Readers of this site usually have some interest in central Europe and/or the great battles of ideas which ‘Europe’ represents.

One of those battles, perhaps the central battle in that it defines the intellectual space upon which all the others are fought, is the ‘comparison’ between Communism and Nazism, between International Socialism and National Socialism, between Red and Black.

I have written about it on many occasions, usually prompted by some or other useful idiot denying that any such comparison is historically or morally proper.

Thus the ever-busy Jonathan Freedland. And the calamitous Slavoj Zizek.

Zizek has the great virtue from our point of view of being disarmingly frank about his views:

  • Fascism has to be proclaimed to be fundamentally worse than Communism
  • since the alternative is to see Fascism as a natural reaction to the Communist threat and therefore somehow a lesser evil.
  • Which is bad since it weakens a "postwar European identity hitherto based on anti-Fascist unity" 

Anyway, this issue can now be proclaimed closed once and for all on the level of principle. Because Timothy Snyder of Yale University has given as the astounding book Bloodlands.

I’ve bought the iPad/Kindle version which allows you to make notes and highlight passages for ease of reference. The problem with this book is that you want to highlight almost every paragraph.

With unsparing integrity and insight Professor Snyder moves to and fro through the history of the carnage which took place in central Europe (mainly Poland, Belarus and Ukraine) as Stalin and Hitler, rivalrous partners-in-crime, sought to impose their ideological agendas on these territories by any means necessary:

No major war or act of mass killing in the twentieth century began without the aggressors or perpetrators first claiming innocence and victimhood.

At a great distance in time, we can choose to compare the Nazi and Soviet systems, or not. The hundreds of millions of Europeans who were touched by both regimes did not have this luxury.

More Poles were killed during the Warsaw Uprising alone than Japanese died in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

It is remarkable that we have the legal instrument of genocide; nevertheless, one must not forget that this particular murder statute was co-drafted by some of the murderers

[On the Holocaust numbers] But this number, like all of the others, must be seen not as 5.7 million, which is an abstraction few of us can grasp, but is 5.7 million times one

It is for us as scholars to seek these numbers and to put them into perspective. It is for us as humanists to turn the numbers back into people. If we cannot do that, then Hitler and Stalin have shaped not only our world, but our humanity.

This is no mere history book. It is a masterpiece of moral philosophy as well.:

To believe that a vast suffering must be associated with great progress is to accept a kind of hermetic masochism: the presence of pain is a sign of some immanent or emergent good. To advance this sort of reasoning oneself is hermetic sadism: if I caused pain, it was because it was a higher purpose, known to me

I offered some thoughts yesterday on the survival prospects of the European Union. For all its turgid processes, the EU does represent a formidable and honourable attempt to make a clean break with the totalitarian disasters described by Timothy Snyder.

Yet we need to remember not just in general terms but in highly specific ways just what the Nazi and Stalinist regimes were all about. Their parallel ambitions. Their shared methods. Their shared attitudes to individual people and to the very purpose of life and society. The way they both sought to justify any murdering means in terms of fantastic utopian ends.

Because even if those collectivist structures look to have been destroyed, the instincts they represent live on:

The Banality – and Analityof Marxism:

Holding on and holding in: Instead of displaying and offering excrement, the child may want to hold it in, hoard it and keep it both for himself and as a part of himself. By virtue of displacement, children, and adults, may  collect and hoard things considered to be of great value, which are disguised forms of excrement…

This lumpen Freudian analysis goes a long way to explaining Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow. A visualisation of the blackest parts of the human soul, something so profound and disgusting that many Russians are proud of daring to contemplate it.

Zizek if anything goes even further.

Which is more depraved?

To revere nihilistic wickedness?

Or to smirk knowingly at it?

We dare not underestimate the danger which people like Zizek represent. In themselves they are moral and political nano-particles. Their true significance lies in the fact that they are spores carrying totalitarian DNA, floating hither and thither through the once balmy but now increasingly stale air of post-modern Europe, waiting to land on some new, fertile soil and start to grow again

Indeed, in some respects the supporters of the EU in its current form show that they agree with this analysis. They justify their opposition to fundamental reform  by warning implicitly or explicitly that without the European Union as it is, Europe would slump back into open conflict and paranoia.

For now brace yourself for a journey into dark, dangerous territory. The history of the Bloodlands of central Europe.

The history not of ‘mass killings’ on a feverishly unimaginable yet abstracted scale scale, but of the deaths of millions of specific people – to be precise, the relatives of today’s European friends gassed, shot, hanged and starved to death by the relatives of other European friends.

Buy Timothy Snyder’s book: