Securing Freedom in the Heart of Europe
Prague, Czech Republic
August 12, 2020
MR VYSTRCIL: (Via interpreter) The minister, chairman of the senate, president of the chamber of deputies, senators, members of the parliament, Mr. Secretary, members of the government, Excellency, ladies and gentlemen, dear guests:
It’s been 30 years – it was in 1990, in Washington, in the American Congress – 1990 – when President Vaclav Havel delivered a speech at the Congress. He presented to the members of the U.S. Congress and to let the people of the world know that there is more freedom in Europe, that the free spirit of Europe has grown stronger. At the same time, President Havel said that it was thanks to the support and help of democratic countries, and the United States of America in particular, because the democratic countries supported free-thinking people in totalitarian countries and helped them get their freedom and democracy.
I consider it to be very symbolic that 30 years will have passed this year when, in Prague, in the Czech senate, in the most free and the most democratic institution in the Czech Republic, in the upper chamber of the Czech parliament, we will have a very prominent American politician. The Secretary of State Michael Pompeo will deliver his remarks, and I consider this to be very symbolic because it is – his presentation will take place in the time when the free spirit of Europe is being weakened. I am convinced that we should make use of this opportunity and meeting. We should make use of this opportunity to make sure the Czech Republic, the European countries, and Europe as such starts to put more emphasis on defending its values and its democratic principles. It’s time to obey more its own sovereignty, independence, and existence.
Please, we shall not forget this, and it would be great if this would be the message coming out from the senate today, not only to the citizens of this country but also to the people in this country and in the rest of the world.
And by way of conclusion, let me actually share one more important point: It was always the case that Europe and the European countries managed to defend its freedom and democracy and take good care of their independence and sovereignty, provided they did this in harmony with the United States of America. We are very happy, Mr. Secretary, that you decided to visit the Czech senate. A very warm welcome to the Czech senate, and the microphone is yours.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you all. Dobry den. Let me try it that way. How did I do? All right. That’s all you’re going to suffer of my Czech today.
Minister Petricek, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies Vondracek, Senator Fischer, who I’ll be speaking with after my remarks, members of the parliament, and other distinguished guests:
Thank you. This is an amazing honor to be with you all today.
This has very special meaning to me. Many years ago – too many to speak about – I was a young soldier in Europe stationed not far from here, near Bayreuth. Back then, it was nearly impossible to imagine that an American secretary of state would ever deliver an address in this exquisite city that was, at that time, held captive by communists, or that I’d be the one doing it. I was a young lieutenant. God has been good to us all.
This visit is personal for me in another way. My home state of Kansas was a magnet for Czech settlers in the 19th century, from places like Bohemia and Moravia and other parts of this fine country. We have a Pilsen not too far from Wichita, where I live. Their legacy is still alive today in their descendants and Czech festivals held in small towns all across Kansas.
Those settlers came to Kansas – I know this history pretty well – they came for a better life. There was also a familiar, very rich soil, and the coveted freedom that America always promises to its people. And the Czech people know about freedom, too, and it is indeed a great and enduring bond between our two amazing countries.
You all know this history well: In 1918, in Pittsburgh, Czechs and Slovaks living in and inspired by the United States signed an agreement laying the foundations for the new democratic state of Czechoslovakia. And yesterday I had the chance to commemorate in Pilsen, 75 years ago, American troops coming to liberate. And that even during the darkest years of the Soviet occupation, the ties that endured through the American people’s hopes and prayers for your country and the broadcasts of Radio Free Europe, they meant we were always there. We were always with you.
When the Iron Curtain finally fell, Americans rejoiced in your freedom. And it’s only fitting that Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty moved here in 1995. This mission – it’s the one that was just spoken about – is as important today as it has ever been.
I was serving in America’s House of Representatives, the lower body, in 2014 when we put Vaclav Havel’s bust in the U.S. Capitol to mark two and a half decades of the Velvet Revolution. May it always remain there.
Thirty years ago, President Havel became the first politician from the former Soviet bloc to come to speak at the joint session of Congress. I went to a handful of them during my time. It’s always remarkable, and only the most special leaders are given that opportunity.
He said that day, quote, “We are living in very extraordinary times. The human face of the world is changing so rapidly that none of the familiar political speedometers are adequate.”
It was, truly, and it was an extraordinary time, an exciting time for this part of the world, as the clouds of communism parted and the rays of freedom burst forth. Central and Eastern Europe rejoined their free brothers and sisters in the West.
But we see today that in spite of this great time, we see that many of the geopolitical assumptions that we held back then haven’t come to pass. The things we believed just turned out not to be so. And perhaps – perhaps just now we’re recognizing the trends that we should have recognized long ago.
Let me be a bit more specific. We see that authoritarianism didn’t die in 1989, or in 1991. The storm was still there; it was simply over the horizon. While we wrote the epitaph on those types of regimes, we now know that it was premature.
I happen to believe with all my heart – and America’s friends in the Czech Republic realize this now too – the Czech experience is a harbinger of what other nations on the continent face.
Russia – Russia continues to seek to undermine your democracy, your security through disinformation campaigns and through cyberattacks. It’s even trying to rewrite your history. We’ve all seen that. Today an even greater threat is the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party and its campaigns of coercion and control. In your country alone, we see influence campaigns against your politicians and your security forces; we see the theft of industrial data that you have created through your innovation and creativity; we see the use of economic levels to stifle freedom itself.
It’s not tanks and guns. It’s very different from that. The CCP initiates retaliation against innocent parties when crossed. It infamously canceled the PFK Philharmonia’s trip to Beijing for something as simple as the mayor’s efforts to deepen ties with Taiwan. Shanghai cancelled its cooperation with Prague after this city signed a sister-city agreement with Taipei.
Look, you all see this. The CCP leverages economic power to coerce countries. Recall that the Chinese embassy in Prague sent a letter to your former senate president, who had hoped to visit Taiwan. Your free press did amazing work and reported on this strong-arming. The letter read as follows. It said, quote, “Czech enterprises with economic interests in China will have to pay,” end of quote.
This is deeply inconsistent with each of our values. The CCP lies, and makes those who tell the truth disappear. The virulent pandemic that came from Wuhan spread so widely, and caused so much damage, because the CCP covered it up.
Then there’s the tragedy that has befallen Hong Kong and the premature denial of freedom to those people. You see it in far-off places and their attempts to dominate the South China Sea. You see it in the detention of one million Uyghur Muslims living in internment camps in Xinjiang. This is the human rights stain of the century, sustained by companies like Huawei, using technology that secret police could only have dreamed of in times gone by.
Now, it might be easy to dismiss the China challenge as just a passing irritant, but I hope you all know it is not so. The regime has a Marxist-Leninist core no less than the Soviet Union did, and indeed, perhaps more so.
The party has always put itself first. Its actions flow from its ideology. And it’s paranoid about free societies like ours.
What’s happening now isn’t Cold War 2.0. The challenge of resisting the CCP threat is in some ways much more difficult. That’s because the CCP is already enmeshed in our economies, in our politics, in our societies in ways the Soviet Union never was. And Beijing is not likely to change course in the near future, although one lives in hope.
No one thought the Berlin Wall would fall. I was a soldier there until – in then-West Germany until 1989, until just a couple weeks before that wall came down, was serving in a little border unit in a town called Bindlach. We had no idea that in just a matter of weeks, people would be crossing freely back to be reunited with their families. Well, freedom will win this time too.
As President Havel once reminded us, we must commit not to “live the lie” but to “live in the truth.”
And here’s what’s true: China’s world dominance is not inevitable. We are the authors of our fate. Free societies have always been more attractive. Your people know this. Our people do too.
And here’s the best news of all from all of that: The resolve of freedom-loving people all over the world is to defend their way of life, and it is growing. I see it every place I go.
Americans now recognize that the CCP, which is totally separate from the Chinese people, threatens their values and their way of life. Both parties in Washington agree on very little, but on this, we all know what we’re up against. I spend a great deal of time talking to members of both of our political parties. The tide has turned, just as I see it turning here in Europe as well. The West is winning. Don’t let anybody tell you about the decline of the West. That is false. That is their narrative.
I’ve heard the same observations from political leaders across the spectrum, most recently in London. Those meetings reminded me that there are plenty of European leaders eager to lean into freedom.
But it’s going to take all of us. It will take us working together here in Prague, in Poland, in Portugal. We have the obligation to speak clearly and plainly to our people and without fear. We must confront the complex questions presented by this challenge, and we must do so together.
We have to explain what I think those of us who grew up in another time knew. We have to explain to our citizens the price free societies will pay if we don’t confront this threat. We have to explain what kind of scrutiny we must give to Chinese investment and why we do that. And we have to talk to them about what sorts of alliances are needed to be built between the United States and Europe and around the world, and how we will retool to withstand and resist this threat.
Your nation, and others that suffered behind the Iron Curtain, know this. You know best how all deeply communists plunge societies into ruin and oppression. You all have seen it and you’ve heard it from the generations before you.
Our countries must work together to awaken all. We must help them. We must help everyone.
I urge you – the representatives of the Czech people – to summon a hearty measure of courage to stand up for the sovereignty and freedoms of you and your countrymen demanded on the streets of Prague back in 1968, in the Charter 77 document, in Wenceslas Square back in 1989.
Your nation has the opportunity to show all of Europe what it means to be a trailblazer for freedom.
Indeed, I must say you are doing it in many ways already:
Citizens like those with Project Sinopsis have fought for years to create transparency around CCP actions, often in the face of legal threats.
The Czech press, too, has investigated and disclosed disturbing cases of CCP interference in academia and the media, also under the threat of legal reprisal.
Your senate foreign affairs committee has recommended withdrawal from your expedition treaty – extradition treaty with Hong Kong.
Prime Minister Babis, with whom I just spent some time, helped set the tone for all of the world for international cybersecurity with the conference that produced the 5G Prague Proposals.
And Mayor Hrib has continued President Havel’s good work of supporting Tibet.
Your senate president will make that trip to Taiwan later this month, fulfilling the wishes of his late predecessor. Good on him.
Know too – know too that America is supporting you and will always do it. We will always take a stand for freedom and fight with our brothers and sisters who are prepared to do it with us.
We recently accepted the EU’s offer to start a dialogue focused between the EU and the United States on China and how we will jointly confront it. We’re working with our UN friends to protect UN bodies from CCP malign influence. Too, we’re refocusing NATO, making sure that it is fit for purpose in these times and on the new and emerging threats.
And we’ve joined you in building a Clean Network of countries and companies who refuse to sacrifice cybersecurity just to save a little bit of money. And we’re ready to invest up to $1 billion in the Three Seas Initiative Fund to help protect against Chinese opaque lending practices, and we look forward to the Czech Republic and other nations doing their part financially as well.
And that canceled PFK Prague Philharmonic trip I mentioned? The American Embassy rescheduled a concert in our ambassador’s residence, and we hope to host that group for a trip to the United States just as soon as we can get it arranged. It’ll be glorious.
So, too, have we taken actions like ejecting Chinese intellectual property thieves from our own borders, putting sanctions on human rights abusers in the Chinese Government, and much, much more. The United States is indeed rising under President Trump to meet this moment.
I’ll close here because I want to have a good conversation with you, and I want to leave plenty of time for that.
Today you should know that after three decades of freedom, we can see the blessings of liberty here in the Czech Republic.
Earlier today I met with a group of startup leaders. Their nimble enterprises – once unthinkable under Soviet commissars – are bringing value to both the United States and the Czech economies.
But maybe more importantly, they reflect how the rich soil of liberty yields a plentiful harvest in human flourishing when freedom is tolerated.
I’ll close by quoting one more time President Havel: “The idea of human rights and freedoms must be an integral part of any meaningful world order.”
My Czech friends, please remember that. And remember too that today, tomorrow, and forever, America will be with you as we champion those precious human rights and freedoms.
Thank you. May God bless you and the Czech people. I look forward to our conversation today. Thank you all so much.
MR FISCHER: (Via interpreter) (In progress) Jan Hornik, and then Renata Chmelova.
First demarche, here is our – the deputy chair of the foreign affairs, security, and defense committee (inaudible).
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Mr. Secretary, I do appreciate the fact that I can ask you a question that follows: Do you see any possibility to improve the strategic relations between Russia and U.S.? Because the very cold relations influence also Central Europe. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So, I hope so. Just as we do with all nations who have presented challenges, we try to find places where we can work together. I can give you a couple examples with Russia. So we work closely with them – I did when I was in my previous role as CIA director as well – we try to work on counterterrorism alongside them, sharing information to save Russian lives, American lives, lives of people around the world.
Just last week we had a big gathering with Russian arms control experts, doing our best to find the right path forward – force – the most dangerous weapons in the world, these two major nuclear arsenals. We’ve had productive conversations with them. We hope that we can find a strategic place there. The world that – that world has moved too, right. It was just missiles and warheads; now you have space and cyber and hypersonic material. So the strategic balance needs to be readdressed, and we’re hopeful that we can have good conversations with the Russians about it.
So we’re – every place that we can find to move forward with them, we are certainly prepared to do so, but we do so with our eyes wide open. We watch still the things that happen around the world, the things that the Russians are engaged in. We know that even if we’re able to get some of those big issues right, we still have to make sure that at the end of the day it is freedom-loving nations that will find our value sets most overlapping, and able to build our economies effectively most closely together.
MR FISCHER: (Via interpreter) (Inaudible.) Thank you very much. Jiri Dienstbier, head for the constitutional commission and deputy chair.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary – thank you for this exchange. I would like to ask you for the approach of the U.S. to the – to multilateralism and to international organizations. Because in recent years, we witnessed the withdrawal of – in situations like the Human Rights Council of the UN, from the World Health Organization. And so the question is whether it does not weaken the cooperation with democratic countries, and in a way whether it does not open the space to non-democratic countries, and whether the – it not – doesn’t weaken the democratic community, including the U.S.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So that’s a great question, a very, very important question. It gets back to – I referred to this in my remarks a bit, too. So you have these institutions that have charters or stated purposes. And the question President Trump has asked our team always to think about is: Are they functional? Are they delivering on their intended purposes? Are we – can we – in our role there, can we have an impact on their effectiveness, the ability to deliver actual outcomes?
I am all for any multilateral institution so long as it works. Take the UN Human Rights Council, the first one you mentioned. That thing’s broken. We tried to reform it not once, not twice, not three times, but seven times. And it has the most egregious human rights violators in the world sitting in judgment. It’s not functional. We’re happy to work on human rights with any partners and any friends in any institution where we can deliver good human rights. That institution has no chance of delivering that and improving the lives of real people all around the world. It is nonsense to lend the American name to an institution that has countries like Iran and Venezuela, right, that are connected deeply to it. It’s just inappropriate, and it’s not effective, and we’re not going to spend our time and resources and money supporting those.
The World Health Organization you mentioned secondly. The World Health Organization failed at its most fundamental test of this century. When a virus broke out in Wuhan, China, it allowed politics to trump science. And it participated in a coverup that has now cost hundreds of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars of economic destruction around the world. Again, we worked with the World Health Organization to reform the very ruleset, the International Health Regulations. We worked to reform the very ruleset that they permitted the Chinese Communist Party to violate.
You should note you still don’t know precisely where this virus came from. There still are not international inspectors on the ground permitted to go see that laboratory. They let a couple of reporters in the other day. Those reporters talked to two doctors, who not surprisingly said what? “Didn’t come from here.” That’s Chinese propaganda. It is not appropriate to lend American power and might and influence to institutions that are fundamentally not going to perform their mission.
Contrast that with institutions that have the capacity to work. We’ve worked to build out a coalition of 60-plus countries with respect to trying to restore basic rights to the Venezuelan people. We’ve had a huge group, numbering some 90, including important work done by the Czech Republic, to counter terrorism around the world, right? A coalition of 90-plus nations. We work closely in countless multilateral organizations around the world, not to mention all the great work we do inside of NATO with partners here in Europe.
No, we’re happy to be part of multilateral institutions. We will lend or we’ll pay a disproportionate amount if that is what is required. But we just got to know that we’re going to actually deliver the things that they promise people that they will deliver. And when we can’t fix it, when we feel like we’ve exhausted ourselves trying to make that institution function, then we’re going to go spend our time and our treasure. We would urge every nation in its own sovereign capacity to make the same decision.
You should only be part of those things that work. Multilateral institutions for the sake of multilateralism aren’t worth a darn.
MR FISCHER: (Via interpreter) Next on our list is Jan Hornik, deputy – vice president of the senate of the parliament of the Czech Republic, and member of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Senator.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Mr. Secretary, very good afternoon to you. Recently, you have mentioned that the TikTok platform is a risk to protection of personal data of the American citizens. What do you think about the fact that the data center of this platform for European users should be located in Europe? The rumors say it should be Ireland. And do you think that EU should actually take a same course of action as the U.S. in order to protect the personal data of Europeans, the young Europeans in particular, because they tend to use TikTok? Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So the first time – you’ll appreciate it – the first time we talked about TikTok, mothers all across America thanked us. (Laughter.) For their children having spent so much time on TikTok. If I could raise up from TikTok for a moment, for us, this is a national security issue. This is about data sets, and we know Europe cares about private information. This is about data sets that were clearly available to the Chinese Communist Party’s national security apparatus. Enormous data sets. That’s just not something that the United States is prepared to permit.
I won’t begin today to tell Europe where they should put their data centers or how they should think about it. I’ll leave that to you all as decision makers. But I can say this: Without focusing on any one particular platform or company, the capacity for this information to be shared amongst Westerners with rule of law – and we understand where data goes – is a completely different analysis than the data sets that are being transferred to an authoritarian regime like China. And the ends to which that information will be put under rule-abiding, freedom-loving nations are vastly different than the ends to which that information will be put by some – by someone like General Secretary Xi and the Chinese Communist Party. That’s what’s fundamentally different here.
We can all adopt data-sharing arrangements, we can trust that we will abide by them, and when we don’t, there will be a format, a forum, to resolve those conflicts and differences. That is radically different than what’s taking place here. So when President Trump made his announcement about not only TikTok, but about WeChat – and if you read it, it’s broader even still than that – is that we’re going to make sure that American data not end up in the hands of an adversary like the Chinese Communist Party for whom we have seen data uses in Western China that rival the greatest human rights violations in the history of mankind. And we’re simply not going to permit that to happen within the best of our ability and we’re going to get there just as quickly as we can.
MR FISCHER: (Via interpreter) Well, ladies first, as the going say – says, but this time it will be the other way around. The lady will conclude the question round or time. Senator Renata Chmelova happens to be the mayor of Prague 10. She is a member of the foreign affairs and defense committee and she’s also the chairperson of the subcommittee for housing. Senator, the floor is yours.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. Very good afternoon to you, Mr. Secretary. If you take a look in front of you, that’s where you find me. The ideas of our President Vaclav Havel were actually interweaving your contribution, but still, I would like to ask you to elaborate a little bit more on your personal opinion on Vaclav Havel’s legacy and what in your opinion is to be topical from his work and his words. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I love that question. So I actually went back as I was flying here and reread the remarks he made to Congress, now goodness, 30 years ago, three decades ago. What I found so inspiring was how universal they were. Your chapter 77, the Chinese chapter 08, right. These are things that are deeply connected.
This month, I introduced a report by a Commission on Unalienable Rights in the United States, which took a deep look at American human rights policy and how we should think about it, how we should formulate it. And we went back to our founding, right, our Declaration of Independence written by some fellows who came over from Europe, right, with a deep connectivity. And when you stare at those, you stare at our declaration and what Vaclav Havel said – this stirring in the heart, this central idea that people will always demand that they are able to live out their consciences, whether that’s their religious freedom or their desire about how to learn, and where to work and how to take care of their own family, and these core things about liberty and freedom.
We have a shared view of those in the Czech Republic and the United States. It’s the reason – all of the policy things that we talk about, we debate hotly, regulatory issues and all – at their very foundation are the ideas that Havel had, which are if we go back to these most fundamental truths that we know about human dignity and the way that we should all treat each other every day – they’re at the core of who we are in the United States, they’re at the core of who you are in the Czech Republic, and if we never lose sight of those and we build our ideas and then our actions around them, we’ll get the economic prosperity that we want. But we will – equal – of equal importance, we will live in nations that we can be proud of and we’ll live in a place that we can turn over to our kids and to our grandkids with every expectation that they will carry on this tradition of freedom. I think Vaclav Havel knew that, I know that each of you know that, and I am counting on all of us together on both sides of the Atlantic working to deliver this for the next generation.
MR FISCHER: (Via interpreter) Thank you for your words, but because our time is almost up, I wanted to ask the president of the senate to take the floor for our final remark.
MR VYSTRCIL: (Via interpreter) Mr. Secretary, I want to, on behalf of all of us, thank you for your visit and thank you for your words. Thank you for the manifestations of support and friendship, and in Czechia good friends ready to provide to each other the keys of their homes. So please, accept from me the key of the Czech senate, the key of our home. And I wish you all the best in the United States.
* * * * *
Ilustračné foto: https://www.flickr.com/photos/statephotos/50219885547/