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Black Ribbon Day and the Victims of Communism

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Lord Acton’s famous dictum, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” has been proven true time and time again throughout history, most vividly in totalitarian systems. The worldwide destruction caused by communism is perhaps the prime example.

According to The Black Book of Communism, communist regimes, inspired by Marxist-Leninist ideology, are responsible for nearly 100 million deaths (and counting). However, in contemporary times there seems to be a tendency to ignore this reality. In The Daily Beast article, “Communism’s Victims Deserve a Museum,” James Kirchick highlights a popular sentiment about communism: “Communism is an excellent idea in theory, it just hasn’t worked in practice.”

A turn through the pages of history, however, to the true tyranny of former communist regimes: gulags, executions, forced famines, and destruction of religious freedom, may cause one to question this optimistic and lighthearted view.

In an effort to expose the inhumanity of communism, the Acton Institute will host a lecture event on November 6th featuring Acton’s director of research, Samuel Gregg, and the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art’s education committee chair, Luba Markewycz. The event will place particular focus on the “Holodomor,” the brutal man-made famine imposed on Ukraine by Joseph Stalin’s Communist regime. Markewycz will share her exhibit, “Holodomor Through the Eyes of a Child: The Famine Remembered,” composed of artwork created by contemporary children throughout Ukraine. Gregg will discuss the historical context and the ways in which the Holodomor amounted to an assault on human dignity and basic individual liberties. More details will follow.

Marion Smith, executive director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, highlights one of the most significant misconceptions about communism. In his article, Kirchick cites Smith:

It is perhaps one of the biggest lies that exist in our culture today that the deadliest ideology in history is somehow not responsible for the regimes that it brought to life and the deaths that it caused. Ideas have consequences and there has never been a communist regime that did not end up killing its own people as a goal.

It is indeed important, then, for people to learn about and reflect upon the horrors of communism. One such opportunity for reflection was provided on August 23rd, the 75th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the sinister non-aggression and cooperation agreement signed by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, which would conquer and divide Europe, half Nazi and half Communist. The event enabled the launch of World War II, as well as a conflict that consumed millions of lives in the years that followed.

To commemorate the victims of Nazi and Communist regimes in Europe, August 23rd is recognized as Black Ribbon Day, also called the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism.

Black Ribbon Day originated through the 1980s protests of Baltic diaspora community members living abroad to mark the intertwined legacies and combined victims of German fascism and Soviet communism. Observed annually by the European Union since 2009, the United States may soon join in commemoration of this important day.

On May 22, the United States House of Representatives passed H.R. 4435, which designated August 23rd as Black Ribbon Day. The legislation has moved to the Senate; if the Senate passes a matching resolution, the United States will join countries around the world in commemorating Black Ribbon Day.

“The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact stands as a reminder that although totalitarianism takes various forms, it only ever leads to death and destruction,” states the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation’s Black Ribbon Day 2014 commemoration announcement.

Though Soviet communism and German fascism no longer reign as they did in the 20th century, the excessive power and influence of these ideologies should not be forgotten or viewed as a “moot point.” Political leaders may change, but the influence of communism is still manifest in political agendas around the world. As Kirchick states:

…while communism may not present the threat to global peace and stability it did when the Soviet Union was still alive, arming proxies of its revolutionary doctrine from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, communism continues to immiserate some 2 billion people around the world.

The remembrance of Black Ribbon Day and a review of Soviet and Nazi totalitarianism provide prime examples of the consequences of excessive power and the basic human rights that are overlooked when striving for this political dominance.

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Matthea Brandenburg Matthea works on the Acton Institute's PovertyCure initiative. She graduated from Aquinas College (Grand Rapids, MI) in 2012 with a B.A. in Political Science and German.

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