On Friday, November 8th, last week the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation hosted an the Triumph of Liberty Conference and Gala Dinner.
"The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, but communism didn’t. One hundred years after the Bolshevik Revolution, one fifth of the world’s population still lives under single-party communist regimes in China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea, and Vietnam. Moreover, communist regimes commit the worst human rights abuses on the widest scale in the world today." And the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VoC) is committed to both remembering the successes and keeping the world focused on the work still to be done.
Each year the VoC organizes a Triumph of Liberty Conference and Gala Dinner. This year, the events took place on Friday, November 8th, one day before the exact 30 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, on November 9th, 1989.
The conference started with a panel on "Perspectives on 1989" including speakers H.E. Joachim, Former dissident Lutheran pastor and 11th President of Germany, Wei Jingsheng, Chinese human rights and democracy activist, and A. Wess Mitchell, Ph.D., Former Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs in the U.S. Department of State. The panel was moderated by Marion Smith, Executive Director of the VoC. Later sessions covered topics such as "Cold War Lessons for Hot Historical Times" and "Truth, Lies, and Videotape: Historical Truth and the Quest for Justice".
I have to admit that the first time I attended the VoC event was in 2017. Being deeply involved in Central European affairs both at Quinnipiac University and privately with InvestCEE and other projects, I honestly thought the conference would be a bunch of older people sharing stories about the collapse of the Soviet Union 30 years ago. We would reminisce about the early days of transition in the 1990s and folks would tell of the atrocities they witnessed under oppressive communist regimes. And of course we'd all be inspired by the perseverance and believe in freedom, finally and joyously obtained when the regime collapsed. To be sure there was and continues to be some of that. We do need to remember our history and we need to still hear first-hand accounts while those who can tell them are still with us.
What surprised me then in 2017, and was still true this year, is how many people attend the conference to talk about current atrocities under current regimes around the world. Most of these people are Asian, but a good many are from other countries from all continents. It's surprising and it's sad.
Wei Jingsheng, on the opening panel, talked about the challenges in China and the struggle to be heard on this topic since the Chinese have essentially bought the silence of so many in the West. This was reinforced later in the day by Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, a fiery and articulate young journalist with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists who spoke about the problems getting UN recognition of Human Rights Abuses in Asia. Bethany also laid bare the fundamental and intricate methods of strategic investment used by China to leave many in the west essentially voluntarily limiting their own potential criticism of communist regimes around the world.
The evening Gala was held in Washington D.C.'s Union Station, much to the chagrin of passengers, I'm sure, and was attended by over 600 people from all over the world. Ambassadors from most formerly communist countries attended to remember the suffering in their nations and express support for aiding those still suffering today. U.S. political leaders from both sides of the aisle attended and publicly reminded us all that this is a non-partisan issue and that the VoC was established by the US Congress in 1990 by a unanimous vote of both parties. At a time when Washington is so divided today, it was nice to see people together for the common cause of human freedom.
The VoC gave its Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom this year to His Excellency Joachim Gauck, Former dissident Lutheran pastor and 11th President of Germany, who told of his own struggles under communist rule and also how at age 50 he cried when he voted in the first free German election after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. He had always dreamed of one day being one of "We, the people" he said. It reminded us all of the struggle so many have endured not only to survive under oppression but also to rise up against it and fight for freedom and human dignity.
For the full video of the Gala: https://www.triumphofliberty.com/tol2019/home
The dangers of communism in all its forms is sadly still alive today. The VoC continues to fight for freedom around the world. It's important work that they do. I wish them much success, God's blessings, and I look forward to supporting their efforts so that one day these events will truly be what I initially imagined, just old folks retelling stories of days long past that no one remembers and that no one wants to return to.
Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation: https://www.victimsofcommunism.org/