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Public Papers - 1991

Remarks at the Welcoming Ceremony for President Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia


President Bush. Today we welcome a man whose moral authority makes him a hero not simply in his own land but everywhere that people cherish freedom: President Vaclav Havel.

I suspect the life of Vaclav Havel, President, would tax even the imagination of Vaclav Havel, playwright. Yet your life inspires us precisely because it shows that greatness begins with small acts of conscience and personal decency, acts that each one of us can perform.

Confronted with a wall of lies, you summoned the courage to ``live in truth,'' to shun the silence that allows the lie to live, to speak out and risk the consequences. That courage sustained you through 5 long years in prison, as an outcast in your own country, to the chill autumn night 2 years ago when the people of Czechoslovakia came to Wenceslas Square. At first, a few candles flickered in the night sky. In time, the square was ablaze with light. The Velvet Revolution had begun.

Long before that night, you had written about ``the power of the powerless.'' In the Revolution of '89, the world saw the Czech and Slovak people break their chains; the world witnessed once more the awesome power of the democratic idea.

Today, the electricity of revolution has given way to the sober business of democracy building. Your Federal Republic faces the challenge of three revolutions: First, an economic revolution, to replace the failed command system with the free market. Second, a political revolution, to replace the totalitarian travesty with democratic government and the tyranny of men with the rule of law, so that Czechs and Slovaks, working together, can build a secure future. And third and most important, you face a moral revolution, the need to build public trust and tolerance, to trade the cynicism that helped people survive the old regime for the idealism that will help you build a new one.

For 40 years, the ruling regime fed your people nothing but lies: a steady diet of quotas fulfilled, record harvests, unanimous votes, and unending progress; an elaborate fantasy that fooled no one. Today, Mr. President, you lead a people who know that being free means facing the truth, preferring fact to fiction, no matter how harsh the truth may be.

Your struggle is far from over. Everywhere across your country you feel the strains, the dislocations, and depressed standard of living. And I know the transition has hit particularly hard in Slovakia.

Yet your country has made impressive progress. You've taken decisive steps to privatize State enterprises, to liberalize trade and investment, to lift restrictions on private enterprise.

Each barrier you sweep away unleashes the energies of free enterprise, liberates the Czech and Slovak people to pursue their ideas and ideals.

America stands with you in this effort. Our trade enhancement initiative aims at opening American markets to your products. We seek through a special review to expand your benefits under our Generalized System of Preferences. Our enterprise fund will channel capital to Czech and Slovak entrepreneurs ready to put it to work. OPIC -- the U.S. Government's Overseas Private Investment Corporation -- has just completed a mission to Czechoslovakia, the largest mission OPIC has ever led to any country.

During your visit, our governments will sign the new Bilateral Investment Treaty, assuring an attractive investment climate for American firms that do business in your country.

A few days ago, I signed a document exempting the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic from the requirement of an annual Jackson-Vanik review. I hope for early congressional action to grant your country permanent most-favored-nation status. And to aid Czechoslovakia in its efforts to join the global economy, I call on the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to provide assistance to pipeline projects already under consideration.

As your Federal Republic transforms itself within, it also has claimed its place in the councils of Europe. Mr. President, as a founder of Charter 77, you lived through the days when the secret police ransacked homes for papers related to the Helsinki accords. You must marvel that Prague now serves as home to the permanent Secretariat of the CSCE.

Nearly 1 year ago when I addressed your Federal Assembly, sir, I spoke of America's enduring role in Europe and of our vision of a new commonwealth of freedom. I know you share that vision, and I value your strong conviction that the U.S. should remain in Europe as a guarantor of security.

Together, on both sides of the Atlantic, we can work as partners in a growing community of free nations to extend the values of democracy, free enterprise, and the rule of law.

Your country knows better than most the harsh lessons of history, what happens when aggression goes unchecked. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, the Czech and Slovak people stepped forward to take their place in the coalition against the aggressor. Even as it struggled to secure its own fragile independence, your country came to the defense of a nation in need.

You led the way in showing a new Europe that the security of one State is inseparable from the security of all. I welcome the opportunity to reaffirm today my country's commitment to your success, to the promise of democracy and independence.

Once again, Mr. President, welcome to the White House. And may God bless the Czech and Slovak people.

President Havel. Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen. Let me, on behalf of the whole Czechoslovak delegation, thank you for your warm welcome. I have a good feeling that we are coming to friends with whom we share the same attitude toward the principal values of life, and who, therefore, understand our problems and needs.

Our friendship has deep roots and has gone through a difficult test of time. In the hearts and minds of our people, it survived the adversity of the long decades of the totalitarian era to be given a new dimension by the freedom reborn in my country 2 years ago. The legacy of the fathers of Czechoslovak-American cooperation -- the founder of our State, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, and President Woodrow Wilson -- has thus been fulfilled.

It makes me happy to feel that I can regard you, Mr. President, as a friend of Czechoslovakia and as my personal friend. This is not the first time when I have an opportunity to step on the soil of your country. I shall never forget the reception accorded to me during my last year's visit when I came here for the first time in the capacity of head of state. Today, I am starting my first official State visit to your country, and I am looking forward to seeing it unfold no less successfully.

It will certainly be a breakthrough in our relations as significant documents are to be signed on this occasion. A permanent place among them will be held by the declaration on the relations between our countries in which we shall express our resolve to work together for the advancement of our cooperation. In so doing, we shall make a contribution, even if a limited one, to the strengthening of the traditional partnership between the United States and Europe.

We do see in this partnership a guarantee of our own stability and security. It is my conviction that our visit to your country, for which we prepared with utmost care, will achieve its purpose and confirm what I have said with much pleasure a number of times already, namely, that relations between Czechoslovakia and the United States have never been as good as they are now.

Thank you.

Note: President Bush spoke at 10:12 a.m. on the South Lawn at the White House where President Havel was accorded a formal welcome with full military honors. Charter 77 was a group of Czechoslovak dissidents founded in 1977 to address human rights issues within Czechoslovakia. President Havel spoke in Czech, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter. Following the ceremony, the two Presidents met privately in the Oval Office. After their private meeting, the two Presidents met with their advisers in the Cabinet Room.

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