A smattering of languages filled the air as a diverse group gathered at Washington’s Victims of Communism Memorial June 9th for the annual wreath-laying ceremony.
“Since we dedicated the Victims of Communism Memorial four years ago, dozens of national leaders from around the world have visited the Memorial to lay a wreath and pay their respects to the 100 million people who died under the most deadly -ism of the 20th century—Communism,” Lee Edwards, chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, said in his opening remarks.
“Many ethnic communities—Chinese, Vietnamese, Cuban, Bylorussian, and others—come here to light a candle or say a prayer for their loved ones,” he said.
“The Memorial has become what we hoped it would—a gathering place for those who love liberty and an international symbol of man’s innate desire for freedom,” he said.
In addition to the memorial, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation has designed a high school curriculum on Communism and constructed an online Global Museum of Communism, which covers the history from Karl Marx to Mao Tse-tung, Edwards said. The museum can be found at the foundation’s website, http://www.victimsofcommunism.org/
Representatives from 14 embassies of former Soviet republics attended, as well as delegations from other ethnic groups and nations that have suffered under Communism.
As William Tucker, who was a member of the White House Counsel’s office during Ronald Reagan’s first term, called the roster, more than 25 wreaths and bouquets were placed at the base of the statue which is at the center of the memorial park. The sculpture, “Goddess of Democracy,” is based on that erected by the students of Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and crushed by a Chinese tank during the massacre on June 4, 1989.
A few minutes before the ceremony, Hon. Zygimantas Pavilionis, Lithuanian Ambassador to the United States, spoke of his own experience standing before Soviet tanks with thousands of Lithuanian protesters on Jan. 13, 1991.
The Soviet troops relented, finally, because they wanted to avoid the international embarrassment of a Lithuanian Tiananmen Square, he said.
“That was a turning point in the history of the Soviet Union,” he said. “At that point we realized that the Soviet government had not enough bullets to kill all the Lithuanians.”
Father Arne Panula, the director of the Catholic Information Center, said in his invocation that the ceremony carried on the spirit of Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan, the two men who led the final victory in the Cold War.
“As we gather here together, we know and we cannot lose the battle for the truth,” he said. “Truth proved to be the most effective weapon in the Cold War.”
A consistent theme among the remarks of the keynote speakers was remembering the peoples who continue to live under Communism today.
Hon. Aldona Wos, former U.S. Ambassador to Estonia said, “Despite the great progress for democracy in Poland and other countries, Communism is not a thing of the past.”
Almost a quarter of the world’s population today lives under oppressive Communist states, she said.
“We cannot lose the battle of ideas,” Wos said. “As Ronald Reagan often said: Freedom is never more than a generation from extinction.”
Among those laying wreaths at the memorial were the Center for a Free Cuba, the North Korea Freedom Coalition and the Huế Association, which commemorates killed by the Viet Cong in the 1968 Huế Massacre.
Emhye Jo, who attended the ceremony with her mother and sister, said the women escaped to the U.S. from North Korea with her mother and sister. They had fled into China only to be caught and returned to North Korea four times, before finally making it to the America.
The brutal living conditions in her homeland drove her family to find a way out of the country, she said.
“Five of my eight siblings died of starvation,” she said, speaking through an interpreter. “My father died of starvation in prison after being caught trying to obtain food from China for his family. The guards wouldn’t give him enough food.”
Jo said the fact that the memorial can even be erected here is remarkable to her. Such a thing is unthinkable in North Korea.