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U.S. First Lady Voices Support for Democracy in Eastern Europe

  • Michael Gallant

Prague, July 4 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton says the West and Central and Eastern Europe must develop "an alliance of democratic values" to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Mrs. Clinton made the remark today in a speech at the headquarters of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. She gave the address on the 220th anniversary of U.S. Independence Day.

She said she made her current trip to Central and Eastern Europe on behalf of her husband (U.S. President Bill Clinton) "to emphasize and strengthen the relationships between our countries." She said she also carried a message of encouragement from America to "people who might question the pace of progress or the pain of change."

Mrs. Clinton, who lauded Radio Free Europe for its role in broadcasting news to Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union during communist rule, said opportunity, responsibility, community and respect for human dignity are the values upon which the alliance between the West and Central and Eastern Europe must be based. She said the best way to convey these values is the building and strengthening of civil society, which she defined as "the vehicle for our values, the way we convey who we are and what we stand for."

She noted the U.S. can offer the people of Central and Eastern Europe lessons in the building of democracy. She said one of those lessons is that democracy is "a messy business that requires patience, hard work, flexibility and an acceptance of its inherent imperfections."

The U.S. First Lady said: "perfecting democracy is a never-ending challenge, as my own country knows well." She also said that democracy often asks people to live peacefully as neighbors "with people who are different from us and whom we may not even like." She added that democratic values "must be steeped into our daily lives."

The first lady contended that Americans are now reminded of how precious freedom is just as the people of Central and Eastern Europe "construct democracy from the ruins of dictatorship." She said the U.S. has "a stake" in democracy's success around the world.

Mrs. Clinton said the greatest threat to democracy "is no longer a Communist monolith with imperial designs," but uncertain economic and social conditions that have emerged since the fall of Communism.

She added that the West can help Central and Eastern Europe deal with these conditions by expanding what she called "its democratic family by opening up the institutions that have served us for decades." She did not specify the institutions she was referring to, but several countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are seeking membership in NATO and the European Union.

Mrs. Clinton also commented on recent elections in the Czech Republic and Russia. She said that "the most remarkable thing about them (the Czech elections) was how unremarkable they were." She said people in Russia voted and chose their future through "peaceful, free choice...what a hopeful milestone for Russia and us all."

But she also warned that the rapid pace of global change reignites old tensions and creates new ones. She said that families are under greater stress in every country in the world and that "the gap between rich and poor grows wider."

Mrs. Clinton also spoke about her current trip to Central and Eastern Europe, noting she met with Romanian teachers who are developing new teaching methods that emphasize civic participation and democratic values. She said she also met with leaders of voluntary organizations who are training people to participate in elections. She noted she met with leaders of non-governmental organizations in Poland. She said the leaders there are helping citizens to protect their environment, improve health services, and promote women's rights.

She said America and Americans are supporting the efforts of local activists in Central and Eastern Europe and are "creating together an ethos of responsibility, caring, and initiative that allows people to participate fully in the civic life of their communities and their countries." She noted the people she has met in Central and Eastern Europe "are building democracy from the ground up."

The U.S. First Lady said Central and Eastern Europe is "a place where the principles of democracy have taken root, been nurtured, and now are flowering." She noted, "freedom has come (to Central and Eastern Europe) and now it is up to each of us to determine what freedom will mean."