The Baltic Federation in Canada hosted an important seminar, Condemn Crimes of Communism at the Lithuanian community’s Resurrection Parish Hall in Toronto on June 11. Later in the day the Baltic communities gathered in the Resurrection Church to commemorate the grim anniversary of the June 14, 1941 deportations carried out by the occupying Soviet regime —only one of the most painful reminders of the vast numbers of crimes carried out by communists since the signing of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on August 23, 1939.
Alide Forstmanis, Vice-President of the Latvian National Federation of Canada, welcomed participants and delivered the opening remarks. She noted that with the passage of time and the aging of the survivors of the Soviet atrocities attendance at the commemoration is down. Thus the timing of the seminar is important. However, the collective consciousness of the Baltic people has retained the memories of the terror and horrors brought by the occupying regime. Ms Forstmanis noted how in 1944, with the memories of 1941 still vivid, the choice to leave one’s homeland – perhaps forever – as the Red Army returned with a vengeance, says much about the impact of the first Soviet occupation and the deportations.
A panel of eyewitnesses to the crimes perpetrated by communists provided gripping statements of how the lives of everyday people were forever changed by these events. Representatives from Belarus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Vietnam addressed the seminar. Not all statements were delivered in person, due to the failing heath and advanced age of many who witnessed what was done to their people. A selection from these statements, often gripping and emotional while remaining factual and fascinating follows.
The Belarusian witness statement was read by a representative from the Belarusian Canadian Alliance, who focused on the three waves of terror in Belarus — in 1930, 1933 and 1937-8. It has been calculated that Belarus lost 2.2 million people to Stalin’s repressions – the same number of dead that the nation suffered during WW II. Numbers are only a part of the tragedy; the Russification imposed upon the country has resulted in a considerable dilution of national identity.
The Estonian eyewitness statement had been prepared by Eduard Kolga, also unable to attend. His memories of being an ordinary man going about his ordinary life and then being forcibly conscripted into the Red Army were delivered by Avo Kittask, President of the Estonian Central Council in Canada. Kolga’s family had been threatened with death if he did not report to the training camp. He was later shipped to GULAG 113; one third of his fellow internees did not survive the trip, another third died there. Kolga was able to escape and cross the battle line at Velikije Luki. Eduard Kolga warned that the dreadful system of Stalin has not disappeared, as evidence he noted the aggressive rhetoric of Russia today, which suggests that Moscow is susceptible to repeating the aggressions of the past.
The Hungarian eyewitness dwelled on the after-effects of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. The Latvian speaker was emotional, speaking without notes or the microphone, recalling his incarceration in a dungeon in 1941 as a teenager, merely for marking the National Independence Day on November 18. His life was only saved as a result of the investigating communist officer knowing his father. The Lithuanian representative spoke about her grandfather, whom she never met, as he died in Siberia.
A descendant of Polish immigrants asked why the Russians are still not being held accountable for communist crimes. Some 1.7 million Poles were deported in 1940-42, and to this day, no one has been brought to justice for the Katyn massacre, where the Polish Army officer corps was decimated.
Perhaps the most telling reminder of how communism is still well and alive today was delivered by the Vietnamese eyewitness, who had escaped by sea as an 11-year-old in 1979. She noted that the situation in Vietnam then was not much different from what the Balts went through. Today’s Vietnam is still marked by backwardness, poverty and violation of human rights. This was emphasized by a 5 minute multi-media presentation, “Vietnam: The Truth Beyond Appearances”. In 2007 the country has witnessed a crackdown on peaceful dissidents and arrests have multiplied. The Communist government in Vietnam is not allowing any political freedoms, while applying for and gaining membership in the WTO. 3 million Vietnamese have escaped from the country since 1975; for every one who made it to freedom an estimated three others perished in the effort. For more on today’s communist crimes in Vietnam visit www.viettan.org
Professor Andrew Gregorowich delivered a historical overview on Russian and Communist impact on Ukraine, noting how the communists, especially, denied access to information to the people and suppressed their history through censorship. Desinformatsiya is still part of today’s Russian arsenal. Gregorowich emphasized the genocide wrought through the holodomar – the murder by hunger of the Ukrainian people through the man-made famine of 1933-4. To this add ‘culturecide’, a word that he claims as his own. The suppression of religion, language and artistic freedoms was criminal. The Black Book of Communism estimates 20 million Ukrainians perished as a result of communist crimes; many believe that number is a very conservative estimate.
Former local Member of Parliament and present Conservative candidate for the riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore Patrick Boyer then took the stage. While Boyer had plenty of insight to offer the politician in him could not resist speaking at perhaps excessive length. This tendency unfortunately removed from the impact of his words. Boyer had already been personally touched by communism when reading about the 1956 Hungarian uprising in the newspapers that he delivered in small-town Ontario as a young lad. That emotional reaction and awareness of the extent of innocent suffering and human pain has been with him to this day. As the history of the 20th century was written in blood not words such a personal reaction is, sadly, not unusual. Boyer noted that for him one of the most heinous of communist crimes was the closing down of the human imagination due to fear.
The keynote speaker was Swedish MP Göran Lindblad, also VP Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe (PACE) Mr. Lindblad’s contribution has been considerable. In 2006 he was appointed rapporteur to PACE on the Crimes of Totalitarian Communism Regimes. The “Totalitarian” was added on the insistence of a fellow PACE member, a former Portuguese communist. Speaking to the European Parliament Lindblad noted “the absence of international condemnation [of communism] may be partly explained by the fact that many politicians have been close friends with communists in various countries.”
Lindblad went on to say that he believes “there is now an urgent need for that condemnation to occur once and for all. There are three reasons. The first is for the sake of general perception. It should be clear to everyone that crimes committed in the name of communism are condemned, with no exception. Secondly, for as long as victims of communist regimes and their relatives are alive there is a chance to give them moral restitution.” Last but not least, “people must be reminded that communist regimes are still active in some countries of the world.” PACE has passed a resolution condemning the crimes of communism thanks greatly to Lindblad’s efforts as well as those of Baltic politicians.
Göran Lindblad’s advertised keynote speech evolved into an enlightening question-and-answer session. The thoughtful and well-spoken Swede dwelled longest on various European political aspects that are associated with condemning the crimes of communism as well as discussing the situation regarding the staying power of communism in Asia, noting the oxymoron of “market communism”.
Call for Canadian memorial to victims of Communism
Avo Kittask was the final speaker at the seminar. He began by noting that on the next day the Victims of Communism Memorial was being opened in Washington DC. That date is important – June 12th was the 20th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s famous Brandenburg Gate speech at which he said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” The Victims of Communism Memorial honours the more than 100 million people who have been killed worldwide by Communist totalitarian regimes.
Kittask noted “the time has come for the Baltic Federation in Canada to add to its agenda and workload a project for erecting a memorial in Canada which will commemorate the victims of Communism of the Republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.”
He concluded by saying “I look forward to the commencement of this undertaking and hope that for the 70th Commemoration of the mass deportations from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania there will be a place where everyone can witness the resolve of once oppressed and persecuted victims of Communism and lay flowers or a wreath in their memory and say ‘We will not forget. The historical truth must be known.’”
Condemning the crimes of communism (1)