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On June 12, 1987, the then US President Ronald Reagan stood in West Berlin and passionately urged the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. A barrier dividing not only East and West Berlin but also a barrier between the relative freedom of the western liberal democracy and the authoritarian oppression of Communism. It was 20 years later, on the anniversary of this speech, that the Victims of Communism Memorial was unveiled by George W Bush in Washington DC.

Some Fast Facts about the Victims of Communism Memorial

The memorial can be found atop a 214 m² stone wedge only a few blocks away from Washington’s Capitol Hill. Memorial itself is a three meter tall bronze sculpture made by the artist Thomas Marsh. It depicts the Goddess of Democracy which was a statue first erected by student protesters in Tiananmen Square back in 1989. The construction cost a little over one million dollars and was completed between September 2006 and June 2007.

The Victims of Communism Memorial is dedicated to the memory of the millions of people that fell victim to the ideology of Communism throughout the world. The associated foundation claims to be attempting to challenge and educate this generation and hopefully the next on the horrors of Communism and the widespread death and destruction that it left on its trail. Plans to house a museum on the site are also in the process of being formalized.

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The Victims of Communism

The ideology of Communism was first voiced in the mid 19th century but the very first Communist state was that of Soviet Russia following the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. Over time around 45 other countries have followed Russia down this path with differing interpretations of the ideology. In all these countries the curbing of personal freedoms and individual liberty was common place. This combined with flawed economic policies pushed upon an oppressed and propagandized populace. Millions of lives were lost in Mao’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. Whole countries were victims of crazed despots, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Stalin’s Russia, Tito’s Yugoslavia. A toll too brutal for many to comprehend with far reaching consequences. The exact numbers killed will never be known but estimated hover around the 100 million mark.

Victims of Communism Memorial: The International Reaction

The unveiling of the VOCM in Washington DC attracted high profile responses from the international community, maybe because at that time Bush was such a controversial figure given the foreign policy of his government over the previous years. It was viewed by many as a return to Cold War era symbolism and an example of the United States’ intervening in the internal matters of other countries. China, in particular, viewed the sculpture as a direct attack and an attempt to antagonize the country given the statue’s association with the Tiananmen Square protests. The Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Ukrainian Government made some unimpressed comments. Ukraine went so far as to construct a museum showcasing the United States’ imperialist adventures and propensity to interfere in the domestic policies of other nations. These are of course nuanced and complicated issues and this blog post is not going to be any help in taking a position on the international ramifications. All I can advise is further reading on the subject.

Photo credit:  Photo 1 by Smallbones, Photo 2 by David.