Editorial: Victims by any other name?

It’s called a Monument to the Victims of Communism. At an estimated cost of $5.5 million, it is to be installed on Wellington St. between the Supreme Court of Canada and the National Archives in Ottawa. Its name, concept, design, and placement are controversial.

While the Conservative government, New Democrats and Liberals all approve of the project, a number of voices have challenged it.

Seventeen former presidents of the Canadian Bar Association expressed concern about an “imposing structure signaling a strong political message… literally in the face of the very institution which is the final arbiter in Canada of disputes.”

The idea was first proposed in 2008 by Tribute to Liberty, a charity formed to advocate and raise capital funding. The group then took the idea to the National Capital Commission (NCC), which gave its approval, but not without initial misgivings.

The monument is to be built on a 5,000-square-meter site that, as late as November 2014, was slated to be the home of a new Pierre Elliott Trudeau Judicial Building.

The monument proposal follows a more modest U.S. memorial to the victims of communism, completed in 2007, a three-meter bronze replica of the Goddess of Democracy. Erected by students during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, it is within view of the U.S. Capitol buildings.

There is no doubt that, under Joseph Stalin in Russia and satellite countries, Mao Zedong in China, and Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot in Cambodia, tens of millions of innocent civilians were killed. In Soviet Ukraine, the famine caused by the seizure of grain and failed collectivization is estimated to have led to 2.5-3.9 million deaths.

But were these tragedies the result of communism or totalitarian rule? Are not the police state and the terror that goes with it inherent in any communist experience of the 20th century?

What about the victims of terror regimes under Augusto Pinochet in Chile and during the dirty war in Argentina and in the mass executions of indigenous people in Guatemala? Some have asked rhetorically: what about a Memorial to the Victims of Capitalism – incorrect shorthand for totalitarian terror under right-wing totalitarian regimes?

In 2009, the NCC, which administers federally-owned lands and buildings in the capital region, began considering the monument proposal. A report by its five-member Committee of Experts on Commemorations said the theme was not Canadian enough and expressed fears it would stir division among ethno-cultural communities.
NCC board member, Adel Awad, an Egyptian-born nuclear physicist and noted Ottawa restaurateur, had trouble with the name.

He noted that there is a tiny but legitimate Communist Party in Canada. “It’s not communism itself that we should be fighting here. It is rather totalitarianism we are against in any form.”

As reported in the Ottawa Citizen, the sponsoring organization, when granted charitable status in 2010, was called “Tribute to Liberty – A Memorial to Victims of Totalitarian Communism Inc.” And the monument was originally to be called “A Memorial to Victims of Totalitarian Communism – Canada a Land of Refuge.”

By last year, however, the charity group amended its name by removing the word Totalitarian, and the NCC followed suit. Was there concern that, by including the word Totalitarian, there is an implied legitimacy to non-totalitarian communism, if such a system could function?

From the original estimated cost of $1.5 million, three departments — Citizenship and Immigration, Canadian Heritage and Public Works — are now committed to spending a total of about $4 million on the project, which includes valuable prime land.

Tribute to Liberty chair Ludwik Klimkowski has reported that the group had raised $2 million by this winter, giving it nearly $6 million to advance the project.

The cost includes $1 million for the land, but a leading Ottawa architect says the land’s commercial value runs as high as $30 million.

It’s estimated that eight million Canadians have been victimized by totalitarian regimes branded as Communist.

Here are some of the comments on the project:

Conrad Black, in the National Post: “Canada could claim to be the starting place of the Cold War, only a few blocks from the proposed site of this monument, with the defection of Soviet embassy intelligence clerk, Igor Gouzenko, handing over voluminous documents to prove the extent of Soviet espionage in the West… There have been spurious complaints about the brutalistic design, as if a memorial to the massacres of millions of innocents by Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il-sung, and others should be festooned with angels, cherubs and sylphs.”

Africa scholar Gerald Caplan, a former NDP national director, in the Globe & Mail: “…communism’s calamitous record should not be forgotten. It teaches a crucial lesson: … those who believe any means – however extreme – justifies their end, are a danger to the world. There are far more pressing causes that deserve to be prominently memorialized by Canada.

My genocide scholar colleagues … believe overwhelmingly that the treatment of aboriginal peoples here (and the U.S.) constitutes genocide under the United National Convention on Genocide.

“Countless hundreds of millions of people have suffered from the exploitative dynamic of capitalism and continue to do so…Victims of the system, past and present, surely deserve to be
remembered and memorialized.”

Readers are invited to respond to this debate. Email editor@theseniortimes.com.

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