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Remarks to the Federal Assembly in Prague, Czechoslovakia

November 17, 1990

President Havel, thank you, sir, for greeting us with such warmth today. And to Chairman Dubcek, thank you, sir, for that really warm and generous introduction. May I salute the Prime Ministers of the Czech and Slovak Republics; the Members of the Assembly; and most of all, the people of Czechoslovakia. It is an honor for me, the first American President ever to visit your country, to bring you the greetings of the American people on this, the first anniversary of Czechoslovakia's return to freedom.

One year ago today, in the streets and squares of this city, the people of Prague gathered, first by twos and threes, and then by thousands -- in the night air, an autumn chill; in their minds, memories of a spring 20 years past. The Velvet Revolution had begun.

That revolution succeeded without a single shot. Your weapons proved far superior to any in the state's arsenal. In the face of force, you deployed the power of principle. Against a wall of lies, you advanced the truth. Out of a thousand acts of courage, Czech and Slovak, emerged a single voice. Its message: The time had come to bring freedom home to Czechoslovakia.

Your revolution was also a renewal: a renewal of the deeply held principles that bind my country, the United States of America, to yours; principles enshrined in your Declaration of Independence, issued in the United States in 1918 by Tomas Masaryk, your first President, and Milan Stafanik, proud Slovak patriot; principles inspired by the ringing words of our own Thomas Jefferson more than two centuries ago.

In my homeland, those principles were put into practice when we adopted our Constitution and its Bill of Rights. And last night, I carried copies of those documents as we flew from Washington to Prague, copies that I guess were passed out to you as you came in today. And during this historic time, as you consider the adoption of your own federal system and bill of rights, I offer them to you in friendship, for the common principles and common bonds our peoples have long shared.

Generations of Americans, Czechs, and Slovaks sustained these common bonds. In the battle to defeat Nazi tyranny, America stood with the courageous Czech and Slovak partisans fighting for freedom. Through the long dark decades after 1948, we, like you, refused to accept Europe's division. Through Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America, we held aloft the ideal of truth, and we spoke a common language of hope.

At long last, the grip of the dictators weakened; Czechoslovakia seized its chance to rise up, to reclaim your rights as a free people and as a sovereign nation.

Today, as fellow citizens of free governments, we share the fruits of our common resolve. Europe, East and West, stands at the threshold of a new era: an era of peace, prosperity, and security unparalleled in the long history of this continent. Today Europe's long division is ending. Today, once more, Czechoslovakia is free.

Czechoslovakia's revolution is over, but its renaissance has just begun. Your work and ours is far from complete. Your nation, like your neighbors to the north and south, faces the unprecedented task of building a stable, democratic rule and a prosperous market economy on the ruins of totalitarianism. I am here today to say that we will not fail you in this decisive moment. America will stand with you to that end.

America stands ready to help Czechoslovakia realize the progress and prosperity now within reach. Today our two countries will conclude agreements giving Czechoslovakia the fullest access to American markets, American investment, and American technology. To help unleash the creativity and drive of the Czechs and Slovak people, I will urge our Congress to authorize a $60-million Czechoslovak-American Enterprise Fund. In addition, to help build your private sector, the United States will extend prompt economic assistance from the $370 million now committed to central and eastern Europe for the coming year.

We also welcome the active involvement of the American private sector. I am pleased to see that yesterday your government entered into a promising, multimillion-dollar joint venture with Bell Atlantic and U.S. West to modernize your country's communications network. I am sure this will be the first of many large-scale investments in the future of a free Czechoslovakia.

In response to this region's severe energy problems, we expect the IMF -- at our initiative -- to lend up to $5 billion in 1991 to central and eastern Europe, and the World Bank will commit an additional $9 billion over the next 3 years.

In addition to these economic initiatives, we seek to renew the free and open exchange denied our peoples for so many years. I am pleased to announce the reopening of the American consulate in Bratislava in the Republic of Slovakia and, just yesterday, the selection of a site for our new cultural center in Prague. Our newly established International Media Fund promises to contribute expertise and encouragement to your nation's free and independent media. And I am gratified that your government and my country's Institute for East-West Security Studies will soon open a European Studies Center in Stirin, an important partnership of the intellect between European and American scholars.

And let me say once again: Prague should be the home to the permanent Secretariat of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. In Paris, I am confident that I will find unanimous support for this initiative. It is right that this city, once on the fault line of cold war and conflict, now at the heart of the new and united Europe, play a central role as the CSCE seeks to expand the frontiers of freedom in Europe.

At the Paris summit of the CSCE, the nations of North America and Europe will sign historic documents: a treaty to provide deep reductions in conventional armed forces in Europe, a CSCE summit declaration charting the future role of CSCE in ending Europe's division. The Atlantic alliance, the foundation of European stability, has pledged itself to the same goal.

Working together, we can fulfill the promise of a Europe that reaches its democratic destiny, a Europe that is truly whole and free. But this continent's reconciliation is only part of the larger vision for our world, a vision which I ask you to share.

Let me draw on the life and writings of the gentleman that is sitting over my right shoulder, President Havel -- let me draw on those just to make my point. Several years ago, Mr. Havel wrote about the Western visitors who came to see your so-called dissidents, asking how they could help your cause. He wondered about that question, wondered why visitors from the West couldn't see that your cause was their cause, too. Mr. Havel wrote, and I quote: "Are not my dim prospects or my hopes his dim prospects and hopes as well? Is not the destruction of humans in Prague a destruction of all humans? Is not indifference to what is happening here a preparation for the same kind of misery elsewhere?"

Dissident Havel -- now President Havel -- spoke then of a shared destiny, spoke out of a sure sense that the fate of all mankind is linked. Czechs and Slovaks understand this vision and the challenge. For half a century, your struggle for freedom was cut short not by one but by two of the cruelest tyrannies history has ever known. You know what it means to live under regimes whose vision of world order holds no place for freedom. As heirs of Jan Hus, whose statue stands just a few blocks from us, as countrymen of Comenius, the son of Moravia, whose name graces your great University of Bratislava, you have always looked to the far horizon to take your bearings from principles that are universal. As small nations, whose very existence demands constant vigilance, you have always understood that your future depends not only on your own heroic actions here but on the broader principles that govern the greater world in which you live. We must recognize that no people, no continent, can stand alone, secure unto itself. Our fates, our futures are intertwined.

That, you see, is why Europe's celebration of freedom brings with it a new responsibility. Now that democracy has proven its power, Europe has both the opportunity and the challenge to join us in leadership, to work with us in common cause towards this new commonwealth of freedom.

This commonwealth rests on shared principles, upon four cornerstones that constitute our common values: an unshakable belief in the dignity and rights of man and the conviction that just government derives its power from the people, the belief that men and women everywhere must be free to enjoy the fruits of their labor and that the rule of law must govern the conduct of nations.

The United States welcomes the new democracies of central and eastern Europe fully into the commonwealth of freedom, a moral community united in its dedication to free ideals. We wish to encourage the Soviet Union to go forward with their reforms, as difficult as the course may seem. They will find our community ready to welcome them and to help them as they, too, commit themselves to this commonwealth of freedom.

Every new nation that embraces these common values, every new nation that joins the ranks of this commonwealth of freedom, advances us one step closer to a new world order, a world in which the use of force gives way to a shared respect for the rule of law. This new world will be incomplete without a vision that extends beyond the boundaries of Europe alone. Now that unity is within reach in Europe is no time for our vision of change to stop at the edge of this continent.

The principles guiding our two nations, the principles at work in our two revolutions, are not Czech or Slovak or American alone. These principles are universal, rooted in the love of liberty and the rights of man.

Now, after four decades of conflict and cold war, we are entering an era of great promise; and yet our freedom, the freedom of people everywhere, remains under threat from regimes for whom the rights of man and rule of law mean nothing. And that is why our response to the challenge in the Persian Gulf is critical. The current crisis there is a warning to America as well as to Europe that we cannot turn inward, somehow isolate ourselves from global challenges. Iraq's brutal aggression against Kuwait is a rude reminder that none of us can remain secure when aggression remains unchecked.

I have this feeling in my heart that no peoples understand better what is at stake in the Gulf than Czechs and Slovaks. You know from your own bitter experience that the world cannot turn a blind eye to aggression. You know the futility and vain hope that aggressors can be appeased. You know the tragic consequences when nations confronted with aggression choose to tell themselves it is no concern of theirs, just a "quarrel in a faraway country between a people of whom we know nothing."

We Americans, too, have learned. We know the costs, to ourselves and to the whole of Europe, of our isolationism after the First World War. We know that America must resist the temptation to consider our work complete. We must remain committed to the cause of freedom in the world.

And more and more, the Soviet Union is demonstrating its commitment to act as a constructive force for international stability. More and more, the United Nations is functioning as its creators intended it: free from the ideological confrontation that frustrated collective action, rendered impotent the peacekeeping function of that body.

From this first crisis of the post-cold-war era comes an historic opportunity: the opportunity to draw upon the great and growing strength of the commonwealth of freedom and forge for all nations a new world order far more stable and secure than any we have known.

Today I am very proud to join Czechoslovakia as it celebrates a year in freedom. I salute you for your courage and your vision, for all that you have endured, and for all you are destined to achieve. And I challenge you, as you take your rightful place in the center of Europe, to look beyond the confines of this continent to join with your neighbors in Europe and in North America to build a true commonwealth of freedom so that the peace and prosperity you seek -- the peace and prosperity we shall share -- will be the peace and prosperity of all mankind.

Once again, thank you for this warm welcome, and may God bless the people of Czechoslovakia.

Note: The President spoke at 12:36 p.m. in the Federal Assembly Hall. In his remarks, he referred to Alexander Dubcek, Chairman of the Federal Assembly.

George Bush, Remarks to the Federal Assembly in Prague, Czechoslovakia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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