- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 6, 2002

Why don't we have a museum to the victims of communism in Washington? Is anything being done here? What can we do? Good questions. They have been asked by a number of readers who saw my column in this space last week, "Hungary's House of Terror."

That article described the opening on Feb. 24 of Budapest's new museum dedicated to the horrors committed by first the Nazi leadership and after that the communist secret police, both of whom were housed in the building at 60 Andrassy Boulevard, in Budapest. Judging by the crowd that turned out at the opening, which was officially estimated at 150,000, Hungarians are thirsting for the truth of what happened during the grim years of 1945 - '89. Nor should we forget.

As it happens, efforts are under way to create a memorial here in Washington, under the auspices of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Having such a monument in Washington is entirely appropriate, given America's role in fighting the Cold War. We have a memorial to the Holocaust, and there are plans for a memorial to the Armenian genocide. This city long ago became home to memorials of many kinds, and the victims of communism deserve no less.

Some 100 million people worldwide lost their lives to the ideological scourge of communism after 1917. They include the victims of Stalin's terror, mass deportations of entire nations and politically induced great famine; victims of the Chinese Revolution of 1949, and later the Cultural Revolution; victims of the Cambodian genocide; victims of the Latin American and Cuban civil wars; East and Central Europeans dying in the uprisings of 1953, 1956 and 1968 against their communist rulers. The list goes on and on.

But it is not just important to remember the victims. Let us not forget that 1.2 billion Chinese still live under the thumb of communist rulers; so do the people of North Korea and of Cuba. Former communists remain in positions of power and influence all over the former East Bloc. And on American university campuses, many of its apologists and fellow-travellers have retained their tenured positions. The foundation's president, Lee Edwards, has recently commissioned a study on the nexus between communism and terrorism. In other words, this cause is not simply talking about exposing the past.

On Dec. 17, 1993, Congress unanimously passed and President Clinton signed Public Law 103-199, authorizing the design, construction and operation of "an international memorial to honor victims of communism." The goal was to raise $100 million for the project, which is still a distant prospect. "We have been able to raise enough funds to keep going," says Mr. Edwards. "But we need a serious commitment."

Pledges of aid and support from leaders of former communist countries, however, could make a big difference. In September last year, the center-right political parties of Eastern and Central Europe passed a resolution to urge their governments to support the memorial in Washington. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban during his state visit last spring discussed the subject with President Bush. "He loved the idea," Mr. Orban told me in Budapest. "We need to have this in Washington."

Organizers believe that if $5 million can be raised from that source, Congress could be persuaded to pitch in. There's a precedent for this. In 1973, Congress appropriated $10 million for the planning and construction of the Holocaust Museum on the Mall. The effort to memorialize the victims of communism has the benefit of strong bipartisan support. It is not often you find Democratic senators such as Joseph Biden, Carl Levin and Joseph Lieberman on the same side of an issue as Jesse Helms and Trent Lott. Congressional funding could, in turn, help leverage private donations.

Organizers are currently hoping to move the foundation into temporary quarters in the Arlington building to be vacated by the Newseum (which is moving to a downtown Washington location). Initial exhibits on loan may draw from the House of Terror, or from the Katyn exhibition in Warsaw, dedicated to the massacre of 20,000 Polish army officers by the Soviets in World War II, or the museum to the Cambodian genocide in Phnom Penh. Permanently, the museum may end up on the site of the current Washington Convention Center, which will be torn down once the new convention center is completed.

Opening day has been projected for 2007. Mr. Edwards remains optimistic this can be met. "It can be done," he says. "You can certainly put a good museum together in two or three years. The Newseum did that. What will be crucial for the next 12 to 18 months will be the fund-raising."

Those who are looking for more information or a way to help can log onto www.victimsofcommunism.org or write to Victims of Communism Foundation, 1513, 16th St. NW, Washington DC 20036.


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