Remarks by President Bush in Prague, Czech Republic

Jun 05, 2007, 01:00 ET from White House Press Office

    WASHINGTON, June 5 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following is the text
 of remarks by President Bush in Prague, Czech Republic, as prepared for
     President Ilves, Foreign Minister Swarzenberg, and distinguished
 guests: Laura and I are pleased to be back in Prague, and we appreciate the
 gracious welcome to this historic hall. Tomorrow I will attend the G-8
 Summit, where I will meet with the leaders of the world's most powerful
 economies. This afternoon, I stand with men and women who represent an even
 greater power -- the power of human conscience.
     In this room are dissidents and democratic activists from 17 countries
 on five continents. You follow different traditions ... you practice
 different faiths ... and you face different challenges. But you are united
 by an unwavering conviction: that freedom is the non-negotiable right of
 every man, woman, and child - and the path to lasting peace in our world.
     This conference was conceived by three of the great advocates for
 freedom in our time: Jose Maria Aznar, Vaclav Havel, and Natan Sharansky. I
 thank them for the invitation to address this inspiring assembly -- and for
 showing the world that an individual with moral clarity and courage can
 change the course of history.
     It is fitting that we meet in the Czech Republic- a nation at the heart
 of Europe, and of the struggle for freedom on this continent. Nine decades
 ago, Tomas Masaryk proclaimed Czechoslovakia's independence based on the
 "ideals of modern democracy." That democracy was interrupted -first by the
 Nazis and then by the Communists, who seized power in a shameful coup that
 left the Foreign Minister dead in the courtyard of this palace.
     Through the long darkness of Soviet occupation, the true face of this
 nation was never in doubt. The world saw it in the reforms of the Prague
 Spring and the principled demands of Charter 77. Those efforts were met
 with tanks and truncheons and arrests by secret police. But the violent
 would not have the final word. In 1989, thousands gathered in Wenceslas
 Squareto call for their freedom. Theaters like the Magic Lantern became
 headquarters for dissidents. Workers left their factories to support a
 strike. And within weeks, the regime crumbled. Vaclav Havel went from
 prisoner of state to head of state. And the people of Czechoslovakia
 brought down the Iron Curtain with a Velvet Revolution.
     Across Europe, similar scenes were unfolding. In Poland, a movement
 that began in a single shipyard freed people across a nation. In Hungary,
 mourners gathered in Heroes Square to bury a slain reformer -- and buried
 their communist regime too. In East Germany, families came together for
 prayer meetings -- and found the strength to tear down a wall. Soon,
 activists emerged from the attics and church basements to reclaim the
 streets of Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. The
 Warsaw Pact was dissolved peacefully in this very room. And after seven
 decades of oppression, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.
     Behind these astonishing achievements was the triumph of freedom in the
 battle of ideas. The Communists had an imperial ideology that claimed to
 know the direction of history. But in the end, it was overpowered by
 ordinary people who wanted to live their lives, and worship their God, and
 speak the truth to their children without fear. The Communists had the
 harsh rule of Brezhnev, and Honecker, and Ceausescu. But in the end, it was
 no match for the vision of Walesa and Havel ... the defiance of Sakharov
 and Sharansky ... the resolve of Reagan and Thatcher ... and the fearless
 witness of John Paul. From this experience, a clear lesson has emerged:
 Freedom can be resisted, and freedom can be delayed -- but freedom cannot
 be denied.
     In the years since liberation, Central and Eastern European nations
 have navigated the difficult transition to democracy. Leaders made the
 tough reforms needed to enter NATO and the European Union. Citizens claimed
 their freedom in the Balkans and beyond. And now, after centuries of war
 and suffering, the continent of Europe is at peace at last.
     With this new era have come new threats to freedom. In dark and
 repressive corners of the world, whole generations grew up with no voice in
 their government and no hope in their future. This life of oppression bred
 deep resentment. And for many, resentment boiled over into radicalism and
 violence. The world saw the result on September the 11th, 2001 - when
 terrorists based in Afghanistan sent 19 suicidal men to murder nearly 3,000
 innocent people in the United States.
     For some, this attack called for a narrow response. In truth,
 Nine-Eleven was evidence of a much broader danger -- an international
 movement of violent Islamic extremists that threatens free people
 everywhere. The extremists' ambition is to build a totalitarian empire that
 spans all current and former Muslim lands - including parts of Europe. And
 their strategy to achieve that goal is to frighten the world into surrender
 through a ruthless campaign of terrorist murder.
     To confront this enemy, America and our allies have taken the offensive
 with the full range of our military, intelligence, and law enforcement
 capabilities. Yet this battle is more than a military conflict. Like the
 Cold War, it is an ideological struggle between two fundamentally different
 visions of humanity. On one side are the extremists, who promise paradise
 but deliver a life of public beatings, repression of women, and suicide
 bombings. On the other side are huge numbers of moderate men and women --
 including millions in the Muslim world -- who believe that every human life
 has dignity and value that no power on earth can take away.
     The most powerful weapon in the struggle against extremism is not
 bullets or bombs -- it is the universal appeal of freedom. Freedom is the
 design of our Maker, and the longing of every soul. Freedom is the best way
 to unleash the creativity and economic potential of a nation. Freedom is
 the only ordering of a society that leads to justice. And human freedom is
 the only way to achieve human rights.
     Expanding freedom is more than a moral imperative -- it is the only
 realistic way to protect our people. Years ago, Andrei Sakharov warned that
 "a country that does not respect the rights of its own people will not
 respect the rights of its neighbors." History proves him right. Governments
 accountable to their people do not attack each other. Democracies address
 problems through the political process -- instead of blaming outside
 scapegoats. Young people who can disagree openly with their leaders are
 less likely to adopt violent ideologies. And nations that commit to freedom
 for their people will not support extremists -- they will join in defeating
     For all these reasons, the United States is committed to the advance of
 freedom and democracy as the great alternatives to repression and
 radicalism. And we have a historic objective in view. In my Second
 Inaugural Address, I pledged America to the ultimate goal of ending tyranny
 in our world. Some have said that qualifies me as a "dissident president."
 If standing for liberty in the world makes me a dissident, then I'll wear
 the title with pride.
     America has pursued our freedom agenda in many ways -- some vocal and
 visible, others quiet and hidden from view.
     Ending tyranny requires support for the forces of conscience that
 undermine repressive societies from within. The Soviet dissident Andrei
 Amalrik compared a tyrannical state to a soldier who constantly points a
 gun at his enemy -- until his arms finally tire and the prisoner escapes.
 The role of the free world is to put pressure on the arms of the world's
 tyrants - - and strengthen the prisoners who are trying to speed their
     So I have met personally with dissidents and democratic activists from
 some of the world's worst dictatorships -- including Belarus, Burma, Cuba,
 North Korea, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. At this conference, I look forward to
 meeting other dissidents, including some from Iran and Syria. One of these
 dissidents is Mamoun Homsi. In 2001, this man was an independent member of
 the Syrian parliament who issued a declaration asking the government to
 begin respecting human rights. For this entirely peaceful act, he was
 arrested and sent to jail -- where he spent several years beside other
 innocent advocates of a free Syria.
     Another dissident I will meet with here is Rebiyah Kadeer of China,
 whose sons have been jailed in what we believe is an act of retaliation for
 her human rights activities. The talent of men and women like Rebiyah is
 the greatest resource of their nations -- far more valuable than the
 weapons of their army or oil under the ground. So America calls on every
 nation that stifles dissent to end its repression, trust its people, and
 grant its citizens the freedom they deserve.
     There are many other dissidents who could not join us -- because they
 are being unjustly imprisoned or held under house arrest. I look forward to
 the day when conferences like this one include Alexander Kozulin of Belarus
 ... Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma ... Oscar Elias Biscet of Cuba ... Father
 Nguyen Van Ly of Vietnam ... and Ayman Nour of Egypt. The daughter of one
 of these political prisoners is in this room. And to all their families: I
 thank you for your courage. I pray for your comfort and strength. And I
 call for the immediate and unconditional release of your loved ones.
     In the eyes of America, the democratic dissidents of today are the
 democratic leaders of tomorrow. So we are taking new steps to strengthen
 our support for them. We recently created a Human Rights Defenders Fund,
 which provides grants for the legal defense and medical expenses of
 activists arrested or beaten by repressive governments. I strongly support
 the Prague Document that your conference plans to issue, which states that
 "the protection of human rights is critical to international peace and
 security." And in keeping with the goals of that declaration, I have asked
 Secretary Rice to send a directive to every U.S. ambassador in an un-free
 nation: Seek out and meet with activists for democracy and human rights.
     People living in tyranny need to know they are not forgotten. North
 Koreans live in a closed society where dissent is brutally suppressed, and
 they are cut off from their brothers and sisters to the south. The Iranians
 are a great people who deserve to chart their own future -- but they are
 denied their liberty by a handful of extremists whose pursuit of nuclear
 weapons prevents their country from taking its rightful place in the
 community of nations. The Cubans are desperate for freedom -- and as that
 nation enters a period of transition, we must insist on free elections,
 free speech, and free assembly. And in Sudan, freedom is denied and basic
 human rights are violated by a government that pursues genocide against its
 own citizens. My message to all those who suffer under tyranny is this: We
 will never excuse your oppressors, and we will always stand for your
     Freedom is also under assault in countries that had shown some
 progress. In Venezuela, elected leaders have resorted to a shallow populism
 to dismantle democratic institutions and tighten their grip on power. The
 government of Uzbekistan continues to silence independent voices by jailing
 human rights activists. And Vietnam recently arrested and imprisoned a
 number of peaceful religious and political activists.
     These developments are discouraging, but there are more reasons for
 optimism. At the start of the 1980s, there were only 45 democracies on
 Earth. There are now more than 120 democracies -- and more people now live
 in freedom than ever before. And it is the responsibility of those who
 enjoy the blessings of liberty to help those who are struggling to
 establish free societies. So the United States has nearly doubled funding
 for democracy projects. We are working with our partners in the G-8 to
 promote the rise of a vibrant civil society in the Middle East through
 initiatives like the Forum for the Future. We are cooperating side-by-side
 with the new democracies in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan. We
 congratulate the people of Yemenon their landmark presidential election,
 and the people of Kuwaiton elections in which women were able to vote and
 run for office for the first time. And we stand firmly behind the people of
 Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq as they defend their democratic gains
 against extremist enemies. The people of these nations are making great
 sacrifices for liberty. They deserve the admiration of the free world --
 and they deserve our unwavering support.
     The United States is also using our influence to urge valued partners
 like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan to move toward freedom. These
 nations have taken brave stands and strong action to confront extremists,
 along with some steps to expand liberty and transparency. Yet they have a
 great distance still to travel. The United States will continue to press
 nations like these to open up their political systems, and give a greater
 voice to their people. Inevitably, this creates tension. But our
 relationships with these countries are broad enough and deep enough to bear
 it. As our relationships with South Korea and Taiwan during the Cold War
 prove, America can maintain a friendship and push a nation toward democracy
 at the same time.
     We are also applying that lesson to our relationships with Russia and
 China. The United States has strong working relationships with these
 countries. Our friendship with them is complex. In the areas where we share
 mutual interests, we work together. In other areas, we have strong
 disagreements. For example, China's leaders believe that they can continue
 to open the nation's economy without also opening its political system. In
 Russia, reforms that once promised to empower citizens have been derailed,
 with troubling implications for democratic development. Part of a good
 relationship is the ability to talk openly about our disagreements. So the
 United States will continue to build our relationships with these countries
 -- and we will do it without abandoning our principles or our values.
     We appreciate that free societies take shape at different speeds in
 different places. One virtue of democracy is that it reflects local history
 and traditions. Yet there are fundamental elements that all democracies
 share -- freedom of speech, religion, press, and assembly ... rule of law
 enforced by independent courts ... private property rights ... and
 political parties that compete in free and fair elections. These rights and
 institutions are the foundation of human dignity, and as countries find
 their own path to freedom, they will find a loyal partner in the United
     Extending the reach of freedom is a mission that unites democracies
 around the world. And some of the greatest contributions are coming from
 nations with the freshest memories of tyranny. I appreciate the Czech
 Republic's support for human rights projects in Belarus, Burma, and Cuba. I
 thank Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Georgia,
 Lithuania, Estonia, and Croatia for contributing to the new United Nations
 Democracy Fund. And I am grateful for the commitment many new democracies
 in Central and Eastern Europe are making to Afghanistan and Iraq. The
 Afghan and Iraqi people look to you as a model of liberty -- and they will
 remember that you stood with them when they needed it most.
     In all these ways, the freedom agenda is making a difference. The work
 has been difficult, and that will not change. There will be triumphs and
 failures, progress and setbacks. Ending tyranny cannot be achieved
 overnight. And of course, this objective has its critics.
     Some say that ending tyranny means "imposing our values" on people who
 do not share them -- or live in parts of the world where freedom cannot
 take root. That is refuted by the fact that every time people are given a
 choice, they choose freedom. We saw that when the people of Latin America
 turned dictatorships into democracies ... and the people of South Africa
 replaced apartheid with a free society ... and the people of Indonesia
 ended their long authoritarian rule. We saw it when Ukrainians in orange
 scarves demanded that their ballots be counted. And we saw it when millions
 of Afghans and Iraqis defied the terrorists to elect free governments. At a
 polling station in Baghdad, an Iraqi man with one leg told a reporter, "I
 would have crawled here if I had to." Was democracy imposed on that man?
 Was freedom a value he did not share?
     The truth is that the only ones who have to impose their values are the
 tyrants. That is why the communists crushed the Prague Spring ... and threw
 an innocent playwright in jail ... and trembled at the sight of a Polish
 Pope. History shows that ultimately, freedom conquers fear. And given the
 chance, freedom will conquer fear in every nation on earth.
     Another objection is that ending tyranny will unleash chaos. Critics
 point to the violence in Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Lebanon as evidence that
 freedom leaves people less safe. But look at who is causing that violence.
 It is the terrorists. And it is no coincidence that they are targeting
 young democracies in the Middle East. They know that the success of free
 societies there is a mortal threat to their ambitions -- and to their very
 survival. The fact that our enemies are fighting back is not a reason to
 doubt democracy. It is evidence that they recognize democracy's power. It
 is evidence that we are at war. And it is evidence that free nations must
 do what it takes to prevail.
     Still, some argue that a safer goal would be stability -- especially in
 the Middle East. The problem is that pursuing stability at the expense of
 liberty does not lead to peace -- it leads to September the 11th, 2001. The
 policy of tolerating tyranny is a moral and strategic failure. And it is a
 mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.
     Others fear that democracy will bring dangerous forces to power, such
 as Hamas in the Palestinian Territories. Elections will not always turn out
 the way we hope. Yet democracy consists of more than a single trip to the
 ballot box. Democracy requires meaningful opposition parties, a vibrant
 civil society, and a government that enforces the law and responds to the
 needs of its people. Elections can accelerate the creation of such
 institutions. In a democracy, people will not vote for a life of perpetual
 violence. To stay in power, elected officials must listen to their people
 and pursue their desire for peace -- or the voters will replace them
 through free elections with leaders who do.
     Finally, there is the contention that ending tyranny is unrealistic.
 Some argue that extending democracy around the world is simply too
 difficult to be achieved. That is nothing new. At every stage of the Cold
 War, there were those who argued that the Berlin Wall was permanent -- and
 that people behind the Iron Curtain would never overcome their oppressors.
     The lesson is that freedom will always have skeptics. But that is not
 the whole story. There are also people like you, and the loved ones you
 represent -- men and women with the courage to risk everything for your
 ideals. In his first address as President, Vaclav Havel proclaimed,
 "People, your government has returned to you!" He was echoing the first
 speech of President Tomas Masaryk -- who was in turn quoting the 17th
 century Czech teacher Comenius. His message was that freedom is timeless.
 It does not belong to one government or one generation. Freedom is the
 dream and the right of every person in every nation in every age.
     The United States of America believes deeply in that message. It was
 the inspiration for our founding, when we declared that all men are created
 equal. It was the conviction that led us to help liberate this continent,
 and stand with the captive nations through their long struggle. It is the
 truth that guides our Nation to oppose terror and tyranny in the world
 today. And it is the reason I have such great confidence in the men and
 women in this room.
     I leave Prague with certainty that the cause of freedom is not tired --
 and that its future is in the best of hands. With unbreakable faith in the
 power of liberty, you will inspire your people ... you will lead your
 nations ... and you will change the world. Thank you, and God bless you

SOURCE White House Press Office