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Remarks to Citizens in Riga

July 06, 1994

Today we celebrate a moment of renewal. Today we remember your courage. Today we rejoice, for only one force rules in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and that force is freedom. Thank you, President Ulmanis, for your gracious words and your warm welcome to this beautiful capital. And my thanks, also, to President Meri and President Brazauskas for your contribution to this historic event. To the people of these lands, to those gathered in this square, to those listening or watching from afar, to all who have kept the faith, I am deeply honored to stand before you, the first President of the United States to set foot on free Baltic soil.

Today we remember, we remember an August day just 5 years ago when the peoples of your nation joined hands in common cause. From Tallinn to Vilnius, a million strong, you reached across the boundaries of fear. And here in this square, sheltered by the Freedom Monument, that human chain found its center. You showed the peoples of the world the power of the Baltic way.

Now today, I stand with you here. And on behalf of all Americans, I proudly take a place in that unbroken chain for freedom. The chain stretches back to your grandparents exiled to the wastelands of Siberia, many never to return; back to your fathers, men who took to the forests to resist the occupying troops; and to you, who took up their cause, stood vigil over the bonfires of liberty, and sang the songs of independence; and to those in all generations who gave their very lives for freedom.

Vabadus! Laisves! Briviba! Freedom! No matter what the language, it is the link that unites the peoples of our nations, Estonian, Lithuanian, Latvian, and American. No matter the century, no matter the invader, you have proved that freedom never dies when it lives in the hearts of men and women. You have taught us never to give up. You have inspired the world. And America has kept faith with you. For 50 years we refused to recognize the occupation of your nation. Your flag flew in our capital. Many of your countrymen and women sought refuge on our shores. Now some have returned to serve their homelands, while others remain to keep your spirit alive all across America. The chain that binds our nations is unbreakable.

We marvel at your strength and your reborn independence. But we know also that many of you face hardship and uncertainty in your daily lives, for the path of reform is not always smooth. Yet America calls on you to hold fast to that path, to seize this moment of renewal, to redeem the struggles of your ancestors, to extend the chain of freedom so that it reaches across generations to your children and beyond.

And as you return to Europe's fold, we will stand with you. We will help you. We will help you to restore your land, to bring new markets to light, to find prosperity for all your people. And we will rejoice with you when the last of the foreign troops vanish from your homelands. We will be partners for peace. Our soldiers, the new Baltic battalion among them, will join together to bring security to a new Europe. We will be partners so that your nation can be forever free.

I come from a nation of people drawn from all around the world, a nation of many, many peoples who once were bitter enemies, but who now live together as friends. In your homeland, as in America, there will always live among you people of different backgrounds. Today I appeal to you to summon what my Nation's greatest healer, Abraham Lincoln, called "the better angels of our nature," to never deny to others the justice and equality you fought so hard for and earned for yourselves. For freedom without tolerance is freedom unfulfilled.

The shining figure of liberty stands guard here today, and the spirit of your peoples fills the air and brings joy to our hearts. We hear the songs of freedom that have echoed across the centuries. We see the flames that lit your way to independence. We feel the courage that will keep the chain of freedom alive.

May the memories of this day linger. May the spirit of the Baltic souls soar. May the strong sense of freedom never fade. So, in the name of the free people of the United States of America, I say to the free people of the Baltic nations: Let freedom ring. Vabadus! Laisves! Briviba! Freedom!

NOTE: The President spoke at approximately 2:45 p.m. in Freedom Square.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to Citizens in Riga Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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