Bill Clinton photo

Remarks in a Town Meeting With Russian Citizens in Moscow

January 14, 1994

The President. Thank you, Alexander Nikolaiovich, for that introduction, for your lifetime of accomplishment, and your support for free speech and for reform.

I am deeply honored to be here today at this station, which has become for all the world a beacon of information and truth. Attacked 3 months ago by opponents of reform, Ostankino stands as a symbol of the power of free expression and of the brave sacrifices the Russian people have been making to build a great and free future.

I'm so glad there are many young people here, and I hope there are many, many more watching us on television, because it is the future of the youth of Russia that I wish to speak about. Once every generation or two, all great nation's must stop and think about where they are in time. They must regenerate themselves. They must imagine their future in a new way. Your generation has come of age at one of those moments.

Yesterday I walked through Moscow. I stopped at a bakery and bought some bread. I went into another shop and talked to the people there. I talked with an awful lot of people on the street. I went to Kazan Cathedral and lit a candle in memory of my mother. It is a cathedral which, like Russia itself, has been built anew on old foundations.

Over the centuries, the Russian people have shown their greatness in many ways: in the arts and literature, on the battlefield, in the university, and in space. Though the Communist system suppressed human rights and human initiative and repressed your neighbors and brought the world the cold war, still the greatness of the Russian people shone through.

Now on the brink of the 21st century, your nation is being called upon once again to redefine its greatness in terms that are appropriate to the present day and to the future, in ways that will enable your nation to be strong and free and prosperous and at peace.

We live in a curious time. Modern revolutions are changing life for the better all over the world. Revolutions in information and communications and technology and production, all these things make democracy more likely. They make isolated, state-controlled economies even more dysfunctional. They make opportunities for those able to seize them more numerous and richer than ever before. And yet even in this modern world, the oldest of humanity's demons still plague us, the hatreds of people for one another based solely on their religion or their race or their ethnic backgrounds or sometimes simply on the piece of ground they happen to have been born upon.

In the midst of these conflicts between the faces and forces of tomorrow and the forces of yesterday, I believe that the greatness of nations in the 21st century will be defined not by whether they can dictate to millions and millions of people within and beyond their borders but instead by whether they can provide their citizens, without regard to their race or their gender, the opportunity to live up to the fullest of their ability, to take full advantage of the incredible things that are in the world of today and tomorrow.

Therefore, if we are to realize the greatness of Russia in the 21st century, I believe your nation must be strong democratically and economically. And in this increasingly interconnected world, you must be able to get along together and to get along with and trade with your neighbors close at hand and all around the globe. To do that, I think we will have to write an entirely new future for all of Europe, a future in which security is based not on old divisions but on the new integration of nations by means of their shared commitment to democracy, to open economies, and to peaceful military cooperation.

I come here as a friend and supporter of the democratic changes going on in this nation. I hope that my Nation and I can make a positive contribution in the spirit of genuine and equal partnership, not simply to these large changes but a positive contribution to the everyday lives of ordinary citizens of this great nation.

In the end, you will have to decide your own future. I do not presume to do that. Your future is still yours to make, yours to write, yours to shape. But I do come to say that my Nation and its President want very much to be your equal partners and genuine friends.

If I were in your place listening to this speech, I might ask myself, "Why is this guy saying this? What is on his mind? Why is he really eager to work with us?" First of all, I identify with and even sympathize with the difficulty of the changes you face. I ran for President of the United States in 1992 because I was convinced that my Nation had to make some very hard choices and some tough changes in order to keep the dream that had inspired Americans for 200 years alive, in order to keep the hopes of our working people alive in a fierce and difficult and ever-changing new global economy. So I understand that. I have devoted myself at home to making those changes, and I know the changes are difficult, even in an environment in which they are easier than the ones you face. So I come here in genuine sympathy and understanding.

Secondly, I am interested in supporting these changes because my Nation stood for so long against a Communist system, against its lack of freedom, against its excessive dictates, against its imperial impulses, and I could not bear to think that a majority of your people would ever be sorry to have given it up.

I come here because I believe that together we can write a new future for Europe and help the entire world to have a more peaceful and prosperous future. And frankly, I come here because I believe your success is clearly in the best interests of the United States and of ordinary American citizens. For it is in our interest to be able to spend less on defense and to invest more in our own people, in the education and health and welfare and technology that will help to carry us into a better time in the 21st century. It is in our interest to curb the spread of weapons of mass destruction and to cooperate with you in reducing threats to peace all around the world. It is in our interest to develop new trade ties and new customers. And each of these developments is more likely if we have a genuine, equal partnership with a strong and free Russia.

I believe how you define your future will be determined in large measure by how you decide to respond as a people to the three great challenges facing you. First, will you continue to work for a genuine market economy, or will you slow down or turn back? Second, will you continue to strengthen and deepen your commitment to democracy, or will you allow it to be restricted? And third, how will you define your role in the world as a great power? Will you define it in yesterday's terms or tomorrow's?

Let me begin with a challenge that clearly most affects the daily lives of the people of this nation, the economic one. I know that your transition to a market economy has been hard, painful, even emotionally disorienting to millions of people. But if the change seems costly, consider the price of standing still or trying to go back. A rigid, state-run economy simply does not work in the modern world.

To be sure, the system you had produced a very literate society, made some of you the best educated people in the world, developed a high-tech base and developed a strong industrial base tied quite closely to your military might. But it is inadequate to a dramatically changing, highly competitive, increasingly flexible global economy in which all decisions simply cannot be made by a handful of people from the top down and in which no country is immune from the forces without.

The old system failed before. That is why you are in the present period of transition. If you attempted to reimpose it, it would fail you again. Let me make it clear that I do not suggest that markets solve all problems. They clearly do not solve all of society's problems. And indeed, they create some problems for every society, problems which must be frankly and forthrightly addressed by people who propose to have a strong community of common interest and common concern within their nation. Yet it is clear that the surest way to prosperity in the world in which we live is the ability of people to produce and to sell high-quality goods and services both within and beyond their borders. There is no other clear path to prosperity.

Russia clearly has the capacity to do well in this kind of economy. You have enormous technological prowess, a highly educated citizenry that is known and respected around the world. You have immensely valuable natural resources. It is clear that you have the capacity to do well. You have a rapidly growing private sector. Already your nation has privatized nearly one-third of its industry. About 600 businesses a month are privatizing. Tens of millions of your people now own private property and are gaining daily experience in market economies. But there remain serious problems, the most profound, of course, is high rates of inflation.

Inflation at high rates destroys wages. It makes people feel that they can't keep up and that no matter how hard they work, they will not be rewarded for their labor. It hurts the ordinary working people, the very people that are the backbone of any society, who have to believe that the future can be better than the present. It undermines that very belief and makes it so difficult to develop and maintain a majority for the changes and the short-term sacrifices that have to be made. So inflation must be tamed. And as everyone knows, that also has its price, for inflation can only be tamed if the government is willing to print less money and therefore to spend less.

The next problem you have, it seems to me as an outside observer, is that even though you have a lot of privatization of companies, the systems on which every private economy depends are not as well-developed as they ought to be. There are not enough laws which clarify and protect contracts, which make tax systems clear, which provide, in other words, the framework within which all different kinds of transactions can occur. But that can be rather easily corrected.

There are other problems. I might just mention one other that President Yeltsin has talked about quite a lot lately and that has received a lot of attention all around the world since the last election here in Russia, and that is that your country must develop some sort of social safety net as all other successful market economies have to deal with the fact that some people are always going to have difficulties in a rapidly changing economy. Most people can be restored to participation in the economy in times of prosperity, but in any market economy there will always be people who are dislocated. So you have to have training systems, retraining systems, systems to make sure that new businesses can always be started when old businesses are stopping, and systems to deal with people who simply are not competitive in difficult times.

Now, you must determine how to do this. No one can determine how to do it for you or even whether to do it. But as your partner, I can tell you that the United States will do what we can to help to ease your hardships as you move forward on this path and do what we can to help you make the decisions that you are prepared to make.

Let me say that I think this has been, in some ways, the most difficult period of all for you because you have taken a lot of risks, you have made a lot of changes already, and yet the changes have not been felt tangibly in the lives of most ordinary citizens in the country. And that is very difficult. But I can say that just as an outside observer, it seems to me that it is likely that you will begin to see those changes.

Let me just give you a couple of examples. I asked Vice President Gore and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin to work on a program of economic cooperation in the fields of energy, the environment, and space. You have massive energy resources. If we can just get a few more things worked out, it will lead to big flows of money and investment, prosperity, and jobs into this nation.

We have reached an agreement, an unprecedented agreement, for cooperation in space. Next month, Russian cosmonauts will serve on our space shuttle. We will share our resources, share our knowledge, share our training. And we will uncover things in space and in our venture which will have direct economic benefits to the people of Russia and the people of the United States. We both have different but very significant environmental problems which require high levels of skill and technology but which generate enormous economic opportunities and large numbers of jobs. These things will come.

Secondly, last April when I met with President Yeltsin, I pledged $1.6 billion in United States aid. We have now committed all that aid, and 70 percent of the money has been spent. And I provided a map the other day which showed that it had been spent all over the country in all kinds of different ways, mostly to help you to develop a private economy. You will begin to see the benefits of that.

Just this week, the G-7 big industrial nations opened an office in this city, led by an American, for the purpose of making sure that we speed up the aid that was promised last summer but which has been coming too slowly. In September, the Congress of the United States approved another $2.5 billion aid package which can now begin to flow again to try to create jobs and opportunities and to help slow the rate of inflation in this country. So I believe that specific benefits will begin to be felt, and people will come to see that there is a light at the end of this long tunnel.

Just today we announced the signing of a contract for the purchase of highly enriched uranium, a contract which will bring another $12 billion to this nation over the next several years. And we are working hard to get assistance to the nations which buy your energy, because so many of them cannot afford to pay for it, to make sure that you can be paid in cash, promptly, as you sell your energy resources. All these things will begin to have an impact on the lives of ordinary citizens. That is something that— as someone who also has to run for election on a periodic basis, I am sensitive to that. In a democracy, if you put people in the driver's seat, they are going to drive. So it is best to give them a good road to drive on, and we are working with that.

The next great challenge Russia faces is the consolidation of democracy, and I want to say just a few words about that. Just like the market, democracy is no cure-all for all economic troubles or social strains. It is always a noisy and messy system. Our common ally in World War II, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said that, "Democracy is the worst possible form of government, except for all of the others." Why did he say that? Because the debate is so wide; the opinions are so different. And sometimes the differences are so sharp that you wonder if anything will ever be done. But democracy still offers the best guarantee of good decisionmaking and the protection of individual and minority rights.

In a society like yours and mine and throughout the multiethnic expanse of Europe, democracy offers the best hope of protecting diversity and of making diversity a source of strength, harnessing it to a world in which diversity is perhaps the overwhelming fact of life. That is why I would argue to you that each of us, in order to protect your democracy and mine, has a personal responsibility to denounce intolerance and ethnic hatred and anti-Semitism and anything that undermines the ability of everybody who lives within our national borders to be as productive as possible. Because, keep in mind, in the world in which we live, if you make any decision that deprives anybody who lives in your country of the right to live up to the fullest of their capacities, you have weakened your own ability to be free and prosperous and successful.

I might say it is also why the United States has cautioned other nations to respect the rights of ethnic Russians and other minorities within their borders. In both our nations, the success of democracy depends partly on a formal constitution and partly on regular elections and respecting those elections. But it also depends upon a full array of other free associations that give real life and texture to democracies: independent trade unions, newspapers, and a wide variety of civic and cultural associations.

If, like me, you are in a position of authority, you know that the freedom of speech can sometimes be a painful thing. Even in Roman times the great Emperor Marcus Aurelius said that the freedom of speech for someone in power was something to be endured, not enjoyed. But it is essential to democratic life that people feel free to say what they believe without fear of retaliation.

We are committed to fostering this kind of democratic ferment, and we are prepared to provide whatever kind of technical assistance we can to help it do well here. I say that because some people are concerned at the wide variety of views and the loud expression of those views we see in the Duma here after the last election. That can be a healthy thing if, but only if, everybody else's views are respected and protected too. For once democracy becomes an instrument of crushing the views of the minorities, of those who disagree, of those who don't have the muscle, then democracy itself soon disappears.

The third great challenge you face today is redefining the role of your great nation in this age: What does it mean to be a great power in this 21st century? How will you define it? How will you know Russia is a great nation? If someone asked you to describe it, looking to the future, how would you know? If someone asked you to describe it looking back in the early 1800's, you would say, "We are a great nation because we beat Napoleon and ran him out of Russia." Right? Whether you agree or disagree with the Communist system, you can say you were a great nation in the sense that you loomed large at the height of the Soviet empire with the Warsaw Pact. Great does not always mean good, but at least it's large.

How will you define your greatness? It is a profoundly important question that you must answer. I think there are some different ways to describe it. Russia cosponsored with the United States the Middle East peace process. I think it was a very great thing when Israel and the PLO signed their accord on September 13, 1993. I think it is a good thing that we are continuing to work until a comprehensive settlement is reached in that troubled area.

I think it was a great thing what we did today with the Presidents of Ukraine and Russia and the United States, agreeing to get all the nuclear weapons out of Ukraine and to give fair compensation to that nation for the uranium they are giving up. It makes the world a safer place. It makes your nation and mine less vulnerable to nuclear terrorism or threats. It shows that we can move beyond the nuclear age entirely.

There are still questions, you know, in the world about how you will define your greatness. When I was at the NATO conference and afterward, there are nations that live between Western Europe and the border of Russia who still wonder what the future holds, nations who said, "Put me in NATO now just in case. Oh, I believe this President of Russia when he says he respects the territorial borders of other nations, but look at the history of Russia. Think of the national impulse. Draw another line across Europe now, while you have a chance." There are people who are in the Baltic nations now who hear some of the debate in your politics, who hear the threats to take them over again. One of your political leaders even suggested you might like to have Alaska back. I don't think I can go along with that. [Laughter]

I say that because all those definitions, I would argue to you, are looking to yesterday. What in the world would you do with an army of occupation to the east? How would you pay for it? And what would it give you? How would you be more powerful than some small nation, one of the industrial tigers of Asia, for example, producing and selling goods and services at such a rate that their people's incomes are going up by 10 percent a year, and they are giving the people who live there the opportunity to do things that would have been undreamed of by their parents or grandparents? This is a very serious thing.

I believe that the greatness of a nation that lasts for centuries and centuries and centuries, as this nation has, is the ability to redefine itself in every age and time. The young people of Russia especially now have a chance to show that a great power can promote patriotism without expansionism, that a great power can promote national pride without national prejudice. That, I submit, is your challenge.

Today, you face no threat from invasion. That was a legitimate concern of Russia for decades and decades, a legitimate reason to want a buffer zone around your borders in former times. It is not there now. I believe the measure of your greatness in the future will be whether Russia, the big neighbor, can be the good neighbor.

That is why it is so important that as your forces operate beyond your borders, they do so according to international law, why it is important that you continue your planned withdrawal from all the Baltic States, why it is important that your nation work with the United States and the rest of Europe to build the Partnership For Peace called for at the NATO conference this year, so that for the first time in the history of nation states we can have a Europe that is united by a shared commitment to democracy, free-market economies, and mutual respect for borders, instead of a Europe that is divided, for the first time in history.

I'm very proud and pleased that President Yeltsin decided to participate in the Partnership For Peace and work for an integrated Europe, that he signed the historic accord with President Kravchuk and with me today to eliminate over 1,800 nuclear warheads. These are hopeful signs and, I believe, signs that indicate you can make a future that is different from the past.

Yours is a history of heroism and of persistent hope. The question now is, can we make the economic decisions, the political decisions that foster hope? You will have to decide these things. I'm amused when I come here in the spirit of genuine partnership and respect and some people say, "Well, the United States is trying to dictate our course." Nothing could be further from the truth. Believe me, my friends, it's all we can do to deal with our own problems. We don't have time to try to dictate your course. But the course you take will affect us, and so we want you to make decisions that are best for you.

And I will close as I began: Will you define your future greatness in terms that were relevant to the past or terms that will shape the future? This is a crossroad and a difficult one. But the younger generations of Russians will look back on this time with either gratitude or regret, depending on how those questions are answered, the economic, the political, the military questions.

I believe you will choose the future. After all, Russia did not get to this point by making all that many wrong decisions in the past. And every nation makes a few mistakes. There are few people anywhere that have more knowledge of history, both positive and negative, that have more reason to hope for the future than you do. I know the present is difficult, but if you make the right decisions, if you choose hope over fear, then the future will reward your courage and your vision.

Thank you very much.

[At this point, the television station took a commercial break.]

The President. Now we're going to take some questions from the audience. And what I will do is, we have also some remote sites, so I'll take one from the right, one from the left, I'll do the screen and come back, okay? I can't see so well, so——

Q. Do I need to speak Russian or English?

The President. Speak English. And then they can listen to the translation, and I'll listen to you.

Q. I am a student of Moscow University. Mr. Clinton, what do you think about the future education in Russia, what it needs to be, how it needs to be done, and what changes are needed?

The President. Well, I'm not an expert in your education system, although I have spent a little time trying to find out about it, because in my career in the U.S., my major area of interest was education. I think first you have a very strong basic system. Virtually all your people are literate. An enormous number of your people speak more than one language. And you have very strong technical programs.

I would say you need to develop some of your educational programs for the professions that manage market economies. Do you have enough people who can run things in a very rapidly changing world? I think there are some gaps here, in other words, in the kinds of training you have for the kind of economy you're trying to develop. And I think some studies should be done about that, and you should provide those education programs. But you're actually quite fortunate in having a very literate society and a very strong background in the arts, the humanities, and in science and technology.

Keep in mind one other thing. In most modern market economies, the average person, even if he or she stays with the same employer, will change the nature of their work seven or eight times in a lifetime. So it's impossible to give someone even a university degree that answers all the questions they will face in the workplace forever. So you have to develop systems of learning for a lifetime. And the most important thing is that you just get a good basic foundation that enables you to think well, to solve problems and to change, to learn as new things come along.

Q. I am a first-year student at the department of foreign languages at Moscow University. First, I'd like to——

The President. Well, I'd say you're a successful student. No accent. [Laughter]

Q. I'd like to thank you for what you think about our future in economics and in democracy. But I'd like to remind you that—how I see tomorrow of our country is the spiritual power. Some astrologists say that Russia will soon become the center of everything because we have this spiritual energy here. What do you think of that? You didn't mention anything about our cultural future. Thank you.

The President. Well, I mentioned a little bit about it, but I think you have enormous cultural power. I think you also have enormous spiritual power. There is a great energy in this country that communicates itself. It's always been here, I think. And in some ways it was repressed in the last several decades. And it's coming out now in all kinds of ways, not only in terms of creative culture but also in terms of new interest in religion and faith and all kinds of things that show the character and depth of the nation. And I would urge you to cultivate that, both in terms of culture and faith.

Someone ask a question. I can't pick anyone there. You'll have to be self-selected.

Q. Good day, Mr. President. This is the cradle of perestroika. This is the birthplace of the first and last President of the Soviet Union. This is a multinational area. We have all kinds of people here, students, workers, office workers, representatives from the Cossacks, also refugees from the hot points in the former Soviet Union.

Mr. President, on the territory of the former Soviet Union, civil wars go on without end. Russia, unfortunately, either cannot or doesn't want to settle the civil strife. What is your feeling? Does the United States of America plan to get involved in these conflicts? And if so, in what way? And more so because there is an example of Yugoslavia. There is a danger here of taking sides in the West; the West is supporting the Muslims in Yugoslavia.

Let me repeat the question: If there will be an involvement in the United States, what kind of involvement would this be?

The President. Well, first, I don't think it's entirely accurate that Russia has not been involved at all. There's no question that Russia and the Russian military was very instrumental in stabilizing Mr. Shevardnadze's position in Georgia. So I think there will be times when you will be involved, and you will be more likely to be involved in some of these areas near you, just like the United States has been involved in the last several years in Panama and Grenada near our area.

The thing I think that we have to try to do, as I said in my speech, that when there is an involvement beyond the borders of the nation, that it is consistent with international law and, whenever possible, actually supported by other nations either through the United Nations or through some other instrument of international law.

Now, let us also frankly acknowledge that some of these conflicts, take the one in Yugoslavia, in Bosnia, for example, some of these conflicts represent longstanding conflicts that were actually repressed during the time when these countries were effectively controlled from above and when the various warring factions were, in effect, occupied.

What happened in Yugoslavia was when Mr. Tito died and then the central government's authority began to erode and then all the various parts of Yugoslavia began to try to be independent, Bosnia-Herzegovina, which always had these three different factions, basically degenerated back to the conflict which had been there for hundreds of years.

There is no perfect solution to any of life's problems, you know, and I still think, on balance, we're better off without empires, and countries are better off seeking their own determination. But in this case, the truth is people there keep killing each other.

Now, what I have done is—the reason that you say that we have supported the Muslims in Yugoslavia, we supported the multiethnic government in Bosnia because it was recognized by the United Nations. So the United States supported it because it was recognized by the United Nations. However, we also support a peace process which would give some territory to the Muslim-dominated government, to the Serbs and to the Croats. So what we're doing in Bosnia is to try to support the U.N. mission in trying to urge the parties to stop killing each other.

If you don't have an imperial army, if you don't just go in and take people over and tell them what to do, then you have to make some allowances for the fact that on occasion they'll do the stupid thing and keep on killing each other even when it doesn't make any sense. And there are some areas where you can stop it and some where you can't.

If you look at Africa, for example, in Brunei and Angola and the Sudan—never mind Somalia, just those three countries—hundreds of thousands of people have died in each of those countries just in the last couple of years because of civil wars. That is what I said in my speech. There is still too much ethnic and tribal hatred in this world, and we can't control it all, not and take care of our problems within our borders.

Q. I'm a journalist. Mr. Clinton, what would you like the historians to say about you once you finish your tenure as President?

The President. I would like them to say that I restored a sense of hope and optimism to my country, that I strengthened the economy and made it possible for my people to lead the world economically into the 21st century, and that I restored the sense of community in America, that we came back together as a people even though we are very diverse now. And I would like it to be said that I helped to lead the world to more peaceful cooperation, into a future very different from the bloody and divided past of the 20th century.

Q. I'm a journalist also. Mr. President. If at a dinner table, let's say, President Yeltsin would ask you to switch places with him, would you make such a risk? Would you risk doing that?

The President. No, I like the job I have. [Laughter] And I wouldn't do it because I'm just as proud to be an American as he is to be a Russian. But if I asked him to switch places with me, he wouldn't do it either.

You know, I'll tell you, the one thing I believe about President Yeltsin, he's just like me. We make mistakes, and we're not perfect, and we don't have all the answers. But I'll tell you one thing about him, he at least gets up every day and tries to make a difference. He is trying to do something. The world is full of politicians who in times of change only worry about maintaining their popularity instead of making decisions. At least he is trying to make decisions and move generally in the right historical direction.

So if you disagree with him, you should get in here and contribute to this great democratic debate and try and help develop better policies. But it is a good thing, I think, that you have a President who is willing to wade into the tides of history and make decisions.

Q. You've been talking about the future of our nation, that we must look into another future, but the nearest future is 2 years for the new Presidential elections. And Mr. Yeltsin with whom you personally indicate—[inaudible]— Russian democracy, will not run for reelection because he leaves. And we can see at the moment he leaves is the moment democracy leaves. So it means in 2 years we'll have a different President. He could be either a Communist or a nationalist. Is America ready or getting ready to deal with this situation? And again, in concern with this, why are not you willing to give protections to the nations who seek it? For instance, the Baltic nation?

Thank you.

The President. Wait, stand up. First of all, one of the things you've learned now that you have these elections all the time is that 2 years is an eternity in a democracy. Just because there's nobody on the scene now doesn't mean there won't be somebody on the scene that none of you have ever heard of 2 years from now that a majority of the people will fall in love with and make President of the country. So you cannot assume that.

On the other hand, I would say this not only to the forces of reform but to any other blocs: One of the most important responsibilities of political parties in a democracy is to always be grooming new leaders and to never treat anyone, no matter how great he or she may be, as totally indispensable. So this is something that all of these groups will have to learn. You have to always be grooming new people for leadership. But I wouldn't assume that there would be no future leaders besides out of the other two blocs you mentioned.

Now, on the Baltics, we have not denied them the right to protection. In fact, we have invited them to be part of this Partnership For Peace. And in order to be part of it—and keep in mind, Russia has agreed to be part of it—they will participate in joint military planning, joint military operations. And as we do the exercises, the only way you can be part of it is if you promise to respect the territorial boundaries of all of the other countries that are part of this. So we are giving them a great deal of protection. It just means that they're not members of NATO right away.

The other NATO members will tell you that, to be part of NATO, you have to be in a position to assume certain responsibilities as well as just ask for the security guarantee. But there are significant increases in security just for being part of the Partnership For Peace.

Before we go to the screen again, to St. Petersburg, I would like to introduce the most important person in this audience to me, my wife, Hillary, who just came to Russia this morning. Stand up. [Applause] A very large number of the people I have met in the last 2 days, especially young women, have asked me about her. So I thought I would introduce her, and I thank you for that.

Is someone going to ask a—St. Petersburg, do you have a question?

Q. Very recently, the political and economic assistance was very closely linked to human rights. And why, at the present time, does America help the Baltic States in spite of the repression against Russians in that country?

The President. Which country?

Q. Baltics.The President. First of all——

Q. I'm talking about all three Baltic countries, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.

The President. Well, first of all, in Lithuania, your government, the Russian Government, withdrew the troops because it was satisfied with the relationship between the two countries.

There are still outstanding questions with Estonia and Latvia. An international group from the Council on Security and Cooperation in Europe, CSCE, is now in Latvia studying the situation. And we have made it clear—I have personally met with the leaders of all of the Baltic States, and I have said we were for the independence and the freedom of the Baltic nations, but we expect the Russian minorities to be protected. And if we have evidence that they are being abused, it will affect our policies toward them.

So I assure you, sir, that—I am waiting for the report right now on Latvia by the unbiased, sort of third-party source. And if there is evidence that they are abusing the rights of the Russian minorities, then I will act accordingly.

I don't think we can have a double standard. We can't have one standard for the United States and Russia and say if you're a smaller country you can do things that bigger countries shouldn't be permitted to do.

Q. Mr. President, will America give strong financial support to the businessman who would like to invest in the economy of Russia?

The President. We have—where is our support for them, is that what you said? We have some institutions, the Export-Import Bank and the office of private investment, which help private investors to invest in other countries. But the main thing we are trying to do now, we need much more—there should be much more American investment in Russia.

Two of my Cabinet members met with the American business community here yesterday morning. And in March the Secretary of Commerce is coming here with a large group of American businessmen to encourage them to invest. We have also taken all the duties, all the extra taxes off of nearly 5,000 Russian products which can now be sold without handicap into the United States.

So we are trying to figure out not only how we can invest more here but how we can buy more of your products. And in the end, that is much more important to your economic future than any direct Government aid, because in our economy there is so much more money in the private sector than in the Government sector. So we are working on that. And I hope in March when the American Investment and Trade Mission comes here, it gets a lot of publicity and that they get a chance to meet a lot of people and to learn a lot about how we can do that.

If they need help with the financing for investment, we actually have institutions to do that also to help them move——

Q. In your speech you mentioned about your intention to support, to protect full Russian democracy. Is it the same for you, Russian democracy and the President Boris Yeltsin? That's the first part of the question. And the second one: How far the United States is going to go to protect Russian democracy?

The President. The answer to your first question is that—is Russian democracy the same thing as Boris Yeltsin? No. Not now, because you also have a democratic constitution that the people have voted for and a democratically elected Parliament that the people have voted for. But before the last election, you only had one person who had ever been voted on in a free election by all of the people of Russia, the President.

Now, do I intend to work with President Yeltsin as long as he embodies Russian democracy and as long as he is the choice of the majority of the people of Russia to be the President? Of course; there is no other President. There may be some people in Russia who wish someone else were the President of the United States, but I'm the only U.S. President you have right now. You see? That's not the same thing as saying that I'm all there is to American democracy; I'm not.

So what we wish to do—yesterday evening, Ambassador Pickering, our American Ambassador, and Mrs. Pickering, who are both here, held a reception for me at the American Ambassador's residence, Spaso House, and we had a lot of the leaders of Parliament, a lot of the leaders of the regional political groups, a lot of people from the private sector, some of whom are from different political groups, there to meet me. Because now democracy is three things, it's the elected President, the constitution, and the Parliament, plus people who have been elected in various ways throughout the country, plus people who are in free associations, like labor movements.

Now, one thing democracy is, beyond majority rule, is respect for minority rights, for individual freedoms, like the freedom of speech and the right to vote, even if you don't vote the way people like. So when you said, how far would I go to protect Russian democracy, I want an equal partnership here. I don't want to have any dictatorial or control in Russia. I just want to be an equal partner with a strong partner. And I will be an equal partner as long as there is democracy, which is, majority rule under the constitution, and respect for minority rights and minority interests.

Q. Mr. President, what do you think is the main difference between Russia and the United States?

The President. I think the main difference between Russia and the United States today is that we are the oldest, now the longest lasting continuous democracy on the face of the Earth, and you are one of the youngest. We have now been a free democracy for over 200 years. And that affects the way we are and the way we deal with things.

On the other hand, we have a lot of problems in common, and we have a lot of good things in common. We are much more—our people have deep roots in the soil. We're much more likely to be much more sort of open and friendly and gregarious in a certain way than many people in other countries. We also, unfortunately, have a lot of the same problems. You are now dealing with a crime problem, and my country has one of the worst crime problems in the world.

So we have a lot in common, our two peoples do. And we have always pretty much gotten along, except for the tensions caused when we had different political systems before and after World War II. But I would say the biggest difference flows out of the fact that we have had the benefit of being a democracy for 200 years, and you are one of the youngest.

Q. We had just one question. Right next to me is a teacher. She is running student exchange programs.

Q. I've been doing this for long, but usually these are one-sided exchanges. Does Mr. President think that American students would have something to learn from Russia, as well?

The President. Absolutely. Yes. First of all, I'm glad you have a sister city relationship with Philadelphia. It is a wonderful, wonderful city. They also voted for me for President. But the answer to your question is, definitely. I came here in the first week of 1970 as a student, on my own when I was living in England because I wanted to learn about this country and because I believed that we ought to be friends and because I was so worried about what then seemed to be the differences between our two nations and the fact that we could blow up the world almost by accident. So yes, I think we should send large numbers of American students here. I think we have a lot to learn.

Keep in mind, if we were having this—if Boris Yeltsin came to the United States and did what I'm doing here, very few of the students could stand up and speak to him in Russian as you are speaking to me in English. We have a lot to learn from you, and I would like more of our students to come here.

Yes. Yes. This is our youngest questioner so far. How old are you, young man?

Q. I'm 13 years old.

The President. Thirteen, not 30. [Laughter]

Q. I saw your picture shaking hands with President Kennedy, and I'd like to ask you how old were you and when you got your idea to become a President of the United States?

The President. Come here. Come up here. Come shake hands with me, and maybe you'll be President of Russia some day.

I was 16 when I shook hands with President Kennedy, and it was about that time that I knew I wanted to go into public service. But of course, at that time I had no idea that I could ever be elected President or that I would ever have a chance to. But sometime when I was a fairly young man, I decided that I would work hard and that if I ever got an opportunity that I would try to become President.

Probably our greatest President was Abraham Lincoln, who was the President of the United States during the Civil War in the mid-1800's. And when he was a young man, Abraham Lincoln wrote in his diary, "I will work and get ready, and perhaps my chance will come." I say that to you.

And one thing we do have in common that I have always admired about your country is many of the leaders of your country, like me, have come from basically quite humble circumstances, have been working people. And that's a great thing for a nation, to make it possible to cast the net for talent very wide so that anybody has a chance to rise to the top if he or she has the ability and the good fortune to do so. So good luck to you.

Q. Thank you.

Q. Mr. President, I have two questions for you today. You stated that you have your idea of what democracy is, and that is quite natural. It has three component parts, but don't you feel that in England there is a completely different democracy, as there is in France? When you do visits around the world and say this sort of democracy is the very best model—in other words, say, "Okay, Russians, follow us, follow our model"—I think this isn't quite correct. I have another question for you, if I can ask this one?

The President. May I answer that one first? Let me answer this one first.

I perfectly agree with that. I think you could have a system, a democratic system like the British, like the French, like the Italians, like— you name it, but they all have certain things in common. They all have opportunities for the people to vote and a system for them to have elected representatives who themselves get to vote on which laws govern the people and some system for the protection of individual rights and the rights of minority groups. But how you do that is perfectly up to you. There are many different ways you can do it. Yes, the British system is different from the French system, and both of them are different from our system.

Interestingly enough, your system is different from ours, too. You elect one President and then a Parliament, but the upper chamber of your Parliament has more control over the lower chamber than ours does, and your President, on paper at least, has more power than I do. I sort of like your system. [Laughter]

No, they should be different. I agree with that.

Q. I have a second question then. During your election campaign you demonstrated how you can play the sax. I wonder if you will demonstrate that for us here today?

The President. No. I played for President Yeltsin last night. I have a quota, one saxophone play per country. [Laughter] I didn't bring the horn today, but I thank you for asking.

Q. Mr. President, just imagine the situation: You don't have an opportunity to speak to this pretty large audience. You don't have the opportunity to pop into the bakery, buy some bread and chat with some people on the street. You just have an opportunity to choose one person, one Russian person, and talk only to him. From what social layer would you choose this person? Would it be, I don't know, an economist, entrepreneur, student, businessman, politician?

The President. If I could only speak to one person, I would speak to the wisest person I could find in a medium-sized city in Russia that was having a difficult time with these economic changes. I would talk to someone who, regardless of what economic strata they were from, he or she was from, had a lot of friends from all walks of life and could tell me how they were viewing what is going on now. I would pick someone from a sort of medium- to small-sized town because they would be more likely to know all different kinds of people.

Red Square, we need to take one question from Red Square. Red Square, can you hear me? I've gone over my time already 10 minutes.

Q. I am here in Red Square. The people who are here would like to ask one question. Mr. President, we're getting an impression that you're supporting not so much the reforms in Russia but the personality of President Yeltsin. What's this connected to?

The President. Well, I already answered that question once, or I tried to, but I will answer it again. Until you had your last election and you adopted a new constitution and you elected a new Parliament from people with—lots of people from different parties, President Yeltsin was the only person who had actually been elected by all the people of Russia in a full and free election. Now, you have three sources of democratic legitimacy, if you will. You have the Parliament, the President, and the constitution. We have no interest in picking favorites or defining Russian democracy in terms of anyone. So you have done that, and you must do that.

The second thing I would say, however, is that no country can have more than one President at a time. Every nation needs someone who's the leader, who then works with the leaders of other nations. And I'm the President of the United States. If I want to work with you and help you, I should be open to meeting with and listening to all the democratic voices in Russia. But in the end, I still have to work with your President.

Q. Mr. President, when you were a student you were in Moscow. And now you're the President of your Nation. I'm a law student at the Moscow International University. And could you give me some advice how I can follow your career path?

The President. Well, I can tell you this: I came from a family that had no money, no influence, and no particular interest in politics. My mother got interested in politics after I started running, but not before. My advice to you would be two things: One, get the best education you can; and two, involve yourself in politics and figure out what you believe, which party and group you want to be identified with; work in the elections; work on some problem that the people have.

And then the third thing I would say is this: Try to develop a genuine interest, if you don't have it, in the real problems and hopes of ordinary people, because in a democracy the only way you can really keep going throughout all the things that will happen, all the ups and downs, is if you really care what happens to other people as well as what happens to you in your own career.

They say we have to stop. I've had a wonderful time. I'm sorry, but they're telling me I have to cut off.

I want to thank you again. Thank you very much for this. Thank you. I want to thank you again. I wish we had another hour. I'd like to take all the questions, but I have abused the network. We are now 18 minutes over time. And if you'll hang around here a little bit after, we'll shake hands, and I'll try to answer your questions at least face to face. But I have to let the network cut off.

Thank you, all of you from our remote sites. Thank all of you for being here. And Hillary and I are delighted to be with you. Good luck to you. We'll try to be good partners and good friends.

NOTE: The President spoke at 3:30 p.m. at the Ostankino television station.

William J. Clinton, Remarks in a Town Meeting With Russian Citizens in Moscow Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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