History in Europe never ends, it returns again and again like a false coin. All the soap opera around the departure of the remains of the dictator Francisco Franco of the Valley of the Fallen shows that Spain is one of the countries where digestion is heaviest. The same could be said of France, which, although it knew how to bury its worst ghosts of the Second World War (the participation of its police in the raids of Jews), continues to revolve around the war of independence of Algeria. It has had to be the current president, Emmanuel Macron, who recently acknowledged that the young mathematician Maurice Audin was tortured and murdered in 1957 by the French Army, sixty years after the crime.
But if there is a European country that has had problems in recent years with reading its past has been Poland. Warsaw passed a controversial law in 2018 that made it illegal to say anything with which all serious historians of the Holocaust agree: that many Jews were persecuted by Poles. In fact, Poland won the Oscar for best foreign film for Going, a film that speaks precisely of that. The Poles suffered atrociously under the Nazis and had nothing to do with the fields that the Nazis installed in their territory. No doubt about that. But they also persecuted Jews. Of this there is no doubt either.
Warsaw has been embroiled in a new controversy, and in a diplomatic conflict with Israel, by a US law that requires the State Department to report on countries where there has been no restitution of property seized from Jews during Nazism , something that in Poland has not happened. Last Saturday thousands of ultranationalists demonstrated in Warsaw with banners with slogans such as "Poland has no obligations" or "Hyenas of the Holocaust," according to the Reuters report.
The story is heavy, thick, almost always indigestible. But it is essential to look at it head on to continue moving forward, because the past offers essential lessons for example on the dangers of extreme nationalism. Denying the history, falsifying it, is the specialty of many of the right-wing groups that come to the European elections on March 26. They glorify an ideal and immaculate past because they believe that the present must be anchored in it, when in reality it must be overcome. Tony Judt explains it perfectly in the paragraph that culminates his masterpiece Postwar period"The new Europe, united by the signs and symbols of its terrible past, is a remarkable success, but it will remain forever mortgaged by that past, so that Europeans may preserve that vital link – so that the past of the continent continues to provide the present in Europe a failing content and a moral objective – it will have to be taught again to each generation, the European Union may be a response to history, but it can never replace it. "
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