Wednesday, 9 December 2009

A surprising day

A few weeks ago the noted german historian Ernst Nolte was invited in Trieste, Italy, to talk about the fall of the Berlin Wall. He was welcomed by a few dozens students in the way depicted above. There was almost no echo in the press, except for a few local newspapers. Nolte is 86 years old, a professor emeritus in Berlin's Freie Universit├Ąt, his books have been translated all over the world.

He has been insulted as a nazi, a fascist, a "holocaust denier". One protester has clearly said that "he has no right to speak". In reality, Nolte was simply one of the first non-marxists to study nazism and fascism. The inexcusable behaviour of my fellow citizens in Trieste with all probability is rooted in the so-called Historikerstreit, the Historian's Dispute. It was a cultural debate which happened in Germany in 1986 and afterwards. Its sparkle was an article in the leading german newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, "A Past that won't go away" written by Professor Nolte himself.

You can find an english translation of the german original here on Scribd, at the end of the book. Judge for yourself.

For today, I've translated into English the answer of Ernst Nolte to the protesters ( I've found the original here).

A surprising day.

by Ernst Nolte

The evening of November the 9th 2009 I was invited by the councilor responsible for cultural events of the city of Trieste, to open the celebrations for the fall of the Berlin Wall of twenty years ago with a speech on "The premise for the construction and the fall of the Berlin Wall" to take place in the Sala Revoltella.

The day of my arrival, November the 8th, a local newspaper, "Il Piccolo", published an interview with me on the subject. I gave that interview from Berlin. It was correctly presented and was banally titled "It was the Communists, who were defeated with the fall of the Berlin Wall". In the same newspaper there was another article titled "The democratic youth: propaganda of the lowest kind. Racovelli (a member of the Italian Green Party): The City Council has invited a revisionist." His only justification lied in the conviction that Nolte had interpreted National Socialism as an "answer to Bolshevism". The councilor showed no sign of understanding that an "answer" (or - as every communist writer from the 20's and 30's used to say - the "reaction") could well be over proportionate or inadequate. In the same article a "sit-in" in the "House of Culture" was announced, in any case.

As soon as I made my entrance, the conference all soon filled well above all the available seats. It was soon evident that the majority of all those young people were not there to hear my speech and then discuss the subject of the conference. Indeed at 18.15, when the councilor who had invited me had just begun his introduction, an indescribable noise started with me still not having uttered a single word. The first articulate word I could discern was "Shame!” After a long moment of surprise the majority of those who were there to hear me reacted with the words "It's a shame. Leave the hall at once". After 15 minutes the intruders, pushed by the police, had left the hall. Eventually I was able to start my conference, ending an hour later among the loud applauses of the remaining public, which still filled all the available seats.

I don't know if the protesters really had a single thought about what a "revisionist" really is. If the fall of the Berlin Wall is a good testimony for a practical Revisionism, that is for the normal acceptance of the different vicissitudes of history. Whoever has read only a few pages of my books, which are widely translated in Italy, must know that I am quite far from a "political" revisionism, because attribute to the historian in himself the readiness to revise permanently interpretations and facts, contrasting with the will to maintain a dogmatic, immutable image of history. Evidently, those "democratic" young men and women were also dogmatic "absolutists", and they wanted to discredit and deny the "relativism" (better said, the "relationism") which is an essential and obvious feature of that "western democracy". And that precisely in the day we were celebrating its triumph, maybe only a temporary one, over "totalitarian" thought. In this sense the small, apparently isolated episode in Trieste should give a lot of food for thought to those who believed to be able to celebrate happily the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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