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Europe: Bush Notes Baltics' Difficult Past

  • Jeremy Bransten --> Bush is greeted at an official ceremony outside Riga Castle Riga, 7 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush today praised the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania as shining examples of countries that have successfully transitioned from communism to democracy.

Bush, speaking in the Latvian capital Riga, touched on the past. But above all, he said he hopes the Baltic states will inspire people in countries deprived of freedom to embark on the same path.

The U.S. president, speaking at a joint news conference with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, said he came to Riga to show that America stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the three Baltic countries.

Bush, coining a new term, but sticking to a familiar theme, said Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are leading members of what he called the "Freedom Movement."

"The American people will never forget the occupation and the communist oppression of the people of the Baltics. We recognize your painful history." -- President Bush
He noted that the three nations overcame decades of oppression to emerge as free, prospering societies and could serve as examples to the rest of the world. Bush said he came to Riga to express his thanks to the Baltic countries and to emphasize America's interest in continued close cooperation.

"The United States has got great partners in doing what I think is our duty -- to spread democracy and freedom -- with the three nations represented here. So my trip here is to say as clearly as I can to the people of these three great countries, 'Thank you for your sacrifices, thank you for your courage, and thank you for your willingness to elect people who are willing to spread freedom and peace around the world," Bush said.

War Commemorations

Bush's trip to Riga -- which comes on the eve of his participation in World War II commemorations in Moscow -- is seen as highly symbolic. While also looking to the future, the Baltic presidents say Bush's visit is proof that America shares their view of history and opposes what they see as Russia's unwillingness to recognize past Soviet crimes. This is how

"By coming to the Baltic states, President Bush is I believe underscoring the meaning, this double meaning of these historic events," said Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga yesterday. "Sixty years ago, when the war ended, it meant liberation for many, it meant victory for many who could truly rejoice in it. But for others it meant slavery. It meant occupation. It meant subjugation and it meant Stalinist terror."

Bush today did not repeat calls by others in his administration for Moscow to denounce the 1939 Soviet-Nazi agreement that spelled the end of Baltic independence and atone for Soviet-led repression of the Baltic peoples.

But the U.S. president recalled that America had never recognized the Soviet Union's annexation of the Baltic states. And he added that America fully understands that for the Baltics, the end of World War II was not an occasion to celebrate.

"I recognize that in the West the end of the Second World War meant peace, but in the Baltics it brought occupation and communist oppression. And the American people will never forget the occupation and the communist oppression of the people of the Baltics. We recognize your painful history," Bush said.

Bush said he was certain today's Baltic societies would serve as an inspiration to others seeking freedom. He mentioned Belarus specifically as a potential example.

U.S. Foreign Policy

Bush was asked whether America's foreign policy was not based on artificially "exporting revolution," as Belarus's leader, among others, has charged.

He answered that America's foreign policy was not about provoking unnatural events or deciding other nations' fates, as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union had tried to do. Bush said America's foreign policy, which he defined as "promoting freedom," answered the most fundamental human yearning.

"Freedom is universal, freedom is etched on everybody's soul. The idea of countries helping others become free -- I would hope that would be viewed not as revolutionary, but as rational foreign policy, as decent foreign policy, as humane foreign policy," Bush said.

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus said that his nation, for one, fully shares this philosophy and will work alongside the United States to implement it.

"I can reassure the president of the United States that we will be standing and defending the right of the people, even those neighbors [for whom] democracy is still a dream. And by standing and speaking freely and -- I would say -- introducing some kind of a dose of oxygen into the resistance and opposition, which is striving for those same rights we are enjoying, we will definitely [make] a better world looking into the future," Adamkus said.

President Bush leaves for the Netherlands later this evening. He will be in Moscow along with some 50 other world leaders on 9 May and travels to Georgia on the following day.