New museum educates on communism: “Not just bad, but malevolent”

Washington is getting a vital new addition to its archipelago of museums in the coming days: the Museum of Victims of Communism. Created by the Foundation in Memory of the Victims of Communism (VOC), it will open its doors to the public next Monday.

The Museum of Victims of Communism will be the only one of its kind in the world that explains the past of communism along with its influence in Europe, Asia and South America. Lee Edwards, co-founder and president emeritus of the foundation, told National Review that “we see the museum as a cornerstone of the educational program and campaign in the country. We see it as an important part of our mission to educate young Americans… about the history, legacy and ideology of communism.” Lee stressed that the VOC has a clear political agenda: “We feel that once we have accomplished this, we will have the opportunity to make them understand that they will not want to vote for socialist and that communism is not only bad, it is malevolent.”

For Edwards, the goal of educating young Americans about communism is bipartisan. The VOC seeks out both Democrats and Republicans in Washington. Although Edwards does not see communism as an imminent threat to the United States now, he has proposed that its variants are on the rise: “When I read that 70% of millennials would vote for a socialist, is a bad sign. We must act now to stop this. The way to do it is to educate not only the students but also the teachers”. In this vein, the VOC has a program that educates teachers on how to educate students about communism. Edwards thinks it’s vital to reach young people before they get to university. He also mentioned that the VOC has asked [o governador da Flórida] Ron DeSantis to sign the HB bill 395 which declares November 7th the “Day of the Victims of Communism” and adds courses to the US government school curriculum that teach students about communist regimes around the world and their leaders. “It’s very important. And we are following up on that and talking to other governors and state boards of education to do the same thing,” said Edwards.

Dr. Aldona Z. Wos, former US Ambassador to Estonia and VOC advisor who lived under communism in Poland, explained the importance of educating young Americans today: “We need to know the facts about the failed policies of communism in order to not repeat these mistakes in the future.” Wos gave the example of when the Polish communist government subsidized vodka, making a liter of vodka cheaper than a liter of milk. The intention was to keep the population drunk, thus decreasing the likelihood of resistance. Wos also recalled the food shortages she faced as a young girl in Poland: “When I was a teenager in Poland and I would come home from medical school, and I would stop at the supermarket to buy something to eat, I would find the shelves empty. There was food rationing… The shelves were empty in an agricultural country that helped feed itself and the rest of the world.”

The first gallery visitors will see when entering the museum has the theme of revolution. The gallery explains the Communist Manifesto, the Bolshevik Revolution and Vladimir Lenin’s rise to power in Russia.

Then visitors will enter the second gallery, where the theme is repression. It “gives you a sense of the individual,” said Elizabeth Spalding, vice president of the VOC and founding director of the Museum of Victims of Communism. This gallery covers the era of Joseph Stalin, from the years 1920 to WWII. Exposed on its walls are three large panels of victims of communism: two of the three victims were executed by sham trials. On the other side, visitors are faced with photos of the youngest victims of communism. One of the boys shown was a victim of the Holodomor, Stalin’s genocide against Ukraine that starved 3.3 to 3.9 million Ukrainians to death. On one of the walls is a video about the gulag system in communist countries. The purpose of the film, according to Spalding, is to emphasize the fact that the gulag — a network of forced labor camps where inmates often worked to death — was not unique to the Soviet Union, but was also used by other communist countries such as China (which still has forced labor camps to this day).

Finally, visitors enter the third gallery in which the theme is resistance. It covers the post-WWII era to the present. Visitors read about Mao Zedong’s murderous campaigns, the Prague Spring and “The Cambodian Killing Fields”, among other exhibits. Audiences will learn about the lives of those living under communism today. Visitors will have the opportunity to use an interactive screen that guides them through the daily choices that people living in communist countries today are forced to make and the consequences of their choices.

Merita McCormack, who fled communist Albania, spoke to reporters during the museum’s preview and described his experiences while living under communist repression. McCormack said she couldn’t vote, move to a new house, or go to the school of her choice because her grandfather was a kulak — one of the relatively wealthy farmers who suffered discrimination by the communists. Her mother’s family home was confiscated by the government:

“It was daily political aggression. We would go out on the street and my schoolmates would tell us or other people that we didn’t deserve to be there. Basically, my life changed forever… It was a constant daily reminder that we were not welcome, that we were bad people, that we were nobody.”

McCormack recalled that when she came to the United States in 1994, she saw politicians on television repeating propaganda that sounded exactly like what she heard in Albania. She expressed frustration that the threat of communism is not given enough attention in the United States today. How can Americans defend themselves against these ideologies? McCormack puts this onus on parents to educate their children, but he also says that fundamental freedoms — of expression, of religion — must be respected.

“Tell the stories about Communism and fight… We shouldn’t be afraid to tell the truth”, she said.

That’s what the museum seeks to do. And it would be difficult for any young American to idealize communism after one visit.

©2022 National Review. Published with permission. Original in English.
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