Thursday, December 15, 2005

D.C. Monument To Be Built In Honor of Victims of Communism

BY MEGHAN CLYNE - Staff Reporter of the Sun
The New York Sun, December 13, 2005

WASHINGTON - As members of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation gather tonight to honor Poland's opponents of Soviet domination, they also celebrate the impending completion of a 15-year dream: a monument in the nation's capital to commemorate the more than 100 million lives lost to an "enslaving" ideology.

The annual Truman-Reagan Freedom Awards, to be presented by the foundation tonight at a reception at the Embassy of Poland, will honor President Reagan's arms control adviser, General Edward Rowny; the Polish Solidarity Movement of the 1980s, represented by the first worker to strike, Anna Walentynowicz, and Pope John Paul II, whose award, presented posthumously, will be accepted by the Apostolic Nuncio to America, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo.

The event is also a fund-raiser expected to help clear one of the last hurdles between the foundation and the completion of the communism memorial, the chairman of the foundation, Lee Edwards, said.

If the $650,000 required for the memorial is raised, and all goes as planned, ground will be broken on the International Victims of Communism Memorial this spring and the monument will be completed six months later, Mr. Edwards said. The organization has received around $500,000 so far, and additional fund-raisers, including a February event in New York to be
headlined by Mayor Giuliani, are planned to help bridge the gap.

The money will go toward a 10-foot bronze replica of the "Goddess of Democracy" statue erected by Chinese students and destroyed by Red Chinese tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The image is based on the Statue of Liberty, and, Mr. Edwards said, "has been replicated and duplicated all over the world as a global symbol of freedom and democracy." According to Mr.
Edwards, versions of the statue exist in France, England, Canada, Nigeria, and Taiwan, and miniature versions are distributed to winners of the National Endowment for Democracy's annual awards.

"We realized it was not just that tragedy and the massacre of Tiananmen" represented by the statue, but instead "a hopeful image" synonymous with the universal desire for freedom, Mr. Edwards said.

The foundation had considered other images to represent the 100 million victims of communism, Mr. Edwards, who is also a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, said. Among the themes considered were barbed wire to symbolize the gulags, boats for the Vietnamese "boat people," a replica of the Brandenburg Gate at the Berlin Wall, and a field of skulls to represent the Cambodian killing fields under Pol Pot.

Ultimately, Mr. Edwards said, the committee wanted a monument that would convey not communism's oppression but instead the innate desire of human beings to be free.

The bronze "Democracy" statue, to be crafted free of charge by California based sculptor Thomas Marsh, will stand atop a three-foot granite pedestal, which will bear three engraved dedications: "To the more than 100 million victims of communism"; "To the freedom and independence of all captive nations and peoples," and "To those who love liberty."

The statue and pedestal, Mr. Edwards said, will stand amid a plaza of granite covering a third of an acre at the intersections of Massachusetts and New Jersey avenues, a lot approved in April by the National Parks Service for the purpose of the memorial.

"We know that 20,000 cars go down Mass. Ave. every day," Mr. Edwards said. "It's a prime spot."

The monument, Mr. Edwards said, will be easily accessible, since the intersection is two blocks from Union Station and the District of Columbia will add a new stop to its public bus system at the memorial.

In addition to the monument, Mr. Edwards said, the foundation is also planning a virtual museum about communism and the 100 million lives it claimed, and hopes to someday raise enough money to erect a "brick-and-mortar" museum in Washington to accompany the monument. Mr. Edwards said the foundation had identified a vacant brick school building
across the street from the monument for the purpose.

The soon-to-be-erected monument and hoped-for museum, he said, resulted from years of planning and fund-raising. The initial idea to erect a memorial for the millions who died at the hands of communists worldwide, Mr. Edwards said, came as he and friends involved in foreign policy work watched the Berlin Wall crumble in 1989.

Congress and President Clinton approved the monument in 1993, explicitly recognizing in the legislation sanctioning the memorial that the number of victims claimed by communism amounted to at least 100 million. Scholars who have worked on documenting the number of lives claimed by communism - including Hoover Institution fellow Robert Conquest and Harvard professor Richard Pipes - have been involved in the project and serve on the foundation's advisory board. The project also enjoys support from the Bush administration, Mr. Edwards said, as President Bush agreed to serve as the foundation's honorary chairman.

In addition to recognizing the ravages of communism, the memorial is also meant to educate those blessed with freedom, and to serve as a reminder that dangerous ideologies can have real, and horrifying, practical implications.

It is also meant to combat a prevailing ignorance of the extent of communism's victims, Mr. Pipes said.

"People are quite aware of what the Nazis did, but they are not aware of what the communists did," Mr. Pipes, a noted Sovietologist, said. "There is this general sort of presumption, particularly among intellectuals, that, 'Oh, communism was a good idea that didn't quite work out so well.'"

"But in terms of human casualties," Mr. Pipes added, "What went on in Russia and China is outrageous. It's appalling. And I think this kind of memorial will make people aware of it."

General Rowny said he hoped the memorial would also serve as a warning for those susceptible to being seduced by communism, particularly in "renegade countries" like Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea.

"It's to remind future generations that if there's any resurgence of this, or if anyone thinks communism is a good system, that, as Reagan said, there was an Evil Empire there," the general said.

Mr. Edwards said he hoped the memorial would also serve as a reminder that ideologies that enslave have universal implications.

"One of the most telling remarks was made last year by a friend of ours who was in the Soviet gulag," Mr. Edwards said. "Somebody asked him, 'Who were the victims of communism?' And he replied: 'Everyone in the 20th century was a victim of communism.'"

"That, to me, said it all," Mr. Edwards said. "It was truly a global tyranny, and that is why this is an international memorial. We want to keep this in the public mind, and, borrowing from our Jewish friends, say: 'Never again.'"

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