For years, he worked tirelessly to tell the stories of the courage shown — and horrors endured — by the tens of millions who lived and died under tyrannical regimes. He honored those who resisted, those who were silenced and those whose names never would be known to the wider world.
Now, though, Heritage Foundation scholar Lee Edwards is the one being saluted. And it’s gratifying to see the plaudits aren’t only from friends and allies in the conservative movement, but the peoples of former communist nations.
In recognition of his decade-long efforts to create the Victims of Communism Memorial, Edwards is slated to receive Lithuania’s prestigious medal for foreign citizens, the Millennium Star, from Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas in a ceremony tonight in Washington. Then, on July 22, Edwards will receive the Walter Judd Freedom Award from the Fund for American Studies in appreciation of his “lifetime dedication to advancing the cause of freedom around the world.”
The two awards are the latest in a series of accolades for Edwards, the distinguished fellow in conservative thought at The Heritage Foundation, as the driving force in making the Victims of Communism Memorial a reality in Washington.
Earlier this spring, Estonian President Toomas Ilves presented Edwards with the Cross of Terra Mariana. In February, he received both the John M. Ashbrook Award and the Reed Irvine Accuracy in Media Award during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
Estonia and Lithuania, both Baltic states, gained independence in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The nations now rank No. 12 and No. 26, respectively, among the world’s freest economies, according to the 2008 Index of Economic Freedom published by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal.
The Victims of Communism Memorial, modeled after the statue created by Chinese students in 1989 before the Tiananmen Square massacre, stands at the intersection of Massachusetts and New Jersey avenues in Northwest Washington.
Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., a key supporter of the memorial as a Hungarian immigrant who had lived under communist rule, spoke last year at the dedication. Lantos died in February.
The memorial now represents the beginning of a larger mission, Edwards said at a gathering June 12 to mark the first anniversary of the dedication.
“You and I know there has been no greater threat to freedom in our lifetime than communism. But many people do not,” Edwards told the crowd. “And so [we have] undertaken to educate this generation and future generations about the history, philosophy and legacy of communism. We cannot, we must not, we will not fail in our mission.” Edwards conceived the idea of the memorial and worked to secure the necessary permits and financial and political support. He serves as chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
President Bush, speaking at the dedication on June 12, 2007, praised the perseverance of Edwards and others inspired by his passion to memorialize the more than 100 million victims of communism worldwide. “They faced setbacks and challenges along the way, yet they never gave up,” Bush said, “because in their hearts, they heard the voices of the fallen crying out: ‘Remember us.’”
Edwards was to receive the medal from Lithuania at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel, 1127 Connecticut Avenue NW. The mission of the Fund for American Studies, founded in 1967, is to instill in young leaders the values of freedom, democracy and free-market economies. Its event saluting Edwards is scheduled for noon July 22 at the Four Seasons Hotel, 2800 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Georgetown. Previous recipients of the Judd Award include Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., National Review founder and author William F. Buckley Jr., former U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Heritage President Edwin J. Feulner.
A prolific writer and historian of the conservative movement, Edwards is the author of 15 books, including biographies of Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater, a history of Heritage, and the recent “Reading the Right Books: A Guide for the Intelligent Conservative.”