Europe must focus on Baltic hate
We must continue to push the issue of Polish, Latvian and Lithuanian antisemitism
Now that the party conference pantomime season is out of the way, there needs to be a calm, collected and detailed look at what is happening with antisemitism and, in particular, Holocaust revisionism, in political parties in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
When I visited these countries in my capacity as chair of the All-Party Group against Antisemitism, I found evidence of widespread antisemitism. In Latvia in particular, the Jewish community and, not least, Jewish schools told me that they feel themselves under sustained attack. This definitive perspective was rather missing from the political shenanigans over the summer and is where our attentions need be focused.
I outlined my concerns for the Latvian Jewish community in an antisemitism debate in Parliament. Latvia’s best-selling book of Christmas 2007 was an overtly antisemitic diatribe by Andris Grutups, the co-founder of, and lawyer for, the ruling party of Latvia. His book could be summarised as “the Jews had it coming because they were all Communists”.
Whilst William Hague and David Miliband crossed swords over the question of offence caused by Latvian Nationalists commemorating their country’s legionnaires whom, clothed in Waffen-SS uniforms, went to battle the Red Army in the Baltic in 1944, the Latvians’ official response was to point to “Soviet Propaganda” as the culprit of such rumours. As one report to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees explained, there are continuing concerns about the attitudes of Latvia and the other Baltic states towards the role of the Germans in the Second World War and the part they played in fighting the Soviet Union.
Exploring this theme last week, Jonathan Freedland noted that there has been a 20-year resurgence of ultra-nationalism in former Soviet states resulting in a new narrative of Stalinism as the greater evil of the Second World War. He pointed to the Vilnius Museum of Genocide Victims which commemorates 74,500 Lithuanians persecuted under Moscow rule while ignoring the 200,000 Jews killed by Lithuanians. This revisionist angle, where Lithuanians, Latvians and Poles were solely victims rather than also being perpetrators, hinders efforts to move forward as a civilization.
Professor Dovid Katz has done extensive work in the Baltics and believes that time to act is running out. Writing in this newspaper, he highlighted the Prague Declaration, currently circulating through email accounts at the European Parliament. A sinister document, it uses the smokescreen of legitimate concerns about the evils of Communist regimes to insist that Soviet Communism and Nazi Fascism be declared equal. Its recommendations include the re-writing of textbooks to “correct” this history. Its authors draw parallels between Nazi and Soviet crimes for Western European audiences.
According to the Simon Weisenthal Centre, bogus accounts of overwhelming Jewish complicity in Soviet rule is widespread, including the glossing over of local participation in the killings, and sustained efforts to tarnish the reputation of Holocaust victims, survivors and resistance fighters with antisemitic stereotypes of “Jewish Bolshevik conspiracies”. In Lithuania, three Holocaust survivors are now part of a “pre-trial” investigation by state lawyers for alleged “war crimes”. Lithuania, meanwhile, has an appalling record of failing to prosecute Nazi war criminals.
This attempt to rewrite history is being imported. As the CST exposed this September, Lee John Barnes, the legal officer for the BNP, is following a similar line. His blog depicts the Holocaust as a defensive action against “Jewish Bolsheviks”. Meanwhile, only last week, Orlando Figes of Birkbeck University conducted a debate on contemporary attitudes to the Holocaust in Somerset House. The blurb for the event contained the sentence “There is no Spielberg for the Soviet holocaust”.
As a result of our All-Party inquiry into Antisemitism, the Foreign Office has been pursuing an active programme of agenda-raising using the relevant European organisations and instruments, and has been hailed as a model of best practice. I will be raising this matter at the cross-departmental working group on Antisemitism and with the Foreign Secretary. It is our intention to send a further fact-finding mission to both Latvia and Poland in order to evidence more comprehensively attitudes and activities. Should these missions have implications for political parties in those countries then I think that discrete but robust pressure will be in order.
We must continue to monitor and combat this evolving form of antisemitism and should expect the highest standards of both British and European officials in combating racism in all its forms.