Europe, Headlines, Human Rights | Analysis

EUROPE: Communist Ideology, as bad as Nazism?

Analysis by Zoltán Dujisin

BUDAPEST, Apr 6 2009 (IPS) - A declaration which equates communism to Nazism and condemns communist ideology as “directly responsible for crimes against humanity” has been debated in the European Parliament on the initiative of the Czech Presidency of the European Union.

The “Prague Declaration” was approved by the Czech Senate in June 2008. It calls for communism and Nazism to be recognised as the common totalitarian legacy of Europe.

It also calls for victims of communism to be properly compensated and perpetrators of crimes to be punished, while urging “acceptance of pan- European responsibility for crimes committed by Communism.”

The declaration reflects a feeling among right-wing sectors in Central and Eastern Europe that the West should recognise East Europe’s suffering in the same way that it recognises suffering caused by Nazism.

But some fear this is a case of manipulative exploitation of genuine suffering by political opportunists among Eastern Europe’s right.

Last month the website of the declaration was attacked by a flood of fictitious signatures of South American dictators, libertarian thinkers or paramilitary leaders as part of a campaign initiated by current and former students of the Budapest-based Central European University (CEU), where many youngsters from the entire post-communist region study.

Among the hundreds of signatures allegedly posted by dozens of people on various continents, was “Niculae Ceaucescu, opportunist who if alive would have turned neo-liberal and anti-communist like all of you” and “Adolf Hitler, anti-communist number 1”.

Leading Romanian daily Cotidianul gave first-page attention to the story last week, interviewing two of the anonymous authors of the signature campaign, together with right-wing commentators who called them everything from “leftist maniacs” to “holocaust deniers”.

IPS spoke to one of the participants in the initiative which he claims was successful in achieving its goal: starting a debate on the political exploitation of the communist past in a region with an overwhelming domination of right-wing media.

“Eastern Europe does not have a monopoly on the communist experience. In Western Europe or South America communist parties and syndicates are recognised as active participants in the democratisation of their countries and presently influence the outcome of political negotiation on a variety of socio-economic issues,” the 29-year old Romanian former CEU student, who says he had relatives beaten and imprisoned under Romania’s communist regime, told IPS.

“Moreover, why does the declaration uses the word Nazism and not fascism, if the purpose is to deal with the entire totalitarian heritage of Europe as it claims? Couldn’t Italians, Portuguese, Spanish, and the citizens of Central and Eastern Europe who lived under other fascisms interpret this as a softening of Europe’s stance on fascist forms of government other than Nazism?”

Moreover, the declaration considers “exterminating and deporting whole nations” inseparable from communist ideology, a view that could be used against the entire left, the source said.

“What to think of (Hungarian deputy) Gyorgy Schöpflin comments in the European Parliament, falsely claiming that the entire European left bears the responsibility for the crimes of communist regimes? Or of (Romanian deputy) Sorin Iliesiu’s warning against ‘neo-communism’? We all know what that means in Eastern European jargon, they could try to de-legitimise or even forbid parties and movements in the entire European social-democratic and socialist left,” he said.

The Prague declaration calls for an “adjustment and overhaul of European history textbooks” and the creation of an “Institute of European Memory and Conscience” at the EU level. Similar and highly controversial institutes in Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Romania, and equally controversial museums in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Hungary support this idea.

Memory institutes in the region have sought a monopoly on access to communist-era secret service files, and are often accused of selective political targeting.

The Polish cases have been the ones most highlighted in Western media, with many conceding that the institute had been turned into a tool for witch- hunting by the populist right.

The last controversy involved Polish anti-communist figure and first president of post-communist Poland Lech Walesa, who is threatening to leave Poland after once again being accused by historians from Poland’s Institute for National Remembrance of collaborating with communist authorities.

Walesa was cleared of the accusation in 2000 by a special court, which found that the secret service files on him had been forged to block him from the Nobel Peace Prize, which he won in 1983.

In the Czech Republic, another country that is home to such institutes, former state attorney Radim Obst was accused in 2007 of cooperating with the Czechoslovak secret services just as he investigated a corruption scandal involving a leading politician of the right-wing governing coalition. He was cleared of the accusation only after being replaced.

In Romania, public opinion was shocked to discover that Sorin Antohi, one of the members of the Presidential Commission for the Study of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania, turned out to have been a collaborator himself. Public opinion in the region has often expressed disapproval of these initiatives as many communist-era collaborators were forced by threats to cooperate with authorities.

Moreover the institutes have often paid undue attention to the political left, although former communist collaborators populate the entire political spectrum in the region and may well engage in harsh anti-communist rhetoric nowadays.

High-ranking signatories include former Czech president and dissident Václav Havel and former Lithuanian president and dissident Vytautas Landsbergis.

The Polish and Lithuanian presidencies of the EU are likely to bring the declaration under discussion again, but by then the authors of the signature flooding campaign will seek wider support for a counter-declaration.

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