By Phil Katz
October 19, 2019
This article first appeared in the Morning Star.
The EU parliamentary vote in favour of historical revisionism is of importance to us all.
The Prague Declaration had been initiated by former Czech president Vaclav Havel in 2008 but has changed its title a bewildering number of times.
It is the parent of Black Ribbon Day and the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, adopted by the European Union in October 2011.
And it is the core text behind a motion entitled “Importance of European remembrance,” adopted by the EU Parliament on September 19, by 535 votes against 66, with 52 abstentions.
What is the Prague Declaration you might ask? It is the centrepiece of a movement, started in 2008 in eastern Europe based on notions of a “red/brown equivalence,” or horseshoe political theory.
Extreme right and extreme left somehow meet and fuse, nazis and communists become interchangeable.
Pro-Hitler forces are rehabilitated. And the Holocaust becomes just one of many, no more or less important than say the Holodomor famine in the Ukraine, which it is claimed was manufactured by communists.
The great nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff, of the Wiesenthal Centre, describes it as: “The main manifesto of the false equivalency movement.” And if anyone is qualified to know, it’s him.
In the declaration and all its iterations, communists and nazis are made to appear indistinguishable, lumped together as “extremist ideologies.”
It has been sponsored by the EU, notably during recent Czech and Polish presidencies and has been given a significant budget, added to by constituent governments.
These are reinforced by amply funded NGOs, including the right-wing Robert Schuman Foundation, to establish museums of historical memory of the crimes of totalitarian regimes.
In some countries these have merged the universally accepted Holocaust with “crimes of Soviet occupation.”
It includes an extensive educational programme, the Platform of European Memory and Conscience, which groups government agencies from 55 countries, including 12 from the EU and the US.
Their target is to “prevent intolerance, extremism, anti-democratic movements and the recurrence of any totalitarian rule in the future.”
Yet it is somehow only directed against the left, the legacy of the Red Army, partisans from all countries as far apart as Belgium and Croatia, the USSR, and present-day Russia, which continually protests against its uses.
You will look in vain for condemnation of the bloodthirsty Francisco Franco, the fascist dictatorship in Portugal under Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, or the more recent iron-fist regime of the Greek colonels.
Point one of the Prague Declaration reads: “Reaching an all-European understanding that both the nazi and communist totalitarian regimes each need to be judged by their own terrible merits to be destructive in their policies of systematically applying extreme forms of terror, suppressing all civic and human liberties, starting aggressive wars and, as an inseparable part of their ideologies, exterminating and deporting whole nations and groups of population; and that as such they should be considered to be the main disasters, which blighted the 20th century.”
In this formulation, the Holocaust evaporates, as does any rationale for fighting on the anti-fascist side.
That’s exactly what its supporters want, because many of them laud forces which fought for fascism and participated in the Holocaust.
One thing is for sure, the Declaration doesn’t contest historical memory, it rips it up.
Bizarrely, a founder signatory was the Dalai Lama, but the Declaration is no light matter. Only one Briton signed it, Tory MEP Christopher Beazley.
The Declaration includes a call for Nuremberg trials to be reopened and extended to include communists.
Zuroff has said the Declaration draws the impossible equivalence between “those who built Auschwitz and those who liberated it.”
The Wiesenthal Centre accused the Declaration of containing “anti-semitic, racist and Holocaust distortionist motives.”
Back in 2011, its signatories were a who’s who of reaction across Europe. Its advocates represented a real tapestry of class interests — neoliberal capitalists in the Czech Republic. Big money oligarchs, bloated on post-Soviet privatisation scams. Fascist foot soldiers in Lithuania, Ukraine and Hungary. Right-wing NGOs in the revisionist “historical memory” movement, especially influential in the Czech Republic and Poland. But there were more powerful government forces, including some which rejected the post-war border settlement and were busy again making territorial claims on each other. Thatcher sent a greeting to the original convention which adopted the Declaration, but she quickly recoiled, despite her anti-communism.
In the British Parliament the Prague Declaration was smashed in a brilliant campaign led by John Mann MP, then chair of the all-parliamentary committee on anti-semitism.
My book pointed to a series of directions that the Declaration movement might take. It could remain at the level of the anti-communist colour revolutionaries, who were effectively gaining a foothold in the power structures of the EU.
It could seek foot soldiers. And it could opt to use the considerable resources of government and NGOs to press its case home. In fact it has used all three.
The Maidan Square fascist putsch followed in 2014, and MEPs and their lobbyists from the accession states new to the EU brought historical revisionism into the corridors of power in Brussels and Strasbourg.
But I never anticipated that where Thatcher refused to tread, Labour MEPS would willingly go.
The people and forces behind this movement have now become very important, not least because another phase, not anticipated by me in my book, involved the enlistment of many social democrats, including Labour MEPs.
At the September 19 vote, Labour MEPs consciously added their voice to those repressing labour movements in countries such as Poland, Hungary and Romania.
A reply from Robin Corbett, MEP for Yorkshire and Humber, to a complaint about the vote by the International Brigades Memorial Trust demonstrates clearly that Labour support was quite conscious: “When it came to the vote, this was the text laid before us and we had to take a decision on whether to support or oppose the resolution.”
Obviously he had never heard of abstention, at the very least. Labour MEPs voting with the extreme right who are pushing the neoliberal austerity path should ring alarm bells.
And fortunately it has. In addition to the vote itself, there are questions about the action of the whips, how and why the decision to vote in favour was taken once an attempt to amend had failed, when alternatives existed.
MEPs are used to a rather loose level of scrutiny. But this latest vote has drawn attention and condemnation from a broad spectrum.
In Rome, 10,000 marched to condemn it. It has been discussed at Labour meetings and trades councils, in journals and in the Morning Star.
And it isn’t going to stop there. In the current climate, with accusations of anti-semitism, it is clear that the Labour leadership will have to investigate, and my view should condemn outright, the action of the Labour MEPs.
No Labour member I have ever associated with will want their representatives lined up with Poland’s Law and Justice party, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, Austria’s Freedom Party or those around Victor Orban in Hungary with their questionable track record towards the Jews, or the Homeland Union of Lithuania, now headed by the grandson of one of the two founders of the Prague Declaration.
In Britain, the Communist Party was the first to raise questions. Its focus is unsurprising given the kind of forces around the motion in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary or Poland where anti-communist legislation allows four years’ imprisonment for selling a pro-communist newspaper.
The Declaration, now in the shape of an EU parliamentary motion, leads directly to the outlawing of first the symbols of communism, then the communist parties themselves.
Indeed the post-debate report goes straight for the jugular, talking of “Soviet crimes” (many of these supposed crimes were committed when the USSR was a full-blown ally of Britain in the fight to the end against fascist barbarism) and modern-day Russia, which in some instances is called on to pay reparations for a country (the USSR) that no longer exists.
In Ukraine, an associate member of the EU, communists are being hunted down and some officials have been disappeared.
In many countries, statues thanking the Red Army for its contribution to liberation are being broken up.
Street and place names are being changed. Residents of Stalin Street in Colchester and Stalin Avenue in Chatham will not be happy with that.
The Communist Party also pointed in particular to the role of the British ruling class in the historic process covered by the Declaration.
It has called on “all those who value truth and wish to honour those who fought against fascism to repudiate this motion and call on the British Labour Party and trade union movement to formally condemn it.”
The latest vote is a green light to step up the repression and prosecution of communists.
It’s an echo of the past, but also a truth, that wherever communists are persecuted, austerity is imposed, labour movements are repressed and anti-worker legislation follows.
How ironic that Labour, which supports the extension of employment laws and workers’ rights in Britain, should vote with extreme right neoliberals, with a track record of breaking up unions and attacking workers’ and women’s rights.
Abstention was an option for these MEPs, but a vote against was much closer to decency and more consistent with their own policy.
Not only Labour members should be concerned. Trade unions opposed to austerity, in favour of workers’ rights throughout all of Europe and beyond, in the spirit of internationalism, will want to ask what the hell is being done in their name and question their funding of such representatives.
Law-makers and the legal profession in Britain will also be concerned at the unravelling of human rights legislation and the historical definition of genocide, should the motion be allowed to reopen the question of who was the victim and who was the perpetrator during World War II.
Veterans’ organisations will want a say, especially those who served on the Arctic convoys taking war materiel to the Soviet Union.
If the communists were equally culpable for the causes and outcome of the war, that makes British personnel who served in Yugoslavia and China, or who worked with communist partisans in Italy and France, liable for prosecution.
Organisations committed to fighting anti-semitism, and especially those who oppose Holocaust revisionism should be equally alarmed as it’s clear it is now contested in many EU-affiliated countries.
Britain is coming out of the EU. This is one policy we won’t want to be brought back from Brussels. But it is a warning sign of the forces Britain will have to navigate in the years ahead.
My book included the warning: “The clash of forces that led to the most destructive seven years in human history continues today.”
And “the peoples of Britain can truly be proud of their contribution to the struggle for freedom from tyranny. From 1941, our constant allies were the citizens and government of the Soviet Union. The cold war sought to obscure and reverse that reality. But facts are just that and truth will always out.” This is one vote that we must not allow to go uncontested.
Phil Katz is author of Freedom From Tyranny — the Fight Against Fascism and the Falsification of History (Manifesto Press).