DALLAS (AP) – Former President George W. Bush said Wednesday that he hopes his institute’s collection of video interviews and documents telling the stories of those who have fought for freedom around the world will inspire those who are in the same struggle.
“We believe that freedom yields peace and therefore we believe it’s in our nation’s interest to stand side by side with dissidents, political prisoners, courageous folks who demand their God-given right,” the former president told about 200 people gathered for the online launch of the George W. Bush Institute’s Freedom Collection.
The online archive contains interviews with those who have fought oppressive regimes from the 20th century to now and documents related to that struggle. It will have a physical home at the institute that’s part of the George W. Bush Presidential Center being built at Southern Methodist University.
“The Freedom Collection honors courage. It reminds us of our duty to be always on the side of human rights and human dignity and the right for people to live in a free society,” Bush said.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a contributor to the collection, participated via video teleconference and several others who have told their stories for the collection were in the audience, including a U.S.-based Syrian dissident Ammar Abdulhamid.
Abdulhamid said following the event that part of the impact of the collection in the U.S. could be to help in “galvanizing public opinion so that policymakers right now realize that there is a constituency that wants them to do something about what’s happening in Syria and elsewhere” and wants them take a leading role in pushing for change.
Also included in the collection is an interview with Vaclav Havel, who died in December. The dissident playwright led the 1989 revolution that toppled four decades of communist rule in what was then Czechoslovakia.
Kristen Silverberg, former U.S. ambassador to the European Union who has been advising the institute on the collection, has said that the hope for the collection “is that by putting a human face on the movement we can remind them of U.S. support for them.”
She said is it hoped that the collection will be a resource for the American people, in addition to dissidents themselves.
Silverberg said the collection so far includes 56 interviews and will continue to grow.
Also at the Wednesday event, Angel Garrido, vice president of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights, donated to the Freedom Collection the Presidential Medal of Freedom that Bush awarded in 2007 to Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet Gonzalez in absentia while he was a political prisoner in Cuba.
Biscet, a human rights advocate and champion of freedoms in Cuba, did not attend but gave a recorded message that was played.
He had requested that the Lawton Foundation hold the medal until Cuba was free. The medal will now be transferred to the Freedom Collection until that time.
Biscet spent 12 years in Cuban prisons for his beliefs and remains in Cuba as a voice for democracy.
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