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Senator Brownback Remarks at “Where the Walls Still Stand,” 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Distinguished ambassadors, fellow members of the Commission, and honored guests, thank you for the opportunity to speak here today.

This solemn and uplifting anniversary gives us all a chance to reflect on one of the clearest examples in human history of the triumph of freedom over tyranny.

Since for many people, personal recollection can be the most meaningful part of reflection, allow me to share my story with all of you. …

But as much as this event commemorates a single moment in time, its lesson still echoes throughout the world. In the darkest corners of the world, where our fellow brothers and sisters in humanity face new walls and new challenges, the oppressed can take comfort in today’s ceremony.

For today we see honor what President Reagan called “the one great and inescapable conclusion: that freedom leads to prosperity. That freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. And that freedom is the victor.”

However, remembrance alone cannot serve as the limit of our obligations today. As we celebrate twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, we must also rededicate ourselves to tearing down those walls that remain standing and the new walls being erected in the 21st Century.

Of those that still stand, held over from the days of the Soviet Union and spread beyond its borders, no wall does greater damage to the spirit of the individual than the oppressive wall against faith—a wall that, unfortunately, is rampant throughout many authoritarian states.

In China, North Korea, Iran, Vietnam, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and beyond, authoritarian governments still fear religion as a challenge to their grip on power.

It matters not that some of these governments have implemented economic reforms, built sky-scrapers, or paved new roads. As long as citizens are denied the freedom to believe and to worship as they see fit, they will still be imprisoned in their own minds and held back from their full potential.

We must pledge to eradicate this tyranny wherever we find it. We must free all prisoners of conscience, not only for the sake of the oppressed, but for ours as well.

Faith is one front on which we must engage; truth is the other. We must confront the growing assault on truth by authoritarian regimes.

Looking at the newest wall against liberty—the cyber-wall used to censor and punish voices of truth and information—we face a formidable challenge. For while no regime anywhere can stifle the human spirit, regimes can try to blot out pieces of history from the minds of its next generation.
For example, there is no inherent ability of a human being to know about the brave democratic uprising at Tiananmen Square unless he or she learns about it. The Chinese government has gone to great lengths to wipe this event from the record.

But as individual information exchanges become effortless through fiber and wireless communication, the Chinese government, indeed all authoritarian regimes, must devote ever more resources to maintain their electronic wall.

In Iran this past summer, the real battle took place—and is still taking place—on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter as Iranians struggle to tell their story while the regime desperately tries to block access to the Internet.

The same was true for the Burmese opposition in 2007, where the junta struggled to contain the fallout from its bloody crackdown. Before that, text messaging played a crucial role in the
Orange Revolution in Ukraine.

One thing is clear: while physical brutality will always be a tool of oppressors, the tyranny of today and tomorrow will be measured by the extent to which tyrants censor and suppress access to electronic information.

As the next generation inherits a globally and instantly connected planet, the struggle for liberty will be waged with fiber optics as much as with firepower.

By resolving to help citizens combat censorship, we will ensure that the more the oppressed see and understand the real nature of their regime, and the more they share with the outside world, the more power they will have to determine their own future.

As we commemorate this twentieth anniversary of the breaking of the Berlin Wall, we must gather our strength and commit ourselves to finding ways to tear down all the walls of the 21st Century.

Our duty is to scale these walls wherever we find them. Our mission is to make freedom of conscience and free access to information universal. Our work did not end twenty years ago, and it does not end today. Today we dedicate ourselves to a new and hopeful beginning, to see a more peaceful and prosperous future.

 

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