The burden of contradictory understanding of the problem of victims of totalitarian regimes, IPN debate

The entire continent of Europe, including Moldova, will mark the Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism on August 23. On this day we remember tens, if not hundreds of millions of victims from a bygone era, which includs the period of World War II, many of whom have not received justice neither during their lifetime nor post-mortem. This partially happened because of the different interpretations of the victims' problems and because of the responsibility shared by the two totalitarian regimes. All this constitutes a great burden for present generations, one which should not be transferred to future one. The reasons and solutions to this great injustice and burden were discussed by the participants of a public debate held by the IPN News Agency.

Igor Boțan, the Project’s permanent expert, noted that the notion of totalitarianism emerged in the 1920s after Mussolini's famous slogan "All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state". Under totalitarianism, political power in society is under the complete control of the state. This includes not only political power, but also all aspects of people's social life. The main characteristics of totalitarianism are: unlimited authority powers, elimination of constitutional rights and freedoms, militarization of the society, repression and persecution of dissidents. "A very important thing that characterizes totalitarianism is that it has an ideology, which serves to, supposedly, build an almost utopian society," noted Igor Boțan.

When it comes to authoritarianism, things are more nuanced. It is an undemocratic political regime where power is centralized in the hands of one person, be it president, prime minister or monarch. "The most important difference between authoritarianism and totalitarianism is that in authoritarianism, some rights and freedoms are upheld, especially in the economic sphere, in the sphere of civil liberties or concerning spiritual freedoms, etc.," the expert explained. According to him, in an authoritarian regime, power moderately affects society and the degree of censorship is much lower than in a totalitarian regime. On the other hand, in a totalitarian regime, it attempts to control every citizen of the state, their behavior and their ideals, which is apparent because of the existence of an ideology, which is shared by the regimes.

Igor Boțan said that totalitarian and authoritarian regimes have different goals. Totalitarianism is often associated with the desire to build an utopian state, while authoritarianism is mainly aimed at solving specific problems and quickly mobilizing society to this end. "The basic principle of a totalitarian regime is: 'Everything that is not allowed is forbidden', while the basic principle of an authoritarian regime is: 'Everything that harms the government is forbidden". And lastly, unlike totalitarianism, people under an authoritarian regime are not ideologized. If we talk generally about dictatorship, in the modern sense of the word, dictatorship is a form of state government that is implemented through various forms of violence and imposition", said the project expert.

Bartlomiej Zdaniuk, Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to Moldova, said that Remembrance day is about history and memory, because both the Polish and the Moldovan people have gone through many very hard and bad experiences, related to totalitarianism and partly to authoritarianism. The impact is absolutely visible in people's lives. As a political scientist, Bartlomiej Zdaniuk mentioned that totalitarianism in the first half of the 20th century was somehow a consequence of the 19th century’s way of thinking. It is a way of thinking, according to which the state could and indeed should do many things to improve people's lives - everything depended on the state, because it had that capacity. According to him, totalitarianism wants to create something new - a new man, a new state, a new society, a new people and somehow eliminate what existed before. Authoritarianism is seen, rather, as a desire, as a thought of a restoration of things, either by returning to some traditional values or by creating a new set of thinking, which are not necessarily ideological.

"What is the consequence? If you ask me about the impact on the present day, the conclusion would be that we have to very well understand who the victims are. There are two kinds of victims in a totalitarian system. The first category, of course, are those who have lost their lives, are those who have somehow been punished, socially degraded, lost their status that they had before the establishment of this system. There are, literally, different kinds of victims. There is also another category. Unfortunately, these attempts to create a "new man" have been unsuccessful. This new man doesn't know what happened, doesn't know what the situation looked like before. And somehow this new man continues to exist anchored to the past and to this day, but does not understand that his way of thinking is the result of a diabolical system that has uprooted everything that existed before today. This is why the role of historians is so important. In addition to the research part, the popularization aspect is very important", said the Polish ambassador.

The director of the Center for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes and the Cold War, also a history PhD, Igor Cașu, said that there are different perceptions in society about the communist regime and even about totalitarian regimes in general. The source of these differences is the political factor. In each country there are different state policies, different approaches to the media and different documentary films. In his opinion, the search for consensus is also reminiscent of totalitarian regimes - everyone has to share a vision, which is impossible.

"Apart from the political factor, I would say that these interpretations are fed by different memories, different experiences that different ethnic and social groups had, in communism, if we are to talk about Moldova and about the post-Soviet region. Some were subject to different kinds of repression, while others took advantage of the regime", explained the USM's Faculty of History and Philosophy lecturer.

Igor Cașu said that perceptions are shaped by nostalgia - which is innocent in itself, yet has a direct result in politics and leads to an electoral score. Previously, said the historian, it was believed that this nostalgia was based on a lack of information, but this was only partially true. However, information was not a solution to overcome the different appreciation of totalitarian regimes, of which are many, including those from outside Moldova.

Ion Duminica, PhD in political science, head of the Ethnology Centre, Cultural Heritage Institute, said that August 23 is a European commemoration day, which our society is not ready to accept. "To my regret, we are currently at the stage of prioritizing victims according to political regimes - some victims are put forward, others are hidden. At the same time, the executioners need to be identified. Often a regime is associated with a particular person - either Hitler or Stalin. But these regimes are not just about one person, but about many others who carried out those atrocities, including in our societies and in our communities."

"In fact, we must focus on commemorating the victims of human humiliation. And at the heart of these totalitarian regimes was human humiliation and extermination. Today, Moldovan society is not ready to accept the evaluation of both totalitarian regimes and of all victims, according to the same criteria. The reason is that after the 1990s, the emphasis was placed on the deportations to Siberia, but less was said about the organized famine, which was carried out by the same communist regime. Additionally, the Holocaust of the Roma people is still ignored. It is a white historical stain for Moldova. It was only this year that we witnessed the first public event organized in Parliament, on August 2 - the day of commemoration of the Roma Holocaust. Therefore, our society is not ready to commemorate this day", said the political scientist, adding that this Holocaust remains forgotten.

Ion Duminica said that the main element behind these regimes is totalitarianism, when one party, one person decides the fate of a country and a society. In his opinion, it is very difficult to objectively address the day of commemoration, because it means exposing the wounds and suffering of the population.

The public debate on "The burden of contradictory understanding of the problem of victims of totalitarian regimes" is organized by the IPN News Agency, within the framework of the "Development of political culture in public debates" project, supported by the German Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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