Ideals of Democracy Universal, Bush Says

By David McKeeby
USINFO White House Correspondent

Washington – The ideals of democracy are universal, and democracies have an obligation to promote them as a foundation for peace and prosperity, President Bush says.

“We appreciate that free societies take shape at different speeds in different places,” Bush said at a democracy forum in Prague, the Czech Republic, June 5. 

However, fundamental freedoms of speech, religion, the press and assembly, as well as the rule of law, an independent judiciary, private property rights and political parties competing in free and fair elections are critical elements found in any democracy, he said.

Promoting democracy is not an effort to impose U.S. values on others, Bush said. “The truth is that the only ones who have to impose their values are the tyrants.”

The world faces a new ideological struggle today, Bush said, where extremists promise paradise, "but deliver a life of public beatings, repression of women, and suicide bombings.  On the other side are huge numbers of moderate men and women - including millions in the Muslim world - who believe that every human life has dignity and value that no power on earth can take away.”

The United States and its allies confront terrorism with an array of military, intelligence and law enforcement efforts, Bush said, but their combined power pales in comparison to the universal appeal of democratic ideals. 

Democracy promotion, he said, also contributes to enhanced security, because governments that are accountable to their citizens are less likely to attack each other and will address issues through an open political process.  In open societies, he added, citizens can protest freely, and are less likely to be pushed toward extremism. 

For these reasons, Bush said, democratic nations have a responsibility to help those who are struggling to establish free societies.  He said his budget request for fiscal year 2008, which must be approved by the U.S. Congress, would double U.S. support for foreign democracy programs from $700 million in 2001 to $1.5 billion, and more than double the funding for the National Endowment for Democracy from $31 million in 2001 to $80 million.

Bush pledged continued U.S. support for pro-democracy groups, noting that he has met with more than 27 dissidents and democratic activists from 15 countries, including Belarus, Cuba, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. He added he looked forward to the day when detained activists, such as Alexander Kozulin of Belarus and Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, would be freed.

“America calls on every nation that stifles dissent to end its repression, trust its people, and grant its citizens the freedom they deserve,” he said.

Bush highlighted democracy’s gains in Georgia, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Yemen, and reiterated his commitment to helping U.S. partners Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to open their political systems.

Similarly, he pledged continued engagement with China and Russia to encourage further progress toward reform. 

Bush arrived June 5 in Heiligendamm, Germany, for the start of the Group of Eight (G8) nations leaders’ meeting, which runs June 6-8.  He will be joined by other G8 leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United Kingdom.  He also is scheduled to visit Poland, Italy, the Vatican, Albania and Bulgaria.

For additional details, see a transcript of Bush’s remarks.