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Bush Thanks Slovakia for Support, Setting Example

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2005 – President Bush today praised the citizens of Slovakia for overcoming oppression in their own country and for taking "great risks" to help the people of Afghanistan and Iraq to do the same.

During a visit to Bratislava, the president stood in Hviezdoslavovo Square, where Slovaks began their quest for liberty against communist authorities almost 17 years ago during a candlelight and prayer vigil.

Though the leadership ordered the candles extinguished and succeeded in crushing that protest, Bush said the people of Bratislava "lit a candle for freedom that day." Within 20 months, they drove the communists from power, he noted, regaining sovereignty and independence and beginning the process of building a successful democracy.

"Slovaks know the horror of tyranny," the president said. "So you're working to bring hope of freedom to people who have not known it."

The president praised Slovakia for its far-reaching initiatives, including bringing Iraqis to Bratislava to see firsthand how a nation moves from dictatorship to democracy. "Your example is inspiring newly liberated people," he said. "You're showing that a small nation, built on a big idea, can spread liberty throughout the world."

Bush thanked the Slovaks for "serving courageously alongside U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq," and told them "the American people appreciate your courage and value your friendship."

He expressed regret over the Slovakian lives lost during these operations. "We honor their memory," the president said. "But by their sacrifice, they have helped purchase a future of freedom for millions."

By taking "great risks for freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq," Slovakia has proved itself "a trusted friend and a reliable ally," the president said.

He vowed that the United States would help Slovakia improve its military forces "so we can strengthen our ability to work together in the cause of freedom." This new solidarity initiative involves nations like Slovakia who, the president said, "are standing with America in the war on terror."

Slovakia's efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq and across the world are teaching young Slovaks as well as the world important lessons about freedom and its costs, the president said.

Victory in Iraq won't come "easily or quickly," Bush acknowledged, but said the terrorist insurgents "know they have no future in a free Iraq" and the Iraqi people are determined not to let them stop their forward momentum. "We have reason to hope," Bush said. "Iraqis have demonstrated their courage and their determination to live in freedom, and that has inspired the world."

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Related Sites:
President Addresses and Thanks Citizens of Slovakia
State Department Background Notes on Slovakia

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