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Wag of the finger

Let’s play a friendly game of Guess Who…

“Once completed, this memorial will teach future generations how millions lost their lives and suffered in inhumane conditions at the hands of Communist regimes. It will also serve as a reminder […] that glorifying Communist symbols insults the memory of these victims…”

…I’ll give you another clue:

“We must never take for granted our core values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”

Canadians, Jason Kenney has a message for you, and it goes something like this: We, Canada, do not condone communism. 

Two weeks ago, Kenney, our Multiculturalism Minister, announced that up to $1.5 million of taxpayer dollars will go towards building a Tribute to Liberty anti-communist monument on Parliament Hill. According to an article in the Ottawa Citizen, this monument will serve as “a memorial to people killed by communist regimes.” Its title, according to Tribute to Liberty Chair Ludwik Klimkowski, is “A Memorial to Victims of Communism, period.” (Note: For the sake of inclusivity, the previous name “Monument to Victims of Totalitarian Communism” was scrapped in favour of a broader, more ambiguous title. Apparently nobody really cares whether China gets offended. Sorry China.)

The announcement coincided with Black Ribbon Day, which marks the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a non-aggression agreement signed by the Communist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in 1939. BRD remembrance events are held across the country, and according to a 2011 government press release, the House of Commons unanimously agreed in 2009 that the August 23 be Canada’s national day of remembrance for “the victims of Communism and Nazism.”

In the same release, Kenney stated that: [I]t is only fitting that we pause every year to commemorate the hundreds of millions of people who have been victims of Communism and National Socialism, among the worst examples of totalitarianism in our history. Additionally, the release mentioned that the government was working with Canadian communities affected by “Communist and Nazi totalitarianism” to erect monuments of remembrance to “the victims of Communism and to the victims of the Holocaust.”

Now, let’s take a moment to entertain whether it is at all possible that nobody at the senior levels of Canadian federal government understands that there exists a difference between Stalinism and communism.

Unlikely.

Which leaves us with the slightly more worrisome possibility that nobody cares that there’s a difference. That, or that the lack of clarification was intentional, which is arguably the worse explanation of the three.

If we take this news the way we were probably expected to take it – at face value – what we have is the creation of a monument that pays respect to the victims of Nazism and Stalinism, two atrocious ideologies that caused widespread suffering, and the death of millions. But let’s not assume that this is the doing of “communism.” (An assumption that blames a theory, not its executors – a potentially more offensive line of thought.)

The victims we are supposed to be remembering were victims of two oppressive regimes led by ruthless extremists. They were not victims of communism. And even though many were victimized while living under communism, the causality is far from simple.

Communism is an economic ideology. In and of itself, it theoretically does not victimize. And given that its purpose is to provide people with a model for how to most effectively and efficiently run organize society, unless based on twisted fundamental values, it wouldn’t aspire to victimize. But even if it did when applied in practice, the victims would presumably be sufferers of the economic variety (even though a major point of communism is to establish economic equality).

Under Stalin, people were victims of Stalin. Just like under Hitler, people were victims of Hitler and Nazism, and not “fascism” per say. The 21st century equivalent would be claiming that victims of Osama bin Laden’s extremist political and religious views were victims of Islam.

Is there anything intrinsically wrong with communism, to the point where it should be ostracized as a legitimate point of view? It may have flaws, but so does capitalism. So does the whole spectrum of political ideologies, democracy included. And speaking of democracy: What we value in Western society, as Kenney so eloquently put it, are our freedoms and our human rights. Democracy is just an ideology that is conducive to giving us what we value. Democracy isn’t reality; nor is it a value in and of itself. What it represents – political engagement, the protection of rights, etc. – is what we value. If there were another political model that worked better , would we ever say to ourselves: “Oh, but it doesn’t give us democracy…”? In a capitalist country like Canada, does anyone ever say: “This is great, except for the fact that it’s missing some communism…”?

I think I heard someone say that never.

Both democracy and capitalism are fundamental to Canadian society: Our culture, history, reputation would be unrecognizable to us had either or both been different. But because our everyday lives are steeped in both ideologies, it’s so easy to assume that the way things are for us is the way things are naturally. It’s easy to think that the way things are is the way. And that, is a scary thought. 

To someone who decidedly and informedly chooses to believe in democracy and capitalism as good operating systems, that appropriating communist symbols is now considered wrong may not affect you or your life in the slightest. However if you make your decisions informedly, you should be aware enough to realize that a politician calling communist symbols disrespectful to victims of communism is complete and utter propaganda. 

Scheduled to be completed in 2015, the Tribute to Liberty monument will stand between the Supreme Court and the Library and Archives in our nation’s capital, where it will espouse our supposed tolerance for a plurality of views (including anti-communism) by knocking one of those views.

And now: A humourous – but poignant – tribute to the victims of capitalism.

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