Gazeta Wyborcza about the case of Kotzias vs ARB: In Hungary, there is a saying, "Let's get over the past". In the meantime, we ought to be talking about fascism and Stalinism for what they are.

The following text was published in the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza on November 23, 2018.



The following text was published in the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza on November 23, 2018.


Europe is a continent where everyone has a shadow that must be forgotten or should not be recalled.

Scientific institutions have a tendency ‒ understandably ‒ to boast about their long and glorious history. The Hungarian Academy of Sciences, which was founded 200 years ago, is no exception. Through its website, one can get acquainted with the institution's detailed history. They have even devoted an entire chapter to the period of the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919, which lasted a few months, during which the communist revolutionaries suspended the Academy’s work. Only the years of World War II are completely excluded, while they have devoted twice as much space for the entire period of the Miklós Horthy rule that lasted for a quarter of a century, than they have for the communist revolution. In all of this, no more than three sentences talk about the Numerus Clausus policy which was imposed in 1920 and restricted the entry of Jewish students in universities, resulting in "great losses" and casting "a shadow of the anti-Semitic ideology of those times" on Hungarian science.

Whether the Academy itself participated in the creation of that "shadow" we will not learn from its history. And this is not a random slip, which is unlikely in itself: of the 18 Hungarian Nobel Prize-winners, 10 are of Jewish origin ‒ this alone is testimony to the breadth of this "shadow". This year, a series of scientific publications has turned its attention to the Academy's silence, by proposing specific formulations that would be worth adding to its history.

Without success.

Europe is a continent where everyone has a shadow that must be forgotten or should not be recalled.

In this respect, the statement made by the former head of the Greek Foreign Ministry, Nikos Kotzias, who admitted in October that he had "served the Stalinist Left", is noteworthy. One could respond indifferently, since what else could be said by a former member of the Central Committee of the Greek Communist Party, who broke with the party in 1988 because the Party took a turn to the right? Among other things, Kotzias had written a book which favored Jaruzelski, in which he praised the military regime, as well as an enthusiastic book ‒ along with a certain Stasi agent ‒ on the successes of East Germany. In this context, the admission of his Stalinist ideology a few days after the loss of his ministry is thirty years overdue, thus confirming Kisielewski’s law once again; namely that when the apple ripens it falls, while the opposite holds true for the Communist politician.

Let us just say that Kotzias had previously taken the Athens Review of Books (ARB) to trial for libel, for publishing a reader’s letter in 2010 which described Kotzias as a "gauleiter of Stalinism". The Minister demanded 250,000 euros as compensation. Last year, he won the lawsuit; the court awarded him, truth be told, only twenty-two thousand euros, but froze ARB's revenues [from the press distribution agency] as well as its publishers’ personal bank accounts. The magazine appealed to the European Court of Human Rights and hopes that Kotzias’ recent statement will help overturn the conviction: he has admitted his Stalinist ideology, and his persistence in persecuting the magazine validates the assertion that he is a fanatic.

One could recommend that Kotzias become a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, so as to devote himself completely to burying the past, but it is not a simple matter. Today, the Academy is valiantly resisting the criminal pressures of Viktor Orban's government, and Kotzias has lost his position under the pressure of the Greek nationalists, who were furious with the negotiation of a compromise on Macedonia. When one conceals his Stalinist or fascist past, then he does not necessarily become a Stalinist or fascist again, albeit a liar or coward at best.

It simply comes as a surprise that it was possible for a court in Europe to decide in favor of Kotzias and that other European academies have not put pressure on the Hungarian Academy when it comes to the issue of silencing the past.

Fascism and Stalinism rule by force, but they also rise to power because their aspirations are tolerated for a very long time. This is one of the reasons ‒ and not the concern for historical accuracy ‒ that it is worth calling things by their name. This obligation is binding mainly for those who have previously been corrupted by their participation in these movements and subsequently broke with them. Their credibility is assessed based on their willingness to call their past by its name. 

[*] The great Polish intellectual Konstanty Gebert signs as Dawid Warszawski ("David of Warsaw").

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