This piece originally appeared as an Opinion in the Toronto Star (March 08, 2015).
What is the principle behind Ottawa’s planned massive memorial to the victims of Communism if not to advance Conservative ideology?
Ottawa’s promised new memorial to victims of Communism threatens to be both an esthetic monstrosity and a tribute to moral obtuseness. Many have expressed alarm about its visual impact, from the mayor of Ottawa to Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, without deterring the Harper government from financially and ideologically backing the project.
The proposed four-storey-tall, 54,000-square-foot structure is the thought-child of Voytek Gorczynski, a Canadian architect of Polish origin. He has earned his right to detest Communism, having experienced Stalinist oppression in his native country — just as I witnessed it in my birth land of Hungary. It is common for people to empathize primarily with the fate of the ethnic or political grouping they identify with: grieving its sufferings, turning a blind eye to its sins. Less excusable is the cynicism of the ruling Conservatives.
What is the principle here in service of which public space is to be utilized and public money spent, if not to advance Tory ideology? Is it to honour humans destroyed by power-mongering, aggression, greed and cruelty? That would be inspiring. Let us then erect a monument to the victims of industrial civilization, Communist or not.
Among the memorialized will be the millions who died in the Stalinist purges and gulags, in the Ukrainian famine, the Chinese who starved to death in wake of Mao’s Great Leap Forward, the Magyars killed battling Soviet troops in Budapest. Among them, too, ought surely to be millions of Congolese murdered by Belgian diamond hunger, the 3 million Vietnamese slaughtered by the U.S. in the name of anti-communist containment, the 100,000 Guatemalan peasants mutilated, tortured and massacred by the U.S.-financed and Israeli-trained army in the 1980s, the many tens of thousands hounded to death throughout Latin America by American-backed regimes over the decades.
Let us recall the million Afghanis butchered by Soviet weapons towards the end of the last century and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians pulverized by U.S. bombs and missiles in the first decade of this one. Let us mourn the tens of thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese lives felled in pursuit of Zionist expansion. And yes, the 50 million human beings sacrificed in two great world wars generated by infighting amongst the imperial powers of the industrialized world, and the many millions of martyrs to racism everywhere.
We have not yet mentioned the hundreds of thousands of native people exterminated in North America to facilitate colonial expansion, nor the thousands of Aboriginal Canadian children whose bodies still lie without proper burial in sites yet to be explored: victims of Christian mercy at the hands of nuns and priests and other ministers of Western culture. Nor the nearly million Indonesians exterminated in 1965 with U.S. support and incitement, nor 100,000 East Timorese lives similarly taken more recently, both amidst profound media silence.
Let us recall, certainly, the students who fell in the cause of liberty at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, but why forget the Mexican students murdered by police in service of that same liberty in 1968? Or dozens of Algerians killed by Paris police in the infamous massacre of 1961, or the hundreds of thousands killed by French troops in Algeria itself during the preceding decade. A more inclusive list to be sure, still woefully incomplete.
It is characteristic of rulers to point accusatory fingers at nations or ideologies with which they are at odds. Quite beyond the capabilities of most political leaders is to acknowledge the similarities they share with those they despise. But oh, how liberating it would be if, say, Stephen Harper were to stand in Parliament, speaking words to this effect: “I am compelled to acknowledge that I have aggressive impulses I act out politically in so many ways, typically toward targets on whom I can safely vent my hostility: benighted drug addicted people, Islamists, oppressors it costs me nothing to denounce. Human rights matter to me only in countries I feel righteous to oppose; not in states like the U.S., Israel, Egypt or Mexico, where I have a vested interest in ignoring my allies’ capacity to exploit, torment and kill. Amazing grace, I was blind but now I see …
“I see that this edifice, as presently conceived, arises from my prejudices, not from a genuine concern for human suffering or commitment to freedom. I refuse to be so constricted in my thinking any longer. I will invite Mr. Gorczynski to broaden his moral horizons, while narrowing his architectural hubris.”
Such a statement would deserve if not a monument, at least a plaque on Parliament Hill.