George H.W. Bush
Address at the Supreme Soviet Building -- 01
delivered 1 August 1991, Kyiv, Ukraine
Audio mp3 of Address Audio AR-XE mp3 of Address
Well, first, thank all of you for that warm welcome. And may I take this opportunity to thank all people of Ukraine that gave us such a warm welcome, such a heartfelt greeting. Every American in that long motorcade -- and believe me, it was long -- was moved and touched by the warmth of the welcome of Ukraine. We'll never forget it.
Chairman Kravchuk, thank you, sir. And to the Deputies of the Soviet, Supreme Soviet, may I salute you. Members of the clergy that are here, members of the diplomatic corps, representatives of American pharmaceutical and health care corporations who I understand are with us today, and distinguished guests all. Barbara and I are delighted to be here -- very, very happy. We have only one regret, and that is that I've got to get home on Thursday night -- I can still make it. And the reason is, our Congress goes out tomorrow, finishes their session they're in now, and I felt it was important to be there on that last day of the final session.
This beautiful city brings to mind the words of the poet Alexander Dovzhenko: "The city of Kiev is an orchard. Kiev is a poet. Kiev is an epic. Kiev is history. Kiev is art."
Centuries ago, your forebears named this country Ukraine, or "frontier," because your steppes link Europe and Asia. But Ukrainians have become frontiersmen of another sort. Today you explore the frontiers and contours of liberty.
Though my stay here is, as I said, far too short, I have come here to talk with you and to learn. For those who love freedom, every experiment in building an open society offers new lessons and insights. You face an especially daunting task. For years, people in this nation felt powerless, overshadowed by a vast government apparatus, cramped by forces that attempted to control every aspect of their lives.
Today, your people probe the promises of freedom. In cities and Republics, on farms, in business, around university campuses, you debate the fundamental questions of liberty, self-rule, and free enterprise. Americans, you see, have a deep commitment to these values. We follow your progress with a sense of fascination, excitement, and hope. This alone is historic. In the past, our nations engaged in duels of eloquent bluff and bravado. Now, the fireworks of superpower confrontation are giving way to the quieter and far more hopeful art of cooperation.
I come here to tell you: We support the struggle in this great country for democracy and economic reform. And I would like to talk to you today about how the United States views this complex and exciting period in your history, how we intend to relate to the Soviet central Government and the Republican governments.
In Moscow, I outlined our approach: We will support those in the center and the Republics who pursue freedom, democracy, and economic liberty. We will determine our support not on the basis of personalities but on the basis of principles. We cannot tell you how to reform your society. We will not try to pick winners and losers in political competitions between Republics or between Republics and the center. That is your business; that's not the business of the United States of America.
Do not doubt our real commitment, however, to reform. But do not think we can presume to solve your problems for you. Theodore Roosevelt, one of our great Presidents, once wrote: To be patronized is as offensive as to be insulted. No one of us cares permanently to have someone else conscientiously striving to do him good; what we want is to work with that someone else for the good of both of us. That's what our former President said. We will work for the good of both of us, which means that we will not meddle in your internal affairs.
Some people have urged the United States to choose between supporting President Gorbachev and supporting independence-minded leaders throughout the U.S.S.R. I consider this a false choice. In fairness, President Gorbachev has achieved astonishing things, and his policies of glasnost, perestroika, and democratization point toward the goals of freedom, democracy, and economic liberty.
We will maintain the strongest possible relationship with the Soviet Government of President Gorbachev. But we also appreciate the new realities of life in the U.S.S.R. And therefore, as a federation ourselves, we want good relations -- improved relations -- with the Republics. So, let me build upon my comments in Moscow by describing in more detail what Americans mean when we talk about freedom, democracy, and economic liberty.
No terms have been abused more regularly, nor more cynically than these. Throughout this century despots have masqueraded as democrats, jailers have posed as liberators. We can restore faith to government only by restoring meaning to these concepts.
I don't want to sound like I'm lecturing, but let's begin with the broad term "freedom." When Americans talk of freedom, we refer to people's abilities to live without fear of government intrusion, without fear of harassment by their fellow citizens, without restricting other's freedoms. We do not consider freedom a privilege, to be doled out only to those who hold proper political views or belong to certain groups. We consider it an inalienable individual right, bestowed upon all men and women. Lord Acton once observed: The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities. Freedom requires tolerance, a concept embedded in openness, in glasnost, and in our first amendment protections for the freedoms of speech, association, and religion -- all religions.
Tolerance nourishes hope. A priest wrote of glasnost: Today, more than ever the words of Paul the Apostle, spoken, 2,000 years ago, ring out: They counted as among the dead, but look, we are alive. In Ukraine, in Russia, in Armenia, and the Baltics, the spirit of liberty thrives.
But freedom cannot survive if we let despots flourish or permit seemingly minor restrictions to multiply until they form chains, until they form shackles. Later today, I'll visit the monument at Babi Yar -- a somber reminder, a solemn reminder, of what happens when people fail to hold back the horrible tide of intolerance and tyranny.
Yet freedom is not the same as independence. Americans will not support those who seek independence in order to replace a far-off tyranny with a local depotism. They will not aid those who promote a suicidal nationalism based upon ethnic hatred.
We will support those who want to build democracy. By democracy, we mean a system of government in which people may vie openly for the hearts -- and yes, the votes -- of the public. We mean a system of government that derives its just power from the consent of the governed, that retains its legitimacy by controlling its appetite for power. For years, you had elections with ballots, but you did not enjoy democracy. And now, democracy has begun to set firm roots in Soviet soil.
The key to its success lies in understanding government's proper role and its limits. Democracy is not a technical process driven by dry statistics. It is the very human enterprise of preserving freedom, so that we can do the important things, the really important things: raise families, explore our own creativity, build good and fruitful lives.
In modern societies, freedom and democracy rely on economic liberty. A free economy is nothing more than a system of communication. It simply cannot function without individual rights or a profit motive, which give people an incentive to go to work, an incentive to produce. And it certainly cannot function without the rule of law, without fair and enforceable contracts, without laws that protect property rights and punish fraud.
Free economies depend upon the freedom of expression, the ability of people to exchange ideas and test out new theories. The Soviet Union weakened itself for years by restricting the flow of information, by outlawing devices crucial to modern communications, such as computers and copying machines. And when you restricted free movement -- even tourist travel -- you prevented your own people from making the most of their talent. You cannot innovate if you cannot communicate. And finally, a free economy demands engagement in the economic mainstream. Adam Smith noted two centuries ago, trade enriches all who engage in it. Isolation and protectionism doom its practitioners to degradation and want.
I note this today because some Soviet cities, regions, and even Republics have engaged in ruinous trade wars. The Republics of this nation have extensive bonds of trade, which no one can repeal with the stroke of a pen or the passage of a law. The vast majority of trade conducted by Soviet companies -- imports and exports -- involves, as you know better than I, trade between Republics. The nine-plus-one agreement holds forth the hope that Republics will combine greater autonomy with greater voluntary interaction -- political, social, cultural, economic -- rather than pursuing the hopeless course of isolation.
And so, American investors and businessmen look forward to doing business in the Soviet Union, including the Ukraine. We've signed agreements this week that will encourage further interaction between the U.S. and all levels of the Soviet Union. But ultimately, our trade relations will depend upon our ability to develop a common language, a common language of commerce -- currencies that communicate with one another, laws that protect innovators and entrepreneurs, bonds of understanding and trust.
It should be obvious that the ties between our nations grow stronger every single day. I set forth a Presidential initiative that is providing badly needed medical aid to the Soviet Union. And this aid expresses Americans' solidarity with the Soviet peoples during a time of hardship and suffering. And it has supplied facilities in Kiev that are treating victims of Chernobyl. You should know that America's heart -- the hearts of all -- went out to the people here at the time of Chernobyl.
We have sent teams to help you improve upon the safety of Ukrainian nuclear plants and coal mines. We've also increased the number of cultural exchanges with the Republics, including more extensive legal, academic, and cultural exchanges between America and Ukraine.
We understand that you cannot reform your system overnight. America's first system of government -- the Continental Congress -- failed because the States were too suspicious of one another and the central government too weak to protect commerce and individual rights. In 200 years, we have learned that freedom, democracy, and economic liberty are more than terms of inspiration.
They're more than words. They are challenges.
Your great poet Shevchenko noted: Only in your own house can you have your truth, your strength, and freedom. No society ever achieves perfect democracy, liberty, or enterprise; it if makes full use of its people's virtues and abilities, it can use these goals as guides to a better life.
And now, as Soviet citizens try to forge a new social compact, you have the obligation to restore power to citizens demoralized by decades of totalitarian rule. You have to give them hope, inspiration, determination -- by showing your faith in their abilities. Societies that don't trust themselves or their people cannot provide freedom. They can guarantee only the bleak tyranny of suspicion, avarice, and poverty.
An old Ukrainian proverb says: When you enter a great enterprise, free your soul from weakness. The peoples of the U.S.S.R. have entered a great enterprise, full of courage and vigor. I have come here today to say: We support those who explore the frontiers of freedom. We will join these reformers on the path to what we call -- appropriately call a new world order.
You're the leaders. You are the participants in the political process. And I go home to an active political process. So, if you saw me waving like mad from my limousine, it was in the thought that maybe some of those people along the line were people from Philadelphia or Pittsburgh or Detroit where so many Ukrainian-Americans live, where so many Ukrainian-Americans are with me in the remarks I've made here today.
This has been a great experience for Barbara and me to be here. We salute you. We salute the changes that we see. I remember the French expression, vive la difference, and I see different churnings around this Chamber, and that is exactly the way it ought to be. One guy wants this and another one that. That's the way the process works when you're open and free -- competing with ideas to see who is going to emerge correct and who can do the most for the people in Ukraine. And so, for us this has been a wonderful trip, albeit far too short. And may I simply say, may God bless the people of Ukraine.
Thank you very, very much.
Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)
Original Audio and Video Source: George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum
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