A group of deputies from a number of Eastern European countries launched a public appeal in Brussels for communist symbols -- such as the sickle and hammer and red star -- to be banned alongside Nazi images if such a ban is adopted in Europe.
The EU's justice commissioner, Franco Frattini, last month said he is mulling a legal clampdown on Nazi symbols. It's not clear the ban will be adopted because of concern it may impede the right to free speech.
The campaign to include communist symbols is spearheaded by Joszef Szajer, a Hungarian and one of the vice presidents of the conservative People's Party faction in the European Parliament, and Vytautas Landsbergis, the former Lithuanian president.
Szayer told reporters in Brussels on today he has already written to Frattini explaining his concerns. "Last week I made [a] speech at the European Parliament on this subject and we signed [a] letter to Franco Frattini reminding him -- and this is the basic message of our attempt -- that we are not necessarily in favor of banning symbols because that could raise certain concerns about the freedom of speech, but if on a European level [it is] seriously raised that certain symbols, specifically the swastika or other Nazi symbols, are banned, then we would like to have an equal treatment with the other evil totalitarian regime, the communist system," Szayer said.
Szajer, Landsbergis, and four other deputies made it clear they are not asking for an outright ban of communist symbols. Szajer said he personally believes the matter should be left to individual EU member states. He said Hungary has a ban on symbols of both ideologies and that it is working well.
The appeal has underscored differences between some of the new EU members states -- most of which suffered under communism -- and older EU members, where Nazism is often viewed as the greater evil.
Szajer offered a spirited explanation. "I live in a country which was not so fortunate as, for instance, Italy," he said. "We [experienced] both of the [two] totalitarian systems, and for us the citizens of Hungary, hundreds of thousands and millions who were in Soviet [camps] and other concentration camps in Russia, it's very clear that you cannot make a distinction between these two evil totalitarian regimes of the 20th century."
Szajer said that if Europe is to make a moral reckoning of its past, it must address the crimes of both regimes.
Jan Zahradil, a Czech member of the European Parliament, went so far as to accuse Western Europe of a "double standard" when it comes to communism. "There is and there has always been a certain [imbalance] or even a double standard in the European Union in treating extreme-right and extreme-left ideologies," he said. "Extreme-right ideologies were -- rightly -- condemned, banned, and [suppressed], which is of course correct and desirable. However, the treatment of extreme-left ideologies has not always been the same. On the contrary, sometimes we can meet people even within the European Union and European intellectual elites who even today genuinely believe that all these communists, or extreme leftists, were de facto good guys with good ideas."
Tunne Kelam, an Estonian, noted that World War II was a product of what he called the "friendship" of Hitler and Stalin. He said Europe needs as "clear an assessment" of the crimes of communism as those of Nazism. Otherwise, he said, the tens of millions of victims of communism in Eastern Europe and Russia risk being regarded as "second-class victims," with only Nazi victims commemorated.
None of the deputies present offered a direct answer to questions of whether the mass killing of Jews should be viewed on equal terms with mass killings committed by communists.
Szajer said some of the Eastern European politicians have a larger agenda. He said they remain critical of EU policies that would appear to treat left-wing regimes more leniently. The group opposes, for example, recent EU moves to ease sanctions against Cuba and plans to lift the arms embargo against China.