By Mari-Ann Kelam*
On Aug. 23, the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Totalitarian Regimes, Estonia opened a new memorial for all victims of communism. The 30,000 square foot structure in Tallinn is dedicated to the people of Estonia who suffered under the terror inflicted by the Soviet Union. The names of 22,000 people who were murdered or never returned home from the inhumane conditions in Siberia are inscribed on the memorial’s plaques. Now, after the passage of so much time, many families finally have place to mourn their lost loved ones, to pray, to place flowers and candles. Considering the lighthearted treatment afforded communism by many in the West, these reminders remain much-needed.
The Day of Remembrance marks the infamous Molotov – Ribbentrop Pact on August 23, 1939, which divided Europe between Hitler and Stalin and paved the way to World War II. Much of the world has forgotten that these dictators remained allies until Germany invaded the USSR in late 1941. Many do not realize that both national socialism, or Nazism, and communism shared the idea that everything was permissible for the good of the cause – everything from martial law to confiscations, occupations, arrests, torture and murder.
The crimes of Stalin have sometimes been excused because he ultimately fought against Nazi Germany. Soviet crimes against humanity were not even mentioned at the Nuremburg trials. Sadly, the huge American contribution to winning the war and rebuilding the western part of Europe has been ignored or forgotten as well. But all this means that the crimes of Stalin and his communist successors have not been judged properly nor have the millions of victims and their survivors received proper recognition or any assurance that history will not repeat itself. Stalin and Hitler had much blood on their hands – basically two sides of one filthy coin – yet only one side seems to be etched into the memory of mankind.
And because so far there has been no judgment of Russia’s Soviet past, the unfortunate Russian people have ended up with an authoritarian leader who falsifies the past, glorifies Stalin and his era, ignores rule of law, invades his neighbors, and eliminates those who dare to criticize or oppose him. In 2002, Alexander Yakovlev, in his book “A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia“ warned that Russia will never be a normal country until it acknowledges and comes to terms with the crimes of its Soviet past.
It is a task left to survivors, historians, people of goodwill, and memorials and monuments such as the one in Estonia, to try to tell the truth about the communist system which everywhere ended in misery, costing the lives of 100 million people.
On this background it is extremely concerning and offensive to find Walmart and other retailers promoting what they call “cool shirts“ — bright red tees emblazoned with the Soviet hammer and sickle. Making light of the atrocities committed under and in the name of communism shows ignorance and callousness.
As an Estonian-American living in Europe, I am embarrassed and pained. It is impossible to explain such flippancy to people here, many of whom suffered under communism. People are beginning to think that it is true – Americans care only about making money. I have a hard time convincing them about the America and Americans I know and love, their values and principles, their bravery and willingness to help the downtrodden and oppressed.
Most of my friends here and abroad find this Walmart campaign disgusting. Some have asked, “When will they come out with the companion shirt emblazoned with a swastika?” Precisely this question shows how much still needs to be done to inform and educate people that there were two evil dictators, erstwhile allies, whose crimes and ambitions resulted in so many millions of victims. It is an immense task, but it can be achieved. One place to begin, in this case, is to contact Walmart at all levels. There are many opportunities – their website, their Facebook, your local Walmart store, and management at the highest level.
The executioners killed their victims twice: first by taking their lives and second by erasing the memory of them and their fate. This is why it is important to remember. We cannot undo the first killing, but we can undo the second.
About the author:
*Mari-Ann Kelam served for several years in the Estonian Parliament.
This article was published by the Acton Institute.