21. Telegram From the Embassy in Austria to the United States Information Service, the White House, the Department of State, the United States Information Agency, and the Embassy in France1

11579. Subject: Vice President’s Address on U.S. Policy Toward Central and Eastern Europe

[Page 57]

Text of subject address follows. Vice President Bush spoke in the Hall of Ceremonies in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna at 11:00 a.m. (9:00 GMT). The speech was sponsored by the [Facsimile Page 3] Austrian Association for Foreign Policy and International Relations.

It is a pleasure for me to come here to speak to you today; and it is appropriate that the setting be the Ceremony Hall of the Hofburg, a hall which has witnessed both the full horror of dictatorship and the glistening promise, the abundant actuality of freedom. This beautiful country of Austria is now in the full bloom of democracy; but others are not so fortunate. I have just come from the countries to your east,2 and I have seen in the faces of the people there a yearning for the same freedoms and democratic rights enjoyed by the people of Austria. I know that this is a subject of particular concern to Chancellor Sinowatz, whose home in the Burgenland sits only a few miles from Austria’s eastern border.
Last January I travelled to Germany,3 and in the course of my trip paid what for me will always be an unforgettable visit to the small village of Moedelreuth. Down the main street ran a high concrete wall topped with densely packed barbed wire. On the near side, the villagers were peacefully going about the ordinary business of their daily lives. On the far side, soldiers stood watch with machine guns, and attack dogs ran along the wall on chains.
As I looked out to the east, I had the momentary impression that I was standing in a lonely outpost on the edge of Western civilization. Given the harsh reality of the wall, the impression is perhaps understandable; but how true is it?
Historically, of course, it couldn’t have been more false. That wall, which in one form or another spans the breadth of the continent, runs not along the edge, but cuts through the very heart of Europe. The diverse and complex region through which I have just travelled, a region so rich in history and culture, has always been a part of the European mainstream.
You Austrians so aptly call this part of the world “Mitteleuropa”—Central Europe. Can a wall, can guard dogs and machine guns and border patrols deny hundreds of years of European history? Can they create and enforce this fictitious division down the very center of Europe?
When we think of that monstrous wall, we think first of the very personal violence it expresses: families divided, a people held prisoner in their own country. But what of the violence—just as real—it does to our history and traditions? What of the violence it does to Europe?
Czeslaw Milosz, the Nobel Prize-winning Polish poet, is one of the many dissident artists, writers and intellectuals who were forced to choose exile from the language and the country they loved, rather than be exiled from their history and cultural traditions within their own country. In Milosz’s famous book, The Captive Mind, he writes about the “extinguishment” he sees in the face of Eastern European intellectuals. Their countries, they know, are rightfully part of an ancient civilization, one that is derived of Rome rather than Byzantium. “It isn’t pleasant”, he writes, “to surrender to the hegemony of a nation which is still wild and primitive, and to concede the absolute superiority of its customs and institutions, science and technology, literature and art. Must one sacrifice so much. . . .?” he asks.
Over a hundred years ago, some tsarist historians spoke with a contempt born of envy of the “decadent West”. One example of such decadence was, no doubt the music of Frederic Chopin. In a recent essay, the Czechoslovakian author, Milan Kundera, tells of how 14 years after Chopin’s death, Russian soldiers on the loose in Warsaw hurled the composer’s piano from a fourth-floor window. “Today”, writes Kundera, “the entire culture of Central Europe shares the fate of Chopin’s piano.”
It has often been remarked that of the three great events in European history—the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment—Russia took part in none. But Mitteleuropa, the region that gave birth to Jan Hus, took part in them all. This region has always looked west, not east. I was struck by the close ties in even its easternmost quarter when I heard the beautiful Romance language, so similar to French and Italian, spoken by the people of Romania. Fortunately, we are beginning to see the fissures in the wall. During my visit I saw that, more and more, the natural forces which bring people closer together, rather than push them apart, are beginning to reassert themselves.
We in America feel strong and unbreakable ties with the people of Central Europe. Just as Austria is a haven for refugees, so too is America. So many Americans came to our country from this region to escape poverty and religious and political persecution. Many still do. America was built in great part through the industry of Hungarians, Germans, Czechs and Poles. Across the street from my office in the White House stands a statue of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a hero of our Revolutionary War whose brilliance as a military engineer helped free my country from foreign domination. The United States, in fact all of the civilized world, remembers with the deepest gratitude the part played by the Free Polish Forces in World War II, the brave fighters [Page 59] who rejected Hitler’s and Stalin’s infamous pact to partition their country. And we will never forget the courage of the Poles who, after years of suffering the ravages of war and the ruthless suppression of their people, rose up again in Warsaw—they fought to the end, while those who called themselves their allies cooled their heels on the east bank of the Vistula River.4
The ties of my country to Central Europe are many, our histories are often intimately intertwined. The founder and president of the first Czechoslovak Republic, Thomas Masaryk, married an American woman. Sixty-five years ago this October, he wrote the Czechoslovak Declaration of Independence, a document founded on the same “historic and natural” rights that guided our own forefathers in writing our Declaration of Independence. To quote from that document written by Masaryk: “we accept and shall adhere to the ideals of modern democracy, as they have been the ideals of our nation for centuries”. The “nation of Comenius”, he said, accepts “the principles of liberated mankind, of the actual equality of nations, and of the governments deriving all their just power from the consent of the governed.”
The Czechoslovak Republic, which lasted from 1918 until 1938, was one of the most prosperous countries in Europe; its charter guaranteed “complete freedom of conscience, religion and science, literature and art, speech, the press, and the right of assembly and petition.”
Today, according to their own constitution, the Czechs are promised the same freedoms; so, too, by written law and international treaties to which the Soviet Union and the governments of Eastern Europe are signatories, are the people of other countries in the region promised these basic human rights. But we have seen how often governmental deeds diverge from official promises. The people in many parts of Eastern Europe must now carry on their culture, their traditions, underground and in fear.
But there are groups, such as the Charter 77 movement in Czechoslovakia and Solidarity in Poland, which have sought to persuade their governments to abide by their own laws and international commitments. Because of these individuals, who courageously demand their human rights, and because of the more imaginative leaders in some of these countries who have listened to the just wishes of their people and have sought to democratize their social and economic systems, European culture on the eastern side of the continent will never die.
The United States shares with these people a vision of Eastern Europe in which respect for human rights becomes the norm and not a [Page 60] rare concession to international pressure, where prosperity and advancement replace economic backwardness, and openness overcomes barriers to human contacts and economic cooperation. In approaching the problems of the region, United States’ policy is guided by certain constants: first, we recognize no lawful division of Europe. There is much misunderstanding about the substance of the Yalta Conference.5 Let me state as clearly as I can: there was no agreement at that time to divide Europe up into “spheres of influence”; on the contrary, the powers agreed on the principles of the common responsibility of the three allies for all the liberated territories. The Soviet Union pledged itself to grant full independence to Poland and to all other states in Eastern Europe, and to hold free elections there. The Soviet violation of these obligations is a root cause of East-West tension today.
A similar misunderstanding about the Helsinki Accords.6 Some argue that Helsinki endorses the status quo, the present division of Europe. We reject this notion. At review sessions in Belgrade, Madrid, and the upcoming session here in Vienna in 1986, we have stated and will continue to insist that the heart of Helsinki is a commitment to openness and human rights.
Let me stress here that the United States does not seek to destabilize or undermine any government, but our attitude toward the region is informed by a sense of history—of European history. For this reason we support and will encourage all movement toward the social, humanitarian and democratic ideals which have characterized the historical development of Europe. We appreciate the special role of countries such as Yugoslavia and Austria which have contributed so much to restoring historic patterns of trade and communications.
We share with the people of Eastern and Central Europe three basic aspirations: freedom, prosperity and peace. We recognize the diversity and the complexity of the region. Of Austria’s neighbors to the east, some have shown a greater measure of independence in the conduct of their foreign policy. Some have introduced greater openness in their societies, lowered barriers to human contacts, and engaged in market-oriented economic reforms. Others, unfortunately, continue to toe the Soviet line. Their foreign policy is determined in Moscow, and [Page 61] their domestic policies still flagrantly violate the most fundamental human rights.
In our relations with the countries of Eastern Europe, we take these differences into account. Our policy is one of differentiation—that is, we look to what degree countries pursue autonomous foreign policies, independent of Moscow’s direction; and to what degree they foster domestic liberalization—politically, economically, and in their respect for human rights. The United States will engage in closer political, economic, and cultural relations with those countries such as Hungary and Romania which assert greater openness or independence. We will strengthen our dialogue and cooperation with such countries.
We are not saying that countries must follow policies identical to those of the United States. We will not, however, reward closed societies and belligerent foreign policies—countries such as Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia, which continue to flagrantly violate the most fundamental human rights; and countries such as East Germany and, again, Bulgaria, which act as proxies to the Soviets in the training, funding, and arming of terrorists, and which supply advisors and military and technical assistance to armed movements seeking to destabilize governments in the developing world.
Let me stress once more that our hopes for Eastern Europe are peaceful, but we believe that reform is essential. Over the span of many years, the United States has provided hundreds of millions of dollars of loans and credits for the Polish economy in the hope that this aid would help build a more plentiful and open society. We cannot, however, be expected to shore up a nation’s economy when the government refuses to institute the most basic economic reforms. If countries insist on following the Soviet model, even dollars, francs, and marks cannot prevent the certain failure of their economies.
It is by now abundantly clear that highly centralized, command economies cannot fulfill the basic needs of their populations, let alone remain competitive in world markets or keep pace with technological advancement. Just as retarded industrial development relegated much of nineteenth century Central Europe to a backwater of agricultural poverty, there is ample evidence that the unfolding information revolution will sweep past an unprepared Soviet Union and much of Eastern Europe—unless there is basic change. For example, Hungary’s relative prosperity demonstrates the practical, positive results that follow on social and economic liberalization.
The countries of Eastern Europe have a choice to make. They can close themselves off, or they can open up and join the world economy positively, as traders rather than debtors. Think about this: 25 percent of all Soviet farm output comes from private plots that occupy less than three percent of the Soviet Union’s agricultural land. It’s doubtful [Page 62] whether Soviet agriculture could survive without this concession to private enterprise.
Freedom is the essential component of progress—the freedom of each individual to bring his knowledge and wisdom to bear on the economic decisions that will directly affect his life. This requires freedom of information, the free flow of ideas and the free movement of people. We take these freedoms to be fundamental, moral precepts; but they are also practical necessities. If a society revises history to suit ideological needs; if it censors information; if it punishes imaginative and creative individuals and discourages initiative in its people—that society condemns itself to ignorance and backwardness and poverty.
Just as freedom and prosperity go hand in hand, so, too, are freedom and prosperity linked to peace. I know that the people of Central Europe, who have such an intimate experience of the waste and horror of war, ardently yearn for peace. President Reagan and I and the American people share in your hopes and desires. Our commitment to nuclear arms reduction—not just arms control, but the reduction of these terrible destructive weapons—is unshakeable. The United States has already unilaterally withdrawn 1,000 nuclear warheads from Europe. The implementation of the 1979 NATO decision to deploy INF will not increase by even one the number of nuclear weapons in Europe. But while we’ve been withdrawing nuclear weapons, the Soviets have been engaged in an unprecedented and relentless military buildup in conventional and nuclear arms.
One of the most dangerous and destabilizing new elements is the Soviet Union’s monopoly of intermediate-range nuclear missiles—missiles which can strike any target in Europe within a few minutes. The Soviets have already more than sufficient INF weapons in place to meet their security requirements, and yet they seek to further intimidate the people of Europe by dire unclassified warnings of counter-deployments in Eastern Europe should NATO go ahead with deployments in December.
It is our hope that the Soviet leadership will have the courage and vision to reverse their dangerous arms buildup. If they show some flexibility at the bargaining table and a balanced approach is adopted, an agreement in Geneva is still possible before the end of the year. Here in Vienna at the negotiations for Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction, after many years of stalemate, there are some signs of movement toward verifiable reductions in conventional forces in Central Europe.
But a prerequisite for peace is respect for international law. Regrettably, the Soviet Union and most of the Warsaw Pact countries continue to flout the human rights agreements to which they are all signatories. And the world is still in shock from the brutal murder of [Page 63] 269 civilians aboard a commercial airliner which strayed off course and was unlucky enough to pass over Soviet territory.7
Let me ask you this question: Would the United States, would Austria, ever wantonly shoot down a commercial airliner? Never. But the Soviets resolutely state they would do it again. These are not the actions and words of a civilized system. The European tradition stresses above all things a respect for human life. Those traditions, sadly, are not universal.
What are we to think of leaders who compound such brutal deeds with bald and careless lies and who respond to the just inquiries of the international community with utter contempt? This use of brute force is exactly the kind of Soviet behavior in Eastern Europe that the United States has been protesting for years.
Recognition of the true nature of the Soviet system doesn’t make our desire for peace any less strong. If anything, it makes it stronger. But we enter all negotiations with the Soviets with our eyes open. We will never give up in our attempts to use reason and whatever reassurances we can give to persuade the Soviets to truly, constructively join the community of nations. Our desire for peace is strong and unfailing. With your help, with the help of all nations, I’m certain we can make that hope a reality.
I’d like to close with the words of a great Mitteleuropean, His Holiness Pope John Paul II. In just three lines he pointed out the road toward a better future:
Persons over things/ethics over technology/spirit over matter.
I have visited four important nations in Central Europe—nations rich in culture and history; nations with differing systems and perspectives. But in my talks with the people of these countries, I’ve become convinced that we all share a common goal—to heal the wounds that separate us, to remove the artificial barriers which divide us, and to reduce the level of fear and terror in the world through arms reduction.
I come away from Eastern Europe with a strong sense of its diversity, a strong sense of the uniqueness of each country. With some, our ties are already vastly improved—my visit is one indication of that. But we are not about to write off a single country. We are ready to respond to each to the extent that they are meeting their own peoples’ aspirations, are pursuing their own, independent foreign policy, and are willing to open up to the rest of the world.
I am an optimist. I see a bright future for Central Europe—a future of peace, prosperity, and freedom. I am positive the barriers will [Page 64] come down and that the desire of our neighbors to the east to once more become a full part of Europe will finally, after many hard and bitter years, be fulfilled. In this spirit of reconciliation, we must all work together to make this optimistic vision a reality—to once again make Europe whole.
Thank you.

(End of text)

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D830545–1038. Unclassified; Immediate. Sent Priority for information to Belgrade, Bucharest, Budapest, Algiers, Rabat, Tunis, East Berlin, Moscow, Prague, Sofia, and Warsaw. Bush was in Vienna, September 20–21.
  2. Vienna was the final stop on Bush’s trip through North Africa and Eastern Europe. His itinerary was as follows: Rabat, September 11–13; Algiers, September 13–15; Tunis, September 15–16; Belgrade, September 16–18 (see Documents 211 and 212); Bucharest, September 18–19 (see Document 120); Budapest, September 19–20 (see Document 322); and Vienna, September 20–21.
  3. January 30–February 1.
  4. Reference is to the Warsaw Uprising led by the Polish Resistance August 1–October 2, 1944, to free Poland from German occupation.
  5. Reference is to the February 4–11, 1945, summit in Crimea, at which President Franklin Roosevelt, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill discussed, among other things, postwar Europe.
  6. The Helsinki Accords, or the Helsinki Final Act, was adopted on August 1, 1975, at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Signed by 35 countries, the Final Act dealt with a variety of issues that were divided into four “baskets.” The first basket addressed political and military issues. The second basket included economic issues. The third basket focused on human rights. The fourth basket addressed implementation and follow-up meetings. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXIX, European Security, Documents 319–339.
  7. Reference is to the September 1, 1983, shootdown of Korean Air Lines Flight 007. See Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. IV, Soviet Union, January 1983–March 1985, Chapter 3.