Update: see now also this Economist piece by Edward Lucas.
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Yesterday I attended an ecumenical Mass of Reparation in Great Missenden, organised with the strong support of the British Slovene Society led by Keith Miles.
The Mass was held to pay tribute to the thousands of victims of one of the British Army’s most shameful ever actions, the repatriation of anti-communist Yugoslavs, Cossacks and others to communist hands – and mass murder – in 1945.
I have written about this Mass and the wider lessons of this grotesque episode at Radio Free Europe. Do check out the link as (if I say so myself) the piece has some important messages.
Particularly for the current British government as led by the Conservative Party. Why? Because two of the people involved in these decisions went on to great political distinction. Toby Low (later Lord Aldington) had several Ministerial offices. And Harold Macmillan became Conservative Prime Minister.
Keith Miles has been urging the new British government to look at these events anew. Minister for Europe David Lidington replied to him on September 30 this year:
"[We] cannot put ourselves in the shoes of those making the decisions on the ground. They did not have the benefit of hindsight which we now enjoy…. [The] information relating to these events is now in the public domain and in my view there is nothing more for today’s government to add."
Is that good enough? All things considered, no.
British archives reveal a Foreign and Commonwealth Office memo written in August 1945 by J.M. Addis:
"The handing over of Slovenes, etc., by the 8th Army in Austria to teach those forces was a ghastly mistake…. For about a week at the end of May these unfortunate men were passed across the frontier by British troops to be butchered by Tito’s Army…. There is no doubt that this was an extensive and indiscriminate slaughter."
It accordingly is hard not to see this as one of the British Army’s darkest moments, worthy of something rather more than David Lidington’s oddly bland expression of a "sense of regret at the loss of life that occurred." That’s the sort of language appropriate to a severe car accident, not the systematic annihilation of thousands of fellow Europeans that British power helped bring about…
More importantly, we cannot build modern Europe upon the shifting sands of deliberate historical lies. Slovenia itself is unable to come to terms with what happened. Because these massacres were on such a scale, it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that almost every Slovenian now alive will have some connection through friends or family to either the victims of these massacres or those who ordered and committed them. What a psychological burden for a whole country to carry.
Luckily for Europe, events like the Mass of Reparation in Great Missenden show that despite the thick fog of oblivion, confusion, and dishonesty generated over many decades by Europe’s communist regimes, the bright light of truth still shines. New technology allows mass graves to be located and victims identified. More and more archives are at last being opened…
My proposal? That the British government — led by a Conservative Party that had in its top ranks both Harold Macmillan and Toby Aldington — finally faces the fact that "regret" is not enough. That even in these financially difficult times it finds some money, but much more importantly the moral sense of purpose, to set up with other European partners a major initiative aimed at uncovering all mass graves across Europe and identifying the hundreds of thousands of bodies.
Full, active cooperation will be expected of all European governments and political parties. A tiny fraction of the extra resources that the European Union has agreed for 2011 would go a long way to get this initiative strongly moving forward.
Anyone care to support this noble idea?