Victims of Communism Memorial
By Jackie Bong-Wright
“Here, in the company of men and women who resisted evil and helped bring down an empire, I proudly accept the Victims of Communism Memorial on behalf of the American people.” President Bush’s words received a thunder of applause from the 400 guests at the Memorial’s official dedication in the capital. Members of the Czech and Hungarian parliaments, ambassadors, and common survivors of Communist oppression were among those honoring the victims of the 20th century’s most horrific tyrants.
Set in a small park two blocks from Union Station at the intersection of Massachusetts, New Jersey and G Street NW, the memorial is a modest, 10-foot bronze statue atop a round stone. It was modeled on the papier mache Statue of Liberty carried into Tiananmen Square during the 1989 protests of Chinese students. The Statue, a replica of a woman holding the lamp of liberty, is meant to be a light of hope for future generations and a symbol of the power of those who overcame Communism.
The pedestal reads, “To the more than one hundred million victims of Communism and to those who love liberty.” One wonders whether the tiny statue is proportionate to the enormous number of men, women, and children who died under various Communist regimes over nearly a century. The President said that this Memorial restored their humanity and reclaimed their memory, and that the innocent and anonymous victims lived and would not be forgotten.
Cong. Dana Rohrabacker (R-CA), one of the four original co-sponsors of the bill that authorized the memorial, said that the day marked the 20th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” To the amazement of the world, the wall came down, bringing a domino effect that spelled the end of Communism in Eastern Europe. Prior to his election to Congress, Rohrabacker was one of President Reagan’s senior speechwriters.
Tom Lantos (D-CA) gave the keynote address. The only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in Congress, Lantos was born in Budapest, Hungary, before Nazi Germany occupied his country. At 16, he joined the anti-Nazi underground, then battled for freedom as a member of the anti-Communist student movement. In 1983, he became founder and co-chair of the Human Rights Caucus in the House of Representatives.
Lantos said that the memorial would remind future generations of the difference between tyranny and democracy. He also spoke of similarities between “Islamic terrorism, determined to take us back 13 centuries” and Communism, “a monstrous phenomenon of the day determined to destroy free and open societies.”
The heroes of this day were Lev Dobriansky and Lee Edwards, who initiated the memorial project in 1993. Edwards spent nearly fifteen years garnering Congressional support, securing land rights, and raising nearly $1 million in private funding. Chair of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOCMF), Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought at the Heritage Foundation, a prolific writer for major newspapers and magazines, a frequent commentator on television and radio, historian, author of 15 books, and an Adjunct Professor of Politics at Catholic University in D.C., Edwards pursued a dream that finally came true.
The Vietnamese-American community also played a role in the monument’s creation. AnhThu Lu, a director of the Memorial Foundation, said Vietnamese had contributed about $200,000 towards the Memorial over the past three years.
A Shameful Record of Atrocities
The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (1997) estimates the number of people killed at a staggering 100 million, which it breaks down by country and region. China tops the list with 65 million, followed by the Soviet Union at 20 million. North Korea and Cambodia have an equal number — 2 million murdered. There follow Africa with 1.7 million, and Afghanistan with 1.5 million. Vietnamese Communists killed one million, the same as the Communist states of Eastern Europe. In Latin America, the number of deaths was put at 150,000.
President Bush, honorary Chair of VOCMF, noted that Stalin’s great famine starved Ukrainians to death and his purges killed hundreds of thousands of innocent Russians. The killings included “Lithuanians and Latvians and Estonians loaded onto cattle cars and deported to the Arctic death camps of Soviet Communism; Chinese killed in the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution; Cambodians slain in Pol Pot’s Killing Fields; East Germans shot attempting to scale the Berlin Wall; Poles massacred in the Katyn Forest; Ethiopians slaughtered in the “Red Terror”; Miskito Indians murdered by Nicaragua’s Sandinista dictatorship; and Cuban balseros who drowned escaping tyranny. We’ll never know of all who perished.”
Pedro Fuentes Cid, a prominent Florida lawyer who spent 18 years in a Cuban jail, said that the 100 million who had died could be doubled and even tripled if family members were also counted as Communist victims. Whole families and generations suffered slow death at the hand of an ideology that brutally took the lives of innocent people for decades.
Why so much killing? Tunne Kelam, member of the European Parliament for Estonia said that Communism was based on two pillars – violence and lies. These two pillars allowed dictatorial regimes to maintain national domination and world power. The victory of the Red Army created a new form of slavery, justifying killings on a mass basis.
Why did Communism survive so long? Paul Hollander, a Hungarian-American scholar and Associate of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University, said Communist leaders established a political system founded on fear, ignorance and propaganda. They killed even family and friends they regarded as “enemies” or “counter-revolutionaries,” while enticing the masses into supporting their theory of class struggle and voting them legitimately into office.
Emil Constantinescu, President of Romania, added that although Communism seemed dead in the West, it was by no means a corpse yet. Many former Communists had been elected or selected to administer government offices in Eastern Europe.
Harry Wu who had undergone 19 years of “reform” in Chinese labor camps, known as “laogai,” a term similar to the Russian “gulag,” disagreed with Western governments and companies that thought that economic engagement with China would transform China’s one-party rule and end its human rights violations. In China, North Korea and Vietnam, there were still millions of Communist adherents in power, governing with an iron hand at all levels. He asked whether money could change a tiger into a vegetarian. Money and technology exported to China gave a dying Communist regime a blood transfusion.
What to do? Nguyen Chi Thien, a well-known poet and former Communist cadre turned dissident, spent 22 years in squalid detention centers in both North and South Vietnam. “I urge you to speak up and talk about the atrocious crimes committed by the Communists. Stand up and keep fighting.”
Tran Tu Thanh, a survivor of Communist laogais in Vietnam, called upon the 60,000 Vietnamese former prisoners now resettled in the U.S. to join Cuban and other groups of political prisoners who suffered under Communist regimes in an international coalition to fight for basic human rights.
The Memorial is the first of three projects that will help educate the world about Communism, its crimes and its victims, according to the VOCMF, the non-profit responsible for the Memorial. Also planned are a Global Virtual Museum on the internet, followed by a museum and library in the Washington area. These initiatives, says the Foundation, will help ensure that “never again will nations and peoples allow Communism or any similar totalitarian ideology to grip the world.”