History, an international antidote to political repression. IPN debate

A new discipline has appeared in Moldova’s schools in the process of teaching history, which is meant to contribute to a profounder study of the repression or crimes committed by the Soviet totalitarian communist regime the last century. The experts invited to IPN’s public debate “History, an international antidote to political  repression” sought to understand what lessons the education system in the Republic of Moldova can learn from the international experience of studying the crimes of totalitarian communist regimes so that we can use this common experience of “History as an international antidote to political repression” and nothing of what happened is forgotten or is repeated.

Igor Boțan, the permanent expert of IPN’s project, explained that repression means coercive measures against people. Political repression is the act of blocking, detaining, punishing, pursuing political or social actions, from the position of political power, of an individual or group. Political repression denies and hinders the exercise of civil rights, political freedoms: of expression, assembly, association. Political repression is typically accompanied by violence. The use of violence against political dissidents includes exemplification through punishment so as to spread fear in the rest of society, to repress the exercise of freedoms by all, through fear, except for those who are in power and those for whose benefit that repression is carried out. Political repression is accompanied by intolerance and discrimination, being state terrorism.

According to the expert, the political and legal framework for condemning the repression committed by totalitarian communist regimes at international level includes the proclaiming, by the European Parliament, of August 23 as the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism. The decision was taken on April 2, 2009, ahead of the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Nonaggression Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union and the secret Additional Protocol, which divided Europe into spheres of influence. Ten years later, on September 17, 2019, the European Parliament, listing a number of fundamental principles and dozens of documents condemning totalitarian regimes, adopted a resolution on the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II and on the importance of historical memory for the future of Europe. On August 21, 2019, the Government of the Republic of Moldova declared August 23 a day of mourning to commemorate the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes.

Doctor of History Virgiliu Bîrlădeanu, associate professor, head of the Contemporary History Department of the Institute of History of the Moldova State University, said it was determined that Soviet Russia entered World War II as an ally of Hitler’s Germany and managed to side with the victorious allies by the end of the war, with an image of liberator of Eastern Europe. The consequences are well known. Besides the fact that the Soviet Union reannexed some territories that, according to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its secret protocol, had been previously annexed by it, and obviously entered the international arena as a winner, with particular prestige.

According to the historian, through these channels, the influence of the Soviet Union and the Soviet communist regime increased significantly in Europe and beyond. “There was a period during which the Soviet Union took action to expand these regimes into Asia and Africa. The period of decolonization was also linked to the establishment of communist regimes in a series of countries, including the Caribbean, Cuba and also the Far East. There are countries that have such regimes to this day, and in fact they are exponential when talking about totalitarian-communist regimes, such as North Korea. They are offspring similar to the Soviet communist regime.

Virgiliu Bîrlădeanu noted that, in fact, it is very hard to detach ourselves from this communist totalitarian past without detaching ourselves from the consequences of these totalitarian regimes. “And, obviously, we often don’t even feel that we are actually hooked on this past and we harshly experience the consequences of this phenomenon. In the post-Soviet space, it is well known that a number of post-Soviet states, after declaring particular democratic reforms, found themselves thrown back, towards authoritarian regimes. The Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation are at the forefront of these tendencies. It is interesting to establish the mechanisms of return and how these processes can be counteracted.

Doctor of History Flori Bălănescu, a scientific researcher of the National Institute for the Study of Totalitarianism of the Romanian Academy in Bucharest, said that the expansion of communism, at least in Europe, is a direct consequence of the division of the spheres of influence after World War II. “In Romania, we had to deal with a Soviet-type communism and it was implanted, established and fortified there, according to the Soviet model, in absolutely all spheres that are studied. The exceptions in the communist regime in Romania were due to inertia, human errors and sometimes even system errors. The term repression, as it is understood more broadly, is generally used to indicate the punishment of ideological opponents, noted the historian.

The institute she represents conducted research on repression and collected four volumes of material. This encyclopedia is relevant and very important because it is a thematic one. “There are texts, voices dedicated both to the mechanisms of repression and to the concepts of repression. Romania, compared to other states of the former Soviet bloc, is doing very well in research on communism, but less well in the dissemination of these results in the educational environment. In other words, to this day there is no textbook on the history of communism in Romania. There are small contents in the curriculum, where some aspects are treated very briefly, on a textbook page, in textbooks where they are appropriate to the treated period, but there is still no textbook on the history of communism,” said the researcher said.

She pointed out that the first repressive measures in Romania began at the end of 1944. “The Bessarabians and Bukovinians who had taken refuge in Romania began to be hunted down, through the operation called “repatriation of Soviet citizens”, considered Soviet citizens abusively, according to a 1941 decree of the Soviet regime,” stated Flori Bălănescu.

According to her, an important project centering on the anticommunist resistance in Romania is about to emerge from the printing house. “It is the first volume, a completed research topic with an editorial project, from the same section of the Encyclopedia of the Communist Regime - “Resistance, Opposition, Dissent” - this time focusing on the biographies of those who were part of the resistance, opposition and dissent,” she noted.

The public debate entitled “History, an international antidote to political repression” was the 30th installment of IPN’s project “Impact of the Past on Confidence and Peace Building Processes” which is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany.

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