The heritage of communism is also poisonous in the West

INDEX - 25.05.2016.

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  • 2016. May 25.
(Photo: Fortepan)

"We did not choose to live outside the free world. It cannot be a coincidence that countries of Eastern and Central Europe have different reactions today, at the time of the migration crisis than the political elite of Western Europe" - Zoltán Balog Minister for Human Resources said, making a reference to the current political context at the opening of the history conference on 1956 in Budapest, saying that ex-socialist countries are much more sensitive to the issue of retaining national sovereignty and identity.

The migration crisis brought back the gap between the countries of Western Europe, the free world of the time and those in the Soviet occupation zone – said Balog. After drawing this newly perceived parallel between the migration crisis and the Soviet occupation, he pointed out that the era of communist dictatorship is not a private matter of the countries under Soviet occupation, but a concern of Western Europe, as "the heritage of communism is poisonous even where it did not prevail".

That was said at the Academy, at the opening of a three-day-long international conference, which is an event organised by the Committee of National Remembrance as well as the European Network Remembrance and Solidarity in Warsaw. This is significant academic event with a slight right-wing bias, but Bill Clinton's campaign speech about the Putinization of Poland and Hungary, and the ingratitude towards the West as well as the heated responses to that may add an extra meaning to sentences like that of János Áder's: "people in this region never gave in to tyranny. Every nation had a different way of achieving freedom, but they suffered tyranny jointly and ended it together".

Revolutions do not take place during the most brutal suppression. "1956 was not only a shared historical experience, but a shared universal cultural code on both sides of the Iron Curtain" - said Réka Földváryné Kiss, Chairperson of the Committee of National Remembrance (NEB). Lukasz Kaminski is present at the event in Budapest, leader of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance that served as a model for NEB. However, the Polish organization has enormous professional apparatus, broader authority and they are more active in terms of the agent-issue. Resistance can become significant in two cases: if the situation is so hopeless that there is no other choice, for example at the time of collectivization, or when there seem to be an opportunity for change, like in 1956 – as Kaminski described the political climate of the time. He thinks 1956 was a response to the suppression of the communist dictatorship, economic exploitation, propaganda, loss of independence and to "an ungodly society".

Revolution is an answer to tyranny from not the most oppressed but the most repressed peoples – as Sándor M. Kiss from the Research Institute for the History of the Hungarian Regime Change quoted László Németh. He highlighted de-Stalinization from 1953, the "re-correction" of the 1955 correction and the hard lines' regaining power in the prehistory, and he described 23rd October as reformers who did not want revolution meeting "the people".

Why did the Soviet bloc outlive Stalin?

The biggest star of the conference is Mark Kramer, professor at Harvard, leader of the Cold War Project, who was talking about how the news of Stalin's death changed Eastern Europe: suddenly fear decreased and hope flared up, generating a wave of resistance that could not have been possible before 1953 and whose culmination was 1956. When Stalin died, there were uprisings in the Gulag. "Great expectations emerged throughout Eastern Europe, there were mass protests even in Bulgaria, and there was the uprising on 17th June 1953 in East-Berlin, which had to be suppressed by the Soviet army. It might sound ahistorical, but Kramer's recent paper is about why the Soviet Union pulled through that risky period after Stalin's death. 1953 is in fact resonant of the late 80s, which ended very differently: a relatively peaceful end of the whole Soviet bloc, and of the Cold War era. The Soviet order tried to survive the crisis with significant remissions after 1953 and before 1989, but had very different results: while Gorbachev let things go beyond his original intentions, in the 50s military intervention was applied.

Why? Out of many reasons, there are two to be highlighted. The first one is that key figures in the Kremlin did not dare to implement more serious reforms due to power struggles after Stalin's death, whereas Gorbachev had the chance to do so. The other one is Gorbachev could easily loosen the rein as he was aware that the West was not so willing to end the bipolar world order, it was not a priority to put their hands on the satellite states. On the other hand, in the 50s the Cold War was on for only a little time, the Soviet thought that the West would not hesitate to grab such an opportunity. Therefore, another period of strict measures came, but the genie was out of the bottle in Hungary and Poland and it could not be put back in without explosion. It is another matter that in 1956 the West did not believe any longer that a confrontation with the Soviet Union should be risked for the revolution.

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