O P I N I O N
by Alex Nosovich (Kaliningrad)
The governments of the Baltic countries, while cheerleading the introduction of new sanctions against the Russian Federation, are also doing something else that is going unnoticed. They are exploiting tensions between the West and Russia to settle scores with local dissidents, who advocate equal rights for national minorities and oppose glorification of Nazi collaborators. They are prevented from holding events, and impacted at the personal level, while their activities are marginalized so that they might become invisible in the eyes of the international community. This is done with help of American Neocons (neoconservatives), including the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), an organization established in 2009.
Most recently, The Daily Beast published an article by a senior fellow with FPI, James Kirchick, under the headline “Anti-Nazi Group Secretly Helping Kremlin Rebuild Russian Empire.” The American neocon journalist, currently living in Germany, whose personal idol is Senator John McCain, pumps out a bucket of unbridled abuse on the International Human Rights Movement World Without Nazism (WWN). The movement was founded in 2010 by more than a hundred human rights and antifascist organizations, predominantly from Eastern Europe, but with assistance of counterparts in the United States, Israel, Greece, Italy, Germany, Belgium and the UK. A Jewish entrepreneur who currently divides his time between Israel and Russia, Boris Spiegel, was the initiator of the movement.
Official goals of the organization are listed in its program on WWN’s website: a world without Nazism, hatred and discrimination, as well as preventing the revision of the results of the Second World War and Nuremberg Tribunal. However, Kirchick claims that WWN is a “Kremlin propaganda operation designed to abuse the good intentions of those genuinely committed to fighting hatred and extremism—particularly American Jews and their allies. He characterizes WWN as a GONGO – a “government non-governmental organization” and believes that its main goal is to “defame the Baltic governments – all resolutely opposed to Russian influence.”
Those who do the work at World Without Nazism categorically deny such accusations. Its president, Boris Spiegel, insists that WWN was not initiated by the Russian government, but by several Jewish organizations from around the world that, due to certain well-known historical factors, are more sensitive to the danger of a revival of Nazism in modern Europe. His official statement says, “The Russian government has no relation to the financing of our organization. Throughout its activity, World Without Nazism was financed exclusively from private sources and the resources of its members.” Spiegel’s past participation in the Russian parliament does not constitute evidence of him carrying out Putin’s foreign policy, regardless of what Kirchick claims. Let’s not forget that Leonid Nevzlin, the closest friend and partner of the leader of the Russian opposition politician Mikhail Khodorkovsky was also a member of the Federation Council, a constituent part of WWN.
Efraim Zuroff, a top Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who was previously involved with WWN projects in Latvia and beyond, discusses this issue in an article in Newsweek. “Does Russia support WWN’s agenda?” Zuroff asks. “Undoubtedly. I’m sure that Putin is happy having a group founded by a Jewish oligarch do the work for him.” Still, does that make WWN an agent of Putinist agendas?
For two years now, World Without Nazism has been publishing its annual report in the form of a large published volume, called White Papers of Hate, where it analyzes radical nationalism in 20 European countries. Usually the most attention is given to Greece, where the problem of radical nationalism is most severe, according to the report. It is followed by Russia, which has the highest rate of fatal hate crime, and the United Kingdom, which has the largest total number of hate crime and vandalism against religious objects. This is not an organization that whitewashes or mitigates neo-Nazism and far-right extremism in Russia! And yes, the White Papers of Hate analyzes the situation in Eastern Europe, where the rights of Muslim, Romani, LGBT and Russian-speaking minorities are violated. The Baltic States are no exception. However, it is not just about violation of minority rights in these countries. In this area, it is also about glorification of Nazi collaborators.
White Papers of Hate provides documentary evidence of the opening of monuments to honor Waffen SS in Baltic towns that experienced the horrors of the Holocaust, as well as evidence of the open calls to murder Jews made by a Latvian neo-Nazi on local TV, the neo-Nazi marches in Kaunas and Vilnius (Lithuania), the processions of Waffen SS veterans in the Latvian capital, Latvia’s blocking of a UNESCO exhibition on the Holocaust in Paris and the annual gathering of Waffen SS veterans in Sinimae, Estonia.
For some reason, however, this causes the neoconservative activist James Kirchick to suffer an out-of-control anxiety attack. He glibly accuses World Without Nazism of defaming the Baltic governments by labelling them as “fascists,” when, frankly speaking, we haven’t found a single WWN document that would indicate that. Indeed all his assertions turn out to be a misstatement of the purposes of WWN and, talking about facts rather than “mission statements,” a gross misrepresentation of the content of the White Papers of Hate, which Kirchick calls “an interminable, trolling nasty-gram to the West.” Does he think it is wrong to disagree with those who glorify Hitlerism and the local collaborators in the Holocaust? He accuses WWN of close ties with the Kremlin, “trivializing the Holocaust” (i.e. those who speak out in Eastern Europe are in his view the trivializers!) and claims that its “secret agenda” is to “defame the governments of Ukraine and the Baltic States – all resolutely opposed to Russian influence.”
Naturally, the author does not trouble himself with such boring, mundane nuisances such as evidence. He cites reports of Baltic intelligence services, which have long been used (shamefully, one might add) to discredit human rights and antifascist movements, pulls wholly out of context various odd phrases from WWN official statements, but does not commit himself to a proper analysis of this organization or fair criticism (heaven knows, like all organizations, WWN can be improved!). Mr. Kirchick did not even bother to look into White Papers of Hate, where neo-Nazi related issues in Russia were given twice as much attention as those in Estonia.
What are we dealing with here? Mr. Kirchick’s personal opinion or the position of Foreign Policy Initiative, or maybe, just maybe, it is he and/or they who are the instrumentalized darts of certain third parties to discredit the antifascist movement and prevent the distribution of the aforementioned report. After all, Kirchick’s piece appeared right after the presentation of White Papers of Hate in the Capitol Hill. Who benefits from the effective censoring of a book rather than engaging with it, criticizing it intelligently, reviewing it with a moral compass of the worth and weight of the issues raised therein.
Kirchick is a young fan of Neoconservatism who loathes Russia and supports drastic measures in Ukraine. This is a man who supported torture of members of Al-Qaeda (going even further than his hero, John McCain, who was tortured himself as a prisoner in Vietnam), who can insult his colleagues, calling them “useful idiots” for opposing discrimination and the resurgence of Nazism in Europe, but who was never interested in antifascist movements around the world and never delved into the issue of nationalism, racism and glorification of Nazism in the Baltic States.
The Foreign Policy Initiative was never interested in Nazism. It was established six years ago as a response to foreign policy issues facing the US, such as “rising and resurgent powers, including China and Russia” and “other autocracies that violate the rights of their citizens.” FPI is a proponent of interference in the internal affairs of other countries to the point of armed conflict. Former presidential candidate Ron Paul accused them of being “warmongers”. John McCain and other neoconservatives have made repeated attempts at establishing NATO bases in Eastern Europe. Of course, they oppose “Russian propaganda” and Russian influence in the world. But the Foreign Policy Initiative and its circles have neglected to take into account the very real problems of racism, Nazi collaborator adulation, and historic revisionism in the spirit of the far right, and the resulting need for a countervoice in the form of an anti-fascist movement that brings together people and ideas from a wide variety of circles and countries.
A careful reading of Kirchick’s article gives us the answer to this question. The article in question is timed to the presentation of White Papers of Hate in Washington DC and oozes with apologetic balm for Baltic state policies that are supposedly subjected to attacks by World Without Nazism. Meanwhile, the presentation in Washington only mentioned one case related to these countries – namely, the ongoing stage play in Riga that whitewashes Herberts Cukurs (Tsukurs), a Nazi war criminal responsible for the deaths of multiple Jews in the Riga Ghetto. The presentation did not mention any other pro-Nazi Baltic manifestations (there are many, as readers of Defending History well know), including those listed above. It seems that any criticism of far-right politics in the Baltics is now forbidden in the eyes of some who profess love and respect for the basic American and Western values of freedom of speech and the cherishing of open debate.
A curiosity. Concluding his article, James Kirchick mentions a certain Eerik Kross, the former National Security Coordinator for Estonia from Tartu, who was accused in 2009 of organizing a pirate attack on a Russian ship off the coast of Scandinavia. As a result, Kross was put on the international wanted list and lost his US visa. Kross’ case has no relation to World Without Nazism, but it is he who is cited as some kind of authority. A person wanted by Interpol on charges of international piracy calls our organization a “tool in the Kremlin’s information operations arsenal” and claims that supporting World Without Nazism is equal to supporting modern fascism! And this from someone who could not find anyone better to discredit WWN. Incidentally, according to the respected Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff, also quoted in the article, the same Eerik Kross justified the crimes of Nazi war criminals against Estonian Jewry during the war by saying that the latter supposedly played a significant part in the Soviet destruction battalions and the Soviet KGB.
Coincidentally, on the day of publication of the Daily Beast whammo, Kross’ hometown, Tartu, opened an exhibition joking about the Holocaust. Its authors, Polish artists, depicted the tragic events through parody, caricatures, cartoons and fun videos. In one of the videos, naked people play around in a concrete bunker, depicting prisoners in the Auschwitz gas chamber. In another other, an elderly man is in a tattoo parlor asks to his tattoo number from the camp upgraded. The Estonian Minister of Culture himself apologized to the Jewish community. Of course, Mr. Kirchick is not interested in such small details. In his view, this is not trivialization of the Holocaust, unlike the activity of WWN, which maintains solidarity with all the victims of fascism in the region and defends the truth about the Holocaust and World War II.
Some of us sometimes wonder whether the entire misinformation campaign is not perhaps orchestrated by the Estonian special services, whose aim is (unfortunately!) to discredit any criticism around the resurgence of Nazism and manifestations of hate and Holocaust distortion in Estonia and other Baltic States as “Russian propaganda” (they should be interested in their region’s real security issues). But to keep the current embargo on free speech in place, they need every public personality to avoid talking about the distortion of the Holocaust and the admiration of war criminals who served Hitler in a new atmosphere of coercive correctness where people are afraid that mentioning these topics or indeed, standing up to the ever-growing ranks of neo-Nazis and fascism-admirers is a sure career buster and reputation spoiler. This plays nicely into the hands of Baltic (ultra)nationalists. The Baltic Nazi march season, featuring sickening adulations of Hitlerism in the major city centers, got underway in Lithuania earlier this week, and moves to Estonia and Latvia in the coming weeks. Legendary Nazi hunter and Holocaust historian Efraim Zuroff, an American-born Israeli who does not work with WWN, has recently exposed the month of hate that has gotten underway in the Baltics. We all need to be able to speak about it openly, without fear that raising these topics in the freedom-loving EU and NATO sphere will lead to demonization in daily, weekly or even monthly Beasts across this or that ocean.
The Defending History community takes a very clear stand on the need to acknowledge and commemorate Soviet crimes, while opposing the far right’s attempts to hijack the issue for ultranationalist, Holocaust-downgrading, racist and antisemitic motives. On more than one occasion, we have been pleased to state unequivocally our commitment to permanent Baltic security while combatting antisemitism, racism, Holocaust obfuscation, far-right revisionism and the Double Genocide movement. See for example our part in a 2011 debate in Lithuanian Foreign Policy Review.
While we are not connected to World Without Nazism, members of our Vilnius-based team have on occasion visited its international conferences, along with representatives of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the German parliament, American state legislatures and other Western entities. On one occasion, however, I personally felt the need at a conference to speak out loud and clear on the urgent need for WWN to make clear its commitment to Western democracy and its absolute detachment from contemporary Russian politics (see the 2010 coverage in Tablet). Within Latvia, Joe Koren and Valery Engel have won much admiration from many sides for their dignified stance against the glorification of the Waffen SS in an annual public parade, and for standing up to powerful forces to make sure that revisionist sanitization of the fascist scourge does not make it into the eastern back door of NATO without one heck of a fight.
Fast forwarding to the last year’s Ukraine imbroglio, I have (again, personally) expressed the view that while we expect government, Putinist propaganda in most of the major Russian media, we expect a much higher standard from our own cherished Western media, and the most painful disappointment has been the New York Times. Whatever the merits or otherwise of the recent Daily Beast salvo, replies such as this one should be welcome there or in similar large American journalistic enterprises. When they are not, Defending History tries to rise to its stated mission of providing a free and open forum for debate, and to stand up for free speech, as we did here in Vilnius for a colleague whose opinions stated in his trial we rejected wholly, but for whose right to express them . . .
Parties critiqued in the piece above are cordially invited to reply on these pages.