Remarks on Signing the
Captive Nations Week Proclamation
July 13, 1988
honored guests and fellow Americans, today we mark the 30th commemoration of
Captive Nations Week. Just 9 days ago, as America celebrated Independence
Day, we reaffirmed the universal ideal on which this country is founded: a
vision of liberty not just for one nation but for all nations. As Americans we
speak out; we work for the freedom of others. And in doing so we remember who
we are, what we have, and what America stands for in the
world. For we know that to stop striving for the freedom of other nations could
soon bring our own freedom into question.
years ago, two friends of mine were talking to a refugee from Communist Cuba.
He had escaped from Castro. And as he told the story of his horrible
experiences, one of my friends turned to the other and said, ``We don't know how lucky we are.'' And the Cuban stopped and
said, ``How lucky you are? I had some place to escape to.''
in the 20th century, we've witnessed nation after nation fall captive to a
foreign power and an alien ideology. The tragic fate of these captive nations
was foretold by Lenin with this simple instruction. He said: ``The interests of Socialism are above the right of nations to
self-determination.'' Well, from that belief came the forcible occupation of
the Baltic States and other lands; the subjugation of central Europe; the
crushing of the Berlin uprising of 1953; the Soviet invasion of Hungary in
1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and Afghanistan in 1979; the repression of
Poland's Solidarity and of the people of Bulgaria and Romania; and the cruel
Communist domination of Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Angola, Ethiopia,
Nicaragua, and others.
the tide has been turned. Despite decades of suffering, the will to freedom is
alive. It has survived its tormentors. It will outlast the Communists. And
truly, I can think of no time in my adult life when the prospects for freedom
were brighter than they are today. The free world is strong and confident. The
Communist idea is discredited and around the world new progressive forces are
emerging as political change and liberation sweep the globe. America will continue to
encourage the movement toward freedom, democracy, and reform by holding firm to
our principles and speaking openly and truthfully about human rights and the
fundamental moral difference between freedom and communism. And America shall light the path as
the whole world climbs out of the dark abyss of tyranny to freedom.
within the Soviet bloc there are hopeful signs. Just last week, a Soviet
official speaking here at a conference on Eastern Europe said that ``The
Brezhnev doctrine is completely unacceptable and unthinkable,'' citing ``the
principles of sovereignty, noninterference, and mutual respect.'' Well, these
are encouraging words that we hope will be proved true through deeds. There are
few developments that would be more compelling than true self-determination for
central Europe. I've spoken previously
of how the Soviets can send that message very easily: Let them tear down the Berlin wall! And while America applauds the changes we
are witnessing, the standards remain unchanged. And these are not standards
arbitrarily applied from outside but what the Soviets themselves have formally
agreed to. We continue to insist on full implementation of the Helsinki accords and the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I was in Moscow, one of the most moving
experiences I had was when I met with a group of Soviet dissidents. They told
me their remarkable stories. And I said to them that while we press for human
rights through diplomatic channels, they press with their very lives, day in,
day out, year after year -- risking their jobs, their homes, their all. Last
month I received a letter from a group of dissidents in the Soviet Union. ``Mr. President,''
they wrote, ``We can hardly envisage the struggle for
human rights without a struggle for the national rights of nations. And as
today, so in the future, the freedom of nations is one of the main guarantees
for human rights. We are convinced that true history is not written on paper
but in the hearts of people, and the good Lord reads these.''
yes, true history is written in the hearts of people, and today, around the
world, anti-Communist freedom fighters are making history and defining the
direction of change for the entire world. The Afghan freedom fighters are
authors of one of the great moments in human history, a symbol and an
inspiration to freedom fighters everywhere. By standing with the Mujahidin as they fight for an independent and undivided Afghanistan, we're reaffirming our
own belief in liberty and the indivisibility of freedom in this world.
recently met in the White House with Jonas Savimbi,
the leader of the UNITA forces that control much of Angola against a Communist
regime propped up by over 40,000 Cuban troops. I am proud to say that the brave
UNITA fighters have our support.
Cambodia, we support the
anti-Communist forces as they seek the total withdrawal of Vietnamese troops.
And we'll work with democratic forces to prevent the murderous Khmer Rouge from
close to our own country, the Nicaraguan resistance is fighting a battle
against communism that may foretell the future of freedom south of our border.
Dr. Henry Zelaya left his medical work in the United States 3\1/2\ years ago to
return to Nicaragua to fight with and give
medical care to the resistance. He said, ``Central America is not the target.
We're just a stepping stone.'' He said, ``If we are afraid to face the
Communists in Central
now, we will have to face them again later.'' The doctor is with us here today.
And again I say to the Congress: Isn't it time we give freedom fighters in our
own hemisphere the same consistent support we give to others in distant lands?
as you may recall, on this occasion last year, I spoke of PetroRuban, a prisoner in one of the most notorious of the
Soviet gulags. In 1976 the Ukrainian Helsinki monitor fashioned a wooden
replica of our Statue of Liberty to be a gift to America on our Bicentennial,
and for that he was taken away. Later he was arrested again for criticizing the
Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and for demanding that
his young son, who was crippled in an accident, be permitted to come to America for medical treatment.
last January his son, Marko, was permitted to come here for medical treatment.
When Marko got off the plane, his first words in his new country were, ``I want
to be able to stand on my own two feet.'' In his hands he held something that
he had labored on during the long plane trip from the Soviet Union. The boy whose father
had been imprisoned for making a Statue of Liberty had embroidered Lady Liberty
onto a towel. And I'm happy to be able to tell you that PetroRuban was released from prison and just last night
arrived in this country to be reunited with his family. Petro
and Marko are with us here.
have been told by NatanScharanskiy,
Armando Valladares, and others, that the words we
speak in America and the words we
broadcast around the world can be heard in the closed societies and remote
dungeons of the Communist world. I want to say to the men and women within the
captive nations who labor for truth and freedom that the American people hear
you as well. We follow your struggle. We see your writings. We remember you in
our prayers. We watch what happens to you. And whether it's Poland's Solidarity or Czechoslovakia's Charter 77, the Jazz
Section, or Association of Friends with the United States, or Hungary's Free Democratic Union
of Scientific Workers, or the Helsinki monitors, or many
others, I can tell you, you're not forgotten.
we look around the world, to Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America, we find that the bonds
of language, faith, and kinship have not been replaced by a new order built on
class struggle. The yearning for national independence has not been
extinguished by the totalitarian state, and the tide of history has been
revealed to all mankind to be a rising tide of freedom and national liberation.
behalf of Vice President Bush and myself, this pledge
we make to you, to all the peoples of the captive nations around the world: America will never forget your
plight, and we will never cease to speak the truth. Your struggle is our
struggle; your dream is our dream. And one day you will be free.
you, and God bless you.
now I'll sign the proclamation.
let's all get in the shade. [Laughter]
Note: The President
spoke at in the Rose Garden at the White House.