Across central and eastern Europe, nationalists are exploiting the painful history of the second world war to whip up anti-Russian feeling and rehabilitate the far right as social and economic discontent grows - and the process is mirrored in Russia. The latest in a string of such moves is the decision by the Polish authorities to block the reopening of the permanent Russian exhibition at the site of the Auschwitz death camp because of its description of some of its victims (from annexed pre-war Polish territory) as Soviet citizens. It's difficult to imagine a more sad and cynical debate than one about the citizenship of the massacred millions. Most were of course Jewish, and in the eyes of the Nazis both Poles and Russians were regarded as Untermenschen.
The Polish decision comes after Estonian MPs decided to remove a Soviet war memorial from the centre of Tallinn a few weeks back. The act authorising its removal is the Law on Forbidden Structures Act, a rather Orwellian name for a new cold war against history. The "forbidden structure" in this case is a 2m bronze statue of a Soviet soldier erected in 1947 to commemorate Red Army soldiers killed fighting the Nazis.
Bronze and marble soldiers are being toppled across eastern Europe. The campaign began in 1989-91 with the withdrawal of Soviet troops: Soviet memorials were demolished, Russian-sounding names of streets and squares changed, and red stars from walls cast away. In some countries, the tensions calmed after the turbulent transition period, but in the Baltic republics this anti-historical cold war seems to be a permanent crusade.
The removal of the Tallinn memorial is only the tip of the iceberg. A draft bill recognises the Estonians who served in the German army, including in the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, as "fighters for Estonia's independence". Service in the SS is added to the record of work on retirement, while service in the Red Army as part of the anti-Hitler coalition is not.
Latvian rightwingers are also active in rewriting history. The marches of Latvian SS legions are well known - and even the most anti-communist friends of Latvia in the US and western Europe are shocked by these state-sponsored Nazi parades. Most Latvian Jews were murdered by Latvian police, and it is disgusting to read Latvian websites and books that put the blame on the Jewish victims of the Holocaust as "collaborators of Stalin".
Of course, there are many in the Baltic republics who reject this whitewashing of the Nazi past. And there are democrats in the Estonian and Latvian parliaments (not to mention the strong left in Lithuania), the media and NGOs, who defend the anti-fascist memorials and oppose the Nazi cult rallies. The Estonian president spoke out against the "irresponsible behaviour" of supporters of the "forbidden structures" law. Many Latvians oppose the SS rallies and call for equal rights for the country's Russian minority. These democrats need more support from western and central Europe.
Soviet memorials are respected in Berlin, and visitors to the rebuilt Reichstag can still see the graffiti carved on the old walls by Russian soldiers in 1945. Germany has set a good example on how to handle its Nazi past, but only a few eastern nations are ready to learn from it.
In my hometown, Budapest, the main Soviet memorial on the Szabadsag (Freedom) Square survived leftwing and rightwing governments. But last September, extreme rightwing rioters who set fire to the state television offices also attacked the memorial. In some Hungarian communities, newly elected rightwing mayors began their jobs by removing Soviet memorials and symbols.
In the west, the memory of the anti-fascist coalition is largely still intact, and only a few extremists claim it would have been better to have been allied with Hitler against the Soviet Union. But in the east, the fall of the Berlin wall created a vacuum in history. The new politicians and media failed to tell the complicated truth about the war, the old pro-Soviet cliches were replaced by anti-Soviet cliches. The tragedy of the Baltic republics under Soviet rule does not change the fact that the death camps of Auschwitz were created by the Nazis and liberated by the Red Army. And the crimes of the Stalinist regime do not alter the fact that millions of Soviet soldiers died for the freedom of Europe.
The Baltic republics should remember Stalin's victims, and we have to understand their mixed feeling towards Russia. But those who sacrificed their lives against the Nazi regime should be heroes for every democrat.
I have memories of Soviet armed intervention. I was five years old during the 1956 uprising in Hungary. I played with my friends on a Soviet tank burnt out by Molotov cocktails. I know how heroic the fight against the Soviet soldiers was. They had come as liberators but, due to the geopolitical reality, they became oppressors. Opposing the occupation didn't mean we wanted the Nazis back.
The huge sculpture of a woman on Budapest's Gellert Hill, erected by order of Marshall Voroshilov, still welcomes the liberators from the east. The soldiers died, we remember their heroic deaths - and life goes on. That's why we have memorials. It is a lesson across eastern Europe and the Baltic republics as well.
Gyula Hegyi is a Hungarian socialist MP. From The Guardian, 11.4.07