Why be concerned about the Memorial to the Victims of Communism controversy in Canada?

This is the winning design for the new National Memorial to Victims of Communism on Wellington Street in Ottawa. Source: Tribute to Liberty 

International

Article by: Inna Platonova

More than 8 million Canadians can trace their origins to countries that have been oppressed under Communist regimes. So many of us have lost family members in mass murders and labour camps set up by Communist leaders.  My origin country Ukraine and my family suffered too. In 1932-33 during the man-made famine known as the Holodomor* that was orchestrated by Stalin, an estimated 4-10 million people were starved to death. The Holodomor was Stalin’s brutal response to halt Ukraine’s national identity development and their quest for independence. During political persecutions by the Soviet Communist regime an estimated 40-60 million people were killed as the result of purges, mass executions, the Gulag forced labour camps and deportations.

Holodomor (Ukraine) Source: Holodomor – The Ukrainian Genocide

My great-grandfather was among the political terror victims. He was an educated, devoted mayor in the South of Ukraine. My grandmother, a child at a time, and her young sisters lost their mother at a very young age and they were about to lose their father too. He was taken by the NKVD (Stalin’s “secret police”) in 1937 and has not been seen since. It took fifty years for the truth to finally be revealed. After decades of lies and denial, the Soviet archives finally opened after the USSR dissolution and my aunt was able to find the bloodstained records of our relative. We found out that my great-grandfather was tortured for months until his execution on April 22nd in 1938. His body was never recovered by our family and was most likely thrown into one of the mass graves of “enemies of the Soviet state”; the crime he and millions of others were accused of and systematically executed.

Rainiai massacre (Lithuania). Source: wikipedia 

Katyn massacre (Poland). Source: bbc.com 

   

Public Executions (North Korea). Source realcourage.org 

Skulls of Khmer Rouge victims (Cambodia). Source: Wikipedia 

Communism is truly a despicable evil of unimaginable magnitude. According to research published in 1997 in The Black Book of Communism: Crime, Terror, Repression; Communist regimes killed nearly 100 million people around the world, making it “the 20th century’s deadliest ideology.” Since the beginning of the first Communist regime in 1917, millions fled its terror and found refuge in peaceful and free Canada. The initiative to build The Memorial to the Victims of Communism in the central location in the Canadian capital of Ottawa gathered tremendous support across the country. Its goal is to “memorialize the experience of millions of Canadians, and their families, who suffered as a result of Communism” and to “raise Canadian and international awareness of ‘the most colossal case of political carnage in history.’” 

Canadian Communities Affected By Communism in their Homelands:

Armenian

Belarusian

Bosnian

Bulgarian

Cambodian

Chinese

Croatian

   Cuban

   Czech

   Estonian

   Finnish

   Georgian

   German

   Hungarian

   Korean

   Latvian

   Lithuanian

   Mennonite

   Polish

   Romanian

   Russian

   Serbian

   Slovakian

   Slovenian

   Tibetan

   Ukrainian

   Vietnamese

Source: Tribute to Liberty

However, with the Canadian federal elections looming, it became a highly politicised issue and a major controversy. Why anyone would oppose the monument to remember and respect the millions of victims who suffered result of Communism?

In response to the Speech from the Throne 2013, where then Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared government support for “a Memorial to the Victims of Communism, to remember the millions who suffered under tyranny,” the Green Party Leader and the Member of Parliament Elizabeth May sarcastically tweeted: “No mention of monument to victims of capitalism. :)”, to which Jason Kenney, then the Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism, and others replied emphasizing the seriousness of this matter. Ignoring very compelling reasons for such a memorial, many followed May’s lead in ridiculing and trivializing the effort, using it as yet another tool to attack the Harper Government.

Besides the obvious reasons such as political turf wars, especially this year on the eve of federal elections in October and scapegoating the previous Government and their efforts, there is the widespread ignorance and even denial of Communism’s deadly legacy that is most concerning.

Communist regimes have never faced a trial or a tribunal as the Nazi regime did. The Nuremberg trials (1945-1946) held by the Allied forces after World War II persecuted the political, military and economic leaders of Nazi Germany for the Holocaust and other war crimes. Were the leaders of the Soviet Communist regime persecuted for starving millions to death, for torturing and slaughtering millions of innocent women, men, children and elderly? They were never held responsible for these crimes against humanity. The Soviet Union as one of the victors of WWII was never charged for the collaboration with Nazi Germany in 1939-1941 that led to mass slaughters and territorial divides. While Nazi Germany was charged for Poland invasion, the USSR was exempted, even though both invaded as collaborators. There were no charges laid for invasion of Finland or the annexation of Baltic states, and parts of Romania and for brutal war crimes and massacres committed by the Soviet Communist regime as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and after switching to the Allied side.

Today, Russia, a successor of USSR, continues to deny that genocide Holodomor ever took place and is actively involved in re-Stalinisation. Russian President Putin openly states Russia’s ambition to restore its Soviet past and sees nothing wrong with the 1939-1941 Nazi-Soviet collaboration. As both Hitler and Stalin, Putin is using military expansionism and war propaganda to promote his geopolitical ambitions.

Consider what has happened in Ukraine. Last year Russia illegally annexed Ukraine’s territory Crimea – the land grab, which has been compared to the Anschluss of Hitler in 1938. Russia’s appetite for controlling Ukraine only grew with this takeover. It instigated war in Eastern Ukraine, which has left over 9000 people dead, tens of thousands injured, and over 3 million internally displaced and as refugees outside Ukraine.

While the Nazi regime was denounced globally, including Canada, efforts to raise awareness about atrocities of Communism are facing resistance. The recent ban of the Communist Party in Ukraine was condemned by the Amnesty International as “a flagrant violation of freedom of expression and association” that “should be immediately overturned,” yet nobody questioned the Nazi Party and its symbols being outlawed. Russia continues to whitewash the political crimes of the Communist past and persecutes its opposition. Oppression and rampant human rights abuse remain a common place in the existing communist countries like North Korea and China. Propaganda is used to misinform, conceal and deny the atrocities of Communism around the world.

All of the above makes it even more urgent to raise the awareness about the crimes of Communism and its current worrisome developments. As Oksana Bashuk Hepburn, a survivor of both Communist and Nazi atrocities, warns: “consider the lack of exposure and punishment of communist crimes — like that of the Nazi — a key reason for today’s global strife.” 

The hesitancy displayed by the newly elected Government of Canada with regard to the Memorial to the Victims of Communism only helps the deniers and promoters of this deadly ideology, which is against of what Canada stands for. The Platform of European Memory and Conscience, an international organization endorsed by the EU institutions, had to make a formal appeal to the new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing their concerns: “rhetoric being used by critics of the Memorial threatens to marginalize the crimes of Communist regimes and their victims.” The organization is asking Canada to treat the victims, refugees of Communism and their families with dignity and respect. It is disappointing that Canada has to be reminded about its role as a leader for freedom, democracy and a strong advocate for human rights in the world.

Note: * Canada was the first foreign country to recognize the Holodomor as genocide.

inna

Inna Platonova is the Founder & Coordinator of Russian Speaking Canada for Peace group, which brings together people of Ukrainian, Russian, Belarusian, and other origins in Canada and overseas who advocate for peace, condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and support the principles of sovereignty, tolerance and democracy. Inna holds a PhD from the University of Calgary and is involved in research and consulting in the area of international development.

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