Memory Politics in Far Right Europe: Celebrating Nazi Collaborationists in Post-1989 Belarus, Romania, Flanders and Denmark
Kotljarchuk, Andrej - Researcher
The Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies
This project examines the use of revisionist World War Two narratives within the far right in post-Soviet East and West. The dominant narrative, in both, remains one of united resistance against the Nazis. Those who fought with the Germans - Waffen-SS volunteers, collaborationist Home Defences and Legions - have been vilified. After the war, pro-Nazi veterans were forced into exile, underground, or into the fringe. But they kept their narratives of heroic resistance to Communism alive. The fall of the Soviet Union gave them new audiences. We are interested how veterans’ narratives are redeployed in both East and West, in movements to contest existing governments - not least by inspiring militant, far-right youth. Pro-veteran militants share an international revisionist discourse; the veterans’ associations are themselves strongly transnational. We will study the use of these narratives and associations in four cases: Belarus; Romania; Flanders, and Denmark. These span the East-West divide that traditionally informs such studies, providing excellent illustrations of how a common discourse plays itself out in very different political situations. In post-89 Belarus, Waffen-SS and Defence Force veterans were widely celebrated as representatives of an anti-Russian heritage.
Today, their cult, popular among far-right youth, is sponsored by many anti-Lukashenka, pro-Europe networks. In Romania, by contrast, admirers of Romania’s clerico-fascist past use the wide popularity of veterans’ narratives to combat a pro-European democracy.
In Flanders, as in Belarus, Waffen-SS veterans are celebrated as warriors for national independence; the movement for Flemish independence lends their cult significant political clout. In Denmark – our outlier contrast - Waffen-SS veterans present themselves as martyrs for Europe, and exploit the legitimacy afforded them in the post-Soviet East. They hope for recognition as heroic "soldiers” – enough, indeed, to fuel Europe's neo-Nazi right. These studies will allow us trace and compare the new audiences won by celebratory narratives of pro-Nazi veterans. Anchored in a shared, transnational “memory”, they have been redeployed by far-right nationalists, by pro- and anti-Westerners, and by separatist movements in both East and West. The result will be a uniquely comparative study of national and international far-right WWII narratives, and, hence, an increased understanding of modern extremism in both East and West Europe.