“[T]oday many in the West are still excusing the crimes of communism – and even the European Union itself is reluctant to unequivocally condemn them,” Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said on Saturday, Hungary’s national day of commemoration for the victims of communism. Indeed, Europe owes it to the victims to recognize communism for the brutal totalitarian ideology it really was.
Not only that. Europe should take it a step further, as I said at one of the commemorative events. Besides political declarations, it is high time that an international court bring perpetrators of crimes under communism to justice.
When Hungary declared in 2000 that February 25th would be a national commemorative day for the victims of communism, it was the first European country to do so. The date was chosen because on February 25th, 1947, the secretary general of the democratically elected governing party, Béla Kovács, was abducted by the communist secret police and deported to a Soviet GULAG, incarcerated as a political prisoner. Each year, we commemorate the victims of this dreadful dictatorship, and this year’s commemoration was particularly poignant, coming as it did at the end of Hungary’s commemorative year for the victims of the GULAG and as we observe the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Revolution.
In fact, it was the 1956 Revolution and its brutal suppression that showed for the first time the true nature of communism to many in the West. In many ways, the 1956 Revolution and events that followed gave rise to the neoconservative movement in the United States, former fans of the supposed egalitarian nature of communism who realized that equality under communism really means oppression for all, except collaborators. French philosopher Albert Camus, who joined the French Communist Party in 1935 and was a communist member of his nations’ resistance movement against the Nazis, became an outspoken supporter of the revolutionaries of 1956 against their communist oppressors.
Unfortunately, however, many of Europe’s left-wing intellectuals today still ignore or relativize the sins of communism.
“[M]any members of the western intelligentsia, artists, writers and politicians – self-proclaimed progressives – enthusiastically praised the genocidal communist dictatorship”, said Prime Minister Orbán, while they ignored the fact of mass persecutions and deportations, even the genocide carried out by communist regimes. “It is also hard to believe that today many in the West are still excusing the crimes of communism – and even the European Union itself is reluctant to unequivocally condemn them,” the prime minister said.
“It is no accident that Europe has a guilty conscience when it comes to the crimes committed by communism,” he said, adding that “both communism and national socialism emerged as intellectual products of the West.”
We have seen some encouraging signs, however. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe issued a resolution in 2006 that “strongly condemns crimes of totalitarian communist regimes”. The European Parliament finally adopted a decision to name August 23rd the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism. The Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism, initiated in 2008 by the Czech government, is a united effort by European politicians to condemn communism and teach about its crimes.
Raising awareness clearly remains essential. “It is we who must make them understand that freedom is always only one generation away from extinction,” said Prime Minister Orbán. “We must fight for it, we must protect it, and we must teach our children to do the same.”
As a protestant bishop and civic figure in Transylvania, I played a role in the Romanian Revolution of 1989. I have vivid memories of the communist regime. That’s why, at a memorial event last week in Oradea (Nagyvárad), Romania, I called on Europe to take the next steps in paying respect to the victims: an international court of justice for prosecuting communist criminals.
In Hungary alone, the number of people taken away to the GULAG was between 700 thousand and 1.1 million, a staggering number considering that the country’s population is around 10 million. Estimates indicate that that is the third largest globally, but many other countries suffered as well.
In fact, Europe as a whole was affected by this oppressive ideology, so coming together to condemn communism and remember the victims is vital. Communism raised a wall between the Communist Bloc and the free world of the West. It damaged the economic system of the allied and the member countries of the Soviet Union, tore apart families and countries and pitted European countries against each other, nations that have shared a common history for more than a thousand years.
It’s high time to commemorate together the victims and condemn the perpetrators. There’s no place for relativism when it comes to the sins of communism in today’s Europe.