ALONG with exposing the darkest side of human nature, the shootings at Virginia Tech reminded us that there are true heroes among us - like Holocaust survivor Liviu Librescu, a professor who blocked his classroom door to allow students to escape through the windows.
After the Holocaust, the Romanian Librescu - whose career stalled, said his son, for refusing to swear allegiance to the regime - risked arrest under the Communist system by having his science papers published in the West, until intervention from the Israeli government allowed him to immigrate there in 1979. "This saga epitomizes the life of an entire generation, which has known two of the harshest regimes of history and then reached the promised land of freedom and prosperity during the era of the `end of history,"’ friend Gedeon Dagan, a professor at Tel Aviv University, wrote for the BBC on Saturday.
"The tragic death of Liviu comes as a somber warning that this might have been a temporary lull and that brutal and dark forces are once again casting their shadow on society."
Indeed, the communism that imprisoned Eastern Europe is not done with humanity. And the heroes are not done battling it.
Last Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously approved a resolution introduced by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., demanding human-rights reforms in Vietnam. At the center of the country’s shameful record is Father Nguyen Van Ly, a Roman Catholic priest and editor of a pro-democracy publication who was sentenced March 30 to eight years in prison simply for peacefully opposing the Communist regime. After hearing the verdict in this farce Vietnam called a trial, Father Ly shouted "Down with the Communist Party of Vietnam!" - and was then dragged away. Like most events nowadays that threaten tyrannical regimes, this stirring moment was caught on camera and distributed across the globe on YouTube.
Other "conspirators" sentenced along with Ly likewise vowed to continue to fight for democracy and freedom. One of these dissidents, Nguyen Phong, who received a six-year sentence, founded the Vietnam Party of Progress to work toward open, peaceful struggle against the oppressive Communist Party.
In a letter to the international community penned after the March 30 verdicts, Phong wrote, "In the face of this utterly unscrupulous behaviour by Vietnam’s communist government, I am just an ordinary human being. But I am firmly resolved not retreat before this unjust court. I am firmly resolved to struggle even more for freedom, democracy and human rights.
"I am ready to offer my own personal suffering in exchange for these values for Vietnam."
Father Ly has spent much of his life - about 14 of his 59 years in prison, before this latest sentence - suffering for the cause of Vietnamese democracy and human rights. Ordained a priest in 1974, Father Ly was jailed by the regime by 1977 and spent a year behind bars. When authorities tried to remove him from his parish by force in 1983, surrounding the church, Father Ly got on a loudspeaker and rallied the local population about the need for freedom of religion. Catholics and Buddhists united around the church to try to keep authorities from arresting Father Ly - which 200 policemen eventually did, throwing him back in prison.
The priest has been sent to a labor camp, defied orders from the government to cease religious activities, and planted himself firmly on land to be seized by the government. No amount of police surveillance, harassment, cutting off his phone line or, frankly, prison time has stopped Father Ly. Despite a ban on leaving the country, he submitted testimony to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom for a 2001 hearing, resulting in another arrest by 600 policemen storming his church.
"If the United States and other countries truly sympathize with my ill-fated people and truly care about human rights, especially the right to religious freedom, of the Vietnamese people, you must not help the Communist Government prolong its totalitarian rule," Father Ly wrote in the testimony urging the U.S. to nix a trade agreement with Vietnam.
These are my heroes: Librescu, who stood up to evil throughout three dark chapters of history, and Father Ly and company, who continue to stand up to the darkness of an evil and repressive regime.
Librescu, who leaned against a door and took five bullets so that his students could live, and Father Ly, who languishes in dank confinement - again - so that his country might be free.