A quarter of a century ago, Soviet Communism, the dark tyranny that had controlled dozens of nations and was responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent victims, suddenly collapsed. In just two years, from 1989 to 1991, the Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union disintegrated, and the Cold War ended.
There was dancing in the streets and champagne toasts on top of the wall, and most of the world got on with living, satisfied that was the end of Marxism-Leninism. But it wasn’t and it isn’t.
There are still five communist regimes, including China, the most populous nation in the world, as well as North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cuba. The legacy of communism is evident in Russia’s brazen seizure of the Crimea and its open support of pro-Russian militants in Eastern Ukraine. Professors in American colleges continue to teach that Marxism is just a good idea that has never been really tried.
Determined to remember the victims of communism and to expose Marxism as a pseudo-religion posing as a pseudo-science maintained by force, Ambassador Lev Dobriansky and I launched the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Last week, we commemorated the 8th anniversary of the dedication of the Memorial (by President George W. Bush and Holocaust survivor Rep. Tom Lantos of California).
Twenty-three embassies and 26 ethnic and human rights groups, many of them in their national costume, placed wreaths and observed a moment of silence for the victims. Among them were the former “captive nations” of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, and little Moldova.
A bi-partisan group of Congressmen, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, spoke movingly at related events of the many who had died and those who still lived, and not by their choice, under communism.
Senator Cruz, whose father fled from Cuba, said that “the Castros have an active, modern, and comprehensive apparatus of oppression.” He revealed that in his forthcoming book, he dedicates the first chapter to the courageous Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas, who traveled from Communist Cuba to receive the Foundation’s Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom.
Dr. Farinas, who has conducted more than 23 hunger strikes against the Castro regime, dedicated the award to “the political prisoners who had been arrested during the 1960s and 1970s and have suffered much more than [I have], as well as those Cubans who have not given up hope to one day see a free Cuba.”
The other recipient of our Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom was Alexander Podrabinek, an award-winning Russian journalist and author who was imprisoned during the Soviet era and continues to speak out against the denial of basic human rights in Russia. Like Dr. Farinas, Mr. Podrabinek insisted on receiving the award in person and flew from Russia to be with us. He said bluntly that “Russia is an example of a country that never learns its lessons from history, and it is allowing itself to repeat the past.”
Congresswoman Kaptur praised the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, saying that “recalling the legacy of communism, fulfilling your mission to memorialize the victims, to educate our public, and to document the evidence [of communist crimes] is as important now as it has ever been.”
Indeed it is, and in my keynote address to the ambassadors and other foreign dignitaries, including Janos Martonyi, Hungary’s former foreign minister, I promised that we would continue to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about communism, past and present. “We are committed,” I said, “to the proposition that the truth will not only set you free, it will keep you free.”
Our Jewish brothers and sisters understand what is at stake, I emphasized. They understand that history must not be forgotten lest it be repeated. They keep reminding the world of the Holocaust, crying, “Never again!”
Even so, I said, “we cannot, we must not, we will not forget the victims and the crimes of communism.” We will continue to tell the truth about Tiananmen Square, the Gulag, the Katyn Forest Massacre, the Isle of Pines, the killing fields of Cambodia, the boat people of Vietnam.
Let us resolve, I concluded, “to continue our mighty crusade for freedom” so that next year and the year after that and the year after that we will be able to announce that truth has again prevailed and another communist country has been consigned to history’s ash heap.
- Lee Edwards is chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and the Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought at the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundation.
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