Toast at the State Dinner Honoring President Alessandro Pertini of Italy

March 25, 1982

President Pertini and distinguished guests:

While looking over President Pertini's schedule, I noted that, consistent with his interest in the arts, he'll be attending the theater while in San Francisco. Now, Mr. President, if I could be so bold as to make a personal suggestion: In a few years when your term of office is coming to a close, you might consider making the theater a second career. [Laughter] For an energetic man like yourself, there are interesting opportunities. I know that it works one way, and it might work in reverse. [Laughter]

But seriously, all of us wish you a wonderful tour on this, your first visit to our country. We only regret that we've had to wait so long to be your host.

Tonight we honor a man who, had he never become President of his country, would still inspire awe from those who meet him. The overwhelming respect of his countrymen has resulted in his election by an unprecedented margin -- 832 out of 995 votes cast in the electoral assembly. This tribute was due to the recognition by all Italians of his courage and integrity, and he hasn't let his people down.

President Pertini has been second to none in upholding those principles of political freedom which bind all who love liberty. Shortly after his election, he said, ``If someone offered me, who has always been a socialist, the most radical social reform at the expense of freedom, I would refuse, because freedom must never be bartered away.'' Such commitment to freedom found in decent people of both left and right offers us all hope for a better tomorrow.

All of his life, President Pertini has tried to remain true to these ideals. As a young man, he fought the onslaught of fascism then threatening humanity. He was imprisoned for his opposition to Mussolini and later was sentenced to death by the Nazis. This kind of brutal experience turned many in those days away from democracy and toward totalitarianism. President Pertini never wavered from his democratic ideals.

As it was for many nations, the last decade was a trying time for Italy. Italy faced a sinister challenge that shook its system to the roots. Like Fascists and Nazis, Red Terrorists sought to undermine faith in democracy by demoralizing the people. The Italian people needed a symbol of strength and a symbol of courage and they found that symbol in President Pertini.

One of his first actions was to protest the trials of Soviet dissidents in Moscow. Few Western leaders have expressed such sincere moral outrage over Soviet oppression in Afghanistan and Poland. Perhaps tonight we should realize that the solidarity that unites all those devoted to freedom far transcends the limited differences between the democratic right and the democratic left.

President Pertini, we're in a unique position to prove to the world that freedom works, that people with different domestic policies can work together if liberty is threatened.

I've enjoyed the meetings today, and I thank you for honoring us with this visit. Now, may I ask all of you to join me in a toast to President Pertini and to the Italian people.

Note: President Reagan spoke at approximately 9:39 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. President Pertini responded in Italian. His toast was not included in the transcript released by the Office of the Press Secretary.