The Victims of Communism Memorial was dedicated by President George W. Bush on June 12, 2007. The Memorial core is a bronze replica of the “Goddess of Democracy,” erected by Chinese students in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China in the spring of 1989. It is a public memorial site. All who wish to pay their respects may. The Memorial is located at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and New Jersey Avenue, NW on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
History of the Memorial
Passed unanimously by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton on December 17, 1993, PL 103-199 created The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. The legislation authorized the design and construction of The Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, D.C. for and with the participation of “all groups that have suffered under communism.”
The Memorial project kicked off in 1995 when Lee Edwards and Lev Dobriansky had their first meeting with the National Park Service. The construction process was extensive, including congressional permission, site selection, design approval, financial commitments, and the actual construction. The process also required the permission of three federal panels and a D.C. neighborhood board.
The following years were ones of hard work filled with ups and downs as permissions were obtained, and plans drawn. Donors and ethnic communities throughout the United States reacted favorably. Led by the Vietnamese American community, the Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Hungarians, and other groups rallied to donate building funds and effort to the cause. An invitation was extended to President George W. Bush to serve as honorary chairman–and he accepted.
Many designs were considered. Among them was a replica of the Berlin Wall, a Gulag barrack, a boat representative of those used by the Vietnamese and the Cubans to flee their communist oppressors, and a broken statue of Stalin or Mao. Two design ideas stood above the rest: the Brandenburg Gate and the Statue of the “Goddess of Democracy” erected by Chinese student protestors in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
After extensive debate, VOC selected the “Goddess of Democracy” symbol as the core of the Memorial for three reasons. First, it called to mind the Tiananmen Square Massacre and the continuing oppression in the world’s largest country. Second, it was based on the Statue of Liberty in New York, reflecting man’s indomitable desire to be free. Finally, it had become a global symbol of freedom and democracy with replicas in France, the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Taiwan, and Canada.
The noted sculptor Thomas Marsh was selected for the Memorial project. Working closely with students who had been at Tiananmen Square, Marsh sculpted for The Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington a bronze replica of the papier-mâché statue that had been erected in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
A small triangle of land at the intersections of Massachusetts and New Jersey Avenues Northwest and G Street Northwest was selected for the Memorial. It is two blocks from Union Station and within easy view of the U.S. Capitol. The entire cost of the Memorial— with the exception of the land, which was a given as a gift by Congress—was paid for through private donations.
The Victims of Communism Memorial was dedicated by President George W. Bush on Tuesday, June 12, 2007. The date was chosen because it was the 20th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s Brandenburg Gate speech.
The Memorial’s front pedestal reads, “To the more than one hundred million victims of communism and to those who love liberty.” Its back pedestal reads, “To the freedom and independence of all captive nations and peoples.”
Since its dedication, the Memorial has become a pilgrimage destination for thousands every year, from foreign heads of state to those who fled communism for safety and freedom in America.