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Press Roundtable: Democracy in Europe and Beyond

Solidarity 25th Anniversary: Democracy in Europe and Beyond


Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs
On-The-Record Press Roundtable
Washington, DC
August 23, 2005

(10:00 a.m. EDT)


MODERATOR: Good morning. It'd be helpful for you to know who everyone is.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Yes.

MODERATOR: So if you could just briefly --

QUESTION: I'm Gabor Horvath from Nepszadbadsag, Hungary.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Hi.

QUESTION: I'm Yasmin Congar with Turkey's Milliyet.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Pleasure.

QUESTION: Pascal Riche from Liberation, France.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Great.

QUESTION: Reymer Kluever from Sueddeutsche Zeitung in Munich, Germany.

QUESTION: Philip Sherwell from the London Sunday Telegraph.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Great.

QUESTION: Luba Shara from Ukraynska Pravda, Ukraine.

QUESTION: Dubravka Savic, Vercenje Novosti (inaudible).

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Right.

QUESTION: Dimitri Kirsanov, Itar Tass, the Russian Newswire service.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Well, a pleasure.

MODERATOR: I pretty much gave your introduction before you got here.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Good. Okay. Very good.

MODERATOR: And they have bios. I basically discussed that we'd like to talk about your upcoming trip to Poland --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Right.

MODERATOR: -- and to mark the 25th anniversary, what that meant for Poland, what it's meant for --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Sure.

MODERATOR: -- Eastern Europe and what it means, certainly, for the world and the U.S.-European partnership.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Sure. Great. The Polish Government and Solidarity have organized an event commemorating the 25th anniversary of the founding of Solidarity. This is an event at which both President Kwa?niewski and Lech Walesa will both be present. And you're quite right to react because the two of them have not always gotten on, to put it mildly. But it is an event. It is a remarkable event because it is long enough ago that the world can judge the significance of Solidarity and yet recent enough that all the participants -- that most of the participants and leaders are not only alive, but active in public life. I'm proud to go there, not simply to commemorate a great democratic success of the past, but also because the lessons of Solidarity and what it taught us about freedom in the world is not confined to Eastern Europe and let me explain what that means.

Let's take ourselves back to the mindset of the 1970s, before Solidarity, to the memory of the Cold War and what we all thought. And by all, I don't mean every individual, but I do mean the conventional wisdom. The conventional wisdom in those days held that the history's verdict of 1945 was more or less immutable: that Europe would always be divided; that the Soviet Union was forever; that the political arrangements that arose out of World War II were a fact of life; and that democracy might be a slogan, but that as an operational principle, democracy was not terribly relevant.

Now, of course, my government didn't use such language. We spoke about captive nations, we spoke about human rights and many of us meant it. But the astounding progress of democracy that Solidarity and the era of democratic advance that Solidarity heralded and led was a surprise to many. It taught us some profound lessons, some of which I'd like to mention because they are relevant to the debates, which we are having today in the transatlantic community.

First of all, it taught us not to circumscribe the future, based on a straight-line projection of the present. What was seen as impossible suddenly appeared inevitable and then it happened. It was impossible, many experts believed, that democracy could come to Eastern Europe. It was impossible that the Soviet Union would withdraw from the Iron Curtain line. It was impossible that the Soviet Union itself would end. It was impossible that Germany would be re-united.

And then I'm afraid -- I hate to say it, but many regarded it as impossible that democracy, once achieved, would be consolidated and successful in Central and Eastern Europe. But all of these things happened and they happened not completely peacefully. Of course, at one end, we had the Polish and Hungarian examples, the Czechoslovak "Velvet Revolution." At the other end, we had the unsuccessful transformation in Yugoslavia, which was a violent series of civil wars and a tragedy for peoples who deserved better. But by and large, democracy succeeded and it especially succeeded where democratic reformers pushed hardest.

Now, everything I've said is a statement of the obvious. When applied retroactively, we now look at Solidarity in 1980 and we see all the bases in history, in politics, for everything that happened from 1980. At the time, very few of us saw it. Today, a central tenet of my government's foreign policy, is that the democracy is potentially universal in its application. I say potentially, because we are not so naïve as to believe democracy will triumph everywhere at once. But it is true that democracy has succeeded in places where it was regarded as not possible. Democracy has succeeded in East Asia, in South America, in Eastern Europe, in Southern Asia, in Turkey. Democracy has succeeded in countries of all the world's great religions and on all the world's inhabited continents. And if democracy can succeed anywhere in theory, it can succeed everywhere, also in theory. That does not mean it will, but it does mean that it can. And it does mean, most importantly, that there can be no principled reason why democracy cannot apply to one or another country.

Now I am leading, as you might imagine, to my own government's focus on democracy throughout the Broader Middle East. And it is interesting to me to note -- and I don't think anyone has noted it yet -- it is interesting to me to note how many senior people in the U.S. Administration have experience -- have some experience dealing with the democratic transformation in Central and Eastern Europe, starting in 1989. Secretary Rice, of course, was responsible not only for Russia, but for what we then called Eastern Europe at the NSC, starting in 1989.

Chris Hill, now assistant secretary for Asia, was a desk officer for Poland starting in 1989, and later, ambassador to Poland. I was a desk officer for Poland. I was later ambassador to Poland. Liz Cheney, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Near East Bureau, was working on issues of Polish transformation in AID. Another DAS Deputy Assistant Secretary in NEA, Scott Carpenter, was working on Polish transformation issues in the mid-'90s. I believe he was working in the International Republican Institute at the time. It's not true that some kind of East European group is prominent. The key link between all of the people I mentioned and many others is that they saw a successful democratic transition take place when most of the experts said it was impossible. And I can tell you from personal experience that that is a profoundly impressive event.

Again, we are not so naïve as to believe that democracy occurs instantly in all countries at the same pace and is exactly alike. But it does mean that the old argument that certain countries are civilizationally ill-disposed to democracy is demonstrably false. And that is why the Solidarity anniversary is so important.

There was a great debate, and my French and German colleagues here remember that debate, about whether democracy could be a real policy and could be successful in Eastern Europe. There was a debate about how much to emphasize this. And there was a debate, in particular, about democracy vs. stability in Eastern Europe. And the democratic advocates won that debate, not because the debate was settled in the West, but because the debate was settled on the ground in Central and Eastern Europe. So this anniversary upcoming is profoundly important for the world and this is a lesson that Central and Eastern Europe has taught the world.

Now again, there was a negative lesson in the Former Yugoslavia, which is, if I can encapsulate it: If leaders do not push ahead with democratic reforms, the forces of nationalism, extremism, ethnic hatred can take over and a country can descend into a storm of blood and pain. Leadership makes a difference, commitment to principles makes a difference, and this upcoming Solidarity anniversary is a reminder, also, that all of the countries that succeeded in their democratic transformation had to face, honestly, questions of democracy, questions of nationalism, questions of their own past. And the ones -- the countries that succeeded had leaders who were committed to democracy.

Now, I won't hide that it'll be a personal pleasure for me to go back to Poland and see so many old friends. But it is also a pleasure to go back and see how democracy and economic reform reinforced each other because Poland is also an economic success, and any of you who remember Poland from the 1970s and '80s and have been back recently can attest to that. The countries -- many of the countries you come from are undergoing similar transformations. I hope that Serbia and Montenegro, having tried the alternative, now follow in the path of reform. Ukraine now reminds me, in some ways, of Poland in 1989 and 1990. Turkey, which has a very different history, of course, is in the middle of a democratic transformation of its own and it is a far freer country, a far more prosperous country. And there are leaders in Turkey who seem determined to realize the country's European vocation through adherence to democratic principles and this is profoundly hopeful.

And finally, since I have not done so exclusively, but implicitly -- but I'll say so exclusively, I obviously don't think much of the theory of the "clash of civilizations," which seems to me to be simply a modern form of cultural, ethnic, and frankly, even racial prejudice, which is nothing to be proud of. I do not believe that one religion is more disposed to democracy than another. I think the theory that East Asians had a Confucian tradition and therefore, could not make democracy work is as foolish as the notion that Islam and democracy are incompatible or as foolish as the notion that Poles and Hungarians could not make democracy work. All of these things have been demonstrated to be just wrong. Of course, stereotyping usually doesn't look very good in retrospect.

Now, I will stop there and answer any and all questions and say I don't know whether any of you will be out in Poland, but some of your countries will have journalists represented and at some point, if I'm lucky, I'll get to meet and talk to them.

Yes.

QUESTION: I have a question about Belarus.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Yes.

QUESTION: The United States helped Solidarity a lot. I felt the trade unions helped, the National Endowment for Democracy helped a lot.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Yes.

QUESTION: So, what's your view on the future of Belarus and how do you believe the United States should help Belarus to transform?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Well, you notice that I did not emphasize the help of the United States or the West for Solidarity in the Polish democratic movement because, ultimately, the Poles did it themselves. We did help. I'm proud of what we did. But ultimately, the credit belongs to the Poles.

I think that the democratic world -- that is, the United States and Europe working together -- should help reform and reformers in other countries. And by the way, I should emphasize that support for Solidarity and democracy in Poland was not an American enterprise. It was something that Europeans and Americans did together, whether it was Europeans hosting the Brussels office of Solidarity in exile, whether it was French intellectuals who, in the 1970s, provided much of the intellectual underpinnings for anti-Communist thinking -- for a democratic anti-communism. This was not an American enterprise. It was a transatlantic enterprise, and it wasn't one in which governments had their part, but societies were mobilized. And I think that just as democracy, in the end, succeeded in Poland, in the end, it will succeed in Belarus. I just can't make predictions.

QUESTION: You talk about the debate between the U.S. and (inaudible) and between democracy and stability.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you feel that today, the debate is the same regarding the (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Well, it's not the same, but there are elements in common. You're quite right and you correctly understood what I was saying. But of course, this is not a debate where the United States has taken one side and Europe has taken another. If you read -- some speeches by President Bush are not always read sufficiently. President Bush himself, in his speech in London at Whitehall in November '03, spoke of America's own mistake of supporting stability at the expense of democracy. And the President said, "We got neither."

So, this is not a criticism of Europeans. I would say that there are, in all countries, and maybe in most governments, debates between those interested in stability and those interested in democracy. Now, ultimately, I think that the way to stability is through democracy, all right. I don't think that there is a -- it is not a zero-sum tradeoff between democracy and stability. Ultimately, undemocratic countries are less stable; more democratic countries are more stable. But that's my opinion; there are other opinions. And, yes, we are discussing this with reference to the broader Middle East now, and this is a very interesting discussion.

I notice that Turkey, which has, you know -- a secular country, but with a Muslim tradition and a lot of knowledge about the Middle East, is one of the strongest supporters and, indeed, participants in the broader Middle East initiative as a country which is leading, along with Yemen and Italy, the Democracy Assistance Dialogue. And I've had Turks tell me that, in fact, the philosophical underpinnings of democracy are not alien, they are not Western; they were, in fact, worked out in the Ottoman period. The sovereignty of -- political sovereignty lying with the people, not God; the separation of -- ultimately, therefore, the separation of mosque and state.

These Turks have explained to me are, in fact, Ottoman concepts and I had one senior Turkish official explain to me, "Look, if we worked it out in Istanbul in the 19th century, it was also being worked out by intellectuals in Damascus and Cairo, so it isn't a foreign Western import." But I don't mean to close off the debate, but I will acknowledge that the debate is there and it's a good debate to have.

Yes, since I've mentioned Turkey.

QUESTION: Speaking of Turkey, yes. I mean you already talked about democratization in Turkey --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Yes.

QUESTION: -- and the process of the European vocation. I mean, there you know, there's this thesis that one way of burying the clash of civilization, if you're aware of the theory of --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Yes.

QUESTION: -- natural civilizations, is having Turkey as a full member in the European Union.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Yes.

QUESTION: But, as you know, although there is a date for the accession talks, it's still somewhat up in the air. There are leaders, important leaders in Europe, rejecting Turkey's membership, but also stating that Turkey has not fulfilled all --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Right.

QUESTION: -- the conditions yet, including the recognition of Cyprus from the recognition of Cyprus. So I was wondering, if the U.S. is active, in any way, these days in talking to its European partners about this, how important is it for you, for the U.S. Government that the accession talks will begin and they'll continue in a serious context?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: The United States has never hidden its support for Turkey's European vocation. We have said so publicly. The President has said so. It is also true that this is a European decision, not an American decision. We do not get a vote. We're not a member of the European Union. Our view has been that since the European Union has offered Turkey the prospect of membership, it ought to be up to Turkey to fulfill all of the requirements.

We've never advocated that Turkey get a special deal, a more lenient deal, simply that Turkey be treated as every other candidate. That said, we're, of course, not ignorant of the debate in Europe and the fact that many observers ascribe the failure of the referendum on the EU Constitution in the Netherlands and France to be attributed to anxiety about enlargement, whether it's Polish plumbers -- just curious, I don't think there are actually very many Polish plumbers in France. But it was a metaphor for other anxieties. (Laughter.) Well, I wonder, but, you know, it's -- I guess they do good work because they get hired, you know. There's been a lot of Polish housing construction workers in the Chicago area, but anyway, many of our European friends have urged us to let Europeans sort this out. Our position is well-known and they've told us very politely that our views, if expressed very loudly or very insistently, might not have the effect we intend. But our position's been very clear.

QUESTION: You had mentioned Poland's economic success, and I don't know too much about the case in other countries, but Hungary took almost 15 years to get back to the levels of before the transition. That doesn't make democracy a very attractive perspective for a great many people around the world. Could anything be done to help those countries more effectively than it has been done in Central and Eastern Europe?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Well, in Poland, in any event, they reached the level of their 1989 economy by the middle '90s.

QUESTION: But it was easier.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: It was easier. Well, it was easier partly because it was a poorer country, but also their reforms were more drastic because they were more desperate. Hungary was a much wealthier country, although I've always questioned those statistics because it seemed to me that during the communist period, GDP figures were inflated through various structural flaws.

In the old Soviet Union it was said that if you wanted to over-fulfill the plan of railway tonnage, you put a lot of heavy things on railways and you sent the railways in circles, and, therefore, you over-fulfilled the plan. Now, that's an exaggeration, but I'm afraid it's not much of one. The key to successful economic reform has been transparency, good governance, fights against corruption. But I think that by all measures of -- that there have been strains in the economic transformation. I don't want to minimize that.

And I'm sure that if the Poles could go back in time 15 years and advise their younger selves, they would have much good advice to give. But I remember the poverty and the sense of hopelessness throughout -- in Poland and in much of Hungary, and it is a much better place now. It's up to governments to do their best and I think Hungary's economy has now picked up again.

QUESTION: It's also concerning their economy. In Serbia and Montenegro, life for ordinary people sometimes looks much, much worse than they used to be, like 20 years ago. Those are the times you are speaking about?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Right.

QUESTION: So, what do you see as the main challenges in front of this still-young democracy in Serbia and Montenegro --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Well --

QUESTION: -- combating the different things in terms of state, which is not stable, with other things that are --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: I agree with you. I remember Yugoslavia in the old days. I remember what Belgrade looked like in the mid '80s and, unfortunately, you're correct. I think the answer for Serbia is -- having tried nationalism and extremism, you now know what that leads to, which is nothing good. It led to a criminal -- not only to losing wars and losing your country, having it break up, but to impoverishment and criminalization of the economy, and you know this far better than I.

I think it's time for Serbia to dedicate itself wholeheartedly to the alternative, which is to realize its European future -- that way lies prosperity, order. Transitions are difficult, but I believe that the Serbian and Montenegran people are perfectly capable of competing as a modern country. And I think giving up now, I find it astonishing sometimes that the extreme nationalists still speak out publicly on behalf of their agenda, since their agenda has brought nothing but ruin and misery to the people in whose name it was uttered.

It's a dreadful business and I think the reformers in Serbia are certainly correct. I think that that is the way forward.

Sir.

QUESTION: I'd just like to change the subject for a bit. The debates, which you said --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Right.

QUESTION: -- Between governments are (inaudible) those interested in stability and those interested in democracy --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Right, right.

QUESTION: -- at which you can force debates.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Right, right, but one that exists nonetheless.

QUESTION: One that exists, yes, yes, but (inaudible).

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Yeah.

QUESTION: From the American Government's position now, are you still looking at not debating in Europe with regard to the Middle East, with regard to recent events in terms of what was characterized as the old and new Europe? Do you still see differences?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: No, no.

QUESTION: And where and certainly, if you (inaudible) --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Right.

QUESTION: Where do you see the debate within the European sort of, within European countries at the moment?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: We don't look at the debate in terms of old and new Europe, how very first term. (Laughter.) That is a debate -- the new democracies in Europe are democracies. These are sophisticated countries. They also have this debate, okay. They can't be stereotyped at all.

I think the debate has moved in Europe quite considerably. In 2004, when this debate began, there was a very high degree of skepticism in European capitals about even the principle of pursuing reform and democracy in the broader Middle East. I think now, after the Afghan elections, the Iraqi elections, the so-called Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority elections, the debate has shifted.

I have heard -- President Chirac has been very articulate in advocating for the Lebanese state and Lebanese democracy. I think that there is now, in Europe, a general acceptance that reform and democracy is important for the broader Middle East, that that has to be an essential part of the debate. I think there are still differences over the pace, over the timing, over the relationship between that debate and other issues, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is, of course -- Iraq has its own history. But I think there is increasingly an understanding that the transatlantic community, and I do believe in a transatlantic community, needs to ally itself with reform and reformers in this region.

Now, I don't mean to be a reductionist. There are still people who doubtless think -- they are doubtless people who think that it is folly to pursue reform in the broader Middle East, but I think the center of gravity has changed. That's obviously a subjective view, but I think the other important factor is that there are many in the broader Middle East who are calling for -- in fact, demanding -- reform. That's the critical -- it's not the debate within the so-called West that's important. It is the debate within the societies of the broader Middle East itself, which is dispositive.

Yes.

QUESTION: So, you mentioned the lessons learned from the (inaudible) and Polish uprising. You mentioned leadership and commitment to principles.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Yes.

QUESTION: Are there more specific lessons to learn so that -- or to put it another way, what is the U.S. Government -- has learned from its experience in Europe and what is the what's the use for, let's say, the broader Middle East?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Well, there are various lessons of the period, but one of the chief ones is that human rights and democracy is not an adjunct and is not secondary. It can, in fact, be crucial as a strategic objective in its own right. For years, the East-West relationship, the U.S.-Soviet relationship, was about arms control and about maintaining a stable military balance. But what ended the Cold War was a set of issues that had more to do with human rights, democracy and economic reform.

Now, there is a debate, there is a debate as to what degree the military competition exhausted the Soviet economy so that it couldn't compete, but, in fact, the actual end of the Cold War, which began in 1989, occurred because of a series of events that can be traced -- that include Solidarity, and that's a very important lesson. Don't short-change democracy as a strategic objective. Don't short-change people who believe in reform, because sometimes, they can succeed.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Yes.

QUESTION: Speaking about lessons of the past, but also about the future.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Yes.

QUESTION: I think it is obvious that the number of former Eastern Bloc countries and Russia now have pretty tense relations and -- I mean countries like Poland --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Yes.

QUESTION: -- Ukraine, Georgia. And there is no doubt that these countries do have some legitimate grievances against Russia, that's obvious as well. At the same time, you know, they try to -- they're talking about trading blocs, something like the Community of Democratic Choice. I'm sure you heard about this. Do you think, from the point of the Bush Administration, is it something like new a division lies in Europe or not? Is it constructive and what needs to be done to overcome this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: We -- the Bush Administration does not believe in drawing new lines in Europe. We believe that Europe should be undivided and that the European -- the transatlantic community should ultimately extend as far as its values extend within Europe. Now, we're not talking about an infinite range of countries, we're talking about the future of Russia and of Ukraine.

I'm aware of what you're talking about and I think it is unfortunate that Russia has difficulties with some of its democratic neighbors. I think it is good for Russia to have, on its border, democratic neighbors. I think that it is natural for countries like Georgia to want to have good relations with Russia and simultaneously be increasingly part of the Euro-Atlantic community. I would think that Russia would welcome that, because the more Russia is integrated with the Euro-Atlantic community, the better it will be for Russia.

I'm not going to talk about what Russia's -- you know, what's in Russia's interest. Russians will figure that out. I do note, though, before I became a government bureaucrat, I was, once upon a time, a student of Russian history. And the period in which Russia was the most prosperous and the most advanced and a leader in intellectual life, music, art and, with its economic prospects, the brightest, was the generation before 1914, which was also the period in which Russia was the most integrated into the world economic system. And I think that's not a coincidence, but that's for Russia to figure out.

QUESTION: Sir, do you agree that -- you know, I mean, I'm not an expert on, let's say, Russian-Polish relations or Russian-Lithuanian relations.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Yes.

QUESTION: But I think, from what I see in the press, it is sometimes obvious to me that there are forces there who try to play the anti-Russian card. And from the point of -- on behalf of Bush Administration, you know, there is some kind of -- we don't see it (inaudible). It's just not happening. It is good for you if Russia stabilized its relationship with those countries, but you know, don't you see that --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: I've never believed that there was much point in anyone playing an anti-Russian card in politics. At the same time, I think it's important also for Russia to reach out to its neighbors. Given the history, I think that it is incumbent on Russia to make serious efforts.

Now, I watched German-Polish relations move from wariness -- not hostility but wariness, in 1990, to close friendship. And I watched Germany make real efforts to contain anti-Polish sentiments, and I saw Polish efforts to contain anti-German sentiments, and I saw both governments -- I watched anti-German feeling in Poland just leak away. I believe that Poles want to work with Russia. They want to have close relations with Russia. They are sensitive to being pressured. They don't like it. And I think Russia, as the larger country, and given the history, needs to make real efforts.

QUESTION: I would like to address the question about integration and disintegration.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Yes.

QUESTION: In Europe, everything seems to be about integration. In Balkans, we still have calls for independence.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Yes.

QUESTION: Within Serbia-Montenegro.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Sure.

QUESTION: How do you see, then, all these countries in the region have in common various strong voice towards integration?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Right.

QUESTION: In Europe --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Right.

QUESTION: In Europe.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Right.

QUESTION: So, how do you see this relationship between (inaudible) calls for integration?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Right.

QUESTION: At the same time, they want independent (inaudible) territories.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Well, I think the answer has to be that the countries of the Balkans do what they have to do to move closer to the European Union, where borders matter much less. The whole -- the purpose of the original -- one of the original purposes of the European Union, we're told, was to find a way to get over and get past the ethnic, the national conflicts that had ripped Europe apart for centuries. The European Union has been a fabulous success. And a European future for the Balkans will also be successful if countries move in that direction.

It's up to the countries themselves to determine their own future, but rather than argue in a small stage about just the relationship of Serbia-Montenegro, argue about Kosovo, all of the leaders should -- and I hope will -- want to move all of their countries closer to the European Union to avoid a zero-sum set of national conflicts, which doesn't lead to anything. I think that's the answer.

MODERATOR: I think we've just got time for one more question.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Certainly. Has everybody asked a question?

MODERATOR: Everyone's had one now.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Everybody's had one. Okay. I'll let two more. Two hands are up. (Laughter). All right.

QUESTION: Thank you. You mentioned your studies and as much as I know, you took International Communism at Columbia and --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: And that's good. Good bio research. Yeah. (Laughter). But, of course, I took it with a Hungarian American professor, which explains why you know about it.

QUESTION: You're right.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Oh yeah.

QUESTION: I was just wondering, what is your take on the (inaudible). Some of the former underground opposition (inaudible) Communism is in a coalition with former Communists in the fight against nationalism in some countries. Obviously, it was caused by -- could not have been foreseen in your studies --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Sure.

QUESTION: -- the challenge of Communism. Was it bothering you that you had to deal with former Communists?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: No.

QUESTION: Like Kwasniewski, or in Hungary?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: No. Not at all. A leader who was elected democratically is a leader who's elected democratically. End of issue. It's up to the countries and it's up to the peoples of a given country to decide who their elected leaders will be. It's not for Americans to question the democratic credentials. Once people win a free and fair election, that's the end of the story.

There were all kinds of reasons why people joined the Communist Party. Hungary, Poland, all the other countries have regularly voted for center-right or center-left and usually gone back and forth. And it's only natural that in the future, Social Democrats heirs to, you know, ex-Communists, heirs to Communist Parties, will be elected. And with time, this, you know, there won't be any more ex-Communists, but if they're elected, you deal with them and we don't hesitate. It's up to -- we got to respect the voters' will. And Kwasniewski has been a good leader. He's one of President Bush's close friends in Europe. He's been a very successful president.

Yes.

QUESTION: If we can come back to the lessons learned, specifically, what are the lessons learned from this experience of the American approach towards Iran?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: That's a very good question and it would be crude and historically questionable if we started drawing direct analogies and I don't intend to do so. We can't be, as they said, simplistic. But it is also true -- I'm not an expert on Iran. I've never been to Iran, but when I look at Iranian society and people who know Iran say that it is sophisticated. They're heirs of a great civilization. They have contacts with the world. There is a civil society there in an authoritarian system.

And I'll answer your question with another question, which is, should we really shortchange the Iranian people by thinking that they are not capable of democracy? And the answer to that question is obviously -- as I've expressed it, is obviously no. What that means, I don't know, but it means we have to respect the Iranian people and recognize that freedom has a way of prevailing in the end. And it is good to put -- for us, "us" being the transatlantic community, the great centers of democracy -- to remember that and put ourselves on the side of freedom.

Okay. A pleasure.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

ENDS


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Gordon Campbell: On The End Game In Spain (And Other World News)

The coverage of international news seems almost entirely dependent on a random selection of whatever some overseas news agency happens to be carrying overnight... Here are a few interesting international stories that have largely flown beneath the radar this past week. More>>

Amnesty/Human Rights Watch: Appalling Abuse, Neglect Of Refugees On Nauru

Refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru, most of whom have been held there for three years, routinely face neglect by health workers and other service providers who have been hired by the Australian government, as well as frequent unpunished assaults by local Nauruans. More>>

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Other Australian Detention

Gordon Campbell: On The Censorship Havoc In South Africa’s State Broadcaster

Demands have included an order to staff that there should be no further negative news about the country’s President Jacob Zuma, and SABC camera operators responsible for choosing camera angles that have allegedly made the President ‘look shorter’ were to be retrained... More>>

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Gordon Campbell: On A Bad Week For Malcolm Turnbull, And The Queen

Malcolm Turnbull’s immediate goal – mere survival – is still within his grasp... In every other respect though, this election has been a total disaster for the Liberals. More>>

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Gordon Campbell: On Bidding Bye Bye To Boris

Boris Johnson’s exit from the contest for Conservative Party leadership supports the conspiracy theory that he never really expected the “Leave” option to win the referendum – and he has no intention now of picking up the poisoned chalice that managing the outcome will entail... More>>

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Mexico: Violence And Repression Of Teachers

The member organizations of Network for Peace express our indignation over the acts of repression that the Mexican State has carried out, through the police forces... In Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca, the conflict has resulted in murders of teachers and civilians as well as hundreds of wounded and dozens of people arrested. More>>

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Gordon Campbell: On Britain's Pleas For Mercy

So… Boris Johnson is promising that he won't be holding a snap general election, if he's chosen as the next UK Conservative Party leader. Reportedly, he is even making that promise a feature of his leadership campaign, since a vote for Boris would therefore mean (wink wink) that his colleagues wouldn't have to risk their jobs and face the wrath of the British public until 2020. More>>

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