An often-debated subject, especially among scholars on the right, is the discrepancy between the considered history of the crimes of Communism and those of Nazism. Both were totalitarian and evil, but there are far more victims of Communism than Nazi fascism–yet we shun one completely but make some room for the influence and ideas of the other; European governments outlaw one but not the other.
Two current debates illustrate this divide. Last month, in what appeared to be a public relations stunt to distract pro-democracy protesters in Russia from the neo-Soviet behavior of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s new culture minister touched off a national debate when he proposed–as someone does every so often there–that the state bury Vladimir Lenin’s body once and for all. The Soviet founding father currently lies in a glass coffin in Red Square. The fact that Lenin inhabits a shrine rather than be returned to the dust of the earth, where he belongs, has turned the phrase “Lenin’s tomb” into a sort of shorthand for the torn nostalgia of Russian society.
The other such debate, the subject of an interesting story in today’s Washington Post, is over whether, how, and where Germany should build a new Cold War museum. Neither society appears to have much taste for the totalitarianism that oppressed them throughout the 20th century, but the West’s victory in the Cold War cannot be so easily simplified in two countries that were divided–in Germany’s case, literally–about the issue as recently as the early 1990s. In Russia’s case, burying Lenin would be an act of tremendous psychological weight and exertion. In Germany, it is much the same:
Here at Checkpoint Charlie, where Soviet and American tanks once aimed at each other separated by 30 yards, Cold War tensions are still running high.
An international group of scholars, backed by Berlin’s center-left city government, wants to build a Cold War museum on a rubble-strewn plot of land here, arguing that one of the best-known sites of confrontation between the capitalist West and the Communist East should not be abandoned to tourist touts and vendors selling Red Army hats.
But a group of conservative politicians, seared by memories of the divided city, says the plans for the museum are overly sympathetic to the Communists. They want to go elsewhere in the city to build a museum that they say celebrates freedom….
“It’s a scandal to have hot dog stands and people in fake uniforms,” said Konrad Jarausch, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who was born in Germany and is leading the effort to build a museum at Checkpoint Charlie. “What the city needs is a museum on the same level of some of the museums that deal with the Third Reich.”