Bush begins wooing Europe on gulf action President reminds Prague throng of price of aggression

November 18, 1990|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Sun Staff Correspondent

PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia -- On the first anniversary of the revolution here that ended five decades of oppression without a shot being fired, President Bush appealed yesterday to Czechoslovakians to stand with him in threatening war to stop Iraqi aggression in the Persian Gulf.

Warmly welcomed by a throng of more than 100,000 in Prague's St. Wenceslas Square, Mr. Bush argued that Czechoslovakia's history of abuse at the hands of Nazis and Communists was a lesson and that the country's future as a prosperous nation was at stake.

"It is no coincidence that appeasement's lonely victim should be among the first to understand that there is right and there is wrong . . . and that there are sacrifices worth making," he said, noting that Czechoslovakia was among the first nations to condemn the Iraqi takeover of Kuwait.

Earlier, in an address to Czechoslovakia's Federal Assembly, Mr. Bush promised to seek new help for the struggling democracy by asking Congress to approve a $60 million fund to help finance new business enterprises here, similar to funds provided to Hungary and Poland.

"Your nation, like your neighbors to the north and south, faces the unprecedented task of building stable democratic rule and a prosperous market economy on the ruins of totalitarianism," Mr. Bush said in his address. "I am here to say that we will not fail you in this decisive moment."

Mr. Bush also underscored his view that Prague is the most appropriate home for the headquarters of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, an honor he expects to be bestowed at the CSCE summit in Paris this week.

"It is right that this city -- once on the fault line of Cold War and conflict -- now at the heart of a new and united Europe -- play a central role as the CSCE seeks to expand the frontiers of freedom in Europe," Mr. Bush said.

In kicking off a weeklong mission to build support for a United Nations resolution authorizing a military strike against Iraq, Mr. Bush warned that the struggling economies of Eastern Europe would be devastated by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's assault on the world's oil supply.

"It is not simply the United States and other countries in the West that are getting hurt by Saddam Hussein's aggression and what that means in terms of higher oil prices, but every country as well," the president told reporters at a news conference here. "Clearly this is true in Eastern Europe."

Mr. Bush was on his way to a three-day summit in Paris, where he will lobby some more for the U.N. resolution he hopes to have approved by this month. His more formal agenda calls for signing treaties relating to the end of the Cold War before he heads to Saudi Arabia for a Thanksgiving meal with U.S. troops.

He chose Prague as a starting point for his first visit to the new democracies of Eastern Europe because he considers it symbolic of the soaring triumph of freedom against seemingly impossible odds, aides said.

Exactly a year ago, protesting students were beaten by police in a demonstration that soon brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators to St. Wenceslas Square and within a month had toppled the Communist regime.

Referring to the Soviet tanks that rumbled into St. Wenceslas Square to crush a similar democracy movement more than two decades earlier, the president observed, "You know the tragic consequences when nations, confronted with aggression, choose to tell themselves it is no concern of theirs -- just a 'quarrel in a faraway country between [peoples] of whom we know nothing.' "

The president's appeal was mostly symbolic because Czechoslovakia does not have a vote on the U.N. Security Council and so far seems to be standing with him.

"It is my opinion that all the resources that are expended on resisting aggression anywhere in the world finally turn to the good of all mankind," President Vaclav Havel, the former dissident playwright, said when asked by reporters.

Extremely tight security precautions because of the Persian Gulf crisis marred the pageantry of the president's appearance in the vast St. Wenceslas Square, considered by some to be the most beautiful square in Europe.

Fearing a terrorist attack on the U.S. president, planners here erected a large box made of bulletproof glass at the base of the equestrian statue of St. Wenceslas from which Mr. Bush could appear in relative safety.

The box, dubbed the "aquarium" by local residents, presented a jarring contrast to flowers and candles of the informal memorial to victims of Soviet oppression in front of it.

Mr. Bush knocked the security precautions awry by plunging into the crowd with Mr. Havel. The two grabbed at outstretched hands as thousands waved tiny Czech and U.S. flags and a band played "We Shall Overcome."

Despite Mr. Havel's obvious popularity, Mr. Bush's visit here comes at a time of great popular disillusion with the revolution, largely because freedom has brought with it harder economic times.

Oil is in particularly short supply because the Soviets have cut back on their exports here and will soon be demanding hard currency for the oil they do send.

"We know very well what we still have to accomplish, and the question springing up to mind is why do we find it so difficult to launch our joint project off the ground?" Mr. Havel said in his own remarks on the anniversary of the "Velvet Revolution" that took him from prison to the presidency. "Whatever the answer or explanation, the fact remains that dissatisfaction, nervousness, insecurity and disillusionment are widespread in our society."

Like the United States, Czechoslovakia can begin to overcome its insecurities through the adoption of a constitution, Mr. Havel said. To help in the task, Mr. Bush brought along a copy of the U.S Constitution as well as a tiny replica of the Liberty Bell, which he rang somewhat self-consciously for the crowd.

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