This week in Europe, we’re focused on democratic reforms. Europe has come a tremendous way over the last twenty years, and the lessons our Central and Eastern European allies and partners have learned are incredibly valuable as we seek to consolidate new democracies in the Middle East.
The President recounted a remark from one of his Central European colleagues when he was in Warsaw five weeks ago:
One of them said, there were those who said we could not handle democracy, that our cultures were too different. But America had faith in us. And so now we want to join with America and have faith in those in the Middle East and in North Africa. Even if some don't think that they can handle democracy, or that their cultures are too different, our experience tells us something different. And I think that's a good lesson for all of us to remember.
Secretary Clinton and I have been back in Europe this week building on what President Obama accomplished during his four-country trip there in May and focusing on the important joint efforts we are undertaking with our European allies and partners to advance democracy in the region and around the world.
On Wednesday and Thursday, we visited Budapest, Hungary, to mark the opening of the Lantos Institute, a new hub for activism on behalf of democratic reform. Congressman Tom Lantos was as strong a supporter of democracy as we’ve ever had in Congress, and the event at which Secretary Clinton spoke was a powerful reminder of the bipartisan tradition we’ve had supporting democracy in Europe and elsewhere. We also met with our Hungarian allies, and acknowledged both our successes together and our concerns about some of the actions the government has taken that set back democratic progress. Economic growth also remains a fundamental concern and an important shared goal for Hungarians and Americans alike.
From Budapest, we went on to Vilnius. Lithuania is chairing the Community of Democracies, and we participated in a Ministerial meeting to signal support for emerging democracies in Egypt and Tunisia, show solidarity with the people of Libya, and also focus on democratic challenges within Europe, especially the deteriorating situation in Belarus. There, the Lukashenka regime has been brutally repressing the human rights of the people of Belarus, refusing their legitimate grievances, and denying their fundamental liberties. We and the European Union have signaled in words and deed that we stand in solidarity with the people of Belarus. The Community of Democracies also announced a new Democracy Partnership Challenge that will work to help consolidate democracy in Tunisia and Moldova, two countries trying to build democracy out of an authoritarian past.
It is clear from our discussions with our Central and Eastern European allies and partners that they have embraced the idea of “paying it forward.” As Secretary Clinton observed, “when President Obama was in Warsaw, he was struck by the sense of responsibility that young Poles felt to help their counterparts in the world’s newest democracies, just as they had been helped after the fall of Communism.” Based on their democratic transformation over the last twenty years, they now have the skills and the desire to lead. It’s an impressive thing, and it goes back to what President Obama said in Warsaw – “America’s transatlantic alliance is the cornerstone of our engagement in the world.”
We will end the week in Madrid, meeting with our Spanish allies, and then return to Washington late on Saturday. As we celebrate our Independence Day, we can feel proud of the work that the Obama Administration is doing with our European allies and partners to give others the chance to celebrate freedom.
Liz Sherwood-Randall is Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and Senior Director for European Affairs on the National Security Staff.