Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks on Signing the Captive Nations Week Proclamation

July 19, 1982

I heard all that applause that you were getting. I almost didn't come out. [Laughter]

Six weeks ago when I visited our friends and allies in Europe, I found a warm response to this nation's call for a global campaign for freedom. Our straightforward criticism of totalitarian regimes and our willingness to promote the ideals of individual liberty and representative government struck a responsive chord among Europeans and, I believe, many other millions of people around the globe. Yet, even as I expressed our confidence that the ideals of freedom and the aspiration of self-government would ultimately triumph over those who wish to subordinate the individual to the state, I was confronted with the hard evidence of just how difficult this struggle will be.

In Berlin, a gray, grim monument of steel and stone stands as a reminder of those whose self-proclaimed goal is the domination of every nation on Earth. The tragedy of our time is that this goal has been so widely achieved. Throughout the Baltic States, Eastern Europe and Asia, now in Africa and Latin America, nation after nation has fallen prey to an ideology that seeks to stifle all that's good about the human spirit, even as it attempts to justify Communist rule.

This extension of totalitarianism has not come about through popular movement or free elections. It's been accomplished instead by military force, or by subversion practiced by a tiny revolutionary cadre whose only real ideal is the will to power.

It hasn't meant, as promised, a new classless society or the dictatorship of the proletariat. It has, instead, meant forced labor and mass imprisonment, famine and massacre, the police state and the knock on the door in the night. And it's also meant the growth of the largest military empire in the history of the world, an empire whose territorial ambition has sparked a wasteful arms race and whose ideological obsession remains the single greatest peril to peace among the nations.

The ominous growth of this danger, the human suffering that it's caused, is clearly the most important news event of our generation. And it is, as I've said, the tragedy of our time.

In 1959 the Congress of the United States, spurred on by the ruthless and bloody attack in 1956 on the free Hungarian Government, first decided to commemorate the heroism and fortitude of those living in nations in which the right of self-determination has been denied. Today, in this Captive Nations proclamation, and at this first public signing of this proclamation, we keep faith with this tradition and with those to whom it is intended to give hope and moral substance.

Today we, as a nation, also remind ourselves of the preciousness of our own freedom, renew our sacred resolve that someday all the people of the Earth will enjoy the God-given rights of free men and women. We renew especially our hope that those countries of Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America now under Communist domination will someday regain their national sovereignty and, again, enjoy the dignity of their own national traditions.

Since that first Captive Nations resolution passed by the Congress, we've seen equally distressing examples of the assault on the human spirit. The independent people of Afghanistan are giving their lives resisting aggression of the bloodiest kind, and, again, in Poland, the suppression of the rights of Polish workers, the imprisonment of the leaders of Solidarity. All of this, sustained and directed by Soviet military might, is another tragic chapter in the quest of the Polish people for freedom and national sovereignty.

We in the West must do more than merely decry attacks on human freedom. The nature of this struggle is ultimately one that will be decided not by military might, but by spiritual resolve and confidence in the future of freedom, especially in the face of the decaying and crumbling dreams of Marxism-Leninism.

Lenin advocated resorting to all sorts of stratagems, artifices, maneuvers, illegal methods, evasions, and subterfuges. Well, we in the West have at our command weapons far more potent than deceit and subterfuge. We have the power of truth-truth that can reach past the stone and steel walls of the police state and create campaigns for freedom and coalitions for peace in Communist countries.

How long can one simple fact be ignored or overlooked: that only the totalitarian states mark their borders with walls and barbed wire to keep their people from feeling—or fleeing, I should say, the "workers' paradise."

Some months ago I received a letter from Solidarity leaders who were in the free world during the crackdown by the ruling military junta. These leaders pointed out that totalitarian regimes can be "eroded only from within by nonviolent, popular pressure. Our Polish experience shows how efficient such a drive for change can be. Our adversary is fully aware that our resistance cannot be sustained without a free flow of information and ideas."

Well, these leaders went on to say, "We appeal to you for the same appreciation of the power of ideas and the effectiveness of broadcasting as their carrier. In the long run it may prove to be the least expensive and the most effective option at your disposal." Well, today let me make it clear that we intend to move forward consistent with budgetary requirements with a program to modernize our primary means of international communication, our international radio system.

In carrying out this vital element in our forward strategy for freedom, we'll be redeeming a pledge I made to the American people during the campaign, a pledge deeply felt at the time and deeply felt today. This plan of modernization for a relatively modest expenditure over a number of years will make it easier for millions of people living under Communist rule to hear the truth about the struggle for the world going on today between the forces of totalitarianism and freedom.

The sad fact is that the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and Radio Liberty have been neglected for many years. Their equipment is old and deteriorating, their programing resources strained. Little has been done to counter the jamming that has intensified in recent years. The Soviets, I think you should know, spend three to four times more to jam foreign broadcasts than we spend to transmit them. And somebody—we can only speculate as to their identity—perpetrated a devastating bombing of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty's headquarters last year.

I want to extend my appreciation to the Congress for agreeing recently to reorganize the management of these international broadcasting channels. And I especially want to urge them today to approve the funds so desperately needed to bring to the people of Cuba, through Radio Marti, the truth about the struggle between freedom and totalitarianism.

We can fully appreciate the fear of those who don't want the truth to reach the people of the Communist world, those who are willing to violate flagrantly the Helsinki agreements or even to engage in terrorist violence to stifle the truth—for the events in Poland during the last 2 years show that when given air time and a little breathing space, the truth becomes a powerful weapon, one which even the most repressive police states must fear.

We're confident that in Poland, in Afghanistan, and in all the captive nations the forces of totalitarianism have won only a temporary, fleeting victory. Against the appeal of democratic ideas, against the hunger and thirst of men and women who would be free, the threat of martial law, imprisonment, or any of the other artful forms of repression can never win lasting triumph.

In an interview that was published here before his imprisonment, Lech Walesa spoke of "the wheat that can grow on the stones," of how brutal repression only seems to strengthen the hope and hunger of those who long for freedom. He said, "Our souls contain exactly the contrary of what they wanted. They want us, the Communist rulers, not to believe in God, and our churches are full. They wanted us to be materialistic and incapable of sacrifices. We are antimaterialistic and capable of sacrifice. They wanted us to be afraid of tanks and of the guns. And instead, we do not fear them at all."

The love of liberty, the fire of freedom burns on in Poland just as it burns on among all the peoples of the captive nations. To the leaders of Solidarity, to the people of Poland, to all those who are denied freedom, we send a message today: Your cause is not lost. You are not forgotten. Your quest for freedom lives on in your hearts and in our hearts. God willing, we will see a day when we shall speak together of the joys of freedom and of the wheat that grows on stones.

Now, I better—

Audience member. Mr. President?

The President. What?

Audience member. "God Bless America"—will you sing it with us?

The President. You will have to start.

[The President joined the group in singing "God Bless America."]

Thank you. Thank you very much.

Now, I'm going to sign this before you all catch cold. [Laughter]

[The President signed the proclamation.]

Thank you all. Thank you very much. Now get in the shade.

Note: The President spoke at 11:45 a.m. at the signing ceremony 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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