By Tord Björk
The Nazis wanted to exterminate another race and Karl Marx wanted to exterminate a social class. The guide at the House of European History (HEH) in Brussels is twisting her tongue when she tries to solve the task of simultaneously explaining that communism and nazism are both the same and yet not. Visually, the impression of the museum’s exhibition gives overwhelming evidence one side of the story, they are the same.
Towering above us in the ideologically most intense part of the museum are large video screens tilted towards the visitor. These screens on four islands in the room are so large that in spite of that the hall is generously big they fill up the room and the spectator can feel small under them. On the screens the masses march in honour of the dictator, people are violently oppressed and the imagery makes very clear: the interwar period was marked by the very same conflict as after the war until Soviet Union collapses and the Berlin wall falls, that between Western democracy and totalitarianism. In the impressive format is shown on the first two communism’s horrific methods, on the two later the same for Nazism. The similarity is visually striking. Stalin and Hitler in that order, omnipresent in the midst of terror. As a climax, the hammer and the sickle are projected at the same time as the swastika in oversized format.
The first time I visited the museum I was very surprised. The emphasis that the seemingly official guide gave to a group that followed her that the extinction of social classes and extermination of Jews was as morally abominable and basically as totalitarian and reprehensible appeared as confused. If this was the case, then a renunciation of the French Revolution’s abolition of nobility as a class with unique priveleges and the liberal revolution against feudal society would also be in place.
The second time I had the headphones on when the symbols of Communism and Nazism illuminated at the same time. The voice clearly stated that the two ideologies were different, something that the guide also pointed out, but in practice the next moment the voice spoke against itself. They were equally genocidal. A contradiction in practice which also to a large extent is given by HEH’s overall picture by texts and images.
In the book Creating the House of European History, it is emphasized that one of “the most valuable tools for a historical museum’s narrative is audiovisual products.” But it is also said that one must be extremely careful when using them. HEH is doing the opposite using this tool to rewrite history hiding with visual effects the lack of intellectual arguments for its biased narrative. That World War II was the result of fascist aggression, not of oppressive fascist and communist aggression combined against democracies with no oppressive aggression against countries oversees of their own.
These audiovisual means come to the most intrusive use when the museum obfuscate the history of interwar times contradicting the globally recognized claim that fascist aggression was the determinating factor both in Europe and Asia. But HEH wipes out global history as if fascist Japan and European violent colonialism never existed in the interwar operiod replacing these facts with its mythical version of a world war as only a European affair with colonial powers democratic at home in struggle against horrific communist and fascist regimes. What the curator of this museum has done is a disgrace to the exhibition craft as a tool for creating chronological and thematic consisting understanding of history possible with the aid of emotional visual objects and audiovisual tools.
The new museum has cost 50 million euro even before it opened May 6, 2017 just behind the EU Parliament in Brussels. Any attempt to write about this exhibition may seem pretentious, that the project has succeeded at all can be seen as a success. To address certain aspects in a short text does not give the museum justice. Not least in terms of exhibition aesthetics and in many other practical aspects there is much to be found here. But exhibition aesthetics are not all even if you get 16,000 hits online when searching for articles with this word in Swedish (utställningsdesign). Here I should touch more on the exhibition ethics questions that give 61 hits online (utställningsetik).
Liberal history revisionism has here been given one of its most costly and clear expressions with the help of the EU museum. The racist world order with its Westeren European colonial and neocolonial relations to the rest of the world is wiped out of the history book. Western democracies are instead given a simplified heroic role. The earlier history writing was based on a common anti-fascist understanding of history that all Allies could use for their own purposes. Together, they had defeated aggressive fascism. West by adding that they were responsible for a better economic and political system that did not oppress people. The Soviet Union by adding that it also provided a better equitable economic and political system and that they carrie the main burden of the defeat of Nazi Germany and stood up for the liberation of colonialized countries.
The liberals hand in hand with the right want now to leave this anti-fascist historiography behind. Instead, a history revisionism, which no longer sees fascism as the most aggressive part of the interwar era, emerges. The earlier common view of history is to be replaced by a new one where democratic liberalism is opposed to two aggressive totalitarian regimes. A history view given an emotional strength by claiming to be an expression of the most rigtheous opposition to Nazi extermination of Jews. An opposition against any relativization of the Holocaust in order not to lose Nazi antisemtism as the main symbol of anti-racism. The fight against racism, not social class differences is made the norm for what is the most urgent issue to address. In addition, an emotionally charged rejection of communist or at least Stalinist regimes’ crimes against humanity is also added. These contrast with liberal regimes whose abuses are seen as exceptions that confirm the rule.
Liberal history revisionism is based on the separation of politics and economics, including its ecological base. It is not material conditions that are a starting point for understanding society and history. It is instead the political ideologies that float freely in a world for themselves with evil and good values. A world where what is called the European values is particularly good. Values that leave the joint effort of the anti-fascist alliance to emphasize the indivisibility of social and political rights as expressed in the UN decaralation of Human Rights. Instead, social rights are decoupled and only the political remains. The European popular movements along with popular movements around the world brought forth the struggle for indivisible human rights. Some European values worth standing up for exist only side by side with these popular movements jointly struggling against European colonialism and freedom from economic and other forms of oppression everywhere.
This popular indivisible legacy manifested in UN human rights is now set aside when liberalism and EU rewrites history. This is in the interest of the business community and both its liberal, social conservative political partners. In practice the anticommunist strong element is also useful for right wing populism and extremism. Intellectually this rewriting of history has problems becoming convincing as it ilack consistency. Instead, it uses visual aids and especially the exhibition method as a tool for launching history revisionism. A view of history that puts antifascism behind and places a one-sided role of “liberalism” with “European values” as heroic by delinking it fromout social and global context.
The following puts HEH in a larger picture and describes how this history revisionism emerged. It is a history revisionism that often relentlessly lacks clear thematic and chronological structure and not least the world outside Europe. Instead, the focus is on creating an emotional experience where the visual takes on a central position. Sweden takes a central role from the very beginning in organizing this rewriting of history with the help of visual expressions. A leading role together with the help of several Eastern European countries, that is gaining ever greater influence within the EU. House of European History is the foremost expression of this followed by the resolution on the European Parliament resolution of 19 September 2019 on the importance of European remembrance for the future of Europe and the following polarization on rewriting of history between EU and Russia. With president Trump’s recent attack on the historian Howard Zinn in the autumn of 2020 follows suit. Zinn’s writing of history from a perspective of people in common both within the US and the rest of the world need to be replaced according to Trump by a more patriotic writing of history emphasizing what is good about the West rather than criticizing its role.
A short comparison is also made below with two German exhibitions in the present and in the 1930s. Both of them contradict the history revisionism that today is emerging but in opposite ways. The recent exhibition shows that the German state’s extermination war was indivisibly focused on both communists and Jews. The then-made Nazi party exhibition shows the same thing. Trying to separate the Nazi-German indivisible ideology and practice is what fuels the new liberal as well as social conservative and even far right simultanous history revisionism together with wiping out the role of the West in the recent and present racist world order.
A Swedish exhibition ethics and aesthetics
The visual grasp of presenting the hammer and the sickle together with the swastika as the reason for the horrors of the Second World War is to a large extent a Swedish “invention”. At the Regional Museum in Kristianstad, 2005, the travelling exhibition ”Baltutlämningen” (Extradition Baltic soldiers) opened with the State Authority Forum för levande historia (FFLH) – Forum for Living History, as one of the organizers. The local history section dealt with the detention of 2500 Germans and about 167 balts around Sweden, and their extradiction to the Soviet Union in 1946.
The general part was about the Second World War. Here the visitor was met by a watch tower with Nazi and Soviet communist flag. What was supposed to be an exhbition about a Swedish responsibility became a story about the evil of others. On the floor there were wrapped photos of Stalin and Hitler tempting to step on. The large windows were obscured by translucent printed photos from Nazi concentration camps. The symbolism was clear, what the Baltic extradition was about was the forced rejection of groups as innocent as those killed in Auschwitz.
The exhibition screens’ pictures also gave a clear message. Hitler and Stalin together created the Second World War, which begins with the Molotov Ribbentrop pact. The red soldier rushing with the bayonet is the first aggressive act in the chronological representation of the war. Two of three maps were falsified. The map from 1942 did not include Finland’s occupation of East Karelia, where half of the Russian civilian population were put in concentration camps and were given less to eat than the Finnish civilian population with mass death of 1⁄4 of those incarcerated. The Soviet occupation of northern Norway and eastern Austria in 1945 were also removed in accordance with false statement by Swedish social democratic Prime Minister Göran Persson – where the red soldier set foot there, the iron curtain was established. These liberated part of Western countries were given back voluntarily by Soviet Union. Democratic countries have never committed abuse during World War II and the Soviet Union has always been expansionist and never voluntarily given back something they once conquered is the clear false message visually presented by the fake maps.
After criticism, the pictures from the Nazi death camp were taken away. After all, it was a little bit too much to equate the Waffen SS battalions and Lithuanian police battalions that actively participated in the Holocaust with the Holocaust victims. The false boundaries remained. The argument was that the role of Finland was disputed during the Continuation War, which was stated as a reason to keep away the Finnish occupation of parts of the Soviet Union.
The exhibition’s gross denial of Baltic participation in the Holocaust, which was reduced to the fact that at one point, the Latvian SS soldiers had participated in a mass murder, which was clearly pointed out was under German command had to remain. FFLH, however, gave the historian Mats Deland a quick assignment to write a report that showed the exact opposite of what was in the exhibition. Then the exhibition was sent to Riga and Tallin with the false maps, the false story that Balts did not participate in the Holocaust and with Nazi and Communist symbols of big countries as visually equivalent causes of World War II crimes against humanity. The exhibition was well received. Museums in Tallin and around Eastern Europe, put the hammer and the sickle together with the swastika showed as equal forces causing the atrocities during WWII and communism alone thereafter.
German exhibition ethics and aesthetics 1938 and 1995
Thus Swedish way of presenting WWII can be compared to two German exhibitions about the prelude to the war and the blame for subsequent events. In 1938, the German Nazi party NSDAP organized the ”Grosse antibolschewistische Schau” exhibition entitled Bolschewismus ohne maske, the Great Antibolschewist Exhibition, where the yellow star of David was surrounded by the red soldier’s red star on his uniform. Also this exhibition from 1938 put the victim in the center in the same way as the Swedish exhibition ”Baltutlämningen” did.
In the Swedish case, it was about the German and Baltic soldiers who were to be expelled, in the German exhibition the Nazis and fascists who died in the fight against the enemy, which is alternately called Jewishbolschewism, Communism or the Red Front. The visitor is met by something similar to a sarcophagus under the text Comrades killed by the red front and the reaction. On a picture, several Italian fascists are seen in the coffins killed in the fight against the “red tide” of Bolshevism.
In the same way as in the Swedish exhibition, large objects also occupy a central place in the exhibition. In the German not a watchtower in a concentration camp but original parts of a bridge in Florence where a fascist had been killed. The German exhibition show how Czechoslovakia penetrates into the heart of Germany. “Czechoslovakia has been armed to become a Soviet aircraft carrier, and thus attack launch site against Germany.” Moscow was said to seek to provoke a world war that could be avoided thanks to negotiations in Munich from which it emerges “a new Czechoslovakia, which serves peace and peaceful development in the eastern Europe.”
In the same way as in the Swedish exhibition Baltutlämningen, it is the red soldier with the bayonet who is the visually embodied most aggressive figure in the German exhibition. The hammer and the sickle also occupy a visually central role in the ideological narrative of the rise of evil, here drawn into a yellow star of David and not placed side by side with the swastika as in the Swedish version. The exhibition’s brochure also gives clear message. It is the Soviet who is the aggressive party
Unlike HEH and FFLH, the German exhibition from 1938 also sets the course of events in a global context. On a world map under the heading Colonial Bolshevism, the contact network is radiating from Moscow into the world. The information texts give their clear message: “The Comintern winds its octopus arms around the colonial resources of the European nations. Everywhere the same system of division, rebellion and individual terror. … Not “peaceful work” but “general strike” is the slogan of the Bolshevik workers’ leaders.” Moscow is said to use the same method in all countries: “the displeasure of the masses is undermined by promises of a better future, which Bolshevism is to obtain. It teaches that all human beings are equal and entitled to share this earth’s wealth.” For their help, Moscow often has Jews who pay the commu- nist newspapers and “can take the madness of the Marxist ideas to the forefront and thus excuse the sacrificial death of millions of people by try to help the communist system to win.”
“Bolshevism is in essence of Jewish origin. A Bolshevik soul is nothing but a Jewish soul and Bolshevik domination, other than Jewish rule. Only if we let ourselves be led by this insight can we understand the inability of Bolshevism to build a new world. In the way the Jew acts as an eternally destructive element in the shadow of the peoples, Bolshevism must also destroy forever. When it is incapable of building anything, it must murder and annihilate in battle with the people’s creative forces. Therefore, in the struggle between Bolshevism and the peoples, there is as little reconciliation as in the struggle between Judaism and soul of other peoples. That is why the only question is if the peoples draws true conclusions of this fact, or if they want to go under. Germany has answered this question for itself. It has broken the power of the Jews and eradicated bolschewism. “
Translation of the longest text rendered in facsimil with white text on the black bottom from the Bolshevismus ohne Maske exhibition brochure made by NSDAP 1938.
The second German exhibition was called “Verbrechen der Wehrmacht. Dimension des Vernichtungskrieges 1941-1944 ”. It was about the German army war crimes during World War II and was made by the Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung. Visually central to the exhibition are original orders that the German general staff sent out to kill communist officials or anyone who did some form of resistance as well as Jews.
The Wehrmacht exhibition attracted extensive protests. When it began to appear around the country in 1995, demonstrations were organized against it and the criticism was merciless. It was revealed that several photos were incorrectly attributed to German war crimes. Initially, the organizers defended themselves bur soon enough closed down the travelling exhibition, revised it changed the factual mistakes and made the central point even more clear and sent it out again.
Visually dominating was the introduction to every part of the exhibition where the word alone was set to work with letters on their own from which one could read the theme for the different parts. It gave the exhibition a clear thematic structure that was followed by a clear chronology. Every type of war crime ordered by the German army was addressed. Then various ways of executing the orders were shown which made it clear that there was room to choose different ways to complete an order. Most followed it completely but they were those who abstained, sometimes without being punished. The practitioners of war crimes came to the center. The victims were also clearly present and the determination of who were the practitioners and who chose to abstain did not reduce the victim’s vulnerability. Photos of the various war crimes were presented but not as general images of cruelty but placed in time and space.
The exhibition thus succeeded in changing the German self-image. Most Germans had long believed that the extermination of the Jews was only carried out by Nazi ideologically convinced SS troops during World War II. The exhibition showed that it was the regular German army built up of a cross section of the German population who had committed several war crimes and made the Holocaust possible. All social groups were involved. By thoroughly highlighting documents that showed the army’s responsibility and focusing on critical understanding, the great travelling exhibition managed to show all the unpleasant truth. It was the German army that started and was complicit in the Holocaust and not just organizations with convinced Nazis. The German national self-image was fundamentally changed. It was no longer just a matter of shifting one’s own responsibility and placing it with an extreme ideology carried by a smaller group of Nazis who none longer wanted to acknowledge. The scientific truth that has long been repressed could, with the aid of a well-made exhibition, finally become widely recognized.
The Swedish exhibition is more similar to the Nazi Germany exhibition in its esthetic form rather than the one produced by the Social Research Institute in Hamburg. With the most powerful exhibition elements as three-dimensional objects larger than the visitors, the feeling of death and terror is invoked. The identification is created with German and Baltic soldiers and fascists as victims of evil leaders, in one case Stalin and Hitler, in the second case Stalin supported by Jewish Bolsheviks such as Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. Maps are manipulated to enhance the impression of an ever-aggressive enemy in the East.
The criticism of the Wehrmacht exhibition was handled in a radically different way than the criticism of the Baltic extradition. The managers of the German contemporary exhibition immediately withdrew it and revised it completely so that no longer would be incorrect. Those responsible for the Swedish exhibition chose the opposite way. The most serious mistakes are due to over, while direct errors such as false map boundaries remained.
The method of the Wehrmacht exhibition created lasting change. It is an example of how the exhibition media can be an important tool to change prevailing ways of excuse the partcipation of people in common in atrocities made on the order of the state. With its clear theme and chronology and use of visula effects not to overwhelm the visitor but to help a better understanding it has set an example agaiunst the misuse of this media by EU, Sweden and several Eastern European states. The Wehrmacht exihibition makes it possible to criticize in a nunaced way the exercise of atrocities by the own state and the common man alos showing that it was possible to make diffefrent choices when orders tnhat gave room for crimes against humanity was issued. The exhibition medium has here been used ethically thanks to extensive criticism supporting incfrease in consciousness of the problems faced by people during war time, not mainly searching for attention. The ethical and aesthetic stance used by the German exhibition in 1995 could have become a guideline for creating greater understanding that not only ideologies but also the ordinary citizen can easily be drawn into and become practitioners of war crimes, thus laying the foundation for a historiography without double standards. Instead, the Swedish model became prevalent.
Swedish method for creating an obfuscating blend of text and image
The same year that the Baltic extraction exhibtion began to appear, FFLH produced on its own the exhibition ”Fransson skottar snö” (Fransson shovels snow) addressing Sweden and the Holocaust. It is the exhibition that deviates most radically from the usual ways of giving an overview and contributing to an understanding of a visitor to an exhibition using themes and chronology.
The producers clearly explained the philosophy behind the exhibition aesthetics. “Images and texts are used not only as illustrations and explanations; instead, it is more about the whole that text and image constitute together. It is far from an old-fashioned historical exhibition in chronological order where pictures are shown in a definite order with explanatory texts. It used similar methods as the exhibition Baltutlämningen. The victim is put in the centre, which is emphasized by strong visual prominent objects. In Baltutlämningen, the first thing that meets the visitor is a picture of a naked man being dragged away by black-dressed police officers, while a watching tower reminiscent of concentration camps towers over the visitor. In Fransson shovels snow is the most attention magnet in the first floor a scene in the full figure where a concentration camp prisoner held by other prisoners in the camp is forced to get a syringe from a doctor under the supervision of a camp guard. However, while the Baltic extradition dismissed the attention of the direct Swedish responsibility from what happened to communism and nazism, Fransson skottar snö puts attention to the indirect Swedish responsibility and Nazism.
This indirect Swedish responsibility then becomes fragmented into a matter of moral choices without context. “Some Swedish companies continued to sell goods to Germany, other Swedish companies did not want to. Some Swedes were involved in the war on the side of the Nazis, other Swedes helped refugees from the war into our country. Some famous writers and newspapers wrote that they were against the Nazis, others wrote that they were for them.”
The exhibitors are wondering “Mr Fransson stands and showels snow outside a house in Virserum, Småland, in the late 50s. Does it have to do with the Holocaust?” And replies: “In the exhibition, visitors get the opportunity to think about Fransson and others’ connection to the Holocaust, the heritage it left behind and its bearing for the future.”
The exhibitors challenge the visitors with two different, self-contradictory messages. One is that “we – … do not want to say: This is how it was! Instead, we want you who come here to ask your own questions about what happened.” The second is “we are destroying our national self-image.”
About the method of achieving this duality of purpose, the organizers writes: “The exhibition, which in its nature is poetic, should be seen as a debate entry and consists of documentary texts, im- ages and installations. The purpose is to get the visitors to react and want to go further in order to search for more facts themselves.” To then determine: – We who have worked with the exhibition have never hesitated with regard to Sweden’s participation in the Holocaust. Participation consisted of drawing, being indifferent or simply giving priority to working on issues other than the truly central ones. It has been important for us to convey.
The content of the poetic exhibition is described with the words: ”The form is far from the accepted for historical exhibitions with pictures in chronological order and explanatory texts. Examples that are highlighted in the exhibition are the work of the Race Biological Institute in Uppsala. German Nazis gained inspiration from Sweden for their racial policy, not the other way around. In the exhibition there are reports of medical experiments on ‘mindless’ at the Vipeholm institute and examples of how Swedish industry benefited from the continued trade with Germany during the war. Other areas that are affected are the forced sterilizations that were carried out in both Nazi Germany and Sweden. In Fransson skattr snö emerges a picture that collides with the image of Sweden as a neutral country filled with ‘good’ Swedes, a country that was far from the reality of war and the Holocaust.”
At the end, an appeal is added: “But the picture is not the dark black – the exhibition also shows a Swedish resistance that has fallen into oblivion. There was a knowledge of what was going on and the opportunity to act for those who chose to see. An opportunity that existed and exists today. “
Sweden as a nation and the Swedish state have been removed from the picture. There remains a moralizing free from material conditions. The real choices that many made individually, such as railway employees who smuggled newspapers on trains or fishermen who smuggled refugees over the seas, businessmen who abstained from adaptation to German rules or profitable business or those who organized armed struggle in Norway from Swedish territory behind the back of the authorities deserve praise. But the question of Sweden’s choice cannot be reduced to a choice between evil and good according to the rule ethics. The consequence of such a choice must also be included in the assessment.
But such considerations disappear in the experience you want to create. There is also some resemblance to the exhibition Baltutlämningen. The exhibitors explained that an image that was said to present transport of German soldiers through Sweden back and forth during their furlough through Sweden by soldiers on the road and to the occupied Norway did not have to be true when the purpose of the exhibition was not documentary but to illustrate, something that the Wehrmacht exhibition managers at first also tried but had to repent and revise the exhibition with authentic pictures. One may assume that what in the case of Fransson shovels snow is about giving ”the whole” with texts and pictures you want where it is not so important if it is false or not just that it leads visitors to react.
There is no substantial critical engagement with a previous Swedish self-image in the FFLH’s exhibition about Sweden and the Holocaust. Rather than dealing with the previous self-image of what realistic alternatives a small state like Sweden had, it took up important issues of ideology and racist methods to keep the race “clean” and the rejection of Jewish refugees. But the exhibition avoids posing serious questions about the responsibility of the Swedish and other Western European states for the emergence of the fascist threat. An emergence whose ambitions in both Europe and the world with the Italian facsist attack on Ethiopia in 1935 and the anti-comintern pact the same year with Japan were increasingly evident.
What we got instead of a deal with national self-image was something else. Served by the authority, we got all the outrage that a professional entertainment industry can provide the public. Big pictures and even full-size models of concentration camps waiting for death or torture. Pictures of Hitler and Stalin pasted on the floor so we should feel that we can get an outlet for our feelings and stomp on them. The experience industry’s demand for strong emotions and clear choices be- tween evil and good replaced the Enlightenment ideal of reason based on theory and empirical evidence. A Swedish model had been created that could be exported.
The Baltic extradition was sent to Riga and Tallin. In an increasing number of Eastern European countries, the method of putting communist symbols with Nazi symbols was adopted as a way of depicting the Second World War and a world view.
The EU takes over the Swedish model
When House of European History deals with the interwar period and the Second World War, its storytelling is similar to the Swedish exhibitions. Here’s how the exhibition describes the view of the world:
“Stalinism and Nazism emerged from very different socio-political backgrounds and were fuelled by different political beliefs. The class struggle was at the heart of the communist ideology, while for the Nazis the central issue was race. Yet they had many similarities. Both systems were run by a leader: Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union and Adolf Hitler in Germany. Both were on a mission to change the world and would stop at nothing to succeed. Although very different in character, both used ideology, propaganda, terror and genocide to manipulate, subjugate and murder millions of people. ”
Visually, HEH has already emphasized the similarity. Even the claim that the two ideologies had very different socio-political backgrounds and were driven by different ideologies turns into claims that the exhibitors in the following sentences do much to withdraw. Here it becomes clear that communism essentially shares with Nazism the worst atrocities that humanity has seen including committing genocide. The whole purpose of the argument is to show that the exhibition’s story is true that the inter-war period and its extension into the Second World War are about a contradiction between democracy and dictatorship.
The world is not completely taken out of the picture. The Nazi description of the fact that communism was about to undermine society throughout the world with the most cruel methods is repeated by HEH. But otherwise, this outer world is absent and the world war is going on in a euro-centric bubble. It contrasts with how the Nazis motivated the struggle against communism in 1938 to defend the colonial resources of European nations, which clarifies what interests they consider to be defending. The removal of capitalist Europe’s action in the rest of the world will also be a way for HEH to avoid using the same yardsticks on European democracies as on the Soviet Union.
Genocide is given a central role, in many ways the most central role as a starting point for morally judging dictatorships as evil and democracies as good. To assert that the Soviet Union committed genocide is central to this acquittal of the democracies from participation in the worst atrocities. Where this Soviet genocide was committed is placed behind a smoke screen. The exhibition addresses the many millions who died in Ukraine during the forced industrialization of the Soviet Union in the early 1930s. However, it is not clearly stated if this is a genocide of Ukrainians. Today, in Ukraine, it is illegal by combined efforts from liberals and right wing extremism and nationalism to question whether this mass death that happened then is anything but genocide and, despite some opposition, more people also elsewhere have joined this view. HEH, however, avoids the unilateral designation of starvation in Ukraine as the only country affected, but also mentions Kazakhstan. Something else would be using double standard as the proportions of people that died during the mass starvation was higher in Kazakhstan then in Ukraine. But few except for HEH claims that what happened in Kazakhstan was a genocide. It is the mass starvation in Ukraine being a bit less severe than in Kazakhstan that have been useful to politicize and claim it was a genocide. The selection of the term Holodomor to claim at least audible resemblance with the Holocaust has been one of the tools claim vctimhood on par with the Jews. HEH is not built on consistent scholarship on this issue and provides instead a polically useful smokescreen to promote a new liberal history revisionsism.
Symptomatic is that Southern Russia with similar agricultural conditions as in Ukraine and Kazakhstan where the famine led to similar mass deaths is not mentioned. The thesis that Soviet Russia carried out genocide on Ukraine, which today is official politics in Ukraine, becomes less convincing when not acknowledging that people inside Soviet Russia also suffered greatly during the famine. HEH seems to want to eat the cake and still have it. The Soviet Union committed genocide according to this story as it continued the plundering of rural areas in the fertile agricultural areas of the southern Soviet Union during the forced industrialization. But that also happened in southern Russia and not only in Ukraine or Kazakhstan. The genocide that HEH sees as central to the equation between Nazism and communism remains shrouded in obscurity.
HEH’s argument that the inter-war period and the Second World War is a struggle between the opposites of democracies and what they call totalitarianism is based on the claim that, unlike what is called totalitarian regimes, democratic regimes do not kill millions of people or use ideology, propaganda, terror and genocide in order to achieve their purposes. But that is what happens when the British during the Second World War and even long before it, is faced with an increasingly determined resistance in India against being subjugated. There is no point in substance to argue that the famine that occurred in 1942 in Bengal with an estimated 3 million deaths with the British dictatorial powers in charge differs from what happened in the Soviet Union. Either the mass death that occurred in India organized by a democratic state and the same case in the Soviet Union is a genocide. Or it is in both cases a way to relativize the Holocaust with other “genocides” during the period conducted by the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union.
History revisionists merge communism and Nazism
HEH has received the most thorough criticism from The Platform of European Memory and Conscience. A detailed report states that the exhibition provides a Marxist interpretation of history, beginning in the French Revolution, followed by revolutions towards a classless society. Criticism towards communism is diminished, according to these critics, because the totalitarian ideology compared to Nazism is Stalinism and not communism. The end of the Cold War with the liberation of Eastern Europe is not presented as the greatest victory against totalitarianism after World War II. Like many others, their criticism also points out that nationalism is portrayed as the main cause of Europe’s plagues. The Holocaust is not considered to be given enough attention with other genocides where the mass starvation in Ukraine is given as an example. The character of this platform and its reactionary history revisionism funded by EU becomes specifcally clear when it is criticizing HEH for not distinguishing between fascism and Nazism.
Criticism made by the platform may be well motivated in some cases. but does not solve the question of how HEH separates Western Europe from its material conndctions with the rest of the world in its historiography, nor the question of relativization of the Holocaust.
From the left, criticism has been lame and not as detailed. One type of criticism that has existed both from the left and the right is that the German historiography, with a focus on the role of sacrifice rather than other ways of looking at Europe’s history, has become dominant, but without suggesting an alternative to something as unifying as the renunciation to the Holocaust. But the way the European Union by means of bureaucratic measures makes the Holocaust to the core of the European common history is criticized. It does not lead to increased common understanding of European experiences the critics say.
From the left, criticism is also directed against both HEH and The Platform of European Memory and Conscience. Totalitarianism is seen as an obsolete explanatory model. It leads to simplified reasoning that both the Soviet Union and Germany carried out genocide while the particpation in the Holocaust by Nazi collaborators are eradicated. It is important, according to this left-wing approach, to give the victims of oppression and terror exerted by states governed by communist parties attention. But not in a way that reduces the specific nature of the Holocaust. Another common criticism from the left is to raise attention also to genocide and terror carried out with the support or direct actions of capitalist Western states around the world since the days of the Opium War in the 19th century.
Nothing in this criticism leads forward or can solve the visual and other substantive contradictions created by HEH in the heart of European self-understanding. In its most extreme form, it leads to total collapse of the possibility of being able to understand the world through rationally founded visual methods. This happens when The Platform of European Memory and Conscience presents the Prague Declaration which is the foundation of this organization’s work. Here, the hammer and the sickle are completely brought together with the flag of Nazi Germany, the merger being as complete as when the Nazi party merges the hammer and the sickle with the star of David. This ideological platform is led by the Swedish Conservative politician Göran Lindblad from the start until two years ago. The circle is complete. The dissolution of chronology and themes such as the FFLH presented as an ideal for exhibitions about the Holocaust where text and image create a ”whole” has got its clear expression here. A time-limited Nazi era which, without the context of democratic capitalist countries, was merged with a far more widespread communism that lacks real end.
Sweden has played a central role in launching liberal history revisionism with its effective pedagogical methods and support from almost all political quarters and governmental aid. It should be examined least not from its domestic roots. It is of international interest as this rewriting of history has taken place simultanously with the launching of an ambitipus attempt to emphasize the need to never forget the Holocaust and initiating the first International Forum on the Holocaust held in Stockholm 2000.
That Sweden plays a crucial role in launching the liberal history revisionism with the help of a state authority can be seen as an expression of the consensus that existed for a long time. But it is contrary to a customary attitude in liberal Western countries that the state should not handle such tasks, which is also the reason why the FFLH lacks a counterpart in almost all other western countries where corresponding institutions are instead subordinate to universities or independent organizations.
In addition, there is in Sweden unusually strong campaign organizations funded by business money. The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise allocated 320 million to various projects such as Timbro and also Information on Communism and later Free World Forum, all of them have been involved in liberal rewriting of history. The Information on Communism project became the most prominent in Western Europe that rallied behind Göran Lindblad’s Platform of European Memory and Conscience. Together with the Alliance Government with centre-right parties, the 2014 Memorial Day for the Victims of Totalitarianism was announced on August 23. Sweden became the only country in Western Europe where the day was highlighted with governmental partcipation.
Information on Communism acts the same way as the Prague Declaration. They say they pay attention to victims of all forms of totalitarianism, but in practice exploit the uproar over historical Nazism to focus on what they see as most impiortant, to denounce Communism. However, the information campaign sponsored by the business community went one step further. There was hardly any Communism left in the usual sense to look for, but instead one looked for what was called ”New Communism”. It included mainly the type of left groupings that were the first victims of persecution in the Soviet Union, the Syndicalist Youth League and various anarchist groups that, when the project was launched, played a central role in the anti-globalization movement and were perceived as a threat by the business community. 8 organizations were listed as today’s heirs to the Soviet and other communist regimes’ terror, only one can be seen as somehow related to Soviet communist tradition, Revolutionary Communist Youth. Business propaganda not only abused the outrage of Nazi crimes, but also sought to trick the public into believing that today’s system critical movements did not belong to the opposition to Soviet communism, but rather to its heirs.
Set the ideological images from 1938 and the 1990s against each other
There is a key to solving the dilemma HEH put into the imagery of European self-understanding. It lies in setting the two merged ideology symbols from the Nazi exhibition in 1938 and EU sponsered Prague declaration from 2010s and compare them with each other. It is clear then that the world view of the Prague Declaration from the 2010s where communism merges with Nazism is helping the way HEH puts the symbols of the two ideologies as equally bad beside each other. In Brussels imagery and text emphasize both ideologies as expressions of totalitarianism and participation in genocide with a visual resemblance in their exercise of power helped by the most skilled exhibition methods. The visual compilation of the Prague Declaration seems to make the world understandable and hides how this light-won visual understanding is created by disregarding the links between Europe and the rest of the world in the same way as HEH disregards these bands.
Under the chairmanship of Göran Lindblad, a world view has emerged with the EU’s prudent financial and political support which, in a mirrored manner, merges the separation that has occurred of Nazism in a racist ideology and another ideology directed against Bolshevism and communism. Or to spll it out more clearer, an ideology against peasant and labor movement social revolutions around the world in the early 20th century.
Like Nazism, the anti-Nazi communism of the Prague Declaration is a confused ideology based on separating politics from its economical and social base. It is a world view where the redefinition of genocide is confirmed to include what happens during and after social revolutions aimed at abolishing certain social classes. Like Nazism, the social revolutions are seen as a genocide directed against the ”natural” bonds between people of the same nation. For the Prague Declaration, communism and Nazism are the same in a European bubble separate from the rest of the world. But the legitimate access of European culture to colonial and today neo-colonial resources in the rest of the world is in both cases free to take.
Reactionary right and FFLH fight the popular movements social revolutions
This radical questioning of the social revolutions in the world has, in the conservative Göran Lindblad, received its modern form. He has since 2006 and onwards been the leader of the right-wing anti-communist offensive, which in practice is directed against all popular movements that brought forth the social revolutions a hundred years ago and continue to stand up for social justice today. Göran Lindblad was an anti-communist spokesman for Europe’s dominant conservative and Christian Democratic EPP party group in the Council of Europe. A group that also has decisive influence in the European Parliament when the campaign to rewrite history started in 2006 as well. Since its inception, he has also been chairman of The Platform of European Memory and Conscience.
This modern ideological leader of the right in Europe lives in a dream of a pre-democratic society without the demands of peasant movements for land reform and the abolition of the landowners might together with the demands of the labor movement on the abolition of the class society. A world without the Paris Commune or the demand for peace at the end of the First World War that became the decisive spark of the Russian Revolution climax. Indeed, even the abolition of the aristocracy by the bourgeoisie seems to be questioned by him. The roots of evil find Lindblad in the popular movements that took the issue of universal suffrage and 8 hours of working seriously in 1871 in Paris and then in tens of thousands massacred by the right. This he states in a reply to the Greek newspaper Amarysia and adds that the French Revolution was “horrible”.
It is a view of the Paris Commune as the basis of communist terror as the Swedish state’s history authority fully shares. On the bourgeois government’s demand in 2006, FFLH produced a school material in which it was explained that Karl Marx started a communist “learning process” that led to genocide in the Soviet Union, China and Cambodia. The authority did not talk about the democratic demands of the Paris Commune for universal voting rights or othe social demands which we consider to be self-evident today, nor that tens of thousands of communards were massacred by the right. The only thing taken out of context is Karl Marx’s conclusion that next time those who do not want to suffer the fate of the Paris Commune must defend themselves with terror so that they can resist the reactionary forces. Göran Lindblad and the Swedish state had found their common enemy in the common man demanding democracy and social rights.
The sacrificial role is made the most central today and 1938
The fusion of Nazism and Communism becomes a way of turning away from the world and sinking into a view of Europe with the victim as the central figure and not the practitioner of power. A merger HEH helps to foster and a focus on the victim, which is also prominent at the museum in Brussels. In the book Creating the House of European History, Andrea Mork explains what the exhibition’s narrative specifically focuses on. The Holocaust is said to have played a central role in European self-understanding. “Nowadays, it can be seen as the origin and core of the discussion of European memory.”
The false fusion of Nazism and Communism is based on a erasing of Europe’s place in the world. It can be compared to the merging of Judaism and Communism as the Nazi exhibition of Jewish Bolschewism stood for 1938. The German exhibition shares the focus on the sacrificial role with the contemporary exhibits of totalitarianism and its victims. But it is radically different in the way that the fusion is genuine 1938 and not an abstract fusion in 2017 on a continent that has stopped thinking and seeing the world in the eyes and taking responsibility for its actions.
Anti-Jewish Bolshevism was Germany’s guiding light and this ideology was realized with the entire state’s efficiency. The purpose of this organic ideology was to defend the German race against enemies who threatened its pure body and state. The threat to the racial state came from a state that built on the opposite of the organic nation that threatened all the nation states of the world and Europe’s colonies with its social disintegration view of class and anti-colonial struggle. It also came from a people who lacked the ability to build their own state but instead penetrated and poisoned the superior state-bearing races. By crushing the state based on class struggle against capital and eradicating the people who poisoned races with the ability to build strong nation states, the aim of anti-Jewish Bolshevism would be accomplished. The plan included killing Europe’s 11 million Jews and 30 million of the Soviet population to establish states ruled by Germans with subjugated Slavic people and forever destroy Communism and Jews. A mass murder that Germany largely succeeded in killing 6 million Jews and 27 million Soviet citizens.
When the left, the center and the right divide the ideology of Nazism and see it partly as racism and partly as deplorable or respectable anti-communism, this is an abstraction that does not have to do with reality. The ideology of Nazism was united in both its visual expression, ideological notion and practice. The attempts to systematically split this ideology and practice in two lead to the collapse of what is said to be the core of the discussion of Europe’s memory. A racism curtailed from the Nazi anti-Judoebolschewism cannot sustain a role as central to understanding neither European nor World History.
Right, left and liberal partitation of Nazism relativizes the Holocaust
The right uses the partition to equate Nazism and communism and thereby relativizes the Holocaust. The left for a dualistic struggle where one accepts that the fight against Nazism is seen as a two-fold struggle against racism together with all other anti-racists and a struggle for the labor movement and anti-colonial movements against the right. A twofold separation where the left often emphasizes that there are other genocides than the extermination of Jews. A point of view that can lead to relativization of the Holocaust if cases in connection with the Second World War are brought up. There is no liberal approach to Nazism that does not become contradictory to the view of the Holocaust.
Liberalism wants both to eat the cake and still have it. It wants to appear at the same time as the foremost and preferably the only ideology that both stands up to Nazism and against all other totalitarian ideologies that one also believes leads to genocide. In order to keep the idea that the genocide of Jews is of a unique nature in connection with World War II, one have to claim that the crimes of communist regimes in the Soviet Union is not equal to the Holocaust. If one says that the terror of the Soviet Union is comparable to that of Nazi Germany, one relativizes the Holocaust.
Liberalism is then in the dilemma of how to relate to the British terror in India, which in 1942 is estimated to have led to mass murder of 3 million people in Bengal. Such a mass death has never happened after India became independent in 1947. This repression is of the same nature as what happened in the Soviet Union. By excluding the consciousness of the world outside of Europe, the advocates of liberalism hold a self-glorifying view at the price of distancing Europe from an equal dialogue with peoples of other continents. A part of the world that Europe has had a colonial and today often has a new colonial relationship with.
It is a reactionary approach where double standards of genocide mass murder stands in the way of the dialogue the world and not least Europe needs to be able to move beyond the present lack of cooperation between the Werst and the rest both eastwards and southwards. Otherwise one cannot take part in the struggle for important values without double standards. Without leaving the Eurocentric history view behind, which at the same time relativizes the Holocaust and believes that the Soviet Union’s abuses cannot be compared to those of the Western world, it no longer stands up for universal walues. The attempts to emphasize that communist regimes’ crimes are worse than the crimes of liberal regimes because they are often committed against their own nation’s population, while the crimes of liberal regimes have often occurred in countries other than their own shows of racism and unwillingness to stand up to the universal validity of human rights.
People’s movements must safeguard the democratic anti-authoritarian values and indivisibility of human rights wherever needed. The liberal rewriting of history with its Eurocentric gaze is an obstacle to such a struggle.
The division becomes self-reinforcing
The methods for making the Nazi unified ideology invisible and instead highlighting a division have called for much small and large efforts. Sometimes they have built on conscious ideological bias. Most often, the constriction has gained a self-reinforcing effect when one has successfully established the division as the norm.
In the summer of 2018, a temporary exhibition was held in the European Quarter in Brussels, which dealt with the propaganda of Nazism. There were many placards here that mainly showed the anti-Semitic expression of Nazism, but also some anti-communist. What was completely lacking, however, was propaganda images against anti-Jewish Bolshevism, even though they had a prominent place in Nazi Germany. However, over time, this cohesive ideology is sorted out or the expert’s eye has lost the ability to look at the image he or she has in front of them.
Once my students talked to me about something I did not see. In the book about propaganda images, a poster in black and white was reproduced with a caricature-drawn semite. The star on the chest is five-pointed students pointed out. Later, we found the same poster in color where it also appeared that the star was red, the type of red communist symbol that is now forbidden in Ukraine and which several countries wish to be banned also by the EU together with the hammer and the sickle. The book incorrectly claimed that the picture was from Nazi propaganda from the 1930s. It turned instead out to be from the fascism of Italy towards the end of the war. Behind the Jewish-Bolshevik caricature that threatened the viewer with big fists, New York’s skyscrapers popped up during a time when American bombers destroyed Italian cities.
The posters for the temporary exhibition in Brussels came from the US Holocaust museum. On their website you could find the brochure on Grosse Antibolschewistiche Schau before. Now it is removed. You can also not find the photos of the brochure with the help of image search online. The memory is obscured after decades of division of Nazi ideology. A dichotomy replaces what once an integrated ideology cutting the anti-Jewish part out serving as the prime warning example of an abstract anti-racism and the other anti-communist part serving as the prime warning example of an abstract anti-left ideology. Something that has increasingly come to be seen within the EU as justified, at least by exposing the hammer and the sickle side by side with Stalin. But even the left parties have joined this partition.
When anti-racism hides historical revisionism it strengthens racism
Increasingly, politics has separated anti-racism from other demands. A general public policy has evolved focusing on fragmenting politics into separate silos. Issues are presented rather as a conflicts between evil and good than material conflicts. The fight against what appears to be racism or other authoritarian tendencies in conflict with more tolerant values becomes dominating. Sometimes it can legitimize not only war with quite the opposite consequences than those that have been proclaimed. Economic domestic and international issies takes second stage. This fragmentation of politics weakens the popular movements and the possibilities of democracy to solve the serious problems of our time.
Liberal history revisionism underpins a division of anti-racism from socio-economic demands. But it is also aimed at the popular movements as a historical force. The revolutions of peasants and workers in Ukraine, Russia, Finland, Mexico and elsewhere led to social upheavals that manifest themselves as the formation of the Soviet Union but also the welfare state.
This is done by taking the Soviet Union and the popular movements that pushed the revolutions out of their historical and global context. If the popular movements that pushed the revolutions had other choices in Europe or the rest of the world is of no concern in a riting of history where there is no alternative. The result of challenging the liberal world order is condemned as totalitarian and learning processes that lead to genocide.
Parties that came out of popular movements have avoided confronting liberal history revisionism. Their focus on taking power in the state makes them tend to see the world in terms of states. The parties that are increasingly dependent on state funding are unable to escape the dominant model of thought.
Criticism of the Western increasingly militarized and environmentally destructive neoliberalism requires a settlement with liberal history visionism. But the parties are too scared to be stamped as supporters of the terror and genocide of non-liberal states to stand up against liberal history revisionism portraying popular movements and their role in history as enemies of a better world. NGOs who are often also dependent on government grants or successes in the mass media tend to avoid opposing the warfare of liberal states and often also adapt to liberal history revisionism.
Finally, neoliberal states and large corporations have free hands. The similarity established between Soviet Communism = Nazism is projected according to the thought patterns of essentialism to become Russia = Nazism.
When the parties do not settle with this history revisionism directed at the popular movements, it is time for the peoples’ movements themselves to deal with it as part of the struggle for peace on earth and peace with the earth.