The German word Vergangenheitsbewältigung is a mouthful, but the reluctance of some nations to address and condemn their fascist past has the ability to leave one tongue-tired.
Vergangenheitsbewältigung is generally translated to English as ‘overcoming the past’. Whilst the word originates in the former West Germany, both post-war German states educated their population so that they could learn from the past rather than ignore it, wish it away or worse yet, embrace it. Whilst the process in Germany has generally been highly effective, there are other countries in Europe that seem not only comfortable with their Nazi past but whose citizens openly glorify it.
Late last year Russia proposed a resolution to the United Nations urging the world to unite to condemn the glorification of Nazism in all its forms. The full resolution can be read here. One would think that in 2016, no nation’s leadership would dream of not supporting such a resolution. Section 4 of the resolution is particularly crucial. It states that those supporting the resolution: “Express(es) deep concern about the glorification, in any form, of the Nazi movement, neo-Nazism and former members of the Waffen SS organization, including by erecting monuments and memorials and holding public demonstrations in the name of the glorification of the Nazi past, the Nazi movement and neo-Nazism, as well as by declaring or attempting to declare such members and those who fought against the anti-Hitler coalition and collaborated with the Nazi movement participants in national liberation movements…”
The proposed resolution comes at a time when men and women both old and young can be seen marching through the streets of Riga honouring Latvians who fought for Hitler and where the financially destitute government in Kiev is hastily spending money erecting monuments to fascists who collaborated with Hitler whilst simultaneously naming streets after them. These are just two examples of a dangerous trend that should trigger condemnation from all corners of the globe.
Whilst the resolution easily passed in the General Assembly the list of how each country voted raises some uncomfortable questions. The full list of votes can be found here. Whilst strangely most European states abstained from the vote, including Britain – the birth country of Winston Churchill – the three no votes are perhaps the most surprising. Note that these countries voted against a resolution condemning fascism in its many manifestations. They are Ukraine, Canada and the United States.
One ought to begin with Ukraine. Given the circumstances of the political disaster there, it is little wonder that a nation which arms fascist mobs to kill civilians does not want to associate itself with fighting fascism. However the no votes by the other two countries are disturbing. After all both Canada and the United States fought against Hitler’s regime in the 1940s as part of the anti-fascist coalition. Yet they voted against a resolution condemning fascism.
It seems that once again Obama’s incapable diplomatic team have chosen to politicise a resolution which does not name nor shame any country but simply calls for nations to take a stand against Nazism and discrimination. As for Canada, it is a little known fact that after being defeated by the Red Army, a fair number of Nazi collaborators in Ukraine fled to Canada. Since then the Ukrainian lobby in Canada has become a lynchpin of far-right, Russophobic propaganda there. Why successive Canadian governments have allowed these groups to shape Canadian foreign policy is a big question. What one can however say is that this is both unfortunate and unnecessary.
After 1945 the Soviet Union aided the establishment of Communist governments in parts of Europe liberated from fascism by the Red Army. The underlying reason for this was to ensure a system of government which would halt the re-growth of fascism. Many at that time did not take Soviet concerns about the potential for fascism to re-emerge in Europe seriously. The fall of communist governments in former Warsaw Pact states and in European states which were formerly Soviet Republics has however led to precisely the kind of growth in fascism that Soviet leaders and intellectuals warned about.
Irrespective of one’s political persuasion, all peoples should unite against the poisonous ideology of fascism which took so many innocent lives and against which so many soldiers of the Red Army made the ultimate sacrifice. The European countries whose soils were stained with the blood of liberators cannot turn their backs on their own uneasy histories. To overcome the past, one must come to terms with it. Put another way, the world needs to be more familiar with Vergangenheitsbewältigung.