AF­TER­LIFE OF CUL­TURE Vic­tims of Anti-com­mu­nism

Anti-com­mu­nism, re­tired by most Western gov­ern­ments, re­ceives mon­u­men­tal sta­tus in Canada

Geist - - Geist - Stephen Henighan

Of all the lega­cies of the West’s Cold War strug­gle against Com­mu­nism, the most de­struc­tive is anti-com­mu­nism. This va­cant doc­trine, propos­ing no pos­i­tive model of so­ci­ety, con­demned any de­vi­a­tion from or­tho­doxy as the ad­vance guard of Soviet sub­ver­sion. In the United States, where it was re­fined, anti-com­mu­nism en­joyed two high points: the late 1940s and early 1950s, when it fu­elled cam­paigns to ex­pel ev­ery­one from civil ser­vants to Hol­ly­wood scriptwrit­ers, from their jobs; and the 1980s, when Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan em­ployed the rhetoric of anti-com­mu­nism to fund mur­der­ous proxy wars in poor coun­tries. Anti-com­mu­nism gripped the West and its al­lies. From 1937 to 1957 the pre­mier of the au­thor­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ment of Que­bec, Mau­rice Du­p­lessis, used the Pad­lock Law to ex­pro­pri­ate houses or busi­nesses that were “prop­a­gat­ing Com­mu­nism.” In apartheid-era South Africa, the Sup­pres­sion of Com­mu­nism Act si­lenced gov­ern­ment crit­ics and banned dozens of books. In many Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the Rea­gan­ite 1980s, stu­dents, teach­ers, jour­nal­ists or union or­ga­niz­ers who ex­pressed ideas seen as “Com­mu­nist” were jailed, tor­tured or dis­ap­peared. In many cases, anti-com­mu­nism mu­tated into an all-pur­pose ide­ol­ogy of ha­tred that tar­geted peo­ple for be­ing men with long hair or women with short hair, or for­eign or Jewish. The para­noid legacy of anti-com­mu­nism lives on in con­tem­po­rary na­tivism, racism and Is­lam­o­pho­bia, yet at a for­mal level this ide­ol­ogy has been re­tired by Western gov­ern­ments—ex­cept in Canada. In 2007, Sec­re­tary of State for Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and Cana­dian Iden­tity Ja­son Ken­ney, the stan­dard-bearer of so­cial con­ser­vatism in Stephen Harper’s Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment, vis­ited a statue of a man cru­ci­fied on a ham­mer and sickle that had been erected in a pri­vate park in Scar­bor­ough, On­tario, by Cana­di­ans of Czech and Slo­vak de­scent. The same year, in Wash­ing­ton, DC, Pres­i­dent George W. Bush in­au­gu­rated the Vic­tims of Com­mu­nism me­mo­rial, a replica of a statue cre­ated by Chi­nese stu­dents dur­ing the 1989 Tianan­men Square up­ris­ing. Ken­ney per­suaded Prime Min­is­ter Harper to plan a me­mo­rial in Ot­tawa with the same name as the one in Wash­ing­ton. But whereas the Amer­i­can Vic­tims of Com­mu­nism is a dis­creet three-me­tre-high statue, the Ot­tawa pro­ject was en­vi­sioned as a se­ries of tiered con­crete rows, ris­ing to a height of four­teen me­tres, that would face a gar­gan­tuan con­crete bridge across an empty con­crete square. The me­mo­rial was to loom over the Supreme Court of Canada in ex­hor­ta­tion to those who in­ter­pret the na­tion’s laws to im­ple­ment the ide­ol­ogy of anti-com­mu­nism. The irony that, in its hulk­ing gi­gan­tism and stri­dent lines, the pro­posed me­mo­rial re­sem­bled a Com­mu­nist relic, such as one might find in Rus­sia or Bul­garia, rather than a free­wheel­ing ex­pres­sion of lib­erty, was lost on the pro­ject’s of­fi­cial pro­mot­ers, a nine-per­son board who call them­selves “Trib­ute to Lib­erty.” Seven board mem­bers iden­tify them­selves in their bi­ogra­phies as be­ing of Eastern Euro­pean her­itage; two iden­tify as be­ing of East Asian her­itage. Most have ties to the

Con­ser­va­tive Party.

Un­der Min­is­ter of Na­tional Her­itage Mélanie Joly, the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment of Justin Trudeau is per­pet­u­at­ing this avatar of anti-com­mu­nism. Adding the words “Canada, a Land of Refuge” to the “Vic­tims of Com­mu­nism” moniker, Joly has asked five com­pa­nies to com­pete in the creation of a new de­sign. The Lib­er­als plan to move the me­mo­rial’s site to the Gar­den of the Prov­inces and Ter­ri­to­ries, di­ag­o­nally across the street from the na­tional ar­chives. Con­tain­ing the flo­ral em­blems of the prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries, the gar­den as­sem­bles es­sen­tial sym­bols of Cana­dian unity. The mod­ernist statue Twelve Points in a Clas­si­cal Bal­ance, a cel­e­bra­tion of Canada’s ten prov­inces and (prior to 1999) two ter­ri­to­ries, by Chi­nese-born Cana­dian artist Chung Hung, will un­dergo “sen­si­tive and ap­pro­pri­ate” re­moval to make way for the in­clu­sion, as one of the con­stituent el­e­ments of our na­tion, of a shrine to anti-com­mu­nism. The de­clared in­ten­tion of the me­mo­rial is to hon­our peo­ple killed by Com­mu­nist regimes, as the planned Na­tional Holo­caust Mon­u­ment will com­mem­o­rate vic­tims of the Nazi geno­cide. But the two are not the same. The Holo­caust me­mo­rial will have its own site; Vic­tims of Com­mu­nism, by con­trast, will weave the creed of an­ti­com­mu­nism into the na­tional fab­ric. Min­is­ter Joly’s ad­di­tion of the words “Canada, a Land of Refuge” ac­cen­tu­ates this bias by sug­gest­ing that Com­mu­nism was the only Cold War ide­ol­ogy that pro­duced refugees.

This erases the trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ences of those who fled op­pres­sive Cold War-era anti-com­mu­nist regimes in Ar­gentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bo­livia, Chile, Brazil, Colom­bia, Hon­duras, El Sal­vador, Gu­atemala, Haiti, Spain, Por­tu­gal, Greece, the Philip­pines, Iran, In­done­sia, East Ti­mor, Egypt, Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo and South Africa, among oth­ers.

The me­mo­rial’s ad­di­tion to the Gar­den of the Prov­inces and Ter­ri­to­ries con­sti­tutes a mes­sage from the Gov­ern­ment of Canada that if your un­cle died in the Gu­lag we re­spect your suf­fer­ing, but if he was tor­tured to death by the Ar­gen­tine junta you are a non-en­tity, if not an en­emy of the state. The vic­tims of anti-com­mu­nism should re­ceive the same re­spect as the vic­tims of Com­mu­nism but they are un­likely to get it. Be­long­ing to com­mu­ni­ties al­most none of whose mem­bers have been as fi­nan­cially suc­cess­ful as the most af­flu­ent Eastern Euro­peans and East Asians, they are at a crush­ing fi­nan­cial and or­ga­ni­za­tional dis­ad­van­tage. When I asked lead­ers of af­fected com­mu­ni­ties to go on record, peo­ple I’ve known for years de­clined to re­spond. Ac­cord­ing to one leader, who asked for anonymity, many of the vic­tims of anti-com­mu­nism, be­ing less in­te­grated into Cana­dian so­ci­ety than the vic­tims of Com­mu­nism, have lit­tle emo­tional en­gage­ment with Canada’s choices of sym­bols. More in­volved in the pol­i­tics of their fam­i­lies’ coun­tries of ori­gin, they are con­scious of be­ing less flu­ent in English, less white and less aligned with Canada's power struc­tures than their op­po­nents. They per­ceive their host coun­try as demo­cratic, yet, as the planned me­mo­rial con­firms, sup­port­ive of the anti-com­mu­nist ide­ol­ogy that per­se­cuted them. The night in 1973 when a Chilean friend of the com­mu­nity leader I spoke to ar­rived in Canada as a refugee, the ho­tel where he was lodged was pick­eted by Croa­t­ian-cana­dian de­mon­stra­tors de­mand­ing that he be ex­pelled from Canada and sent back to Gen­eral Au­gusto Pinochet’s jails as a “Com­mu­nist.” He’s never for­got­ten his Cana­dian wel­come. As op­pres­sive as he finds the Vic­tims of Com­mu­nism me­mo­rial, he’s afraid of speak­ing out against it.

Stephen Henighan’s most re­cent nov­els are The Path of the Jaguar and the forth­com­ing Mr. Singh Among the Fugi­tives. Read more of his work at geist.com and stephen­henighan.com. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @Stephen­henighan.

Twelve Points in a Clas­si­cal Bal­ance by Chung Hung. Ot­tawa, ON. Photo by Stephen Henighan.

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