In 2008, a Canadian group called Tribute to Liberty was formed with the primary purpose of erecting a memorial in Ottawa to the victims of Communism. As can be expected, the group consisted primarily of members of those Eastern European communities that that had been the primary victims of Communist domination by the Soviet Union, though there were also representatives from the Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean communities as well.
The group found strong support in the Conservative government who pledged to donate a significant portion of the cost. As it stands today, the current estimated cost of the memorial, which is to be erected at a prominent location near the Supreme Court Building in Ottawa, is approximately $5.5 million, with the government to foot $4.2 million of the total, and $1.3 million to come from the various ethnic communities that are part of the group.
Plans had called for construction to begin this fall, however some strong opposition by the local National Capital Commission which constitutes Ottawa’s municipal government, as well as civic groups, opposition party members, and architectural critics are creating some headaches for the organizers and could delay the shovels hitting the ground. Objections range from the esthetic (claiming the monument is artistically ugly), ideological (questioning the very need of such a monument), pragmatic (asserting that this is a misuse of a prime building location), to political (maintaining that this is a self-serving Conservative party effort to court the ethnic vote).
In my view, most of these objections are shortsighted, irrelevant, uninformed or just simply partisan griping. First, whether anyone one thinks the design is ugly is both shortsighted and irrelevant. The majority of people thought the Eiffel Tower, the Vietnam memorial in Washington, and the new city hall in Toronto were eyesores when they were first built. Now they are iconic. Those structures have become strong visual symbols for the cities they are located in, and a major attraction for visitors and tourists. The value and importance of many artistic creations are seldom recognized when they first come to the public’s attention and only achieve proper appreciation in the long run. We should pay little attention to snap judgments being voiced as to the artistic merits of this proposed memorial.
The ideological aspect is more fundamental. Memorials and statues are very important as societal, cultural and historical symbols. They say something important happened that should not be forgotten. Everyone who stands in front of the Vietnam memorial or the Work Trade Center memorial in NY is forced to remember that something of consequence occurred that should influence how we look on the world and how it operates.
Soviet propaganda was good at rewriting history and saying that the Holodomor, the Gulags, the mass executions and oppression, and the Soviet collusion with the Nazis never happened. We need to counter this historical revisionism with powerful symbols that expose the truth. We need these to be public and to be seen by as many people as possible. As the Jews do so forcefully with the Holocaust, we must make sure that our story is told too. It is a story of over 100 million innocent victims dying at the hands of a malignant and murderous political system.
We must never forget and make sure the rest of the world never forgets as well. To assert that it did not happen in Canada and so is of marginal relevance to us is to deny that in our day and age we live in a highly interdependent global community, and what affects one nation or ethnic group is ultimately of potential consequence to us all. It also denies the fact that a substantial proportion of our Canadian population has origins in those countries most negatively affected by Communism’s ravages, and forms a part of our personal histories.
As for the arguments about location, it is obvious that such memorials should be located in as prominent a place as possible to ensure maximum people traffic and exposure. To claim that building yet another bureaucratic government office building is more important than properly recognizing one of the greatest human tragedies of all time is demeaning and petty.
Lastly, the fact that this initiative is being strongly supported by one political party is of little relevance. I am sure the ethnic communities behind this project would wish that they had the strong support of all the federal political parties. This is an issue that transcends party politics. It is a moral and ideological issue that is universal and should not be turned into a political football. Canada has always been a world leader in fostering peace and the highest ideals of brotherhood and justice. Surely, as Canadians we can all stand solidly behind such an endeavor.