Thank you Minister [of Defense of the Republic of Hungary Ferenc] Juhasz, [Hungarian] Ambassador [to the United States Andras] Simonyi, ladies and gentlemen. It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to participate here in the dedication ceremony for a statue for a true hero, a man who gave his life for American freedom. Great sacrifices made by Colonel [Michael] Kovats and the other Hussar soldiers are a demonstration that we have been partners for freedom for more than two centuries.
Today Hungarian and U.S. military servicemen and women stand shoulder to shoulder in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in the Balkans and other places around the world to maintain the peace, to protect human rights, and to foster international cooperation.
I confess that I am old enough to remember very vividly 1956. I remember the tragic scenes of Hungarian freedom fighters being mowed down by Soviet tanks and even as a young boy the sense of helplessness we felt here as Americans in seeing freedom extinguished.
I also remember quite a few Hungarian refugees who turned up in my small town in upstate New York and proceeded very rapidly to become Americans. I don’t know if he knew that we were having this ceremony—I think it was a pure coincidence—but, I just got a letter the other day from a man whom I knew when I was a child. His parents came here as refugees, his father worked as a janitor and his mother as cleaning lady. He is a neurosurgeon, his daughter is a lawyer and his granddaughter is two years old. It is another great Hungarian-American success story, of which there are so many.
And we shouldn’t be surprised by that because, Hungarian genius has helped invent integrated circuits, colored television, nuclear engineering, holography, supersonic flight, modern computer, the carburetor, the automatic gear box and, of course, most important of all: the Rubik’s Cube. [Laughter].
Hungarians or people of Hungarian decent have won Nobel Prizes in every field in which the prize is awarded. And many distinguished Hungarian-Americans have made their indelible mark on society in the sciences, in the arts, and in professional football.
We have a great many debts to Hungary. I was asked before by some of the press, what can small countries contribute? I think we’ve seen just in this statue what one individual dedicated to freedom can contribute, if that individual is prepared to sacrifice everything.
If 1956 was a year to mourn, 1989 was a year to celebrate and all Americans felt a wonderful feeling of joy to see the rebirth of freedom in Hungary and elsewhere in Central Europe. And that rebirth of freedom has been a plant that has grown and is growing in impressive ways.
We now celebrate Hungary not just as a free country but also as one of the first three new members of the NATO Alliance. And another friend of mine Hungarian-American Charles Gati is here. He and many others made a big contribution in the 1990’s in helping to bring Hungary into NATO.
And it didn’t stop there. I remember at the time some people feared that bringing Hungary and Poland and the Czech Republic into NATO would build a new wall down the center of Europe to replace the old one. But, instead, it has built a bridge and now more countries have joined, and Russia itself is in a brand new and positive relationship with the rest of Europe and with the United States.
And it hasn’t stopped there because Hungary has demonstrated through its active support and cooperation to be an important and capable member of the International Coalition that is united in the global fight against terrorism. I know that, based on the values that we share—the values that Colonel Kovats gave his life for—the love of freedom and the commitment to a peaceful and stable world, we will forge even closer links in the years to come. Thank you very much and may God bless both of our countries. [Applause].