Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Martyr for freedom

Shortly before Czech communists hanged her for being “an enemy of the state,” Milada Horakova wrote a letter to her 16-year-old daughter.

“Life is hard, it does not pamper anybody … but don’t let it defeat you. Decide to fight. Have courage and clear goals, and you will win over life,” Mrs. Horakova said in words that echoed in Washington this week as she was honored as a champion of freedom in a ceremony at the Czech Embassy.

Mrs. Horakova, born on Christmas Day in 1901, is a national heroine in the Czech Republic. She was first condemned to death by the Nazis, who later commuted her sentence to life in prison. She spent the war years in concentration camps.

She continued fighting for freedom as a member of the free Czech parliament before the communist coup in 1948. Mrs. Horakova refused to bow to tyranny and paid with her life two years later. She was the only woman executed for political reasons in what was then Czechoslovakia.

On Tuesday, her daughter, Jana Kansky, accepted the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom Award from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation for her mother.

“Thank you for recognizing her fight for freedom,” Mrs. Kansky said.

The reception honored “those who sacrificed their lives” for freedom and “those who supported them,” Czech Ambassador Petr Kolar told about 200 guests, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the California Republican who sponsored legislation that created the foundation.

Mr. Kolar said Czechs understand the price of democracy and the struggle against repression.

“Democracy is hard to win but easy to lose. … Democracy and freedom are not guaranteed,” he said.

He read a letter from Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who called Mrs. Horakova “a lasting symbol of resistance against the communist regime.”

Foundation Chairman Lee Edwards read a letter from President Bush, who said, “Freedom is the longing of the soul and the permanent hope of mankind.”

Mr. Rumsfeld, who submitted his resignation last week after the Republicans lost control of Congress, received a standing ovation before and after he spoke about the threat from Islamic terrorism.

“Today we are facing another battle against a totalitarian ideology that seeks to destroy our way of life,” he said. “I’m not one of those people who wakes up in the morning and thinks what’s wrong with America. We’re on the right side of history.”

Mr. Rumsfeld congratulated the second recipient of the freedom award, Edwin J. Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation, which has influenced conservative policies for nearly 30 years.

“Few in Washington have worked harder than Ed Feulner. He is respected in most quarters and feared in some quarters,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Mr. Warner praised Mr. Rumsfeld for his service as defense secretary, saying, “Your hallmark will be the modernization and transformation of the armed forces in the 21st century.”

When he received his award, Mr. Feulner said, “It is our duty to remember communism’s crimes against humanity.”

Mr. Edwards later told the guests that the foundation in September broke ground on the future site of a monument to the victims of communism. A bronze replica of the statue that pro-democracy demonstrators built in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square will stand on a site near Union Station.

The foundation plans to dedicate the monument in June on the 20th anniversary of President Reagan‘s defiant speech at the Berlin Wall, when he called on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”

“We cannot ignore the voices of those who were tried and shot as enemies of the state,” Mr. Edwards said. “They say, ‘Remember us. Please, remember us.’ ”

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@

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