A aparut in Lituania, cu titlul Esu iš tų, kurie atsisako hierarchizuoti absoliučias baisybes (I am among those who refuse to establish a hierarchy of absolute horrors), in revista “Kultūros barai”, Vol. 2, 2013, interviul meu luat de politologul Tomas Kavaliauskas, specialist in tranzitiile post-comuniste. Iata mai jos cateva fragmente:
TK: Today the word “nationalism“ has become discredited due to nationalistic movements that are often share xenophobic and antisemitic attitudes all over Europe. However, in 1989 in East Central Europe nationalism had a positive meaning, I think because back then it was liberal nationalism – for your and my freedom. The Singing revolution shared creativity and harmony rather than ethnic hatred (possibly with some exceptions in sensitive minority territories). Does it mean we should be careful in what sense today we use the term „nationalism“ ? This term might be confusing when we refer to a different political context and different time horizon. Would you agree that in 1989 East Central Europeans shared liberal nationalism that was constructive, not destructive? If so, then perhaps liberalism and nationalism are not necessarily contradictory terms apriori ? But is it possible to rehabilitate the positive meaning of it after harsh ultra-nationalistic riots in Warsaw on November 11th in 2011 and 2012 in the name of Independence celebration?
VT: Nationalism, we know from Isaiah Berlin, is a Protean, more often than not ambivalent force. It is one of the main political impulses of modernity, a vibrant set of ideas about collective memories, identities, loyalties, anxieties, hopes, aspirations. In its early romantic form, nationalism had a strong emancipatory, universalistic, civic component. Then came the Wagnerian moment, with the emphasis on volkisch community, Blut und Boden, biological bonds, the metapolitical cult of mythological ancestry, the exaltation of tribalistic allegiances. Liberal nationalism lost ground to its main rival, illiberal nationalism. Instead of rational discourses on civic identities, the new prophets engaged in liturgic, salvationist rodomontades.
The twentieth century was, to a great extent, a battlefield between these two visions. Liberalism and nationalism are not mutually exclusive. As Israeli political philosopher Yael Tamir argues, liberal nationalism is more than an abstract possibility. American sociologist Leah Greenfeld, drawing from Isaiah Berlin and Daniel Bell, correctly argues that nationalism is a matter of dignity. But an inflamed, paroxistic sense of dignity can easily turn into paranoia. This is the reason why the great Yugoslav writer Danilo Kis defined nationalism as individual and collective paranoia. The revolutions of 1989, like the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, fused the ethnic and civic yearnings. They were attemtps to reclaim national and political sovereignty, confiscated by the totalitarian regimes. I think that the ethnic moment is indispensable, traditions cannot and ought not be erased in the name of disembodied constructs. At the same time, we should be very cautious when national symbols are used in the political battles. The tragic lessons of Yugoslavia‘s collapse need to be kept in mind as an enduring caveat.
TK: Visiting Bucharest in 2010 I had an opportunity to watch on local television an interview with you. I was amazed that during prime time an intellectual could get 3 hours. This is unimaginable in Lithuania where the TV sadly is devoured by commercial entertainment programs. Should I conclude that Romanian television is considerably more advanced in terms of promotion of intellectual culture?
VT: Tempi passati! The Romanian TV stations are also strongly commercialized and have very few intellectual shows. Add to this the role played by „Antena 3“, a very powerful station owned by a media tycoon who had collaborated with the Securitate, and you have a pretty accurate picture of the not so glorious situation. As a matter of fact, „Antena 3“ has gone of its way to besmirch critical intellectuals and present them as slaves of the West. Despicable campaigns have been waged against such intellectuals as Mircea Cartarescu, Gabriel Liiceanu, Mircea Mihaies, Horia-Roman Patapievici, and Andrei Plesu.
TK: And may we add one more question on your book “The Devil in History” which received great reviews by such distinguished sholars like John Gray and Richard Overy? May I ask how American audience digest Communism being equalled to Nazism ? In Brussels Lithuanian Europarlamenterian Vytautas Landsbergis and Latvian Europarlamenterian Sandra Kalnietė have attempted to equal Communism to Nazism or more precisely Stalinism with Hitler’s Fascism, but failed to convince those Westerners to whom only Fascism seems to be total evil. To what extent would you agree that it is also a cultural and psychological issue — Westerners who have no experience of Stalinism are capable of acknowledging the evil of Holocaust but fail to grasp civilizational evil in gulags and Siberia ? Does this problem also lie in the fact that there is European consensus on the evil of Holocaust and extermination of Jewish populations, but there is no consensus on Communist Stalinism and genocide of own Russian people?
No doubt, some people are quite unhappy with this analogy. Ironically, my book came out precisely at the time when Oliver Stone promotes his outrageously revisionist fantasies about the US and the Cold War. The problem is thus linked to the failure to engage in a genuine exercise of moral imagination. I think there is also a deficit of empathy in the West regarding the victims of communism. Adopting an empathetic approach would make less difficult understanding things that Vassili Grossman understood so well: Communism (not only Stalinism, I hasten to add) and Fascism (or, if you prefer Nazism) embody the experience of radical evil. I am among those who refuse to establish a hierarchy of absolute horrors. Evil was evil, no matter what its graphic symbol was, the swastika or the hammer and sickle. The root of these demonic experiments with millions of human lives was the frantic cult of ideology, the ecstasy of absolute transformation of nature, society, and mind. It is not only the transvaluation of all values, in Nietzsche’s terms, but an overall restructuring of morality. Good and evil are not abolished, but falsified (as French historian Alain Besancon showed, it was Russian Christian philosopher Vladimir Soloviev who was probably the first to diagnose this revolutionizing of morality). Certainly, the reluctance to condemn Communism in as unequivocal terms as Fascism is linked to the humanist heredity of Marxism. Many people still find hard to admit that the roots of Stalinism should be sought after in the Leninist hubris. Lenin’s hubris, in turn, cannot be separated from the utopian ambition to make humanity happy, at any cost. Both Communism and Fascism were redemptive political fantasies.