Graves Without Crosses

On the wall is an exhibition about persecution of the Roma people.

At the annual meeting of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience, to which RNH belongs, in Vilnius in Lithuania 28–30 November 2017 one main theme was the mass murder of Roma people (gypsies) in the Second World War where the Nazis were the chief perpetrators. The Platform was founded in 2011 in accordance with declarations by the European Council and the European Parliament that communist totalitarianism had to be condemned alongside Nazism and that the memory of its victims had to be upheld. The Platform’s first President was Göran Lindblad, who while a member of the European Council during his tenure as an MP for Sweden’s Moderate Unity Party, had been instrumental in having the declaration of the European Council adopted. At the 2017 meeting, Professor Lukacz Kaminski from Polland was elected President instead of Lindblad. Trustees of the Platform include Professor Stéphane Courtois, Editor of the Black Book of Communism (published in the Icelandic translation of Hannes H. Gissurarson in 2009), and Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, the author of books about the Gulag and the Iron Curtain. The annual meeting was held in the Tuskulenai Museum in the Tuskulenai Peace Garden where after the collapse of the Soviet Union mass graves were found with the victims of communism in 1944–7. The Platform’s President Lindblad laid a bouquet of flowers to a memorial to the victims in the Park. The Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania organised the meeting, where four new partners joined the Platform, including the Collège des Bernardines  in Paris.

RNH Academic Director Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson attended the annual meeting and gave a talk about several projects which RNH undertakes jointly with ACRE, the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, under the label “Europe of the Victims”. Recently, Gissurarson has been commissioned to write a report, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, The Voices of the Victims, to be published late in 2017. His argument there is that Stalinism was a logical consequence of Marxism rather than an aberration from it and that Western apologists of Soviet terror share some collective responsibility with the Soviet rulers. He briefly surveys anti-totalitarian literature of the 20th century, including the novels by George Orwell and Arthur Koestler, Nineteen Eighty Four and Darkness at Noon, and the accounts of communism given by refugees or disillusioned travellers, such as I Chose Freedom by Victor Kravchenko, Out of the Night by Jan Valtin, Under Two Dictators by Margarete Buber-Neumann, El Campesino by Valentín González, Nightmare of the Innocents by Otto Larsen, Baltic Eclipse by Ants Oras and Articles on Communism by Bertrand Russell. In the report, Professor Gissurarson also discusses the contribution of historians exposing the Big Lie, such as Robert Conquest, Stéphane CourtoisAnne Applebaum, Bent Jensen and Frank Dikötter.

Attendees at the 2017 annual meeting of the Platform.

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Historians: Commemoration of Communist Victims

Historians Antoine Arjakovsky and Stéphane Courtois who introduced his new book on Lenin as the inventor of totalitarianism.

RNH is a member institute of the European Platform of Memory and Conscience. At the Platform’s conference in Paris 8–9 November, the following memorandum was passed:

100 years ago, the Bolshevik revolution introduced a murderous utopia. It eradicated the established social and moral order, ushering in a century of totalitarianism in the world. Social engineering which aimed to take total control over people was forcibly and brutally implemented. People were deprived of their basic personal freedoms, the rule of law and humanism, which were replaced by state terror.

100 years after the Bolshevik uprising in Russia, the murderous regime that was introduced then is still deemed somehow acceptable and excusable today. Much more so than Nazism, despite the fact that it produced more than double the amount of victims, many of whom are still unidentified and left lying in unmarked graves. This is unacceptable.

Today, 100 years later, we still witness the relativisation of Communist crimes. Attempts to reduce them to the period of Stalin’s rule, called „Stalinism”, are an unacceptable simplification of the deeply-rooted totalitarian basis of the Communist ideology. As a result, Communist symbols are not yet forbidden in the European public space and Communist parties are still present in public life. Many totalitarian perpetrators were never accused and tried for their crimes.

Today’s Europe is founded on deeply rooted ideas of personal freedom, rule of law, democracy and human rights. Dozens of millions of victims of Communism need respect, remembrance and justice, in order to prevent any attempt of recurrence of Communist or any other totalitarianism.

Therefore, the Platform of European Memory and Conscience and participants of the international conference “100 Years of Communism. History and Memory” which took place in Paris, France on 8-9 November 2017, call Europe to action:

  • In order to show respect to the victims of Communist totalitarian regimes, we call for an official, European-wide prohibition of public presentation of Communist symbols.
  • In order to foster a culture of commemoration, we call for the creation of a memorial to the victims of totalitarianism in the very heart of Europe.
  • In order to allow justice to prevail, we call for the creation of an International Tribunal for Communist Crimes.

We, the free Europeans of today, share common values. We are obliged to stand up for them and promote them. Democracy matters!

 

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100 Years of Totalitarian Communism

Bergsson

In cooperation with AB, the Public Book Club, RNH is publishing a series of works relevant to the 100 years of totalitarian communism, after the Bolshevik coup, under Lenin’s leadership, in Petrograd 7 November 1917. In the first place, historian Snorri G. Bergsson—also a well-known chess player—has written a detailed history in two volumes of the early years of the Icelandic communist movement: Rodinn i austri (The East is Red) on the period 1919–24, and Raudir fanar (Red Flags) on the period 1925–30. Previously, Bergsson had assisted two university historians in writing books on Icelandic communists, Thor Whitehead on Sovet-Island, oskalandid (Soviet Iceland: The Country of Our Dreams) in 2010 and Hannes H. Gissurarson on Islenskir kommunistar 1918–1998 (Icelandic Communists, 1918–1998) in 2011.

Koestler

Secondly, RNH Academic Director Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson is editing several works in Icelandic translations on totalitarian communism. These works are being republished on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution: Soviet Myth and Reality by Hungarian writer Arthur Koestler from 1946; Between East and West by Norwegian poet Arnulf Overland from 1949; The God That Failed by Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone, André Gide and others, from 1950; I Chose Freedom by Victor Kravchenko from 1951; Prisoner of Hitler and Stalin by German ex-communist Margarete Buber-Neumann from 1954; Nightmare of the Innocents by Norwegian ex-communist Otto Larsen from 1956; and The Hungarian Uprising by Danish journalist Erik Rostboll from 1957. The aim of the republication of these anti-totalitarian works, influential in their time, but long out of print, is to make them available, both online and on paper, to new generations of students and scholars. The occasion is also being used to honour the memory of two staunch opponents of totalitarianism, Prime Minister Geir Hallgrimsson and Editor and Member of Parliament Eyjolfur Konrad Jonsson.

The publication of these nine books on 7 November 2017 forms a part in the joint project by RNH and ACRE, the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, on “Europe of the Victims.”

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100 Years — 100 Millions

In the 100 years which have passed since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, communism has claimed at least 100 million lives, RNH Academic Director Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson wrote in Morgunbladid 7 November 2017, quoting Stéphane Courtois’ Black Book of Communism. He took issue with the common explanation of Lenin’s and Stalin’s terrorist régime in Russia that it was just in a Russian tradition: In two months, the Bolsheviks killed more people than were sentenced to death under the czars in the whole period of 1825–1917. The totalitarian oppression in Russia and other communist countries was rather, Gissurarson submitted, a logical and predictable outcome of the attempt totally to reconstruct society in accordance with the unrealistic and impractical theories of Marx and Engels. He recalled that neither Marx nor Engels tried to hide their belief that the revolution they envisaged probably had to be implemented by terror. He also quoted their derogatory comments on the Icelanders and the other small Nordic nations.

Even some communists had realised the danger of uniting all economic and political power in the hands of only one agent. “In a country where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation,” Trotsky had written. And Rosa Luxemburg had emphasised that real freedom was always the freedom of the opponent, to be free to dissent. It was however Friedrich A. von Hayek who provided the theoretical explanation for oppression under comprehensive economic planning: It was impossible to coordinate individual needs in such a system, which meant that they had to be simplified, reduced and sometimes ignored, and for this purpose, the planners had to try to take control not only of human actions, but also of human minds. As early as 1920, Hayek’s mentor, Ludwig von Mises, had predicted the demise of socialism because the planners would be unable to make choices based on adequate information about production and consumption.

In his article, Gissurarson also gave a brief account of the Marx-Leninist movement in Iceland. Brynjolfur Bjarnason was one of the two Icelandic delegates to Comintern’s Second Congress in 1920 where Lenin discussed Iceland’s strategic importance in a possible war in the North Atlantic. Bjarnason was the first and only Chairman of the Communist Party which operated in 1930–38, with ample financial support from Russia. The communists, following Comintern orders, managed in 1938 to lure leftwing social democrats into a new party, the Socialist Unity Party, led by Bjarnason and Einar Olgeirsson and staunchly Stalinist. The Socialist Unity Party was also financed by Moscow. The Stalinists had however in 1968 to dissolve their party, and the People’s Alliance formed in 1956 was then transformed from an electoral alliance into a political party, bitterly fighting the Social Democrats, but without formal ties with the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the People’s Alliance joined the Social Democrats in a united leftwing party, while the last act of its leadership was a visit to the Cuban Communist Party in the autumn of 1998. The Icelanders wanted an audience with Castro who did not bother, however, to see them. Thus the history of the Icelandic Marx-Leninist movement ended not with a bang but a wimper.

Finally, Gissurarson said that even if communism was dead, its spectre was still haunting Europe, mainly in universities. RNH is member of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience which joined other organisations in holding two conferences on the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, one in Washington DC, where the speakers included Niall Ferguson and Frank Dikötter, and one in Paris, where Stéphane Courtois launched his new book about Lenin. The Association of Icelandic Historians however declined a suggestion to organise a meeting or conference with RNH on the anniversary. Gissurarson’s article formed a part of the joint RNH-ACRE project on “Europe of the Victims”.

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Liberalism and Populism

Gissurarson in chair, Dr. Jacob Lundberg talking.

A lively discussion on liberal principles and modern challenges took place at the special meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in Stockholm 2–5 November 2017. The ideas discussed (and not necessarily endorsed by all) included: Liberalism is in essence cosmopolitanism; through toleration and non-intervention, it aims at peace among nations and peace among the citizens of any particular state. Populists seek not to limit government, like liberals, but rather to put themselves in power. Research shows that the support for populism is caused more by a cultural backlash than from economic considerations. Populism opposes the elites that enjoy government protection. It poses Main Street against Wall Street. If I tell you to go to Las Vegas and play, where you will keep all the profits and I shall bear all the losses, then you are eventually going to lose everyting; substitute Wall Street for Las Vegas, and then you get an explanation for the 2007–9 international financial crisis and for some present discontents. Populism may derive from a sense that the system is in some ways rigged. While thus populism may rest on understandable grievances, it threatens the rule of law and civility in discourse. Perhaps the most successful populist in power is Russian leader Vladimir Putin who has captured the government apparatus in his country and amassed enormous riches.

Liberals support liberty, not power. Modern statistics may underestimate the immense improvement in living standards brought about by technical innovations: The richest man in the world at the time, Nathan Mayer Rothschild, died in 1836 of an infected abscess, easily treatable today. More available light and heat has transformed the lives of many for the better. And liberals have to stand together, at least in some issues. The day after a Danish newspaper was condemned by radical islamists for publishing cartoons of Mohammad the Prophet, all newspapers in the Western world should have reprinted them.

The Mont Pelerin Society was founded in 1947 by Friedrich A. von Hayek, Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises, George J. Stigler, Luigi Einaudi, Karl Popper and other eminent liberal scholars and thinkers as a forum to discuss and develop liberal ideas in the classical sense, in the tradition of John Locke, Adam Smith, Alexis de Tocqueville and Lord Acton. Speakers at the MPS conference in Stockholm included Karen Horn, Deirdre McCloskey, Mark Pennington, Lotta Stern, Luigi Zingales, Johan Norberg and Anders Åslund. The main organiser of the conference was Dr. Nils Karlson of Ratio Institute. RNH Academic Director Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson chaired a meeting where young scholars presented their research, both on the break-up of old and publicly protected monopolies by entrepreneurs and on the theory and practice of the Laffer Curve. Two other Icelanders attended the meeting, Economics Professor Birgir Thor Runolfsson of the University of Iceland and journalist Gisli Freyr Valdorsson, editor of Thjodmal. Gissurarson’s participation in the meeting formed a part of RNH’s joint project with ACRE, the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe.

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Norberg: Many Reasons for Optimism

There are many reasons why we should look forward to the future, Swedish historian and television personality Johan Norberg said at a meeting organised by the Institute of Public Administration and Politics at the University of Iceland, the Public Book Club (Almenna bokafelagid) and RNH 23 October. Norberg introduced his new book, Progress, which was published the same day in Elin Gudmundsdottir’s translation by the Public Book Club in cooperation with asset management company Gamma. Norberg observed that poverty had been greatly reduced, not least because of increased free trade. Equality had also increased as a result of hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indians migrating into relative affluence. It was actually good if people worried about inequality because in the past almost all had been equally poor. Norberg pointed out that public health had improved immensely, while the crime rate had gone down and warfare become less common. Innovations in science and technology also made it possible to improve the environment and prepare against natural disasters.

Journalist Thorbjorn Thordarson was the commentator. He said that the system of free trade had many committed opponents and that some felt left out, and that this might explain the breakthrough of chauvinistic populism in the West. Norberg agreed, but remarked that it was important to facilitate flexibility in the economy. It was wiser to support adjustment and training rather than continuing unemployment. Professor Stefania Oskarsdottir chaired the meeting, with a lively discussion following Norberg’s talk and Thordarson’s comments. Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson observed that global economic integration was making political disintegration possible, in the sense that with international free trade small countries could benefit from the division of labour. Nationalism, properly understood as an awareness and acceptance of one’s national identity, was compatible with cosmopolitan liberalism. It should be clearly distinguished from chauvinism. An interview with Norberg was broadcast on Station Two 24 October, and both Morgunbladid and Vidskiptabladid reported on the meeting. Gisli Hauksson, RNH Chairman of the Board, wrote an article on Norberg’s message in Frettabladid 25 October. RNH’s support for the publication of Norberg’s book and the meeting with him formed a part of the  joint project with ACRE, the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, on “Europe, Iceland and the Future of Capitalism”.

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