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Memorial honors communism's victims

June 13, 2007|Johanna Neuman | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The estimated 100 million people killed under communist regimes were remembered Tuesday in the nation's capital as President Bush accepted, on behalf of the American people, a monument honoring their sacrifice.

"Evil is real and must be confronted," Bush told the audience at the dedication of the Victims of Communism Memorial. Among the invited guests were ambassadors from Eastern European nations subjugated by the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II.

The bronze "Goddess of Democracy" statue, created by Northern California sculptor Thomas Marsh, is a replica of the papier-mache figure -- itself modeled on the Statue of Liberty -- erected by Chinese students during the pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. The memorial is two blocks from Union Station, within sight of the U.S. Capitol.

The ceremony was held on the 20th anniversary of President Reagan's challenge -- "Tear down this wall!" -- to Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev during a speech at the Berlin Wall.

Two years later, that wall was torn down; shortly thereafter, historian Lee Edwards, a scholar at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, began lobbying for a tangible remembrance of those who died under totalitarian rule. In 1993, Congress unanimously approved legislation authorizing such a project.

Organizers raised $1 million for the memorial, all from private donors -- many of them in former communist countries.

In his remarks, Bush paid tribute to Ukrainians starved to death during the famine under Joseph Stalin; to Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians put on boxcars for deportation to Arctic death camps; to Chinese killed during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution; to Cambodians slain in Pol Pot's killing fields; and to East Germans shot attempting to cross into the West.

He also compared communist tyrants to today's terrorists. "Like communists," he said, "followers of radical Islamic terrorism are doomed to fail."

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo), a Holocaust survivor, gave the keynote speech, saying that "everyone who has tasted communism, from Albania to Estonia, knows that without the United States, this existential struggle would have been lost."

Comparing what he called "distorted Islamic fascism" to the "godless communism," Lantos predicted that NATO would be revitalized "as the military arm of the civilized world and see to it that no Nazism, no communism, no Ahmadinejad-ism, will prevail on this planet."

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johanna.neuman@latimes.com

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