Kristen Ghodsee: The Left Side of History: Remembering the Victims of Communism After the Crises of Capitalism

George Orwell once observed: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” The contemporary politics of memory and commemoration in Eastern Europe reminds us that history is as much about today as it is about seventy years ago. Across the countries of the former Eastern Bloc, a peculiar form of historical amnesia is spreading. Since the global financial crisis began in 2008, conservative politicians in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Bulgaria have pushed forward with the agenda of the Prague Declaration, a bold program that equates the crimes of Nazism with those of communism, and portrays East European countries as the hapless victims of twin totalitarianisms. New days of commemoration and monuments honor the victims of communism—including individuals who were themselves perpetrators of heinous crimes. The timing of these new public memory initiatives is no coincidence. As capitalism began experiencing the worst global shocks since the Great Depression, political and economic elites appear to think it is more important than ever to preach about the evils of leftist alternatives.