08 February, 2005

Sweeping history under the rug

The following is my translation of an article I read today in Italy's Corriere della Sera. I have emphasized two or three lines that were not emphasized in the original; they are the only lines I have emphasized.

After Frattini's proposal to prohibit the swastika in Europe
The East appeals: "Out with communist symbolism"

Thirty or so Popular deputies urge Europe: "It was like Nazism; we cannot have two weights and two measures"


Is it right to abolish the symbols of dictators?

BRUSSELS - Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Estonians, Latvians. A growing group of Popular deputies to the Europarliament make the argument that "Nazism equals communism." In the past few days, the former president of Lithuania, Vytautas Landsbergis, and the Hungarian Joszef Szajer have asked the delegations of the PPE (European Popular Party) to support the letter sent to the Commission's vice president Franco Frattini.

In this document, the two representatives ask the chair of the commission on "Justice, Liberty and Security" to put the symbols of Nazism and Communism on the same level. Szajer, speaking by telephone from Budapest, clarifies his position: "We are not the ones who took the initiative to ban the swastika. It is vice president Frattini who intends to make the proposal to the Council of Ministers. Very well; we say this: if, I repeat, if, they decide to prohibit the symbols of Nazism, then they need to do the same thing with the symbols of Communism. We cannot have two weights and two measures. We cannot distinguish between the victims of one or the other regime." On this question, about 20-30 representatives of the Popular Party are in agreement, and they lead the delegations of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, and Latvia, besides of course Hungary and Lithuania. Frattini took up his "anti-swastika" initiative in mid-January, on the eve of the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

The proposal on Nazism may be considered as early as the 24th of February in the Council of the twenty-five ministers of Justice and the Interior. The vice-president of the Commission also "augurs", however, a debate-reflection in the Europarliament on Communism. If such a confrontation will take place, it appears that it will be lively. In recent days, for example, representative Marco Rizzo, of the Italian Communists, rejected almost as provocative the idea of equating the swastika with the hammer and sickle. Further, "Old Europe" has emphasized recently in both political and historical terms the contribution that the western Communist parties made to the Resistance [to Nazi Germany] and to the construction of the western democracies themselves.

These objections are dismissed by the block of Popular representatives from the East. The Hungarian Szajer observes, "Even in our lands, the Communist parties participated in the struggle against Nazism. Then, however, they built dictatorships. For their part, western Communists supported for a long time the Soviet Union. This discussion today is about symbols. In Hungary, at the beginning of the Nineties, we banned both Nazi and Communist symbols. A red star, even one stamped on an innocent T-shirt, provokes horrible memories."

Me again.

It warms my heart to see Eastern Europeans scolding Western Europeans over this issue, not because I have anything particularly against Western Europe (my mother is Italian after all). Rather: can you imagine this situation fifty years ago? Of course not, because Eastern Europeans weren't free to speak their minds fifty years ago. Remember the Iron Curtain? the Berlin Wall? the Hungarian Revolution? the Prague Spring? &c.

I do not actually support this idea: neither Frattini's, nor Szajer's. How can you ban the symbols of political movements? Will some atheist propose that they also ban the cross, since the Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Reformed Church, etc. were for a while involved in the suppression of political and religious freedoms?

It requires neither bravery nor virtue to ban the symbols of a collapsed ideology. Obviously I am speaking of Frattini here; I will grant that Szajer exhibits courage, since communism is still a viable political force in a Europe that seems determined to sweep the history of communism (in the west as well as the east) under the rug. I would think that Szajer was simply trying to sting "Old Europe"'s conscience, but he goes on to say that they have banned the symbols of both parties in Hungary. I find that chilling. I would gladly support the right of people to hound and harass those who walk around in Che Guevara T-shirts; I do not relish the notion that those with a different point of view should be silenced completely.

In any case, I am curious to see how much of a ripple this will make in the mainstream media. It's entirely possible that this story will go away by itself, but I'm not so sure.

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