Almost 80 years after the Bolsheviks introduced the most repressive form of government in history, Congress has authorized fund-raising for a national museum to honor the millions of victims of communism.
A new memorial may be joining the downtown Washington scene sometime during the next few years -- the Victims of Communism Memorial Museum. The purposes of the museum, according to a brochure put out by the foundation created to operate it, are:
* to commemorate the more than 100 million victims of communism;
* to honor those who struggled against communist tyranny;
* to educate current and future generations about why the West fought the Cold War; and * to document communism's continuing crimes against humanity.
It also will serve as a documentary archive and research center about communism.
The Victims of Communism Memorial Museum was authorized by Congress in Public Law 103-199, enacted Dec. 17, 1993. To prevent entanglement with budgetary issues -- and to prevent opponents, if any, from hiding behind fiscal concern -- the measure directs that the museum be built and operated exclusively with private funds. Having raised that caveat, the law declares that "the National Captive Nations Committee Inc., is authorized to construct, maintain and operate in the District of Columbia an appropriate international memorial to honor victims of communism."
The authorizing legislation also directs the National Captive Nations Committee to create an "independent entity for the purpose of constructing, maintaining and operating the memorial." That entity is the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, headed by Lee Edwards, biographer and 1964 campaign press secretary for Barry Goldwater and now a senior editor at The World and I magazine.
"This bill -- in fact, the whole museum project -- brings some old enemies together," remarks Edwards. "People who used to fight each other over Vietnam, defense spending, aid to the Nicaraguan Contras and so forth have come together on this. We now have an act of Congress declaring that communism caused 100 million deaths and brutally suppressed human rights and that the sacrifices made by the victims of communism are in danger of being forgotten. It's a historical event for Congress to put on the record. Furthermore, for me, as a veteran conservative, it's great to see a bill like this passed while Congress was still controlled by Democrats, signed by Speaker Tom Foley, President Pro Tempore Robert Byrd and President Bill Clinton."
No architectural plans have been produced because the museum directors have not yet located a site, but they are working closely with the National Park Service. "The Mall itself is out," explains Edwards. "The Park Service says the new World War II memorial will be the last new memorial on the Mall. But we're looking at a number of properties near the Mall."
With the project authorized at the end of 1993, backers Tiananmen Square: spent the next two years assembling a board of directors. Therefore, 1996 was the first year of serious fund-raising, Edwards says, though this was slowed by the elections. Fund-raising is going full steam, both in the United States and abroad. "Certain nations with an obvious interest in anticommunism are contributing money and/or memorabilia, including Taiwan and some of the former Soviet states, including Russia herself," he says.
The directors are on the lookout for memorabilia for the museum's collection. "There's a lot that we want to gather," says Edwards. "A boat used by refugees escaping from Cuba; rusty guns carried by anticommunist resistance fighters in Eastern Europe; ancestor plaques ripped off family walls by the Red Chinese and thrown into the sea; a gulag barracks. The list is endless. Of course we want originals where possible. The original of the `goddess of democracy' that was carried at Tiananmen Square was destroyed, but we will have a replica. …