Monday, June 26, 2006

In Canada We Have Freedom

I was 20 years old and behind the Iron Curtain. The year was 1975. I was in the tiny village of Zomba, Hungary, the birthplace my father had left to flee to freedom nearly 30 years earlier when the Soviet Communists rolled in.

The same question came up every time I met with Hungarian students my age. 'What is it like in Canada?' My answer was always the same. 'There is more of everything in Canada. More choices and opportunities. Anyone can become anyone they want - head of a company, leader of a community or even prime minister of Canada. It is not dependant on their politics, colour or religion. And most importantly,' I would proudly add, 'We have Freedom.'

They always looked at me funny when I said that last part. Meanwhile 'western' music played in the background - Beatles, Doors or Rolling Stones - broadcast from Radio Free Europe. They seemed to miss the irony.

'What do you mean?' they asked. I answered with conviction, 'We can read about any politics we want. We can read about Hitler, Lenin, or Mao. We can choose to be a Communist, Capitalist, or Anarchist. We can say what we think - even if we badmouth our leader and we won't be shot or jailed. We can openly worship any religion we want and not be persecuted.'

They stared incredulously and silently. I never knew if they were simply being polite, afraid to speak or if they secretly coveted what I claimed as my Canadian birthright.

I always believed in my heart what I told them. But it never really hit home for me until I had the same discussion with a 18-year old girl and her father one evening while I was a guest in their home.

When I told her the part, 'We have freedom in Canada.' Her retort was, 'We have freedom in Hungary.' I pointedly responded, 'Oh Yeah, what about 1956?' She innocently responded, 'In 1956, the Hungarian people decided to remain socialist.' I will never forget those exact words. Dumb struck, I asked, 'What about the tanks?' She looked at me and responded, 'What tanks?' I turned to her father and asked, 'Are you going to say anything?" He meekly answered. "No."

In 1956 there was an armed rebellion to overthrow the Soviet controlled puppet government ruling Hungary. Soviet tanks crushed the rebellion and Hungarian blood flowed in the streets. It was a swift and cruel destruction of the Hungarian people's right to self-determination. Yet this young woman believed that there was a free choice.

It hit me like a Soviet tank; I am so lucky to live in Canada. This man was so afraid he would not dare tell his own daughter, in his own house about what happened. I was lost for words. Part of me cried and part of me thanked my lucky stars for being born in Canada..
I had never before understood the power of oppression and state controlled propaganda. Nor had I ever realized how valuable this thing called freedom that I had taken for granted could be. Now I do.

George Torok
Business In Motion

No comments: