Historical forgetfulness in Eastern and Southern Europe

Autor: FIR | 2. 4. 2024

The FIR has repeatedly spoken out in clear terms against the rewriting of the history of anti-fascist resistance and the rehabilitation of Nazi criminals and collaborators as “freedom fighters”, as has been practiced in recent years, particularly in the Baltic republics.

This year, too, a march of the “friends of Latvian SS-veterans” took place in Riga in mid-March on National Day under massive police protection. Obviously, the Latvian state wanted to prevent anti-fascists from articulating themselves publicly against this form of rewriting history, as in previous years. The government and the media claimed that anyone who opposed this SS veterans’ march is a “partisan of Putin”, denouncing not only the minority of Russian origin in Latvia, but also anti-fascist Latvians.

A few days ago, Ukraine continued its “de-Russification” with a decision by the Ukrainian parliament to rename five towns and over 100 villages. It is not surprising that Russian names were not only Ukrainianized, but completely changed. Even village names of German colonists were adapted for places that were only created in the 1970s. However, perhaps the Ukrainian side believes it can impress the German government, like the American politicians, when a main street in Kiev was named after former US President Ronald Reagan. The Ukrainian anti-fascist Vyacheslav Azarov criticized the government for naming streets in honor of Western politicians and monarchs in the hope that it would be a way of extracting alms from its allies.

With the start of the war two years ago, the process gained new momentum. In the first year of the war, almost 10,000 places were given new names, 145 Soviet monuments were removed, and even writers such as Alexander Pushkin are no longer visible. Collaborators are now honored in their place. At the beginning of March, a street in Nikopol was given the name of Officer Petro Dyachenko, a Bandera henchman who collaborated with Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Archbishop Andrej Scheptyzkyj, after whom an entire town has now been named, had also welcomed the German invaders as “liberators from Soviet union” and advocated the formation of a Ukrainian Waffen SS division.

However, anyone who believes that this tendency to rewrite history can only be found in Eastern Europe was proved wrong last weekend. On the occasion of the national commemoration of the mass murder in the Ardeatine Caves in Rome, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni issued a statement in which she described the massacre as “one of the most painful wounds inflicted on our national community”. That means that Mussolini fascism, from whose legacy Meloni’s party draws, had nothing to do with it. ANPI sharply criticized this historical hypocrisy. This is similar to Viktor Orban’s attitude, who, in his rehabilitation of the Horthy regime, only wants to see fascism with the German occupation and likes to stylize Hungary as a “victim”. The German Minister of State for Culture, Claudia Roth, demonstrated another form of historical forgetfulness. In Rome, she spoke of a “monstrous crime” in which 335 Italian civilians, including partisans, anti-fascist resistance fighters and 75 Jews from Italy and Europe were shot by the SS. The crime was “part of a terrible trail of moral and material devastation that Nazi Germany left across Europe.” She then added that it was important to her “to remember this terrible crime today in Rome - side by side with my Italian counterpart”, who belongs to the same neo-fascist government under Meloni.

At the same time, she “forgot” to mention that the order for this massacre was given by Wehrmacht generals Kesselring, von Mackensen and Mälzer. It was therefore one of the many crimes committed by the Wehrmacht, especially in the “war of extermination” against the USSR, even if this time the SS carried out the massacre.

Instead, after the memorial event, Ms. Roth visited the Jewish quarter in Rome and laid a wreath in the former ghetto in memory of the Jews deported in 1943. One could get the impression that even on such occasions, the German side shifts the focus towards the Shoah, while the anti-fascist resistance and the fascist war and its perpetrators are suppressed.