Richard Nixon photo

Toast at a Luncheon in Minsk Honoring the President

July 01, 1974

Mr. President of the Republic, Mr. Chairman of the Council of Ministers, and Mr. Secretary of the Party:

And for those Americans who are here, that translated in terms of Byelorussian means Mr. Podgorny, Mr. Brezhnev, and Mr. Kosygin.

On behalf of all our American guests, I wish to express our appreciation for this beautiful luncheon. And I want all of you to know that when the General Secretary, Mr. Brezhnev, picked the city and the Republic in which we would come, I now know why he picked Minsk.

I thought first it might be because Minsk and Byelorussia is famous the world over for a tiny girl, a pert girl, Olga Korbut.1 But I have found in my conversations with my friends from the right and the left seated here that not only are the women of Byelorussia beautiful but they are strong and courageous.

It is difficult to know the meaning of war until one has an opportunity to come in contact with it on an individual basis. And I find that both the Secretary on my right and the President on my left have come into contact with war as fighters in the war, but also who know war because they have close relatives and, in their case, their own mothers who were killed in the war.

And the question is, why has this city been designated a hero city for the Soviet Union? First, because it suffered so much, along with the whole Republic of Byelorussia. Second, because not only the men but the women fought and were courageous throughout the war. And third, despite the long years of occupation, the city and the Republic has come back, until now it is on the way to its greatest years in the period ahead.

And so, this is truly a hero city and a hero Republic. And I think General Secretary Brezhnev wanted Mrs. Nixon and me to visit this city in order to help you celebrate this great day in which you complete 30 years since liberation.

How do we best celebrate such a day? With a magnificent luncheon like this, with fine food, good wines, and good company; by a parade yesterday and by visits to memorials that we will be privileged to make later in the afternoon.

But the best way to celebrate a day which marks the ending of a war is to build peace. And the greatest and best memorial that we can build to the one-fourth of all the citizens of this Republic who were killed in World War II is to build a structure of peace so that their children and grandchildren will not die in another war.

As I saw these fine looking young men who served us, this thought crossed my mind: What we who served in World War II have on our hands is the responsibility of determining whether these young men will grow up in a period of peace or whether they, too, will have to go through the horrors of war. And I can assure you that in our first two meetings-the first in Moscow, the next in Washington and other parts of the United States-and the third here in the Soviet Union, that the General Secretary and his colleagues and the members of our party have been devoting our full time toward the great goal to see to it that the two strongest peoples and the two strongest nations in the world will not devote their efforts and waste their young men in war, but will work together for peace between themselves and for all people in the world.

And it is very appropriate that in this city and in this Republic that has known war for so many centuries, that today we speak in terms of peace and friendship for all people.

May Minsk in the future not be remembered simply where virtually every generation a battle is fought, but as a great city which contributed to prosperity and peace for all the people in this Republic.

So, therefore, I will propose that we raise our glasses to our hosts, the President, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, the Secretary of the Party, to the Hero City of Minsk, to all of those brave men and women who died and suffered during World War II, and to the new generation which will grow up in peace because of what we are able to do.

1 Olga Korbut was a Russian gymnast who won two gold medals at the 1972 Olympic games.

Note: The President spoke at approximately 2:30 p.m. at the Government Guest House in response to a toast proposed by Fedor Anisimovich Surganov, Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic.

A translation of Chairman Surganov's remarks at the luncheon is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 10, p. 742).

Later the same day, the President participated in wreath-laying ceremonies at the Victory Monument in Minsk and at the Khatyn Memorial near the city.

On June 29-30, 1974, the President and General Secretary Brezhnev had conducted a series of meetings in Oreanda, Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Following their visit to Minsk, the official party returned to Moscow.

APP Note: The text of Chairman Surganov's remarks included in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents is included below:

CHAIRMAN SURGANOV. Esteemed Mr. President, esteemed Mrs. Nixon, ladies and gentlemen, comrades:

Permit me, on behalf of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and the Government of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, to welcome you, Mr. President, in the capital of our Republic.

We hope that your stay on Byelorussian soil will be pleasant and that it will give you an opportunity to get some idea about our people and their life, about their history and present day successes.

Your visit to the Byelorussian Republic is coinciding with the celebration of a date that is very dear to us, the 30th anniversary of the liberation of Byelorussia from the German fascist invaders, and today we recall the grim days when the peoples of the Soviet Union and of the other countries of the anti-Hitler coalition fought courageously against the common foe, nationalism, which threatened the freedom of the peoples and indeed civilization itself.

The Byelorussian people are well aware and remember what war means, and they cherish the benefits of peace and creative effort.

Every fourth citizen of this Republic perished in the heroic struggle against fascism, about nine and one-half thousand towns and villages were destroyed, and our capital, Minsk, was almost totally devastated, about three million people remaining homeless.

In the past 30 years, thanks to the selfless labor of our people and the paternal assistance of all the peoples of the Soviet Union, we have not only rehabilitated the war ravaged economy but have also achieved significant new successes in economics and in the development of culture, science and health, and in raising the living standards of the people.

Like other towns and cities in this Republic, the Hero City of Minsk has been reborn out of ruins and is today vigorously developing. Having defended their freedom and independence, the Soviet people, engaged in peaceful creative labor, are vitally interested in preventing war and in strengthening international peace and security.

And that is why they wholeheartedly welcome the favorable changes that are taking place in the international arena and the cardinal turn that has become discernible of late in relationships between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The constructive development of Soviet-American relations, in our firm conviction, meets the interests not only of the Soviet and American peoples, but also the interests of the peaceful future of all mankind. The joint desire of the peoples of the Soviet Union and of the United States to live at peace with one another has already found its practical embodiment in concrete deeds which have been registered in a series of joint documents and this has indeed become an important factor of international relations.

Your new visit to the Soviet Union, Mr. President, and your new meetings and discussions with the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Comrade Leonid Brezhnev, and with other Soviet leaders, are regarded by the Byelorussian people, as they are by all the peace-loving people, as a new and important landmark in Soviet-American relations and as the further concrete embodiment of the line aimed at insuring peace and establishing in international practices the principles of peaceful coexistence and mutually advantageous and equal cooperation of states.

We are confident that this is the line of the future, regardless of all the efforts made by the forces of the past to reverse the process of international detente.

Permit me to propose a toast to the health of the President of the United States of America and Mrs. Nixon, to the health of all the members of the President's party, to peace and cooperation between the Soviet and American peoples, and to the consolidation of peace and international security.

Richard Nixon, Toast at a Luncheon in Minsk Honoring the President Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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