|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Speech and Q&A at Comenius University
Bratislava, Slovakia, November 22, 1999
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you, Svorad Trnovec. And thank you, Rector Devinsky, Mr. Vice Rector Mraz and Mrs. Kvestor Dobrikova. This is my second visit to Comenius University, and I am very pleased to have been invited back. It makes coming to Slovakia feel even more like coming home.
Czech is my mother tongue, of course, and Prague is where I was born. Since then, I have been a European and an American, a student and a teacher, a refugee and a Secretary of State. Life is full of surprises. But when I was a child, I was a Czechoslovak. And when I come to Bratislava, with the sounds and sights I remember from childhood, I know that part of me will always be a Czechoslovak.
However, I ask your indulgence as I give the rest of my speech in English. As Alexander Dubcek told a crowd of half a million demonstrators in Prague just ten years ago: "what matters is not how you speak but what you say."
Ten years ago, students provided the spark that relit freedom's flame from Karlovy Vary to the Carpathian Mountains. They demanded liberty -- and dared to write freely in underground newspapers.
They demanded official accountability -- and denounced government brutality.
They marched by the thousands, here in Bratislava -- and their appearance on national television inspired millions who hardly dared believe that change would come.
And they won.
But what we could not know ten years ago was whether that hope could endure, and would ripen into stable democracy and lasting peace.
That process has not been easy anywhere in Central Europe. And I know many Slovaks feel that the hopes of 1989 have already been betrayed. That the freedom you gained has been left incomplete, and purchased at too high a cost. And that the virtues of democracy have been overwhelmed by the temptation of corruption and the misuse of power.
I hope and believe that you are young enough to know better.
After all, young Slovaks led the way in forcing democratic change in 1989 and 1998. Because your predecessors led the fight for democracy, a world of new possibilities is open for you. In 1998, you used them to make your voices heard. Young people ran campaigns, monitored polling places, and most important, voted -- eighty percent of Slovakia's eligible first-time voters participated.
And because you defended democracy, you will come of age with a gift your parents did not -- freedom.
I will not tell you to be patient, for I am not sure that patience is always a virtue. If Americans had always been patient, we might never have had a civil rights movement -- or a woman Secretary of State. And if Slovaks had been patient ten years ago, Comenius University might still have a department of Marxism-Leninism in place of your new business school.
I will not tell you to be content, for you have much work ahead of you. Slovakia lost a great deal of ground -- first to communism and underdevelopment, and then to greed and misrule. And like all the countries of this region, Slovakia lost a generation -- to disaster and despair. The energy of young people, your vision and your faith, are the most important resources your nation possesses.
But I will tell you that you are not alone.
I am proud that America has taken the lead, with our European partners, in helping the people of Central Europe to integrate in fact into the community of freedom you never left in spirit.
And it has been a special pleasure for me to serve first as America's ambassador to the United Nations, and then as Secretary of State, during this time of transition to democracy.
Our goal is to fulfill the elusive dream of a Europe wholly at peace and fully free. To that end, we have enlarged NATO and created the Partnership for Peace. We have encouraged the European Union to adapt and take in new members as well. And we have worked to help the states of Central Europe make the difficult transition away from communism. And we have fought for peace, and against autocracy and ethnic hatred in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Slovakia is an important partner in those efforts -- and a full and welcome member of the community of democratic nations.
The United States supports Slovakia's desire to become a member of NATO believe that NATO is the best guarantor of a peaceful, prosperous, and undivided Europe. And we believe Slovakia has much to contribute to NATO -- and much to gain from NATO membership.
NATO must set its standards high, to remain cohesive and strong. But we have also heightened our efforts to help you meet NATO's standards.
And that is why, at NATO's Washington summit, we established a clear roadmap -- the membership action plan -- to help European democracies prepare for membership.
By any measure, Slovakia is making good progress along that road. Slovakia has already distinguished itself as an active member of NATO's Partnership for Peace. And the United States is committed to helping Slovakia build its qualifications for membership, through NATO consultations and direct military-to-military support.
Of course, NATO is only one of the institutions that knit this continent together. We firmly support Slovakia's membership in the European Union. Slovakia is likely to be invited to begin accession negotiations at next month's EU summit -- and for this Prime Minister Dzurinda and his government deserve tremendous credit.
As the European Commission put it, the Dzurinda government has presented, and I quote: "courageous policy decisions and an impressive reform agenda."
Your determination to resolve ethnic disputes, fight discrimination, and promote tolerance has been praised across Europe.
There is more to be done to secure the rule of law and safeguard the rights of minorities, especially the Roma. But these are challenges every nation -- including my own -- must wrestle with again and again. Democracy is always and everywhere a work in progress, as we learn to be guided by what our President Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature;" and not the demons of nationalism and extremism that haunt us all.
The United States has helped support the development of Slovak civil society, and Slovakia's thriving community of non-governmental organizations. Today, Slovakia needs less help from the outside -- but we continue to support efforts to combat corruption and improve the business climate. And at your government's request, we are increasing our support for legal and financial reform.
Prime Minister Dzurinda and his government face an equally daunting challenge in economic policy. Creating jobs. Fighting corruption. And making sure the benefits of growth are widely shared. Slovakia also needs to establish the strong laws and fair practices that will encourage foreign investment. For there is no doubt that private investment and commerce will be the main engine of growth in the century ahead. And there is no reason Slovakia, with its central location and well-educated people, shouldn't attract your fair share -- and then some.
Already, your economy has begun to grow again; inflation is under control; and investors are showing renewed interest.
But in the meantime, you are being asked to make difficult sacrifices. Economic problems are affecting your friends and families, and even this university. And the better times you were promised may seem very far away.
But remember that we're talking about your future. Your freedom to choose your own job, to live where you like, to make trips and see the movies and think the thoughts that you please. Your prospects in the global economy. Your chance at a place in Europe's mainstream.
And I hope you agree that such a future is worth struggling for.
Already, Slovaks are doing your part -- and more -- to support others along the path to freedom.
Last week in Istanbul, I had the chance to work with Jan Kubis, the Slovak diplomat who is doing an outstanding job as Secretary General of the OSCE. Today I will thank Foreign Minister Kukan for his role as United Nations special envoy in Kosovo. And I have congratulated President Schuster and Prime Minister Dzurinda on the performance of Slovak soldiers in peacekeeping operations in Bosnia, Eastern Slavonia, Albania and Kosovo. They have shown themselves to be worthy partners for NATO -- and they have done their country proud.
I know that many Slovaks were disturbed by NATO's decision to use force to end Milosevic's murderous assault on Kosovo. And I thank Slovakia for standing with NATO and with Europe. Together, we accomplished two very important things. We made it clear that ethnic cleansing and the politics of hate have no place in the United Europe we are building. And we confirmed that NATO and the EU and our partners on this continent can and will act together for the common good.
Just as there is no longer a division between Berlin and Warsaw -- or for that matter, between Bratislava and Prague -- we must never allow Europe to be divided into zones of freedom and terror again.
To that end, we must now support the people of Yugoslavia as they seek to end Milosevic's rule and the hate, and terror and isolation it has brought them. I thank those in Slovakia, both in the government and in civil society, who are offering assistance and ideas to Yugoslavia's young democrats.
Ten years ago, we in the west knew beyond a doubt that the peoples of Central Europe were blessed with extraordinary courage and dignity. We knew we were witnessing events that would never be forgotten -- as long as men and women love liberty.
And we lived again the hope that our forbears -- yours and mine -- shared eighty years ago. The hopes of Wilson and Osusky and Masaryk.
Their dream of universal democracy was shattered -- by the illusion that the people of Paris and London and New York could simply go on with their lives while the people of Central Europe were robbed of their freedom, crushed by tyrants, and sent to death in boxcars.
After World War II, it was Stalin's armies that crushed our dreams underfoot. And for the next fifty years, one half of Europe lived in subjugation, the other half in fear. We were separated by concrete and barbed wire -- and also by hatred and lies.
And just as students and young people have taken the lead in ending communism, and fighting for democracy, it will be up to young people -- on both sides of the Atlantic -- to make sure that we are never separated again. And that Slovakia maintains the place that destiny meant for you -- at Europe's heart.
I believe that your generation will meet the test.
For you have learned from your parents that freedom has a price -- and shown that you are willing to pay it.
You have found that democracy is a school -- and you are not just learning its lessons, but teaching them.
And you have discovered a simple truth -- that all work that is worth anything is done in faith.
I don't mean a blind faith that everything is going to turn out all right; or, as one student leader of 1989 said recently, that Slovakia would turn into Switzerland overnight.
I mean faith that the future can --and must -- be better than the past; confidence that men and women working together can change the world; and the certainty that when they do, they will explode outward the limits of possibility not just for themselves, but for human beings everywhere on earth.
And I mean faith that a democratic Slovakia, anchored in European institutions, will have before it a boundless future; and that you have the power and potential to drive your nation toward that goal.
In my lifetime, I have seen and done things I could hardly have dreamed of when I was young. But as much as anything, I cherish the fact that I'm alive now, to see what a generation given its freedom in Central Europe will do -- and I will do my very best to support you in every way I can.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Daniela Herberova: I would like to ask you to what extent is this resolution significant with regard to Slovakia's desire to become a member of NATO? Thank you.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We have been following very closely the developments in Slovakia under Prime Minister Dzurinda, and he has been to the United States a couple of times in the last two months when at the United Nations he met with President Clinton and then just a couple of weeks ago he and Prime Minister Dzurinda met again with President Clinton. And those meetings I think really were symbolic of our support for Slovakia with what Slovakia has been doing.
In the first meeting with President Clinton, Prime Minister Dzurinda brought out a map and showed how central Slovakia is to what is happening in Central and Eastern Europe and made a very persuasive case. Now the resolution of Congress is something that I think indicates the commitment and the interest of the American people in having the Slovakian people being a part of the newly developed system.
I personally am very saddened by the amount of time that has been lost by Slovakia and I'm hoping very much that all of you will put your shoulders behind the wheel and really move as quickly as possible on economic reform and movement in the political scene by all of you being a part of it. And that your government will also do the things that are required in order for there to be NATO membership. At the April summit of NATO in Washington we said that there would be a review of membership no later than 2002 and we will be working very closely with the Slovak officials to try to make that happen. But I think that the very important point that I made when I was Ambassador at the UN and traveled around this whole region in support of Partnership for Peace and then NATO. NATO is not an organization that just takes people in out of a sense of responsibility. It is not a charitable organization. It is an organization that requires its members to fulfill its responsibilities as well as to participate in its privileges because it is the most powerful military alliance and now political alliance in history.
QUESTION: Pavol Kosar: First of all let me thank you for your visit on behalf of the students. And second of all I have a question which I believe most of you are interested in. How could more students of Slovakia go to the United States and if there is any possibility for or on the United States' side to establish a fund for scholarships for Slovakian students wanting to go to study in the United States? Thank you.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all let me say that I think it would be terrific to have more Slovak students in the United States, studying there. As a former professor, I've found that programs which brought foreign students into our universities not only enriched the students that were coming but certainly enriched the American students when they had a better experience by having a variety of foreign students there. I taught at Georgetown University where we had many, many foreign students. We have various programs but I will specifically look into how we can do more and part of our problem, I know this is very hard to believe, is that there are financial issues involved in it and for the universities also. But I think it is something I would support personally and I will look into it because I think it would be good for you and it certainly would be good for students and maybe you'll come to Georgetown where I'll be I think when this is over.
QUESTION: Michael Borec: How possibly could the presidential election in the United States next year negatively or positively influence the politics of open doors into integration.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, let me just say this, I used to do politics but I said when I became Secretary of State I had all my partisan instincts removed. But I will try to answer your question. I believe that most Americans believe very strongly in the integration of countries into European institutions and the very close link between the United States and Europe. We had actually overwhelmingly support for the enlargement of NATO ultimately as people understood the benefits of it to the strengthening of the alliance.
I also think that the participation of the three new NATO members in the Kosovo campaign showed the value of having additional members in NATO and that the spirit of expansion and enlargement is there. The question will be frankly as I said in my remarks: the level of preparation of countries to become members of NATO because it's not a joke, I mean it is really a very solid alliance. I think we showed again, during Kosovo, how important it was that there be good training, interoperability, that the command structure works in a good way so that it's very important that all the boxes be checked in terms of what needs to be done to be members of NATO.
I think that you will hear a lot about foreign policy in this campaign because we are in, the United States, a very interesting period where the United States is trying to assess its role in the world. We have been left as the sole super power. Believe it or not it is not something the United States wants to do. I think there is a sense of Cold War, and with the end of threats of nuclear war from the Soviet Union, a lot of Americans focused more on our own domestic social issues. But I hope that we have shown that the United States is necessary.
I have said without a sense of hubris that the United States is the indispensable nation; that without us things just don't happen. And so I'm hoping that the debate during the campaign will be a logical one, and a friendly one that will allow the American people to understand what our role is in the whole. How we have partners in Europe, and in Asia, and in Latin America that enable us to be even stronger not weaker. And that moving towards multi-polarity and additional partners is the way to go.
QUESTION: Ladislav Michalik: How do you think the role of Russian foreign policy could influence the accession of Slovak Republic to NATO? You might have seen some possible signs of disapproval from Russia's statesmen in the past.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say, originally when we talked about expanding NATO there were questions that people had -- how would the Russians feel about it. And we went through a lot of discussions with the Europeans and actually with the Russians. To say that the new NATO is not a threat against a new Russia and I know myself spoke to President Yeltsin about this and said that if they wanted to be seen as a new Russia it was important for them also to see a new NATO.
What I think is important is that actually the Russians have been with us in Bosnia and in Kosovo. And we established through the founding act a basis for a relationship between NATO and Russia. Now I am not going to stand up here and tell you that the Russians love NATO. They do not. Or that they are happy about a lot of things that NATO has done. But we made very clear in the founding act and this permanent joint council that we established with the Russians that they would never have a veto over NATO activities or over accession questions. And so those are decisions that are made by NATO members and based on our NATO members' national interest and of those countries that want to come in. So while they may not like it, our policy is that new NATO membership is not something that they have an influence over.
QUESTION: What do you think about an opinion that NATO is an entrance gate to the European Union for the countries of central Europe?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say what I find very interesting is the evolution of European institutions becoming strengthened and then new European institutions. I think that these are parallel institutions and it seems in some cases it is easier to get into the European Union than into NATO and in others, vice versa. I think a lot depends on the economic capability of a country and I think Slovakia has gotten good marks for economic reforms under Prime Minister Dzurinda, and the EU accession questions seem to be right on track and are on a somewhat more rapid track I would say at this moment. But I think these are basically complimentary and parallel institutions. And I don't think there is a one-for-one measure. But both are obviously important to the countries of Europe.
This is probably the last question. One more.
QUESTION: Wouldn't a Slovak Republic become a so called friction zone between Russia which will surely in the future oppress on the Government of the Slovak Republic and between the Czech Republic which will next future become a member of NATO? Thank you.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I would hope it would not. Because as I said I do not think that NATO should be viewed as anti-Russian. There is nothing about it in its current structure that is anti-Russian. It has set itself up in terms of trying to deal with threats to the security of countries within the NATO and outside of it as we showed in Serbia and Kosovo. And it is very important that we make very clear to the Russians that this is not set up against them.
I would think that if Slovakia proceeds down the path of getting its membership action plan ready for accession to NATO that it should be seen as a strength and not as a friction zone. I think the hardest part about what we were left with at the end of the Cold War is a gray zone between the west and the former Soviet Union that made countries unclear about where they belonged. And I think that as we expanded NATO, I think there is a sense of security with it, more security than being in a gray zone. Which is one reason also that we established with Ukraine. Because I think their position is one that is very important in terms of the overall security.
I think if I might conclude on this because the last question and the previous one also I think leads into this.
We are at a remarkable time in terms of what is possible for a Europe that is finally united and free. First time in the history of Europe. And one of the reasons that President Clinton and I undertook the whole Kosovo campaign, and it was a very difficult one and very difficult decisions to be made, was because as you look at all of Europe it was with the end of the Cold War, pieces were coming together and people were a part of a sense of similar values and economic future and there is a piece missing. And that piece is the Balkans. And it is a great tragedy what is happening in the Balkans, where ethnic hatreds have come to the point to where people were behaving in barbaric ways. And our effort, and I'm going tomorrow to Kosovo with the President, is to try to bring the Balkans into Europe and to try to piece that so that Europe would in fact be whole, and free, and democratic.
Now there are lots of questions if I were still a professor that one needs to think about. About what the meanings of sovereignty are. How countries work together economically. How you manage to have countries that are not ethnically homogenous. How you treat minorities. How you deal with very small areas that cannot be economically viable by themselves. So there are lots of questions. But I think the thing to remember is that Western Europe, in creating the European Union, and the variety of organizations that you have talked about, have given up portions of their sovereignty in order to be part of a larger whole. And I think what has to happen in the Balkans is that the divisions that are there now have to be overcome so that the Balkans can work together more. We have set up a variety of organizations to do that. And then that the Balkans can be a part of new Europe. And in that new Europe, Slovakia is clearly at the center.
Thank you very, very, much for your wonderful reception.
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