies of  this century.

Several millions of people perished because of the Nazis’ genocidal attempt; even more are said to have perished because of deportations and executions in the Soviet Union under Stalin's  dictatorship. Thus the person of the XXth century is most likely to be one  who died in Nazis’ or in the Soviets’ concentration camps; but we may think as person of the century anyone who lost his or her life struggling for the peaceful affirmation of liberty and fundamental rights, like women that lost their reputation fighting for the right to vote or to practice the medical profession; innocent victims of the many Fascist dictatorships that plagued Europe till the last decades, in Spain, Portugal, and Greece; homosexual and transgender persons who fell victims of hate crimes just because they wanted to reaffirm their identity; activists who died advocating the rights of persecuted racial minorities; anyone who perished under the hands of torturers; the most forgotten people that “disappeared” and never came back because of death squads and state terrorism . . . 

Modern states have gathered unprecedented destructive power. Torture, mass murder and other abuses have been “industrialized” and put on a scientific basis. This has made it more difficult to withstand them or even to recognize them. The fight against, and the denounce of the most horrible abuses have been almost always discredited and disregarded, as “subversion” or even as “madness”. Modern states – including the US and several countries that are now part of the European Union – most often did not acknowledge the struggle for civil and human rights occurring at a given time as a valuable struggle; states and governments rather attempted to discredit human and civil rights advocates as morally dubious, anti-social elements. Some of them became “nasty madmen” if they attempted to lift the thick barrier of silence and complicity that governments, military and police wanted to keep over their crimes. The unspoken and buried truth on the death of millions is almost always ignored by history textbooks focused on battles and leaders. This barrier of silence is really a high fence of barbed wire that separates the victims and human rights abuses from the “official” world – always “legal”, “progressive” and “fashionable” – in which tremendous achievements have been possible during this century. The struggle against human rights abuses and for civil rights is history that is still seen as “nasty”, “marginal”, as dealing with “things that have to be forgotten”, “things that do not happen anymore”, unless it is history that happened in a distant past and that does not involve living people anymore (as it is now the Holocaust) or that happened in a distant geographical location. Surveying encyclopedias written for the youth in the Fifties and Sixties, one cannot be taken by the impressive optimism, desire of growth and progress, by the positive thoughts that permeate them. Nothing is to be found there, for example, about the Holocaust, which was then recent history. 

The first step to avoid the repetition of the heights in savagery and cruelty achieved in this century it is to acknowledge the buried history of hatred – and to recognize the social, economical and anthropological factor that make hatred a driving force of collective behavior in the social environment we are living in. It is impossible to appreciated the tremendous technological progress of this century without considering the “subterranean stream” of death and sufferance that co-existed with it, since it skirmished even some of the great intellectual creators – Albert Einstein and Alan Turing, to name just two – to which part of that progress can be ascribed. Until everyone will not know about the self-sacrifice and the efforts needed to fight for the affirmation of minority rights against the opposition of a whole society – let it be right to gather, to vote, to wear pants, or to cross-dress – and be able to recognize the re-occurrence of same exploitative patterns for different minorities, the value and the meaning of our most valuable not only social, but also intellectual and scientific conquests will be always in jeopardy.

©2000 Human Rights Awareness