Fresh from World War Two, humankind had been severely traumatized, in the first half of the 20th century. Fateful relapses in all sorts of fatalities occurred between 1939 and 1944: there were tragedies on the frontline as well as behind it, military and civilians alike were victims of collective madness, of ideology, hatred and obsessions. In terms of genocide, such a fated timespan saw its momentum in the Holocaust, a tragedy that claimed the lives of 6 million Jews. On May 9, 1945, when Nazi Germany signed its surrender, Europe eventually found its peace, in the wake of almost six years of pain and suffering. Just like in any other story with a happy ending, at long last, the Good reigned supreme in World War Two.
Yet the aftermath of the war had its variations around the world. Western Europe returned to normality; as for Central and Eastern Europe, Romania included, it was occupied by the then Soviet Union, and had no choice other than experiment, for almost half a century, the communist model, a failed model, in any respect.
Vladimir Tismaneanu is a professor of Political Sciences and the History of communism with the University of Maryland in the USA. Dr Tismaneanu will help us disentangle the meaning of Good and Evil that fought in World War Two.
“In my assessment and appraisal of World War Two, of its causes, the way it unfolded and its aftermath, just like in the case of any other phenomenon, I have been inspired by the vision of such people as Hannah Arendt, Arthur Koestler or George Orwell. It was not a fight where the absolute Good was one of the sides since the democrats’ party in the anti-fascist coalition included Stalinist Soviet Union, a totalitarian empire in its own right, which was to be blamed for indulging in the acceptance of Nazi Germany. There was a relative Good on one hand, we cannot say it was the absolute Good, and in fact there is no absolute Good in history. On the other hand, there was the anti-Comintern Axis and while on a visit to Berlin in November 1940, Molotov was tentatively invited to adhere to the Anti-Comintern Pact by Hitler himself of by someone from his entourage. In fact, the headquarters of the Comintern were in Moscow. So what we have here is a fully-fledged and unquestionable embodiment of what I termed “The Devil in history” in one of my books, taking up on the concept of Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski. It was the Devil, which at the time turned out to be less inclined towards expansionism, it was that Devil the West needed.”
There are the victors and the defeated in any war. Vladimir Tismaneanu explains all that.
”In World War Two, the fascist party movements, the fascist parties and governments were defeated. Fascism was defeated, and that is something crucial. Rewriting the World War Two narrative in some settings, Romania included, the exoneration of various fascist movements, the new collective, tribal, primeval, blatantly racist movements means that some people couldn’t make any sense at all of what the World War Two denouement actually meant, political, morally or militarily. On the other hand, we definitely had a situation we should term as the post Yalta syndrome. It was a situation whereby half of Europe, the Central and Eastern half, was practically occupied by the Soviet Union. Could the West have withstood, in 1947-1948, those Soviet attacks? An alternative scenario, that is something hard to create. The Soviet military presence in Eastern and Central Europe was in no way the aftermath of the Western betrayal. It was the outcome of the fights during the world conflagration.
During the war, Romania took sides with the Axis, but towards the end of the war, Romania found itself among the defeated countries, but also among the countries where communism was imposed upon. But how did Romania end up in such a situation?
”Romania turned into a radical, far-right totalitarian system between September 6, 1940 and August 23, 1944, and partially, that was possible because of the crisis of liberal democracy. We should always stress the fact that Romania has a reusable past, there really was a constitutional and functional democracy in Romania. Unfortunately, from both extremes, the far right or the far left, attacks never ceased to be perpetrated against the Romanian unitary state, but also against constitutional democracy. A couple of prime ministers were killed by fundamentalist, Hitler-style commandos, the murder was part of the political climate. Added to that is the inability of the then political class to take action against all that, and resist. Romania’s lapse in totalitarianism was not a fateful event, there were a couple of mistakes as Romania fought on Hitler’s side.”
There is a tenet whereby history has its lessons to teach posterity.
”Any illusion we might have regarding an ideocratic system, an ideology-based dictatorship, is fateful, short and medium term, but mainly longer term. We indulge ourselves in such an illusion, at the moment. I do not believe there was a plan masterminded by the People’s Republic of China to spread COVID-19 all over the world. But the silence, the mystery, the secrecy, they are all key elements of a totalitarian system. What has happened now is similar to what we saw in Chernobyl, it is a planetary Chernobyl. There are many lessons World War Two can teach us, but one of these lessons, the essential one, is that we cannot make compromises when freedom, trust and truth are under attack and humiliated.”
75 years since the end of World War Two, we cannot say the world is better. But this world is definitely more mindful about the radical decisions it still needs to take.
(Translation by Eugen Nasta)