On June 16, Bishop László Tőkés, a leader of the Hungarian community in Romania and a member of the European Parliament, received the Truman-Reagan Freedom Medal at a ceremony held at the U.S. Capitol. During the past ten years, this prestigious award has been presented to individuals including Pope John Paul II, Vytautas Landsbergis, Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Viktor Orbán, János Horváth and Tom Lantos.
Dr. Lee Edwards, Chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, recalled the Foundation’s mission and explained the purpose of the award: “The Foundation awards the Truman-Reagan Freedom Medal to those individuals who have demonstrated a life-long commitment to promoting freedom and democracy and opposing communism and tyranny.”
In her introduction of Bishop Tőkés, Edith Lauer, Chair Emerita of the Hungarian American Coalition and Board Member of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, commented on his 20 years of leadership in Romania and noted that he has recently called on his fellow members of the European Parliament to condemn Communism. She recalled his heroic resistance against the Romanian secret police in 1989, which culminated in the outbreak of the Romanian Revolution: “In 1989 László Tőkés risked his life to challenge the power of Ceausescu, one of the most infamous communist dictators in Europe. In spite of being unarmed and inexperienced in this confrontation, he possessed two superior weapons: an abiding faith in God and the moral conviction that by resisting tyranny, he could make it fall.”
In his acceptance speech, Bishop Tőkés pointed out that remnants of Communism survive to this day in Romania and elsewhere, and commended the work of Dr. Edwards and the mission of the Foundation as timely and necessary: “The wrongdoers and the privileged of the former dictatorship saved their power and transplanted their influence into economics. Then, they converted it back into political power. That is the very reason why justice for the victims of Communism and their descendants was not granted up to this day. However, without justice and equity, there is neither freedom, nor permanent peace and stability.”
The late Congressman Jack Kemp received the Truman-Reagan Freedom Medal posthumously. In his laudation, Heritage Foundation President, Dr. Edwin Feulner, described Jack Kemp as a man of passion, a wise foreign policy expert and a tireless supporter of struggles for freedom across the globe. His son, Jimmy Kemp, accepted the award on his father’s behalf.
Congressman Steny Hoyer, Majority Leader and former Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, was prevented from accepting his Freedom Medal by an unexpected scheduling conflict. Other speakers at the well-attended ceremony included members of Congress, the Honorable Don Ritter, Marcy Kaptur, Dana Rohrabacher and Frank Wolf. They each shared personal experiences that touched on the fall of Communism in 1989, and expressed their admiration for Bishop László Tőkés among other heroes who played important roles at that time.
The day’s commemorative events ended with an evening reception at the residence of Romanian Ambassador Adrian Vierita, where the much-awaited launch of the Online Global Museum on Communism took place. Karl Altau of the Joint Baltic American National Committee served as Master of Ceremonies. Ambassador Vierita’s welcome included the recognition of the importance of finding out the truth about each country’s painful past.
In his invocation, Bishop Tőkés prayed for courage and strength of conviction to confront evil and to stand up for truth. Dr. Lee Edwards explained the importance of the Online Global Museum, which will serve as a source of documented information for all, including people in countries that continue to censor or limit access to the internet.
Marcus Kolga, President of Liefa Communications and designer of the Online Museum, explained and demonstrated its various features and asked for input from knowledgeable sources to add pertinent information to sections covering various countries.
Dr. Vladimir Tismaneanu, who directed the Romanian Commission on Communism, said the Romanian Communist Party was sentenced to failure because it brought only suffering and death to people. As he researched the recent past, Dr. Tismaneanu said: “First we thought we were going to do an autopsy, but soon we realized we were involved in vivisection, because to this day Communism has not died in Romania.”
On the morning of June 16, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation held a separate event commemorating the 20-year anniversaries of the Tiananmen Square massacre and the fall of the Berlin Wall, as well as the second anniversary of the dedication of the Victims of Communism Memorial on Massachusetts Avenue.
Dr. Lee Edwards reminded those present that the memorial, „Goddess of Liberty,” pays homage to the more than 100 million victims of Communism worldwide. Dr. Aldona Wos, former U.S. Ambassador to Estonia, spoke with great conviction about the dangerous and continuing presence of Communism in Europe today. Following Dr. Yang Jianli’s message about the still undocumented millions of victims of Chinese Communism, a wreath-laying ceremony was held with participation by the embassies of post-Communist countries and ethnic organizations.
In this year of special anniversaries, the Hungarian Embassy hosted a reception on June 15th to mark the 20th anniversary of the Dismantling of the Iron Curtain, when the Hungarian border was opened to allow East Germans to leave for Austria, and of the solemn reburial in Budapest of Imre Nagy, Pál Maléter and other martyrs of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. In his welcoming remarks, Hungarian Ambassador, Dr. Ferenc Somogyi, recalled the significance of these historic events. A lovely concert followed, featuring violinist Vilmos Szabadi and viola player Szilvia Kovács.
Bishop Tőkés’ three-day visit to Washington included meetings with Anthony Blinken, National Security Advisor to the Vice-President and Special Assistant to the President; Elizabeth Helgerson, Director for Europe, National Security Council; James Standish, Executive Director, US Commission on International Religious Freedom; Amb. Karen B. Stewart, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; Kurt Donnelly, Director, International Religious Freedom Affairs; Lynne Davidson, Senior Advisor, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; David C. Rodearmel, Foreign Affairs Officer, International Religious Freedom Affairs, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; Jamie LaMore, Country Desk Officer for Hungary and Slovakia, Department of State. The meetings were arranged by HHRF President László Hámos, as well as Emese Latkóczy and Hungarian American Coalition President Max Teleki. Bishop Tőkés acquainted the U.S. officials with the present circumstances in Romania, with special focus on the situation of the 1.8 million-strong historic Hungarian minority. He also urged them to stay engaged with Eastern and Central Europe, as any lack of interest and engagement would adversely affect U.S. policy interests in the region.
On June 15th, Bishop László Tőkés met with a large group of Hungarian Americans in the Kossuth House. After a short overview of missed opportunities since 1989 for the Hungarian nation’s reunification with Europe, he expressed hope that with new Hungarian leadership, a new chapter of Hungarian cooperation will begin. Quoting the theme of his recent campaign for election to the European Parliament – “Union, with Transylvania!” – Bishop Tőkés stressed the importance of all 27 recently elected Hungarian EP members (22 from Hungary, 3 from Romania and 2 from Slovakia) working together to achieve the long-term interests of all Hungarians in Europe. “The time has come to serve the single most important Hungarian cause – to gain the rights to local self-government for all Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin.”