Accessibility links

Breaking News

U.S.: Bush Dedicates Memorial To Victims Of Communism

U.S. President Bush speaking at the unveiling ceremony on June 12 (official site) WASHINGTON, June 13, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The sky above Washington was a brilliant blue and a hot June sun had many people in the audience fanning themselves as they waited for U.S. President George W. Bush to arrive for the dedication of a new memorial to honor the millions who perished under communism around the world.

Among the people gathered on June 12 were many in their 70s and 80s who had lived under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's brutal rule in the countries of the former Soviet Union -- Estonians, Ukrainians, Czechs, Latvians, and Poles.

One, Tonu Vandered, had driven three hours from New Jersey, where he works as an architect. He said he arrived in the United States in 1949 after fleeing Estonia with his parents, brothers, and sister just weeks before Soviet forces arrived in 1944.

"We'll never know the names of all who perished, but at this sacred place, communism's unknown victims will be consecrated to history and remembered forever," Bush said.

PHOTO GALLERY: Victims of Communism.

"It was a miracle that we were able to get on a train to Tallinn, and then a troop ship to Germany," he said.

Before Bush spoke, Lee Edwards, the man who came up with the idea for the monument to communism's victims, noted that June 12 was the 20th anniversary of the day U.S. President Ronald Reagan told Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to dismantle the Berlin Wall.

"Twenty years ago, President Reagan stood before the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and said, 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,'" Edwards said. "Well, cynics scoffed at President Reagan's words, but two years later, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, and soon after that, the 'evil empire' was no more."

Countless Millions

When Bush took the stage, he said communism was responsible for the deaths of 100 million innocent people and the new memorial would honor their suffering and sacrifice.

"The sheer numbers of those killed in communism's name are staggering, so large that a precise count is impossible," Bush said. "According to the best scholarly estimate, communism took the lives of tens of millions of people in China and the Soviet Union, and millions more in North Korea, Cambodia, Africa, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Eastern Europe, and other parts of the globe."

Bush singled out for special mention two of communism's most notable victims: Raoul Wallenberg, a Swede who rescued thousands of Jews from the Nazis and was later arrested by Stalin's men and sent to Moscow's Lubyanka Prison, never to be seen again; and Jerzy Popieluszko, a staunch anticommunist priest with ties to Poland's Solidarity movement, who was killed by the Polish security service in 1984.

But Bush said the names of millions of other victims will never be known by the public.

"The sacrifices of these individuals haunt history -- and behind them are millions more who were killed in anonymity by communism's brutal hand," Bush said. "They include innocent Ukrainians starved to death in Stalin's Great Famine; or Russians killed in Stalin's purges; Lithuanians and Latvians and Estonians loaded onto cattle cars and deported to Arctic death camps of Soviet communism."

Echoes Of Tiananmen

The Victims of Communism memorial (AFP)

The memorial is in the form of a massive bronze goddess clutching a flaming torch in both of her hands. She is an exact replica of the original 10-meter-high Goddess of Democracy that was erected by Chinese students during the Tiananmen Square democracy demonstrations of 1989. That statue was hastily built out of plaster by students at an art school in Beijing, who made it as large as possible so the government troops couldn't easily dismantle it.

Bush said the statue and the small park in which it stands will serve as a monument to the lives and needless deaths of people everywhere who have suffered under harsh rule.

"We'll never know the names of all who perished, but at this sacred place, communism's unknown victims will be consecrated to history and remembered forever," he said. "We dedicate this memorial because we have an obligation to those who died, to acknowledge their lives and honor their memory."

Totalitarian Threat Remains

Bush also used the opportunity to link the old threat of communism with a new threat: radical Islam and terrorism.

The memorial, he said, will be a warning to all who see it, that victims' memorials are the inevitable result when societies are allowed to descend into the darkness of totalitarianism and reject democracy.

The lessons of the Cold War are still relevant: freedom cannot be taken for granted, evil must be confronted, and "men commanded by harsh and hateful ideologies will commit unspeakable crimes and take the lives of millions," Bush said.

According to Bush, those same ideologies are still around today, which he said the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, proved.

"Like the communists, the terrorists and radicals who attacked our nation are followers of a murderous ideology that despises freedom, crushes all dissent, has expansionist ambitions and pursues totalitarian aims," Bush said. "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. And like the communists, the followers of violent Islamic radicalism are doomed to fail."

The memorial was paid for by contributions from private individuals, companies, and governments.

Building Democracy

Building Democracy
An Afghan woman votes in Kandahar in October 2004 (AFP)

ROWING AGAINST THE TIDE: National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman and Hudson Institute Senior Fellow John O'Sullivan led an RFE/RL briefing about U.S. efforts to promote democracy around the world, and especially in the Middle East.


Listen to the entire briefing (about 55 minutes):
Real Audio Windows Media


U.S. Reports On Democracy-Promotion Efforts

Is Bush Abandoning Democracy Building In Iraq?

Karen Hughes Urges Dialogue Based On 'Common Values'

Promoting Democracy In Iran


For a regular review of civil-society developments throughout RFE/RL's broadcast region, subscribe to "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies."

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.