The Toll of Communism

The memorial, near Union Station, is modeled after a papier-mache figure carried by pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
The memorial, near Union Station, is modeled after a papier-mache figure carried by pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989. (By Andrea Bruce -- The Washington Post)
By Omar Fekeiki
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 13, 2007

President Bush, attending the dedication of a memorial to an estimated 100 million victims of communist regimes, yesterday compared the fight against radical Islam to the Cold War battle against totalitarian communism.

In warning Americans that "evil is real and must be confronted," Bush also equated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with the tyrannical rule imposed on residents of countries like China, North Korea and the former Soviet Union.

"Like the communists, the terrorists and radicals who have attacked our nation are followers of a murderous ideology that despises freedom, crushes all dissent, has expansionist ambitions and pursues totalitarian aims," he said at the ceremony, which was held in the intersection of Massachusetts and New Jersey avenues at G Street NW.

"Like the communists, our new enemies believe the innocent can be murdered to serve a radical vision. Like the communists, our new enemies are dismissive of free peoples, claiming that those of us who live in liberty are weak and lack the resolve to defend our free way of life."

The ceremony was held on the 20th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, when he implored Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Two years later, the wall fell.

The Victims of Communism Memorial is a bronze "Goddess of Democracy" statue. It is a replica of a replica -- a reproduction of the papier-mache statue that Chinese students modeled on the Statue of Liberty and carried into Tiananmen Square during pro-democracy protests in 1989.

The memorial was 17 years in the making. The idea was born in 1990, two months after the Berlin Wall came down, said Lee Edwards, a historian who is chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

"It was clear for several of us after the fall of the wall that there is a certain fading of the memory of communism and there is a need to remind people of victims of communism," he said.

The foundation says communism's victims were killed by a variety of means, including purges, famine and gulags.

The memorial was built with $950,000 in private funds, including donations from the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Georgia and Taiwan. Its location was chosen to be near the Capitol, Edwards said.

More than 400 people attended yesterday's dedication.

Keynote speaker Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) also found similarities between radical Islam and communism.

"Communism was not the only monstrous phenomenon determined to destroy free and open societies," said Lantos, who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Lantos, a Holocaust survivor, said he had fought against Nazism and communism, and "it is now my privilege to fight against Islamic terrorism determined to take us back 13 centuries."

Dan Ho was in the audience yesterday. As he took his seat, he looked at the statue before him and said, "This is like me. She escaped tyranny like I did."

Ho, 69, served in the army of South Vietnam in the 1970s. After Saigon fell in 1975, he was imprisoned for seven years. He left Vietnam after his release and arrived in the United States in 1990.

"We have to remember that time," he said, pointing to the navy blue beret that he wore to the ceremony, a reminder of his army service. "We have to remember our time in the war because it is our history."

Ho's friend, Henry Tran, 58, wore his maroon beret. He was a ranger in the South Vietnamese Army. After the United States left, he spent 6 1/2 years in prison.

"I will never forget it," Tran said of his time in jail. "Life is not long, and I spent it in war and jail. But I am enjoying my life now in my second country, America."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company