Saint Pope John Paul II and Lech WalesaFATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA
The year 1979 marked the beginning of the end for communism.
In any other year, it would have been simply expected. The Maoist regime had been killing its people by the millions for decades. With a resumé of forced famines, laogai, cultural revolution, systematic suppression of all religious, political and legal liberties, monstrous violations of human rights in the name of population control — how else would one have expected the Chinese regime to react? It was thought that perhaps Deng had brought a new era, as though a desire for export-led development might lead to an importation of respect for human rights.
It didn't. As Deng wound down his public life it was clear that the Chinese were willing, even eager, to jettison the central-planning economics that made communism unsustainable. That was the limit of the tyrant's indulgence. To defend their totalitarian power, the Chinese would crush under their tanks anyone who thought liberty was more than just the freedom to sell cheap goods overseas. Twentyfive years later, the economy is still growing in China, but the winds of liberty still do not blow there. The air in China is both metaphorically and literally unbreathable, the polluted price the Chinese have paid for economic development in a totalitarian state.
Given the choice between continuing sycophancy to a tyrant state and honouring Poland's heroes, world leaders yesterday averted their eyes from Beijing and were present in Warsaw instead.
"We remember how, when an Iron Curtain descended, you never accepted your fate," U.S. president Barack Obama told his Polish audience. "When a son of Poland ascended to the Chair of Saint Peter, he returned home, and here, in Warsaw, he inspired a nation with his words — 'There can be no just Europe without the independence of Poland.' And today we give thanks for the courage of the Catholic Church and the fearless spirit of Saint John Paul II."
The lesson of June 4, 1989, is that history is never given. It is shaped by the courage or cowardice of people who can always make a choice — even if that choice brings confinement, as it did for Walesa, or carnage, as it did in Tiananmen Square. China is not cursed by fate to remain a tyrant state, oppressing its people, even as neighbouring India is democratic, and Russia has been shorn of its empire.
That lesson is positively confirmed by Poland, where all the dramas of the 20th century took place. On June 4, 1989, Poles declared, in effect, that the horror of Europe's 20th century, birthed in the First World War and Bolshevik Revolution, was over. With deference to Churchill and the English, and to the allies who mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day tomorrow, history will definitively judge that the Polish decade from June 2, 1979, to June 4, 1989, was indeed the 20th century's finest hour.
Twenty-five years on, the choice facing nations remains as it was that day: Will our common life be marked by liberty ordered to moral truth, or by coercive power, even violence? The drama of June 4th remains and will shape the 21st century.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.
Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Convivium and a Cardus senior fellow, in addition to writing for the National Post and The Catholic Register. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.
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