How much should it matter to Americans that David Cameron, who will probably become the Prime Minister of Britain in May, recently took his party out of the main center-right group in the European Parliament to join the European Conservative and Reformists (ECR)–a group whose chairman, Polish MEP Michal Kaminski, began his career in the neo-Fascist National Revival Party, and where the Tories’ new bedfellows also include Roberts Zile, the Latvian MEP whose party annually marches alongside veterans of the Latvian SS?
A week ago, when I blogged on this issue in the Guardian, it seemed purely a British affair. But two things have led me to change my mind. First, London’s chattering classes have spent the past week tying themselves up in knots over an invitation to Nick Griffin, leader of the racist British National Party, to appear on a BBC discussion program this Thursday evening. The BBC claim that by winning two seats in the European parliamentary elections last June the BNP demonstrated a level of national support which needed to be reflected in coverage. To those of us used to First Amendment protections even for arguments we abhor the debate may seem odd, but in a country where, until recently, duly elected Sinn Fein members of Parliament were banned from the airwaves, the decision to grant Griffin a platform has been extremely controversial.
At the same time, and perhaps not entirely coincidentally, Cameron’s failure to revisit his alliance with the ECR has put a spotlight on this afternoon’s meeting between Hillary Clinton and William Hague, the Tory MP who would become Foreign Secretary in a Cameron government. The British press, from Rupert Murdoch’s anti-European Times across to the pro-European Guardian, worry that the Conservative’s far-right BF’s will make Britain a less useful–and therefore less influential–ally for Washington.
But even those of us who would like to see less of a poodle-and-master special relationship have sufficient reason to worry when Her Majesty’s likely future government sees no harm in cozying up to a man like Kaminski, who not only wore the Chrobry Sword, insignia of the violently anti-Semitic National Radical Camp, as a young man, but also told the London Jewish Chronicle he thought the Polish government’s 2001 decision to apologize for Jedwabne where in July 1941 the entire Jewish population were burned to death by their Polish neighbors–an apology Kaminski opposed–only made sense if "you would require from the whole Jewish nation to apologise for what some Jewish Communists did in Eastern Poland."
As for the Tories’ Latvian comrades, perhaps the best source for information about them is Dovid Katz, a historian at Vilnius University who had to teach his course on the Holocaust in students’ home after official pressure forced him off the campus. "The Western mainstream has been tricked," Katz told Jonathan Freedland, who points out that the motives behind these efforts to re-write history are not hard to fathom. Vilnius, after all, has a Museum of Genocide Victims commemorating the 74,500 Lithuanians who suffered under Moscow’s rule without a single exhibit mentioning the 200,000 Jews murdered by their fellow Lithuanians. "These are ultra-nationalists," writes Freedland, "who want to clean up their past, recasting themselves as victims – and forgetting the years in which their forebears were, in fact, the bloodiest perpetrators."
Anyone who spends any time around Holocaust deniers knows the obstacle that the terrible fact of Auschwitz poses to those who would rehabilitate European fascism. Nor do you have to look very far to find a similar rage animating those on the right who, in their obsessive balancing of Hitler’s crimes with Stalin’s, act as if the entire Second World War were just an inconvenient episode in the heroic struggle against Communism. The question Secretary Clinton needs to ask herself–and perhaps to put to William Hague–is why on earth would you choose to have anything to do with these people?