Earlier this month, the construction site for Ottawa’s “Memorial to the Victims of Communism” (MVC) was vandalized with the message “Communism will win” and several hammer and sickles.
The MVC was a project initiated in 2008, which intended to create a public memorial in Ottawa to recognize Canada’s supposed “role as a place of refuge for people fleeing injustice and persecution, and honour the millions oppressed by communist regimes.” The charity Tribute to Liberty (TL) was created with the sole purpose of getting the memorial built. After more than a decade of roadblocks and controversy, the project finally broke ground in November 2019. The federal government has pledged to contribute up to $1.5 million to the project, and countless politicians have offered verbal support as well.
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), one of the groups funding the memorial, called the recent vandalism an “act of hate.” In reality, it’s a commendable act that’s a logical continuation of recent protests across North America.
In the last couple months, statues throughout the continent have been rightfully vandalized and torn down. Many of the figures these statues depicted were complicit in, or directly responsible for, the genocide of Indigenous peoples or the slave trade.
European fascists often looked to these figures and the systems they ran for ideological inspiration, although it certainly came from their own countries’ history as well. As such, European fascists and those responsible for slavery and genocide in North America are connected in both destructive impact and the motivation for these acts. Anyone who supports tearing down statues of slave owners should do the same for memorials to fascists.
The MVC is not slated to include statues of Nazis and their collaborators. However, it does effectively do the following: demonize fascists’ greatest enemies, minimize the Holocaust and mourn the deaths of Nazi collaborators. This is more than enough to make it a justified target of ongoing protest movements.
Nazis and fascists were responsible for some of the greatest atrocities in the 20th century. If they weren’t stopped, entire demographics would have been eradicated. As such, the forces responsible for defeating Nazis and fascists deserve a great deal of praise. Make no mistake: those people were communists, who have been fascists’ greatest enemies throughout history.
Communists around the world travelled to Spain to protect the Republic against a fascist coup.
The Soviet Union was responsible for crushing the Nazis on the Eastern Front in the Second World War, both suffering the heaviest losses and killing the most Nazis.
Italian communist partisans captured dictator Benito Mussolini and used his corpse as a pinata.
Yugsolav partisans, led by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, were one of the largest and most effective popular uprisings against the fascists.
In France, communists played a critical role in the resistance to the Nazi occupation while others became collaborators.
Korean and Chinese communists fought wars of liberation against the Japanese.
East Germany made a great effort to denazify their country while West Germany let former-Nazis assume positions of power, and Canada and the United States welcomed them as “refugees.” The examples go on.
I couldn’t find a single mention of communist resistance to fascism on TL’s website. That is likely because any uncritical condemnation of communism requires the erasure of the essential role communists played in defeating fascism.
Anti-communists do this by either egregiously downplaying the communist contribution to anti-fascism, or stating that their resistance is ultimately meaningless because they were just as bad as the fascists. For example, TL’s chair of the board of directors, Ludwik Klimkowski, recently told the CBC, “The loudest voices are saying, ‘Perhaps it’s time to treat the signs and symbols of communism in the same way that we treat the swastika and symbols of oppression of the Holocaust.’”
Yet the only way for anti-communists to claim communism and fascism are equals is to either deny or minimize the Holocaust. The forces behind the MVC are certainly not Holocaust deniers, but they are effectively promoting a troubling theory dubbed “Double Genocide.”
A must-read Autumn 2017 Jewish Currents article by Dovid Katz breaks down this theory, which the publication calls the “new and official form of Holocaust denial.” Katz writes:
Within the mythology of East European nationalists, particularly but not exclusively in the Baltics and western Ukraine — where there was massive local participation in the actual killing of Jews, usually by shooting at local pits rather than by deportation to faraway camps — the Bogus moral equivalence of the Holocaust has been from the time of the actual massacres the myth that the Jews were all Communists and got what they deserved because Communism was every bit as genocidal as Nazism. Hence what the Jews call the Holocaust is a kind of opposite and equal reaction to the first genocide, the crimes of Communism.
This theory, Katz notes, enjoys state support in a range of countries including Hungary, Estonia and Latvia. Each of these governments is a donor to TL, which also enjoys the support of other states trying to minimize their role in the Holocaust or glorify fascist anti-communists, including Poland and Croatia.
Katz notes that the Holocaust can’t be “considered as a moral equal of some other ‘bad thing’ from its period in history — other than for the proponents of Bogus moral equivalence, who use it as a tool of discourse, sophistry, casuistry, to talk the Holocaust out of history without denying a single death.”
By claiming fascism and communism are, at the very least, equally bad, this is what some of the forces behind the MVC have done. Unfortunately, it’s also government policy.
In 2009, the House of Commons unanimously adopted legislation designating August 23 as the “National Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Communism and Nazism,” explicitly equating the two. It has since been annually commemorated by the government.
Yet some go beyond saying the two were equals, and actually say communists were worse than the Nazis.
The TL’s website, for example, includes a quote referring to communism as “the most colossal case of political carnage in history.” A summer 2016 TL newsletter, meanwhile, includes a speech from a board member of the international Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation who argues, “No political or economic system has claimed as many victims as communism,” and later complains of people who “even equate communism with other systems,” which sounds like someone upset that not everyone sees communism as worse than fascism.
This ideological process has consequences. As Katz notes, “One major symptom of the revisionism underway in Eastern Europe is the rehabilitation of Nazi collaborators as ‘national heroes’ on the grounds that they were anti-Soviet.” This is also happening in Canada.
TL claims there have been more than 100 million victims of communism. They get that figure from The Black Book of Communism, a 1997 text that tallies up all of the ideology’s supposed victims. The TL’s website cites the book on numerous occasions, regardless of the fact that it has been widely debunked and was led by an editor who some of the book’s contributors said was obsessed with reaching the 100 million deaths mark.
More disturbingly, as journalist Ben Norton writes, the book “counts Nazi–collaborating fascists, anti-Semitic White Army fighters and czarist officers who oversaw genocidal pogroms against Jews in its list of ‘victims of communism.’” Therefore, the memorial is, in part, honouring Nazi collaborators and other virulent antisemites, although many TL members and MVC supporters would likely deny that’s the case and don’t directly support these forces.
Unfortunately, there are statues and cenotaphs throughout Canada directly commemorating Nazi collaborators, which have been documented by a small group of journalists and researchers, including Moss Robeson, David Pugliese and Alex Boykowich. A cenotaph in the St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Cemetery in Oakville, Ont., commemorating 14th SS division members recently made international news after Halton Regional Police initially treated its vandalism as a hate crime. (The UCC denies that those memorialized were Nazi collaborators.)
Moreover, the UCC has directly praised some of these figures. According to a 2012 journal article by historian Per Anders Rudling:
On Remembrance Day 2010, Paul Grod [who is listed as being on the TL’s board of directors] President of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, in the name of 1.2 million Ukrainian-Canadians, paid tribute to the veterans of the Waffen-SS Galizien, and remembered its fallen ‘who perished fighting for the freedom of their ancestral Ukrainian homeland.’ When the president of the Canadian society of veterans of the Waffen-SS Galizien passed away earlier that year, the UCC claimed ‘he will be remembered as a hero of Ukraine who fought for her independence.’
So, while the MVC may seem like an innocuous tribute to those unjustly killed in socialist states, who certainly exist, it’s actually built on a disturbing ideology that whitewashes fascism. As such, the MVC vandalism fits squarely within the events of recent months, and is justified. But it doesn’t go far enough.
I’m not encouraging anyone to commit illegal acts. Rather, I’m calling for people to organize and put pressure on relevant political actors to bulldoze the construction site and prevent the MVC from being built. Turn the site into a massive Arby’s, a parking lot, a collection of hornets nests — it doesn’t matter. Almost anything is better than this monstrosity.