Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A European lesson to be learned

At Maidan, Halya Coynash examines the historical background of antisemitism in Ukraine, and asks some difficult questions:

In western countries the stereotype of French brave opponents of Nazism is widespread, while Poles and Ukrainians are often accused of collaboration and anti-Semitism. There are historical reasons, as well as fairly cynical manipulation. The unequivocal fact gets forgotten that it was the French authorities, and not just isolated individuals, that were implicated in the Holocaust. Nor do people take into account the fact that by helping Jews a Pole or Ukrainian risked not just his own life, but his family’s also. Against the background of vague and extremely unfair accusations levelled at a whole nation, or significant part of it, I fear it is not realistic to expect recognition of any kind of collective responsibility for the Holocaust. Poles found it in them to apologise for a specific crime, yet is it reasonable to expect them to feel collective guilt for the crimes of individuals when Poles themselves suffered so terribly? 

Advocating a strictly pragmatic and open approach to the process of uncovering the truth in this "black hole" of European complicity and responsibility, Coynash notes an additional problem which shows itself
in the unrelenting barrage of propaganda and lies with an unmistakably Soviet odour issuing mainly from Russian-language media outlets, though very often repeated by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. One of the reasons that these tactics are effective highlights another fundamental problem. New information about the War is constantly being dug up by European researchers however this largely adds detail to a basically clear and universally recognized picture. This is not the case in Ukraine where basic information about WWII continues to be highly coloured by the position of those presenting it. There is no point in shouting that we are being maligned if we are not prepared to be remorselessly objective ourselves. Stereotypes have a number of apparent advantages: they’re easy to remember, require little painful mental effort and usually save time. Very often it’s a cut and paste job – the same words year in, year out. Problems arise, at least for those who have nothing against hearing the truth, when reality changes and the words apparently describing it don’t.
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