A debate in the French weekly Courrier International (December 21, 2006) held between Polish political scientist Marek Cichocki and Claus Leggewie, a widely respected German professor at the University of Giessen, points to two diverging paths into the European future. Both commentators explain how their views about the end of the Second World War have affected their visions of Europe. For Cichocki, a relatively young Pole of 40, his national identity and the memory of Soviet oppression are the shaping factors in his understanding of the history of his region. He also stresses the unbridgeable difference between Western Europeans who fret over fascist dangers and the historical consciousness of his own country. (Cichocki’s most recent book, Wladza I Pamiec [Power and Memory] (2005) deals precisely with this theme.)
While in Western Europe, particularly among obsessively guilt-ridden Germans, “European integration would be a systematic form of institutionalized security to prevent Nazi recidivism,” Eastern Europeans, who had to contend with Soviet deportations and Stalinist concentration camps, have a less dated picture of the postwar past: “Since the countries on the other side of the Iron Curtain have been joining the European Union, this vision of integration as a response to Nazism does not suffice to create a sentiment of European cohesion.” Indeed Eastern Europeans are shocked by how little attention the politically correct leaders of the present European Union have bestowed on Communist atrocities. “When in 2004 the Latvian foreign minister affirmed on German soil that Communism was as criminal as Nazism, she aroused cries of indignation throughout Germany. It is undoubtedly for the same reason that when some Euro-deputies proposed in 2005 that the hammer and sickle should be treated the same way as the Swastika, their remarks elicited widespread jeers.” Perhaps because of their sharper memories of the recent past, concludes Cichocki, Eastern Europeans, unlike their Western counterparts, have a high regard for national traditions, and they do not embrace the multicultural imperative of Western intellectuals and politicians. And “while the memory of the Eastern Europeans have been shaped by Nazi tyranny” (over two and a half million Poles were killed by the Nazis during World War Two), their history was also disastrously impacted by the more recent Communist occupation. Any vision of Europe that “excludes” this experience and focuses on the imminent return of now largely irrelevant Nazi enemy cannot make room for Eastern Europeans.
Leggewie’s views, which contrast starkly to those of his Polish co-commentator, are in Germany so common that one would have to look there to what is imagined to be the “extreme Right” to find contrary opinions. As the former German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, has stated multiple times, “Auschwitz is the founding myth of our German democracy.” And in line with this morbid obsession, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who in the international press is deceptively characterized as a “conservative,” wants to use Germany’s succession to the EU’s presidency to impose on its members the speech controls that are the proud accomplishment of her country’s managed democracy. (Pleading their nation’s shame as an aggressor people, German politicians will not allow their countrymen to vote on the EU Constitution that would surrender what remains of German national sovereignty to the Union.) In Merkel’s peculiar understanding of “democracy” as a way of life, any European “trivializing” the Holocaust will have to face criminal charges before an international tribunal. For those who celebrate our success in bringing the defeated Germans a “democratic political culture,” it may be necessary to point out the difference between citizens of a republic and PC laboratory mice.
Leggewie seems taken aback that any right-thinking person would not be hot to trot for anti-fascist multiculturalism. Although admittedly “certain regions of Eastern Europe were occupied by Soviet troops even before the Nazi invasion as a result of the Soviet-Nazi pact,” and while some might “minimize Stalinist terrorism by appealing to Communism’s objectives and humanitarian arguments,” Leggewie is profoundly disturbed by the view that Nazi and Communist genocides were equally evil. He brings up the charge that “those who wish to play on the memories of the Gulag overlook the conscious and unconscious acts of collaboration with national socialism committed by Stalin’s victims.” Moreover, the Spanish Communist Jorge Sembrun, a former inmate at Buchenwald, has wisely insisted that “European unity will only succeed on the existential and cultural level if we share and unify our memories.” One can guess which set of memories Sembrun would like to establish as the authorized ones for the EU. Furthermore, while Communist misdeeds only affected “parts of Europe,” “the use of the Holocaust as a negative founding myth for Europeans is plausible to the extent that Anti-Semitism and fascism have been phenomena that have affected all of Europe.” Once this tool is properly applied, “at the national and international levels, the Holocaust can provide an invaluable basis for European integration.”
Leggewie’s observations can only be justified by referring to the professional situation in his country: No one can obtain or hold a position at a major German university these days, and particularly in political science or history, who does not sound as outrageously stupid as he does. The depiction of Stalin’s victims as Nazi collaborators, including “unconscious” ones, goes back to the Soviet propaganda of the 1930s, when those whom Stalin decided to kill, including Jewish Trotskyists, were routinely accused of being Hitler’s collaborators. Does Leggewie believe (perhaps he does) that the Poles who fought the German invasion and were then occupied and brutalized by Stalin deserved what they got, because they had really supported Hitler? Or did the Balts deserve to lose at least a third of their population to death or deportation under Stalin because a minority of them might have collaborated with the Germans after their occupation by Hitler’s Soviet allies in 1940? Only a robotized product of postwar German reeducation, often conducted by Stalinists, could say anything quite so repulsive.
And what kind of silly assertion is it that only isolated parts of Europe were affected by Communist abuses? The same mystifying assertion, incidentally, was cited against my book The Strange Death of Marxism by a reviewer last year for the neo-Stalinist Political Science Quarterly. In my rightwing zeal, I had apparently failed to notice that, in contrast to (an all-encompassing, mind-snatching) “fascism,” Stalin’s willing executioners were only found in certain carefully demarcated areas on the European mainland. This overlooks obvious facts. West Germany in the 1950s and 1960s teemed with refugees who had fled or were driven from their homes by Communist tyrants or by mobs whom these tyrants incited; the Communists in France and Italy had gone on a rampage of murder and looting after the German Wehrmacht had been pushed out of their countries.
Finally, the Second World War, rather than ending with a “day of liberation” for Germans and everyone else but Nazi fanatics, as Leggewie announces, came in the midst of an orgy of killing and rapes, many committed by Soviet troops. The notion that Communist atrocities were somehow more restricted in their scope or effect than those committed by the Nazis or generic “fascists” is sheer moonshine. But in German public life this concoction is to be found everywhere. In 2005, German Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schröder had insisted on being invited to a celebration of VE Day, together with Germany’s former enemies. There he belabored his listeners with counterfactual gushing expressions of gratitude for how the Allies “had won a victory for the Germans, and not against them.” Leggewie no doubt would have applauded Schröder’s masochistic performance if he had been on hand.
It is never made clear why normal people would gravitate toward Leggewie’s “negative founding myth,” which is also Merkel’s and Fischer’s. In Germany such mythologizing has worked because freedom and nationhood have been sacrificed on the altar of antinational indoctrination; nonetheless, as Cichochki strongly suggests, not everyone in Europe wants to be like lobotomized Germans. Not all European nations would celebrate being told that they were historically and emotionally predisposed toward exterminating European Jewry, or would bestow honors on Daniel Goldhagen, Dan Diner, and other “Holocaust historians” for demanding their unconditional atonement—and the dissolution of their national identity. For all the corruptness and rhetorical extravagance of their current conservative nationalist government, the Poles seem a mentally healthy people, unlike the new “sick man of Europe,” which is no longer Turkey, as it was in the nineteenth century, but Germany.
A point that Cichochki and Leggewie both make is that “because of their different experience with Communism” and their relative indifference to the cult of antifascism, Eastern Europeans have rallied to the Americans. Their observation is correct but has more to do with our role as an alternative to EU control than it does with our government’s appeal to Eastern European identities. Our policies have in fact been to encourage the formation and strengthening of the EU and the use of public education in both Eastern and East Central Europe to foster anti-fascist, internationalist attitudes. The support of these liberated Eastern Europeans may be far more than we deserve, but we should make the most of the situation by teaching our allies to respect their national distinctiveness and above all, not to hand over their country to Islamic militants. Everything being equal, countries that respect their national identity and ancestral religion will outstrip the vanishing Germans in population replacement. (Germany’s demographic replacement level, at 1.3, is one of the lowest in the world; and by 2025, if current trends continue, 65 out of every 100 children born in Germany, will have foreign, which means overwhelmingly Muslim, parents.) Although the Poles, who are now barely replacing themselves, could do better demographically, their self-respect as a nation would seem to be a positive factor in preparing them for their collective future. In any case Poles have not “enriched” themselves, to use the multiculti lingo, by importing an Islamic Third World population. The Bush administration may have it right for the wrong reasons when they describe Eastern Europe as the “New Europe.” What makes this Europe, typified by the Poles “new,” is not its dedication to “American democratic values” but the reemergence of its historic nations following the Soviet occupation. To the extent that these mostly Slavic peoples have not caught up with Western Europe, and particularly with Germany’s experimental democracy, we should consider them fortunate.