Bush makes historic visit to Prague

By HELEN THOMAS UPI White House Reporter

PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia -- President Bush joined in a joyous celebration Saturday of Czechoslovakia's peaceful revolution, pledging to give the nation a voice in 'the decisions that lie ahead for Europe' and offering modest U.S. aid to support its struggling new democracy.

Speaking first at a joint sitting of both chambers of the Federal Assembly -- the first such address by an American president -- and later at a news conference and powerful rally in the famed Wenceslas Square -- Bush applauded the rebirth of democracy in Czechoslovakia a year ago as part of the startling change that has swept Europe.


'That is why I'm here today -- we have not forgotten,' Bush said to the throng of some 400,000 crushed into the square. 'And the world will never forget what happened here, in this square where the history of freedom was written.'


It was a soaring anniversay celebration of the fledgling democracy won a year ago when peaceful demonstrations toppled the communist government and dissident playwright, Vaclav Havel, was installed as president.

'As you undertake political and economic reform, know one thing,' Bush declared. 'America will not fail you in this decisive moment. America will stand with you.'

The president's emotional speech, given under bleak skies and dozens of American flags draped together for the first time with the white, red and blue Czechoslovak tricolor, capped the daylong trip to the Central European nation of 15 million Czechs and Slovaks.

It marked the first such visit by a U.S. president and was the first stop for Bush of an eight-day, 16,000-mile swing through Europe and the Middle East to shore up support for his stand against Iraq in the Persian Gulf.

Bush took note of Czechoslovakia's hardships as it moves to a market economy and told the nation's legislators that he planned to urge Congress to authorize a $60 million Czechoslovak-American Enterprise Fund to help bolster its economy.

But he acknowledged just a short time later that the United States, facing its own economic woes, would be unable to contribute little more.


'I think we've spelled out what we can do in terms of direct assistance right now,' Bush told a news conference with Havel at his side.

The United States already has committed $370 million to Central and Eastern Europe for the coming year and pledged $5 billion from the International Monetary Fund and $9 billion from the World Bank for the area.

Bush pointed to the help from the international lending institutions as 'the thing that is most important' to the country.

'Investment and increased private sector help ... would be the best answer -- certainly long-range answer for the vitality and growth of Czechoslovakia,' he said.

But he did assure the playwright-turned-politician that his nation would play a role in the restructuring of Europe, which has witnessed the startling emergence of new democracies in the past year, the breath- taking reunification of Germany and the virtual collapse of communism.

'Among the first was Havel, and now there are millions,' said Bush. 'Today Europe whole and free is within our reach .... a new world born of a revolution that linked this square with others -- Gdansk, Budapest, Berlin.'

And claiming 'an enormous stake' for the U.S. in the future security of those nations, Bush told reporters, 'We don't want to see Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary off in some kind of no-man's land.'


He promised specifically to seek unanimous support for establishing a permanent secretariat in Prague of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the 34-nation grouping that meets in Paris next week to formally end the Cold War.

And he held out the hope of a 'more active role in the CSCE process (that) will contribute to the stability of Europe and fully include Czechoslovakia in the decisions that lie ahead for Europe.'

But even as Bush reveled in the moving symbolism and historic nature of his stop in Prague, the standoff with Iraq's President Saddam Hussein in the Persian Gulf was never far from the surface.NEWLN: more

Some 350 young anarchists, accusing the United States of 'hijacking their national holiday,' tried at one point to block Bush's motorcade as it headed for Wenceslas Square.

'He (Bush) wants to speak about freedom and somewhere else he wants to make war,' cried Kristof Michal, 17, in an apparent reference to the gulf crisis.

But Bush stoutly defended the U.S. response to Iraq's Aug. 2 takeover of oil-rich Kuwait -- this time, however, in a nation where the analogy of Adolf Hitler's takeover of the Sudetenland and the dismemberment of the newly independent state of Czechoslovakia in 1938 has special impact.


'You know from your own bitter experience that the world cannot turn a blind eye to aggression,' he told the deputies in the morning. 'We Americans, too, have learned.'

And later, he said, 'It is no coincidence that appeasement's lonely victim half a century ago should be among the first to understand that there is right and there is wrong, there is good and there is evil, and there are sacrifices worth making.'

The memorable stop in Czechoslovakia kicked off an odyssey that will take Bush and his wife, Barbara, on to his first trip to the new unified Germany, to France for historic treaty signings ending decades of arms buildups, and to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

On Thanksgiving Day, Bush will have dinner with troops in the Saudi desert and focus fully on the U.S.-led efforts to force Saddam to withdraw from Kuwait -- 'hopefully in a peaceful manner,' Bush said.

But he reiterated in the next breath that Iraq, as called on by the United Nations, will have to withdraw unconditionally from Kuwait 'without condition.'

As part of the tribute to Czechoslovakia's 1989 'Velvet Revolution,' Bush laid a symbolic wreath with great fanfare in the huge Wenceslas Square, where massive demonstrations last Nov. 17 led to the overthrow of the communist regime.


He closed his speech with the pledge to return the country's post- World War I Declaration of Independence that has been kept in the Library of Congress for seven decades. And in a moving presentation of a tiny replica of America's famous Liberty Bell, he rang it with flourish in a tribute to Czechoslovakia's courage, freedom and children.

At the end of the day, which was closed out with a dinner hosted for Havel by the Bushes, White House chief of staff John Sununu said the president was very moved by his reception in the square.

Before a sendoff of sustained applause and capped by roars prompted by Bush and Havel joining hands and singing the Czech version of, 'We shall overcome,' Bush said the revolution that helped change the face of Europe owed its heart to two individuals: Havel and the 70-year-old Alexander Dubcek, leader of the ill-fated 1968 'Prague Spring' of reforms that was crushed by Soviet tanks.

Bush met privately with Havel for 25 minutes and with the Czech president and his advisers for 30 minutes, describing the talks later as 'very good.'

At the joint news conference, Havel said through an interpreter that after discussing a range of issues, 'We have found that our views were very close to each other, if not even identical.'


In his own speech at the square, Havel sounded a more somber note, however, addressing the growing division in his country between Czechs and Slovaks, who are clamoring for greater autonomy.

'Today we are standing here somewhat embarrassed,' Havel said in speaking just moments before Bush. 'We know very well what we still have to accomplish, and the question springing up to mind is why do we find it so difficult to launch our joint project off the ground?'

Upon leaving Czechoslovakia on Sunday, Bush will travel to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's hometown of Ludwigshafen, Germany, before heading on to Paris where he will join Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and other world leaders in signing documents that will effectively bring an end to the Cold War.

The leaders will sign the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which authorizes drastic cuts in NATO and Warsaw Pact arsenals, and the CSCE documents confirming the end of East-West separation of the continent and demise of communist rule.

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