23rd Oct 2016

Six states urge EU ban on denial of Communist crimes

  • The names of Lithuanian victims are displayed on the wall of the KGB museum in Vilnius (Photo: wouterh)

Six foreign ministers from former Communist EU countries have said the EU should consider a law against denying or trivialising the crimes of totalitarian regimes in the run-up to a European Commission report on the subject.

"The principle of justice should assure a just treatment of victims of every totalitarian regime, as well as a proper prevention of all the international crimes," the foreign ministers of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania said in a joint letter to EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding earlier this month, seen by EUobserver.

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"Alongside the prosecution and punishment of criminals, the denial of every international crime should be treated according to the same standards to prevent favourable conditions for the rehabilitation and rebirth of totalitarian ideologies."

A spokesman for Ms Reding confirmed that she got the letter and said the EU executive will adopt the report on totalitarian crimes by the end of this year.

"The EU has a role to play - within the scope of its powers in this area - to contributing to the knowledge of Europe's past history as a common heritage of all Europeans today and of future generations. The Union can act as a facilitator for the promotion of a shared memory of the crimes committed by totalitarian regimes," the spokesman said.

The spokesman said it is "premature" to speculate whether the commission would back an outright ban or not.

People from eastern Europe are often frustrated by ignorance in the western part of the continent of the killings, torture, deportations and 'social experiments,' such as re-education in prison camps or forced labour camps, perpetrated against people who opposed the Communist regime or who were more simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

For some commentators Nazi crimes, denial of which is already punishable by law in several EU states, cannot be compared to Stalinist crimes because Stalin did not exterminate people in the same systematic way.

Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg takes the opposite view, however. "To tell you the truth, Stalin was able to kill even more people. Both [Stalin and Hitler] were mass murderers and those who kowtowed to them kowtowed to the murders," he told the CTK news agency on Wednesday (15 December).

Prague tried to set up an EU platform for research into totalitarian regimes and a related information office in Brussels under its EU presidency in early 2009, but neither initiative has yet born fruit.

Meanwhile, public awareness of the issues, even in the worst-affected regions, is dwindling.

A recent study carried out in Romania, home to one of the most repressive regimes in the Communist bloc, showed that 83 percent of the population has no recollection of any personal suffering under the regime or of being a witness to relative's suffering. Around half of people in the 15-21 years range answered "I don't know" to most questions, while 47 percent of all people surveyed said Communism was "a good idea, but improperly applied."

Raluca Grosescu, a researcher with the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of Romanian Exile (IICCMER) which commissioned the study, said the results should be seen in the context of the economic crisis. Unemployment, pay cuts, inflation and uncertainty over the future are leading people to remember Communism as a "golden age," he explained.

According to Romanian law, denying the Holocaust is a crime but there is no similar provision on Communist crimes. In any case, anti-Semitic speeches still go unpunished despite the Holocaust law.

"There is still a lot of negation concerning Communist crimes in Romania. Corneliu Vadim Tudor [currently an independent MEP] said the Securitate should be re-installed and even President Traian Basescu after publicly condemning the crimes of Communism said that Nicolae Ceausescu [the Romanian dictator executed in 1989] would have been a good president, if he'd stayed on for another 10 years," Ms Grosescu told this website.

The Romanian researcher doubted the prospect of a coherent EU position on the matter. "There is a different understanding as to what Communism meant in the East and in the West," he said.

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