By Gabriella Hoffman (November 29, 2011)
During his time as President of the United States, Ronald Reagan became a leading anti-Communist champion alongside Great Britain’s Lady Thatcher and Pope John Paul II. He famously described the former Soviet Union as “the Evil Empire,” inspiring individuals in that troubled country to seek an alternative to Marxist-Leninism.
He was an undeniable champion for freedom here and aboard.
People from all walks of life, political persuasions, and dispositions revered Reagan as a man. More importantly, people around the world continue to embrace this conservative stalwart’s message.
2011 marks 22 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, 20 years of Baltic independence, and, perhaps not coincidentally, the centennial of Ronald Reagan’s birth. Intriguingly, President Reagan has been celebrated for his promotion of democracy in countries previously occupied or impacted by the former Soviet Union, while his contributions have been steadfastly ignored in our own media.
Last week in Warsaw and Tbilisi, Poland and Georgia unveiled new statues of President Reagan.
Anti-Communist leader Lech Walesa—who led the Polish Solidarity movement—emphasized the importance of Reagan’s legacy in Poland.
“I wonder whether today’s Poland, Europe and world could look the same without President Reagan,” Walesa said. “As a participant in those events, I must say that it’s inconceivable.”
Walesa also remarked on the Soviet Union’s impact on Poland.
“In Poland, we had more than 200,000 Soviet soldiers. Across Europe, there were more than a million, as well as nuclear weapons. Major changes without a nuclear conflict seemed unlikely.”
Tbilisi, Georgia, also welcomed a Reagan statue last Wednesday. Mikhail Saakashvili, whose government has for years had tense relations with Russia, also lambasted Moscow’s attempts to “restore” the Soviet Union by creating an economic bloc with other ex-Soviet nations.
He said Wednesday that the bronze statue that depicts Reagan sitting on a bench “deserves a place in the heart of Tbilisi, the heart of Georgia.”
The Baltic Republics—particularly my ancestral homeland, Lithuania—will be paying their respects to Reagan in the near future. Plans to build a namesake research center and to rename a Lithuanian airport are currently underway.
In September, Congressman David Dreier (R-CA) met with Reagan Foundation Director John Heubusch and Lithuanian Seimas Speaker Irena Degutiene to discuss the possibility of building a Reagan center in Vilnius, Lithuania.
“The establishment of such a centre in Vilnius would monumentalize President Reagan’s ideas and political achievements and guarantee their continuation in Eastern Europe. Probably, there is not better way to commemorate the life and work of the President than this,” said Degutiene.
On November 9, 2011, the Associated Press reported that a Lithuanian parliamentary commission unveiled plans to rename Siauliai International Airport after President Reagan.
“(It) would be Lithuania’s act of gratitude to America, which was then represented by President Ronald Reagan, for its fight against the Soviet empire of evil and especially for its support for enslaved nations,” said committee chairman Emanuelis Zingeris.
“America and Ronald Reagan had an undeniable influence on strengthening democracy in Europe,” he added.
Reagan’s message resonated with Lithuanians, Poles, Georgians, and other peoples afflicted by communism behind the Iron Curtain. He provided them reassurance that, one day, they would be free and permitted to live without fear like their American cohorts.
My parents fondly remember Reagan and were greatly inspired by the President to immigrate to the United States in 1985.
While living in Lithuania, they were subjugated to harsh treatment by the Soviet regime. My father confronted a virulent anti-Semitism, while my mom faced religious persecution as a Catholic. In general, if one embraced anything American or dared to challenge the Politburo, they were subject to punishment and ostracism. Coming to America was the sole path to freedom and eternal happiness for my own family and for countless others.
People in the Baltic Republics, Eastern Europe, and Slavic nations must continue to embrace freedom and look toward Reagan and all he represented. They cannot lose sight of Russia and the danger it poses to these regions.
Former KGB officer and current Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin—who is uncontested in his bid for a third term as president—lamented the Soviet Union’s collapse and is eager to unify former Soviet satellites under a “Eurasian Union.”
As a result, it is imperative to heed President Reagan’s stirring endorsement of freedom: “Freedom is one of the deepest and noblest aspirations of the human spirit.”
Freedom is sacred yet impermanent. We should never underestimate the rights and luxuries afforded to us here in the United States.