The Estonian Presidency is holding an informal ministerial conference in Tallinn on Wednesday (23 August) under the title “The Heritage in 21st Century Europe of the Crimes Committed by Communist Regimes”.
The leftist GUE/NGL group reacted angrily and accused Estonia of politicising its presidency, while the Greek justice minister said he would boycott the event.
The Estonian Presidency says the event, with the participation of justice ministers or representatives of justice ministries, will be dedicated to the Europe-wide Day of Remembrance for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes.
This day was proclaimed with the adoption on 2 April 2009 of a European Parliament resolution on European conscience and totalitarianism.
The leftist group European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) issued a press release on Tuesday strongly condemning the “whitewash” Tallinn event as an “insult to European historical memory”.
“At a time when the far-right and neo-Nazis are taking advantage of the failures of EU policies, equating Nazism with communism is historically false, dangerous and unacceptable. Moreover, the fact that the Estonian government chose to focus on “communist crimes” clearly shows an intent to use the institution of the rotating EU Presidency for ideological purposes”, the leftist group stated.
During World War II, communists in many European countries were at the forefront of the fight against Nazism and fascism. The totalitarian regime in the former USSR is called “communism” although it can be argued how much the two designations overlap.
Under Stalin, who committed countless crimes while in power, the USSR made the biggest war effort to defeat Nazi Germany.
GUE/NGL urged the justice ministers of EU member states, especially those of progressive orientation, to boycott the event as the Greek government did.
The media in Athens reported that the Greek Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis, a member of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s leftist Syriza party, has turned down the invitation to participate in the Tallinn event.
“At a time when the fundamental values of the European Union are openly questioned by the rise of far-right movements and neo-Nazi parties across Europe, the above-mentioned initiative is very unfortunate,” Kontonis said in his letter to the conference organisers, quoted in the Greek media.
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“The initiative to organise a conference with this specific content and title sends a wrong and dangerous political message that is the result of the agreements that followed the Second World War, revives the Cold War climate that brought so much suffering to Europe, runs contrary to the values of the EU, and certainly does not reflect the view of the Greek government and the Greek people, which is that Nazism and communism could never exist as the two parts of the same equation,” the Greek minister wrote.
“The horror we lived through under Nazism had a single version, the one we described above,” Kontonis continued. “Communism, on the contrary, gave birth to dozens of ideological trends, one of which was Euro-communism, born in a communist regime during the Prague Spring period, in order to combine socialism with democracy and freedom.”
The EU countries that lived under communism are divided as to the need to exacerbate the divisions in society by vilifying the former regime.
Last year Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania criticised in a statement nations that celebrate their communist histories. In Bulgaria, on the other hand, a monument to the former communist strongman Todor Zhivkov has been erected in his home town of Pravets. It is frequently honoured by the presence of socialist leaders, who bring flowers.
Asked by EURACTIV to comment on the leftist criticism, Katrin Lunt, a spokesperson for the Estonian justice ministry, said that in Estonia alone, the Stalinist regime had claimed tens of thousands of victims even after the World War II ended. The crimes committed by this regime have left the traces that one can still find in Estonia in the 21st century, she added.
She also said it was the second time Tallinn is hosting such an event [The European Day of Remembrance was also held in the Estonian capital in 2015].
“The conference taking place on 23 August in Tallinn has been dedicated to investigating the legacy of the crimes committed by the communist regime. This has been the Estonian experience, which has been shared by the other Baltic states and also by several other Eastern European countries. From Estonia’s perspective, that era ended only 26 years ago,” Lunt said.
She quoted the minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu’s, who recently stated: „Estonia strongly condemns all crimes against humanity and the massive human rights violations committed by all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes and remembers the victims of all these regimes.“