It is not just we Greeks who are obsessed with the legacy of totalitarianism. As the European Union commemorated the day of remembrance for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes on Wednesday, the German magazine Stern presented Donald Trump, draped in the American flag, giving the Nazi salute. Just a few years ago, it seemed that the memories of totalitarian ideologies of the left and right concerned only historians and fringe groups. But our time’s divisions are weaponizing memory, resurrecting old grudges with new blood.
In Greece, memory is always a lethal weapon. And the more selective or false, the more dangerous it is. So what is happening in the rest of the world does not surprise us. Comparisons, however, allow us to see where we are ahead, where we are different, where we are more obsessed than others. It is always interesting to see how those accused of believing in totalitarian ideologies react to the charge. The American Nazis and racists celebrated the fact that Trump equated them with the anti-fascists when he accused “many sides” for the violence in Charlottesville. This, however, enraged many others in the US and abroad, leading to front pages like Stern’s.
In Greece, the perpetrators of violence and their aims are always the criterion by which we judge. The government, then, going by the ideology and not by its results, rejected an invitation to take part in the Europe-wide day of remembrance, saying the crimes of left and right were not equal. This did not save it from the Communist Party of Greece’s charge that it was hypocritical, having shown no such sensitivity last year. The center-right main opposition party marshaled the courage to break the post-dictatorship taboo on criticizing the left, leading to a new round of verbal clashes. The leader of the local Nazi franchise accused the government of being an apologist for the “Bolsheviks.” Even though they hate each other, the Communists and Golden Dawn share the fact that both are proud of what they are, whereas others are insulted by identification with them. The difference is that GD stands accused of violent crimes today, not in the past. In the endless divisions which breed all kinds of crimes, this is forgotten. Like the three employees of Marfin Bank who were burned to death by self-styled anarchists in 2010.
Trump is suffering. Attack is all he knows. He cannot fix his course. He gives comfort to racists and then lashes out at the press for criticizing him. If he were not so self-absorbed, he could learn from our small country. Here, when a magazine published a reminder of a politician’s past in service of a totalitarian regime, he chose to prove his democratic credentials by taking the offending magazine to court, pursuing a verdict which is pushing it toward its death.