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Civil Society: Supporting Democracy in the 21st Century

Click for Video of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton “Civil Society: Supporting Democracy in the 21st Century,” at the Community of Democracies

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I am delighted to be here with all of you. And I thank my friend, Foreign Minister Sikorski, for hosting us here in this absolutely magnificent setting, and for an excellent speech that so well summarized what the agenda for all of us who are members of the Community of Democracies should be.

The idea of bringing together free nations to strengthen democratic norms and institutions began as a joint venture between one of Radek’s predecessors and one of mine: Minister Geremek and Madeleine Albright. And they were visionaries 10 years ago. And it was initially a joint American-Polish enterprise. And I cannot think of a better place for us to mark this occasion than right here in Krakow. Thank you, Madeleine, and thanks to the memory of Minister Geremek.


SECRETARY CLINTON: I think you heard from Foreign Minister Sikorski some of the reasons why Poland is an example of what democracies can accomplish. After four decades of privation, stagnation, and fear under Communism, freedom dawned. And it was not only the personal freedoms that people were once again able to claim for their own, but Poland’s per capital GDP today is nine times what it was in 1990. And in the middle of a deep, global recession, the Polish economy has continued to expand.

By any measure, Poland is stronger politically, as well. We all mourned with Poland in April when a plane crash claimed the lives of Poland’s president, the first lady, and many other national officials. It was one of the greatest single losses of leadership suffered by any country in modern history. But it is a tribute to Poland’s political evolution that, in the aftermath of that accident, the country’s institutions never faltered. And tomorrow polls will move forward with selecting a president through free and fair elections.

Now, I would argue that this progress was neither accidental nor inevitable. It came about through a generation of work to improve governance, grow the private sector, and strengthen civil society. These three essential elements of a free nation — representative government, a well-functioning market, and civil society — work like three legs of a stool. They lift and support nations as they reach for higher standards of progress and prosperity.

Now, I would be the first to admit that no democracy is perfect. In fact, our founders were smart enough to enshrine in our founding documents the idea that we had to keep moving toward a more perfect union. Because, after all, democracies rely on the wisdom and judgment of flawed human beings. But real democracies recognize the necessity of each side of that three-legged stool. And democracies that strengthen these three segments of society can deliver extraordinary results for their people.

Today I would like to focus on one leg of that stool: civil society. Now, markets and politics usually receive more attention. But civil society is every bit as important. And it undergirds both democratic governance and broad-based prosperity. Poland actually is a case study in how a vibrant civil society can produce progress. The heroes of the solidarity movement, people like Geremek and Lech Walesa and Adam Michnik, and millions of others laid the foundation for the Poland we see today. They knew that the Polish people desired and deserved more from their country. And they transformed that knowledge into one of history’s greatest movements for positive change.

Now, not every nation has a civil society movement on the scale of Solidarity. But most countries do have a collection of activists, organizations, congregations, writers, and reporters that work through peaceful means to encourage governments to do better, to do better by their own people. Not all of these organizations or individuals are equally effective, of course. And they do represent a broad range of opinions. And, having been both in an NGO and led NGOs and been in government, I know that it’s sometimes tough to deal with NGOs when you are in the government.

But it doesn’t matter whether the goal is better laws or lower crime or cleaner air or social justice or consumer protection or entrepreneurship and innovation, societies move forward when the citizens that make up these groups are empowered to transform common interests into common actions that serve the common good.

As we meet here on the eve of our American Fourth of July celebration, the day when we commemorate our independence, I want to say a word about why the issue of civil society is so important to Americans. Our independence was a product of our civil society. Our civil society was pre-political. And it was only through debate, discussion, and civic activism that the United States of America came into being. We were a people before we were a nation. And civil society not only helped create our nation, it helped sustain and power our nation into the future. It was representatives of civil society who were the first to recognize that the American colonies could not continue without democratic governance. And after we won our independence, it was activists who helped establish our democracy. And they quickly recognized that they were a part of a broader struggle for human rights, human dignity, human progress.

Civil society has played an essential role in identifying and eradicating the injustices that have, throughout our history, separated our nation from the principles on which it was founded. It was civil society, after all, that gave us the abolitionists who fought the evils of slavery, the suffragettes who campaigned for women’s rights, the freedom marchers who demanded racial equality, the unions that championed the rights of labor, the conservationists who worked to protect our planet and climate.

I did begin my professional life in civil society. The NGO I worked for, the Children’s Defense Fund, helped expand educational opportunities for poor children and children with disabilities, and tried to address the challenges faced by young people in prison.

Now, I would be the first to say that our work did not transform our nation or remake our government overnight. But when that kind of activism is multiplied across an entire country through the work of hundreds, even thousands of NGOs, it does produce real and lasting positive change. So a commitment to strengthening civil society has been one of my constants throughout my public career as First Lady, Senator, and now Secretary of State. I was able to work with Slovakian NGOs that stood up to and ultimately helped bring down an authoritarian government. I have seen civil society groups in India bring the benefits of economic empowerment to the most marginalized women in that society. I have watched in wonder as a small group of women activists in South Africa begin with nothing and went on to build a community of 50,000 homes.

President Obama shares this commitment. In his case, it led him to become a community organizer in Chicago. Both of us joined in the work of civil society because we believe that when citizens nudge leaders in the right direction, our country grows stronger. The greatness of the United States depends on our willingness to seek out and set right the areas where we fall short. For us and for every country, civil society is essential to political and economic progress. Even in the most challenging environments, civil society can help improve lives and empower citizens.

In fact, I want to recognize two women activists who are with us today from Afghanistan and Iran. If Faiza Babakan and Afifa Azim would stand up, I would just like to thank you for your courage and your willingness to be here.


SECRETARY CLINTON: Now, it may seem to some of us like a very nice, but perhaps not essential presence to have just one woman from each country be here. But I can speak from personal experience that, just as civil society is essential to democracy, women are essential to civil society. And these women speak for so many who have never had a chance to have their voices heard.

So, along with well-functioning markets and responsible, accountable government, progress in the 21st century depends on the ability of individuals to coalesce around shared goals, and harness the power of their convictions. But when governments crack down on the right of citizens to work together, as they have throughout history, societies fall into stagnation and decay.

North Korea, a country that cannot even feed its own people, has banned all civil society. In Cuba and Belarus, as Radek said, civil society operates under extreme pressure. The Government of Iran has turned its back on a rich tradition of civil society, perpetrating human rights abuses against many activists and ordinary citizens who just wanted the right to be heard.

There is also a broader group of countries where the walls are closing in on civic organizations. Over the last 6 years, 50 governments have issued new restrictions against NGOs, and the list of countries where civil society faces resistance is growing longer. In Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, physical violence directed against individual activists has been used to intimidate and silence entire sectors of civil society. Last year, Ethiopia imposed a series of strict new rules on NGOs. Very few groups have been able to re-register under this new framework, particularly organizations working on sensitive issues like human rights. The Middle East and North Africa are home to a diverse collection of civil society groups. But too many governments in the region still resort to intimidation, questionable legal practices, restrictions on NGO registration, efforts to silence bloggers.

I hope we will see progress on this issue, and especially in Egypt, where that country’s vibrant civil society has often been subjected to government pressure in the form of canceled conferences, harassing phone calls, frequent reminders that the government can close organizations down, even detention and long-term imprisonment and exile.

In Central Asian countries, constitutions actually guarantee the right of association. But governments still place onerous restrictions on NGO activity, often through legislation or stringent registration requirements. Venezuela’s leaders have tried to silence independent voices that seek to hold that government accountable. In Russia, while we welcome President Medvedev’s statements in support of the rule of law, human rights activities and journalists have been targeted for assassination, and virtually none of these crimes have been solved.

And we continue to engage on civil society issues with China, where writer Liu Xiaobo is serving an 11-year prison sentence because he co-authored a document calling for respect for human rights and democratic reform. Too many governments are seeing civic activists as opponents, rather than partners. And as democracies, we must recognize that this trend is taking place against a broader backdrop.

In the 20th century, crackdowns against civil society frequently occurred under the guise of ideology. Since the demise of Communism, most crackdowns seem to be motivated instead by sheer power politics. But behind these actions, there is an idea, an alternative conception of how societies should be organized. And it is an idea that democracies must challenge. It is a belief that people are subservient to their government, rather than government being subservient to their people.

Now, this idea does not necessarily preclude citizens from forming groups that help their communities or promote their culture, or even support political causes. But it requires these private organizations to seek the state’s approval, and to serve the states and the states’ leaderships’ larger agenda.

Think for a moment about the civil society activists around the world who have recently been harassed, censored, cut off from funding, arrested, prosecuted, even killed. Why did they provoke such persecution?

Some weren’t engaged in political work at all. Some were not trying to change how their countries were governed. Most were simply getting help to people in need, like the Burmese activists imprisoned for organizing relief for victims of Cyclone Nargis. Some of them were exposing problems like corruption that their own governments claim they want to root out. Their offense was not just what they did, but the fact that they did it independently of their government. They were out doing what we would call good deeds, but doing them without permission. That refusal to allow people the chance to organize in support of a cause larger than themselves, but separate from the state, represents an assault on one of our fundamental democratic values.

The idea of pluralism is integral to our understanding of what it means to be a democracy. Democracies recognize that no one entity — no state, no political party, no leader — will ever have all the answers to the challenges we face. And, depending on their circumstances and traditions, people need the latitude to work toward and select their own solutions. Our democracies do not and should not look the same. Governments by the people, for the people, and of the people will look like the people they represent. But we all recognize the reality and importance of these differences. Pluralism flows from these differences. And because crackdowns on NGOs are a direct threat to pluralism, they also endanger democracy.

More than 60 years ago, Winston Churchill came to the United States to warn the world’s democracies of an iron curtain descending across Europe. Today, thankfully, thanks to some of you in this room, that iron curtain has fallen. But we must be wary of the steel vise in which many governments around the world are slowly crushing civil society and the human spirit.

Today, meeting together as a community of democracies, it is our responsibility to address this crisis. Some of the countries engaging in these behaviors still claim to be democracies because they have elections. But, as I have said before, democracy requires far more than an election. It has to be a 365-day-a-year commitment, by government and citizens alike, to live up to the fundamental values of democracy, and accept the responsibilities of self government.

Democracies don’t fear their own people. They recognize that citizens must be free to come together to advocate and agitate, to remind those entrusted with governance that they derive their authority from the governed. Restrictions on these rights only demonstrate the fear of illegitimate rulers, the cowardice of those who deny their citizens the protections they deserve. An attack on civic activism and civil society is an attack on democracy.

Now, sometimes I think that the leaders who are engaging in these actions truly believe they are acting in the best interests of their country. But they begin to inflate their own political interests, the interests of that country, and they begin to believe that they must stay in office by any means necessary, because only they can protect their country from all manner of danger.

Part of what it requires to be a true democracy is to understand that political power must be passed on, and that despite the intensity of elections, once the elections are over, whoever is elected fairly and freely must then try to unify the country, despite the political division.

I ran a very hard race against President Obama. I tried with all my might to beat him. I was not successful. And when he won, much to my surprise, he asked me to join his Administration to serve as Secretary of State. Well, in many countries, I learned as I began traveling, that was a matter of great curiosity. How could I work with someone whom I had tried to deprive of the office that he currently holds? But the answer for both President Obama and I was very simple. We both love our country. Politics is an important part of the lifeblood of a democracy. But governing, changing people’s lives for the better, is the purpose one runs for office.

In the Community of Democracies, we have to begin asking the hard questions, whether countries that follow the example of authoritarian states and participate in this assault on civil society can truly call themselves democracies. And to address this challenge, civil society groups and democratic governments must come together around some common goals. The Community of Democracies is already bringing together governments and civil society organizations, some of whom are represented here. And it is well suited to lead these efforts. I know that the Community of Democracies working group on enabling and protecting civil society is already working to turn this vision into a reality. The United States pledges to work with this community to develop initiatives that support civil society and strengthen governments committed to democracy.

With the leadership and support of countries like Lithuania, Poland, Canada, and Mongolia, I believe that the Community’s 20th anniversary could be a celebration of the expanding strength of civil society, and the true institutionalization of the habits of the heart that undergird democracy. To make that happen, our joint efforts, I believe, should include at least four elements. First, the Community of Democracies should work to establish, as Radek recommended, an objective, independent mechanism for monitoring repressive measures against NGOs.

Second, the United Nations Human Rights Council needs to do more to protect civil society. Freedom of association is the only freedom defined in the United Nations declaration of human rights that does not enjoy specific attention from the UN human rights machinery. That must change.

Third, we will be working with regional and other organizations, such as the OAS, the EU, the OIC, the African Union, the Arab League, others, to do more to defend the freedom of association. Many of these groups are already committed to upholding democratic principles on paper. But we need to make sure words are matched by actions.

And, fourth, we should coordinate our diplomatic pressure. I know that the Community of Democracies working group is focused on developing a rapid response mechanism to address situations where freedom of association comes under attack. Well, that can’t happen soon enough. When NGOs come under threat, we should provide protection where we can, and amplify the voices of activists by meeting with them publicly at home and abroad, and citing their work in what we say and do. We can also provide technical training that will help activists make use of new technologies such as social networks. When possible, we should also work together to provide deserving organizations with financial support for their efforts.

Now, there are some misconceptions around this issue, and I would like to address it. In the United States, as in many other democracies, it is legal and acceptable for private organizations to raise money abroad and receive grants from foreign governments, so long as the activities do not involve specifically banned sources, such as terrorist groups. Civic organizations in our country do not need the approval of the United States Government to receive funds from overseas. And foreign NGOs are active inside the United States. We welcome these groups in the belief that they make our nation stronger and deepen relationships between America and the rest of the world. And it is in that same spirit that the United States provides funding to foreign civil society organizations that are engaged in important work in their own countries. And we will continue this practice, and we would like to do more of it in partnership with other democracies.

As part of that commitment, today I am announcing the creation of a new fund to support the work of embattled NGOs. We hope this fund will be used to provide legal representation, communication technology such as cell phone and Internet access, and other forms of quick support to NGOs that are under siege. The United States will be contributing $2 million to this effort, and we welcome participation and contribution from like-minded countries, as well as private, not-for-profit organizations.

The persecution of civil society activists and organizations, whether they are fighting for justice and law, or clean and open government, or public health, or a safe environment, or honest elections, it’s not just an attack against people we admire, it’s an attack against our own fundamental beliefs. So when we defend these great people, we are defending an idea that has been and will remain essential to the success of every democracy. So the stakes are high for us, not just them.

For the United States, supporting civil society groups is a critical part of our work to advance democracy. But it’s not the only part. Our national security strategy reaffirms that democratic values are a cornerstone of our foreign policy. Over time, as President Obama has said, America’s values have been our best national security asset. I emphasized this point in December and January, when I delivered speeches on human rights and Internet freedom. And it is a guiding principle in every meeting I hold and every country I visit.

My current trip is a good example. I have just come from Ukraine, where I had the opportunity not only to meet with the foreign minister and the president, but with a wonderful group of young, bright Ukrainian students, where I discussed the importance of media freedom, the importance of freedom of assembly, and of human rights. Tonight I will leave for Azerbaijan, where I will meet with youth activists to discuss Internet freedom, and to raise the issue of the two imprisoned bloggers, and to discuss civil liberties. From there I will go to Armenia and Georgia, where I will be similarly raising these issues, and sitting down with leaders from women’s groups and other NGOs. This is what we all have to do, day in and day out around the world.

So, let me return to that three-legged stool. Civil society is important for its own sake. But it also helps prop up and stabilize the other legs of the stool, governments and markets. Without the work of civic activists and pluralistic political discourse, governments grow brittle and may even topple. And without consumer advocates, unions, and social organizations that look out for the needs of societies’ weakest members, markets can run wild and fail to generate broad-based prosperity.

We see all three legs of the stool as vital to progress in the 21st century. So we will continue raising democracy and human rights issues at the highest levels in our contacts with foreign governments, and we will continue promoting economic openness and competition as a means of spreading broad-based prosperity and shoring up representative governments who know they have to deliver results for democracy.

But we also believe that the principles that bring us here together represent humanity’s brightest hope for a better future. As Foreign Minister Geremek wrote in his invitation to the inaugural meeting of the Community of Democracies 10 years ago, “Regardless of the problems inseparably associated with democracy, it is a system which best fulfills the aspirations of individuals, societies, and entire peoples, and most fully satisfies their needs of development, empowerment, and creativity.”

So, ultimately, our work on these issues is about the type of future we want to leave to our children and grandchildren. And anyone who doubts this should look at Poland. The world we live in is more open, more secure, and more prosperous because of individuals like Lech Walesa, Adam Michnik, others who worked through the solidarity movement to improve conditions in their own country, and who stand for freedom and democracy.

I think often about the role of journalists. Journalists are under tremendous pressure. But a journalist like Jerzy Turowicz, a son of Krakow, asked tough questions that challenged Poland to do better. And Pope John Paul II, who, as Stalin would have noted, had no battalions, marshaled moral authority that was as strong as any army. We all have inherited that legacy of courage. It is now up to us.

Every Fourth of July Americans affirm their belief that all human beings are created equal, that we are endowed by our creator with unalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Today, as a community of democracies, let us make it our mission to secure those rights. We owe it to our forebears, and we owe it to future generations to continue the fight for these ideals.

Thank you all very much.



Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Tusk of Poland in Joint Press Conference in Warsaw, Poland

President Barack Obama and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk make remarks during a press conference at the Chancellery Building in Warsaw, Poland, May 28, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson) (Official White House Photo)

President Barack Obama and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk make remarks during a press conference at the Chancellery Building in Warsaw, Poland, May 28, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson) (Official White House Photo)

PRIME MINISTER TUSK:  (As translated.)  Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, before the visit of President Barack Obama, I learned that Ralph Waldo Emerson was your favorite American thinker.  And certainly at the time I tried to search for some association, some quotations, some connections.  And out of all these ideas, the one that talks about enthusiasm — that nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm — it seems to be especially fit for our way of understanding the world.

When I was thinking about our understanding of the world, I’m thinking about both of us as people, but first of all, about our nations and about our states.  I want to tell you that Poland today is the place where we have lots of enthusiasm.  We have gone through the previous years, the difficult, critical years, also in the global dimension, with a faith in our own power, our strength.  And it’s faith and enthusiasm that allow us to overcome the difficulties.  It is also the effect of our cooperation. 

You Americans have invested in Poland.  But you have invested also in the whole region and with lots of your enthusiasm.  Some money, too, some other types of assistance habitually works.  But just as enthusiasm was needed to create the great Solidarity movement in Poland, it was also needed when, except for enthusiasm and freedom, we had nothing else in 1989.  But people with enthusiasm and freedom are enough when you have friends.  You have invested in the region and it works. 

We talked, amongst others, about Enterprise Fund that was so good for jobs in Poland.  But that investment was actually the investment in freedom and the related prosperity for 100 million people — because today we are speaking about Eastern partnership, we are speaking about our cooperation that could help those nations and those people in the region that are waiting for their chance, their opportunity and their freedom.

Mr. President, I want to say what we say in Poland quite often:  It works.  When friends are ready to help, when people have enthusiasm, and when there is freedom, then it really works.

And the fact that Poles today can speak with so much pride about ourselves on the eve of the presidency in the European Union, that we were also able to show to Europe how to manage — how to operate also under the conditions of the financial crisis, it was possible, amongst others, thanks to the fact that we together have invested in our future with so much of American and Polish enthusiasm.

I want to tell you — and this is what we declared during our conversation — that our experience, the certainty that it worked, can be translated and we can translate this, and we do this when we think about those nations whose leaders you met yesterday — but also those who are waiting for freedom and democracy for even longer.  I am speaking here about the region of North Africa and some of the countries of the Middle East.

So I’m really very happy that together we were able to accept this ambitious project so that the experience resulting from Enterprise Fund and other experiences that Poles and Americans could implement together give to those who are waiting for such assistance.

I also would like to thank you very much for understanding and your kind approach to the idea of another stage of this cooperation, which is an innovation fund.  And this is the idea which came into being during our conversation.  Both of us think that there will be the follow-up of this innovation fund, which here in Poland will also result in the form of modernity, new technologies and human intellectual capital.

We have been already operating in this area.  We have been spending dozens of millions of zloty for education of the most skillful managers at American universities, people of technical skills, engineers.  And I think that it will also bring results for the future.

We have confirmed our solidarity also in the context of our joint operations in the most difficult places of the world.  We spoke about Afghanistan.  For Polish security, that’s important that the memorandum on the presence of the American air detachment in Poland systematically, gradually is becoming a fact of life.  And I would like to thank you very much for your readiness to finalize the project.

And shale gas — well, for obvious reason, it was a subject of important talks — and nuclear power.  We agreed with President Obama that these undertakings are really an excellent area for Polish-American cooperation.  And I am sure that it will bring good results.  To the Polish people, American people, it will be both joint business and joint common energy security.  And it will also be of use to a united Europe, this cooperation that will also give to Europe more stability in terms of energy.

I would like to thank you once again, Mr. President, for your visit is another help because your enthusiasm and your ability in the future is proverbial in the world, and we feel in Poland that you are one of us, thanks to the fact that we believe very strongly in our own strength and our future. 

Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister.  Once again, I just want to thank you and the people of Poland for the extraordinary welcome that I’ve received since I arrived.  And I have to tell you that my wife Michelle and the girls very much want to come back, because I’ve told them on the phone what a extraordinary country this is.

And you’re right, in some ways I am part of Poland because I come from Chicago, and if you live in Chicago and you haven’t become a little bit Polish, then something’s wrong with you. 

You know, Poland is one of our strongest and closest allies in the world — and is a leader in a Europe.  And I believe that Poland’s story demonstrates how a proud and determined and enthusiastic people can overcome extraordinary challenges and build a democracy that represents the great strength and character of this nation, while now serving as an example for Europe and the world.

During our conversations, we reaffirmed the strength of our alliance.  Our alliance is rooted in shared history, shared values, deep ties among our people.  Our alliance is cemented through NATO and the ironclad commitment that Article 5 of NATO represents.

Of course, our alliance is also rooted in shared interests, and we, during our lunch, reviewed a wide range of issues.  I want to congratulate Poland on behalf of the United States for reaching the incredible milestone of assuming the presidency of the European Union.  This is Poland’s first opportunity to take on this leadership role since joining the EU.  And it speaks to the incredible progress that Poland has made both politically and economically during this period of time.  And we look forward to working closely with Poland as it assumes these new responsibilities.

Along those lines, we are interested and excited about Poland’s plans for the Eastern partnership as a priority of its EU presidency.  And I understand that it will host a summit this fall to raise awareness and support for Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus.  And the dinner that I had yesterday was an indication of Poland’s leadership in helping to shape a vision for the region that continues down a path that offers more opportunity and more prosperity to people.  And obviously one of the important roles that Poland can play is not just as a promoter of ideas but as a living example of what is possible when countries take reform seriously.

We’re also aiming to expand our bilateral economic relationship with Poland, as the Prime Minister mentioned.  Poland’s economy was the only economy in the EU not to fall into recession during the economic crisis, and has enormous potential for economic growth.  So far, as a consequence, this fall we will hold a high-level U.S.-Poland business roundtable, which brings together private and public sector leaders to identify and promote new opportunities to boost economic growth.  And the idea that was raised by the Prime Minister about a potential innovation fund that is a part of this fall summit I think is an excellent idea, and so we’re going to pursue that actively.

We also discussed the potential for us to cooperate on a wide range of clean energy initiatives, including how we can, in an environmentally sound way, develop natural gas in both the United States and Poland and how we can cooperate on the technology and science around that.

The United States is also fully committed to supporting safe nuclear power generation in Poland, and we’re prepared to offer our expertise of the largest and safest nuclear power industry in the world.
And finally we discussed the issue of how jointly we can promote democracy.  The session that I had this morning with democracy promotion experts, including many of the founders of Solidarity, who recently traveled to Tunisia to share their advice and assistance, is just a symbol of why Poland is so important.  It has gone through what many countries want to now go through, and has done so successfully.  And so the United States wants to work with Poland, and we welcome their leadership in reaching out to North Africa and the Middle East.

At the same time, as Prime Minister Tusk mentioned, here in this neighborhood we still have challenges.  We discussed in particular the unacceptable situation in Belarus.  President Lukashenko has shown a total disregard for democratic values, the rule of law, and the human rights of his own people.  And his brutal crackdown included the conviction and sentencing of presidential candidates who challenged him in the presidential election, and the repression and imprisonment of members of the free press, including one of the Polish press. 

So since this crackdown has begun, Poland and the United States have coordinated closely on Belarus, both bilaterally and through the EU.  We appreciate Poland’s leadership on this issue, including the strong support of Belarusian civil society and the generosity to its people.  We are looking forward to strong cooperation on this front.

Last point I guess I would make, we discussed our respective relationships with Russia.  And I am a strong believer that the reset between the United States and Russia has benefitted this region, as well as the United States and Russia, because it’s reduced tensions and has, I think, facilitated genuine dialogue about how each country can move forward.

We very much appreciate Poland’s pragmatic approach to their relationship with Russia.  I applaud the Prime Minister for his determination to continue these efforts, even if it is not always the most politically popular thing to do. 

We both believe that we cannot compromise on our most cherished principles and ideals, but we should also seek to cooperate where we can — for example, in areas like counterterrorism, counternarcotics, the spread of nuclear weapons and materials, and the support of our joint operations in Afghanistan.

So this has been an excellent visit.  It’s fitting that I conclude my trip here in Poland.  At each stop I’ve affirmed the fact that America’s transatlantic alliance is the cornerstone of our engagement in the world.  It’s indispensable to the peace and prosperity of the world.  It helps to uphold the principles of rule of law and individual liberty around the world.  And I think that Poland is a leader on all these issues.

So, congratulations, Mr. Prime Minister, for your outstanding leadership.  And to the Polish people, thank you so much for your incredible hospitality.

PRIME MINISTER TUSK:  Thank you very much. 

And now I would like to ask — get a question from the Polish Press Agency.

   Good afternoon.  We know that the American administration plans to liberalize the visa system for the Polish people.  What are the ideas?  When can they come into force?  In other words, when will the people of Poland will be able to do shopping at Fifth Avenue in New York? 

And my second question is how do you see the cooperation in the area of energy security between Poland and America, and between America and the European Union?  And my third, last question is did you talk about political repressions in Belarus, and as far as the arrest of journalist of Gazeta Wyborcza, Andrezej Poczobut?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, I’m going to try to remember all those questions.  (Laughter.)   

With respect to the visa issue, this is a topic that was brought up by your President when he visited the White House.  And I promised at that time that we would begin to try to find a solution. 

The problem has to do with the existing law that had a very specific criteria for who gets the waiver visa system, and that criteria was based on the rejection rate of visas.  Poland didn’t qualify under that law and I could not simply waive the law.  But what I’ve now done is put my support behind legislation in Congress that would change the criteria so that we’re looking at the overstay rate of visas, and our expectation is, is that by this change in the law, we can be in a position to resolve this issue in a way that is satisfactory to Poland, but also meets the security concerns of the United States.

We very much want you to shop on Fifth Avenue and anywhere else in the United States.  (Laughter.)   

With respect to — see, I’ve already forgotten the other questions.  (Laughter.)  It was Belarus, energy –

   Yes –

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  As I mentioned earlier, we had an extensive discussion about both shale gas and nuclear power.  I think Prime Minister Tusk and I both believe that it is important for us to diversify our energy sources.  The United States doesn’t want to be energy-independent [sic] on anybody.  And Poland doesn’t want to be energy-dependent on anybody.  And what that means is that there has to be a broad set of energy approaches. 

Shale gas is an opportunity; it has to be developed in an environmentally secure and sensitive way.  We believe that there is the capacity technologically to extract that gas in a way that is entirely safe, and what we want to do is to be able to share our expertise and technology with Poland in a fully transparent and accountable way — because we think that consumers,  environmentalists, everybody should be able to look at the data and say this is something that can actually work.

With respect to nuclear power, similarly, we have to do it in a way that is safe and secure.  Obviously, all of us are mindful of what happened in Japan.  And we have a great track record and enormous expertise in the United States of developing nuclear power in a way that is safe and secure.  And we are happy to consult with the Polish government, and have our companies consult with the Polish government, in terms of how to approach that.

That does not eliminate the need for us in both countries and all around the world to continue to develop other clean energy sources like solar, like wind, biomass.  And we are putting a lot of basic research dollars into this clean energy space because we think it’s going to be important not only for our individual countries but for dealing with greenhouse gases and climate change.

And the final point, with respect to Belarus, we had, as I indicated, a very extensive conversation.  I am familiar with the case of the journalist that you just mentioned, and we agreed that we have to apply as much pressure as we can on Belarus to change its practices.  And that’s going to require close coordination between the United States and Poland, but also between the United States and all of Europe.  And I think Poland is uniquely situated during its presidency to be able to show extraordinary leadership on this issue.

PRIME MINISTER TUSK:  One sentence only for me to refer to the three issues raised by you.  As far as the last one is concerned, I stated with satisfaction that our views we are one hundred percent aligned.  There is no future for such dictatorships as the one which is represented today by Lukashenko in Belarus. 

Both the United States and Poland will be ambitiously setting forth — the conduct for the international community so that the Belarusian people do not have to pay too high a price and for too long a period.  I also informed President Obama about our interpretation of the events in the Belarusian economy.

Talking about the arrests of the regime, including our journalists — whether your journalists or our journalists — and your colleague, Mr. Poczobuta — already President Komorowski and myself, too, both informed President Obama about this particularly Polish problem. 

Talking about the visa waiver and Fifth Avenue, what is, and what should be important in Poland is that more and more Polish people make enough money to be able to afford shopping on Fifth Avenue.  And that means that it is in the interest of the United States to make sure that as many Polish people as possible could get to not just the shops on Fifth Avenue, but all over the United States, in the easiest possible way.  Because this is bad business for both parties.

I want to already say, Mr. President, that there are many other places in the world where you can buy things and where you can spend your money, so I’m really very glad that there are very clear signs and your personal engagement, Mr. President, in this will most probably also let American people to make more money on Polish tourists and Polish buyers.

Talking about national security, this is a breakthrough moment.  And I’m not talking about our conversation here, but it is simply that reconfirmation of the fact that we are approaching, or that we are participants of the energetic breakthrough.  It’s literally joking anymore, or kidding — we are speaking about technological cooperation.  We are talking about joint investments.  And we are talking about political cooperation of the two nations, out of which one is an absolute leader in the area of technology, and the other one, Poland, turned out to be one of the leaders in terms of deposits, resources. 

That is why it was with a great satisfaction that I received the words of the United States that in the United States, people think very seriously about cooperation.  We want to combine our ideas about innovative cooperation and technological cooperation with the sectors that will be cooperating in real terms with each other.  It’s mainly about power sector.

And we also want to reconfirm the full will of the Polish party to be fully open in the area of nuclear power.  American people will be a very valuable partner to us as a country, which is really experienced and with goodwill.

MR. CARNEY:  For the American press corps, Scott Horsley of National Public Radio.

Q    Thank you.  Mr. Prime Minister, can you tell me if Poland today feels reassured about the U.S. commitment to Poland’s security, and if coming into this meeting you felt that reassurance was required?

And, Mr. President, you’ve talked a lot this week about inspiration — inspiration in Northern Ireland for the Middle East peace process; inspiration in Eastern Europe for the Arab Spring.  I wonder if you take home with you also some cautionary lessons about the challenges in the experience here and in Northern Ireland, and what you can do as President to maintain that Emersonian enthusiasm at a time of fiscal austerity in the U.S. and Europe?

PRIME MINISTER TUSK:  Well, these were my first words during the meeting with President Obama.  I spoke about the security of Poland.  The security of Poland has different dimensions.  People every day feel safer and more secure if they do not have to pay too high prices.  This dimension of security will be achieved by us when we have energy independence and when both of us act effectively for stability and peace in different regions of the world.

Risk, danger, high living costs — they are born or conflicts are born, while speculation feeds on unrest and war.  And that’s why this dimension of security of both Poland and the United States requires our cooperation so that we could stabilize the situation in the world, especially in the regions which are really very much suffering from the conflicts.

Talking about the direct security of Poland, I have to tell you that it is a very important sign for us to reach an agreement which will be finalized by the signing of the memorandum of understanding, the memorandum that in the future will mean the presence of American troops on the Polish soil.  The order of magnitude is not really large, but the gesture is very significant.

Secondly, we spoke about the future of the installation, the so-called missile defense.  (Inaudible) — informed also public opinion in — well, in Poland long time ago.  And I want to stress very strongly that the words that I heard from him today give us the sense that together we work also for the sake — for the purpose of Polish security.  These words, that NATO is to defend NATO, these words are very much binding, binding for all the members of NATO.  And I also wanted to thank for these words.

Definitely after this meeting, with absolutely pure conscience I can tell you that our cooperation with the United States, both bilaterally and within NATO, leads to the fact that every year Poland becomes a country which is more and more secure.  And our political cooperation, as was mentioned by President Obama, leads to the point when perhaps never in the future we will have to use arms in this part of Europe. 

Both of us focused very much on political methods of conflict resolution and solving threats, and I believe that this is the best way to guarantee security to Poland.  But, you know, you have to be cautious and you have to be ensured.  That is why we always speak also about the military aspects of security.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Just a point about security.  As I said, Poland is one of our closest and strongest allies.  That’s been demonstrated time and again.  Really what we did here today was simply to reconfirm what Prime Minister Tusk and I have discussed before, which is that NATO is the strongest alliance in history, primarily because it has a very simple principle, and that is we defend each other.  That’s what Article 5 is all about.

And when I came into office I indicated to all the NATO members that there’s no such thing as a new NATO member or an old NATO member; there are just NATO members.  And everybody is the same and everybody has the same rights and the same responsibilities.  And as a consequence, one of the things that I initiated was making sure that we have actual contingency plans for each country, including those in Eastern Europe and Central Europe that obviously are coming out of a fairly recent and difficult history of security issues.

Now, as the Prime Minister mentioned, that evolution of our security relationship continues to evolve.  The aviation detachment that is being finalized will be significant, and we’re proud that we’ve gotten that completed.  Our missile defense plans that we have laid out that involve Poland will allow us to deal with shared threats.  And what we want to do is to create an environment in this region in which peace and security are a given.  That’s not just good for this region; it is good for the United States of America.  And we will always be there for Poland.

Now, I wasn’t sure, because it was such a clever question, what exactly cautionary notes you wanted me to address.  Were you referring to cautionary notes about what’s happening around the world?  Were you talking about cautionary notes and any reflections I have about what’s taking place back home?  So I want to make sure I answer your question.

Q    The endpoint in Northern Ireland and Eastern Europe is a happy endpoint, but in terms of the process, the length of time, the obstacles, the challenges, the patience that was required — if there’s something you learned on this trip that you take home that maybe gives you some thoughts about how you will approach that as President, and maintain the interest in a country where our attention spans are short and our resources are limited.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I think it’s an excellent question, and this has been something that I’ve been reflecting on throughout this trip.

Keep in mind what the purpose of this trip was, from my perspective.  In addition to reestablishing a wonderful conversation with strong friends and allies, I wanted to make sure that everybody in our country, but everybody around the world, understands that the transatlantic alliance remains a cornerstone, a foundation stone for American security.

We share ideals.  We share values.  And we have taken on consistently leadership on some of the toughest challenges that face the world.  And part of that leadership has always been the promotion of freedom and democracy in different regions. 

I was struck by something that the president of the Senate or the head of the Senate here in Poland mentioned during our democracy forum, that he had lived through three waves of revolutionary transformation in his lifetime.  He saw the shift from military rule to democracy in Latin America.  He saw those changes then take place with incredible speed when the Berlin Wall came down and the Iron Curtain was pulled asunder.  And now he’s seeing what’s happening in North Africa the Middle East.

And in each of these cases, what you have is a process that’s not always smooth.  There are going to be twists and turns. There are going to be occasions where you take one step forward and two steps back — sometimes you take two steps forward and one step back.

What’s required I think is, number one, understanding that you have to institutionalize this transformation.  It’s not enough just to have the energy — the initial thrust of those young people in Tahrir Square, or the initial enthusiasm of the Solidarity movement.  That, then, has to be institutionalized and the habits of countries have to change. 

It’s not sufficient just to have elections.  You then also have to have a process to establish rule of law and the respect of the rights of minorities, and a constant vigilance when it comes to do with freedom of the press and freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  And you have to, then, broker a whole set of potential ethnic conflicts that may arise.  And sometimes those may flair into violence. 

So part of the lesson is that you have to institutionalize change.  And that is a hard process, and it’s a long process. 

Number two is that countries on the outside cannot impose this change, but we can really help.  We can facilitate.  We can make a difference.  And the testimony of I think the people that I’ve spoken to here in Poland — as is true when I had conversations about the resolution of the Northern Ireland conflict — was that American participation, American facilitation of dialogue, our investment in civil society, our willingness to do business, our openness to ultimate membership in international institutions like NATO — all those things made a difference.  It solidifies, it fortifies people’s impulse that change is possible.

And so to the American people, even at a time when we have fiscal constraints, even at a time where I spend most of my day thinking about our economy and how to put folks back to work and how to make sure that we’re reducing gas prices and how we stabilize the housing market and how we innovate and adapt and change so that we are fully competitive in the 21st century and maintain our economic leadership, I want the American people to understand we’ve got to leave room for us to continue our tradition of providing leadership when it comes to freedom, democracy, human rights. 

And in the dinner last night, I thought something very interesting was said — these are Central European leaders and presidents from all across the region.  One of them said, there were those who said we could not handle democracy, that our cultures were too different.  But America had faith in us.  And so now we want to join with America and have faith in those in the Middle East and in North Africa.  Even if some don’t think that they can handle democracy, or that their cultures are too different, our experience tells us something different.

And I think that’s a good lesson for all of us to remember. And I think that Poland can play an extraordinary role precisely because they have traveled so far, so rapidly, over the last 25 years. 

We’re looking forward to being a strong partner with them because when we work together, that’s a force multiplier.  The more we have strong leaders like Poland working alongside us, the more successful we can be in dealing with North Africa and the Middle East, and encouraging the best impulses in that region. And that’s going to be good for all of our security.

Thank you very much.


FACT SHEET: U.S.-Polish Efforts to Advance Democracy Worldwide

Advancing democracy is the oldest of the three pillars (democracy, economic, security) of our bilateral relationship.  Poland and the United States have strong traditions of supporting democracy and human rights around the world and cooperate closely on these issues in the OSCE, Community of Democracies, and UN, where both are currently serving on the Human Rights Council.  Through a multitude of initiatives, Polish and U.S. nongovernmental organizations cooperate closely to promote good governance, democratization and civil society, particularly in Eastern Europe.  In March, the United States and Poland launched a Democracy Dialogue to expand our joint efforts to strengthen democracy and civil society around the world.  We also applaud Poland’s decision to establish an International Solidarity Fund for democracy assistance, modeled on and supported by the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy.

In Warsaw, President Obama and President Komorowski met with Polish democracy activists to discuss strengthening U.S.-Polish cooperation in democracy promotion.  President Obama was briefed on their recent efforts in Tunisia, and Foreign Minister Sikorski described Polish actions to promote democracy and civil society in Eastern Europe and North Africa.  President Obama welcomed Polish support for political transition in Libya and for the Libyan opposition’s Transitional National Council, which is seen as a legitimate and credible interlocutor for the Libyan people.  President Obama and Prime Minister Tusk recommitted their governments to continue these essential endeavors, with a specific focus on the following actions: 

Tunisia Joint Mentorship Initiative – helping Tunisia learn from Central Europe
The United States and Poland plan to send additional Polish democracy activists and transition experts to Tunisia to support political reform, party building, civil society, and elections. 

Continuing Joint Efforts to Pressure the Belarus Regime and Support Civil Society
President Obama took the opportunity of his visit to commend Polish leadership on Belarus.  Poland has been a driving force behind the EU’s condemnation of the Lukashenka regime’s post-elections crackdown on opposition leaders, civil society, and independent media, and has worked hard to ensure a coordinated U.S.-EU approach to tougher sanctions. 

The United States welcomes Poland’s leadership in pressing for tough measures by the EU against Lukashenka and those responsible for the crackdown in Belarus. Unless Lukashenka frees all political prisoners and detainees, stops the intimidation of civil society and democratic forces, and allows for a freer media environment, the United States will impose additional sanctions on Belarusian firms connected to those responsible, and calls upon the EU to do the same.

We continue our joint efforts to support civil society in Belarus.  At Poland’s International Donors’ Conference on “Solidarity with Belarus” in February, the United States announced an additional $4 million in democracy assistance for Belarus. These additional funds will help address some of the urgent humanitarian and legal needs of those being repressed in Belarus, support monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation, and  help the Belarusian people create and expand space for free expression, a free media, and an engaged civil society.  A portion of this additional assistance we hope to use to establish pilot projects in Belarus with the newly created Polish International Solidarity Fund.  Poland and the U.S. are also collaborating to expand the Kirkland and Kalinowski Scholarships for Belarusian youth and young leaders, giving them access to education in open societies. The United States Broadcasting Board of Governors will also work with Poland’s BelSat television station to develop content and programming on democracy education. 

Moldova – Taking up the Democracy Partnership Challenge 
The Community of Democracies’ Democracy Partnership Challenge looks to leverage resources and expertise from around the world to encourage reform in emerging democracies.  Poland and the United States have agreed to support this effort by co-chairing the international task force responsible for assistance to Moldova, one of the participants in this year’s Challenge. 

Standing up the Lifeline NGO Fund
In Krakow last July, Secretary Clinton announced the creation of a new international Lifeline Fund to support embattled NGOs around the world.  The U.S. and Poland are founding contributors to this effort.


Remarks by President Obama and President Komorowski in Discussion on Democracy in Warsaw, Poland

PRESIDENT KOMOROWSKI:  (As translated.)  Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, I think we feel it all too well that it’s worth having dreams, but dreams come true when, apart from dreams, we have courage and determination to pursue such goals as freedom and democracy.

Mr. President, today in this room you are meeting the Polish democracy.  These are those who fought for the Polish freedom and for the democratic state, and they fought well.  Those are the people who brought in the anti-communist position; those are the people of Solidarity.  And here in this room, you also see those who have come here to meet you, and those are the protectioners of today’s democracy.  Those are the ones who will take part in the today’s processes of democratization.  Here we see the representatives of the both chambers of the parliament.  There are ministers; there are also representatives of the major political forces in Poland, in our democratic Poland. 

I also would like to indicate that that part of the Polish democracy, which is not directly involved with politics, but they co-create Polish democracy, those are nongovernmental organizations as they are watchdogs; they, in fact, incentivize us as to take due care of democracy as our constant challenge and our constant commitment, and to also be in touch with the society. 

Also there is the former prime minister, Mazowiecki, together with us, and he is the person who would like to talk with you about our Polish experience in transformation; that is, when we were passing away from the communist regime and getting onto a democratic society.

And once again, I would ask to speak Mr. President first, and then the former prime minister.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, thank you very much, Mr. President, and thank you for the great honor of appearing with all of you.  I want to express my thanks to everyone who is here today to share with me their experiences and expertise in democracy building.  I look forward to listening and learning from Poland’s esteemed democracy leaders and younger activists.

I have to say that it is especially a treat for me to be able to see so many of you who inspired us in America when the Solidarity movement first appeared.  I was still a relatively young man.  I have a lot of gray hair now, but at the time I was still studying.  And I remember at that time understanding that history was being made because ordinary people were standing up and doing extraordinary things with great courage and a great — against great odds. 

And the Solidarity leaders and others in this room launched a peaceful revolution that eventually led to a regime’s collapse and the downfall of a broader system of Soviet repression.  And that’s had ripple effects and ramifications around the world, not just in Central and Eastern Europe.

Your actions charted a course for freedom that inspired many on this continent and beyond.  And it has many relevant lessons, so we want to encourage all states undergoing similar experiences to learn from Poland.  We all know that in the aftermath of the overthrow of a repressive regime, emotions run high.  But new democratic governments have to show themselves to be able to channel that energy in constructive ways, to hold themselves to higher standards than their authoritarian predecessors in being inclusive, respecting the rule of law, respecting minority rights, believing in freedom of expression even when we don’t agree with what’s being expressed.  And so I think that Poland has navigated that process as well as any country in recent history. 

I very much value the contributions that Poland is making in Tunisia.  I appreciate the fact that your foreign minister has now visited Benghazi. 

So, again, let me thank everybody in this room, but the people of Poland, for being an inspiration to change around the world.  And I’m very much looking forward to hearing some of the observations that those who’ve fought long and hard for democracy may have as we face similarly transformative moments around the world.


United States-Poland Democracy Dialogue

Media Note
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC

Secretary of State Clinton and Foreign Minister Sikorski announced today their intention to expand the U.S.-Poland Strategic Dialogue to include a Democracy Dialogue. This initiative will build on the Secretary’s recently launched Dialogue with Civil Society, which aims to elevate our work with civil society alongside government-to-government relationships.

Poland and the United States have a long shared history of struggle for democracy. During the American Revolution, Tadeusz Kosciusko and Casimir Pulaski made invaluable contributions to America’s struggle for freedom. Two hundred years later, a new generation of Poles under the banner of “Solidarity” took up the struggle for democracy in their own land. In 1989, they succeeded in a peaceful revolution that spread freedom and democracy beyond the Iron Curtain and throughout Europe. Since then, Poland has strived to share its experiences and knowledge of democratic transition with other countries.

The Democracy Dialogue will significantly improve U.S.-Poland cooperation on promotion of good governance and democracy around the globe, and will foster useful exchanges between government and civil society about developments in emerging democracies, non-democracies and countries where democratic institutions are threatened.


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