Relations with Russia and Attempts to Overcome Communist Legacy*
The massive enlargement of the European Union in 2004 ushered in a fundamental change – eight out of the ten new Member States had felt the yoke of Communist totalitarianism.
Yet, despite the Berlin Wall having been pulled down in 1989, this construction that had been built to separate European nations was still in its place in the mental plane of the reunited Europe of 15 years later. Recognising the role of Communism and analysing its nature felt a bit like walking across a minefield to most of our Western colleagues. It was becoming increasingly obvious that there was a huge contrast between the obligatory condemnation of Nazism and its symbols by the West, and the view of Communist legacy as something that had remained in the past, a domestic concern of each country.
The marginalisation of the Communist legacy and the reluctance to clearly express an opinion were also fuelled by the increasingly close partnership between the EU and Russia. It fell to the new members of the European Parliament (EP) to draw attention to Putin’s Russia being the heir of the anti-West totalitarian Soviet Union. This meant that we had to constantly question how much we could trust Russia. In March 2005, the EP gave a sobering assessment to the current state of the EU-Russia relations in the so-called Malmström Report.
When President Putin organised a celebration to honour the Soviet historical narrative in Moscow on 9 May 2005, the EP responded with an initiative of its own. The EP acknowledged in so many words that for some nations the end of World War meant a new tyranny forced on them by the Soviet Union, and that Europe must be made aware of the Iron Curtain and the magnitude of suffering caused to the enslaved nations caught on the Eastern side of it. Together with several of my Baltic colleagues we managed to introduce certain moral conditions: there can be no reconciliation without an acknowledgement of the truth and remembering the past. Shaping the common European memory and historical narrative became the keywords of our efforts from then on.
The next step toward that objective turned out to be the Conference on European Conscience and Communism, organised by the Czech Senate in June 2008, which concluded with the Prague Declaration. The latter emphasised that Europe cannot be considered as united until Communism and Nazism have been recognised as equal and criminal legacies of the past. Europe-wide responsibility needs to be taken for the crimes of Communism.
The Prague Declaration became the basis for shaping the position of the EP. On 2 April 2009, the EP adopted the resolution on European conscience and totalitarianism. The initiators were particularly keen on two specific proposals: establishing the Platform of European Memory and Conscience to coordinate research into the legacy of totalitarianism and declaring 23 August the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Totalitarian Regimes. The EP recognised Nazi and Communist regimes as the common European legacy. The EP does not see historical reconciliation as possible without truth and memory, and expects all totalitarian regimes to be viewed the same way.
Giving an educated international assessment to the Communist regime is not a question of the past. A decisive condemnation of the crimes of Nazi Germany ensured that a recent officer of Gestapo could not have become the Chancellor of the new Germany. The lack of a similar condemnation regarding the Soviet Union allowed the Soviet Gestapo Lieutenant Colonel Putin to become the dictator of Russia and the leader in the war against Ukraine. These catastrophic developments could have been avoided by setting the Soviet totalitarianism together with its criminal security apparatus on equal basis with the Hitler regime at the right moment.
* This is the 4th and last instalment in the series of articles published by Riigikogu Toimetised, where the author reminisces on the first fifteen years as an Estonian MEP (see also Riigikogu Toimetised No 42, 43, 44).