Dimitar Peshev  

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A letter from Gabriele Nissim
to the National Assembly of Bulgaria
for an international prize
dedicated to the memory of Dimitar Peshev

Honourable Deputies,

I am writing first and foremost to thank you for having given me the opportunity to honour the memory of Dimitar Peshev in your parliament. As I've already pointed out on several occasions, I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to relate the story of your former Vice President. For Peshev was an exceptional man who opposed the two totalitarian evils of our century: Nazism and Communism.
In March 1943 he triggered the process that led to the rescue of your country's Jews. Later he had the courage to say no to Communist totalitarianism, thereby risking a death sentence, and was a victim of political persecution for the rest of his life. He lived alone, in oblivion, yet even at the blackest moments, never gave in: he acted with dignity at all times, strengthened by the knowledge that, as a statesman, he had never betrayed the dictates of his conscience.

I am contacting you now because I am convinced Peshev could be a moral example not only for your country, but for Europe as a whole.
the story of Peshev can serve to remind us all that, even today, on the eve of a new millennium, the highest value attributable to politics is the prevention of genocide.
Looking back at the history of the 20th century, we are confronted with a sad truth: a never-ending tale of genocide.
the deserts of the Middle East saw the annihilation of a large portion of the Armenian people; in the Ukrainian countryside and Stalin's gulags millions of peasants perished, while millions of Jews were murdered in Nazi lagers and gas chambers; in the forests and swamps of Cambodia Pol Pot exterminated a third of his own people. Just recently we have been powerless to prevent the genocide of Rwanda's population and we have witnessed – practically on the doorstep of our own two countries – the killing of thousands of Muslims by Serb nationalists, first in Bosnia, then in Kosovo.

Face to face with these terrible events, I think it important we remember the politicians and men who have the courage to stand up to such situations and do everything in their power to stop horrors of this kind, even at the cost of their own career.
this is the reason why I want to put a very special proposal to your parliament: to set up an international prize named after Dimitar Peshev, to be awarded to a politician or intellectual who has conducted a personal battle against genocide in our own lifetime, or has been actively involved in keeping the memory of great figures of the past alive.
As you know, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded each year to a person or organization that fights to defend human rights, or contributes to the cause of peace. But no specific prize exists to provide recognition specifically and solely for those who have worked to bring to the attention of the international community or help prevent the very worst atrocity that man can commit, which is genocide.

On December 9th 1948 the United Nations Assembly approved a resolution punishing genocide, committed either in wartime or in peace. the objective of this resolution, adopted after the Nazi criminals had been tried at Nuremberg, was to pathe the way for a United Nations commitment to stop such horrors being repeated.
More recently, in Rome, on June 16th 1996, Emma Bonino, the European Parliament's Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs, presented a proposal that a permanent international tribunal be set up by the United Nations to judge crimes against humanity committed in any part of the world.
As you know, there is increasing consensus for this proposal.
But as well as this initiative, in which the Italian government is playing a leading role, it would be of enormous value to introduce a prize that would pay tribute each year to individuals who dedicate their lives to the struggle to eliminate every form of genocide.
Such a step, at the threshold of the 21st century, could convey two precise and fundamental messages. On one hand international bodies undertake to try to punish perpetrators of the most awful crimes against humanity; at the same time, however, individuals who fight these crimes are held up as examples of moral courage and rectitude.
Tthe prize dedicated to Peshev should therefore serve to pay tribute to these people.

If this proposal becomes reality, I am convinced the story of your distinguished Vice President will not only become common knowledge the world over; it will also give fresh impetus to the battle being fought today, in different circumstances, by those guided by the same moral principles that in March 1943 led Dimitar Peshev to rebel against the deportation of the Bulgarian Jews.

I therefore invite your parliament to approve a political resolution in which European governments, international organizations and the United Nations are asked to work with Bulgaria to create an international prize dedicated to the memory of Dimitar Peshev.

I can assure you that many Italian deputies who have joined you in honouring the memory of Dimitar Peshev are ready to assist you in this new undertaking.

I remain,

Yours very truly,

Gabriele Nissim

A sculpture by Alberto De Braud Milan, January 1st 1999

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