Against Russian-led opposition, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) approved by a simple majority of votes on January 25 a report calling for “International Condemnation of the Crimes of Communist Regimes.” The move in Strasbourg marks the first time that an inter-governmental organization, such as the CE, condemns the crimes and the ideology of communism. Such a step would be inconceivable at the other inclusive inter-governmental organization, the OSCE, which — for all its claims to speak for “values” — is structurally dependent on Russia and makes a virtue out of the necessity named “consensus.”
A different kind of Russian problem emerged in the debates on the anti-communism resolution at PACE: Russia’s delegation enlisted the support of a sizeable contingent of left-leaning European Socialists, hardline leftists, and residual communists to fight the report. In negotiations prior to the vote, this bloc managed to delete or dilute some formulations in the report, even expunging direct references to the Soviet Union. Even so, the Russian delegation, along with allies on the left, tried to kill the document altogether by returning it to PACE’s Political Committee for further revisions. That Committee began work on the report in December 2003, initially under the Dutch Christian-Democrat Rene van der Linden (currently the president of PACE) and then under the Swedish parliamentarian Goran Lindblad, both affiliated with the European People’s Party in the Assembly. Ultimately, the PACE resolution to approve the report passed narrowly with 81 in favor, 70 opposed, and some members not voting.
The report notes that the totalitarian communist regimes formerly in power in Central and Eastern Europe, and those still ruling elsewhere, were responsible for mass-scale crimes and suppression of human rights. Without explicitly equating Communism and Nazism, the report calls for condemning these totalitarian ideologies. It calls on all existing communist parties to review critically their own past and to acknowledge and condemn the horrors perpetrated by communist regimes. It urges all post-communist parties and governments in formerly communist-ruled countries to encourage the study of the historical record of communist regimes, ensure that their crimes are appropriately reflected in school textbooks, and institute national days for commemoration of the victims of communist regimes. The report recommends that the Council create a working group of experts to process information on the crimes of communist regimes.
Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the State Duma’s international affairs committee and head of Russia’s delegation to PACE, led the fight against the report. Kosachev claimed that not all communist regimes were criminal or violent, though he did not clarify how he categorized the Soviet Union in that regard. “Not everything that’s red is blood, some of it may be tomato juice, Mr. Lindblad” — he lashed out at the rapporteur during the official debate (Interfax, January 25). Moreover, Kosachev charged that the report seeks to assign to the USSR a share of the responsibility for the Second World War and the division of Europe. Finally, he contended that Communist ideology could not be grouped together with Nazi ideology under the category of “totalitarian.” Implicitly excusing the former, Kosachev insisted that the report must not place those two ideologies on the same footing.
In Moscow, the Kremlin-linked political consultant Sergei Markov criticized the PACE report in a similar vein. He termed the document a “blow struck against Russia as successor to the communist Soviet Union.” Moreover, according to Markov, PACE is “attempting to prop up the undemocratic regimes in the Baltic states, Ukraine, and Georgia, the legitimacy of which rests on anti-communism” (Interfax, January 25).
It would be unthinkable for German officials to describe condemnations of Nazism as blows struck against today’s Germany or to feel insulted by the pairing of Nazism with Communism as totalitarian ideologies. Yet this type of attitudes on the part of Russian officials seems to be regarded as normal by many European Socialists, judging by PACE’s vote.
Russian Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov seconded Kosachev’s efforts in Strasbourg, though using a different line of argument by which he attempted to vindicate communism outright. “Latin America is turning Red,” Zyuganov exulted in this context, alluding to Venezuela and Bolivia. The other Russian delegates to PACE had to speak more cautiously than this. But, while the PACE debate was in progress, Russian energy giants Gazprom and Lukoil were rushing to Venezuela and Bolivia with Kremlin-approved project offers.
(Interfax, January 20, 23-25; Radio France Internationale, January 21; Ekho Moskvy, January 24)