Editorial: remembering the victims of communism and Nazism

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Illustration: Urmas Nemvalts

While seemingly so during the brighter moments in human history, we are not on a path towards ever increasing civilization, away from atrocities, crimes and trampling on people's rights. Alas, the year at hand is no guarantee of avoiding the ugliness we eagerly label as «not for 21st century» even when happening before our very eyes.

It is largely for the future’s sake, still, that the crimes of the past need to be researched, studied and condemned on the political level. There need to be the symbolic promises that this will not happen again. And, definitely, we are obliged to remember the victims, relating to the past of our people and nations.

On August 23rd 1939, the Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany entered a secret protocol dividing the neighbouring nations between themselves, triggered WW2 and brought terrible sufferings on people. Vitally for the regained independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the secret protocol was publicly disclosed and annulled.

In 2009, European Parliament declared August 23rd as the day to remember victims of communism and Nazism. Yesterday, Tallinn hosted a conference where representatives of justice ministries of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Georgia issued a joint statement to create an international agency for investigation the crimes of communism.  

Notice that the declaration was by Eastern European nations alone – those that have known the sufferings under communist yoke. These very nations will also need to labour that the topic gain a broader audience, involving the Western European nations.

Does the research require state direction? Talking about academic research, the content of studying history must naturally be free. However, national financing programmes help involve more scientists. The signatory states need not wait for a grand pan-European interest to emerge. In a coordinated manner, they may achieve a lot themselves.

Judging the crimes of communism at a grand Nuremberg-style procedure sounds politically big, but will immediately bump into practical barriers. A parallel with Nuremberg is not precise as that process was imposed by winners upon losers, by force. No such compulsion was achieved by the cold war that toppled communism, and Russia was expected to pass an assessment on its crimes in like freewill way as all nations who were delivered from the red terror.

Even to obtain the archived materials for the process, Russia would need to cooperate. If in wake of 1989 as USSR congress condemned and annulled the Molotov Ribbentrop pact’s secret protocols, and of the Boris Yeltsin times of the early 1990ies, it seemed rather possible – but now definitely not. Unavoidably, it is Russia itself who needs to arrive at the understanding that crimes of communism must be studied and denounced. In the current Putinist Russia, this is obviously not going to happen.

Even so, we must certainly remember. And we must certainly research.

* On cartoon: Stop staring at me. Look what these Nazi bastards did!