Tuesday, September 26, 2006

When it’s finished, the bronze memorial will be tucked between the busy intersection of Massachusetts Avenue, New Jersey Avenue and G Street NW. At an unimposing 10 feet, it will be dwarfed in stature by the goliath-like Union Station two blocks away and the Capitol Dome off in the distance. Even a Metrobus will rival it. Yet tourists, with the children in tow, may wander up to read these words on its pedestal: “To the more than one hundred million victims of communism and to those who love liberty.” And on the back pedestal: “To the freedom and independence of all captive nations and people.”

The children might notice how much the figure looks like a miniature Statue of Liberty. Although the similarity is intended, it is meant as a replica of the “Goddess of Democracy” statue erected by Chinese students in Tiananmen Square in 1989 — that is, before the tanks rolled in. Four years later, the U.S. Congress would authorize its creation, then conceived as a $100 million structure on the scale of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Twelve years after that, budgetary problems and bureaucratic inertia would downsize it to a street corner.

Throughout it all, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation has kept the idea going, refusing to let complacency take hold. It should be commended for this. Today, the foundation will hold a groundbreaking ceremony near the statue’s future site with a reception to follow at the Capitol. The foundation hopes to complete the memorial in June to coincide with the 20th anniversary of President Reagan’s speech before the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, where he admonished the Soviet leader to “Tear down this wall.”

How memories can lapse in 20 years. The world has been reluctant to acknowledge the horrors of Communism: 20 million killed in the Soviet Union; 60 million in China; millions more in the killing fields of Southeast Asia; not to mention the untold numbers who have died under the police states of Cuba and North Korea. Too few remember them. Now, at last, they will be memorialized.

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