Categories
2017

Mary Heimann

Nazism and Stalinism, which scarred Europe for generations, have barely passed away but again we seem to be sleepwalking into totalitarianism. The Fascist and Communist regimes that dominated Europe in the twentieth century relied on everyday human flaws – envy, gossip, malice, careerism – to tempt ordinary people voluntarily to police and report on one another.

Professor Mary Heimann looks at how we can learn lessons from our history and how, as individuals, we all can play a part in changing society and making sure we don’t repeat the same mistakes

Nazism and Stalinism, which scarred Europe for generations, have barely passed away. Again we seem to be sleepwalking into totalitarianism. It is tempting to focus blame on an individual politician – a Hitler or Stalin, a Trump or Le Pen, a Farage or May – and to forget that the power that they wield is only as strong as we collectively allow, through our silent complicity. The most extensive police state in the world can never monitor, let alone control, all of its citizens.

The Fascist and Communist regimes that dominated Europe in the twentieth century relied on everyday human flaws – envy, gossip, malice, careerism – to tempt ordinary people voluntarily to police and report on one another. Ideology enabled the oppression of everyone by everyone to be justified through lofty abstractions such as the ‘Aryan race’, the ‘interests of the nation’, the ‘working class’ or the ‘will of the people’. Since the fault-line between oppressor and oppressed runs within each of us, we will not fundamentally change society by replacing one leader with another, or even one ideology with another. Our most powerful defence against new forms of oppression is to call things by their real names and to value actual human beings above any abstraction. This is the only way to rob propaganda of its power to bring out the inhumanity in us all.

Professor Mary Heimann, Chair of Modern History at Cardiff University, is a leading authority on the history of Czechoslovakia, a country that was set up as a democratic, liberal and multinational state, but fell prey to ethnic chauvinism, dictatorship, and both Fascist and Communist rule. She holds a PhD in Modern History from the University of Oxford and has contributed policy recommendations for regional stability through NATO’s Partnership for Peace.

www.maryheimann.com
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