U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green's Remarks to Charles University Students


For Immediate Release

Friday, October 19, 2018

October 19, 2018
Charles University
Prague, Czech Republic

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Thank you and good morning. Dobre Rano. From both myself and President Trump. Of course, if I have mispronounced it, then it's just from me.

Thank you, Ambassador King, for those very kind words. As the saying goes, I wish my parents in America were here today to hear them. My father would have been proud, and my mother would have believed everything you just said.

And thanks to Charles University for hosting us today, one of the world's great universities, in the heart of one of its greatest cities. For over six and a half centuries, this university has educated and inspired, leaders and leadership. And so, the world is truly in your debt.

Of course, many of us know Charles from student and faculty demonstrations, in late 1989, that helped spark the Velvet Revolution. The courage of those demonstrators reminds us that ideas and learning are not merely academic - they can be catalytic.

It's a particular pleasure for me to see my friend, Steve King, in diplomatic action. I've always believed that America puts her best foot forward diplomatically when she leverages the voices and the values of our heartland, the Midwest.

In terms of the voices represented here, as Steve noted, he and I are both from Wisconsin. A previous speaker, Speaker Paul Ryan is also from Wisconsin. Another recent ambassador to Prague, Richard Graber, is also from Wisconsin.

Now, some might see conspiracy in such a connection. The reality is simpler: Wisconsin is known in America as the finest beer brewing state. And so, we know where to go for the best pilsner. That's what brings us all here.

Of course, we are here to talk about more serious things.

As the Ambassador mentioned, I served 4 terms, 8 years in the U.S. Congress, one of the greatest honors of my life. And I still get chills when I see the Capitol Dome lit up at night or when I walk through halls of the House and the Senate.

The building itself is inspiring. The Capitol's Rotunda is where we pay final tribute to our most eminent citizens by having their remains lie in state. Its walls are adorned with paintings that capture historic events for us, like the signing of our Declaration of Independence or the landing of Christopher Columbus.

And every winter, Congress welcomes the President to that Capitol for his annual State of the Union Address.

In the area we call Statuary Hall, each of our 50 states provides two statues depicting its contributions to the American mosaic of cultures and history. And so the capitol really is a shrine for our republic.

A small number - very small number - of non-Americans are also represented in the U.S. Capitol. And as many of you know, one of them is Václav Havel. Today, as we celebrate 100 years of U.S.-Czech relations, I honestly think it's worth asking ourselves why.

Why, given the many men and women, nobel laureates, military leaders, celebrities from around the world whom Americans know...why is he one of the few that has such a place in the U.S. Capitol.

It could be a product of how the history of our two countries seems intertwined.

When President Woodrow Wilson gave his historic Fourteen Points speech to the U.S. Congress, full of so many ideals ... freedom of navigation to free trade, his tenth point in that fourteen point speech was unmistakable in its call for, I'm quoting: "The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be afforded the freest opportunity of autonomous development."

In the days that followed, President Wilson and President Tomas Masaryk, collaborated to turn that "freest opportunity" into this grand republic.

In recent years, we have stood shoulder to shoulder in fighting violent extremism on battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. On occasion that fighting has cost the precious blood of young heroes.

Americans are forever grateful that when our embassy closed in Syria, it was the Czech Republic that has chosen to serve as the protecting power for our interests on the ground, and provided critical citizen services.

But the bust of Havel isn't there merely because of our shared history. To be frank, we have a longer and deeper history with other nations.

Perhaps, it's there because of the remarkable contributions to American culture that have come from this beautiful, beautiful country.

American classical music has been influenced by the works of Antonin Dvorak. Countless Americans know Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Millions of us have admired the films of Milos Forman, including, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. And of course, native son Franz Kafka has so influenced the world of literature that in the English language his name has become an adjective.

It's there in sports. America's reigning national ice hockey champion, the Washington Capitals, boasts two Czech stars.

But other countries have influenced American culture as well.

My friends, I believe the answer is in the U.S. Capitol itself. You see, in 2014, Havel's bust was moved into a near sacred part of that grand building - an area we call the Freedom Foyer. An area set aside to reaffirm for us,all of the central importance of liberty and human dignity in western civilization.

It's meant to remind the millions of annual visitors --remind all of us, including members of Congress themselves - in the words of President George W. Bush, that "the liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity."

Or in President Trump's words that "sovereign and independent nations are the only vehicle where freedom has ever survived, where democracy has ever endured, or peace ever prospered."

Vaclav Havel's bust is in the U.S. Capitol because he symbolizes a devotion our two peoples share to freedom and liberty.

It also offers America a direct connection to places back here, which remind us that these ideals must not only be prized, they must be defended.

The need for vigilance can be seen here in your stirring memorial to the victims of communism. We see it here at Charles University, where you commemorate International Student Day in honor of one of your own who was killed by Nazis during a student protest in 1939.

Occasions such as the centennial year's celebrations are a chance for all of us to measure how far we've come and an opportunity to contemplate how far we must still travel if we are to realize the promise of our journey.

They seem especially noteworthy when so much is on motion, or in motion on the world stage.

In its most recent annual report, Freedom House, the independent organization, warned us that "the countries that suffered democratic setbacks outnumbered those that registered gains... marking the 12th consecutive year of decline in global freedom."

When that report was first released, political pundits around the world were quick to pounce. Some loudly proclaimed the report clear evidence of democracy's demise and freedom's failure.

But as we gather in this timeless center of learning, a place where students paid that heavy price to protest first Nazism and then communism, we must resolve again and again to prove those pundits wrong.

In fairness, there's little doubt that modern authoritarian forces are doing what they can to unwind freedom's gains. It's also true that their tactics are more sophisticated, more subtle, and perhaps more even devious, than what we have seen before.

One authoritarian power, China, mobilizes deceptive economic tools to further its aims, a strategy that some have dubbed "debt diplomacy."

It offers developing nations "easy money," cash up front, but any clear-eyed analysis shows these funds come with strings attached: unsustainable debt, decreased transparency, and increased vulnerability to corruption, restrictions on market economics, and the loss of control of natural resources.

The devastating costs have become all too clear in places like Pakistan and Djibouti and, sadly, in many parts of Africa.

Another authoritarian power, closer to home here, uses a different approach. The Kremlin violates international norms with acts of aggression that include propaganda, cyber warfare, and their support for hostile regimes like Syria and Iran.

By undermining democratic institutions and rule of law, it seeks to weaken confidence in democratic and free-market systems, and undermine citizens' support for Western cohesion.

So our challenges are real. But none of this is reason for pessimism.

The doomsayers talk as though authoritarianism is an unstoppable force. As though freedom is in irreversible decline - that its best days are past.

In the Trump Administration, we simply don't agree. The only way freedom and democracy will fall away is if we let them, if we surrender.

Freedom's most important advocates, its activists and grassroots champions, have never surrendered.

Despite the threats and violence, Las Damas de Blanco, Cuba's Ladies in White, still gather every Sunday and peacefully walk to church in protest, protesting human rights violations and seeing their loved ones thrown in jail.

Despite Daniel Ortega's brutal crackdown, his regime's shoot-to-kill policy against student protestors, the defiling of churches ... Nicaragua's citizen activists continue to call for peace and free elections.

Despite having been ignored, disempowered, and even detained by their own government, Armenian citizens peacefully walked the streets of their capital making "waves of noise" in their fight for freedom.

By banging pots and pans outside of their windows, they successfully drove Armenia's oligarchy to resign, and declared victory over corruption and abuse of power that kept them in fear for so long.

When Alexander Dubcek launched a set of reforms for political liberalization, only to see that brief shining moment crushed by the Warsaw Pact invasion, where over a hundred Czechs and Slovaks lost their lives -their compatriots' yearning for freedom was never extinguished.

In fact, we're not far from Wenceslas Square, where thousands of Czechs came together, jingling their keys and raising flags above their heads, to reclaim their right to lead their own country and pursue their highest hopes for the future.

Back in the U.S. Capitol, not far from the Freedom Foyer, there is a statue honoring the late U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater. He was a pioneer of the American conservative movement, and I think it's fair to say, he opposed communism with every fiber of his being.

At the height of the Cold War, during a time when, as this country knows all too well, communism and tyranny held truly vast parts of the world in a dark grip, Goldwater urged Americans to be secular missionaries for freedom in a doubting world.

In my personal opinion, that's how we should mark your 100 years of independence, how we should mark the semi-centennial of the Prague Spring: we must be freedom's missionaries once again. It is what we owe Havel, Masaryk, Reagan and Wilson, it is what we owe ourselves, and what we owe our children.

In his address at Krasinski Square in Warsaw, President Trump explained... "Americans...and the nations of Europe value individual freedom and sovereignty. We must work together to confront these forces...that threaten, over time, to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that really make us who we are..."

Given the tactics of modern authoritarian powers, one of the best ways that I believe we can advocate for freedom is to stand with strong democratic leaders who are lifting lives by empowering people, taming corruption and opening up markets.

Since the day that President Trump gave me the honor of serving as his leader for the U.S. Agency for International Development, I have argued that the purpose of foreign assistance must be ending its very need to exist. And what I mean is, if leaders are willing to take on the reforms and policies necessary for their own journey to self-reliance then, as a country that has reaped freedom's blessings, we would walk with them along the way. We must help them lead their own future.

The Czech Republic is a shining, stirring example of success on this journey. Your country has gone, in a relatively short time, from being a recipient of foreign assistance to a fellow donor and partner. And true to leaders like Havel, you have become a close partner in helping others to follow your example.

USAID has worked over the years with your wonderful nongovernmental organization, People in Need.

Our partnerships strengthen civil society around the world, and protect voices of dissents who dare challenge their leaders to be better. We're supporting local activists who stand up to authoritarian governments in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.

We have worked together throughout Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, and Burma in support of good governance and address humanitarian challenges.

We're working together in support of the CEELI Institute to strengthen the rule of law internationally through education, exchanges, and training.

We're working together, of course, in support of the Prague Center, which is co-funded by the Czech government, and works to bolster civil society across Europe and Eurasia.

Being missionaries for freedom means helping free peoples and freedom-loving leaders succeed. It means helping them on their journey to self-reliance and moving from aid recipients to aid partners, ready to help others, in turn, rise.

Freedom House is right that, by some measures, freedom has declined in some quarters. And it is true that China has succeeded in pushing predatory financing on some countries in need. And the Kremlin has weaponized disinformation in countries still developing their democracy.

But Havel's bust in the Freedom Foyer, and Ronalda Reagana- Ronald Reagan Street - in Prague's sixth district, they remind us of the strength of ideas, of the values of leadership, and the power of good friends standing together.

I like to recall a story President Reagan told in his historic Westminster speech, the speech that launched the Western democracy movement. He said, I'm quoting: "I've often wondered about the shyness of some of us in the West about standing for these ideals that have done so much to ease the plight of man and the hardships of our imperfect world. This reluctance to use those vast resources at our command reminds me [Reagan] of the elderly lady who was home in London and saw her home bombed in the Blitz. As the rescuers moved about, they found a bottle of brandy that she'd stored behind the staircase in that home, and that was all that was left of her home. And since she was barely conscious, one of the workers pulled the cork to give her a taste. She came around immediately and said, 'Here now -- there now, put it back. That's only for emergencies.'"

On the 100th anniversary of the establishment of U.S.-Czech relations, in some ways we need to be like that dear old lady. Cheerful, yet determined. We have seen challenges before - goodness knows our parents have seen challenges before.

We have persevered. We will persevere, as long as we stand together.

We can be "freedom's missionaries."

On behalf of President Trump and the American people, I want to say thank you to the people of the Czech Republic for being such a good and reliable friend. And thank you to this wonderful university for hosting me here today.

Last updated: July 03, 2019

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