By David Broder, Jacobin, September 2019
The European Parliament has condemned communism as equivalent to Nazism. Based on a fantasy reading of history, the motion smears all “radicalism” as “totalitarian” — and dismisses the moral superiority of those who fought fascism.
In May 1945, as smoke still billowed over the ruins of Adolf Hitler’s empire, French opinion pollster IFOP asked citizens which nation they thought had contributed most to defeating Nazi Germany. A whopping 57 percent considered the Soviet Union the decisive actor, compared to 20 percent for the United States and 12 percent for Britain. Yet when IFOP conducted the same survey in 1994, after the USSR had itself collapsed, it found that perceptions had changed radically. Five decades on, just 25 percent believed the USSR had contributed most to the Allied cause, compared to 49 percent for the United States and 16 percent for Britain.
Historical memory can be rather fickle. It’s not just that history drifts into the distance as our image of the past fades. Rather, historical memory is something that changes through an active process in which each generation reinterprets the world handed down to it. In this case, it’s easy to see how changes in the dominant Western view of the USSR after 1945 — the Cold War, Nikita Khrushchev’s repudiation of Stalin, revolts in the Eastern Bloc, and its ultimate collapse — all undermined the prestige that this state had enjoyed at the end of World War II, as the lead actor in this noble cause.
More than simply changing, historical memory is actively reshaped by pop-culture representations as well as by active political forces. That’s how we should understand the passing, this September 18, of a European Parliament resolution “on the importance of European remembrance for the future of Europe.” Backed by the S&D (center left), Renew (liberal), EPP (Christian-Democrat) and ECR (conservative) groups, the motion is presented as a condemnation of all “totalitarianisms,” taking the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939 as the starting point of five decades of oppression, today ended by the European project and NATO.
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