With the new European Union Parliament on the way since elections in May 2014 and the election last week of Jean-Claude Juncker as the European Commission President there is a movement that caught my attention from the European Peoples’ Party (EPP) to make stronger steps forward regarding doing something about communist crimes rather than just sitting inanimately on the EU 2009 declaration which condemned totalitarian regimes.
It is well established that the European Parliament emphasises the need to keep alive – through remembrances etc. – memories of Europe’s tragic and horrendous past in order to keep paying respect to the victims, condemn those who perpetrated the crimes and to thus build foundations for reconciliation, which foundations are to be based on truth and remembrance. It also holds that Nazism was the dominant historical experience in Western Europe while Central and Eastern Europe had experienced both Nazism and Communism to equally dominant proportions that affected nations.
Regardless of what the EU Parliament may hold, the fact remains that the “original” EU, prior to expansion into Eastern Europe, had existed, and in many instances still does, quite comfortably under the conviction that World War II was good because it fought against fascism and Nazism. Along came Eastern Europe countries that do not fit this formula, that do not share this European memory – they brought to the EU the memory of Communism in its ugly robes, the robes that can perhaps be weighed through arguments of conservative European intellectuals and historians, particularly from Germany, who in the second half of 1980’s articulated their convictions that the Holocaust was not fundamentally different to other experiences of state terror and mass extermination in the 20th century, such as Stalinism, Communism. As one may expect such claims and views were strongly repudiated by mainstream left-wing intellectuals who insisted on the uniqueness of the “Final Solution” and denounced the historians’ writings as politically charged and revisionist, despite the fact these were founded on historical truths of horrendous crimes. Ten years later, in 1997, “The Black Book of Communism” was published in France – a critique of blindness among both intellectual and political elites towards Communist crimes due to focusing entirely on the Holocaust; a critique that was immediately rebuffed by a broad front of left-wing French writers and politicians who rejected outright any direct comparison between Nazism and Communism.
In April of 2009 the EU Parliament passed its Resolution on European Conscience and totalitarianism, condemning all totalitarian regimes crimes including communist regime ones.
Meanwhile and counting, over 850 mass graves of communist crimes victims had been discovered in Croatia alone – a horror story equally as atrocious as the Holocaust.
The achievements of European post-WWII integration are often described as a direct response and a real alternative to the suffering inflicted by two world wars and the Nazi tyranny that led to the Holocaust and to the expansion of totalitarian and undemocratic Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe. And, indeed, a united Europe shall never be achieved until the EU recognises Nazism, Fascism and Communism as a common legacy and persists on dealing with their crimes thoroughly. While the crimes of Nazism and fascism have been dealt with strongly ever since the Nuremberg trials immediately after WWII such justice has conspicuously eluded the communist regimes’ crimes.
Remembrance debates at the EU level over the last decade can be seen as the replication of previous struggles in EU member states over how best to deal with the past and, as such, these debates remain just that – debates. Unlike in Western European Member States, where the notion of the historical uniqueness of the Holocaust still takes centre stage as an identification-marker, I believe, due to the lack of other viable founding narratives for European integration, at the more generalised European level the idea of Nazism and Communism as equally damnable is gaining acceptance particularly in the process of EU enlargement into the Eastern European countries. The latter have thus brought into the EU different cultures of remembrance where Communism joins Nazism at the helm of condemnation.
Full integration of EU will depend on the success of the process dealing with Communist crimes; lifting these to the level the Holocaust occupies in the collective psyche and historical memory and remembrance in the EU. Perhaps the relevant EU member states will see a more visible platform for dealing with communist crimes in the coming few years especially given the contents in the EPP letter to Jean-Claude Juncker and the possibility of actions, rather than declarations, to follow on the matter.
“The European project is based on common values of democracy, truth and reconciliation. The EPP Group emphasises the need to increase public awareness about European history and the crimes committed by totalitarian regimes. The EPP Group believes that the European Institutions, and notably the European Commission, should encourage a broad, European-wide discussion about the causes and consequences of totalitarian rule. This is not merely an historic or emotional problem. It is a problem for a truly comprehensive integration of Europe”, the 17 July EPP letter to Juncker states.
“I strongly believe that the European project can be built only on truth and reconciliation. The European Parliament has already condemned crimes committed by totalitarian regimes. But still, we are witnessing the relativisation of these crimes, especially in some countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Therefore the new Commission should continuously address this issue and support projects related to promoting European remembrance and conscience“, said Croatian Andrej Plenkovic MEP.
“I am convinced that it is of key importance to raise public awareness and to encourage a broad, European-wide discussion led by the European Commission about the causes and consequences of totalitarian rule to achieve historical conciliation. It is a question of reasserting and defending European values, which are being challenged by those countries outside the EU that have not yet come to terms with the past and are using falsified history to justify aggression against their neighbours“, emphasised Latvian Sandra Kalniete MEP, Vice-Chairwoman of the EPP Group.
“Unaddressed and neglected heritage of totalitarian crimes has proved to be a real obstacle to deepened European integration and remains a fertile soil for Euro-scepticism and extremism. Integrating different historic experiences of 28 member nations and sharing them mutually is the best guarantee of our common future“, underlined Estonian Tunne Kelam MEP.
The European Parliament emphasised in its Resolution on ‘European Conscience and Totalitarianism’ of 2 April 2009 that the goal of disclosure and assessment of the crimes committed by the Communist totalitarian regimes is reconciliation which can be achieved by admitting responsibility, asking for forgiveness and fostering moral renewal.
In order to attain the objectives of the EP 2009 Resolution, EPP Group MEPs believe that it is necessary that one of the new European Commissioners in Juncker’s team also includes in her/his portfolio topics related to European history and remembrance. More than 20 EPP Group MEPs signed an appeal to President Juncker in this regard.
The EPP Group is also of the opinion that the European Commission should find the most appropriate means to ensure an adequate degree of institutional and financial support for the work of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience which assumed a key role in promoting the prevention of intolerance, extremism, anti-democratic movements and the recurrence of any totalitarian rule in the future. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A.; M.A.Ps. (Syd)