- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Two months after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, conservative historian Lee Edwards began worrying that the world might forget the millions who suffered and died under communist regimes.

During a conversation at brunch with his wife, Anne, in 1990, he pondered how he could prevent those victims from becoming lost in history.

When his wife suggested building a memorial in Washington, he immediately scribbled the idea down on a napkin. Two days later, Mr. Edwards began to pursue a goal that would take 17 years, a bipartisan congressional bill and nearly $1 million to accomplish.

Today, the 20th anniversary of President Reagan’s bold demand for the destruction of the Berlin Wall, Mr. Edwards, 74, will realize that dream when he unveils the Victims of Communism memorial.

“It’s a great feeling of accomplishment, knowing that those 100 million victims are going to finally be memorialized and recognized,” he said.

President Bush will help dedicate the memorial, which is the only monument of its kind in the world, said Mr. Edwards, chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

Reps. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, and Tom Lantos, California Democrat, also will speak at the ceremony.

“It’s a historic day, a day of dedication, a day of remembrance and also a day of resolution that we will not ever again permit so terrible an evil to terrorize the world,” Mr. Edwards said.

The memorial, called the “Goddess of Democracy,” is a bronze replica of the figure erected by Chinese students during the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 and subsequently destroyed by Chinese tanks. The democracy-minded students had modeled it after the Statue of Liberty.

It stands at the intersection of Massachusetts and New Jersey avenues in Northwest.

Mr. Edwards is considered a leading historian of the American conservative movement. Author of more than 15 books, including two biographies of Mr. Reagan, he is a distinguished fellow in conservative thought at the Heritage Foundation.

It is no coincidence that the dedication will take place on the 20th anniversary of Mr. Reagan’s visit to the Berlin Wall, where he challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s commitment to openness by declaring, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Mr. Edwards called that speech “the beginning of the end” of the Cold War.

While communism was collapsing around the globe, however, he was engaged in a long and difficult 24-step process to add to the monuments and memorials in the nation’s capital.

He immediately knew that the District was the right place for it, he said.

“We were the leaders of the fight against communism, so what better place to have it than the nation’s capital, which was also the capital of the free world for many years?” he said.

Congress authorized the memorial in 1993, and the nonprofit Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation was established soon after. The initial goal was to build a museum, but the foundation soon realized that would take more resources than it had.

“We had no seed money,” Mr. Edwards said. “We’re not professional fundraisers.”

The foundation decided to reverse priorities and build the monument first, hoping it would generate the momentum to make a museum possible. The $1 million it took to create the memorial was raised through private funding.

Within the next two years, the foundation will present an “online museum,” which will serve as a database of the available resources for learning about communism and its effects.

Eventually Mr. Edwards hopes to open a bricks-and-mortar museum.

For now, he said he hopes the Goddess of Democracy will become as much a tool of education as a memorial to lives lost, ensuring that generations growing up without firsthand knowledge of communism will be aware of its consequences.

He said he also expects the memorial to receive visitors from former communist states. On Thursday, hundreds of Lithuanians will visit the memorial with the Lithuanian foreign minister, he said.

“That’s the kind of thing you’re going to see more and more of,” Mr. Edwards said. “It really is an educational process.”

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