President Bush yesterday told hundreds of people whose countries had emerged from the grip of communism that their sacrifices would not be forgotten as he dedicated the Victims of Communism Memorial to the millions oppressed and killed by totalitarian regimes.
“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 to more than 500 people just blocks from the Capitol. “We dedicate this memorial because we have an obligation to those who died, to acknowledge their lives and honor their memory.”
The memorial is the only such monument in the world, according to its founders, who estimate that communist governments have killed more than 100 million people.
Mr. Bush compared the Cold War to the fight against terrorism, saying that the “evil and hatred” that inspired totalitarian regimes to kill millions is shared by terrorists today.
The bronze, 10-foot “Goddess of Democracy” statue was meant not only to memorialize the victims, but also to combat the ignorance of communism’s global effects, said conservative historian Lee Edwards, chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
“This is to send a very clear message that one-fifth of the world’s population still live under communism and not by their choice,” he said.
The ceremony came exactly 20 years after President Reagan visited the Berlin Wall and called on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear it down.
Reps. Tom Lantos, California Democrat, and Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, were on hand to dedicate the memorial. Mr. Rohrabacher was one of the sponsors of the 1993 bill that authorized the monument, which stands at the intersection of Massachusetts and New Jersey avenues in Northwest.
It is modeled after the figure Chinese students placed in Tiananmen Square in 1989, which was subsequently destroyed by Chinese tanks. The students built it to resemble the Statue of Liberty.
The government of Taiwan donated a significant amount toward the $1 million in private funding raised for the memorial, Mr. Edwards said, and Vietnamese Americans were also top donors.
He called the day a “perfect” culmination of more than a decade of struggle to erect the memorial, and was particularly thrilled that Mr. Bush had chosen to attend. He called the president’s comparison of the Cold War and the fight against terrorism “right on the mark.”
Diplomats from at least 12 formerly communist countries attended the ceremony, as well as citizens of China. Yao Ren Jie, 74, traveled from China to attend a conference and the memorial’s dedication.
A professor of biochemistry at Beijing University, he said he had suffered immensely under Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution — a persecution of intellectuals and professionals — but was reluctant to talk more about it.
“Now it’s better than before, but it’s still a communist country,” he said.
He said he was grateful to see that the rest of the world remembered victims of repression, like himself.