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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks On the Occasion of Receiving an Honorary Degree From the University of Gdansk
Gdansk, Poland, June 25, 2000
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
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SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much, Rector, Vice Rector, and Foreign Minister Geremek, for your warm welcome and extremely kind words, and for this very special honorary degree, which I will always cherish and for which I am deeply grateful.

I especially want to thank my friend, the Foreign Minister, whom I have known before either of us became a Foreign Minister, and with whom I expect to remain friends for life. This man is one of Poland's national treasures. He is that rarest of beings, both a true intellectual and a true man of action. A fine historian and a great visionary. A champion of Poland's national aspirations, and a global leader for democracy. I salute him and I love him and I know that you also do.

Members of the university community, representatives of the Sejm, city officials, ladies and gentlemen: Ciesze sie, ze moglam przyjechac do Gdanska. [I am delighted to be in Gdansk]

And I would like to, as any proper professor, depart from my text briefly to say how deeply moved I am to be here and all the kind words reminded me of my very special time in Gdansk and in Warsaw and Krakow when I was researching my work, and how deeply moved I was by the bravery of the Polish people and the Polish journalists.

As was mentioned, I'm a born Czech, but I wanted to become a Pole because I was so excited about what was happening here while my own country was not able to make the kinds of brave steps that the Polish people were taking.

Zbigniew Brzezinski often reminded me that I was not a Pole, but as you mentioned, I did have the honor of having worked for Ed Muskie and then for Brzezinski, and so Brzezinski and Muskie both said that I was the only woman in the world that had gone from Pole to Pole.

But I really do want to recognize and commend those incredible days when the Polish people were so brave, and now, as things seem calm, I think we all do need to remember the bravery of all those who went before us, and so I'm deeply honored by all the words that were said, and reminded of everything that happened here in this great city.

I am also proud to be among the first to speak in this wonderful new lecture hall, which reflects the dynamism that is making this young university so well known and respected in Europe and around the world.

There could be no better setting for a discussion of democracy and the 21st Century.

Because the students who graduated from this school this spring will have the chance to rise as high as their energy and skills will take them--an opportunity many generations of Poles were denied.

But the movement launched here in Gdansk two decades ago, which I did have the honor to witness and which was supported by many at this university, restored freedom to this great land. It erased the artificial line that Stalin had carved across the heart of Europe, and lit lamps of liberty throughout the region.

After ten eventful years, Solidarity brought democratic government to Poland, and blazed a trail that others would quickly follow. In Hungary, freedom emerged after a showdown lasting only ten months; in East Germany, ten weeks; in the Czech Republic, ten days; and in Romania, roughly ten hours.

A week ago, I spoke at a university in Boston, where America's revolution began, a place we like to call the "cradle of liberty." Today, I am honored to speak in this city, which deserves to be called "kolebka wolnosci."[cradle of liberty's rebirth]

And to be among a people who understand, as much or more than any other, that freedom is not free. It can be secured and sustained only at a price. And for Poland, that price has been very, very high.

Through more than a thousand years of history, you have maintained your identity and culture, despite periods of being fought over and cut up, and partitioned and occupied. During World War II, Poland was attacked from both sides; the names of Auschwitz and Katyn became forever linked with infamy; and the Warsaw uprisings set a new standard for human courage in the face of insurmountable odds.

In the Cold War, Poland had a satellite government, but you never became a satellite people--because you never lost your faith in freedom. Now, you are not only free, but also a leader in the effort to build a fully stable and democratic Europe.

By helping to cement peace in Bosnia, and to halt ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, you have made Europe safer; by joining NATO, you have made our Alliance stronger; by striving to heal past divisions with your neighbors, you have made the future more secure.

Economically, no nation has moved with greater determination than Poland to make the transition from Communism to a free market economy. The shocks have been great, the adjustments painful, and much remains to be done.

It also wouldn't hurt to have a little rain in the right places at the right time. But Poland has shown that sustained reforms produce a sustained improvement in people's lives, and that you have what it takes to thrive in the new world economy.

Moreover, politically, Poland has lived up to its democratic aspirations. This year, you will hold presidential elections for the third time since 1989. You have developed democratic institutions with deep roots nourished by a robust civil society. And you have reason for pride in the respect shown throughout your country for civil liberties and human rights.

So it is entirely fitting that starting today in Warsaw, the Stefan Batory Foundation and Freedom House will convene a nongovernmental World Forum on Democracy.

And Foreign Minister Geremek will begin hosting a conference representing countries from around the globe that have pledged to follow the democratic path. The United States is proud to join with six other such nations as Poland's partner in sponsoring this first-ever global gathering of declared democracies.

Our purpose will be to create a framework for cooperation that will strengthen democratic institutions where they exist; help democratic governments where they are endangered; and nurture democratic values where they are just beginning to blossom.

Such a gathering has never before occurred, because it's never before been possible. It is happening now because we have reached an important new stage in the worldwide growth and maturing of the democratic movement.

In 1900, the number of countries with a government elected competitively and on the basis of universal suffrage was zero. Today, it is 120.

This includes countries from every continent, and people of virtually every culture and faith. More than two-thirds of the world's population, including a majority of its Christians, Hindus, Jews and Muslims all now live in countries with elected governments.

Meanwhile, the number of non-governmental organizations dedicated to democracy, development, and human rights has multiplied, strengthening freedom's foundation in every region.

All this is to the good, but it provides no grounds for complacency.

Because, as the history of my own nation reflects, establishing democracy is hard. It took America 13 years to write and ratify a Constitution; and many decades more to abolish slavery; allow women to vote in Federal elections; and guarantee basic civil rights to all our citizens.

America's experience shows that democracies are truly difficult to build, and that true democracies are built to last.

But while democracy in the long run is the most stable form of government; in the short run, it is among the most fragile.

Many of the new democracies began their existence with vast inherited problems, including large debts and small bank accounts, ethnic strife and a lack of democratic traditions.

This has complicated their ability to combat corruption and crime and to build a strong civil society.

In addition, sad to say, some of these countries are still burdened with leaders who appear more interested in self-promotion and self-enrichment than self-government.

As a result, in too many places, democracy's promise has not yet been translated into the coin of higher living standards for the people. And the onset of democracy has not increased public satisfaction with the institutions of government.

This is deeply troubling, but also understandable; for although people may not live by bread alone, neither can they survive by ballots alone. Democracy must deliver. Otherwise, as we have already seen in some cases, the public may turn in desperation to failed approaches from the past.

So we've got to do better. An earlier generation fought to make the world safe for democracy. Our challenge is to strengthen democracy to make the world safe.

Of course, democratic development provides no guarantee against aggression and war; but it does provide pretty good insurance. History shows that governments that are accountable to their people are unlikely to engage in reckless acts of aggression; while regimes that run roughshod over the rights of their own people will not hesitate to trample on the freedoms of others.

Moreover, democracy is not just another form of government. Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every person everywhere has the right to live under a democratic system. And every nation has a responsibility to respect that right.

Today, around the globe, we see nations working together because they are from the same region, or speak the same language, or export the same products. It is urgent now that nations work together because they share the same democratic values.

And that's why we have gathered this week, here in Poland. Obviously, the Community of Democracies initiative cannot cause the many challenges that democracies face to disappear overnight.

We cannot lift from any nation the burden of building and nurturing its own democratic system, because no democracy will last unless it is rooted in domestic soil. In fact, democracy's greatest strength is that it grows from within, and from the bottom up.

But good democracies, like good neighbors, can help and strengthen each other by showing solidarity, sharing knowledge, and providing concrete assistance whether in good times or bad.

The centerpiece of our Conference will be the Warsaw Declaration, which will be endorsed by each participating country.

By offering this document, we will send a message to the world that although we may differ in the histories we recall, the languages we speak, the cultures we represent, and the specific paths we follow; we all agree on what constitutes democracy.

This is important because in diplomacy, democracy occupies the high ground--and the high ground is always contested.

During the Cold War, Communist leaders sought to hijack the term by calling their system "people's democracy," or "guided democracy," or "economic democracy." We have seen others try to use so-called regional or cultural values to excuse the undemocratic practices while still claiming the democratic label.

But true democracy balances rights and responsibilities, the individual and the community. It's not the property of the few at the top, nor can it simply be equated with the mob in the street.

As the Warsaw Declaration makes clear, truly democratic governments may vary in many respects, but they are the same in most important respects. They each derive their power from the will of the people, through elections that are free and fair.

They ensure equal treatment for their citizens under law.

They respect and protect freedom of religion, the press, and other fundamental civil rights.

They do not engage in torture or arbitrary arrest.

They observe the right of opposition political parties and trade unions to organize.

And they obey the rule of law, enforced by an independent judiciary, including the obligation of leaders to depart office when the Constitution so requires.

Living up to the principles of democracy is not easy. Important tasks rarely are. But those who endorse the Declaration must mean what they say. Countries still far from achieving these standards must move as rapidly as possible in the right direction. Those almost there must intensify their efforts.

And every nation must strive with others to help new democracies and old to overcome obstacles to success.

Although we come together this week to support democracy, we understand well that democratic elections don't always produce good leaders or efficient governments.

But the advantage of living in a democracy is that you don't have to prevail in every debate or win every election in order to have your voice heard and your rights protected.

Moreover, democracy carries within it the remedies of its own shortcomings. Through its processes, policies may be changed, divisions bridged, and leaders held accountable.

It is when leaders or societies depart from democratic practices, for whatever reason, that freedom is endangered and disaster invited.

History has taught us that the struggle for liberty is never-ending, because threats to liberty will never disappear. And that if we who love freedom grow weary, those who love only power will one day sweep us away.

Democracy is not the answer to every human problem. But it is the best system of government humans have devised. And the only system that values and respects the rights of all.

That is why so many brave men and women have sacrificed their lives and pledged their honor in freedom's name. That is why the struggle to defend and strengthen democracy is as important as any we could wage.

The question we must answer this week is whether we should undertake this struggle only as individual nations, each in our own house, laboring with the windows closed and the shades drawn. Or whether we should go forward as a community, in the bright light of liberty, adding the strength of each to the strength of all, determined never to yield ground.

In saying "Yes" to Poland's invitation, more than 100 nations have shown a desire to enter the 21st Century as charter members in a new Community of Democracies. There could be no better way to begin a new millennium. And no greater cause for hope that, with courage and vision, we can indeed build a future far better than the past.

In closing let me just say that, in his day, no one knew the heavens better than Copernicus.

No one wrote about the sea more brilliantly than Joseph Conrad.

No one is more committed to navigating by freedom's star than the people of Poland.

And no one is more grateful than I for the opportunity to participate in this ceremony, and for the honor that you have bestowed upon me.

Dziekuje jeszcze raz za uwage I za cieple powitanie. [Thank you once again for your attention and for your warm welcome here today.]

[End of Document]
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