The Centre for Research into Post-Communist Economies

On 8. April 2008, European Comission together with Slovenian Presidency of the European Council conducted first ever public hearing on "crimes and other gross and large scale human rights violations commited during the reign of totalitarian regimes in Europe". The discussion revealed deep divisions between new and old EU members, as well as among political options. For some,  it is still unthinkable to put communist crimes on par with Holocaust. For most of the new EU member states, long suffering from Soviet opression, failure to recognise these crimes is equally unacceptable.

The account of the hearing's proceedings have been published in the book "Crimes commited by totalitarian regimes". Prof Dr Lovro Sturm, the Justice Minister of Slovenia, wrote in its preface:

"Europe rests on the ashes of totalitarian regimes. The area of freedom, security and justice we know today covers countries which in the 20th century, the century of ideologies, bore witness to what was then the greatest political, national and ideological schism and violence in all human history.

After the First World War, also known as the primordial catastrophe of the 20th century, at a time which was unmistakeably marked by economic crisis, the political stage was taken by dictatorshipsparticularly in central and eastern European countries. This was the time that saw the rise of fascist and national socialist regimes and, from as early as the 1917 October Revolution onwards, of communist totalitarianism in the far east of Europe. With the end of the Second World War, however, and with it the demise of fascism and national socialism, communist totalitarianism seized power in the eastern and south-eastern European countries and remained there until as late as the end of the 80s.

The totalitarian regimes experienced by Europe in the past century managed to assume and strengthen their power not only through lies but also through mass murder, or, as we would call it today, crimes against humanity. A common expression for this is gross and systematic violation of fundamental human rights, which, as stated by the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, also includes the right to life. Many lives were taken without court proceedings and many guilty verdicts were passed by using discriminatory legislation without actual guilt being proven or a fair trial being enabled. The opponents of totalitarian authorities and of their laws were tortured and treated in an inhuman and humiliating way, and were sometimes forced to work in labour and concentration camps. What is more, totalitarian powers were also known for blatantly violating the freedom of expression, which was exposed to limitations, control and severe punishment if it criticised the system. Finally, such regimes were fundamentally characterised by discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, skin colour, language, religion, nationality, social origin and political conviction.

Unfortunately, the forms of totalitarianism we just mentioned were not copied from a textbook on political philosophy or legal history. They are real and they were experienced directly or indirectly by large numbers of Europeans who were born before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Each country lived the 20th century in its own way: while some countries never saw totalitarianism, others had one or even two such regimes. What makes Slovenia special is that it is the only EU Member State to have experienced all three European totalitarianisms.

As we have seen, the 20th century was a difficult time for many countries. While they often came to be on separate sides, they all had their fair share of victims. To respect and nurture the general fundamental right to personal dignity of all victims is to prevent discrimination amongst the latter and guarantee their equal treatment. The right to personal dignity is one of the rare, if not the only fundamental personal freedom which does not expire together with human life in a physical sense, but must be respected after death.

This publication is a collection of papers from the hearing Crimes committed by totalitarian regimes, organised on 8 April 2008 by the Slovene Presidency of the EU Council and the European Commission, bearing in mind the framework decision on combating racism and xenophobia and the statement by the Council to organise a public European hearing on genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by totalitarian regimes.

In the Europe of today, we are well aware that violence and discrimination do not belong in a free and democratic society. We need nothing more than critical knowledge of the violence and injustice caused by the past centurys totalitarian regimes in Europe to understand the present and hope the 20th century will never happen again. History needs to be seen as it really is and not to be diminished. This is the only way for us to learn that violence, be it based on race, skin colour, religion, political conviction or nationality, cannot lead to the mutual respect and harmony that enable people to live side by side in peace. This publication is the first written statement of its kind. Moreover, it reveals the need to deal with the burning question it covers in an ongoing way. As for the European Union, its commitment to lead the transparent and long-term process of revealing our common European history was confirmed by the framework decision on combating racism and xenophobia."

Here you can download full text of the report (PDF format, 3.03MB)

In 2007 EU passed the legislation making it illegal to deny or denounce crimes against humanity, but these did not include crimes commited by communist regimes. In March 2008, answering the question submitted by Latvian MEP Inese Vaidere, the then Vice-President of the European Comission Franco Frattini, gave the following statement:

(...) The Justice and Home Affairs Council (...) requested the Commission to examine and to report to the Council within two years after the entry into force of the framework Decision*, whether an additional instrument is needed, to cover publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivializing crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes directed against a group of persons defined by reference to criteria other than race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin, such as social status or political convictions."

* Council of European Union Framework decision on Racism and Xenophobia, 19. April 2007 (read full text here)