Interview by Roberto Mansilla Blanco
Renato Cristin is a philosopher and professor of Philosophical Hermeneutics at the University of Trieste, Italy, and is the promoter with Vladimir Bukovsky of the worldwide campaign Appeal for Nuremberg Trials for Communism, aimed at passing judgment on the historical crimes of communism. In this interview he answers questions about this initiative, communism’s role in current events, and a very critical look at – and denunciation of – the usurpatious regime of Nicolás Maduro and Chavism in Venezuela.
When was the “Appeal for Nuremberg Trials for Communism,” which you and Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky have been promoting, born?
This initiative was born in the summer of 2019, but it had a long gestation that I can recount briefly. During a 2005 conference dedicated to the memory of totalitarianism, a conference I organized when I was director of the Italian Cultural Institute of Berlin, Vladimir Bukovsky told me of his idea of establishing a “Nuremberg for Communism”that could hand down a historical and moral condemnation, analogous to the one that justly condemned Nazism and definitively excluded it from the civilized world. Some years later, a group of experts, professors, researchers, and politicians from the Baltic countries took up the idea again, putting together events and conferences of a historical character, but after that we didn’t find a way to make the initiative more concrete.
Finally in the summer of 2019 I wrote to Bukovsky to suggest that we promote it through an appeal that could serve as the basis for an international initiative beginning with the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Although weakened by his illness, he accepted with enthusiasm since he saw the possibility of finally giving form to his idea. Thus it was that we wrote the text of the Appeal and decided to prepare its launch by collecting signatures to present in public for the symbolic date of November 9. Unfortunately Bukovsky passed away on October 27, 2019, leaving an enormous void in all those around the world who had applauded his long battle against communism and shared his motivations and goals; but at the same time he left as a legacy his commitment to carrying out his intention, in part through our new initiative.
What are the main demands laid out in this initiative?
This initiative is necessary so that the massacres and genocides by various communist regimes and movements can be formally submitted to a judgment that up to now has not taken place; so as to purify our collective historical consciousness of the toxins that communist ideology has spread everywhere; and so as to rebalance the Western world’s moral conscience, the conscience of the free world that too often, out of sloth or bad faith, hides the truth of communism, concealing the criminal essence of an ideology that is still active and deadly.
Concretely, it is to unfold on three levels, closely linked and connected: a specifically cultural line (historiographical, philosophical, sociological, political, geopolitical); a juridical line (with the object of examining the concrete possibilities for moving forward under penal law, both with regard to specific cases and with regard to the crime of genocide characteristic of many of these massacres); a political and institutional line, which must be assembled both with governments receptive to the idea of obtaining the political and moral condemnation of communism and with the European Parliament, with the goal of fulfilling the resolution the equates communism with national socialism, approved in September 2019.
In recent weeks the global health emergency caused by the coronavirus – a topic that has many implications, not only economic and social but also political, which I will not dwell on here – produced a situation that has forced us to reschedule the concrete actions that we had begun to put together, which will resume when the situation stabilizes, I imagine after the summer. We are continuing to move forward with the collection of signatures of support for the Appeal, which can be read and signed on its webpage.
What has the international reception of this initiative been like, particularly from the standpoint of public opinion, the academic world, the political sphere, and so on?
As of today the Appeal has been supported by signatures from more than 1,500 people, who, as can be seen from the list that appears on the webpage, come from many countries and are connected with numerous institutions and with a wide array of professional, academic, and institutional sectors. An article in Italian, though published last November and thus not up to date, presented some of the names that appear among the first signatories.
From the beginning the initiative has had a great reception on the part of people and communities, including exiles, who have lived under communism from Eastern Europe to Latin America. There is the enormously admirable courage of many signers who are exposed today for supporting it, and there is also approval (invigorating and vigorous) on the part of many intellectuals, above all classical liberals or liberal-conservatives, in defense of the free world.
In Italy it was presented in the Senate with the support of center-right parties, but in reality it is a nonpartisan appeal that, subscribing to the need to marginalize extremism, charts a reasonable path that has to do with a balanced vision, even a humanitarian one (because some of the crimes committed in the name of this ideology are still being committed and there continue to be new victims). It is an international initiative with an ethical character, even more than a political, historical and cultural one.
The support of the first signatories, some of whom also help me with the promotion of the document, is invaluable. Among them are members of the European Parliament and some national parliaments, figures in the business world, from the media, from science, from culture and religion, university professors, economists, artists and writers, sports figures, professionals from many different sectors, directors of think tanks, and representatives from many institutions dedicated to the memory of the crimes of communism located throughout the world.
I highlight the support of people who have suffered persecutions from different European communist regimes of the 20th century (among whom I want to mention a good friend of Bukovsky’s, the writer and Soviet dissident Arkady Polishchuk), and of those who even today suffer under similar regimes: Cuban exiles and dissidents, Venezuelan opposition figures, people who through direct experience have seen what the devastating consequences of this ideology can be, in any of its variants.
I would like to mention them all one by one, since toward them all I have a sentiment that goes beyond gratitude for their support, one that reaches the point of friendship.
Moreover, there are organizations that are manifesting their commitment to work together to make the initiative prosper, and they are already starting to do it in concrete ways; for example, the Platform of European Memory of Conscience (Prague), the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (USA), the International Freedom Educational Foundation (USA), the Corneliu Coposu Foundation (Romania), the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory (Estonia), the Club de los Viernes (Spain), the Lepanto Foundation (Italy), and the Farefuturo Foundation (Italy), to name just a few among many others.
We also have the invaluable support of presidents or directors of countless organizations, among which are the David Horowitz Freedom Center (USA), the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (USA), the Westminster Institute (USA), the Mannkal Economic Education Foundation (Australia), the Liberty Memorial to the Victims of Communism (Canada), the National Museum of the Holodomor-Genocide (Ukraine), the Cuban Democratic Directory (Cuba-USA), the House of Terror (Hungary), the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania, the International Association of Former Political Prisoners and Victims of Communism (Germany), the Strategic Studies Group – GEES (Spain), the Movement for Spain, the Institute for Democracy, Media and Culture (Albania), The New Criterion magazine (USA), the PanAm Post (USA), the New English Review (USA), Jihad Watch magazine (USA), Libertad Digital (Spain), L’Opinione delle libertà (Italy), and many others. For a complete overview, which for reasons of space I cannot give in full here as I would like, I refer you to the list of signatories that can be read on the Appeal site.
I would just add that from Latin America in particular the Appeal has received the valuable support of the Libertad y Progreso Foundation (Argentina), the Bases Foundation (Argentina), the LIBRE Study Center (Argentina), the Human Action Studies Institute (Peru), and the Libera Bolivia Foundation, among others. And from Venezuela specifically we have around forty declarations of support to this point, among which I highlight that of a former president of the country, the Libertarian Movement of Venezuela, the Rumbo Libertad Movement, and the Qué Vaina! site itself.
Could you shed some light on the Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky? What historical role did Bukovsky have in the initiative to promote a word judgment on the crimes of communism?
A tenacious adversary of the Soviet regime and a convinced promoter of the need to institute a world judgment on the crimes of communist ideology, Vladimir Bukovsky succeeded in giving greater political visibility than any other Soviet dissident to the thesis that communist ideology must not be allowed to proliferate, either before or after the collapse of the USSR and its satellites. (You can see the profile published in PanAm Post.)
Though Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was the greatest, and never sufficiently appreciated, storyteller of the hidden massacre that was the Soviet gulag, Bukovsky was the greatest theorizer, known also for his research on the behind-the-scenes workings of the dictatorship, in regard to which his book Judgment in Moscow is a true masterpiece.
From the perspective of historical judgment, how would you characterize communism?
History understood as a flow of facts has shown in stark relief the harm that that ideology produced on the economic and social level. From there we can come to the condemnation – which I uphold and propose – of communism as not only a socioeconomic failure, but also a political, moral, spiritual, and cultural one, and as the history of an anthropological error confirmed as such by every one of the attempts to impose a new man: Soviet, Maoist, Castroist, Chavist, or any other type. But given that this ideology is still active and even today produces its devastating effects, both with respect to liberty and human dignity and with respect to the social system that safeguards that liberty and dignity, the “Appeal for Nuremberg Trials for Communism” is not only valid as regards the past, but can also serve for the present and for the future, to stop that ideology from spreading further and keep it from intoxicating future generations.
In sum, this initiative serves to condemn communism where it was really put into practice, in past and current regimes in their different variants (among which are China, North Korea, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Mozambique, Eritrea), and to condemn the totalitarian ideology that birthed them and continues to act in every area of the globe, even within the Western world, under the form of political parties, revolutionary movements, subversive groups, and organizations that are Third-Worldist, anti-West, or hostile to the Western socioeconomic system.
Do you think that the historical evaluation of this ideology has been adequate?
Historical judgment understood as historians’ judgment of communism shows different evaluations depending on the theoretical and political point of view from which historians have considered communism according to its form, be it ideological or state communism. Hence there is a disparity of opinions, but today no one, other than some nostalgic or ideologically deformed persons, can deny the reality of the crimes committed by the various regimes throughout the years. Thus many seek to differentiate intentions and results, declaring that communism would be a good idea, a hypothesis of human emancipation, and that its failed execution is due to the imperfections of the people who adopted it, and thus the catastrophic consequences too, even the massacres, are due not to the idea but to people; while others, with an even more poisonous and cynical distinction, declare that for the realization of such a grandiose ideal, even the massacres are justified, thus legitimizing a criminal equivalence of ends and means, and managing to keep the ideological nucleus of communism intact for future generations.
It is clear that justificationism is as harmful as denialism.
How do you see the left today on a worldwide level? Do you think there has been a sincere self-examination of what the crimes of communism have constituted in history?
The world left is in a paradoxical situation today. On one hand it is the heir to the historical shipwreck of the socialist-communist project, and is therefore evidently inferior with respect to the validity of the project that, to simplify, I call liberal-capitalist, that is the worldview that has been affirmed in Western civilization and that today extends to all countries that advance under its inspiration. On the other hand, and above all in such countries, communist ideology – transformed in various ways or opportunistically modified as the case may be – is sprouting again as what Bukovsky called “a cancer in the body of the human race”; it is adapting to new geopolitical circumstances and is being reorganized to pass off as something new and good a social project that, on the contrary, produced nothing but misery and devastation.
Immersed in this paradox, the left has found a shortcut to escape from the dead end in which history has trapped them, thanks to some contingent historical events and thanks to some old and new allies. These contingent phenomena are, for example, climate change, presented as an aspect of a planetary ecological crisis; the migratory pressure from Africa and Asia that threatens Europe and that the left sees as an opportunity for revenge on capitalism, and as a possibility to realize the Third-Worldism that was always part of their ideological heritage; repeated economic crises interpreted as signs that announce the collapse of the capitalist system, that is the whole Western socioeconomic system. All of these phenomena are taken advantage of by the world left to win political space and obtain consensus in public opinion.
Along with this the left has powerful allies: historical friends like a large part of the media world, the majority traditionally steeped in socialist-communist and anti-Western ideology (although shameless in taking money from magnates of detested capitalism), and aligned with the positions of Third-Worldism and of radical progressivism; institutional allies, for example the UN and all its agencies, from the FAO to UNESCO, from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees to the World Health Organization; and a new and unexpected ally, the Catholic Church guided by the current Pope or, to be more exact, the part of the Church that follows Bergoglio’s political theology, inspired by liberation theology, that “Cathocommunism” that already had many adherents in the world and today has become the majority position among the clergy and, I fear, also among the faithful. Because of the authority of his role, and the irrelevance of the leaders of the current left, the current pontiff can be considered the charismatic leader the left needs today to continue nourishing its adherents’ collective image.
Paradoxically, there was on the left more self-criticism in the period before or in the years immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, while today they have overcome that phase and abandoned any self-critical attitude, becoming more and more prideful and aggressive. A serious self-examination, which if it is consistent takes consequences from its analysis, would force any rational person to abandon these positions, and thus there is nothing left for them but to seek theoretical and practical ways out, sophisms that, as I observed, allow the communist ideal to preserve that halo of mysticism that became indispensable for anyone to be able to believe in it.
Do you think we are on the threshold of more radical and populist options from the left?
In the Western world, the left needs to advance according to two registers or speeds: one with a low ideological profile, which can assure its perception as suitable to govern and not frighten the electorate in liberal-democratic systems, which would not tolerate radical shifts; and another, with a more aggressive ideological character, which can emphasize contingencies (especially economic crisis or climate change) to warm the minds of youth, to push in the direction of Afro-asiatic immigrationism in Europe, to isolate the State of Israel and favor its enemies (be they Palestinians or Iranians), to foster subversive uprisings in Latin America, as we saw some months ago, or to encourage seditious movements in Europe that can intercept social unrest and encourage disturbances.
How do you characterize Chavism ideologically? Do you consider it an heir to communist theses?
In my view, Chávez was the principal exponent of a Latin American populism that, joining Marxism-Leninism with nationalism, found great acceptance in the entire continent (the Bolivarian Alliance was a disastrous but objectively conspicuous result) not because it had great theoretical depth but because it took power in one of the major oil-producing countries. It is thanks to Venezuela’s oil reserves, not Chávez’s political intelligence, that the movement called Chavism could be formed and consolidated and that it continues to hold power in Venezuela today. The thread of oil effectively links countries that appear to have few affinities among them: Russia, Iran, and of course Venezuela, with Cuba, more as an ideological remnant that as an equal actor, given its economic irrelevance.
I clearly remember how in 2007 Chávez and the then-president of Iran Mahmud Ahmadinejad signed an iron alliance between their two countries; I have clear the memory of their exchanges of visits, the Iranian’s triumphal arrival in Caracas, then his stop in Cuba to pay homage to the agonizing “ayatollah” Fidel Castro, and securing a bond that would see the emergence of a world alliance between Islamic Nazism and communism, with the shared objective of destroying American power and the West in general (including Israel, obviously). With this alliance, which Russia joined later, outlandish projects were outlined, like 21st-century socialism: pure madness, unpublished strategic scenarios, but above all new ideological and, more concerning, military energies. The war against the West had in 2007 already found an axis with strong geopolitical penetration.
Just to continue on South America: everyone is aware of the border triangle among Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil that has already become a de facto extraterritorial zone, an enclave exempted from legality by drug-trafficking mafia and used as an advance outpost for jihad in the West, as a logistical space for the economic and military strengthening of terrorist groups whose existence everyone is aware of but which no one wants to oppose, which Chávez had fostered and, after the pact with Iran, financed. To pay militants from Hezbollah and Hamas in the Middle East and other cells in various parts of the world, Iran had no need of Chavist money, and even so Chávez, who with his obscene rhetoric would make Simón Bolivar turn over in his grave, didn’t want to hang back at the moment of supporting the then-longed-for communist-Islamist world revolution.
Chávez-Maduro ideology, which still consists of few ideas and has a lot of international support, is one of the adaptations of communism, in this case to Venezuela’s sociocultural reality, a hateful form of ideological prevarication ending up in dictatorship.
How do you see the situation in Venezuela?
Nicolás Maduro is an abusive president who has not only usurped the office but who, with the establishment of acorrupt system of nomenclature, with the overwhelming use of demagoguery, and with the support, up to now perhaps total, of the military command, has brought misery to his people (to all the people: even those who take to the streets to support it suffer in fact from the scarcity brought on by Chavist political economy). A despot who has installed himself at the height of power with no respect for democracy and without the least bit of pity even for his countrymen who are almost literally dying of hunger and – no less grave – suffering the injury of beng deprived of their freedom. Only Marxist ideologues, cynical politicians, or “Bergoglian” ecclesiastical figures can continue to support that dictatorship or declare themselves neutral between Maduro and the opposition.
Other than such types, there ought to be unconditional support for the push for democracy and freedom deployed by the opposition. The European Parliament since spring 2019 has recognized the legitimacy of the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as have more than sixty countries, with the United States on the front line (Italy unfortunately is not part of that group because of the governing Five Star Movement’s pro-Maduro stance; and neither is the Vatican, which insists on the captious and crypto-socialist thesis of equivalence between the two parties, which nevertheless cannot be compared). But political pressure at these heights is not enough to bring down Maduro’s administration. The axis of Russia, Iran, and today even China is shoring up a rotten regime but one still able to suffocate the opposition. Thus the issue needs to be forced, with support even from the outside, to help topple the ever more ruthless regime.
An act of international imputation of guilt could be a middle road between political pressure (almost always too slow and of little effect) and military intervention (undesirable because it would have victims among the citizens already exhausted by Madurist poverty): in this sense there would have to be significant international support for the order to capture Maduro, issued by the US and ordered by President Donald Trump, but to reach this goal there needs to be a clear will and governments that wish to affirm the principle of freedom without ideological reservations.
It is to be hoped, than, that such a will can find a way to carry out its intentions. All who share it should therefore take action in their respective spheres so that Western governments make a decision that is becoming more urgent every day. We cannot be overly optimistic, because we know the ideological orientation and cowardice of many governing parties in the West today (including the European Union), but we have have confidence in the energy of ideas and in the strength of liberty, which can mobilize public opinion to exert pressure that governments cannot escape if they want to really be (and not just call themselves) liberal-democratic.
Roberto Mansilla Blanco is an analyst of geopolitics and international relations. Bachelor of International Studies (Central University of Venezuela, UCV), Master of Political Science (Universidad Simón Bolívar, USB) and collaborator in think tanks and digital media in Spain, USA and Latin America.
This interview was conducted by “Venezuela Viva. Qué Vaina!”. Published in International Freedom Educational Foundation.