On June 12, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation hosted a historic event attended by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and many other distinguished participants from Capitol Hill and Washington’s diplomatic corps. The wreath-laying ceremony at the Victims of Communism Memorial featured speakers: Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI); Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH); Rep. Steve King (R-IA); Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV); Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY); Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and former Rep. Don Ritter (R-PA). Each speaker recalled the terrible human cost of decades of communist rule in Europe and Asia, and paid tribute to Congressman Lantos’ unwavering opposition to totalitarianism.
California Congressman Tom Lantos, who passed away on February 11, 2008, was awarded the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom posthumously during the ceremony. The Medal is given to individuals who have demonstrated a lifelong commitment to freedom and democracy and opposition to Communism and tyranny.
Previous Medal of Freedom recipients include: Vytautas Landsbergis, Lech Walesa; Vaclav Havel; Viktor Orban; Elena Bonner; Pope John Paul II; William F. Buckley, Jr.; Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson; Sen. Joseph Lieberman; Janos Horvath; and Tran Van Ba.
Edith K. Lauer, HAC Chair Emeritus and Board Member of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, presented the award to Congressman Lantos’ wife, Annette Lantos. In presenting the award, Ms. Lauer made the following remarks:
“István Széchenyi, a 19th century Hungarian statesman/visionary wrote: »Man values his freedom most when he is no longer free, or, when he has gained it through endless sacrifice.« Congressman Tom Lantos truly valued his freedom. He referred to himself as »an American by choice.« His fervent patriotism for his adopted country can only be truly understood by those of us who found the warm welcome and true promise of America after escaping the tragedy in our own homeland… After his election to Congress in 1980, Tom Lantos founded the Human Rights Caucus, to provide a public platform for Congressional examination of human rights violations across the globe. The significance of those Caucus hearings cannot be overstated: for those who suffered Soviet oppression and feared for their life, this was often the only hope for survival or eventual change… He repeatedly called for the respect of the human rights of the millions of ethnic Hungarians living as historic minorities in neighboring countries, in Romania, Slovakia, and Serbia… In 2006, on the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Revolution, he proudly recalled the Revolution as »the quintessential rise of human spirit against tyranny.«”
Ms. Lauer ended her tribute with these words: “Today, when the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation awards the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom posthumously to Congressman Tom Lantos, we honor a man whose lifelong commitment to freedom and human rights and passionate opposition to oppression all over the world can certainly be stated to have hastened the ultimate fall of Communism. For that and much more, we remember Tom Lantos with our deepest respect and gratitude.”
The ceremony marks the first anniversary of the dedication of the Victims of Communism Memorial. During the 2007 event, Tom Lantos joined President George W. Bush and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher as dedication speakers before an international crowd of nearly one thousand. Dr. Lee Edwards, Chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, who led the effort to establish the Memorial, reaffirmed his and the Foundation’s commitment to continue working toward the creation of a virtual Global Museum of Communism, and eventually a bricks-and-mortar museum to “honor the more than 100 million people who died under Communism.”
Following the ceremony, Ambassadors of formerly Communist countries were joined by leaders of numerous American-based ethnic groups in laying wreaths at the Victims of Communism Memorial. Attendees then walked to the nearby Georgetown University Law Center to preview the online Global Museum on Communism, to be launched in January 2009. In addition to educating current and future generations about the history, philosophy and legacy of Communism, the Global Museum will also monitor human rights violations and other crimes of Communist regimes in China, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea.
The Hungarian American Coalition is proud to be a major partner in this significant program.