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.
Let me quote my NR piece:
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.”
(My write-up on Horváth is in four parts: I, II, III, and IV.)
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.)