The European Parliament yesterday (2 April) formally called for 23 August to become a Europe-wide day of remembrance for victims of 20th-century Nazi and communist crimes.
Yesterday's adoption of the resolution marks the culmination of a process which began last June at an international conference on 'European Conscience and Communism' in Prague. The conference produced a declaration which has since been signed by just under 50 MEPs.
Last November, 18 EU member states took part in a workshop setting out a framework for international cooperation on the "elucidation of the crimes of the totalitarian regimes that reigned in Europe".
Last month (18 March), Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra, responsible for European affairs, EU Culture Commissioner Jan Figel', MEPs and NGO representatives attended a public hearing on reconciling Europe with its totalitarian legacy.
The hearing was organised by the Czech EU Presidency in conjunction with the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes and a group of twelve MEPs.
The Parliament called for "the proclamation of 23 August as a Europe-wide Remembrance Day for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, to be commemorated with dignity and impartiality."
MEPs voted to adopt a draft resolution tabled last month by centre-right EPP-ED group MEPs Tunne Kelam (Estonia), Jana Hybáškova (Czech Republic) and József Szájer (Hungary) (EurActiv 31/03/09).
The resolution underlines the "importance of keeping memories of the past alive, because there can be no reconciliation without truth and remembrance," while the EU assembly "reconfirmed its united stand against all totalitarian rule, from whatever ideological background".
Call for easier access to archives
"Parliament regrets that twenty years after the collapse of the communist dictatorships in Central and Eastern Europe, access to documents that are of personal relevance or needed for scientific research is still unduly restricted in some member states," MEPs declared.
Indeed, previous efforts to highlight the common identity and history of Europeans have stumbled on political or religious grounds (see EurActiv LinksDossier on 'European values and identity'), with reflections on Europe's communist past a particularly sensitive issue for the left in the EU's new member states.
The resolution calls on governments in the region to make a "genuine effort" to open up archives, "including those of the former internal security services, secret police and intelligence agencies". Nevertheless, MEPs warned that "steps must be taken to ensure that this process is not abused for political purposes".
Despite underlining that "millions of victims were deported, imprisoned, tortured and murdered by totalitarian and authoritarian regimes during the 20th century in Europe," "the uniqueness of the Holocaust must nevertheless be acknowledged," the Parliament said.
There is already an international day of remembrance for victims of the Nazi Holocaust on 27 January. But MEPs want to go further by establishing a 'Platform of European Memory and Conscience' in support of "networking and cooperation among national research institutes specialising in […] totalitarian history".
The resolution also calls for the creation of a pan-European documentation centre or memorial for victims of all totalitarian regimes.
The Parliament suggested that existing financial instruments to commemorate victims of Nazism and Stalinism could be strengthened "with a view to providing support" for such initiatives.
The Czech Republic will host a major international conference on Holocaust-era assets in June.
The European Parliament's resolution "condemns strongly and unequivocally all crimes against humanity and the massive human rights violations committed by all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes," extending to the victims and their families MEPs' "sympathy, understanding and recognition of their suffering".
French MEP Joseph Daul, who chairs the Parliament's centre-right EPP-ED group, said: "2009 is a deeply symbolic year, since we celebrate both the 60th anniversary of the creation of NATO and the beginnings of the cold war, and the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which ended it. This is why we have proposed to launch a Europe-wide day of remembrance which will help Europe reconcile its totalitarian legacy, both from the Nazis and the Communists."
Daul expressed regret that the resolution had failed to attract the support of the Socialist group in the EU assembly. "I am disappointed though that the Socialists, because of the un-reconstructed Left, seem to be opposed to such a declaration. If we do not understand our past, we run the risk of repeating it in the future," he warned.
"Europe will not be united if it will not learn about and from the crimes against humanity and horrors of the past, and if it doesn't recognise the common history. These horrors have to be studied and acknowledged," declared Czech centre-right MEP Jana Hybášková (EPP-ED), one of initiators of the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism.
"We ask the Council and the Commission to mark August 23, the anniversary of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, as a European Day of Remembrance of the victims of Nazism and Communism and to contribute financially and politically to the establishment of a Platform of European Memory and Conscience," Hybášková continued.
Estonian centre-right MEP Tunne Kelam (EPP-ED), another initiator of the resolution, expressed his satisfaction that the EPP-ED group had shown genuine European solidarity. "It is important and symbolic that among the co-initiators of this resolution, there were not only MEPs from Eastern Europe, but also German, British and Swedish members of the EPP-ED group presidency, two EP vice-presidents from Spain and Italy and also MEPs from France and Germany," Kelam said.
"Most Europeans are still not aware of the crimes committed by Soviet totalitarian communism in Europe," Latvian MEP Roberts Zīle (UEN) told the March hearing, according to the Baltic Course magazine.
Pavel Zacek, who heads the Czech Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (USTR), said "the establishment of a small information office in Brussels" could be a "first step" towards a future European platform, reported the Prague Daily Monitor.
(Published: Friday 3 April 2009 )
Parliament backs totalitarian 'remembrance day'