Two hundred and fifty East Europeans commemorated the toppling of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago along with four federal politicians from three political parties in front of the Freedom Arches at Toronto City Hall Square on Monday, twenty years to the day when the "Wall" came down.
Marcus Kolga, the organizer, explained the need for the demonstration. "When my son asked why people build walls to keep people in instead of out I then realized that many of our youth don't really understand the significance of the Berlin Wall."
If the event seemed like a "Black Ribbon Day", it's probably because Markus Hess, chairman of International Black Ribbon Day Committee (IBRDC) and the vice-chair of the Central and East European Council, gave the keynote speech, and many of those that were there were familiar faces from the days when BRD filled the square.
The first speaker was Conservative Minister, President of the Treasury Board Vic Toews, who reflected on the fate of family members trapped first behind the Iron Curtain, and then the wall. Minister Toews emphasized that the death of Stalin in 1953 in no way changed Moscow’s disregard for freedom and human rights.
The next speaker was the Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic, Bob Rae. As Ontario’s NDP Premier Rae was heavily involved with events in the Baltics and Eastern Europe during the period of restructuring and eventual regaining of independence. "I remember when my wife and I went to monitor the first democratic elections in Lithuania [since Soviet occupation]."
New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton was a welcome sight since many of us remember when he attempted to twin Toronto (he was a city councillor then) with a Communist city, Vladivostok. It was a welcome sight to see how his views have changed.
Liberal MP of Polish and Ukrainian background Boris Wrzesnewskyj spoke of a newer enemy whom he had chance to oppose with his involvement in the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine. "Let us reject the new "ism" being spawned by the Kremlin: Putinism."
Other East European community leaders spoke as well. Among those in the receptive audience was Chris Korwin-Kuczynski, a former Toronto city councillor, who was responsible for bringing pieces from the Berlin Wall to be integrated into the Freedom Arches.
It was invigorating to see many people who used to gather at the square in the days when the hope of freedom was far away. Now it is twenty years the other way. But we should still be wary and remember the closing words of Wrzesnewskyj, "Long live democracy, long live freedom."
East Europeans remember the fall of the Berlin wall (3)