This is the official White House transcription of President George Bush's address to the Slovak people on Hviezdoslavovo square delivered February 24 at noon.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you all. Dobrý deň. (Applause.) Mr. President, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for your strong leadership and
friendship. Mr. Mayor, distinguished guests, citizens of a free Slovakia. (Applause.) Thank you for your hospitality. Laura and I are honored, extremely honored to visit your great country. We bring greetings and we bring the good wishes of the American people. (Applause.)
With us here today is a group of remarkable men and women from across
Central and Eastern Europe, who have fought freedom's fight in their homelands and have earned the respect of the world. We welcome you. We thank you for your example, for your courage and for your sacrifice. (Applause.)
I'm proud to stand in this great square, which has seen momentous events in the history of Slovakia and the history of freedom. Almost 17 years ago, thousands of Slovaks gathered peacefully in front of this theater. They came, not to welcome a visiting President, but to light candles, to sing hymns, to pray for an end to tyranny and the restoration of
religious liberty. (Applause.)
From the hotel to our left, communist authorities watched thousands of candles shining in the darkness -- and gave the order to extinguish them. The authorities succeeded in crushing that protest. But with their candles and prayers, the people of Bratislava lit a fire for freedom that day, a fire that quickly spread across the land. (Applause.) And within 20 months, the regime that drove Slovaks from this square would itself be driven from power. By claiming your own freedom, you inspired a revolution that liberated your nation and helped to transform a continent. (Applause.)
Since those days of peaceful protest, the Slovak people have made historic progress. You regained your sovereignty and independence. You built a successful democracy. You established a free economy. And last year, the former member of the Warsaw Pact became a member of NATO, and took its rightful place in the European Union. Every Slovak can be proud of these achievements. And the American people are proud to call you allies and friends and brothers in the cause of freedom. (Applause.)
I know that liberty -- the road to liberty and prosperity has not always been straight or easy. But Americans respect your patience, your courage and your determination to secure a better future for your children. As you work to build a free and democratic Slovakia in the heart of Europe, America stands with you. (Applause.)
Slovaks know the horror or tyranny, so you're working to bring hope of freedom to people who have not known it. You've sent peacekeepers to Kosovo, and election observers to Kiev. You've brought Iraqis to Bratislava to see firsthand how a nation moves from dictatorship to democracy. Your example is inspiring newly-liberated people. You're showing that a small nation, built on a big idea, can spread liberty throughout the world.
At this moment, Slovak soldiers are serving courageously alongside U.S.
and coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some have given their
lives in freedom's cause. We honor their memory. We lift them up in our
prayers. Words can only go so far in capturing the grief of their
families and their countrymen. But by their sacrifice, they have helped
purchase a future of freedom for millions. Many of you can still recall
the exhilaration of voting for the first time after decades of tyranny.
And as you watched jubilant Iraqis dancing in the streets last month,
holding up ink-stained fingers, you remembered Velvet Days. For the
Iraqi people, this is their 1989, and they will always remember who
stood with them in their quest for freedom. (Applause.)
In recent times, we have witnessed landmark events in the history of
liberty, a Rose Revolution in Georgia, an Orange Revolution in Ukraine,
and now, a Purple Revolution in Iraq. With their votes cast and counted,
the Iraqi people now begin a great and historic journey. They will from
a new government, draft a democratic constitution, and govern themselves
as free people. They're putting the days of tyranny and terror behind
them and building a free and peaceful society in the heart of the Middle
East, and the world's free nations will support them in their struggle.
The terrorist insurgents know what's at stake. They know they have no
future in a free Iraq. So they're trying desperately to undermine Iraq's
progress and throw the country in chaos. They want to return to the day
when Iraqis were governed by secret police and informers and fear. They
will not succeed. The Iraqi people will not permit a minority of
assassins to determine the destiny of their nation. We will fight to
defend this freedom and we will prevail. (Applause.)
Victory in this struggle will not come easily or quickly, but we have
reason to hope. Iraqis have demonstrated their courage and their
determination to live in freedom, and that has inspired the world. It is
the same determination we saw in Kiev's Independent Square, in Tbilisi's
Freedom Square, and in this square almost 17 years ago. (Applause.)
We must be equally determined and also patient. The advance of freedom
is the concentrated work of generations. It took almost a decade after
the Velvet Revolution for democracy to fully take root in this country.
And the democratic revolutions that swept this region over 15 years ago
are now reaching Georgia and Ukraine. In 10 days, Moldova has the
opportunity to place its democratic credentials beyond doubt as its
people head to the polls. And inevitably, the people of Belarus will
someday proudly belong to the country of democracies. Eventually, the
call of liberty comes to every mind and every soul. And one day,
freedom's promise will reach every people and every nation. (Applause.)
Slovakia has taken great risks for freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq. You
have proved yourself a trusted friend and a reliable ally. That is why I
recently announced a new solidarity initiative for nations like Slovakia
that are standing with America in the war on terror. We will help you to
improve your military forces so we can strengthen our ability to work
together in the cause of freedom. We're working with your government to
make it easier for Slovaks to travel to the United States of America.
(Applause.) Hundreds of thousands of our citizens can trace their roots
back to this country. Slovak immigrants helped build America and shape
its character. We want to deepen the ties of friendship between our
people, ties based on common values, a love of freedom, and shared
belief in the dignity and matchless value of every human being.
The Velvet Generation that fought for these values is growing older.
Many of the young students and workers who led freedom's struggle here
now struggle to support families and their children. For some, the days
of protest and revolution are a distant memory. Today, a new generation
that never experienced oppression is coming of age. It is important to
pass on to them the lessons of that period. They must learn that freedom
is precious, and cannot be taken for granted; that evil is real, and
must be confronted; that lasting prosperity requires freedom of speech,
freedom to worship, freedom of association; and that to secure liberty
at home, it must be defended abroad. (Applause.)
By your efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq and across the world, you are
teaching young Slovaks these important lessons. And you're teaching the
world an important lesson, as well: that the seeds of freedom do not
sprout only where they are sown; carried by mighty winds, they cross
borders and oceans and continents and take root in distant lands.
I've come here to thank you for your contributions to freedom's cause,
and to tell you that the American people appreciate your courage and
value your friendship. On behalf of all Americans, ďakujem, and may God
bless you all.