Saturday, November 11, 2017

Remembering four victims of communism from Czechoslovakia, Ethiopia, Cuba, and China

One resisted the Nazi occupation, the other the Fascist occupation, and two others nonviolently resisted communism. All were killed by communist regimes for not following the Party line.
Milada Horakova at her show trial in 1950

Milada Horáková of Czechoslovakia

Milada Horakova was hanged with three others in Prague’s Pankrac Prison as a spy and traitor to the Communist Czechoslovakian government on June 27, 1950. She was a  lawyer, social democrat, and a prominent feminist in the interwar and postwar periods. She had been a member of the Czech resistance to the Nazi occupation of her homeland and survived a Nazi prison. After Czechoslovakia was liberated from the Nazis in 1945 by the Soviets she became a member of parliament in 1946 but resigned her seat after the Communist coup of 1948. However she refused to abandon her country.  She was arrested at her office on September 27, 1949 "on charges of conspiracy and espionage against the state."

Totalitarian regimes are designed to crush the spirit of the individual along with the machinery to kill large numbers of people for the sake of some revolutionary objective. Arthur Koestler dramatized how this machinery operates on the individual level with the show trial in the novel Darkness at Noon.  In the typical Stalinist show trial the accused pleads guilty to all the crimes he or she did not commit then is sentenced to some sort of draconian punishment and gives thanks to the regime for its generosity. Torture and breaking one's spirit is common practice in these circumstances.

Even when one is able to resist and remain defiant in the face of the physical and psychological torture the totalitarians will also rewrite what happened and claim that they also broke you.  This is what was done to Milada Horakova. According to Radio Prague, "For decades the communist orthodoxy maintained she had been broken by interrogators and had renounced her beliefs."

It is important to remember that this was not a meaningless exercise in sadism by the communists, but as in the case of Ochoa in 1989 served what these totalitarians viewed as a necessary objective to consolidating and maintaining power. Adam D. E. Watkins in his 2010 paper "The Show Trial of J U Dr. Milada Horáková: The Catalyst for Social Revolution in Communist Czechoslovakia, 1950" explains the importance of the show trial in gutting democratic traditions and replacing them with Stalinism:

The study deconstructs the show trial’s influence on inducing a country to foster the Communist movement against decades of democratic traditions. The research reveals the impact of the show trial of Dr. Milada Horáková in 1950 and how it was instrumental in reforming a society, marked the beginning of Stalinism, and ushered forth a perverted system of justice leading to a cultural transformation after the Communist putsch. Furthermore, the revolution truncated intellectual thought and signified the end of many social movements – including the women’s rights movement
According to D. E. Watkings Horáková was seen by the public as a symbol of  the First Republic and of democracy. Unlike others who did break under the relentless psychological and physical torture she never did. The communists tried to edit her testimony for propaganda purposes but as Radio Prague in their 2005 report on the discovery of the unedited tapes of her trial:
[S]he faced her show trial with calm and defiance, refusing to be broken. Audio recordings - intended to be used by the Communists for propaganda purposes - were mostly never aired, for the large part because for the Party's purposes, they were unusable.
Because she refused to cooperate with the Stalinists her punishment was particularly severe, even for the death penalty. In 2007 her prosecutor Ludmila Brozova-Polednova who in 1950 had helped to condemn Horakova to death, now 86, was tried as an accomplice to murder. During the trial Radio Prague reported that a note written by an anonymous eye-witness to Milada Horakova's execution quoted the young prosecutor recommending: "Don't break her neck on the noose, Suffocate the bitch - and the others too." Milada Horáková  was executed in Pankrác Prison on 27 June 1950 by a particularly torturous method: "intentionally slow strangulation, which according to historians took 15 minutes. She was 48 years old." The urn with her ashes was never given to her family nor is it known what became of them.
Milada Horáková: 25 December 1901, Prague – 27 June 1950, Prague
In a letter to her 16 year old teenage daughter Milada explained why she had refused to compromise with evil. Her daughter received the letter 40 years later after the end of communist rule:
The reason was not that I loved you little; I love you just as purely and fervently as other mothers love their children. But I understood that my task here in the world was to do you good … by seeing to it that life becomes better, and that all children can live well. … Don’t be frightened and sad because I am not coming back any more. Learn, my child, to look at life early as a serious matter. Life is hard, it does not pamper anybody, and for every time it strokes you it gives you ten blows. Become accustomed to that soon, but don’t let it defeat you. Decide to fight.
Hours prior to her execution she reaffirmed her position to her family:
I go with my head held high. One also has to know how to lose. That is no disgrace. An enemy also does not lose honor if he is truthful and honorable. One falls in battle; what is life other than struggle? (Both quotes excerpts taken from here)
Ms. Brožová-Polednová, the prosecutor,  was found guilty and sentenced to six years in prison in 2008 but was given a presidential pardon by Vaclav Klaus on humanitarian grounds one year and six months into her sentence and released in 2010. The former prosecutor defended her actions claiming that what she did was legal and that she was "following orders." She tried to appeal her conviction at the Strasbourg Court in 2011 and lost.

June 27th, the day of Milada Horakova's execution is now recognized in the Czech Republic as  “Commemoration day for the victims of the Communist regime.”

Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie I

Haile Selassie of Ethiopia

Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie I was believed to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. Selassie had served first as regent of Ethiopia from 1916 to 1930 and was emperor from 1930 to 1974. He was the heir to a dynasty that traced its origins to the 13th century, and from there by tradition back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. At the League of Nations in 1936, Emperor Selassie condemned the use of chemical weapons by Fascist Italy against the people of Ethiopia. Ethiopia was the one independent African state during a time when the rest of the continent was under colonial rule. H.I.M. Haile Selassie , the lion of Judah, resisted the Fascist invasion of his homeland Ethiopia and warned the world of its threat when he addressed the League of Nations. He would go into exile in Great Britain but returned home after the defeat of the fascists.

Emperor Haile Selassie's internationalist views led to Ethiopia becoming a charter member of the United Nations, and his political thought and experience in promoting multilateralism and collective security are still viewed as part of his enduring legacy. Despite inspiring the founding of a religion that today has up to 800,000 followers he remained an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian until his death.

Raul Castro & Fidel Castro with close ally Mengistu Haile Mariam
 Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed in a communist  military coup and it is believed that the officers smothered him and that Mengistu Haile Mariam: "ordered the emperor's body to be buried head down in the palace and had a lavatory erected over the grave so that he could express daily his contempt for the monarch." Winston Churchill had described Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie I as "the only enlightened Abyssinian prince." In December 1994 The New York Times reported that an Ethiopian court described "how Emperor Haile Selassie was 'strangled in his bed most cruelly' in 1975 by order of the leaders of a Marxist military coup."

Less than a decade after Mengistu fled into exile on November 5, 2000, Haile Selassie was given an Imperial funeral by the Ethiopian Orthodox church. Bob Marley's widow, Rita Marley, participated in the funeral.

Laura Pollán, founding leader of the Ladies in White

Laura Inés Pollán of Cuba

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo was a courageous woman who spoke truth to power and protested in the streets of Cuba demanding an amnesty for Cuban political prisoners. A woman who had been a school teacher, before her husband was jailed for his independent journalism in 2003.

Laura Pollán became a dissident when her husband Hector Maseda was imprisoned during the Black Cuban Spring of 2003 along with more than 75 other activists and civil society members. She was one of the founders of the Ladies in White and challenged the Castro regime on the streets of Cuba. Following brutal repression in an effort to prevent them from marching through the streets of Havana Laura Pollan directly and nonviolently challenged the regime: "We will never give up our protest. The authorities have three options — free our husbands, imprison us or kill us. 

Despite all the efforts of the Cuban communist dictatorship that has a monopoly over force and the mass media in Cuba, Laura was able with a small group of courageous women to take to the streets and demonstrate. Not once or twice but on a weekly basis since her husband was unjustly imprisoned in March of 2003. The dictatorship did everything they could to stop them, including brute violence. Bruises and broken bones did not deter these ladies and they continued marching with casts and slings.

Over a 100,000 people dressed in white took to the streets in Miami in the spring of 2010 to protest the violence against these women led by Gloria Estefan, who had organized the demonstration in solidarity with this movement.

Laura's husband marches with Ladies in White carrying image of his murdered wife
In the summer of 2010 the dictatorship finally began the process of releasing the bulk of the remaining prisoners of conscience from the group of the 75 and the last of them were released in the spring of 2011. Unfortunately, there were new prisoners of conscience whose release the Ladies in White would continue to demand.  Laura recognized that "[a]s long as this government is around there will be prisoners because while they've let some go, they've put others in jail. It is a never-ending story."

Five days before she became suddenly deathly ill, as the violence and threats escalated, she let the dictatorship know that: "We are not going to stop. If they have imprisoned our sisters thinking that we would give up, they are mistaken. We are very united (...) all the women's movements are very close."

On October 14, 2011, Laura Pollan, one of the founders of the human rights movement the Ladies in White died after years of suffering physical and psychological assaults against her person. Finally, she would become a victim of the Cuban healthcare system that following the Castroite dictum of inside the revolution everything outside of it nothing - would suffer and die in a matter of days while under the supervision of doctors who were revolutionaries first and doctors second. A Cuban doctor, who reviewed her case file, described it as a death by purposeful medical neglect

Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo who died imprisoned in China in 2017
Liu Xiaobo of China

Nonviolent dissident, scholar and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison for the crime of speaking. He had already been jailed for more than a year for being one of the authors of Charter 08 that sought to gather signatures in a petition calling on the Chinese regime to gradually shift toward democracy. Liu Xiaobo had played a prominent role in the June 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square engaging in a hunger strike that he mentioned in a statement he made on December 23, 2009 during the political show trial he was being subjected to:

But I still want to say to this regime, which is depriving me of my freedom, that I stand by the convictions I expressed in my "June Second Hunger Strike Declaration" twenty years ago ‑ I have no enemies and no hatred. None of the police who monitored, arrested, and interrogated me, none of the prosecutors who indicted me, and none of the judges who judged me are my enemies. Although there is no way I can accept your monitoring, arrests, indictments, and verdicts, I respect your professions and your integrity, including those of the two prosecutors, Zhang Rongge and Pan Xueqing, who are now bringing charges against me on behalf of the prosecution. During interrogation on December 3, I could sense your respect and your good faith.
Hatred can rot away at a person's intelligence and conscience. Enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation, incite cruel mortal struggles, destroy a society's tolerance and humanity, and hinder a nation's progress toward freedom and democracy. That is why I hope to be able to transcend my personal experiences as I look upon our nation's development and social change, to counter the regime's hostility with utmost goodwill, and to dispel hatred with love.
Chinese Dissident Liu Xiaobo was arrested on June 23, 2009 and charged with “inciting subversion of state power” for co-authoring Charter 08, a declaration calling for political reform, greater human rights, and an end to one-party rule in China that has been signed by hundreds of individuals from all walks of life throughout the country. On December 25, 2009 Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison and two years' deprivation of political rights. The Beijing High Court rejected his appeal on February 11, 2010."

Liu Xiaobo with his wife, Liu Xia
 On January 19, 2010 Havel met with the Executive Director of Human Rights in China, Sharon Hom, and engaged her in a dialogue/interview about Liu Xiaobo, Charter 08 and the struggle for democratic reform in China. When asked about the similarities between China today and Czechloslovakia in 1977 explained that:

The similarities, I would say, are in the basic structure of human rights reflected in a democratic system, which of course the regime doesn’t want. The regime wishes for the dictatorship of one party. I think this is where Charter 08 and Charter 77 are similar: they have similar targets and similar messages to deliver to the [respective] regimes.
On February 3, 2010 both Czech and Slovak members of parliament nominated Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize. The nomination was also endorsed by Vaclav Havel and many of the former spokespersons of Charter 77. The 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate, Herta Müller, in a letter to the Nobel Foundation on behalf of Liu Xiaobo wrote:
I have urgent request to make to you today. As you know, Vaclav Havel nominated the Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize 2010.[...]I, too, believe that Liu Xiaobo deserves the Nobel Peace Prize because in the face of countless threats from the Chinese regime and great risk to his life, he has fought unerringly for the freedom of the individual.
Eight months after the rejection of his appeal on October 8, 2010 the Nobel Committee in Norway awarded this Chinese dissident and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience the Nobel Peace Prize despite threats from the Chinese regime. As December 10th, the day for the ceremony to recognize the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, approached the Chinese regime engaged in a human rights crackdown in Mainland China. Neither he or his wife, Liu Xia, who has been kept under house arrest, were allowed to attend. The actress Liv Ullman read the final statement that Liu Xiaobo read out at his December 2009 trial titled: "I Have No Enemies: My Final Statement" already mentioned and cited above.

Unjustly imprisoned for over eight years China's Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiabo was seriously ill in mid 2017 and although granted medical parole continued to be arbitrarily detained, although  in a hospital diagnosed with terminal liver cancer his access and movement continued to be restricted. His wife, Liu Xia said that her husband, according to The Guardian, "cannot be given surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy," allegedly "because the cancer is so advanced." Chinese Human Rights Defenders reports that individuals in custody, like Liu Xiaobo, had been denied medical treatment in what is a life threatening form of torture.

Liu Xiaobo died on July 13, 2017. Four days later on July 17, 2017 the man who had received the Nobel Prize on Xiaobo's behalf in Oslo, Dr. Yang Jianli in Washington, DC, at the monument to the Victims of Communism in an act of remembrance, spoke of his friend and the culpability of the Chinese communist regime.
In April 1989, when the Tiananmen democracy movement just broke out, he returned to Beijing from New York and became the most important intellectual leader of the movement. After the Tiananmen Massacre, he shouldered both moral and political responsibilities and continued to fight from inside China while many others left the country and even abandoned the movement. He was in and out prison and spent half of the past 28 years after the Tiananmen Massacre in incarceration. Never wavering in spirit, he shared the sufferings of his compatriots and gave his life for them. He is a martyr and saint. Yes. Liu Xiaobo is a martyr and saint who possesses a moral authority that his persecutors can only envy. His legacy of love, justice, peace and sacrifice will surely far outlive the deeds of those who persecuted him. That is exactly why the leaders of China are so afraid of him, so afraid of his words and deeds, and so afraid of his legacy. They are afraid of the inevitable comparison between Liu Xiaobo’s Chinese dream and Xi Jinping’s; they are afraid of the unavoidable likening of the Chinese Communist regime to the Nazis regime because Liu Xiaobo has been the first Nobel Peace Prize winner who died under confinement since Carl von Ossietzky, a German pacifist and an opponent of the Nazis, who died in 1938.
Milada Horakova, a feminist, was a member of the Czech resistance to Nazism. H.I.M. Haile Selassie , the lion of Judah, resisted the Fascist invasion of his homeland Ethiopia and warned the world of its threat. Laura Inés Pollán Toledo was a school teacher, turned human rights activist, to free her husband, a journalist jailed for his writings. Liu Xiaobo was a literary critic, poet and human rights activist who advocated for nonviolent change in his homeland. He was also a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. They were all murdered by communist regimes.through explicit executions or purposeful medical neglect.

We must not forget them or stop demanding justice for them and their cause.

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