First of all, I would like to thank you for this day that proves that the interests of freedom are not limited by national borders. This is extremely important for the people your Foundation is concerned with. Allow me to assume that the word “victim” embraces all people who experience oppression from communist despotism.
When communist regimes collapsed in Eastern Europe at the end of the last century, all people shared in the euphoria of the victory. And how could people not rejoice, especially those who had been liberated from communist oppression? Yet, communism turned out to be durable and adopted many faces. Communist dogmatism and classic communist dictatorship gave place to communist pragmatism and modified communism.
It acquires a bit of market economy, a touch of democratic rhetoric, and erects structures that imitate democracy—from parliament and court system to pluralism of political parties to media. It could be taken for a particular or unique national democracy, and only from the inside is it clear that it’s just the same old despotism, a bit modernized and in a new disguise.
Like influenza after each epidemic, modifying and surviving by adjusting to new circumstances, communism after each defeat modifies itself in order to survive in the contemporary world. But its essence does not change. The true core of communist states lays in preserving despotic rule and finding a safe niche in the international community.
These dictatorships often look for international recognition.
Today their goal is to secure a legitimate spot within the family of civilized states. They want to equalize freedom and slavery, democracy and dictatorship. Like a sinking man looks for a lifesaving vest, dictatorships desperately cling onto national sovereignty, membership in esteemed international organizations, and an atmosphere of politeness and friendliness as the last signs of legitimacy.
I will tell you frankly: when representatives of great democracies – American or French, for instance – shake hands with the Cuban dictator, it signifies a gesture of politeness and diplomatic protocol usually only reserved for the West. For dictators it becomes a proof of recognition and acceptance of their right to oppress their own people. They replicate these handshakes as evidence of their victory and as a message to anticommunist resistance that the world has betrayed them and that their cause is hopeless.
For those who oppose communist regimes, sometimes within a small group, at times just on their own, it is a low blow. It demonstrates that today great democracies value mutual understanding with dictatorships more than freedom and human rights.
I know that this is not fully accurate. There are people in North America and Western Europe who more highly value freedom and dignity than politicians who crave mutual understanding with communist dictatorships. There are more people who put freedom before economic or political gains, who do not distinguish between their personal freedom and freedom for the whole of humanity. I know that there are many dignified people in democratic countries and that their voice is pretty strong.
But it is not easy to hear this voice on the other side of a barbed wire. In closed states, the state propaganda invests huge efforts into convincing people that the entire civilized world is ready to accept contemporary communism or its modifications; that democracies are ready to make peace with dictatorships.
The governments of dictatorships talk endlessly about peace, but they are always ready for a war. And they demand worldwide recognition demonstrating their readiness to go into war. They blackmail the international community by building up nuclear weapons or by their readiness to annex neighboring territories. Dictatorships talk about peace while practicing belligerence, all for the sake of persuading Western powers to work with them.
I would like to remind you of the words of our great Russian compatriot Alexander Solzhenitsyn who said that the antithesis to peace is not a war; the antithesis to peace is violence and oppression. The absence of military actions is not yet peace. In dictatorships, the war is going on; it is not very visible from outside, but it has its casualties, with destruction of entire infrastructure that demoralizes the entire community and degrades the legal system.
I take part in such a war, and I can say that the solidarity of the free world with those who fight for their freedom in dictatorships is extremely important. Of course, the one who rises to fight against despotism will continue his struggle even if there is no support at all. But solidarity with the world makes him ten times stronger. This solidarity shows that the aspiration for freedom is not a capricious act of whimsy for loners, but a universal value that promotes human societies from barbarism to a state of progress.
It is a hard path; it has numerous losses along it. I am grateful that you treat our losses as your own. I am happy that the notion of freedom inspires not only those who are on the verge of life and death in prisons and concentration camps, but also those who enjoy all privileges of democracy.
Today I share your award with those of my friends who did not survive to see the collapse of communism in our country. And even more with those who are alive and keep fighting for our mutual freedom. With those who are imprisoned in China, Cuba, North Korea, Belorussia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Iran and other states with despotic regimes. I want them to know – this medal belongs to them, as well. Thank you.
Editor’s Note: These remarks were delivered at the annual Victims of Communism Commemoration in Washington, D.C., on June 12, 2015.