The Cold War is Over, but the Fight Against Communism is Not

By Charlotte Downing Published on June 21, 2017

It’s been 26 years since the cold war ended. The immediate threat of communism to the free world has dissipated. Yet single-party communist regimes still dominate one-fifth of the world’s population. That means over one billion people are still living under communist states.

There are, however, people fighting on behalf of these victims of communism.

Ridding the Earth of Communism

The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit founded in 1994, exists to educate the public about the ideology. The group’s hope is that by reminding the world of what communism has done, it can finally be rid from the earth.

Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom

The medal is awarded each year by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation to those who have shown a life-long commitment to freedom, democracy and opposition to communism and all other forms of tyranny.

Among the winners since the first award in 1999 are many who resisted Communism in Europe: Elena Bonner and Vladimir Bukovsky (USSR), John Paul II and Lech Wałęsa (Poland), Vaclav Havel (Czechoslovakia) and Viktor Orbán (Hungary), and Armando Valladares (Soviet outpost Cuba).

Asian winners include Wei Jingsheng and Chen Guangcheng (China) and Trần Văn Bá and Fr. Nguyễn Văn Lý (Viet Nam).

For the full list, click here.

The problem is that Americans under 35 “are not learning basic facts about the 20th century,” said the foundation’s director at a recent event in Washington, DC. Because of this, “We have to educate. We have to memorialize. And ultimately, we plan to build a museum here in Washington to do all of that,” explained director Marion Smith. 

In the past year, the foundation has launched over 100 educational programs. These programs had a presence in all 5o states, and they were targeted at higher-education institutes.  It also launched ad campaigns in Times Square, New York City that sparked the popular hashtag #communismkills on Twitter.  

#Communismkills was “more than just a hash tag,” said Smith. Communism “has no place in a free and prosperous world in which individual rights are respected.” So the public’s participation on social media is notable progress toward the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation’s goal of “a world free from the false hope of communism.”

The foundation is also responsible for funding the Victims of Memorial Statue located in downtown Washington, D.C. The statue is meant to be a replica of the Goddess of Democracy, a statue first constructed during the Tiananmen Square riots of 1989.

The Medal of Freedom

One function of the statue is the foundation’s annual Roll Call of Nations and Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom ceremony. The ceremony honors the world’s past and present victims of communism while celebrating freedom in nations that have it. This year marked the 10th year the foundation has held this event.

There have been over 100 million victims of communism around the world. “Our task is not to let it happen again,” said this year’s winner of the Truman-Regan Medal of Freedom, Dr. Mart Laar. Laar was twice the prime minister of Estonia after the collapse of the Soviet Union and then the country’s minister of defense.

As a young historian in Soviet-occupied Estonia, Laar started interviewing veterans of the Estonian resistance to the Soviet occupation after World War II. The government harassed him, until finally the Soviet secret police, the KGB, accused him of  “slandering the Soviet regime” and instituted criminal proceedings against him. The book was finally published in 1992 as War in the Woods: Estonia”s Struggle for Survival, 1944-1956.

“This demands from all of us to keep memory alive,” he explained. Like director Marion Smith, Laar thinks that properly remembering the victims of communism is a key part to educating the public. “Let’s make the Museum of Communist Crimes happen — this is the most certain way to put communism on the ash heap of history,” Laar said.

 

Laar’s “Estonia and Centesimus Annus: A universal message of Hope” can be found here.

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