Bush Center at SMU launches Freedom Collection


Former President George W. Bush is joined by Laura Bush and Angel Garrido at the launch of the Bush Center’s Freedom Collection in Dallas on March 28. Dr. Garrido presented the Medal of Freedom belonging to Óscar Elías Biscet, a Cuban dissident, to the Freedom Collection for safekeeping.

DALLAS—A trio of prominent United Methodists headlined the recent unveiling in Dallas of the Freedom Collection, an archive of video interviews and other materials documenting the struggle for freedom, one of several initiatives underway at the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University.

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, both United Methodists, spoke at the March 28 launch; Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and also a United Methodist, joined via teleconference. The audience of about 200 invited guests included dissidents from around the world as well as representatives of local community organizations.

“Freedom is universal,” said Mr. Bush. “Deep in the soul of every man, woman and child on the face of the earth is the desire to live in a free society.”

The Freedom Collection will tell the stories of human rights’ movements in the 20th century until the present day. Mr. Bush said that he believes that it is in the interest of the U.S. to stand with dissidents, political prisoners and others fighting for freedom.

“One way we’re doing that is through the Freedom Collection,” he said. “We hope it will serve as inspiration for those who are in the front lines.”

Ms. Sirleaf, along with Leymah Gbowee, received the Nobel Peace Prize last fall as leaders of a women’s movement that helped end the civil war in Liberia. Asked if she had a message to share with others struggling for freedom, Ms. Sirleaf said, “Stay the course. Remain courageous. Find your voices and join with others. Work with determination, without giving up.”

The Freedom Collection is a project of the George W. Bush Institute, the policy arm of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, currently under construction at SMU. The Presidential Center, which will include the presidential library, has been a source of controversy both on campus and within the United Methodist Church.  In 2006, when SMU was named as the site for the library, a vocal group of professors and alumni petitioned against the move. The South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church, which owns the land where the Presidential Center is being built, approved the lease in 2008.  About 80 protestors turned up for the official groundbreaking of the library in November 2010.

Preserving stories

Nearly 60 dissidents have been interviewed for the Freedom Collection’s online video archive, including Ms. Sirleaf, the Dalai Lama, and dissidents from Syria, China, Burma, East Timor, Venezuela, Iran, Tunisia and Egypt.

President Bush is joined by Laura Bush and Bob Fu, president of the China Aid Association, at the launch of the Bush Center's Freedom Collection in Dallas on March 28.

Vaclav Havel, former Czech president and a leader in the 1989 revolution that ended communist rule, was interviewed before his death in December.

“The death of Havel reminds us of the urgency of this task,” Laura Bush said. “Their stories are inspiring, and beginning today, the Freedom Collection makes their stories available to everyone.”

Mrs. Bush added that more than half of the world’s population “live in countries where rights are restricted or denied.”

Others featured online at www.freedomcollection.org are Pastor Xiqui “Bob” Fu, a leader in the student democracy movement at Tiananmen Square in China in 1989; Doan Viet Hoat, a writer, scholar and former longtime prisoner of conscience from Vietnam; and Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian human rights activist.

At the event, Angel Garrido, vice president of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights, presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded by President Bush in 2007 to Dr. Óscar Elías Biscet, a human rights advocate in Cuba. Dr. Biscet was a political prisoner for 12 years, until his release about a year ago.

Dr. Biscet spoke via a recorded video message and requested that the Lawton Foundation hold the medal until Cuba is free; Dr. Garrido presented the medal to Mr. Bush and the Freedom Collection for safekeeping.

According to Dr. Garrido, Cuban officials offered Dr. Biscet the opportunity to leave Cuba, but he chose to remain. In March, an op-ed by Dr. Biscet appeared in the Wall Street Journal, calling the Cuban government a “brutal regime that oppresses the people, systematically violating our basic freedoms,” and appealing to Pope Benedict XVI to speak out during his visit to Cuba.

To dissidents like Dr. Biscet, “Our mission is clear,” Mrs. Bush said. “When you stand for liberty, we will stand with you.”

In addition to the website, the Freedom Collection will also include a physical archive containing documents and artifacts, including an early draft of the Tibetan Constitution given to President Bush by the Dalai Lama.


Mary Jacobs, Staff Writer for the United Methodist Reporter – mjacobs@umr.org

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