With Christmas coming the European Union once again had to return to the painful question of Europe’s Nazi and Stalinist past, to the war, to the victims and culprits, and to the attempts to rewrite history. The European Commission rejected on Tuesday a call from several former Soviet bloc countries for the EU to pass a law against the “public condoning, denial and gross trivialization of totalitarian crimes.” Essentially, the law would officially equate Nazi and Stalinist prewar and postwar crimes.
The authors fashioned the law on Nazi-Soviet equivalence after the laws regarding the Holocaust in a number of EU countries. Thirteen EU members prohibit the denial of the Holocaust or incitement of genocide.
The Baltic States have long been pushing for a law on “double genocide” that would apply to the whole of the EU. If it were to become a Europe-wide law, it would provide cover for some to conceal their own dark and bloody Nazi past.
A week ago, the foreign ministers of Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic sent a letter urging Viviane Reding, the European justice commissioner, to support the law. They were told that the EU does not have legal grounds for this. The EU justice commissioner’s spokesman, Matthew Newman, said that EU laws regarding cross-border crimes as well as race and xenophobia do not mention totalitarianism and that the commission rejects the idea of double genocide. “The bottom line is, obviously, what they did was horrendous, but communist regimes did not target ethnic minorities,” he said.
It is good that these six countries wrote this letter, for it calls much needed attention to the pro-Nazi sentiments that exist in the Baltic. Examples abound. Here are just some recent ones.
In November, a certain Petras Stankeras wrote an article for a popular Lithuanian weekly, Veidas, on the 65th anniversary of the start of the Nuremberg Trials. Here is the quote that compelled six ambassadors from EU countries to write a letter of protest to the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry: “[Nuremberg] legalized the legend about the supposed murder of 6 million Jews without submitting a single document signed by Hitler…” (?!). Stankeras is not some random neo-Nazi crank but an official historian with the Lithuanian Interior Ministry. Following the ambassadors’ letter, he was asked to resign.
The Nazi sympathies in the Baltics are most alarming not to Russia or Europe but rather to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which has been pursuing Nazi war criminals almost since the end of the war. One of its leaders, Efraim Zuroff, thinks that the “sophisticated symmetry” in the proposed law on double genocide conceals far-reaching geopolitical aims – to make Russia a pariah by fostering an image of the country as genocidal and no better than the Nazi regime.
When whole segments of a population are consumed with nationalistic attitudes, there is typically a loss of reason, common sense and historical memory. In Lithuania and Latvia, the ideology of “dual genocide” has not only captivated the “righteous” political parties and ministries, from the Foreign Ministry to the Interior and Defense ministries; it has even penetrated academic circles and the media. But try though they might to hide the swastikas of their Nazi past behind a Soviet hammer and sickle, it is impossible to rewrite history.
The fact is that the massacre of Jews in Latvia and Lithuania started immediately after the retreat of the Soviet troops but BEFORE the arrival of the Nazis. As a percentage of the total population, more Jews were killed in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia than in any other European country. The Baltic countries had a uniquely proactive brand of collaborationist policy. In France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Greece and Belgium the authorities prepared lists of Jews, brought them to the stations from which they were shipped to death camps, and confiscated their property. Meanwhile, there is documental evidence that in Lithuania and Latvia large numbers of volunteers murdered Jews without any orders from above. The nearest death camps were located in Poland, but the Baltics had their own brutal answer to Auschwitz, Treblinka and Sobibor. This was not collaboration but competition to kill the most Jews.
Nazi Romania, Hungary and Slovakia began their invasion of the USSR on the same day as Nazi Germany. Their divisions and battalions fought near Stalingrad, in southern Ukraine and the Crimea. Romania under Antonescu annihilated half of its 600,000 Jews after it took care of its Romani population. Hungarian war criminals perpetrated such appalling atrocities in Vojvodina and some other regions of former Yugoslavia that speaking Hungarian in those regions is a bad idea even today.
Baltic death squads, like the Arais Kommando in Latvia or Ypatingas Burys and the 12th Auxiliary Police Battalion in Lithuania, committed such horrendous massacres that even the Germans considered them psychotic.
The Latvian SS Legion, the 15th Waffen-Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Latvian) and the 19th Waffen-Grenadier Division of the SS (2nd Latvian) were no rebels. These were all SS units.
Baltic legislatures have expanded the concept of genocide to include deportations, imprisonment, loss of freedom for political motives and many other things. If the events of the war are judged by such dubious standards, the Soviets indeed behaved no better than the Nazis. Accepting this, however, serves to play down what happened at the beginning of the war in the three Baltic republics, what Hungarian units did in Yugoslavia, and what Hungarians and Romanians did in Soviet Ukraine.
The builders vs. the liberators of Auschwitz
Nobody can deny the pain inflicted on these smaller countries during the tragic Stalinist period of European history. Our fatherland spilled blood wantonly both outside our borders and within. The position of those who seek to rewrite history is almost understandable, except that they only talk about Soviet crimes, not totalitarianism in general, and what’s more, they never say a word about their own crimes.
The contribution of the USSR and Russia to the Allied victory is almost always mentioned in passing, as if our soldiers were mere subcontractors, while the fate of the world was truly decided in the Pacific or only after the Allied landing in Normandy. Or worse, they are depicted as a horde of savages and slaves. This is not just offensive, it is horrifying. Will we be able to preserve the memory of those who died in that epic battle and of our role in it for the sake of future generations? Will we be able to honor the fallen?
As Mr. Zuroff noted, “Despite the awful crimes of the USSR, we cannot compare the people who built Auschwitz with those who liberated it. If it had not been for Russia, Nazi Germany may not have been defeated at all.”
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.