President Bush’s speech of February 24 in Bratislava should not be missed. It was delivered in the very square where 17 years ago “the candlelight protest” by thousands of Slovaks was mercilessly harassed by the Communist police until the police finally got the word to put those candles out–which they did with firehoses and beatings. That was an important milestone in Slovakia’s first bid for freedom, not long before the Velvet Revolution of 1989. The leading freedom movement was called in Slovakia ‘People Against Violence’, in which a great many brave people took part. They built on earlier precedents. Slovakia has long been deeply religious, and all through the Communist days hundreds of thousands used to meet for Marian pilgrimages at historic sites, in defiance of the authorities. Then, after the bad days of the Meciar regime, just after Slovakia’s “Velvet Divorce” (well, it was a little pinkish) from the Czech Republic in 1993, the Slovak democrats had to rally again, learn to organize a national coalition, defeat Meciar and the Communists again, and practice the coalition politics of compromise and steady progress. So many Slovaks feel that they have won their freedom twice in the past twenty years. And have they done so! They lead all Europe in their advanced, neoconservative economic policies–personal old age pensions, a flat tax, personal medical accounts, a kind of Steve Forbes/G. W. Bush platform already written into law. Slovakia will soon be one of the three largest auto producers in Europe. Investment is at last streaming in. Their young people lead all Europe in computer skills. Their young women are among the most sought-after fashion models in Europe (those faintly high cheekbones and clear eyes, humor and spirit). Thus does a once poor country, which gave up a third of its population to emigration a century ago, come roaring back, once given liberty for all.
Well, President Bush congratulated the thousands of them gathered in the Square in front of the Slovak Opera House, and cheered them on. Again and again, the crowd erupted with very gratified applause. Among other things, he said:
“Many of you can still recall the exhilaration of voting for the first time after decades of tyranny. And as you watched jubilant Iraqi dancing in the streets last month, holding up ink-stained fingers, you remembered Velvet Days. For the Iraqi people, this is their 1989, and they will always remember who stood with them in their quest for freedom.
“In more recent times, we have witnessed landmark events in the history of liberty. A Rose Revolution in Georgia, an Orange Revolution in Ukraine, and now a Purple Revolution in Iraq….
“Iraqis have demonstrated their courage and their determination to live in freedom, and that has inspired the world. It is the same determination we saw in Kiev’s Independent Square, in Tbilisi’s Freedom Square, and in this Square almost 17 years ago.”
Applause followed every line in this refrain. Between 5000 and 19,000 people, according to various estimates, waited in the square and surrounding streets for more than three hours in the cold before the address took place.
Read the whole speech here.