In 1968, naive anti-establishment American and Canadian students considered themselves courageous for locking supine university presidents in their offices, throwing computers out of windows and even burning out-of-favour academics’ research work. They knew that in the free, indulgent West, their childish parody of a revolution would result in nothing more than a suspension from their studies.
In the same year truly courageous Moscow academic Yuri Glazov signed the famous “letter of the twelve,” protesting illegal arrests and trials of dissidents, knowing full well that this real act of revolution would result in a suspension of his human rights.
Glazov was predictably fired, meaning he was henceforth unemployable and deemed a “parasite” on the state. Warned by a friend, he narrowly avoided imprisonment on a trumped-up narcotics-dealing charge. Finally, through a stroke of luck, Glazov came with his family to the West, and in 1975 took up residence in Halifax as chair of the Russian Studies department at Dalhousie University, a position he held until shortly before his death in 1998.
An outstanding Canadian, Glazov deserves recognition, and so do many other brave dissidents for whom Canada has been a refuge. Nine million Canadians — that’s almost a third of us according to the 2006 census — came to these shores from communist-ruled countries. Many are now dead or very old. Their descendants deserve to see their sacrifices acknowledged and Canadians exposed to the full panoply of communist atrocities.
Prospects for educating Canadians about the human toll exacted by communism through their stories will brighten when a long-sought Ottawa Memorial to the Victims of Totalitarian Communism is completed, a project singled out for endorsement in the recent Throne Speech.
This memorial isn’t just a good idea, like an also-promised national Holocaust memorial, it is a necessary idea.
The exhaustively researched Holocaust is in no danger of being forgotten. The highest term of opprobrium in Western culture, whether from leftists or rightists (rightly or wrongly) is “Nazi,” not “communist.” That’s not because Nazis and communists have been compared and Nazis found to be worse. It’s because people don’t know how bad communism was and is.
In 2006 the Swedish Ministry of Education initiated programs teaching the crimes of communism because a poll had revealed only 10% of Swedish youth could identify the Gulag. Canadian youth would not fare better. All educated Canadians associate the word “Auschwitz” with “genocide.” The equally horrific “Holodomor” is more likely to draw a blank stare.
Why has communism escaped the moral condemnation Naziism attracts in such exuberant degree? In recent years several scholars have addressed the question and provided a litany of reasons, amongst them:
• Stalin was a war ally and therefore escaped the postwar censure he deserved;
• Only since the fall of the Berlin Wall has the most damaging data emerged; by then witnesses were aging and focused on economic priorities;
• There was no Nuremburg, no Truth and Reconciliation moment for communism as there was for other genocidal regimes;
• Communist propaganda machines are extremely efficient at positive branding (Trudeau bought in; his fawning patronage of Fidel Castro was beyond contemptible).
But all reasons pale beside the glaring failure of left-wing intellectuals to admit — and to teach — that communism isn’t simply an unfortunate contingency of socialist passion but an ideology as immoral and implacably ruthless and dramatically consequential as Naziism.
Actually it is more than intellectuals’ failure, which suggests passivity; it was, and is, active avoidance. Yuri Glazov was proud to become a Canadian citizen, but was shocked and chagrined at the ignorance and even denial of communism’s crimes he found amongst his fellow academics. As his son Jamie Glazov noted in his 2009 book, United in Hate: the Left’s Romance with Tyranny and Terror, “[W]hile we were cherishing our newfound freedom, we encountered … intellectuals in the universities who hated my parents for the story they had to tell …” Left-wing intellectuals’ laundering of the truth about communism has translated into a vast lacuna in the teaching of 20th century history in our schools — one we can only hope the new memorial will help to fill.
The word “memorial” is somewhat misleading, though, suggesting that communism is a closed historical chapter. The fall of the Berlin Wall notwithstanding, communism in one guise or another still determines the fate of millions of hapless people around the globe. Victims in communist regimes are still starved, imprisoned, tortured and denied the most basic of human rights.
“Centre”? “Testament”? It is not too late to find a word to remind communism’s ongoing victims that right-thinking Canadians know the truth and will not abandon them.
To learn more about Yuri Glazov and the Yuri Glazov memorial fund at Dalhousie University, go here