Lantos on Communism and Putin

US Representative Tom Lantos has long been one of the strongest and most outspoken western lawmakers when it comes to standing up for democracy and individual freedoms around the world. Lantos, a Democrat and now the chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, is a Holocaust survivor who later fled the Communist takeover of Hungary. In the past few days, Lantos has had several opportunities to turn up the heat even by his own fiery standards.

On June 12 in Washington DC, the 20th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s famous “tear down this wall” speech, Lantos, along with President Bush, attended the unveiling of the city’s first-ever memorial to the victims of communism. It took a nearly two decades for the idea for such a monument to be approved and constructed. It is a replica of the “Goddess Democracy” statue carved by Chinese students and displayed during the Tienanmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989. It is largely the result of the initiative of Lee Edwards, who many years ago stated “communism should be defeated, not simply contained.” The support of Lantos was instrumental in helping the monument project become reality. In his extemporaneous comments at the unveiling, Lantos harshly criticized various European leaders for failing to stand up to “totalitarian evil.” He reserved special anger for former German Chancellor Gerhardt Schröder “for taking big checks from Putin” after he left office to take a job running the natural gas pipeline whose development he supported as Chancellor. He referred to Schröder as a “political prostitute,” which would seem harsh if it weren’t entirely accurate.

Today, in an interview with Reuters, Lantos moved Vladimir Putin in the center of his sights. He compared Putin with the cartoon character Popeye, saying, “They’re eating the spinach of petroleum revenues, and the billions are flowing into the Kremlin, and with every billion … Putin’s muscles bulge more powerfully.” Lantos also referred to Putin’s threat to re-target Russian missiles against Europe as “incredibly stupid.” Mr. Lantos may be the least political of politicians. He’s correct, passionate, unabashed, and refreshingly to the point. Bravo!