Editor’s Note: In the July 7 issue of National Review, we published a piece by Jay Nordlinger called “Living Not by Lies: A gathering of the anti-Communist tribes.” That piece is here. In his column, Nordlinger has been writing some supplementary notes. For Part I of these notes, go here. They conclude today.
Every year, VOC — the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation — gives a Truman-Reagan medal. (Nice ’n’ bipartisan, you see.) The medal honors great anti-Communists, or, put another way, champions of freedom. The list of awardees is a roll call — and includes William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of National Review.
In awarding the Truman-Reagan Medal this year, VOC has gone timely — giving the medal to two figures from Ukraine. One is Mustafa Dzhemilev, the leader of the Crimean Tatars. He was a political prisoner in the Soviet Union and is now a member of the Ukrainian parliament. The other awardee is Myroslav Marynovych, also a former political prisoner and a longtime democracy activist.
On VOC Day (as one may think of it), Marynovych gave a couple of speeches. I would like to quote both in full, but will settle for a few excerpts from the second one.
As you already know, I had been a prisoner of conscience (as Amnesty International puts it), imprisoned from 1977 to 1987 for human-rights activities in the former Soviet Union. The time in the Soviet Gulag happened to be the most difficult but, at the same time, the most spiritually rewarding in my life.
A lot of people feel this way. I myself would not care to test it (by submitting to a sentence in the Gulag).
Twenty years ago, political prisoners who came out of detention did not strive to have their persecutors put on trial. The desire to “turn a new page” was overwhelming: We leave you alone, you help us build democracy. It was a kind of social contract that turned out to be one-sided. We all had to learn that an evil deed becomes part of the past only when it has been condemned and repented of. Unrepented wrongdoing inevitably serves as a source of new problems.
That is so very true: in international life, national life, individual life . . .
For instance, while Germany did not hesitate to make Honecker pay for his crimes, Ukraine heard little from the West besides warnings against starting a “second Nuremberg” and putting the leaders of the Communist regime on trial. Why? Because Europe did not want to have more problems with Russia. Cajoling Moscow seemed to be more important than taking Communist crimes as seriously as Nazi ones.
Okay, here is an old, sore subject:
Europe has always treated the two totalitarianisms differently: The Nazi regime was considered absolute evil while the Communist regime [in Moscow] looked like the Slavonic spoiling of an excellent idea.
Last year, I interviewed an extraordinary man from Hungary: János Horváth. In 1945, he was the youngest man in the Hungarian parliament; today, he is the oldest. He had a long exile in America, where he taught economics, ran for Congress, and so on. Horváth fought both the Nazis and the Communists; he was imprisoned by both of them (and sentenced to death by the Nazis).
I said to him, “I’m going to ask you an unfair question — a very unfair question, even a dumb question: Which was worse, Nazism or Communism?” He closed his eyes for a second and then uttered one word: “Same.” He repeated the word: “Same.”
He went on to say, “We could discuss this question for a long time, and analyze it from different angles. But, when all is said and done, both Nazism and Communism are tyranny. Murder. Murderous people decide to murder others, just because those others see the world differently.”
Myroslav Marynovych spoke at an evening event on a rooftop near Capitol Hill. The sun was setting. Another speaker was Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the congresswoman from Miami. In my experience, no one is peppier and no one is more appreciative of democratic freedoms.
Pointing to the Capitol, she said something like this: “Do you see that dome, the symbol of America and freedom? Isn’t that great? And to think that I serve in the Congress there: me, a little refugee from the little island of Cuba.”
It was clear that she meant it. This lady is sincere and invaluable.
VOC has embarked on an oral-history project, under the name “Witness.” In this project, victims of Communism, or survivors of Communism, give their testimonies, on video. Thus is a record established, for all time (or as long as the videos last).
As you know, a lot of people are very reluctant to give their testimonies. Many years ago, I interviewed a marvelous woman named Youqin Wang, who was devoting her life to chronicling the Cultural Revolution (that orgy of torture and murder in Mao’s China). Her biggest problem, she said, is that survivors were afraid or unwilling to talk. They preferred not to remember, or at least not to testify.
(For the piece I wrote about Wang, go here.)
VOC has a major goal: to build a museum in Washington — a victims-of-Communism museum, on the order of the Holocaust Museum (I believe). They hope to break ground by October 2017. Why that month in particular? Well, it will be the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik takeover.
In NR, I write,
People often say that museums of this kind are necessary to prevent crimes against humanity in the future. I’m not sure. There will always be genocidalists, or would-be genocidalists, and totalitarians, or would-be totalitarians. A museum is powerless to stop them. But a museum can certainly record the truth. Victims, survivors, long for the truth to be known.
At dinner, I asked Jianli Yang, “Will a museum do any good?” Yes, he said. It will.
And that’s good enough for me. If Jianli says it’ll do good, it will.
Another paragraph from my NR piece:
On my way to the morning ceremony, I passed a young man in a Che Guevara T-shirt. (On your way to anything, you pass a person in a Che Guevara T-shirt.) What if he knew about Guevara? Would he still wear the shirt? In our schools and universities, even the leading monsters of Communism tend to get off lightly. And those monsters are Stalin and Mao, although Pol Pot should not be snubbed.
I was recently looking at an article about Mao’s granddaughter, Kong Dongmei. The article was called “On the shoulders of giants.” Kong was surrounded by portraits and quotations of Mao, as well as posters of Lenin, Gandhi, and Guevara.
Is that décor so different from that of a typical American dorm room, once upon a time? (I haven’t seen a dorm room lately.)
A word about Stalin. In 2008, he finished third in a Greatest Russian contest — which is pretty good for a Georgian who spoke Russian with a heavy accent. In Russia, they had a nationwide poll, in which more than 5 million people participated. Stalin was in first place during early stages of the poll. But he wound up losing out by about 5,000 votes — to Alexander Nevsky, the medieval warrior-prince.
In second place was Pytor Stolypin, the reformist prime minister who was assassinated in 1911. Pushkin came in fourth behind Stalin (!).
Critics said that the results were rigged to keep Stalin out of first place. And, you know? The charge rang true.
Jianli Yang has a dream: the removal of Mao’s portrait from Tiananmen Square. That is the dream of countless Chinese democrats.
Last year, Jung Chang, the heroic Anglo-Chinese writer, gave an interview in which she was asked, “What one thing would you change in China?” She answered, “Say goodbye to Mao. Take down Mao’s portrait from Tiananmen Square.”
A couple of months ago, I had a chance to talk with a leader from the former Soviet bloc. I said, “How long will your country continue to be liberal [genuinely liberal] and anti-Communist? How long will it be before the appreciation of freedom wears off?” He said, “It will wear off when those who experienced Communism die off.”
Toward the end of my NR piece, I write,
Rarely do I feel more at home than among the anti-Communists. They are my tribe, or archipelago of tribes. I have always been drawn to them, I think, because they tell the truth. They abide by the Solzhenitsyn doctrine “Live not by lies.” And people in the Free World — to say nothing of the unfree world — are always lying about Communism. No one lies about Nazism, outside of David Irving and the Iranian government. Many lie about Communism.
Allow me a memory — from pretty far down Memory Lane. I was working at The Weekly Standard, along with Scott Morris, who became a good friend of mine. (He is a novelist, about whom I have written over the years: most prominently, here.) Scott is an intellectual, a guy who studied philosophy at Oxford University.
He said to me, “Why are you a conservative?” I gave him an answer, which was unsatisfying to him. Not deep enough, not intellectual enough. I tried again. Still not satisfied.
Eventually, I blurted out, “Look, fancy boy, I’m just an anti-Communist, okay? I hate the Reds. Absolutely hate them. They are a nasty, murderous bunch, who are constantly excused, defended, or applauded by people calling themselves ‘liberals.’ I’m a conservative because, in my time and place, that’s what you are, if you hate the Reds.”
By this time, Scott was really laughing at my shtick. And it was shtick. But there is plenty of truth in it, too.
The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation was founded by two scholars: Lee Edwards and the late Lev Dobriansky. They did a good and great thing. Edwards labors still. Strength to his hands, and to those of his comrades. The admirable kind of comrades.