President Discusses Oppression, Dissent in Run-up to G-8 Summit
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 5, 2007 President Bush said today that if striving to end tyranny makes him a “dissident president,” then he would proudly wear the title.
During a keynote address at a democracy and freedom conference at Czernin Palace in Prague, Czech Republic, Bush reproached leaders of China and Russia, but characterized the United States' relationship with each country as a complex friendship.
“In the areas where we share mutual interests, we work together. In other areas, we have strong disagreements,” he said. “China’s leaders believe that they can continue to open the nation’s economy without opening its political system. We disagree.”
Bush will meet tomorrow with leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and Russia in Heiligendamm, Germany, at the Group of Eight Summit. He told the audience that Russia, the newest member to the annual summit, has failed to deliver promises to Russian citizens.
“Reforms that were once promised to empower citizens have been derailed, with troubling implications for democratic development,” he said.
In a more conciliatory tone, Bush said the United States will continue building relationships with China and Russia, which requires the ability to openly discuss disagreements. “We will do it without abandoning our principles or our values,” he added.
Freedom of speech, religion, press and assembly; rule of law enforced by independent courts; private property rights; and political parties that compete in free and fair elections are “fundamental elements” shared by democratic nations, Bush said. “Freedom is the best way to unleash the creativity and economic potential of a nation,” he added.
In contrast to these values, the president called Belarus, Burma, Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, and Zimbabwe “some of the world's worst dictatorships.”
“North Koreans live in a closed society where dissent is brutally suppressed, and they are cut off from their brothers and sisters to the south,” Bush said. “The Cubans are desperate for freedom. And as that nation enters a period of transition, we must insist on free elections and free speech and free assembly.
“And in Sudan,” he said, “freedom is denied and basic human rights are violated by a government that pursues genocide against its own citizens.”
Focusing on two hotbed regions, Bush described oppression in Iran and Venezuela. “The Iranians are a great people who deserve to chart their own future, but they are denied their liberty by a handful of extremists whose pursuit of nuclear weapons prevents their country from taking its rightful place amongst the thriving,” he said. “In Venezuela, elected leaders have resorted to shallow populism to dismantle democratic institutions and tighten their grip on power.”
Political developments since the Cold War are reason for optimism, Bush said. To encourage this trend, the United States has nearly doubled funding for democracy projects, he added.
“At the start of the 1980s, there were only 45 democracies on Earth. There are now more than 120 democracies; more people now live in freedom than ever before,” he said. “We're cooperating side by side with the new democracies in Ukraine and Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. We congratulate the people of Yemen on their landmark presidential election and the people of Kuwait on elections in which women were able to vote and run for office for the first time.”
Governments that are accountable to their people do not attack each other; they address problems through the political process instead of blaming outside scapegoats, Bush said.
“Young people who can disagree openly with their leaders are less likely to adopt violent ideologies,” he said. “And nations that commit to freedom for their people will not support extremists; they will join in defeating them.”
Bush acknowledged his critics’ stance against a policy aimed at snuffing out tyranny.
“Some say that ending tyranny means imposing our values on people who do not share them or that people live in parts of the world where freedom cannot take hold,” he said. “Another objection is that ending tyranny will unleash chaos. Critics point to the violence in Afghanistan or Iraq or Lebanon as evidence that freedom leaves people less safe.”
Bush refuted such criticism, claiming that people choose freedom if given a choice between liberty and oppression. He added that those who fight free societies do so because such societies pose a “mortal threat to their ambitions and to their very survival.”
“It is evidence that they recognize democracy's power,” he said.
Elections will not always turn out as hoped, Bush said, referring to the politically elected Hamas government in Palestine. The United States considers Hamas, an outspoken anti-Semitic group known to carry out suicide bombings, a terrorist organization.
“Yet democracy consists of more than a single trip to the ballot box,” Bush said. “Democracy requires meaningful opposition parties, a vibrant civil society, a government that enforces the law and responds to the needs of its people.”