Tuesday, 17 March 2015

A Danish adventure

I spent last weekend in Copenhagen, launching the Danish edition of my last book "The Devils' Alliance".  Beautifully presented by the Kristeligt Dagblads Forlag, "En djaevelsk alliance" is a handsome looking volume and is the first foreign-language edition of this book to be published.  So, as you can imagine, it was a great pleasure to formally launch the book at the inaugural "Historiske Dage" history festival in the Danish capital.

What was more exciting, however, was that the Danes evidently "got" the book.  They grasped what I was trying to do, without any bafflement, confected outrage or ridiculous suggestions that I was in some way "whitewashing Nazism". In review after review, they just seemed to "get it".  This was especially satisfying.  One reviewer even went so far as to suggest that perhaps it was time to regard Communism as having been just as great a threat to Denmark during World War Two as Nazism had been.  There were criticisms, of course, and valid ones, but in Copenhagen at least the unthinking binary formulation of "Stalin good/Hitler bad", that still seems to prevail in sections of the British media and academia, seems to have been consigned - praise the Lord - to the rubbish heap of history.

There are a couple of reasons for this enlightened attitude.  Firstly, Denmark has a natural connection to the Baltic States, not only though a shared status as a small state in northern Europe historically at the mercy of its larger neighbours, but also because Denmark was often used during the Cold War as an intermediary for American policy towards to the Baltics.  As a result, the historic sufferings of the Baltic peoples, far from being a largely unwritten chapter (as in the UK), are rather better understood in Denmark. Indeed, I met a couple of Sybiraks - survivors of the Soviet deportations, who grew up in Siberian exile - during my short stay there.

In addition, as I learned from the review of my book in the Berlingske Tidende, the issue of misplaced 'progressive' tolerance for the USSR and for Stalinism has already, to some extent, been worked through in Danish public life. Around the turn of the millennium, a Danish Encyclopedia appeared (in those old-fashioned days when such a thing would still be printed) whose academic editors, it seemed, went rather too easy on Communism.  In response, a philosopher pointed these oversights out, concluding that there was still a reluctance to acknowledge that Nazism and Communism had had much in common.

The result, then, had been a blazing row - something akin to the German "Historikerstreit" of the 1980s - in which learned commentators slugged out their ideas in the broadsheets and the news programmes - finally arriving at a more mature assessment of what those two great totalitarian systems of the 20th Century had signified.  That is why, it seems, Denmark "gets it".  The idea of Communism as 'progressive' and Stalin as the avuncular "Uncle Joe" might still hold sway in the remaining squats and foggy communes of Christiania, but they no longer go unchallenged in public life.

Which is all good.  Good news for the book, and a great pleasure to be preaching to the converted. Floreat Dania...
 En djævelsk allianceEn djævelsk allianceEn djævelsk alliance by the Kristeligt Dagblad

No comments: