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Bush Praises Slovaks' Transition To Democracy

Bush greets his crowd in Bratislava today Bratislava, Slovakia; 24 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- As expected, President Bush received the warmest reception of his European tour in Slovakia -- part of what U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last year termed the "new Europe."

Despite the cold and snowy weather, thousands of Slovaks turned out on one of Bratislava's main squares to hear the U.S. president speak words of admiration for their country's transition from communism to a fully fledged democracy.

On his previous stops in Brussels and Mainz, Germany, Bush addressed politicians and carefully selected audiences at indoor events as he tried to smooth over rifts in the trans-Atlantic alliance.

But today's speech had a far different feel. There is no rift to smooth over in Slovakia, where people are excited that Bush has decided to visit and "put them on the map."

The audience, including many young people waving small U.S. and Slovak flags, was made up of ordinary people and they responded to Bush's rhetoric with genuine enthusiasm.

Bush emphasized a now familiar theme in his address, drawing a comparison between the revolutions of 1989 that overthrew communism in Eastern Europe and recent events in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bush said freedom and democracy are universal values that were spreading by example.

He said Slovaks -- fully aware of the inherent risks and hardships -- had reclaimed their freedom in 1989 and that Iraqis were doing the same today. He noted the cases of Georgia and Ukraine and held them up as further examples of the march of freedom.

"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 [Ed. a reference to the purple ink used to mark voters' fingers] in Iraq," Bush said. "With their votes cast and counted, the Iraqi people now begin a great and historic journey. They will form a new government, draft a democratic constitution, and govern themselves as free people."

The U.S. president looked ahead as well, saying that he is convinced that eventually "freedom's promise will reach every people and every nation." He made specific mention of Moldova.

"In 10 days, Moldova has the opportunity to place its democratic credentials beyond doubt as its people head to the polls," Bush said.

Bush also cited the case of Belarus. His words were particularly well-received by a group of people waving small red and white Belarusian flags among the crowd.

"Inevitably, the people of Belarus will someday proudly belong to the countries of democracy," Bush said. "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."

As noted, Bush's speech broke little new ground but was well received. He said attaining freedom often incurs high costs and those nations that achieve this goal must keep ever-vigilant in defending democratic values. He urged Slovaks, who remember their victory over totalitarianism in 1989, to pass on the lessons to younger generations, and he praised Slovakia's contribution to peacekeeping missions in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

"The seeds of freedom do not sprout only where they are sown," Bush said. "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."

Bush was scheduled to hold a summit later in the day with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Bratislava.

For RFE/RL's complete coverage and analysis of the Russia-U.S. summit in Bratislava, see our dedicated Bush-Putin Summit 2005 webpage.