Twenty years ago today, Ronald Reagan stood before the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and delivered a speech that would become his most enduring. The speech, and its iconic admonishment to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, came to be emblematic of the fall of the Berlin Wall — and of America’s triumph over Communism. Top officials at the State Department and National Security Council thought the renowned exhortation was too much; Mr. Reagan, on the other hand, knew it was “the right thing to do.”
At the Reagan Ranch Center in Santa Barbara, Calif., former speechwriter Peter Robinson is set today to discuss Mr. Reagan’s famous speech. Closer to home, at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue, New Jersey Avenue and G Street NW, Communist tyranny will be remembered with the dedication of the Victims of Communism memorial, which starts at 10 a.m. The memorial, a 10-foot replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue erected by Chinese students during the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations, stands “to the more than one hundred million victims of communism and to those who love liberty,” and “to the freedom and independence of all captive nations and people.” Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat, will deliver the keynote address. The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is a Holocaust survivor and, as a young man, was involved in the anti-Communist movement in his native Hungary.
The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation broke ground in September 2006 after years of planning. The idea was first conceived by Lee Edwards, an aide to Barry Goldwater now at the Heritage Foundation, shortly after the Berlin Wall was torn down. Four years later, Congress authorized and Bill Clinton signed a bill that would authorize the federal government to donate land for the memorial, then expected to be a much larger production, featuring a museum, at a cost of $100 million. Budget shortcomings stalled that plan but years of work, vision and fund-raising resulted in the current statue, located a few blocks from Union Station. “The memorial,” said Paula Dobriansky, undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs, at the groundbreaking ceremony, “is a universal symbol of freedom, representing in majestic form the rights and aspirations of all women and men.”
As the world remembers Mr. Reagan’s message to Mr. Gorbachev — “if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” — it should also remember the toll that Communism afflicted on the people of Russia and Eastern Europe — and the toll it is still afflicting on the people of countries like China, Cuba and North Korea. Mr. Reagan warned the Soviet general secretary that if his country failed to make fundamental changes, it would become obsolete. That remains as true today as it was in 1987. But so long as Communist tyranny exists, the world will need leaders with the strength of conviction to stand against it.