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Anti-Semitism, xenophobia and racism are on the rise in Eastern Europe, under the guise of ultra-nationalism. A look at the forces behind it, and what the European Union is doing to reign it in.


Eastern Europe's Hitler nostalgia

Where is all this pro-Nazi sentiment coming from? The answer lies partly in history.

In Lithuania, the explicit connection in many minds between Jews and the Soviet Union is demonstrated in the bizarre case of two elderly Holocaust survivors, Fania Branstovsky, a librarian at the Vilnius Yiddish library, and Dr. Rachel Margolis, a biologist. Both escaped from the Vilnius ghetto during the war. Both joined Soviet-backed partisans fighting the Nazis.

In 2008, when they were both in their late 80's, criminal investigators, in a glare of publicity announced they intended to arrest the pair for war crimes for their alleged participation in an action around a Lithuanian village in 1944 in which civilians were killed. No charges were brought, no apologies were given. Although both women, now in their 90's, are alive to receive such an apology. Whether the ultra-nationalists will continue to assert themselves into national life is unclear.

Dovid Katz notes, "Lithuanian Prime Minister Andreas Kubilius doesn't have a fascist bone in his body." But Katz notes, while many politicians disapprove of the ultra-nationalists they keep silent. "The politicians could easily condemn this. There is a total lack of moral courage."

What is odd about the entrenchment of ultra-nationalism is that the area was always one of shifting national boundaries and mixed populations. Every country in the region has been subject to repeated subjugation to larger countries' imperial designs. The Soviet Union was only the most recent. One hundred years ago none of these countries were independent either. They were subject to Russian, Prussian and Austro-Hungarian imperial hegemony.

Many historians and politicians in the region constantly remind western visitors that their newly liberated nations are only just being allowed to go through historical processes America and western Europe went through in the 18th and 19th century.

Professor Marek Chodakiewicz says, "The people of the Intermarium, the lands between the Black and Baltic Seas, were frozen in the Soviet totalitarian iceberg for 50 to 70 years. Now they are finally free to kvetch. And kvetch they do. It is a necessary, therapeutic, and cathartical exercise. Without coming to grips with the past, there is chaos." But it's a question of how you come to grips with the past.

To paraphrase George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past accurately are condemned to repeat it."