Sveiki Draugi! Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the warm welcome. Madam President, Laura and I thank you for your kind words of introduction, we thank you for your principled leadership, and I thank you for your friendship, and we thank you for the hospitality that you and Dr. Freibergs have shown us.
I want to thank the people of the Republic of Latvia for being such gracious hosts for my visit here. And I want to also thank the prime minister for joining us, and members of the government.
Laura and I are so pleased to make this second journey to the Baltic states, and our first visit to the great land of Latvia. We're honored, as well, to be in the company of President Ruutel of Estonia and President Adamkus of Lithuania 's thank you both for coming. These are good friends to Latvia, and good friends to America.
The Baltic countries have seen one of the most dramatic transformations in modern history, from captive nations to NATO allies and EU members in little more than a decade. The Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian people showed that the love of liberty is stronger than the will of an empire. And today you're standing for liberty beyond your borders, so that others do not suffer the injustices you have known. The American people admire your moral courage in the cause of freedom.
This week, nations on both sides of the Atlantic observe the 60th anniversary of Hitler's defeat. The evil that seized power in Germany brought war to all of Europe, and waged war against morality itself. What began as a movement of thugs became a government without conscience, and then an empire of bottomless cruelty. The Third Reich exalted the strong over the weak, overran and humiliated peaceful countries, undertook a mad quest for racial purity, coldly planned and carried out the murder of millions, and defined evil for the ages. Brave men and women of many countries faced that evil and fought through dark and desperate years for their families and their homelands. In the end, a dictator who worshipped power was confined to four walls of a bunker, and the fall of his squalid tyranny is a day to remember and to celebrate.
The Baltic states had no role in starting World War II. The battle came here because of a secret pact between dictators. And when the war came, many in this region showed their courage. After a puppet government ordered the Latvian fleet to return to port, sailors on eight freighters chose to remain at sea under the flag of free Latvia, assisting the United States Merchant Marine in carrying supplies across the Atlantic. A newspaper in the state of South Carolina described the Latvian crew this way: "They all have beards and dressed so differently... They are ... exhausted, but full of fighting spirit."
By the end of the war, six of the Latvian ships had been sunk, and more than half the sailors had been lost. Nearly all of the survivors settled in America and became citizens we were proud to call our own. One American town renamed a street Ciltvaira 's to honor a sunken ship that sailed under a free Latvian flag. My country has always been thankful for Latvia's friendship, and Latvia will always have the friendship of America.
As we mark a victory of six decades ago, we are mindful of a paradox. For much of Germany, defeat led to freedom. For much of Eastern and Central Europe, victory brought the iron rule of another empire. VE Day marked the end of fascism, but it did not end oppression. The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable. Yet this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable. The captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history.
The end of World War II raised unavoidable questions for my country: Had we fought and sacrificed only to achieve the permanent division of Europe into armed camps? Or did the cause of freedom and the rights of nations require more of us? Eventually, America and our strong allies made a decision: We would not be content with the liberation of half of Europe 's and we would not forget our friends behind an Iron Curtain. We defended the freedom of Greece and Turkey, and airlifted supplies to Berlin, and broadcast the message of liberty by radio. We spoke up for dissenters, and challenged an empire to tear down a hated wall. Eventually, communism began to collapse under external pressure and under the weight of its own contradictions. And we set the vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace 's so dictators could no longer rise up and feed ancient grievances and conflict would not be repeated again and again.
In these decades of struggle and purpose, the Baltic peoples kept a long vigil of suffering and hope. Though you lived in isolation, you were not alone. The United States refused to recognize your occupation by an empire. The flags of free Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania 's illegal at home 's flew proudly over diplomatic missions in the United States. And when you joined hands in protest and the empire fell away, the legacy of Yalta was finally buried, once and for all. The security and freedom of the Baltic nations is now more than a noble aspiration: It is the binding pledge of the alliance we share. The defense of your freedom 's in defense of your freedom you will never stand alone.
From the vantage point of this new century, we recognize the end of the Cold War as part of an even broader movement in our world. From Germany and Japan after World War II, to Latin America, to Asia, and Central and Eastern Europe, and now to the broader Middle East, the advance of freedom is the great story of our age. And in this history, there are important lessons. We have learned that free nations grow stronger with time, because they rise on the creativity and enterprise of their people. We have learned that governments accountable to citizens are peaceful, while dictatorships stir resentments and hatred to cover their own failings. We have learned that the skeptics and pessimists are often wrong, because men and women in every culture, when given the chance, will choose liberty. We have learned that even after a long wait in the darkness of tyranny, freedom can arrive suddenly, like the break of day. And we have learned that the demand for self-government is often driven and sustained by patriotism, by the traditions and heroes and language of a native land.
For my own country, the process of becoming a mature, multiethnic democracy was lengthy and violent. Our journey from national independence to equal injustice (sic) included the enslavement of millions, and a four-year civil war. Even after slavery ended, a century passed before an oppressed minority was guaranteed equal rights. Americans found that racial division almost destroyed us, and the false doctrine of "separate but equal" was no basis for a strong and unified country. The only way we found to rise above the injustices of our history was to reject segregation, to move beyond mere tolerance, and to affirm the brotherhood of everyone in our land.
Latvia is facing the challenges that come with ethnic diversity, and it's addressing these challenges in a uniformly peaceful way. Whatever the historical causes, yours is now a multiethnic society 's as I have seen on my visit. No wrongs of the past should ever be allowed to divide you, or to slow your remarkable progress. While keeping your Latvian identity and language, you have a responsibility to reach out to all who share the future of Latvia. A welcoming and tolerant spirit will assure the unity and strength of your country. Minorities here have a responsibility as well 's to be citizens who seek the good of the country in which they live. As inclusive, peaceful societies, all of the Baltic nations can be models to every nation that follows the path of freedom and democracy.
All the nations that border Russia will benefit from the spread of democratic values 's and so will Russia itself. Stable, prosperous democracies are good neighbors, trading in freedom, and posing no threat to anyone. The United States has free and peaceful nations to the north and south of us. We do not consider ourselves to be encircled; we consider ourselves to be blessed. No good purpose is served by stirring up fears and exploiting old rivalries in this region. The interests of Russia and all nations are served by the growth of freedom that leads to prosperity and peace.
Inside Russia, leaders have made great progress over the last 15 years. President Putin recently stated that Russia's future lies within Europe 's and America agrees. He also stated that Russia's democratic future will not be determined by outsiders 's and America agrees, as well. That nation will follow its own course, according to its own history. Yet all free and successful countries have some common characteristics: freedom of worship, freedom of the press, economic liberty, the rule of law and the limitation of power through checks and balances. In the long run, it is the strength of Russian democracy that will determine the greatness of Russia. And I believe the Russian people value their freedom, and will settle for nothing less.
For all the problems that remain, it is a miracle of history that this young century finds us speaking about the consolidation of freedom throughout Europe. And the stunning democratic gains of the last several decades are only the beginning. Freedom is not tired. The ideal of human dignity is not weary. And the next stage of the world democratic movement is already unfolding in the broader Middle East.
The Baltic states are members of a global coalition, and each is making essential contributions every day. Lithuania is preparing to deploy a reconstruction team to western Afghanistan, and has troops in Iraq conducting patrols and aiding in reconstruction.
Estonians are serving in Afghanistan, they're detecting and removing explosives, and Estonian troops serve side-by-side with Americans in Baghdad. Latvia has a team in Kabul, Afghanistan, clearing mines, and soldiers in Iraq providing convoy security and patrols. Your commitment to freedom has brought sacrifice. We remember Lieutenant Olafs Baumanis, who was killed in Iraq. We ask for God's blessings for his family, and we're honored that his wife, Vita, is here with us today.
It's no surprise that Afghanistan and Iraq find strong allies in the Baltic nations. Because you've recently known tyranny, you are offended by the oppression of others. The men and women under my command are proud to serve with you. Today I'm honored to deliver the thanks of the American people.
Sixty years ago, on the 7th of May, the world reacted with joy and relief at the defeat of fascism in Europe. The next day, General Dwight D. Eisenhower announced that "history's mightiest machine of conquest has been utterly destroyed." Yet the great democracies soon found that a new mission had come to us 's not merely to defeat a single dictator, but to defeat the idea of dictatorship on this continent. Through the decades of that struggle, some endured the rule of tyrants; all lived in the frightening shadow of war. Yet because we lifted our sights and held firm to our principles, freedom prevailed.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, the freedom of Europe, won by courage, must be secured by effort and goodwill. In our time, as well, we must raise our sights. In the distance we can see another great goal 's not merely the absence of tyranny on this continent, but the end of tyranny in our world. Once again, we're asked to hold firm to our principles, and to value the liberty of others. And once again, if we do our part, freedom will prevail.
Thank you, and God bless.
The above were excerpts from President Bush's speech in the Little Guild hall - Riga, May 7