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Public Papers - 1990

Remarks in Prague, Czechoslovakia, at a Ceremony Commemorating the End of Communist Rule

1990-11-17

Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, my Czech and Slovak friends. It is a tremendous honor to me to be the first sitting American President to visit this proud and beautiful country and to be able to join you on the first anniversary of the extraordinary Velvet Revolution. What a powerfully moving sight it is.

There are no leaves on the trees, and yet it is Prague Spring. There are no flowers in bloom, and yet it is Prague Spring. The calendar says November 17th, and yet it is Prague Spring.

Your Declaration of Independence proclaims: ``The forces of darkness have served the victory of light. The longed-for age of humanity is dawning.'' Today the freedom-loving people of the world can bear witness that this age of humanity has now finally and truly dawned on this splendid nation.

Seven decades ago, an unprecedented partnership began between two Presidents: the philosopher, Tomas Masaryk, and the idealistic scholar, Woodrow Wilson. It was a partnership as well among Czechs and Slovaks to join together in federation. And, yes, it was a long, hard road from their work on your Declaration of Independence to this magnificent celebration today. I am proud to walk these last steps with you as one shared journey ends and another begins.

Our countries share a history. We share a vision. And we share a friendship, a friendship Masaryk described to Czech-American soldiers 70 years ago. He said: ``Do not forget that the same ideals, the same principles ever unite us. Do not forget us as we shall never forget you.'' That is why I'm here today. We have not forgotten.

The world will never forget what happened here in this square where the history of freedom was written -- the days of anguish, the days of hope. So many times, you came here bearing candles against the dark night, answering the call of Comenius to follow ``the way of light.'' These brave flames came to symbolize your fiercely burning national pride.

A year ago, the world saw you face down totalitarianism. We saw the peaceful crowds swell day by day in numbers and in resolve. We saw the few candles grow into a blaze. We saw this square become a beacon of hope for an entire nation as it gave birth to your new era of freedom.

This victory owes its heart to two great heroes. Alexander Dubcek -- 22 years ago, he led this nation in its first sweet taste of liberty. His are the will and compassion that are the living Czechoslovakia. And then President Havel, a man of wisdom, a man of tremendous moral courage. In the dark years, on one side stood the state; on the other side, Havel. On one side, tyranny; on the other, this man of vision and truth. Among the first was Havel, and now there are millions.

Today a Europe whole and free is within our reach. We've seen a new world of freedom born amid shouts of joy; born full of hope, barreling with confidence toward a new century; a new world born of a revolution that linked this square with others -- Gdansk, Budapest, Berlin -- a revolution that joined together people fueled by courage and by humanity's essential quest for freedom.

For four decades, our two nations waited across the divide between East and West, two peoples united in spirit, in vision, and yet separated by conflict. Today the United States and Czechoslovakia stand together, united once more in our devotion to the democratic ideal.

Now, with the division of Europe ending and democracy ascending in the East, the challenge is to move forward. In Czechoslovakia: from revolution to renaissance, across this continent toward a new Europe in which each nation and every culture can flourish and breathe free. On both sides of the Atlantic: toward a commonwealth based on our shared principles and our hopes for the whole world, a commonwealth inspired by the words of your great Comenius written three centuries ago: ``Let us have but one end in view: the welfare of humanity.''

A thousand miles to the south, this new commonwealth of freedom now faces a terrible test. Czechoslovakia was one of the first nations to condemn the outrage in the Persian Gulf, one of the first to measure the magnitude of the wrong committed in the name of territorial ambition. It is no coincidence that appeasement's lonely victim half a century ago should be among the first to understand that there is right and there is wrong, there is good and there is evil, and there are sacrifices worth making.

There is no question about what binds our nations, and so many others, in common cause. There is no question that ours is a just cause and that good will prevail. The darkness in the desert sky cannot stand against the way of light. I salute your courageous President when he joins us in saying that Saddam Hussein's aggression must not be rewarded.

Earlier today I told your Parliament, we know this is a difficult time for you, but also a time of extraordinary optimism. As you undertake political and economic reform, know one thing: America will not fail you in this decisive moment. America will stand with you. We will continue along the road mapped out by our Presidents more than 70 years ago, a road whose goal was described by Woodrow Wilson: ``to bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.''

For the past 70 years, your Declaration of Independence has been preserved and cherished in our Library of Congress. I say, it is time for Masaryk's words to come home. And as humanity and liberty return to Czechoslovakia, so, too, will this treasured document.

On behalf of the people of the United States, I am proud to be able to tell the people of Czechoslovakia: 1989 was the year that freedom came home to Czechoslovakia; 1990 will be the year your Declaration of Independence came home to the golden city of Prague. May it be for future generations a reminder of the ties that bind our nations and the principles that bind all humanity.

In 1776, when our Declaration of Independence was first read in public, a bell tolled to proclaim the defiant thrill of that moment. That bell -- we call it, at home, the Liberty Bell -- has for 200 years symbolized our nation's deepest dedication to freedom -- dedication like your own. Inscribed on this bell are the words: ``Proclaim liberty throughout all the land.'' We want to help you proclaim your new liberty throughout all this proud and beautiful land, and so today we give to you our last replica of the Liberty Bell. You know, one of our patriotic songs proclaims, ``Sweet land of liberty -- from every mountainside, let freedom ring.''

And so, when bells ring in Wenceslas Square or in Bratislava or anywhere in this glorious country, think of this bell and know that all bells are tolling for your precious liberty, now and forever. And so, now I am proud to ring this bell three times. Once for your courage, once for your freedom, and once for your children.

[At this point, the President rang the bell.]

May God bless Czechoslovakia. Thank you all very much.

Note: The President spoke at 4:13 p.m. in Wenceslas Square. Prior to his remarks, he participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the St. Wenceslas Memorial. In his remarks, he referred to President Saddam Hussein of Iraq. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

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