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Europe

Ex-communist countries seek penalties for denial of totalitarian atrocities

Denial of the Holocaust is illegal in Germany and many other countries. Now a group of European nations hope to criminalize the denial of crimes committed by communist totalitarian regimes.

Roter Stern

Six countries formerly in the Soviet bloc of Europe have asked the European Commission to criminalize denial of atrocities committed by communist regimes during the Cold War.

Foreign ministers from Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic sent a letter on Tuesday to European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, calling for the punishment of "public approval, denial or belittlement of totalitarian crimes."

European Commission spokesman Matthew Newman said the proposal was being taken "very seriously," and that crimes committed by totalitarian regimes "are a part of the collective memory of Europe."

Comparison with Holocaust

Viviane Reding

The letter was sent to EU Justice Commissioner Reding

The letter's concept was devised by Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis, who said while every European knows the atrocities committed under National Socialism, fewer know of the crimes committed under communism.

While denial of the Holocaust is punishable by law in Germany and several other countries, Azubalis said the denial of communist atrocities "must be subjected to the same standards in order to prevent the resurgence of totalitarian ideology."

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said both totalitarian systems can be measured to the same degree, and that both Hitler and Stalin were mass murderers and those who served them were abettors.

'Murder in the name of ideology'

Romanian historian and author Marius Oprea served as president of the Institute for the Research of Communist Crimes in Romania, and currently heads a non-governmental organization working toward the same goal. In February he helped initiate the "Prague Declaration," which calls for "the crimes of communism be treated the same as the Holocaust."

"This means the criminals from the time of the communist regimes should also be tried in court," the document read. "Their actions should not be excused by a statute of limitations - we all in ex-communist states are confronted with these problems."

The declaration continues calling for a "legally binding act of justice, not just reparations... It is unacceptable that we are living among murderers and criminals. They are criminals who murdered and tortured in the name of an ideology. What differentiates them from the Nazis? Nothing!"

Whether the six countries' proposal will become EU law is not yet clear, but Newman said the European Commission will complete a report before the year's end detailing whether or not the proposal would be legally feasible.

Authors: Trendafilka Dimitrova, Alexander Andreev, Robert Schwartz (acb)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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