Press coverage of the dramatic changes in Eastern Europe in late 1989 and early 1990 has failed to provide adequate context concerning the anti-Semitic and fascist currents in Eastern European nationalism.
As the New York Times has noted (10/8/89), the term "nationalist" has a "more extremist connotation here [in Eastern Europe] than in the West." But most reporting on Eastern Europe's nationalist movements, including that of the Times, has been rife with euphemistic references to "Christian values" and "Christian nationalism" without an explanation of the historic anti-Semitism that echoes in such rhetoric.
News coverage of Eastern Europe has generally overlooked the region's historical alliance with Nazism. Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria all joined the Axis powers; Nazi puppet states such as Slovakia and Croatia were also allied with Germany. But in much newspaper coverage, Eastern European history does not include World War II. For example, one timeline of Czechoslovakian history lept from March 15, 1939 to May 16, 1945 (New York Times, 11/22/89); another chart began in 1946 (L.A. Times, 11/25/89). A New York Times article (3/26/90) describing the history of the Catholic Church in Eastern Europe jumped directly from the 1930s to the post-World War II era, skipping over the murderously anti-Semitic clerical fascist movements, which were often led by Catholic priests.
The New York Times reported (3/26/90) that a new Ukrainian student group revered Stepan Bandera -- described by the Times as "a militant nationalist" who fought "Polish and Soviet rulers in the 1930s and 1940s." The article failed to mention that Bandera fought as an ally of Hitler's Germany, leading the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists-Bandera, which roamed the Ukraine during World War II killing Jews and others.
Media coverage of anti-Semitism in Hungary, which has the only significant Jewish population remaining in Eastern Europe outside the Soviet Union, provides an interesting case study. The now-ruling Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) was routinely described as a conservative, center-right or even centrist party. The Los Angeles Times (4/11/90) even referred to MDF's" politics of national pride." Articles that described the party's appeal to "Christian nationalism," "Christian democracy" and "Christian values" often failed to report the recurring charges of anti-Semitism.
The Washington Post, which in general provides scant coverage of Eastern Europe, did not mention the anti-Semitism allegations against MDF until late January, although the reports had first surfaced in the mainstream press in November. The Post (3/21/90) later described Istvan Csurka, an MDF party founder, as an "outspoken nationalist writer," ignoring the controversy over his anti-Semitic claims that a "dwarf minority" was dominating Hungary .
Several investigative articles went further in scrutinizing the involvement of the U.S. and Canadian right with Eastern European nationalists. In the Toronto Star (4/14/90), Howard Goldenthal and Russ Bellant reported that Dusan Toth, an adviser to Czechoslovakian President Vaclav Havel , was the Secretary-General of the Toronto-based Slovak World Congress; a number of officers of the Congress are former officials of the Nazi-allied Slovak regime. An April 2, 1990 Nation article by Holly Sklar and Chip Berlet (of Political Research Associates) exposed the role of convicted Nazi collaborator Laslo Pasztor in recommending Hungarian nationalist groups for funding from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy.
There seems to be an unwillingness at some media to synthesize even the information that appears in the major papers. The Washington Post(2/18/90), for example, described three Russian newsletters as being connected to Pamyat, the anti-Semitic, pro-Stalin nationalist organization. But when individuals connected with these same three publications toured the U.S. under Washington's sponsorship, the visitors were blandly described by the New York Times (4/18/90) as "rightists."
Perhaps the most disturbing facet of media coverage is the recurrent explanations of the origins of anti-Jewish feeling that use rhetoric that seems to reflect rather than report anti-Semitism. For example, a New York Times article reasoned (4/10/90), "Since many prominent Hungarian Communist leaders were Jewish, particularly in the early years after the war, anti-Semitism has become linked with anti-Communism." The equation of Jews with Bolsheviks and traitors has been and is the anti-Semite's stock in trade. Journalists should avoid the appearance of accepting these rationales.