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City resolution on victims of communism stirs sharp debate

CITY HALL – A resolution declaring Nov. 7 as “Victims of Communism Memorial Day” ran into sizable opposition at Friday’s Board of Aldermen meeting.

The resolution passed, 17-8, but only after more than an hour of sometimes-sharp debate.

Alderwoman Carol Howard, 14th Ward

Alderwoman Carol Howard, 14th Ward, sponsored the measure. It said that in the more than 100 years since the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia on Nov. 7, 1907, numerous violations of human rights in Communist regimes included “the famines, purges, and gulags of Soviet Russia, Mao’s Great Leap Forward, the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields in Cambodia, the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, to the Castro regime’s 2012 murder of Cuban democracy advocate Oswaldo Payá.”

Altogether, more than 100 million people have died as a result of those human rights violations, the resolution said.

But 25th Ward Alderman Shane Cohn said it was more correct to say those countries were led by totalitarian regimes and not communist regimes.

“Communism is not a system of government. It is a political ideology,” Cohn said. “We need to call it what it is.”

Howard sharply disagreed.

“Most communist regimes have been totalitarian,” Howard said. “It’s not to minimize anybody else’s suffering.”

As a “courtesy measure,” the resolution has no actual effect. Aldermen often introduce such resolutions at the request of a constituent or someone else who has introduced them, and they’re usually passed without opposition or discussion.

Resolutions might note the retirement of a city employee, the death of a noteworthy citizen or a church anniversary.

Howard arranged to have leaders of the St. Louis Commission of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation speak to aldermen during their video conference meeting on Friday.

“People can have different opinions about the ideology itself. I’m talking about the practice,” said Igor Proleiko. “From the practice point of view, when you have a one-party, unchallenged system, it is incredibly open to all kinds of corruption. The result is always the same.”

Then-President Bill Clinton signed a bill in 1993 establishing the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in 1993. In 2007, then-President George W. Bush dedicated the Victims of Communism Memorial statue in Washington.

Alderwoman Annie Rice, 8th Ward

One opponent of the resolution, 8th Ward Alderwoman Annie Rice, said there was nothing wrong with honoring victims of human rights violations. But she said the wording of the resolution came from the American Legislative Exchange, a right-wing organization that drafts legislation that is then passed by conservative state legislatures.

But Howard said the American Legislative Exchange hadn’t written the resolution. It was written by the national Victims of Communism Foundation, she said.

Jesse Todd, 18th Ward alderman

Eighteenth Ward Alderman Jesse Todd questioned the significance of the resolution, considering that the United States has had serious race problems, including slavery.

“We stayed under slavery for 400 years under capitalism,” Todd pointed out. “We are still suffering. I was born under segregation.”

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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