Captive Nations Summit

VOC Marks Captive Nations Week

Each year, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation commemorates National Captive Nations Week in fulfillment of the 1959 congressional resolution adopted during the Eisenhower administration to show solidarity with nations subjugated by communism and totalitarianism.

This year VOC convened the Captive Nations Summit at the Victims of Communism Museum in Washington, DC, where policymakers and human rights advocates heard first-hand from witnesses of captive nations past and present and discussed Russia’s brutal, ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

VOC was honored to present Vladimir Kara-Murza with the Dissident Human Rights Award for his tireless advocacy for democracy and human rights in Russia and Father Georgi Edelstein the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom for his lifelong commitment to truth and religious freedom for the peoples of Russia and Ukraine, in the face of the Kremlin’s authoritarian onslaught.

Keynote speakers included Congressman Mike Gallagher (R-WI), Chairman of the House Select Committee on Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, Ambassador Paula Dobriansky, Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Dr. Lee Edwards, Founding Chairman of VOC, and Dr. Elizabeth Edwards Spalding, Chairman of VOC and Founding Director of the Victims of Communism Museum.

A Stirring Message from Rep. Gallagher

Representative Mike Gallagher (R-WI), Chairman of the House Select Committee on Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, spoke on how the United States can push back against communist and authoritarian regimes across the globe. He remarked: “Above all, we must resist vigorously, ideologically, as well as economically and militarily, because as the famous Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn put it, ‘the very ideology of communism, all Lenin’s teachings are that if you can take it, do so. If you can attack, strike. But if there’s a wall, then retreat.’ The communist leaders respect only firmness and have contempt for persons who continually give in to them. We need to be like Solzhenitsyn’s wall: firm, self-assured, and resolute in the face of communist threats. But most of all, we need to be unshakable in our conviction that American freedom is our most precious possession and worth fighting for. On our worst day, we are miles better than the CCP.

All of the Victims of Communism work shows that there is no moral equivalence that can be drawn. In other words, we are the good guys. And we’re going to win.

Free Russia Foundation’s President Accepts Award on Behalf of Vladimir Kara-Murza

The President of the Free Russia Foundation, Natalia Arno, accepted VOC’s Dissident Human Rights Award on behalf of Vladimir Kara-Murza, a prominent Russian democracy advocate, politician, journalist, author, and documentary filmmaker currently imprisoned by Putin’s regime for 25 years for speaking out against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Kara-Murza prepared a speech upon receipt of the award, which was delivered by Arno at the Summit. Addressing the lingering influence of the communist, totalitarian past on Russia, he wrote: “When evil is not publicly reckoned with and condemned, it always returns…Once again, the truth in Russia is considered a criminal offence. Once again, all major media are mere bullhorns of government propaganda. Once again, elections are pre-staged rituals. Once again, opponents of the regime are murdered and imprisoned. And, once again, the Kremlin is sending tanks to subdue a proud sovereign nation that dares to want to live by its own rules.”

Highlighting the importance of brave men and women who are willing to risk everything for the truth, he stated that, “just as in Soviet times, there are people in Russia who refuse to become silent accomplices to the regime’s crimes….Many dozens have now been imprisoned for it: journalists, artists, priests, politicians, lawyers, police and military officers; people of different backgrounds and different vocations who refused to stay silent in the face of this atrocity, even at the cost of personal freedom.”

Kara-Murza closed by saying, “As for the lessons of history, we must learn from them. One day, and probably much sooner than may seem, Russia will get another chance at democratic change. It is our duty to use it wisely; to fully turn the page on our past…”

Long-Time Biographer Accepts Award on Behalf of Father Georgi Edelstein

George Roller accepted VOC’s Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom as the long-time biographer and friend of Father Georgi Edelstein, a Russian Orthodox priest and proponent of truth and justice in the face of totalitarianism and oppression. Father Edelstein prepared a speech upon receipt of the award, presented by Roller. Speaking to the impact of communism upon his own life, he wrote: “I have been living under communism for 91 years, and I know that communism always means war—either actual or potential. Communism always means tyranny and bold-faced lies….Today, in all of Ukraine, you will not find a single Lenin Street, or Lenin Square, or Lenin monument…In the country where I am a citizen, there are tens of thousands of such monuments, streets, and squares.”

Speaking of the continuation of Soviet power structures in modern Russia, he stated that, “I do not support President Putin, nor am I particularly against him. To me, he is just another leader in a long line of leaders of the never-ending Soviet regime. Back in kindergarten in the 1930s, I was taught that ‘Stalin is Lenin today.’ 85 years later, I can say with complete confidence that ‘Putin is Lenin today’.”

Father Edelstein closed by saying, “The communist system has not changed in principle during the last 105 years. While temporary changes may occur in the economy, in the legal system, and in the methods of propaganda, in essence it remains the same. To quote Lenin, ‘A blue devil is no different from a yellow one’.”

The Importance of Captive Nations Week

In his Captive Nations Week proclamation, President Biden stated:The battle against oppression did not end with the Cold War. The forces of autocracy continue to reassert themselves. In Iran, Belarus, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the People’s Republic of China, and elsewhere, we are seeing an all too familiar contempt for the rule of law, for democracy, for human rights, and even for the truth itself….And around the world, countless more are working every day in their own countries to advance the essential democratic principles that unite free people everywhere: the rule of law; free and fair elections; the freedom of the press; the freedom to speak, write, and assemble; and the freedom to worship as one chooses. These advocates and champions of democracy are living proof that the darkness that drives autocracy can never extinguish the flame of liberty that lights the souls of free people everywhere.”

Ambassador Paula Dobriansky reflected in her remarks on the enduring legacy of her father, The Honorable Lev E. Dobriansky’s, who focused his work on fighting communism which she has continued, the transcendent quality of advancing freedom, and the efforts of the Ukrainian people to fight for liberty—not just for themselves, but for the global community.

Captive Nations Summit Panels

We are grateful to our distinguished speakers and panelists and all those who participated in this Summit.

Panel I: Society’s Perceptions of Russia’s War in Ukraine – From West to East

Paul Massaro, Senior Policy Advisor, U.S. Helsinki Commission
Andrei Piontkovsky, Senior Fellow, Institute of Modern Russia
Dan Runde, Senior Vice President, Director of the Project on Prosperity, and Development (PPD), Center for Strategic and International Studies
Moderator: Amb. Andrew Bremberg, President, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation

Panel II: Collective Memory, Its Instrumentalization, and Memory Politics

Vejas G. Liulevicius, Ph.D., Professor, Department of History, University of Tennessee
Michael Sawkiw, Jr., Executive Director, Ukrainian Congress Committee of America
Dorin Tudoran, Romanian poet, essayist, journalist, and dissident
Moderator: Brian Whitmore, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council

Panel III: Global Voices of Freedom – Key to Enduring Resilience

Grace Jo, North Korean Defector and Human Rights Activist
Prof. Valdas Rakutis, Member of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania
Sophie Luo Shengchun, Chinese activist, and human rights defender
Moderator: John Suarez, Executive Director, Center for a Free Cuba

Thank you to everyone who supports our mission and helps advance the work of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation through witness, research, advocacy, teaching, and contributions in the cause of individual freedom and human rights.