Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton today said democracy is thriving in Lithuania and across most of Europe.
At the Community of Democracies Ministerial in Vilnius at Lithuania, Ms. Clinton stressed taht the streets outside the session hall are peaceful.
“But 20 years ago they were filled with Soviet tanks. And they rang out with the chants of protestors and the shouts of soldiers. The world held its breath.” -Ms. Clinton
She said thankfully those tanks retreated, and the Soviet empire began to crumble. She noted that the future was far from certain. She added that the transitions to democracy in Central and Eastern Europe were fraught with challenges.
“In the former Yugoslavia, ethnic strife sparked years of war. In some former Soviet republics – including next door in Belarus – authoritarianism retained an iron grip. And in nearly every newly-free nation, wrenching economic and social changes tested the resolve of people.” – Ms. Clinton
However, Ms. Clinton said in Lithuania and across most of Europe, democracy is thriving nowadays. She underlined that protesters who helped bring down Communism went on to raise up strong democratic institutions and civil society. Leaders put the needs of their countries and their peoples ahead of their personal interests.
She commended Lithuania for becoming a model for the world, and its experiences. She added that both the struggles and the successes have taken on new relevance in recent days.
According to Ms. Clinton, the world has seen citizens across the Middle East and North Africa demand the same universal rights, dignity, and opportunity that Eastern and Central Europeans claimed two decades ago. She noted that again, the future is uncertain. She highlighted that it is too soon to tell whether democratic institutions, pluralism, and the rule of law will emerge, or if those hopes will prove little more than a mirage in the desert.
“What we do know is the outcome will be determined by the people themselves. And this moment belongs to them, particularly the young people who have inspired the world with their courage.” -Ms. Clinton
Ms. Clinton underscored that a community of democracy depends on all nations, not only working together, but renewing their commitment. She believed that established democracies have special duties to help those that are emerging because these new democracies are fighting for their life.
She added that there are vicious autocrats clinging to power. There are interest groups pretending to support democracy, and only waiting until they can assume power. She noted that this is an hour of need, and every democracy should stand up and be counted.
“Every transition in every country in every era is unique. Here in the Baltics, citizens could draw on centuries of democratic traditions. People in the Middle East and North Africa are, in many ways, navigating uncharted territory.” – Ms. Clinton
Ms. Clinton stressed that for all the differences, there are shared lessons. She undercored that there’s a need to be sure other countries learn them and apply them, to take that hard-earned wisdom and put it to work.