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Ján Čarnogurský

Communism and its crimes – overcoming history’s dialectics

17 August 2018
  • communism
  • European Network Remembrance and Solidarity
  • Dictatorships
  • Molotov-Ribbentrop contract
  • Katyn
  • Dialectic of communism
  • Karl Marx
  • Soviet Union

Paper originally presented during the International Conference “Legal Settlement of Communist Crimes”, Brussels, European Parliament, 5 June 2012


We meet at a conference in the European Parliament concerning the legal settlement of communist crimes. It is the right place and the right topic for the conference. The place is right because laws are made in parliaments, and the topic is right because the legal settlement of communist crimes appears to be a problem and the nature of the problem has been clarified at first by the conference.

In the 20th century, Europe has experienced two dictatorships of continental importance, fascism and communism. Fascism was defeated in the Second World War at the cost of many victims and the removal of its consequences, also by means of national laws, has taken several decades. Today we can say that it is complete. Affiliation to organisations boasting of fascism has been made illegal in most countries. Laws are mostly respected and those who violate them intentionally are punished by law. But communism is another matter. Laws punishing affiliation to or recognition of communism usually do not usually exist; communist parties still exist in several countries, the same as its ideological sources and political consequences. Now I will be purposely provocative, so that I can make my final thesis most understandable. Karl Marx is the ideological father of communism. Although history has refuted communism, the quotes of Karl Marx can still be found in intellectual newspapers across Western Europe, even on an ascending scale. I emphasize that these are concurring quotes. Even references to Leon Trotsky are not exceptional, also not in negative connotation. This is much the same as if they were references to Hermann Goering in a positive connotation. Now let’s move to geopolitics. The peak of cynicism regarding Stalinism and Nazism is considered to be the Molotov-Ribbentrop contract. The secret appendix to the contract reads: "The interest of Lithuania in the Vilnius area is recognized by both parties." After the defeat of Poland in September 1939, Vilnius was added to Lithuania and remained its capital to the present day. No one thinks of proposing that Lithuania give up its capital. Let’s move further. After the Second World War II the original borders of Czechoslovakia were restored and the borders of Poland were shifted westwards. This was followed by the removal of the German population from these and other countries back to defeated Germany and Austria. This removal was politically and especially diplomatically supported by the Soviet Union; a communist country. In Czechoslovakia, the removal took place under the Benes Decrees, in today's Croatia and Slovenia under the AVNOJ decrees and in Poland under the decision of the then Polish authorities. Although the Benes Decrees do not apply anymore, neither the Slovak Republic nor the Czech Republic is willing to abolish them in order to revoke their property-legal consequences. Slovenia and Croatia will not abolish the AVNOJ Decrees, and Poland will not do the same as regards the removal of the then German population from its present territory. In the interest of objectivity I only add that much larger deportations, but in the opposite direction, was prepared by Hitler for after the war in the event victory. This takes me to the core event that brings the dialectic in the consideration about adoption laws against communism. That event is the victory of the Red Army in the Second World War. According to historical research, about 70% of the Wehrmacht military forces were destroyed on the Eastern front. Without the victory of the communist Soviet Union over Germany, the war would most likely not have ended by the unconditional surrender of Germany, but by some negotiated peace. On the other hand, in the case of victory of Nazi Germany over the Soviet Union, the consequences would have been worse than all the crimes of communism. In the Russian Federation, discussions are currently ongoing as to who caused the German army to be able to get as far as Moscow and Stalingrad, but today they are only academic debates. The Russian sociologist Alexander Zinoviev even advocates the thesis that the positive result of Stalin's repression in 1937 was the fear that overwhelmed the former Soviet society and thus society was prepared to respect the discipline in the war. This thesis may be absurd, but the problem is that the phenomenon of communism contains a lot of events and consequences that are objective, that we do not want or do not have the power to change, and we must simply accept them. In connection with fascism, no such problem exists. This brings me to the notion that perhaps explains why legislation against fascism exists and works, and similar legislation against communism either does not exist, or if it does it does not work efficiently. This is because fascism has no dialectic nature, but communism has. Dialectics is an objective philosophical and historical category and cannot be simply disregarded. Discussion on the adoption of laws against communism must therefore include discussion on how to overcome the dialectical nature of communism or, in other words, how to express the dialectic nature of communism in the legislation against communism. Because if communism was simply of dialectic nature, but laws prohibiting its promotion were not to reflect such dialectic, they would not be fully respected.

I cannot raise a general philosophical concept to overcome the dialectics of communism. However, I can identify the events and phenomena caused by communism, which are not of dialectic nature because they are only negative or, in other words, because they are simply crimes. The murder of Polish officers in Katyn is simply a crime in which positive features cannot be found at all. Also nothing positive can be found as regards the deportation of intellectuals to Siberia from the Baltic republics after their occupation by the Soviet army in 1939. The same applies to the killing of Germans in Czechoslovakia, Poland or the former Yugoslavia after the war, as well as to the persecution of believers during the communist regime in all communist countries. And the listing of such non-dialectic phenomena of communism, non-dialectic because they are exclusively wrong, can be continued.

There is also another way to detect and, at the same time, to overcome the dialectic of communism. The way to do it is to allow the revelation and suppression of the dialectic of communism to become known to as many people as possible. So that communism, but also other heavy themes of the 20th century, does not only stay in academic areas, but becomes a subject for as many people as possible who have either experienced it firsthand or not experienced it, getting to know it simply from studying or talking. Such treatment of the wounds of communism, and I repeat also from other serious events of the 20th century, is pursued by the European network Remembrance and Solidarity. Seven years ago, ministers of culture from Germany, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary signed a convention establishing the organization so that the difficult themes of the 20th century could cease to be mysterious, cease to produce myths and stop residual hostility between nations. The European Network of Remembrance and Solidarity chooses the themes from mutual relations of the participating states and nations, and deals with them either at scientific conferences or in discussions with the participation of a wider number of people, by building monuments and publishing almanacs, monographs or magazines. It is true that initially we choose a subject where the dialectic is less reflected. Our first victory will be when talking about these issues will become normal for those affected. It will also weaken the dialectic of communism and strengthen the friendship between our nations.

I cannot say more on this topic at this moment.