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Public Papers - 1989

Remarks at a Ceremony Commemorating Captive Nations Week

1989-07-21

Thank you all for coming today to the White House. And I want to welcome you to the White House and to an occasion, Captive Nations Week, marked by sadness, but blessed by hope. And today we meet to signal our deep concern at the fate of nations, and peoples as well, whose liberty has been held captive. And we applaud the movement toward democracy taking place in the world and the changes yet to come.

Six months ago this week, I said in my Inaugural Address: ``In man's heart, if not in fact, the day of the dictator is over. The totalitarian era is passing, its old ideas blown away like leaves from an ancient lifeless tree.'' Well, I have just returned, hopeful and encouraged, from visits to Poland and Hungary, two nations on the threshold of historic change. And I can say to you: The old ideas are blowing away; freedom is in the air.

For 40 years, Poland and Hungary endured what's been called the dilemma of the single alternative: one political party, one definition of national interest, one social and economic model -- in short, one future, prescribed by an alien ideology. But in fact, that future meant no future. For it denied to individuals, choice; to societies, pluralism; and to nations, self-determination. And yet in Poland and Hungary, a courageous people would not yield to despair. There, as elsewhere, the light of liberty would not go out.

And 10 days ago, I watched thousands brave a driving rain to acclaim this love of liberty. They cheered for free assembly, free press and speech, and freedom of religion, and filled a square in Budapest named after a freedom fighter who believed in that democracy which linked the people of Hungary with the peoples of the world. Lajos Kossuth arrived in America in 1851 after Hungary's struggle for freedom had temporarily been lost. And yet in his remarks to the United States Congress, he was hopeful, not embittered. He spoke of his ``steady faith in principles'' of self-government, opportunity, and individuality.

The heroism of such patriots inspires us and teaches us. For they embody the spirit of Captive Nations Week, the spirit which says that freedom around the world is not divisible, and which lives in the brave immigrants from captive nations who are beside me: Polito Grau de Aguero, for instance, a political prisoner in Cuba before fleeing to America, or Haing Ngor, who fled Cambodia after the Holocaust and won an Academy Award for his role in ``The Killing Fields.'' These seven people are heroes, for they have shown the power of courage and free expression.

And last week, I saw how the peoples of Poland and Hungary are leading the way toward this democratic future, casting rays of light on other nations that are not as fortunate. For within these nations, men and women are standing up for the cause of liberty often at enormous cost, a cause the Czech writer Vaclav Havel once called the ``living in truth.''

This truth forms the heart of Captive Nations Week, for it dictates that liberty be political and economic, religious and intellectual. ``Living in truth'' suggests that democratic ideals can make all things possible for a nation and for its people, and that the individual, not the state, is the voice of tomorrow.

We see that truth in the successful return of democracy to Pakistan. And in Africa, where liberty lights those nations moving away from state socialism with new success. The hated system of apartheid is on the defensive. And in our hope for a Cambodia with self-determination for her people, and a complete and verified Vietnamese withdrawal with no return to power by the Khmer Rouge. And today the light of liberty is illuminating the face of Eastern and central Europe and reflecting the changes taking place within the Soviet Union toward greater openness at home and away from confrontation abroad. Such openness prompted the barbed wire fence between Austria and Hungary to be dismantled. And the portion I received -- sitting right here -- the portion I received as a gift is now on display, and I'd love to have you all take a look at it after this. And a spirit of renewal lights the Baltic States -- Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia -- striving to recapture their national history.

These nations know, as we know, that that tide is moving toward change, economic and political. For around the world, we see democracy opening markets and boundaries, freeing hearts, freeing minds.

And therefore, to nations of Eastern and central Europe striving to reclaim their national heritage, we say: America stands with you. And to the peoples of China and Vietnam and Laos, Ethiopia and Nicaragua, striving for freedom, we say: America stands with you. And to the ethnic Turks in Bulgaria uprooted from their homes and forced to flee across the border, we say: America stands with you. Indeed, to all nations, America proclaims that the truth cannot forever be intimidated by force. For history shows and the human will proclaims that liberty can light the darkest night.

Last Tuesday thousands filled the streets in Gdansk -- peacefully, movingly -- to honor the spirit of Solidarity. But their presence did more. It expressed the belief that democracy underscores the dignity of man. Among the celebrants was the patriot who, above all others, has made Poland's future possible. Astonished by the turnout, he found pride in freedom's past and hope in its tomorrow. As Poles -- cheering, many crying -- flanked our motorcade, Lech Walesa turned to me and said simply, ``This is fantastic.'' And he was moved and stirred by the wonder of the moment and the crowds that came out to pay their respects to the freedom that the United States of America epitomizes.

And in coming years, that wonder can uplift the world -- in Prague and Kabul, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius -- in the hopes and dreams of people who believe in an open and peaceful world, and who have endured much, and who will survive everything, through the triumph of the heart.

To love freedom, to overcome oppression -- this is their spirit and the meaning of Captive Nations Week. We love them, and we are with them, for we will never waiver nor surrender. And so, together, let us raise what Lajos Kossuth called ``the morning star of liberty,'' the star that can help all captive peoples know the dignity that sets men free.

Thank you for your participation in this wonderful occasion. I'll never forget it. And God bless you, and thanks for coming to the White House. And God bless the United States of America, and all that we stand for. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:02 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.

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