On Tuesday March 8th, Human Events and the Liberty Forum of Silicon Valley, in conjunction with sponsorship from the Victims of Communism Foundation. are hosting an in-person and livestreamed event titled “Paying the Price – Understanding the Life of a Political Dissident.” The five-person panel will be comprised of people who have lived under totalitarianism in Cuba, the former Czechoslovakia, the former East Germany, the former Soviet Union, and Vietnam. The event will take place at 7 pm Pacific time and 10 pm Eastern.
Brent Hamachek, the Managing Editor of Human Events is set to moderate the panel which will run for two hours, including a Q&A from the audience.
Panel members will share their stories of life under communist oppression, their efforts to resist, some of which include resulting prison internment, along with their warnings to today’s Americans.
“I’m so pleased to have the Liberty Forum of Silicon Valley be able to host this important and timely event,” said Jane Kearney, Vice President of Programs for the group. “The stories these people have are so incredible that it is humbling to be able to offer them a platform on which to share their experiences. Their voices need to be heard. With everything going on today in Canada and Ukraine, their experiences become even more relevant to every American citizen.”
The March 8th event has evolved from an essay that Hamachek originally wrote in January of 2021 that was subsequently republished on Human Events. The piece, which garnered worldwide readership, made the argument that freedom-loving Americans needed to start embracing the attitude and tactics of the Eastern European dissidents of the late 20th century.
Because of the success of the essay, Hamachek was asked to speak to the Liberty Forum of Silicon Valley for their first back-to-in-person meeting last July. The response he received to that presentation led to the creation of this panel event.
Hamachek told Human Events: “After I gave my talk in July, Peter Palecek, a real-life dissident and now a panel member, came up to me and shared his thoughts on how important the message was. He said that the story I told at the end about a contemporary American dissident woman who was forced to run barefoot on rocks brought tears to his eyes because it brought everything back to him. He also said that everyone in the world needed to hear the message. I felt like we needed to do something like this. I’m grateful to the Liberty Forum of Silicon Valley for making it become a reality.”
Here is brief background on each of the five panel members who will participate in Tuesday’s event:
PETER WOLF – EAST GERMANY
Peter was forced to learn Russian and accept Communist ideologies as a youth in East Germany. He and his mother were labeled traitors of the State but they managed a daring escape from East Germany on Christmas Eve 1959. They briefly settled in West Germany and then took a 10-day ocean voyage to immigrate to America.
Peter visited “East Germany” 50 years after his escape as a member of a delegation led by Michael Reagan (son of President Ronald Reagan) to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. There were emotional and unexpected reunions between Peter, other fugitives and his former classmates in East Germany.
A book has been written about Peter’s life: “Because I Can” by Paul W. Cooper (a renowned author and screenwriter)
SUTTON VAN VO – VIETNAM
Sutton was born in South Vietnam in 1937. Sutton, a graduate of the US Army Engineers School in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, rose to the rank of Major in the South Vietnamese Army.
Sutton was wounded in combat three times during the Vietnamese war.
After the fall of South Vietnam, Sutton was imprisoned for 13 years by the Communist government. Sutton was held in five different communist prisons in north and south Vietnam.
FRANK DE VARONA – CUBA
Frank de Varona is an educator, historian, journalist, and internationally known expert on Hispanic contributions to America, politics, economics, foreign affairs, and national security issues.
Frank was born in Camagüey, Cuba in 1943. He came to study at Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg, Florida when he was 14 and graduated in 1960.
At the age of 17, he participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 to eradicate communism in Cuba. After spending two years in prison, where he was tortured along with other prisoners of war, he returned to U. S. where he earned a B.A. in political science and economics, a Certificate in Latin American Studies, a Master’s in social studies, and a Specialist in Educational Administration. He is married and has a daughter and a grandson.
Frank de Varona worked as an escort Spanish-English interpreter in the Department of State in 1966 and 1968. Professor de Varona had a successful 38-year career in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools as a social studies teacher; adult education coordinator; assistant principal; principal of an adult education center, middle school, and high school; region superintendent, associate superintendent of instruction; and interim deputy superintendent of schools. He served as associate professor of social studies in at Florida International University for seven years.
Professor de Varona has written 28 books and over 500 articles in newspapers, magazines, and several websites.
PETER PALECEK – CZECHOSLOVAKIA
Peter was born in Czechoslovakia in 1940 – the same year Nazi Germany seized control of the country.
In September of 1942, Peter’s mother was taken by the Gestapo and sent to a concentration camp. Peter, just 2 at the time his mother was taken, was rushed to safety by friends. Eventually, his mother returned home in 1945. But they were trading one nightmare – Nazi rule – for another – Communist rule.
After a coup brought the communists to power in Czechoslovakia, Peter’s father was arrested by the new communist regime, kept in solitary confinement for 14 months and tortured daily for three years before being sentenced to 13 years of hard labor in the gulags.
During his 21 years in Czechoslovakia, Peter courageously spoke out against communism. Four times he was expelled from schools. After graduation, the regime ordered Peter to work as a laborer under communist party guidance in a heavy-duty transformer assembly plant for two years. Peter was constantly subjected to surveillance and harassment by the communist regime for his opposition to communism.
TATIANA MENAKER – SOVIET UNION
Tatiana was born in the city of Leningrad, Soviet Union and received a MA in Marxist-Leninist Philosophy (the only philosophy allowed) from Leningrad University.
After graduation, Tatiana started to write for the first underground Christian feminist magazine in the Soviet Union known as “The Women of Russia.”
Tatiana, along with all the other writers for the magazine, were eventually arrested by the state.
Tatiana’s family application to emigrate from the Soviet Union was rejected and she became a “refusenik” – a special term for people who applied to leave the Soviet Union, thus announcing their disloyalty.
Eventually, she and her husband both escaped the Soviet Union. Tatiana arrived in New York and later became a student at San Francisco State University where she wrote her first article in English on the Marxist zealotry she encountered on her college campus.
Ken Pope, Director of Academic Programs for the Victims of Communism Foundation said of Paying the Price, “VOC is excited to be a co-sponsor of Liberty Forum of Silicon Valley’s event. Today, we see examples around the world of the revival and in some cases the embracing of Marxism and communism. No one understands the impact of the world’s most destructive and deadly ideologies better that those who have personally experienced them. The dissidents and survivors of communism provide a stark warning to the world and to any who think that Marxism or communism provide hope for a better society. You will hear the truth — that these ideologies always bring repression, loss of liberty, violence, and ultimately add more victims to the more than 100 million already dead at the hands of these regimes.”
The event will be held at the Elite Event Center, 2670 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95051. Registration to attend the event either in person or via livestream can be made by visiting the Liberty Forum of Silicon Valley website.