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Remarks by Senator John McCain at the Atlantic Council's Annual Bronislaw Geremek Lecture

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Location: Washington, DC

Thank you, Radek, for your gracious and kind words. Thank you as well for your principled leadership, and that of your government, on vital matters of human rights and international security, ranging from Belarus to Afghanistan.

I believe I first met Radek when he was a young journalist, and I certainly knew him when he was at a think tank here in town. Now he is foreign minister. One of these days, Radek, we are going to find an honorable profession for you.

Let me also thank Radek, Ambassador Kupiecki, and the Polish government for the immense honor they are bestowing on me this evening: the Commander's Cross with Star of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland. I have rarely felt at once so honored and yet so unworthy of that honor as I do now.

One of the deepest pleasures of my professional life has been watching the progress of the Polish people -- from noble resistance, to national liberation, to democratic triumph. In just one generation, Poland has transformed itself from a vassal state of an evil empire to a democratic driver of continental unity -- from an object of the struggle for a Europe whole, free, and at peace … to an author of that dream's expansion on the behalf of others. For a people and a government that have achieved such things to pay tribute to me for supporting their success is a humbling experience indeed. I am moved and grateful beyond words.

I am doubly honored tonight to deliver the Bronislaw Geremek Lecture on the occasion of the Atlantic Council's 50th Anniversary. I want to thank my friends Chuck Hagel and Fred Kempe, and the rest of the Council's leadership, for this opportunity. What I have always valued about the Atlantic Council is that, at its heart, is the same core idea that animates our broader transatlantic community -- the idea that Euro-Atlantic democracies, the stewards of Enlightenment principles, need not and should not tackle our challenges in isolation, be it Soviet aggression and the spread of communism in 1961 or violent extremism and energy security in 2011. It is the idea that our individual struggles are really a shared endeavor with greater meaning.

There is a word for this: solidarity. It is a word that will forever echo across history thanks to Polish people of courage and conviction like Bronislaw Geremek: a survivor of the War and the Holocaust, who endured communist Poland and its totalitarian prisons, who ultimately led his country to democracy with his fellow Solidarity activists, and who then guided Poland as its foreign minister toward a Euro-Atlantic future within NATO and the European Union. If there is anything that I or many others could be honored for in tribute to a man like Geremek, it is merely seeing in his struggle, and in that of other freedom-loving Poles, something inherent and indivisible in the human spirit, and supporting that courage without apology or compromise.

Three decades ago, far more sophisticated analysts of international politics than I looked at Poland -- or the Baltic states, or East Germany, or Russia itself for that matter -- and they concentrated on all of the many particular reasons why their struggle was different than ours, and why a solidarity of words and spirit was the most we could muster. So too today, there is a temptation -- we all feel it from time to time -- to look at the desire for democracy in places like Moldova, or Ukraine, or Belarus -- and further afield in places like Tunisia, or Egypt, or Libya -- and to see only what sets us apart from these peoples, what divides us from their aspirations.

But if I leave you with only one thought tonight, my friends, let it be this: It is our obligation as transatlantic democracies to look beyond these divisions -- to look beyond differences of history, culture, class, and creed -- to disregard all of the arguments that council passivity in the service of human dignity, and to reaffirm instead that core idea which still unites us and summons all of us to nobler endeavors: solidarity -- solidarity with the universal longings of the human soul, for basic rights and equality, for liberty under the law, for tolerance and opportunity.

So when we see Belarusian democrats crushed by the Lukashenko regime, the last dictatorship in Europe, we should recognize that these are the same forces of evil unleashed against the Prague Spring and the Warsaw Uprising -- and we should join hands, Europe and America together, to impose crippling pressure on the regime officials, family members, fellow travelers, and state-owned enterprises that are complicit in Lukashenko's tyranny until the people of Belarus are free.

When we see democratic Georgia dismembered by the aggression of a larger power, we must recognize that this injustice can never be tolerated or forgotten -- for it represents everything sinister in Europe's past, everything that we have all worked so tirelessly to advance beyond, but everything that we will never escape until Georgia is made whole again.

And when we see little Moldova, governed at last by democratic reformers but still struggling against internal and external forces that want to drag the country back into darkness, we must recognize that their struggle is no different than that of western Europe after the War, when the success of democracy hung in the balance -- and we must now do everything in our power to tip that balance toward liberty, beginning with Congress repealing Jackson-Vanik for Moldova.

In short, our calling today is to complete Europe -- to once and for all realize the dream of a Europe that is truly whole, fully free, and everywhere at peace. But we must do more than that. Our solidarity cannot stop at the boundaries of Europe -- for our values know no boundaries. They live in people today who are expanding the frontiers of freedom, and our solidarity must extend to them too.

So when we see the workers of the Tunisian General Labor Union lead their fellow citizens in driving a dictator from their country, we must recognize in this struggle for democracy the workers at Gdansk and Lech Walesa climbing that fence -- and we must stand in solidarity with the people of Tunisia.

When we see the sons and daughters of Iran refusing to relinquish their dream of a Green Revolution in the face of unspeakable oppression, it instinctually calls to mind memories of the Iron Curtain and the Gulag Archipelago -- and our response must be the same: to make Iran's struggle for democracy our struggle.

When we see the youth of Egypt pour their aspirations for peaceful change into Tahrir Square, we must recognize that their cries for freedom and justice are like the exuberant blows of those hammers that broke down the Berlin Wall -- and we must again marshal the generosity and open the markets of the transatlantic community to support Egyptians in consolidating their democratic revolution.

And when we see brave Libyans, armed at times only with a desire for freedom and the courage to fight for it, confronting the ruthless mercenaries and aerial attacks of the Qadaffi regime, we must recognize in their national resistance the same yearnings that freed Bosnia and Kosovo from the iron fist of Milosevic -- and we must provide whatever assistance necessary, as soon as possible, to prevent another Srebrenica and ensure the liberation of Libya after decades of madness.

Whether in Europe or beyond, the purpose of this new solidarity, our solidarity, must be more than just bearing witness. It must be more than just a solidarity of speech. It must be a solidarity of deeds -- a solidarity that acts.

I have spent the past 12 days, along with Senator Joe Lieberman, traveling across the Middle East and North Africa -- to Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, the West Bank, and Egypt. It was like visiting eastern Europe amid the collapse of the Soviet Union. The old bargains that have defined regional order in the broader Middle East for more than half a century are now collapsing before our eyes. These old bargains largely rested on autocratic governments with which the United States and others maintained partnerships of necessity. But the new bargains of the new regional order that is now emerging will instead be rooted in the democratic dreams of men and women across the region -- as it should be.

Such uncertainty and change is, of course, deeply unsettling. As one man told us in Jordan: "For decades, the United States has paid wholesale for its policy in the Middle East; now you will have to pay retail.' And yet these events are also a historic opportunity to support peoples across the Middle East in shaping a new regional order that is, all at once, reflective of their aspirations, consistent with our universal values, and more conductive to the long-term interests of the free world.

This possibility -- of a Middle East where power and freedom align -- would be the most profound blow imaginable to the last awful remnants of totalitarianism in our world: the violent ideology of al-Qaeda and its terrorist allies. Young people across the Middle East are now engaging in the first meaningful acts of citizenship in their lives. Like the workers of Gdansk or the youth of East Berlin, they are changing the character of their countries, and the revolutions they are making are defined not by violent extremism, but by peaceful protests -- not by a totalitarian ideology, but by the indivisible longing for human dignity. In all of the revolutions we have witnessed, no American flags or Israeli flags have been burned. Not one.

This is the same spirit that captivated Bronislaw Geremek. It is the same spirit that launched Solidarity. It is the same spirit that liberated Poland, and deepened the unity of Europe, and expanded the Atlantic alliance. And it is this peace-loving, justice-seeking, life-affirming spirit that will one day overcome all challenges to it. As Lech Walesa once said, "We hold our heads high, despite the price we have paid, because freedom is priceless."

I am honored to have played a small part in this earlier chapter in the history of justice in our world. May there be many more to come. Thank you.


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