USAID Administrator Green's Remarks at European Democracy Youth Network (EDYN) Conference


For Immediate Release

Friday, November 8, 2019
Office of Press Relations
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November 8, 2019
Maritim Hotel
Berlin, Germany

ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR BIERMAN: It's my distinct pleasure to introduce the Administrator of USAID, my boss. And I'm just going to say this, Mark, you have been an inspiration to me personally, professionally. You are the best boss I've ever had in a professional career. The vision that you bring to USAID is unparalleled. And I want to thank you personally for that.

Today's keynote speaker is a person who got his start very young. He's an ambitious leader in his own right. Over 30 years ago, he and his wife Sue, who is also here with us today, dedicated a year of their life as a young married couple to teach school in Kenya. They know how hard it is to organize and create and maintain the things that build good citizens. They live their values by trying to make a difference for one small African town, and in the decades since have made a difference well beyond the Kenyan borders. USAID Administrator Mark Green has always believed that democracy was something that requires constant nurturing. In Ambassador Green's time as a member of the U.S. Congress, he was a champion of democracy. As the President of the International Republican Institute and as U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania, he worked to advocate and support democracy and human dignity across the world.

As Administrator of USAID, he is constantly seeking new ways to empower citizens, entrepreneurs, and nations to lead their own development journeys, he believes that the mission of foreign assistance must be the need to end its existence. He is a fierce advocate for democracy in every corner of the world, and I am so grateful that he is here today to join us.

Administrator Green.

On November 8, 2019, Administrator Green attended the premiere of a documentary at the European Democracy Youth Network (EDYN) conference. At the screening, the Administrator delivered keynote remarks to a group of 45 young political and civic leaders from across Europe and Eurasia, as well as other invited guests. He emphasized the critical role young people can play in bridging divides to support common goals and reinvigorate citizen-responsive democratic institutions.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Brock, thank you for those very kind words and to all, Juela, thank you not just for your hard work in putting together today's program, but for your great leadership in helping to launch EDYN.

Good afternoon, fellow democracy warriors.

What an important week in the history of our movement. So, as you all know, tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. That iconic moment where young men and young women scaled that monstrosity and boldly asserted their freedom. But my friends, as special as that moment was, in all honesty, that's not why I'm here. That's not what I'm here to commemorate. Let me explain. So, 25 years ago -- five years ago, we were approaching the 25th anniversary of the wall's dismantling. I was serving as President of the International Republican Institute, and it dawned on me, as you have said, that many of my young staff weren't even old enough to remember the wall, let alone appreciate the significance of it's toppling. And so, I went to see General Brent Scowcroft, who was on the board of directors of IRI and had served as George H. W. Bush's national security adviser. And I asked him what it was that I should tell today's young people about those days and why those days matter. I'll never forget, he said very simply, "Tell him it wasn't easy. Tell them it was often in doubt."

He said he knew that from today's vantage point, the toppling of the wall seems obvious. It seems natural or even inevitable. Of course, it shouldn't come about. And of course, Europe should be, in President Bush's words, whole and free. But in those days, he said it wasn't a given, it wasn't inevitable. Let's be honest, it wasn't universally supported. This week, speaker after speaker will recall the moment, as we've heard, of President Reagan's bold proclamation at the Brandenburg Gate, "Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall."

There's a risk that today's young people might assume that saying it made it so, that the day after he said it, the wall just came down, or maybe a week later, tops. Of course, it took more than two years. What happened during those two years, in all the years leading up to Reagan's speech, that is what I am here to commemorate. Not just the toppling, but the courage and the struggle that it took to get there. As Brent Scowcroft said, it wasn't easy. And more importantly, it never has been easy. And that's the lesson that we must never forget. It wasn't easy in Slovakia. The late nineteen nineties, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, with whom you spoke earlier this week, a good friend of mine. She described Slovakia as the black hole of Europe. When the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland joined NATO, Slovakia was left behind. As others move towards democracy, Slovakia looked the other way.

In the late 1990s, the son of the then President Kováč was abducted. A key witness in the case, a police officer, was murdered on the streets of Bratislava, likely by the Slovak Intelligence Services. Prime Minister Mečiar was engaged in a campaign to shut down NGOs, crush the political opposition, physically abused journalists, tie the country closer to Russia, and to divert state resources to his friends and family. The prospects for freedom and democracy were weak to say the least.

As Madeleine Albright called it, a black hole. And yet in 1998, a new movement began. A grass roots coalition of opposition parties and NGOs powered by young people stood up and appealed directly to the people. They unleashed a wave of popular support that carried that coalition to power and put the country back on the path towards democracy and reform and Western integration. And Slovakia is no longer a black hole. It's a shining star.

It wasn't easy in Georgia either. In the early days after the Soviet Union's collapse, Georgia was embroiled in turmoil. Corrupt politicians seized control over public services and cut deals with criminal groups. The Soviet regime was gone, but another crooked one had replaced it. But in the midst of that turmoil, everyday Georgians and Slavs began to organize. Tired of the violence and oppression, unwilling to stay silent any longer. People began to find their voice. And passionate advocates for good governance, transparency, and Western integration began to form a movement.

The corrupt old guard tried desperately to hold on to power through a fraudulent election. Their leader, Eduard Shevardnadze, tried to muscle his way through the citizen protest by convening his parliament regardless of the obvious will of the people. The opposition, led by his Saakashvili, but powered by citizen activists, burst into this session with roses in their hands, the Rose Revolution. To apply the tactics that he, no doubt, learned in the Soviet Union, the President declared a state of emergency and began to mobilize troops near his residence. But democracy won when the elite military units refused to support the government. The corrupt party was done.

But this day, and this movement doesn't belong simply to the people of Europe. Ronald Reagan used to push back hard on anyone who ever implied that democracy can only work in Western Europe or the U.S. He called that thinking cultural condescension or worse. The desires of liberty and democracy, it's universal. It beats in every human heart. There's the example of The Gambia. Today, Isatou Touray is Gambia's Minister of Health and Social Welfare, but her greatest contribution to her people was a few years ago. In her days as a civil society activist, during the brutal dictatorship Yahya Jammeh. In 2016, Dr. Touray helped build a remarkable grassroots network across her country calling for liberty and democracy. She was truly courageous. Jammeh made it clear he would not tolerate dissent, especially not from a woman. Her leadership carried the opposition to victory. When Jammeh refused to step down, she spoke up publicly and demanded that the people's will be respected.

There were protests and government crackdowns. She told me a couple of years ago that it all came down to one crucial moment. She was at home with her husband and they had just gone to bed. It was dark, but they could hear the motorized vehicles, the military vehicles coming on to her yard. And she said to her husband, "Don't worry, I'll handle this." She walked outside to the police, and they said, "No, you don't understand, we're here to protect you. It's never (inaudible).

The struggle for freedom and democracy goes on as we speak in places like Venezuela. It's no secret that Nicolas Maduro is a tyrant, both corrupt and incompetent. By the end of this year, 5 million Venezuelans will have fled that country. But one of the reasons for hope and optimism and the reason that I am optimistic is Juan Guaidó. Just 12 years ago, Guaidó was an everyday university student. And like many of you, the longing for democracy and human liberty burned brightly in his heart. By working with other activists and civil society groups, he learned the skills, as you are -- he learned the skills to first stand for office and then win. And he rose to lead the country's National Assembly. When Maduro moved to steal yet another election, Guaidó was rightfully declared the interim President by that National Assembly. To show people that he would not be intimidated by Maduro's thuggery, Juan Guaidó held his swearing in ceremony in downtown Caracas in broad daylight. Even though there were threats on his life, even though many of his friends and relatives were arrested and beaten, he stood boldly in the open, in front of thousands of hopeful Venezuelans as a beacon of liberty and freedom. In the days that followed, he proved his leadership and courage over and over again.

Seeing that his people were suffering brutally under Maduro, he defied all court orders and numerous personal threats to venture out of the country. He wanted to appeal directly to the international humanitarian community for humanitarian assistance and relief. He had been ordered not to leave, but using back roads, he was able to slip into Colombia. Even with Maduro's thugs on the lookout. After meeting with world leaders to plead for help, he once again defied all the threats and all the orders and pledged to go back to Venezuela. I saw him in Colombia, and he said to me, "I must go home." And I said, "Do you really think that's a good idea?" "I'm in Colombia, I must go home." And he did as protection (inaudible) weapons and warriors, the people, everyday citizens. Defying Maduro once again, he flew right into Venezuela on a commercial flight to the main airport, and he drove to the middle of Caracas once again in broad daylight, surrounded by citizens, daring Maduro to arrest him. And these days, he continues to travel all across the country with little to no professional security, he even goes to the barrios and housing projects, where Maduro himself would never go for fear for his own safety.

I know we have people who are here from Hong Kong today, bravely standing up for democracy. I know we have people here today from Venezuela bravely standing up for your future. True courage and a willingness to risk all. Venezuela, The Gambia, Slovakia, Georgia, are all part of the freedom's unending story. Their example serves to challenge you and me, to look into our own hearts and ask ourselves who today's leaders will be. Who will write the next chapters? Who will claim the legacy of those young men and women who danced on top of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago tomorrow? Earlier today, when I walked along some of the remnants of the wall, again, I couldn't simply celebrate the fact of what happened 30 years ago, I had to celebrate what's happened since then.

All of the young inspired democracy activists who've come forward, as well as all of those we have left behind. That's what we should celebrate this week. The fall of the wall was the easy part. But democracy, the struggle for democracy, the fight for democracy, it wasn't easy 30 years ago. It isn't easy today. It never will be easy. It's simply right. American President Teddy Roosevelt once said, "Far and away, the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing." Can anybody really think of anything more worth doing than what we are gathered here to discuss and plan for?

Congratulations and thanks to all of you for everything that you've done. More importantly, thank you for everything that you're going to do.

Last updated: August 10, 2020

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