Overlooked: The 25th anniversary of Captive Nations Week

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Related Link White House Proclamation:  Captive Nations Week

Only Foreign Policy Magazine seems to have taken notice.

Excerpt from column by James Kirchick:

Last Saturday, July 25, marked the end of Captive Nations Week, though you can’t be blamed for being caught unawares. Established via a 1959 presidential proclamation signed by U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, the commemorative week recognizing the plight of the “captive nations” — those countries either occupied by the Soviet Union or subjugated by communist puppet governments — is today remembered as a musty relic of the Cold War, when it’s remembered at all. The bipartisan congressional resolution that created Captive Nations Week is infused with the moralistic fervor of 1950s anti-communism. “[T]he enslavement of a substantial part of the world’s population by Communist imperialism makes a mockery of the idea of peaceful coexistence between nations,” it declared.

Every U.S. president since Ike has dutifully recognized Captive Nations Week, though the acknowledgment rarely consists of anything more than a brief statement. With the breakup of the Soviet Union, the continued acknowledgment of Captive Nations Week might have seemed anachronistic, an annual moment for Cold Warriors not yet ready to let go of the great “twilight struggle” to bask in the glory of headier times. Yet post-Cold War Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all found ways to tailor the spirit of Captive Nations Week to their presidencies. Clinton, under whose administration NATO began its expansion into the former Warsaw Pact countries, used it to acknowledge the Soviet Union’s peaceful demise and promote “a stable, democratic, and undivided Europe.” In his 2001proclamation, Bush went so far as to name countries like Afghanistan, Cuba, and Iraq as places where “freedom is not accessible to all.” Obama, less comfortable with the language of American exceptionalism and channeling the populist passions of his base, declared this year that, “economic inequality and extreme poverty are laying the foundation for instability.”

The meaning of Captive Nations Week has been watered down over the past five decades. As Obama’s statement shows, the rare instances that it’s invoked today are to express solidarity with the world’s downtrodden, wherever they may be, and evoke gauzy feelings of hope in the inevitable progress of humankind. These are noble feelings, and they strike at the heart of how Americans view their country’s role in the world. But with the Russian regime of President Vladimir Putin acting more and more like its Soviet predecessor, it’s long past time to restore Captive Nations Week’s initial purpose: acknowledging the plight of countries under Moscow’s occupation.

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