With a large majority, the Polish Senate has approved Law 104, which, once signed by President Andrzej Duda, will impose criminal penalties of up to three years in prison for anyone who claims there was Polish complicity in the Nazi extermination campaign, or who denies the crimes of the Ukrainian nationalists led by Stepan Bandera against the Poles.
The Senate of the Polish Republic is dominated by the ultra-conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS), led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski. This law clearly shows the signs of a historically revisionistic delirium.
Such an attitude has always been present in the countries of the former Eastern European Soviet bloc (and not only), but it has gained particular prominence after 1989, after the collapse of “real socialism,” and has developed with increasing virulence.
Now, going beyond the particular case of the law that was just passed in Poland, it is interesting to examine what cultural and political phenomenon it represents, what its characteristics are, and what it means in the context of a united Europe.
This revisionism clearly belongs to the subculture of those on the extreme right, the fascist-like ultranationalists, who, quite often, are also anti-Semitic as a consequence—but not necessarily anti-Israel.
Its origin lies in the fundamental concept of the ontological innocence of one’s own people. The culprits are always others (in the case of the Polish law, the Ukrainians, who are accused of having collaborated with the Nazis. But how could one exclude the Poles from that charge?).
From it follows the assumption that “our dead” were saints, and the others were not. In Italy, for example, this sentiment has taken the form of the well-known saying “italiani brava gente” (“the Italians are good people”).
This revanchist revisionism is also characterized by a furious, visceral anti-Communism, according to which anyone who is, or is assumed to be, on the Left must be treated as if they were Lenin himself.
Fascism, in the form of nostalgia for the good old days, or as a continuation of an impulse that never died out, is always present in such a context, at least as an undercurrent. But nowadays it appears under “new” forms and masks, as we read in the Appeal presented Thursday at the Historical Museum of the Liberation of Rome.
The never-fully-extinguished fascist impulses are re-emerging in the current climate, both because of the deep social crisis that may not be able to find answers from today’s Left, and because the process of European de-fascistization was never really and truly put into effect. First and foremost, this was also due to the will of the various governments of the United States, of which Western Europe has always been a faithful and subservient ally.
After the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the countries of Eastern Europe rushed to fall in line behind the US as well. And well before they were accepted into the EU, with the enthusiasm of the newly converted, they entered under the umbrella of NATO, which has been constantly and irresponsibly extending itself towards the east.
Some people were under the illusion that this military alliance would gradually lose its role with the end of the Cold War. Instead, it was reinforced even more, stoking new conflicts (in Georgia, Ukraine, etc.), because the Cold War had itself been more and more of a pretext to assert the absolute hegemony of one western-Atlantic superpower.
The Eastern European countries of the Visegrad Group, the most enthusiastic and involved participants in this geopolitical structure, are now making manifest yet another fracture within the European Union, among the many others. They are erecting walls and building barbed wire fences against desperate migrants—but also against the rule of law, personal freedoms, the freedom of the press and even that of the judiciary.
And what is the European Union doing about all this?
It is a political dwarf, devoid of a common perspective in the field of foreign policy and unable to defend its principles, and it has been reduced to watching while the latest additions to the Union are, bit by bit, dismantling the democratic and inclusive ideas it was founded on, together with the fundamental meaning of a united Europe: the rejection of nationalism, which by its nature seeks enemies to fuel its supporters, and thus feeds hatred for each other and for internal minorities, always suspected of being a fifth column for foreign enemies.
Inevitably, in order to give an authoritative ring to its call to arms, the nationalist-revisionist right must also attack its ultranationalist counterparts in other countries—which explains the other provision of the Polish law, which aims to punish those who have nostalgic sympathies for Stepan Bandera, the Ukrainian pro-Nazi leader during the Second World War.
In this situation, the most ambiguous and weak position, unfortunately, seems to me to be that of Israel.
One need only listen to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who, while being an ultranationalist and revisionist himself—to the point that he blamed the Palestinians for the Holocaust—as well as a reactionary, racist and segregationist (see the actions of the government he runs), is now accusing Poland of Holocaust denial. In reality, Poland has been, and still is, Israel’s most steadfast ally, especially in the person of Kaczynski himself (whom Netanyahu now claims to be criticizing), just like the brother-in-arms of the two, the Hungarian Viktor Orbán.
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Your weekly briefing of progressive news.