This comment was published by the Guardian
18 March 2010
Tories must answer for extremist links
The ahistorical David Cameron has no idea how much his association with Waffen-SS admirers has tarnished UK politics
Ian Traynor's balanced report from Riga about the Waffen-SS commemoration in Latvia is a reminder that Britain's Conservative party has not been adequately called to account for its links with extremists in eastern Europe.
There are unconfirmed reports that before deciding to open a joint shop with east European nationalist populist politicians, David Cameron ordered a full assessment from a Conservative expert with long experience in European politics. His dossier made clear that the Tories would be well advised to stay clear of alliances with either the Latvian For Fatherland and Freedom party or Poland's Law and Justice party (PiS), which had incorporated openly anti-Jewish politicians into its ranks even if top PiS leaders have publicly condemned antisemitism.
This week we can see the ugly face of the Conservative's foolish alliance. Even if no Tory MP was present to march in memory of the Waffen-SS alongside their Latvian allies, the grotesque nature of the ceremony mocks not just Jews but all who sacrificed themselves to defeat Nazism. As Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, noted the event was deeply offensive. "These people were thinking they were fighting for Latvia but the real beneficiary of their service and their bravery was Nazi Germany."
Stalinism was cruel and Russia's occupation of Latvia in 1939 and the brutality of the Red Army as it raped its way across the Baltic states in 1944 and 1945 have scarred Latvian national memory. Five per cent of the Latvian population was deported to rot and die in Siberia under Stalin. Many Latvians fled to west Europe or North America rather than live under Soviet imperialism. But 90% of Latvia's Jews were killed by the Nazis with the active collaboration of Latvian recruits to the Waffen-SS local divisions. Many were youngsters conscripted with no choice. Others were volunteers. But all SS and other German soldiers who carried out the extermination of Jews were conscripts. Obligatory enrolment in the SS and other Nazi units has never been and cannot be an excuse for whitewashing the murder of Jews.
There is a deeper rightwing revisionism at play. Stalin's crimes are being elevated to a par with the exterminations of Jews by those who want to banalise or relativise the Holocaust and reduce its historical centrality to just another example of wartime mass murders. Stalin's famines of the 1930s or his deportations in the 1940s are held up as the right creates its own moral equivalence between Nazism and Communism. The latter was foul, evil and those who were Stalin and Trotksy's mouthpieces in European democracies have done lasting damage to the democratic left.
But Hitlerism's Holocaust converted an entire nation's engineers, chemists, railway systems, diplomats as well as the military and the police into an industrially organised network absorbing massive resources as it combed Europe to transport Jews from every remote corner of the continent to be put to death in Nazi extermination camps on Polish soil.
If history starts to absolve Nazism and the Holocaust as being on a par with the crimes of Stalinism and its cruelties, including in Latvia, then European democracy will take a major step backwards.
It is the ahistorical nature of David Cameron and William Hague that they have no understanding of the damage they have done to the good name of British politics by entering into an alliance with east European apologists for crimes committed in the second world war, provided those crimes were committed in the name of anti-Sovietism.
Russia today is a bully and an ugly nationalist power in the region with no interest in becoming more not less European. But Russian paranoia can only increase if European democracies get into bed with parties that justify the Jew-killing of the second world war because communism was as great if not a greater enemy than Nazism.
When this row broke out last summer Tory apologists such as Iain Dale, Stephen Pollard, and Dean Godson went into overdrive along with politicians such as William Hague and Daniel Hannan in denouncing reporters like the Observer's Toby Helm, the Guardian's Ian Traynor and the New Statesman's James Macintyre for revealing the sordid background of politicians David Cameron had chosen as his allies in place of mainstream centre-right European parties. They were accused of McCarthyism, smears and distorting the truth. With every passing moment it is the journalists who were right and the Conservative propagandists who were wrong.
This does not make the Conservatives weak on the common cause of combating antisemitism but it does call into question their judgement in choosing admirers of the Waffen-SS to be their new friends in Europe.
Once the election is over the Conservatives should rethink this alliance. When Latvian rightwingers commemorate the memory of the Waffen-SS in March 2011 it would be good for British politics if they marched alone and were no longer part of an alliance with a British political party.