Incredible, Therefore True

Duly Noted

How birds of the same feather protect each other.

Totalitarians are good at propaganda. Effective marketing is rooted in the ideology of such movements. Both leftist and rightist totalitarians have good selling points manufactured out of superficially plausible simple slogans. These exploit existing and fashionable prejudices that are made to relate to an ongoing crisis. Such sentiments are extrapolated and connected. Thereby they add up to a worldview that interprets conditions which are difficult to fathom in their real complexity. Examples are “property is theft”, or a secret, therefore improvable, “conspiracy”.

The attraction is enhanced by the reassurance that sinister forces cause the failings of the members. Any sense of insecurity is muted by sharing in a movement of the virtuous that claims that it is predestined to triumph. Such a membership conveys through the size of the flock an assurance. What would otherwise be weak individuals, can be an irresistible force if they dissolve in the collective entity of the movement. 

This reassuring belonging demands that friend and foe is able to identify one as a part of the elementary force of an aimed mass in movement. Accordingly, symbols are chosen to signal the comforting security of belonging. Such codes can be a color or distinguishing clothing. Some forms of greeting, for instance a raised fist or an extended arm and certain phrases –“brother” or “comrade” or “freedom” (yes) express membership. Signs of identification are important. Such are, to mention a few, altered crosses, the Swastika of the National Socialists, and the Hammer and Sickle of Communism. A reaction to these is the subject of this writing.

Victim societies of totalitarian rule impose restrictions to prevent the return of the past. Totalitarian movements, their books, their gatherings, and their propaganda through logos are likely to be proscribed. Accordingly, the Swastika and its local mutations are forbidden. Few people on the sane side of politics object. The more so as the successors of National Socialism or Fascism are of negligible significance whiles their crimes are amply documented. Attribute that to their military defeat and that they used proudly their advanced technology to document their misdeeds.

The case of Communism’s crimes is less clear. Due to the shrewdness of the perpetrators and the missing technology, the visual evidence lacks. Since there was no military defeat, access to the cleansed the archives of the successor systems is limited. This shields those that hold power inherited from the defunct tyranny. What is left are the recollections of the victims. These are still intimidated and easily sidelined because of their wrecked lives. Representing marginal existences, they can be dismissed as failures that are biased through their experiences. 

Here a reminder must be inserted. The Nazis have massacred twelve million persons. That number, because it includes six million Jews, is well remembered and it is rated as unsurpassable. Stalinism’s achievement is less clear. Twenty to forty million is a conservative estimate. Mao, due to greater “resources”, weights in with a multiple of that. Such numbers ignore the lesser countries that reflects lacking knowledge and concern. In Hungary, whose “scandal” is the subject of this article, lost hundreds of thousands. After the war, out of a population of ten million, charges were raised against a million “enemies of the people”. Considering the general record and its local specifics, she made the public display of Nazi and Communist symbols an offense. This is what is getting her into trouble with “Europe”.

A summary of several pages of notes follows. The roots of the controversy extend back to 2000. That is when the public display of all totalitarian symbols, from the swastika to the red star were proscribed. Neo-Nazis are sufficiently embarrassed to use only the altered symbols of the past to mark their presence. Bolsheviks, not having lost a war, continue to present their regalia publicly. Therefore, in 2004 on a May Day, a certain Mr. Fratanolò, the Chairman of the small “Worker’s Party” as the Communists now call themselves, used the march to display a large red star on his lapel. For that, he was fined and “warned” by a court. Fratanolò used the verdict of 2007 to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. Not unexpectedly, if you know the EU, the incredible happened. The Court found in favor of the Chairman. 

To protect freedom as a system, the Judges discovered that the red star is a dual symbol. It stands for the Soviet system but also for “solidarity”. Therefore, its general prohibition limits free speech. Hungary was condemned to pay compensation and to cover the court costs. Here the reader should be made aware of a complicating factor. 

Some countries are out of favor with the EU. One of them is Switzerland. She is, put it mildly, under “pressure” because her general population -against the wish of the political class- doggedly refuses to join the Union. Hungary is also resented for her non-conformism. Since the spectacular electoral defeat of the Socialists, these, using their excellent international connections, have made Hungary into a test case. The seeming purpose of the campaign is to establish Brussels’ right to pronounce upon the legitimacy of member-states’ governments. Specifically, the removal of the center-right government through political censure and economic strangulation seems to be intended. 

The humanist-inspired verdict has not ended the spat. Parliament and the cabinet concluded that the Hungarian law, as confirmed by her constitutional court, properly regards the demonstrative display of the red star as the advocacy of Communist tyranny. Therefore, Hungary resists. She argues that the law is there because the dictatorships of the 20th century have caused “immeasurable suffering”. The use of their logos awakes in many citizens bad memories, intimidates them, and ignores piety. 

Since national law and the court in Strasbourg clash, it is for the legislature to handle the problem of implementation. Since May 4, the government of Hungary is on the record of refusing to pay the compensation and asserts that there is no reason to change the law.

While the payment to Fratanolò is set by the Human Rights Council to be due on June 8, another politician used the last May Day to display the forbidden star. He has been promptly arrested –and then released. The left protests “the dictatorial measure directed against the international worker’s movement”. Parallel to this, Budapest is digging in its heels. On June 2, using a commemorative meeting held at the venue of a Communist-era deportation, an official made a statement. He claimed that Strasbourg might have declared the red star to be the symbol of a movement. However, “here in central Europe” that star is a totalitarian symbol in whose name innocent people were murdered. Regardless of the consequences, as long as the current cabinet is in power, “we shall not pay compensation to those that wear a red star, nor will we remove it and the hammer and sickle” from the list of forbidden symbols.

The ball is now in Strasburg’s half of the court. The response could be financially devastating. The least of the political retaliation might be a condemnation of Budapest for what the Left euphemistically likes to call “Fascism”.