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 Monday, July 28 2014 @ 03:21 PM BST

Challenging exceptionalist readings of History


The Foreign ministers of a number of EU countres have now declared that communist crimes "should be treated according to the same standards" as those of Nazi regimes.

The historian Robert Conquest systematically exposed the mass murders committed in the Soviet era and in his book ëHarvest of Sorrowsí he estimated that about 4.5 million people had perished in camps in the 1930-37 period , with an equal number decimated by famine when Stalin uprooted the kulak peasants from the Ukraine in his socialisation programme. This is not to count deaths perpetrated in Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania and the Czech Republic in the name of Sovietization.

The Foreign ministers of these countries have now declared that communist crimes "should be treated according to the same standards" as those of Nazi regimes, notably in those countries with Holocaust denial laws. Andrius Grikienis, a spokesman for Lithuania's mission to the EU, said: "During the first years of Soviet occupation, Lithuania lost more than 780,000 of its residents. 444,000 fled Lithuania or were repatriated, 275,697 were deported to the gulag or exile, 21,556 resistance fighters and their supporters were killed and 25,000 died on the front." By comparison, he said: "More than 200,000 citizens of Jewish origin were killed by Nazis and their collaborators."

However some voices have been reluctant to label the Soviet genocides also as a holocaust. For example Efraim Zuroff, the Nazi-hunter and director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's Israel office, is reported to have described the effort by the six eastern states as a "false symmetryÖ the Holocaust was a unique tragedy in historyÖFor all the terrible crimes of the USSR, you can't compare the people who built Auschwitz with the people who liberated it. Nazi Germany would probably not have been defeated if it weren't for Russiaî [Leigh Phillips in The Guardian, 21st December 2010].

This brings to mind Antony Lermanís observation: ìAfter the Holocaust we may have believed that ëNever againí was so deeply seared into Europe's liberal consciousness that a Srebrenica massacre was inconceivable. Instead, we learned that ëNever againí meant ëNever again will Germans commit mass murder against Jews in Europeí [in The Guardian, 29th October 2009].

Or what Amira Hass had to say on the politicization of the term ëholocaustí: ìThe phrase ësecurity for the Jewsí has been consecrated as an exclusive synonym for ëthe lessons of the Holocaust.í It is what allows Israel to systematically discriminate against its Arab citizens. For 40 years, ësecurityí has been justifying control of the West Bank and Gaza and of subjects who have been dispossessed of their rights living alongside Jewish residents, Israeli citizens laden with privilegesî [Haaretz, 18th April 2007].

The foreign ministers of Lithuania and other countries have taken a step to make the case for a level playing field in the way Europeís sad twentieth century history is remembered and recorded. The issue has wide implications.

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