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One year ago, the George W. Bush Institute launched the Freedom Collection.  Its goals are to record and preserve the stories of those who have led or participated in movements for freedom, so that their experiences can inspire and inform others, and to remind those living in free societies of the importance of supporting the causes of democracy and human rights.


In remarks introducing the Freedom Collection last spring, President Bush talked about his vision for the project:  “Our goal is to provide both moral support and practical knowledge.  Thomas Jefferson once wrote about the ‘contagion of liberty.’  With the Freedom Collection, we aim to spread it. No advance of freedom is inevitable.  And any gain can be lost.  But there is a reason for the momentum of liberty across the centuries:  human beings were not designed for servitude.  They were created for better things.  And the human soul is forever restless until it rests in freedom.”


Since we inaugurated the website on March 28, 2012, we have nearly doubled the number of interviews on the Freedom Collection and we continue to add new content.  The stories of some thirty brave men and women have been added to the online collection. Eight new countries are represented.


I have been privileged to conduct many of the interviews posted on the site with remarkable individuals.  Many of them have risen from humble backgrounds; some have suffered immensely for daring to speak out against injustice and tyranny.  All have shown remarkable courage and resiliency.


Take, for example, Jestina Mukoko, who works to document and eliminate political violence in Zimbabwe.  Jestina was imprisoned and tortured by government agents.  Like so many of her fellow activists, her resolve was tested and strengthened by the repression she endured.  In a message to fellow dissidents, she said, “There will be an opportunity for you to come out of every harrowing experience. You will have to deal with the trauma, but at the end of the day you will be able to find your feet again.”


Some of the most compelling interviews come from countries where change seems impossibly distant.  But the men and women of the Freedom Collection show us that change can happen – sometimes unexpectedly and remarkably quickly.  While the path to freedom and democracy is rarely a straight line, history shows us that positive change is attainable.


Martin Butora is a Slovak writer and sociologist who worked to bring peaceful change to Czechoslovakia.  In his Freedom Collection interview he describes his reaction when communism collapsed:  “I had to pinch myself to see if it was really true that [Vaclav] Havel was the president. It was something so unbelievable and so impossible and so unimaginable.”


As the Freedom Collection enters its second year online, we look forward to sharing these and many other inspiring stories.


Lindsay Lloyd is Program Director, Freedom Collection.