European Parliament ties denial of totalitarian crimes to information wars

Signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in Moscow in 1939
Signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in Moscow in 1939 Source: Scanpix

The European Parliament passed a resolution concerning crimes of totalitarian regimes last week that points out that admitting and acknowledging the crimes of the Nazi and communist regimes is important for Europe in the context of modern information warfare.

"Remembering the victims of totalitarian regimes and recognizing and raising awareness of the shared European legacy of crimes committed by communist, Nazi and other dictatorships is of vital importance for the unity of Europe and its people and for building European resilience to modern external threats," a resolution by the European Parliament that emphasizes the importance of Europe's historical memory for its future reads.

The parliament demands development of a "common culture of remembrance that rejects the crimes of fascist, Stalinist, and other totalitarian and authoritarian regimes of the past as a way of fostering resilience against modern threats to democracy, particularly among the younger generation."

The resolution directly mentions Russia, referring to it as the "greatest victim of communist totalitarianism" and emphasizes that its "development into a democratic state will be impeded as long as the government, the political elite and political propaganda continue to whitewash communist crimes and glorify the Soviet totalitarian regime." That is why MEPs urge all social groups in Russia to achieve clarity in terms of the country's tragic history.

The European Parliament "is deeply concerned about the efforts of the current Russian leadership to distort historical facts and whitewash crimes committed by the Soviet totalitarian regime and considers them a dangerous component of the information war waged against democratic Europe that aims to divide Europe, and therefore calls on the Commission to decisively counteract these efforts."

Strong majority key according to Kelam

Estonian member of three previous compositions of the European Parliament Tunne Kelam who helped prepare the resolution told ERR that such strong support from the Parliament – the resolution was passed with 535 votes for, 66 against and 52 abstaining – gives it more weight in the EU. "It is a brilliant achievement for the new composition that was claimed to include a lot of populists. European Parliament resolutions carry weight if they sport a strong majority. And the latter is a fact here," Kelam said.

The resolution urges the European Commission to support relevant projects and should be effective, considering the majority with which it was passed, Kelam believes. He pointed to the Platform of European Memory and Conscience started with a 2009 resolution that draws together and coordinates activities and projects for victims of all dictatorships. "But it is strapped for cash as the European Commission has not satisfied a single one of its applications in the past decade. This [the recent resolution] constitutes a very strong message to the Commission," Kelam said.

The former Estonian MEP said it is noteworthy how the Parliament managed to put together and pass the resolution during what is effectively its first work week after the summer.

Four Estonians in favor, Madison abstained, Toom absent

Of the six Estonian MEPs, Marina Kaljurand, Andrus Ansip, Urmas Paet and Sven Mikser voted for the resolution, Jaak Madison abstained from voting and Yana Toom was not present for the vote due to an illness.

Madison explained that while he found the resolution to be upright in broad strokes, "bringing to attention Nazi and communist crimes was ruined by political propaganda." Madison pointed out as unacceptable for him the following part of the resolution: "whereas openly radical, racist and xenophobic groups and political parties have been inciting hatred and violence in society, for example, through the online dissemination of hate speech, which often leads to a rise in violence, xenophobia and intolerance."

"The question is who are these frightful groups? As we know, left-wing radical forces have described as these "racists" and "xenophobes" right-wing conservative parties that are trying to combat human trafficking and mass immigration. This kind of rhetoric unfortunately devalues the resolution's emphasis on remembering past crimes," Madison told ERR.

He also pointed out an item where the European Parliament "condemns historical revisionism and the glorification of Nazi collaborators in some EU Member States; is deeply concerned about the increasing acceptance of radical ideologies and the reversion to fascism, racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance in the European Union."

"Should that include the men who fought for Estonia's freedom, forced to wear German uniforms? By approving such an item, should I disavow my grandfather's contribution to fighting Bolshevist occupation?" the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) politician asked.

"Based on the above, I believed it sensible to abstain. I could not vote against the resolution because I unequivocally condemn the crimes of Nazism and communism, while I could not support it for the aforementioned reasons," Madison said.

Toom wrote on social media that she would not have supported the resolution despite it containing "sensible" things. She believes the resolution's conclusion that Russia's rulers are promoting a position according to which World War II was caused by Poland, the Baltic States and Western allies is unfounded.

Kelam: The resolution could bring Eastern and Western Europe closer in terms of historical treatments

Kelam recalled, in connection with the September 19 resolution, the passing of a similar European Parliament resolution in the fall of 2009 and said he hopes it helps close the gap between different treatments of history in Eastern and Western Europe.

"Practical policy, including future EU policy, is still hindered by our different treatment of the past. People in the West still know very little about how most of Eastern Europe fell under a different dictatorship after Hitler was defeated that was no better. It has disrupted practical cooperation and remains a very serious obstacle on the road to more effective and closer cooperation in the EU," he said.

"The European Parliament resolution on 'European conscience and totalitarianism' from 2009, which I helped initiate, was a great achievement. The recent resolution is much more concrete and much stronger. It addresses a topic concerning which the West has remained the most passive, shown the least interest – the simple fact that WWII began as a result of a deal between two dictators. And because August marked the 80th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, it was impossible to overlook," the former MEP said, adding that opinions on the subject still differ considerably.

"As well as the realization that the Soviet Union did not use the pact to avoid going to war but to take aggressive action against several Eastern European countries – Finland, Baltics, Poland, Romania – and benefit in the process," Kelam said.

Kelam said that the resolution does not include an item claiming that Stalin, as Hitler's ally and partner in crime, helped the latter conquer Western Europe for 22 months by providing oil, cereals and raw materials, but also by taking political action, for example, by prohibiting communist parties in France and other countries from resisting Hitler. "And that both regimes were bent on world domination – Stalin's secret speech to members of the Politburo a few days before the MRP was signed is clear – the goal of the Soviet Union is to push Hitler and the Western allies into war, have them weaken each other before the Soviet Union intervenes and lays down a communist dictatorship in all countries involved. That was Stalin's strategic plan," Kelam, who is a member of the Isamaa party, said.

The resolution includes a proposal to add talking about the crimes of totalitarian regimes to the programs of all EU schools. "And we will associate this common culture of memory and treatment of history, once we come to it, with modern resilience to threats against democracy. This means that the past is not simply the past, and that rather a common understanding of it will lend us strength and the potential to resist things that threaten democracy in this day and age," Kelam explained.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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