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Homeland Security

13 February 2003

U.S. Envoy Praises Czechs as "Stalwart Allies" in Anti-terror Fight

(Ambassador Craig Roberts Stapleton on U.S.-Czech relations) (4110)
The United States counts the Czech Republic "among the most stalwart
allies in the war against terrorism," U.S. Ambassador Craig Roberts
Stapleton said February 13 in a speech on U.S.-Czech relations at the
Institute of International Relations in Prague.
Stapleton said Americans were deeply moved by the "strong, solid,
immediate Czech response" following the terrorist attacks of September
11, 2001. And he noted with gratitude the recent decision by the Czech
Parliament to take the necessary measures to permit Czech
participation in possible military action against Iraq and the recent
departure of Czech units for the Gulf region.
"If military action against Iraq becomes unavoidable," he said, "U.S.
forces will know that Czech forces will be at their side."
In his address, Stapleton discussed the Czech economy, calling for
steps to combat corruption and to "remove the last irritants that mar
the generally welcoming business environment" including reform of the
commercial registration process, enactment of a new bankruptcy law,
and strengthened regulation of utilities, securities, insurance and
private pensions.
Regarding economic development in the Czech Republic, he suggested
improving labor productivity and mobility, as well as young people's
access to higher education.
Stapleton began and ended his remarks with words of praise for former
Czech President Vaclav Havel.
"For Americans, Havel represents what one man can accomplish in
changing a nation," he said. "Even in the very last days of his term
in office, Vaclav Havel demonstrated those qualities -- leadership,
clarity of moral vision, a readiness to do what he considered right --
that characterized his entire career when he joined seven other
European leaders in a letter challenging the international community
to confront the threat posed by Saddam Hussein."
Following is a transcript of the ambassador's remarks:
(begin transcript)
February 13, 2003
Dr. Sedivy, ladies and gentlemen, respected guests, friends:
Thank you for coming. I very much appreciate the opportunity to appear
before you as the guest of the Institute of International Relations,
especially at this particular time. For individuals and for countries,
turning points can be moments for taking stock. One looks backward, to
identify what has been accomplished and still needs to be done, but
also forward, to point a way ahead. And no one, I'm sure, would
disagree that 2003 represents an important year for the Czech
Republic, just as 2002 proved to be.
In recent weeks the press in the Czech Republic, the U.S. and
elsewhere has been reviewing the life and work of Vaclav Havel as he
completed his final term as President of the Czech Republic. For
Americans, Havel represents what one man can accomplish in changing a
nation. My subject is "Continuity and Progress in U.S.-Czech
Relations," a topic it would be impossible to discuss without
reference to Vaclav Havel: freedom fighter, statesman and landmark of
the political landscape for many more than his 13 years in office.
Just two days ago the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously
supported a resolution honoring Vaclav Havel as a proponent of
democracy and human rights.
The American Embassy in Prague is, I'd wager, the only U.S. Embassy
anywhere in the world with a framed copy of Rude Pravo on the wall.
It's not just any copy of that "leading organ," however. It's the
edition from December 30, 1989, and its headline is "Vaclav Havel is
President of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic."
The December 30 edition was one of the first streaks of light
illuminating what had long been a darkened landscape. In other ways,
however, that issue of Rude Pravo was an artifact from a vanishing
era. Greetings from the Central Committee still ranked as front-page
news, and a banner on the masthead still commanded the workers of the
world to unite. Now, in 2003, it's not easy to recall the period in
which that day's newspaper appeared, nor what preceded it.
Overall, this is a wonderful thing. It's a tribute to the enormous
strides the Czech Republic has made over the past 13 years. This was
by no means the work of just Vaclav Havel; on the contrary, it's the
accomplishment of all Czech society. Havel would be the first person
to say so. All the same, no one's compass was more firmly fixed than
his on a free, democratic, peaceful Europe as the destination for the
Czechs. Since my subject is Continuity and Progress, it may help put
things in perspective to take a moment to recall the system that was
gasping its last breaths in that December 1989 issue of Rude Pravo,
and Vaclav Havel's relationship to it.
The December 30, 1989 edition of Rude Pravo isn't the only framed
newspaper on the walls of the U.S. Embassy. You'll also find copies of
Svet v Obrazech from August 21 and August 24, 1968. The first, from
the day of the Warsaw Pact invasion, asks "Why?" in Czech and Russian;
the second, showing Soviet tanks in front of the Powder Gate, vows "We
were and we will be!" Within a year, those questions and assertions
would become unutterable; what occurred in August 1968 could be
publicly defined only as "fraternal socialist assistance," full stop.
The "normalization" that followed the Warsaw Pact invasion preserved
and revived a system built on dishonesty and lies. Present day
Communists have not acknowledged this history, much less disavowed it.
Vaclav Havel, on the contrary, clearly recognized the regime's web of
dishonesty and described how it ensnared everyone: no one was immune;
everyone was complicit. But he also proposed an alternative,
breathtakingly simple to state, but profoundly difficult to apply:
living in truth. This opposition between truth and lies animates much
of his most eloquent writing: his letter to President Husak, his essay
"The Power of the Powerless," his first New Year's Address as
President in 1990. He told Czechs and Slovaks at that time, "I assume
you did not propose me for this office so that I, too, should lie to
By 1989, the seeds that Vaclav Havel had helped sow, through writing
and by example, had begun to sprout. The willingness of brave men and
women in Czechoslovakia and elsewhere to live in truth, to challenge
the received wisdom, to "call things by their right names" made
possible a continent transformed. In November 1989, millions of Czechs
and Slovaks demonstrated that they would no longer swallow the
official hypocrisy of a regime that demeaned individuals in the name
of social order, that humiliated workers in the name of a workers'
state, that forced dishonesty down their throats in the name of the so
called "historically inevitable" victory of an allegedly superior
system. Those brave Czechs and Slovaks exposed the hidden fragility of
a seemingly solid structure and brought it down, as has been said,
without breaking a single window. "The power of the powerless,"
Fast forward from December 1989 to February 2003. Now, with nearly
four years of experience in NATO, and with EU membership just fifteen
months away, Czechs are reclaiming their heritage as integral members
of Western, democratic society, from which they'd been cut off by the
Nazi and Communist dictatorships. Vaclav Havel led his country back
into a reunited Europe. No less important, he left a sound basis on
which his fellow citizens could continue to build. As Americans survey
the current landscape from our perspective, there is no area in which
progress is not obvious, and has not strengthened the U.S.-Czech
bilateral relationship. These changes serve our overriding goal of
helping the Czech Republic recognize the full potential of its
abilities and resources.
I visited Czechoslovakia in the summer of 1966 and have vivid memories
of the repression and depression in this country. Vaclav Havel and the
other members of the Civic Forum who came to power at the end of 1989
faced the task of planting and cultivating democratic institutions and
a market economy in a soil that had been poisoned by fifty years of
political toxic waste. President Havel revived the Czech democratic
tradition that Tomas Masaryk had initiated some 80 years before. We in
America assumed that a democratic system and a free market economy
were the real legacy of the First Republic, but we underestimated the
struggle and the time required to rebuild those foundations. No one,
least of all Havel himself, would contend that there weren't missteps
along the path. After all, "Chybami se clovek uci"; "One learns by
making mistakes." Nevertheless, the Czechs have covered a great
distance in what has really not been a very long time. Today the Czech
Republic's good standing in the community of the world's democracies
is beyond dispute, as its ties with NATO and the EU confirm.
A key benchmark for any democracy, of course, is how it handles
transitions in authority. This is a test the Czech Republic has
already passed several times on the level of parliament, but must
still face as it chooses its second President. Of the outcome, the
United States has no doubt: we will see a democratically-elected
leader who, we trust, will want to build on the strong foundation
built by President Havel. Process is also important, however, and I'm
sure I speak for everyone in this room when I express the hope that
the manner in which the next President is ultimately selected is one
that reinforces the dignity and importance of that office in the eyes
of Czech citizens.
From my experience as a businessman, I know the value that a strong
trademark can have. In that respect, the Czechs were a most favored
nation as they emerged from decades of Communist misrule, because
their "trademark" on much of the international stage was Vaclav Havel:
high recognition, much in demand, appealing to a broad audience. But
I'm pleased to assure you that, in the economic area as well,
U.S.-Czech relations are built on a much broader foundation than any
single person could construct.
In 1947 Stalin forced the Czechoslovak government to slam the door on
cooperation with the United States under the Marshall Plan. The
February 1948 coup ushered in 40 years during which the economic
relations between our countries were frozen in time. Our economic
interchange degenerated into long arguments over settling
expropriation claims, and not much else. The Velvet Revolution opened
opportunities that both sides have since capitalized upon. U.S.
financial assistance and technical expertise helped to build many of
the institutions that are important to the smooth functioning of the
Czech economy today. Bilateral trade between the U.S. and
Czechoslovakia in 1989 was a paltry 140 million dollars. Today our
bilateral trade with the Czech and Slovak Republics is 15 times what
it was then and it is still growing. Czech-made trams are running in
the streets of Portland, Oregon, and Pilsner beer is flowing in U.S.
bars and restaurants. We are proud that CSA, Fischer Air and Travel
Services all fly Boeings.
By our calculations, the United States is the third largest source of
foreign investment into the Czech Republic, with more than $3 billion
invested here. Besides the obvious benefits of new technology,
increased employment and more competitive exports, these U.S.
companies also offer examples of good citizenship and voluntarism.
American firms operating in the Czech Republic provided more than $2
million of assistance in the wake of the floods last year. They took
special measures to assist their employees affected by the floods.
They played a systematic role in preventing a public health crisis in
the wake of the flood disaster. Pharmaceutical companies, assisted by
a $400,000 grant from the U.S. government, were able to locate and
purchase 85,000 doses of hepatitis A vaccine, which was 100% of the
Czech Republic's requirement. U.S. companies also provided more than
150 dryers to the most devastated cities. The majority of U.S. efforts
were underwritten by corporations and private gifts from individual
citizens. I must admit I'm proud of the spontaneous response of our
businesses and citizens; they care about the Czech Republic. Even now,
we're developing ideas and seeking support for public-private
partnerships to help with the rebuilding of devastated parts of
The process of accession to the European Union has clearly played a
major role in developing the Czech economy over the past five years.
But it is still, as it always has been, up to the Czech Republic
itself to build on past success and ensure stability. There is growing
recognition that the country's fiscal house needs to be put into
order, but disagreement over how to do this. Along with many other
advocates for the Czech Republic, we look forward to progress in that
direction this year.
The shortage of domestic private or institutional capital has meant
reliance on foreign direct investment. Over time, Czech capital will
grow. In order to remain the destination of choice for U.S. and other
foreign investors interested in Central and Eastern Europe, the Czech
Republic needs to remove the last irritants that mar the generally
welcoming business environment. These include reform of the commercial
registration process, enactment of a new bankruptcy law with a Chapter
11-style reorganization mechanism, and strengthening the capacities of
the agencies that regulate utilities, securities, insurance and
private pensions.
Another key step the Czech Republic must take is to combat corruption.
Unfortunately, the Czech Republic continues to drop in Transparency
International's Corruption Perception Index. It now finds itself in
52d place, below all other EU members and accession states. While it's
true the Transparency index measures "perceived" rather than
explicitly documented corruption, this widespread perception would not
exist absent real problems.
Prime Minister Spidla's reputation and public statements are
important, but what investors, friendly governments, and international
institutions want to see are concrete actions. Too many
anti-corruption campaigns or criminal investigations are launched with
great fanfare, but their results are either ambiguous or non-existent.
High-profile cases fade from the front pages. High-powered individuals
sometimes seem immune from prosecution. Correcting this is
particularly important if the Czech government wants to encourage the
flow of U.S. capital. American companies and investors avoid what
looks like a corruption-prone environment.
No one wants to create scapegoats or engage in show trials, but the
anti-corruption effort must address reality. The Czech public clearly
believes that crimes have been committed, bribes have been solicited,
offered and paid, and corrupt practices continue. If the Czech public
believes that corruption exists in business, government and within
society, then potential investors and the Czech Republic's
international partners will, too. I know that our colleagues in the EU
share our desire to see an open, transparent environment for potential
investors in this country, and we applaud their efforts to work with
the Czechs and put in place the necessary structural reforms.
The Czech banking system has made well-known strides in the past few
years toward soundness and responsible operations, but regrettably at
major expense to the taxpayer. The "tunneling" during the
privatization process resulted in huge increases in state debt. Banks
now have the liquidity to support business investment and growth.
Perhaps it's time now to take a good look at ways to remove the
structural and legislative impediments that are preventing the equity
markets from serving as a significant source of capital for Czech
entrepreneurs, as they do in some neighboring countries. Your
entrepreneurs don't lack for ingenuity, and they deserve access to
equity financing to put their ideas to good use. I'm sure that U.S.
investors could be easily enticed into a stable, well-regulated equity
market with good liquidity and potential for growth.
The current success of the Czech Republic in attracting manufacturing
that depends on low wages and other inputs is vulnerable to
improvements in the business climate in even lower-wage markets
further east and south. The Czech Republic will have to improve labor
productivity and mobility to keep the manufacturing ball rolling as
long as possible. Beyond that, attention will have to be given to
developing the long-term industry in the direction of
higher-value-added, higher technology goods and services. I believe
that economic development in the Czech Republic should focus on small
and medium sized business. This is the major source of job growth in
the U.S., and will be here as well. These small businesses offer the
potential for growth. When honest entrepreneurs are successful, they
can serve as a model for others. Job creation is the result.
The Czech Republic needs to improve young people's access to higher
education in order to position the workforce for the future. Private
educational institutions have an important role to play. I'm proud
that the U.S. private sector has made significant contributions to
developing new institutions that teach and offer degrees in business
administration, economics and a number of other vitally needed
subjects. Institutions including the Anglo American College, New York
University and the U.S. Business School in Prague were conceived,
founded, staffed and funded by Czechs and Americans to develop the
Czech Republic's greatest resource: the ingenuity, hard work and
integrity of its work force.
In August of last year the Czech Republic witnessed its worst natural
disaster in centuries: the floods that claimed 18 lives, forced the
temporary evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people, left tens of
thousand homeless, and caused billions of crowns in damage. The
tragedy also brought out the best in Czechs: voluntarism, sacrifice,
cooperation, individual responsibility, initiative, partnership
between the public and private sectors. As I went around the country,
I was particularly impressed by the work of the Czech soldiers who
were in the front line to stop the damage and start the
This participation by a broad cross-section of Czech society is the
nutrient for a vibrant, flourishing civil society. It's a tradition
that has deep roots here: thanks to the experience gained through a
vigorous network of civic associations, Sokols, co-operatives,
charities and periodicals, Czechs were well prepared to take
responsibility for their own affairs when Austro-Hungarian authority
collapsed in October 1918. It's precisely that competence, empowerment
and self-confidence that the Nazis and the Communists systematically
tried to suffocate for fifty years. Re-establishing an ethos is
neither quick nor easy. Nevertheless, experience has convinced
Americans that civil society -- the broad and varied range of
institutions through which individual citizens interact with, and make
their views known to, their political leadership -- is crucial to a
healthy democracy. I could offer no more fruitful wish for the Czech
Republic than that the spirit displayed during and after the 2002
floods become a permanent hallmark of your society.
Nowhere is progress more evident in U.S.-Czech relations than on the
international stage. At the end of that row of framed newspapers in
the Embassy we have two editions from March 13, 1999. They're
competing papers, but their headline is identical: "Jsme v NATO"
"We're in NATO!"
When NATO was contemplating its first enlargement to the new
democracies of Central Europe -- countries that were, after all, still
members of the Warsaw Pact at the start of the 1990s -- there was real
disagreement in the U.S. over whether this would strengthen or weaken
the most successful alliance history has ever seen. This was a fair
question, and deserved the full debate it received. All the same, the
verdict is in, and is clear: the addition of the Czech Republic,
Hungary and Poland produced a stronger and more versatile Alliance.
The Czech Republic has convincingly demonstrated that a country need
not be large to make a contribution to a more stable and secure
international environment. Czech forces have distinguished themselves
in NATO operations in the Balkans. The Czech Republic helped mentor
such NATO aspirants as Slovakia and Lithuania, which received their
invitation to join the Alliance at the Prague NATO Summit. You can
recognize the effectiveness of a teacher in part by the success of his
or her students. The Czech government did an outstanding job of
hosting that Summit; the selection of Prague was amply vindicated.
Indeed, while others wavered, Prague denied a visa to President
Lukashenko of Belarus, whose record of repression and threats placed
him in opposition to everything the Summit sought to accomplish.
Finally and most recently, the Czech Republic has eloquently
reinforced the importance of Alliance member obligations in its
support of Turkey's request for contingency NATO defense planning
under Article IV of the North Atlantic Treaty.
The Czech Republic has shown how, with political courage, a modestly
sized country can play a leadership role. This reflects the views of
Vaclav Havel, but not just him. If it were the message of just one
man, it would never carry such resonance. But history has shown Czechs
the high price to be paid when the international community does not
stand up to tyrants.
Americans were deeply moved by the strong, solid, immediate Czech
response following the September 11 attacks. The U.S. counts the Czech
Republic among the most stalwart allies in the war against terrorism.
As then-Prime Minister Milos Zeman observed shortly after the
terrorist assault, "An attack on New York is an attack on Prague."
Czechs are allies not just in words -- which we greatly appreciate;
make no mistake -- but also in deeds. The Czech Republic has shared
information, ensured that financial channels to terrorists are closed
off, sent a field hospital to Afghanistan, offered Special Forces.
Just two weeks ago Czech NBC units departed for the Gulf. This was
done at a time of fiscal deficit and the need to modernize the
military, and is deeply appreciated by all Americans.
Just a month ago the parliament took the necessary measures to permit
Czech participation in possible military action against Iraq, making
the Czech Republic one of the first countries to take that step. The
threat that Saddam Hussein poses is real, and the Czech Republic's
leaders have recognized this. There will be no way of avoiding
hostilities if Saddam does not disarm; the burden of proof is on him,
as it has been all along. Just last week Secretary of State Powell
catalogued in detail Saddam's track record of deception and his
unceasing efforts to acquire and stockpile weapons of mass
destruction. If military action against Iraq becomes unavoidable, U.S.
forces will know that Czech forces will be at their side.
Even as we say goodbye to President Havel, we look forward to a new
generation of Czech political leaders. I'm impressed by the quality
and dedication of many young Czechs serving with distinction in high
levels of the government. They also play important roles in municipal
and regional governments, which serve as invaluable hands-on
laboratories of democracy. We hope the next generation's commitment to
public service and the Czech Republic will provide a lasting testament
to President Havel's legacy.
U.S.-Czech relations are built on a strong foundation. One man who
made an enormous contribution to building that foundation has recently
moved into well-earned retirement -- but not, I hope, into a departure
from public life altogether. Even in the very last days of his term in
office, Vaclav Havel demonstrated those qualities -- leadership,
clarity of moral vision, a readiness to do what he considered right --
that characterized his entire career when he joined seven other
European leaders in a letter challenging the international community
to confront the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.
In his farewell address to the nation on February 2, President Havel
termed the chance to witness and participate in breakthrough
developments in the Czech Republic, Europe and the world, quote, "a
great offering of fate for which I will never cease to be grateful,"
unquote. That modestly understates the case: it is we who should be
grateful for his witness and participation.
Many others on both sides of the Atlantic actively continue to build
the ties to which Vaclav Havel devoted so much mind and heart. As one
of those engaged in that work, I'd like to say "Thank you, President
Havel, for all you've done." And thank you, too, to all those who
carry on those efforts to strengthen and expand the many ties that
link the Czech Republic and the United States.
(end transcript)
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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