What is communism? Is it a beautiful idea, a utopian dream of bright future? Is it a coherent ideology of “historic materialism,” one that will abolish exploitation, eradicate inequality and injustice, abuses, estrangement, alienation, or Entfremdung, as it was called in the mid-nineteenth century by a young German philosopher, Karl Marx?
Or is it something else?
Is it a mother who enters the room of a twelve-year-old kid, wakes him up in the morning at 3 AM, and tells his son: “My son, you have to get up, the Soviet Army is attacking Budapest again”? Or is it the same mother, who, a couple of months later, wakes up his son again at 4 AM: “My son, you have to get up, your father has been taken away by the political police?”
We have to give a clear answer to people who are still saying that communism or Marxism-Leninism was a great idea, a beautiful idea — only the implementation was wrong. This is utterly and fatally wrong. It is not true.
It is not true because this was an idea, which was aggressive and violent, right in its inception, right from the beginning. The language was violent, the substance was violent, and of course everything, which has happened since, has been enormously violent.
That is why somebody said, that “revolutions are like trees: you can tell them by their fruits.” Communism had a logical outcome. Because if you want to destroy the existing political, economic and social order, and you want to put a new one in its place, it is a logical consequence that while destroying the existing structures, you sooner or later start destroying the basic human rights, the basic liberties, human dignity and yes, you start destroying thousands, millions, tens of millions of human lives.
That is the true face of communism.
Winston Churchill said right at the beginning, don’t think it is a peaceful utopian idea, because sooner or later it will be converted into external aggression, external expansion, because that is the nature of the ideology.
It is not by chance that in most countries, the communist dictatorship was established by sheer military force, in most cases coming from the outside. Certainly, it was the case in my country and all countries of the region.
The support of the communists in these countries was significantly less than in many Western European countries that never turned communist. Why? Because there was no presence of the Red Army in those countries.
Inevitably, dictatorships have to erect walls, barbed wires, iron curtains. But these are not external walls or barbed wires. The free minds were captured from within – as it was said by Czesław Miłosz.
A famous Hungarian poet, Gyula Illyés, wrote a fantastic poem about tyranny in which he says, “where there is tyranny, there is tyranny everywhere”. It is not just in the concentration camps, it is not just in the prisons, it is in the smile of the children, it is in your laugh, it is in your daily life.
As Havel said, the basic problem here was a morally contaminated environment: moral relativism, and moral corruption. That is to my mind the most important toxic legacy of communism.
Yet, there is an innate desire and aspiration for freedom in every human being, in every community or nation. That is why so many uprisings, revolutions, freedom fights and wars of independence took place. And finally, yes, in the ‘Year of Miracles,’ Central and Eastern Europe was liberated.
At the same time, we should never forget and we have to remember that this was only possible because there was a great nation that sacrificed more human lives to roll back and defeat communism around the world than any other nation. And this nation was and is the United States of America.
This is the reason why the stakes of moral clarity about the crimes of communist regimes in the past as well as the present are particularly high for America. This is why we hope that the mission of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation will be part of a genuine national consensus, a non-negotiable minimum of bipartisan nature.
Indeed, as it has been mentioned, a key factor in the Cold War and in defeating communism was NATO.
The brightest spot of my professional life was indeed the day of March 12, 1999 when I had the very special privilege to deposit the NATO accession documents in Independence, Missouri, in the Truman Library, together with my colleagues, Jan Kavan from the Czech Republic, Bronislaw Geremek from Poland, and Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State at the time.
We were all speaking about the same thing: about coming home. At the same time, we made a strong commitment, and I want to make that same commitment this time again, that with God’s help, we will never, ever, ever leave this home again.
It has become clear that democracy, rule of law, human rights, can only be assured if there is peace and if there is security.
Now, there is a new security situation and in this situation we have to underline again and again that we cannot accept the violation of international law. We cannot accept aggression or invasion against sovereign, independent nations. We cannot accept the occupation of a part of their territory and thereby destabilizing them at a growing speed. We cannot accept any kind of whitewashing of history. And we cannot accept the creeping rehabilitation of crimes, of events like the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the invasion of Hungary, the crushing of the Hungarian revolution of 1956, the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and so and so on.
I think we all see that the end of history is nowhere in sight. The struggle for freedom around the world never concludes. Authoritarianism and moral relativism is not the answer to recurring global and local economic or geopolitical challenges.
Thousands of years of our civilization, of our heritage is now at stake. In the face of aggression, lies, and revisionism, our responsibility is nothing less than to protect, preserve, and promote the best parts of the West: the universal values of humanity while also remembering the victims and being vigilant against any repetition of all these crimes.
Editor’s Note: These remarks were delivered at the annual Victims of Communism Commemoration in Washington, D.C., on June 12, 2015.