Eerik Niiles Kross on an engrossing and endless debate
(A translated synopsis of a recent article by Kross)
The public debate in Germany on the rehabilitation of former Nazis and their possible positions of influence in German society became exacerbated from the mid 1950’s on. Those not opposed to former Nazis pointed to their pragmatism and that they had always devoted themselves to the fatherland. The younger generation accused their elders of being too soft.
British journalist Terence Prittie, in a 1960 book, accused Adenauer of inviting former Nazis into government, of having the public service, judiciary, press and education system full of Hitler’s supporters - sectors with great influence on a re juvenating society.
Prittie explains that a high placed German foreign affairs official had stressed that it was time to look at the future and to stop vetting people about their past. But in 1964 the “Colloquium”, a Berlin university paper said: “Not a single former servant of Hitler or Rosenberg should be allowed to any prominent position”.
There was no danger that former Nazis would actually assume power as Nazis. The crucial question was whether they should claim positions of importance in a democratic society. The new generation in general insisted they should not.
There’s a somewhat similar debate in Estonia. Mikk Titma, Jaan Kaplinski and Rein Ruutsoo, amongst others, accuse all of partisanship who pass negative judgement on those who helped maintain the Soviet regime. The issue, they say, isn’t black and white. History has many perspectives and is complicated. Not all communists were bad. Estonian were always pragmatists, hard-working and willing to support the fatherland. Everyone had to make some concessions.
In themselves these arguments are correct. Even tolerating the regime was a compromise.
But there was a distinct boundary between keeping integrity and collaborating. Sometimes joining the party was an acceptable accommodation in fields such as science or creative arts if the purpose was to advance the unfortunate society’s well-being. Similarly, many were spurred by self-interest, personal gain or were devoid of conscience.
Former communist party professionals and high Soviet officials now insist that their incentive was simple pragmatism. They wanted to honestly serve the fatherland and thus vied for positions such a communist party secretary or regional party functionary.
A former member of the Central Committee said that not everybody could have been a freedom fighter. Understandable. But how can that justify top-echelon communists being top-echelon communists? Had the whole population been fellow travellers, you wouldn’t be able to read this. It would be forbidden.
The attempt to equate high ranking communists with those whose party membership was unavoidable is especially repulsive. Former communist officials are thus exploiting those who through oppression, intimidation and cajoling they formerly pushed into the party or forced to snitch on associates.
(Eerik-Niiles Kross has been a diplomat, the national co-ordinator of Estonia’s intelligence services, an advisor to the government of Iraq. He writes, makes films and observes that which surrounds him.)
(To be continued.)
Arbeit macht frei