Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks on Signing the Captive Nations Week Proclamation

July 13, 1988

Well, honored guests and fellow Americans, today we mark the 30th commemoration of Captive Nations Week. Just 9 days ago, as America celebrated Independence Day, we reaffirmed the universal ideal on which this country is founded: a vision of liberty not just for one nation but for all nations. As Americans we speak out; we work for the freedom of others. And in doing so we remember who we are, what we have, and what America stands for in the world. For we know that to stop striving for the freedom of other nations could soon bring our own freedom into question.

Some years ago, two friends of mine were talking to a refugee from Communist Cuba. He had escaped from Castro. And as he told the story of his horrible experiences, one of my friends turned to the other and said, "We don't know how lucky we are." And the Cuban stopped and said, "How lucky you are? I had some place to escape to."

Well, in the 20th century, we've witnessed nation after nation fall captive to a foreign power and an alien ideology. The tragic fate of these captive nations was foretold by Lenin with this simple instruction. He said: "The interests of Socialism are above the right of nations to self-determination." Well, from that belief came the forcible occupation of the Baltic States and other lands; the subjugation of central Europe; the crushing of the Berlin uprising of 1953; the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and Afghanistan in 1979; the repression of Poland's Solidarity and of the people of Bulgaria and Romania; and the cruel Communist domination of Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Angola, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, and others.

But the tide has been turned. Despite decades of suffering, the will to freedom is alive. It has survived its tormentors. It will outlast the Communists. And truly, I can think of no time in my adult life when the prospects for freedom were brighter than they are today. The free world is strong and confident. The Communist idea is discredited and around the world new progressive forces are emerging as political change and liberation sweep the globe. America will continue to encourage the movement toward freedom, democracy, and reform by holding firm to our principles and speaking openly and truthfully about human rights and the fundamental moral difference between freedom and communism. And America shall light the path as the whole world climbs out of the dark abyss of tyranny to freedom.

And within the Soviet bloc there are hopeful signs. Just last week, a Soviet official speaking here at a conference on Eastern Europe said that "The Brezhnev doctrine is completely unacceptable and unthinkable," citing "the principles of sovereignty, noninterference, and mutual respect." Well, these are encouraging words that we hope will be proved true through deeds. There are few developments that would be more compelling than true self-determination for central Europe. I've spoken previously of how the Soviets can send that message very easily: Let them tear down the Berlin wall! And while America applauds the changes we are witnessing, the standards remain unchanged. And these are not standards arbitrarily applied from outside but what the Soviets themselves have formally agreed to. We continue to insist on full implementation of the Helsinki accords and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

When I was in Moscow, one of the most moving experiences I had was when I met with a group of Soviet dissidents. They told me their remarkable stories. And I said to them that while we press for human rights through diplomatic channels, they press with their very lives, day in, day out, year after year—risking their jobs, their homes, their all. Last month I received a letter from a group of dissidents in the Soviet Union. "Mr. President," they wrote, "We can hardly envisage the struggle for human rights without a struggle for the national rights of nations. And as today, so in the future, the freedom of nations is one of the main guarantees for human rights. We are convinced that true history is not written on paper but in the hearts of people, and the good Lord reads these."

Well, yes, true history is written in the hearts of people, and today, around the world, anti-Communist freedom fighters are making history and defining the direction of change for the entire world. The Afghan freedom fighters are authors of one of the great moments in human history, a symbol and an inspiration to freedom fighters everywhere. By standing with the Mujahidin as they fight for an independent and undivided Afghanistan, we're reaffirming our own belief in liberty and the indivisibility of freedom in this world.

I recently met in the White House with Jonas Savimbi, the leader of the UNITA forces that control much of Angola against a Communist regime propped up by over 40,000 Cuban troops. I am proud to say that the brave UNITA fighters have our support.

In Cambodia, we support the anti-Communist forces as they seek the total withdrawal of Vietnamese troops. And we'll work with democratic forces to prevent the murderous Khmer Rouge from taking power.

And close to our own country, the Nicaraguan resistance is fighting a battle against communism that may foretell the future of freedom south of our border. Dr. Henry Zelaya left his medical work in the United States 3 1/2 years ago to return to Nicaragua to fight with and give medical care to the resistance. He said, "Central America is not the target. We're just a stepping stone." He said, "If we are afraid to face the Communists in Central America now, we will have to face them again later." The doctor is with us here today. And again I say to the Congress: Isn't it time we give freedom fighters in our own hemisphere the same consistent support we give to others in distant lands?

Now, as you may recall, on this occasion last year, I spoke of Petro Ruban, a prisoner in one of the most notorious of the Soviet gulags. In 1976 the Ukrainian Helsinki monitor fashioned a wooden replica of our Statue of Liberty to be a gift to America on our Bicentennial, and for that he was taken away. Later he was arrested again for criticizing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and for demanding that his young son, who was crippled in an accident, be permitted to come to America for medical treatment.

Well, last January his son, Marko, was permitted to come here for medical treatment. When Marko got off the plane, his first words in his new country were, "I want to be able to stand on my own two feet." In his hands he held something that he had labored on during the long plane trip from the Soviet Union. The boy whose father had been imprisoned for making a Statue of Liberty had embroidered Lady Liberty onto a towel. And I'm happy to be able to tell you that Petro Ruban was released from prison and just last night arrived in this country to be reunited with his family. Petro and Marko are with us here.

I have been told by Natan Scharanskiy, Armando Valladares, and others, that the words we speak in America and the words we broadcast around the world can be heard in the closed societies and remote dungeons of the Communist world. I want to say to the men and women within the captive nations who labor for truth and freedom that the American people hear you as well. We follow your struggle. We see your writings. We remember you in our prayers. We watch what happens to you. And whether it's Poland's Solidarity or Czechoslovakia's Charter 77, the Jazz Section, or Association of Friends with the United States, or Hungary's Free Democratic Union of Scientific Workers, or the Helsinki monitors, or many others, I can tell you, you're not forgotten.

When we look around the world, to Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America, we find that the bonds of language, faith, and kinship have not been replaced by a new order built on class struggle. The yearning for national independence has not been extinguished by the totalitarian state, and the tide of history has been revealed to all mankind to be a rising tide of freedom and national liberation.

On behalf of Vice President Bush and myself, this pledge we make to you, to all the peoples of the captive nations around the world: America will never forget your plight, and we will never cease to speak the truth. Your struggle is our struggle; your dream is our dream. And one day you will be free.

Thank you, and God bless you.

And now I'll sign the proclamation.

Now, let's all get in the shade. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 1:20 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks on Signing the Captive Nations Week Proclamation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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