By Bill Wirtz
European Union Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who praised Fidel Castro for being “a hero for many” and having “far-reaching influence,” is now deservedly taking heavy criticism from parliamentarians of former Soviet-led countries.
“His legacy will be judged by history,” said Juncker’s press statement, before conveying his condolences to Cuban President Raúl Castro and his family. It is still unclear which history Juncker is speaking of. History as in, Castro’s brutality? He is responsible for the ruthless killing of his political opponents on the way to establishing a tyrannically dictatorship that led to the fleeing of some 1.5 million Cubans from the island.
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Juncker’s press secretary Margaritis Schinas said that his boss “opted for a balanced appreciation of the historical journey of Fidel Castro” and accused a Czech journalist of having a “narrow view on history” when calling out Castro’s crimes, as well as referencing Castro’s support for the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Not even the People’s Republic of China supported the brutal Soviet crackdown on the liberalization that was promised to the Czechoslovak people. The Warsaw pact invasion killed over 100 civilians and installed a dictatorship that would last until the fall of communism in Europe.
This is why 14 Czech and Slovak members of the European Parliament wrote an open letter to Juncker, accusing him and his spokesman of having a “total lack of understanding history.”
Dear Mr. President, Fidel Castro, one of the longest serving world dictators, died last Friday on 25th November.
The repressive regime in Cuba led hundreds of thousands of people to flee the country. Human rights were constantly repressed and countless numbers of political prisoners suffered from the inhumane conditions of Cuban prisons.
The European Parliament officially recognized the oppressive regime in Cuba by awarding the Sakharov prize in 2005 to the Ladies in White, an opposition movement formed by family members of 75 “political dissidents” including human rights defenders, journalists, poets, doctors and librarians sentenced up to 28 years in prison.
None of this was mentioned in your statement. While we were concerned about your reaction to Castro’s death, we were deeply shocked and saddened by the words chosen by your spokesman Mr. Margaritis Schinas when questioned about your statement at the European Commission midday briefing on 28 November.
Mr. Schinas was asked about Castro’s support to the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, which led to an occupation of our countries that lasted for two decades. The response by Mr. Schinas was arrogant and portrayed shocking ignorance of facts with a total lack of understanding of history.
Let us remind you that the events of the Prague Spring and the subsequent actions of the Soviet Union in our countries don’t represent a ”narrow view of reality” as your spokesperson alluded to. It meant a whole lot more than that for the citizens of Czechoslovakia who had to endure several more years of dictatorship. It means much more than that to the citizens of today’s Czech and Slovak Republic who still bear the scars of a brutal, totalitarian regime.
The Prague Spring did not only change the way Czechs and Slovaks relate to the world, but it was a major turning point in 20th century European history. In no way nor circumstance does this portray “a narrow view of reality.” Nor is it ”a value judgement.” It is a fact and it will remain a fact forever.
The Soviet reaction to the Prague Spring is a European tragedy and Mr. Castro’s support to Moscow shows he was on the wrong side of history. We, the elected representatives of Czech and Slovak citizens, who suffered from political persecutions in numerous cases and whose lives will be forever marked by the 1968 events and world’s reaction to them, strongly oppose the “narrow view of reality” accusations.
We want to ensure our citizens that the EU is consistent in defending our main values, including the freedom of speech and human rights for everyone in all member states. As the guardian of the treaty, we truly hope that the European Commission, the President and his Spokesperson understand what this means.
Hereby we would like to ask you for your clear political distance from the words of your Spokesperson, be it written or in a public speech.
The horrors of communism are ignored by those who did not happen to be subjected to them. Central and Eastern Europe tells the same story as those who have flown Cuba to reach the shores of the United States: the tyranny of communism and the disaster of collectivism should not be commended by those who seek to represent liberal democracy.
Those who forget are bound to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Bill Wirtz, originally from Luxembourg, is a Law student at Université de Lorraine in Nancy, France, and a Local Coordinator for European Students for Liberty. He blogs in four languages, and his articles have been published in three daily Luxembourgish newspapers, the Foundation for Economic Education, the Mises Institute, CapX, the Washington Examiner, and Contrepoints.org.