BY JOHN FUND — The celebration of Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday on Sunday was marked by a video tribute during the Super Bowl along with extravaganzas held at both the Reagan Library and Reagan Ranch near here. But that’s only the beginning of the many events to be held this year to mark the Gipper’s centennial.
A Reagan statue will be raised at the Washington, D.C., airport that bears his name. The National Archives is hosting a display of Reagan memorabilia. And a new stamp will be unveiled in his honor Thursday.
Some of the celebrations won’t be held in America but rather in Eastern European countries where many people credit Reagan with playing a key role in their liberation from communism. “A good number of people we’re dealing with were in prison or threatened during Reagan’s presidency,” says John Heubusch, executive director of the Reagan Presidential Foundation. “They’re very emotional about this.”
I met several of those people at Sunday’s birthday gathering at the Reagan Library. Balazs Bokor, Hungary’s consul general in Los Angeles, regaled me with tales of his country’s plans. They include a major international conference on Reagan’s role in world affairs, the unveiling of a statue and a proclamation in his honor. Prague also plans to build a statue, while Krakow is preparing a special Catholic mass to honor both Reagan and Pope John Paul, his partner in anti-communism. In addition, Grosvenor Square, the current site of the U.S. Embassy in London, will see a statue raised in Reagan’s honor.
“Ronald Reagan was a figure who inspired many in Eastern Europe to hope they would someday be free,” says Horst Schakat, a former political prisoner in East Germany who now lives in California. “When he said the Soviet Union was an ‘evil empire,’ that resonated with so many average people in Eastern Europe while at the same time unnerving their illegitimate leaders.”