Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Totalitarianism? What's that?

Adelina Marini, August 26, 2011

I will never forget my first conscious clash with the totalitarian regime I was born and raised in in Bulgaria. The clash happened when my parents were forced to explain to me why couldn't we go together, the three of us, to Yugoslavia to visit relatives of ours and either my dad or my mom had to stay. The reason was because the Bulgarian authorities feared that if we went all of us we might not return to wait for the bright future they were drawing for us. Then on my way back I said farewell to several issues of the Bravo magazine that I had bought in much freer Yugoslavia for the numerous colourful pages, full of musicians I liked, posters of the month, stickers. The Bulgarian totalitarian machine at the time took care with all its means all the returnees to the homeland not to import delusions that it was better to the West. Fortunately I belong to that generation that finished school in freedom.

22 years later, however, I find it hard to explain to my sons what totalitarianism means. And I had to, among other things, because they were forced to follow together with me the falling of the regimes first of Ben Ali in Tunisia, then Mubarak in Egypt and now Muammar Gaddafi's in Libya. It is hard for me to explain to them simply because they cannot understand how on Earth someone would not be allowed to travel abroad, to watch a certain TV station or to tell political jokes.

They just cannot imagine that it is possible people to be murdered or imprisoned only because they disagree with the politics of the dictator who, on top of it, rules as many years as he wants, without being possible to oust him for abuse, bad governance or else.

This is why I think that the European Remembrance Day Honouring Victims of Totalitarian Regimes is strongly underestimated, especially now. The world, particularly the European Union of which Bulgaria has been a member for five years now, is pretty busy with the many problems it has - the debt crisis, the instable global environment, the events in the nearest neighbourhood - the South Mediterranean, the Middle East, the high prices of oil and food, raising of a perilous anti-immigrant wave, birth of a new kind of racism in Europe and more.

Those are sufficient reasons but not that much to justify the very lethargic commemoration of the day - August 23 - the day in 1939 when Hitler and Stalin sign the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact to divide Europe, that led to World War II.

It was a nice coincidence this year that the day was commemorated during the Polish Presidency of the EU - Poland was the country from which the drawing of the division line started. Poland is also the country that led the uprising of the Eastern European countries against the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain. Poland is the country where the Solidarnost movement was born and the country which 22 years later can boast a fully complete transition.

At a ceremony in Warsaw on Agust 23 the Polish minister of justice, Krzysztof Kwiatkowski, said: "We want European Remembrance Day Honouring Victims of Totalitarian Regimes to be remembered and suitably observed. We owe that much to the victims of Nazism and Communism as well as to the Holocaust, a crime without parallel in the world. [...] Preserving the memory of the victims of the bygone tragedies is an essential element of united Europe’s common legacy".

The attending ministers signed a joint document - the Warsaw declaration, the main objective of which is to point out the necessity of educating society in order to avoid a repeat of the tragic events related to Nazism and Communism in the future. The document symbolises mutual understanding and solidarity in the context of the difficult and painful experiences linked to totalitarian regimes, is said on the website of the Polish Presidency.

On 2 April 2009 the European Parliament approved a resolution on European conscience and totalitarianism. In Bulgaria August 23 was made an official Day of Remembrance of the Crimes of the National-Socialist, Communist and Other Totalitarian Regimes and for commemoration of their victims as early as on November 19, 2009 and in January this year the government announced February 1 as a Day of Gratitude and Honour for the Victims of the Communist Regime.

In spite of the complex global context and precisely because of it, August 23 is an especially important day. It is important so that the consequences that the freeing from the totalitarian regimes in the countries of the Arab Spring will bring to be understood well. It is important in order to understand why some countries from the former Soviet block managed to deal with their legacy and move ahead while others did not (Bulgaria among the second). It is most of all important because totalitarian regimes are not just perpetrators of a certain type of crimes. They change peoples' psychology, their mindset. They make them latent, non-free deeply in their consciousness, inactive and lacking of ideas. They deprive them of the most precious human quality - individuality.

This is a crime the consequences of which last for decades and cannot be overcome with the simple infusion of money. This is why it is important this day to be commemorated accordingly. But this day, as well as May 9, has turned into an ordinary day that is being recalled every year but no one remembers why any more.