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Public Papers - 1992 - January

Remarks to the Citizens Democracy Corps Conference


This is strictly a cameo appearance, a drop-by. I would ask these distinguished panelists to excuse the interruption and let you return to your regular program in just a few minutes. But I'm delighted to see Ambassador Hartman here, who served his country with such distinction; most recent post, unless I missed one, was to what used to be the Soviet Union, and did a great job. Then, of course, Ambassador Polansky, the CDC's Executive Director.

In less than 2 years, this Corps, this Citizens Democracy Corps, has proved to be an idea ahead of its time. The first mission was to reach out to the newly independent nations of Eastern and Central Europe. And today, the CDC's mandate extends not only to the nations in the old Soviet bloc but to the Baltic States and then even to the former Soviet Union itself.

Let me also welcome a couple of others: Cooper Evans, that worked long and hard in this building after he served with such distinction in the Congress, a good friend of long standing; Diane Butterfield, who I know is doing a lot of efficient work with the staff, modestly standing over here. And I'm told, but I don't see him right here, that Max Kampelman was here. Was he, or not? Well, he's supposed to be here -- [laughter] -- and tell him he's got three demerits for not being here -- [laughter] -- because I was going to say something very -- where is he? Hey, Max. Anytime they can put Max Kampelman in the back of the room in the shadows, there's something wrong with the way this thing is set up. But let me just say I'm grateful for his participation. And like Art Hartman and others here, he really worked hard for human rights and for peace and for all the values that all of us believe in so strongly. George Soros is here, the president of the Soros Fund management. My thanks to all of you, all of you, for coming to Washington to take part in an effort that really can, literally, shape the history.

You meet at a critical moment. Right now in the lands of the former Soviet Union, a new revolution is unfolding right before our very eyes. Millions of people have shed the dead weight of the Communist past to reclaim their heritage and their history, to revive the powerful hope all people share of living in freedom.

This moment of great hope is also a time of terrible hardship, tremendous hardship. Seventy years of the Soviet experience and the implosion of the socialist economy have taken their toll, the harsh winter, empty shelves fueling discontent and threatening democracy's great gains. The challenge now for the newly independent States of the old Soviet Union is to create a breathing space for free-market reform and democratic institutions to take root and grow.

Earlier this morning I went over to the State Department, meeting with representatives of over 47 nations. I think 40 of them are at the foreign minister level. They're all now focusing on the urgent question of humanitarian aid for the former Soviet Union. Look, our country has always helped when people need food or medical attention. We've always tried to do our level-best to help people in need around the world, and this should be no exception.

And today I proposed that Congress now approve an additional assistance, 0 million in technical assistance, in humanitarian aid to help the people of the Commonwealth of Independent States. At the urging of many in this room, we have stepped up, and we have tried to do our part with several billion dollars of food aid arrangements. We have a tremendous stake in the success of Russia and, indeed, of the other members of the CIS, of this Commonwealth of Independent States.

But I came here to make the point that obviously you all understand, and that is that Government to Government is only part of the overall equation. Bringing the former Soviet Republics into the community of free nations is a task that can never be accomplished by Government alone, particularly now, particularly with this experience that's taking place before our eyes. The move to market economy, the need to remake, totally remake the financial institutions, whatever it is, it cannot be done by Government alone.

So, we've got to build the human contacts that give free government its real meaning. The countless exchanges that take place every day among private individuals, they help; and between businesses and labor, terribly important; the academic exchanges or just contacts by our academicians making contacts with theirs, wherever that may be, terribly important.

All the groups and organizations that give life to a free society ought to be trying in one way or another to interact. And that's where each one of your organizations come in. That's why I proposed the Citizens Democracy Corps. As I said back in the spring of '90 when it was announced, the real strength of democracy is its citizens, the collective strength of individual Americans.

So, let me single out the work of one group here today as a proof of the kind of difference that all of you can make. It's a project called Dakota Cares, sponsored by the North Dakota Grain Growers Association. It started with one of the traditions of the American heartland, pitching in to help someone in need, and transported that idea to people in need thousands of miles away.

Right now, Dakota Cares is moving 100 tons of flour to the people of St. Petersburg, each bag stamped as a gift from the State of North Dakota. Its ability to move that flour across the country, across an ocean, and off the docks and into the homes of people who need it is testament to our spirit, to the American spirit at its very best.

That same spirit animates all the people gathered in this room because you do represent a cross section of American society, people with the expertise and the energy to help an old adversary make the transition to free markets and free government, people who show the world the true meaning of democracy in action. And I am very, very pleased to see so many American organizations, so many individuals so active in strengthening the forces of freedom and democracy.

Let me just say on the Government's part, we are going to stay involved. We're in a funny kind of tough year now in terms of priorities. But I must not and I will not neglect my responsibilities to do what I can do as the President of this great country in mobilizing others to do the good work of government, to help where governments can. I'm looking forward to seeing President Yeltsin, for example, when he comes here, talking about the problems that I'm sure many of you are talking about today. We will stay actively and fully involved.

Everyone is looking to the United States of America, to our leadership, since the crumbling of the Soviet Union, not just in how we treat with the Commonwealth but how we treat with other problems from the Middle East to South America to wherever in the world. So we've got to stay involved as a Government, and I just wanted you all to know that I will do my level-best to keep the Government-to-Government programs on the right footing. But the Government simply can't do it, can't do it all. We need your help, and we need your active involvement.

And it is an enormously exciting period. It's a time of trouble, a time of great grief and worry for the people over there, human suffering. But we've got to look at it like it's a time of great promise, not just for democracy and freedom and free markets in these things but for a whole new relationship between our country and these former -- the one former adversary, parts of which we are trying to help now to the best of our ability.

So thank you very, very much for your concern and your interest. And believe me, you are engaged in something that is fundamental, fundamental to world peace. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:17 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building to the Conference on Private Sector Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States, sponsored by the Citizens Democracy Corps. In his remarks, he referred to Cooper Evans, member of the board of directors of Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance; Diane Butterfield, director of finance and administration for the CDC; and Max M. Kampelman, member of the board of the International Media Fund and member of the Executive Committee of the American Bar Association's Special Committee on the Central and Eastern European Law Initiative.

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