THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) _______________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release October 21, 1995
REMARKS BY PRESIDENT CLINTON, PRESIDENT VACLAV HAVEL OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC, AND PRESIDENT MICHAL KOVAC OF THE SLOVAK REPUBLIC IN THE DEDICATION OF THE NATIONAL CZECH AND SLOVAK MUSEUM
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
11:00 A.M. CDT
PRESIDENT KOVAC: Mr. President Clinton, Mr. President Havel, dear compatriots, distinguished guests: It is partly symbolic that three presidents meet in the Museum of American Czechs and Slovaks -- presidents of the countries which, in spite of a number of differences, do share a lot. We share our common struggle for democracy and humanity, and also the fact that two small Central European nations have long-lasting, positive relations to the United States, where part of their history took place.
Thanks to this unique historic experience of our nations, we can speak of our good relations as something natural. Many Slovaks found a new home in the American continent in the most difficult times of our not-distant history. They came in three degrees -- first, to seek work; later because of their resistance against the communist dictatorship, and at last, they escaped in front of the tanks of the Warsaw Pact armies which tried to suffocate the democratic spirit in Central Europe.
Most or our compatriots who were chased through the world in thousands found open arms here in the United States. Our countrymen have always been good American patriots, and they actively participated in the flourishing development of their new homeland. But they did not help to develop the school of democracy only here, under the conditions where the democracy actually was born, but also in the country of their origin.
Especially the American Slovaks have crucially realized the necessity to free the nation from Hungarian oppression, and they signed important agreements in Pittsburgh and Cleveland, together with the Czech political representatives, on the establishment of a new state, Czechoslovakia.
Even the list of Slovaks who took an important part in strengthening the Slovak-American relations and democracy in Europe, and in other parts of the world is a long one. I have to mention at least one name in this connection. It is Dr. Sulovsky. He was the head of the United Nations Control Commission for 14 years, and he had very close relations with President Wilson.
He had influenced the rearranging of Central Europe and the region after World War I. He acted as a personal advisor of another two great American presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman. The personality of Sulovsky is I think one of the most beautiful examples of Slovak loyalty to the U.S. government and to its people. But at the same time, it is one of the most beautiful examples of an enthusiastic democrat who was able to bring into harmony the goals of a patriot with the sensibility of personality able to understand the tendencies and needs of the time he lived in.
I am mentioning Sulovsky because we need also today new heroes of our three lateral and also wider Central European world diplomacy. What we need is to renew and strengthen the mutual trust and nature of our historically positive relations, which have been forcibly interrupted for half a century. We need to develop an example of coexistence, ready to unite, build up and strengthen, ready to overcome possible difficulties in the spirit of friendship and cooperation.
The Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic, states of very close nations that arose from the common state in a peaceful way by negotiations. I am proud of this positive historic precedence. Therefore, I am convinced that the Czech and Slovak communities abroad, and especially here in the United States, will follow this precedence and they will find enough reasons for mutual dialogue, for cooperating and reaching our mutual goals, while respecting all differences.
We could spend a lot of time contemplating about the parallels and symbols of our today's meeting. It is a topic worth to remind and develop because its liveliness is in our long-term interests. The Slovak Republic is returning to where it's culturally and historically belongs, to the world of democracy and prosperity. Therefore, we are glad that, along with good Czech-Slovak relations, we can follow also the deep traditions of Slovak-American relations. This is our national contribution to stability in Central Europe, for which we are prepared to do our utmost to send signals of peace and stability to our space.
The National Czech and Slovak Museum has embraced positive examples from the past. I am convinced that we, today's politicians, as well as our successors will not write the pages of our common history only in dark colors. This moment, the meeting of the presidents of the three countries, could be one of the prerequisites confirming that our nations are ready to come with a new contribution to the treasury of our common history.
I wish that this contribution brings benefit to all of us equally, the Slovaks, the Czechs, the Americans, as well as to the nations of Europe.
Thank you for your attention. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT HAVEL: Dear Presidents, Mr. Governor, senators and congressmen, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you will excuse me for speaking in Czech, but I really do think that the occasion warrants it. (Laughter and applause.)
When I traveled here to Cedar Rapids and pondered upon the meaning of this trip, I thought, among other things, of a small train station not far away from Prague, and a small train station not far away from here. I recalled the fate of a man who 100 years ago made the journey between these two places. And I thought of the music which accompanied him as he went.
Some of you may have guessed that the stations are those of Nelahozeves, in the vicinity of Prague, and of Spillville, Iowa; that the man I am talking about is Antonin Dvorak, and the music, the Czech and American melodies which were the background for the unique new world symphony.
Antonin Dvorak, as you know well, was neither the first nor the last Czech to undertake this kind of a journey. At first hundreds, and later thousands and tens of thousands of Czech feet were treading the same pass, from the heart of Europe to the harbors on the East Coast of the United States. From there to the center of the Midwest -- Chicago -- and farther on to Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Wisconsin and a number of other places.
Many of our fellow countrymen eventually settled here in Cedar Rapids. They came here to Iowa to find here freedom, prosperity and mutual tolerance. It was here that they felt that "this is the land" which, as I have been told, is the original Indian meaning of the word Iowa.
The Czech and Slovak National Museum, whose opening we are celebrating here today, portrays this journey of our fellow countrymen with period photographs, artifacts and papers. It is and remains a memorial of their courage, their hard work, their readiness to overcome obstacles. And they believe in the future and in a higher providence. I am glad, and I feel honored to be able to congratulate you today on the completion of this magnificent work.
During the 100 years which have passed since Dvorak's visit to Iowa, the people in which the local Czech settlers have their roots has gone a long way as well. It was a journey in time rather than in space. But the goals were the same -- freedom, tolerance and prosperity.
After decades of oppression and absence of freedom, we have now reached a situation when we, too, can say in our home, "this is the land." It seems that our respective pasts have brought us to the same or at least a similar point. We are united by the same ideals. We believe in the same values. And we share the desire to cherish and protect them. Our experience, often a bitter one, has taught us that they cannot be simply taken for granted as something that will just be there forever, even if we were to do nothing for it.
Perhaps this fact is best expressed in the motto of the state of Iowa: Our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain. It is these words that guided the steps of the Czech travelers here to Iowa. They might as well have guided our own steps on our own journey.
Thank you. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you very much. President Havel, President Kovac, Governor Branstad, Senator Harkin, Congressman Leach, Mayor Serboucek, Mr. Schaeffer, Mr. Hruska, Ambassador Albright. Ladies and gentlemen, if we have not demonstrated anything else about the Czech and the Slovak heritage of Iowa, we have certainly shown to these two presidents that you are a hearty people. (Applause.)
I thank the Czech Plus Band for playing today. I thought they did a marvelous job, and we thank them. (Applause.) I am proud to stand here with these two presidents, each a pioneer and a patriot, each leading his nation through an epic transformation, each representing the promise of Europe's future, and their presence today reflects our growing partnership, as well as the deep roots of their people in the soil of Iowa.
I will never forget visiting Prague in January of 1994 -- the first time I had been there in 24 years -- and walking across the magnificent Charles Bridge with President Havel. I remembered then all the young people I had met there a quarter century before and how desperately then they had longed for the freedom they now enjoy. In his devotion to democracy and through his courage and sacrifice, Vaclav Havel helped to make the dreams of those young people a reality. And the world is in his debt. (Applause.)
President Kovac stands with us as a leader of a newly-independent nation with a proud heritage and a hopeful future. Mr. President, we know your job has been and continues to be difficult. And the United States supports your personal strong commitment to openness and reform as Slovakia takes its place within the family of democratic nations. And we thank you for your leadership. (Applause.)
Here in America's heartland, the heart of Europe beats loud and clear. Czech immigrants first came to Cedar Rapids in the middle of the 19th century. Soon, a little Bohemia had blossomed in the city where Czech culture flourished in journalism, music and drama.
Today that proud heritage is as vibrant as ever. One in five residents of Cedar Rapids is of Czech descent, including your Mayor. (Applause.) There are eight major Czech-American organizations in this city, and through the Czech school, American children learn the language and traditions of their ancestors an ocean away. Just a few steps from here the shops of Czech Village are filled with authentic crafts and home cooking. I think it's fitting that in this celebration of American diversity, we have a city which produces both Quaker Oats and kolachis. (Laughter and applause).
In Iowa and beyond, Americans of Czech and Slovak descent have added richness and texture to our American quilt. The values they, like so many other immigrants brought from their homelands -- love of family, devotion to community, taking responsibility and working hard -- these values flourished in America and helped America to flourish.
In the mid-19th century, thousands of Czech settlers formed America's new frontiers -- an experience immortalized in Willa Cather's novel, My Antonia. Slovak immigrants brought their skill and strength to the urban Northeast and the Midwest, where they helped to build heavy industry and oil and steel and coal.
The children and grandchildren of these early pioneers, as well as more recent arrivals, have been generous with their gifts to America. Filmmakers like Milos Forman have challenged our imagination. Students of the humanities have been enlightened by Jaroslav Pelikan. And stargazers stand in awe of Captain Eugene Cernan, the last human being to leave his footprints on the Moon.
From city hall to Capitol Hill, individuals like Congressman Peter Veselovsky of Indiana, former Congressman Charles Vannick of Ohio, and former Senator Roman Hruska of Nebraska, have served our country with distinction. Our dynamic ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright, who is here with me today, was born in Prague. And as I have told President Havel several times, the Czech Republic is the only nation in the world that has two ambassadors at the United Nations. (Laughter.)
The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library we are privileged to dedicate here today is a wonderful tribute to two cultures and two peoples, and to the contributions Czech and Slovak immigrants and their descendants have made and continue to make to our great nation.
In keeping with tradition, a dozen eggs have been added to the mortar of the cornerstone, guaranteeing that the museum will serve the public as long and proudly as the Charles Bridge in Prague. To all who have played a part in creating this great place, congratulations on your marvelous achievement. (Applause.)
My fellow Americans, I ask you to take just one more minute to reflect on what our history and this moment mean for us today and in our tomorrows. We celebrate a special corner of our rich and varied mosaic of race and ethnicity and culture and tradition that is America. We are many different peoples who all cherish faith and family, work and community and country. We strive to live lives that are free and honest and responsible. We know we have to build our foundation even in all of our differences on unity, not division; on peace, not hatred; and on a common vision for a better tomorrow. We know that our motto, E pluribus unum, is more than a motto, it's a national commitment.
As we deal with all the remarkable changes that are moving us from the Cold War to the global village, from the industrial to the information and technology age, we have to remember that we cannot keep the American Dream alive here at home unless we continue to make common cause with people like President Havel and President Kovac; unless we continue to stand for freedom and democracy and peace around the world.
The United States has made a real contribution to the march of freedom, democracy and peace, in accelerating the dismantling of our nuclear weapons so that now, for the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age, there's not a single nuclear missile pointed at a single American citizen. (Applause.)
We are working with people all around the world to combat the dangers of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of destruction. We have tried to be a force for peace and freedom from the Middle East to Northern Ireland to Haiti, and most recently, in Bosnia, where we are hoping and praying that the peace talks will succeed and that the cease-fire will turn into a genuine peace agreement. All of that, of course, especially affects the efforts of these two presidents to secure their own people and their future.
The Czech Republic, Slovakia, other nations in Central Europe -- they are working hard to build the democracy and foster the prosperity that we sometimes take for granted. They've made an awful lot of progress in the face of real challenges, and we have to continue to stand by them by opening the door to new NATO members, by supporting their integration into the other institutions of Europe, by improving access to our own markets and enabling them to move from aid to trade. The Czech and the Slovak people who came to the United States helped us to build our country. It's time for us to return the favor. (Applause.)
More and more Americans are investing in becoming economic partners. There was $300 million worth of economic transaction with the Czech Republic, and about $100 million with Slovakia last year, with much more in the pipeline. And I have to say, a lot of that was due to the extraordinary personal efforts of one distinguished citizen of Iowa, the head of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Ruth Harkin, who is here with us today. And I thank her for her efforts. (Applause.)
Making these countries economically strong and helping them to be free and to stay free is the best way to ensure that American soldiers never again have to shed their blood on Europe's soil. It's also good business for us. As you well know, Cedar Rapids is the largest exporting city per capita in the entire United States. Foreign trade creates jobs here. (Applause.)
But we have to do this because it's also the right thing to do. For 45 years we challenged the people of these nations to cast off the yoke of communism. They have done it, and we dare not abandon them now. We have an obligation to work together so that all our people can enjoy the rewards of freedom and prosperity in the 21st century.
I believe the citizens of Cedar Rapids understand that. Those of you of Central European descent have to know it and feel it in your bones. But all of us as Americans should feel it in our hearts, for we believe the American Dream is not for Americans only. It is for every hardworking man and woman who seeks to build a brighter future, every boy or girl who studies hard and wants to learn and live up to their dreams -- every community trying to clean its streets of crime and pollution and build a better future for all the people who live there -- every nation committed to peace and progress. That dream belongs to every citizen of the world who shares our values and will work to support them.
President Havel, President Kovac, my fellow Americans, as we celebrate the opening of this marvelous museum, a monument to those who had faith in the American Dream and who struggled to make it come true for themselves and their children, let us resolve to work together, for hope and opportunity for all who are reaching for their dreams.
Thank you, and God bless you all. (Applause.)
END 11:44 A.M. CDT