“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
August 23 is the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism. A solemn, and sadly necessary day to remember those that lost so much, in many cases their lives, under European totalitarian regimes.
Black Ribbon Day started in the 1980’s as a series of peaceful protests in Canada by refugees form the Soviet Bloc. August 23 was chosen as the date because it marked the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which divided Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland between the Soviet Union and Germany in an ill-fated effort to keep the Soviet Union safe from the increasing aggression of Nazi Germany. In 2008, the European Parliament signed a declaration adopting August 23 as the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism. In part, the declaration noted that “The mass deportations, murders and enslavements committed in the context of the acts of aggression by Stalinism and Nazism fall into the category of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Under international law, statutory limitations do not apply to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
On 21 May 2014, the United States House of Representatives adopted a resolution supporting Black Ribbon Day as a day to to honor the victims of the Soviet and Nazi regimes, and to “remember and never forget the terror millions of citizens in Central and Eastern Europe experienced for more than 40 years by ruthless military, economic, and political repression of the people through arbitrary executions, mass arrests, deportations, the suppression of free speech, confiscation of private property, and the destruction of cultural and moral identity and civil society, all of which deprived the vast majority of the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe of their basic human rights and dignity, separating them from the democratic world by means of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall,”. The resolution further stated that “the extreme forms of totalitarian rule practiced by the Soviet Communist and Nazi regimes led to premeditated and vast crimes committed against millions of human beings and their basic and inalienable rights on a scale unseen before in history.”
To allow ourselves to forget, or to allow people to trivialize what occurred to people during those years under the auspices of governments that were supposed to be making things better and helping to keep them safe, is to make it all too easy for those that want to bring back some (or all) of the government tactics that caused so much suffering. And in an era of increasing nationalism and xenophobia on both side of the Atlantic, we would do well to remember. And to realize that the onus is on us to speak out against the rising tide of fear and hate.
“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”
― Elie Wiesel
Image from http://www.blackribbonday.org