- guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 14 October 2009 18.25 BST
If anyone needed additional proof of the unsuitability of the Latvian For Fatherland and Freedom party as a partner for the British Conservatives, their response to a ceremony held yesterday in Riga to honour the Soviet soldiers who liberated the city in 1944 should be a stark reminder of the lack of shared values between the two parties. A statement issued by For Fatherland and Freedom harshly criticised Riga mayor Nils Usakovs for placing a wreath at the local Victory Monument which commemorates the liberation of the Latvian capital city from the Nazi occupation and for participating in a rally to mark the event. As far as they are concerned, Usakovs' presence at these events was "an insult to the victims of Communist terror and a glorification of the Soviet troops."
For Fatherland and Freedom, as by now should be well-known in Britain, prefers to honor Latvia's Waffen-SS veterans who fought for a victory of the Third Reich and Nazi domination of Europe, ignoring the important historical truth as Usakovs noted yesterday in his comments that "had Riga not been liberated from the Nazis in 1944, there would be no independent Latvia today [and therefore] it is our duty to thank those who fought against the Nazis."
The sad truth is that the positions taken by the Latvian politician Roberts Zile and Kaminski are hardly exceptional in their home countries. There, the second world war narrative accepted by the overwhelming majority of the civilised world – victors as well as losers, perpetrators as well as victims – has been distorted since independence and the transition to democracy to make it more palatable to their electorate and to minimise the role of local collaborators in Holocaust crimes. To understand the motives behind these efforts, it is important to note that while the Nazis were able to recruit local helpers in every country occupied by or allied with the Third Reich, the scope and depth of the collaboration by eastern Europeans was far more lethal and extensive than that of other Europeans.
While local police in countries such as France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and Greece played an important role in the implementation of the initial stages of the Final Solution – identification, confiscation of property, separation of the Jews from the rest of the population and preparation for deportation – they did not participate in the mass murder of their Jewish neighbours. Their collaboration ended at the local train station from whence the Jews were deported to Nazi death camps in Poland.
In eastern Europe, on the other hand, numerous local collaborators volunteered to participate in the mass murder of Jews and played an integral role in the annihilation process, which in many countries – especially in the Baltics, Belarus, Ukraine and Croatia – took place nearby, not in the death camps, all of which were in Poland. Baltic death squads such as the Latvian Arajs Kommando and Lithuanian Ypatingas Burys and 12th Auxiliary Police Battalion were among the most deadly and the Croatian Ustasha earned notoriety for their savagery and cruelty.
After the second world war, all of these countries were part of the Soviet Union or under communist domination, and therefore could not deal openly with their Holocaust crimes. And although the Soviets and the communists made a commendable effort to prosecute the local killers, the fate of the Jews was often manipulated for propaganda purposes and there was no freedom of expression and debate. It was only with the fall of communism that Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and others finally had an opportunity to face the truth and deal with its consequences.
Unfortunately, there were few local leaders who had the courage to tell their people the truth and carry out the necessary painful processes of prosecuting the guilty, rewriting history books and school textbooks, returning stolen property, and apologising for the crimes.
The results speak for themselves. Although there were numerous Nazi war criminals who could still be brought to trial, not a single one was ever punished in the Baltics, which had the worst record of local collaboration, and only two have been punished in democratic eastern Europe. Although various leaders issued public apologies (usually in Israel, almost never at home), they failed to deliver in terms of prosecution, restitution, education and documentation. Even worse, Holocaust-related issues became the main cause of renewed local antisemitism, which threatened the minuscule remnant Jewish communities in these countries.
For some reason, these issues, which should have been highly significant in determining the candidacy of these countries for European Union and Nato membership, were apparently not taken into account. Suddenly, these countries have the legitimacy of those memberships without having fully internalised the concomitant values. Miliband is correct in pointing out the obvious flaws of the Conservatives' new allies. But they are only the tip of the eastern European right wing, which is determined to rewrite the history of the second world war in a way that no self-respecting European should accept. By joining forces with parties such as Fatherland and Freedom and Law and Justice, the Conservatives are granting important legitimacy to a false narrative that seeks to whitewash war crimes and erase the heroic victory of those who saved the world from Hitler and the Nazis.
• Editor's note: This article was amended at 1815 on 14 October. It was originally published with the wrong introductory paragraphs