Bush: Yalta led to repression that still must be addressed
The president urges Russia to promote democracy: "V-E Day marked the end of fascism, but not the end of oppression."
Published May 8, 2005
RIGA, Latvia - Second-guessing Franklin D. Roosevelt, President Bush said Saturday the United States played a role in Europe's painful division after World War II - a decision that helped cause "one of the greatest wrongs of history" when the Soviet Union imposed its harsh rule across Central and Eastern Europe.
Bush said the lessons of the past will not be forgotten as the United States tries to spread freedom in the Middle East.
"We will not repeat the mistakes of other generations, appeasing or excusing tyranny, and sacrificing freedom in the vain pursuit of stability," he said. "We have learned our lesson; no one's liberty is expendable. In the long run, our security and true stability depend on the freedom of others."
Bush singled out the 1945 Yalta agreement signed by Roosevelt in a speech during the second day of a five-day trip focused on Monday's celebration in Moscow of the 60th anniversary of Nazi Germany's defeat.
The Yalta agreement, signed during a meeting in Crimea, in the Soviet Union, carved up post-World War II Europe and left some countries behind the Iron Curtain.
The agreement among Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Josef Stalin gave Stalin control of the whole of Eastern Europe.
Roosevelt was accused of delivering Eastern Europe to communist domination.
In recent days Bush has urged Russia to own up to its wartime past. It appeared he decided to do the same to set an example for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The day before a planned meeting and dinner with Putin, Bush warned him about retreating on democracy, saying that "all free and successful countries have some common characteristics: freedom of worship, freedom of the press, economic liberty, the rule of law and the limitation of power through checks and balances."
In the past year the United States has grown concerned over Putin's prosecution of business leaders, his increasing control over the press and his involvement in the affairs of Georgia and other neighbors. Putin has not reacted positively to such criticism from Bush in the past.
In a news conference with Baltic leaders in Riga on Saturday, Bush put more pressure on Putin by calling for "free and open and fair" elections in Belarus, the last dictatorship in Europe, whose president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, is backed by Putin.
Last week Putin told the CBS News program 60 Minutes that Bush had little business lecturing him about democracy when the 2000 presidential election in the United States was decided by the Supreme Court.
Bush's words in Latvia on Saturday seemed likely to anger the Russians even more, because he repeatedly used the word "occupation" to describe the Russian actions in the Baltics after World War II. The Russians have furiously responded that they were invited in.
Bush wants to ensure that his attendance at Monday's celebration does not endorse the Soviet repression and rise of totalitarianism that followed.
"As we mark a victory of six decades ago, we are mindful of a paradox," Bush said. "For much of Germany, defeat led to freedom. For much of Eastern and Central Europe, victory brought the iron rule of another empire. V-E Day marked the end of fascism, but not the end of oppression."
He said "the captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history."
Bush spent the day with the leaders of three Baltic republics: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Many in the Baltic countries are still bitter about the Soviet annexation of their countries and the harsh occupation that followed the war for nearly 50 years. Acknowledging that anger and frustration still linger, Bush said that "we have a great opportunity to move beyond the past." His message here - and throughout his trip - is that the world is entering a new phase of freedom and all countries should get on board.
While history does not hide the U.S. role in Europe's division, past American presidents have found little reason to discuss it.
"Certainly it goes further than any president has gone," historian Alan Brinkley said. "This has been a very common view of the far right for many years - that Yalta was a betrayal of freedom, that Roosevelt betrayed the hopes of generations."
Bush said the Yalta agreement followed in the "unjust tradition" of other war pacts that carved up the continent and left millions in oppression. "Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable," he said. "Yet this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable."
Bush reminded Baltic countries that democracy brings obligations along with elections and independence. He said minority rights and equal justice must be protected, a nod to Moscow's concerns about the treatment of Russian-speakers in the former Soviet republics.
Bush applauded the Baltics for supporting democracy in Ukraine and spoke approvingly of democracy in Georgia and Moldova.
The trip also includes stops in the Netherlands and Georgia.
Information from the New York Times was used in this report.
[Last modified May 8, 2005, 00:46:16]
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