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East/West: Analysis From Washington -- Anti-Anti-Fascism

Prague, 4 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Individuals and organizations in Eastern Europe concerned about the rising influence of extreme nationalist parties now face a new challenge: anti-anti-fascism.

This set of ideas and groups is devoted to attacking those who attack fascism, a phenomenon analogous to anti-anti-communism in the West but one that is likely to have a far more pernicious influence on Eastern Europe than did anti-anti-communism in the West.

This week, the Warsaw magazine "Never Again" appealed for international support against what it said were moves by the extreme right to silence it. Established five years ago, "Never Again" is the only magazine in Poland devoted to raising public consciousness there about the Nazi past and to expose the activities of neo-Nazi groups now.

In November, "Never Again" documented the role of skinheads and other neo-fascist groups in killing 19 Polish citizens. Both the Polish constitution and the country's penal code forbid fascist and racist activities, but "Never Again" increasingly has found itself under attack for its reporting.

Its editors have received death threats. Contributors have been beaten up. And now, the magazine is being sued by Tomasz Szczepanski, the editor of a Polish magazine named after a proto-Slavonic divinity and a follower of French New Right leader Alain de Benoist, who objects to having his group called "anti-Semitic and chauvinistic."

The case is expected to be in court for a long time, and "Never Again" has appealed to international human rights and anti-fascist groups for support lest mounting legal costs force the magazine to close its doors -- an outcome that "Never Again" suggests is the real goal of this lawsuit.

This Polish case calls attention to a phenomenon that is likely to become ever more common: efforts by nationalist and neo-fascist groups to use legal means against those who try to expose them or the activities of extremists or Nazis in the past.

Such anti-anti-fascists seek support from the broader population sometimes by portraying their opponents as obsessed about things that no one needs to be concerned with. Such a tactic often appeals to those who believe that the only way to advance into the future is to avoid focusing on the past.

Sometimes they try to do so by linking their opponents to "foreign" centers and hence somehow unworthy of attention by loyal members of the nation. That has been a major theme in Austrian reaction to European Union criticism of the rise of an extreme right party there.

And sometimes, as in Poland, they use the legal system to try to paint anti-fascists as irresponsible extremists.

In this way, they sometimes gain a kind of spurious respectability either because they are able to point to occasions when anti-fascists are incautious in their charges or when the media portray contests between their groups and anti-fascists in objective, morally neutral tones.

And because such anti-anti-fascists are often better financed than their opponents, they sometimes succeed in limiting the influence of their opponents and thus gaining time to spread their own, often hateful messages.

To the extent that happens, the extreme nationalists are likely to gain in influence across much of Eastern Europe, particularly now when many people in these countries are suffering economically, look back with nostalgia to earlier times, and want to blame someone else for their own problems.

This rise of anti-anti-fascism in Eastern Europe inevitably recalls some aspects of the longstanding influence of anti-anti-communism in Western countries during and after the Cold War. Many critics of anti-communist groups and individuals were motivated by a concern for truth and civil liberties. And they could easily point to occasions when those who opposed communism crossed over the line on these issues.

But other anti-anti-communists in the West frequently seemed more concerned with silencing those who called attention to the evils of the communist system than with defending the principles of democratic societies in which they claimed to be acting.

And anti-anti-communism created an atmosphere in many Western countries that made it difficult if not impossible for academics and commentators to speak out openly about communism without being subjected to often merciless attacks by their opponents.

The institutions and legal traditions of Western countries proved strong enough to cope with anti-anti-communism, although the attitudes which gave it birth are still very much in evidence. The emergence of anti-anti-fascism in Eastern Europe, however, may have a far greater influence, given that the legal systems there are so much weaker.

And that risk, one that could open the door to the further rise of extremist parties, is likely to be all the greater if those concerned with democracy and freedom both in Eastern Europe and the West decide that the struggle between anti-fascists and anti-anti-fascists is something they need not worry about.