Accessibility links

Bush Champions Democracy in Latvia, Georgia


President Bush's recent trip to Latvia and Georgia has triggered discussions about what Mr. Bush wanted to achieve in the region. In this report from Washington, VOA Senior Correspondent André de Nesnera looks at the main theme of the president's trip: the spread of democracy worldwide.

During his recent visits to Latvia and Georgia, President Bush made freedom, liberty and democracy key components of his public appearances.

Addressing dignitaries in Latvia's capital, Riga, Mr. Bush focused his attention on one country.

"All of us are committed to the advance of freedom in Belarus," said President Bush. "The people of that country live under Europe's last dictatorship, and they deserve better. Repression has no place on this continent. The people of Minsk deserve the same freedom you have in Tallinn, and Vilnius, and Riga."

Several days later, speaking to an estimated 150,000 people in Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, Mr. Bush described the country as a "beacon of liberty for this region and the world".

"Your courage is inspiring democratic reformers and sending a message that echoes across the world: Freedom will be the future of every nation and every people on earth," he said.

The President went on to say "freedom is advancing, from the Black Sea to the Caspian, and to the Persian Gulf and beyond."

Many experts believe President Bush is walking a fine line between calling for democracy and urging people to rise against authoritarian governments.

"It's sort of ironic, isn't it?" said Ron Suny, an expert on Russia and the former Soviet Union, teaching at the University of Chicago. "The United States, which was opposed to what we used to call 'subversion' during the Cold War, in fact seems to be operating on two levels. On the one hand, it wants normal relations with countries and various kinds of deals like on nuclear arms, etc. - typical diplomatic relations. But on the other hand, it seems to be appealing over the head of governments, to populations, to carry out what was called some years ago 'regime change.' So it's very hard to deal on both levels at once."

For his part, Harvard University's Marshal Goldman says the president's speeches were a call to action.

"Yes, to be blunt about it," Mr. Goldman said. "Particularly, the focus right now is on Belarus. That's where Condoleezza Rice, our secretary of state, said that this is one of the remaining dictatorships in Europe. You could say there are dictatorships in Central Asia as well, but we, at this point, have not chosen to focus on that part of the world because we have our own military bases there and are counting on those bases to provide logistical support for our efforts in Afghanistan and to some extent, Iraq. But for the time being, it is clear that the president was using Georgia as an example to the people of Belarus of what they could do if they only had the courage and the fortitude to do it."

White House officials agree that spreading freedom and democracy worldwide is an essential theme of this administration. But they stop short of advocating popular uprisings to overthrow authoritarian rulers. In the words of national security adviser Stephen Hadley, briefing reporters before the trip, Mr. Bush's trip to Latvia, Georgia and Moscow to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe was an opportunity "for the president to celebrate freedom."

Experts say the best example of this celebration of freedom was President Bush's stopover in Tbilisi and his speech in Freedom Square, standing with Georgia's president Mikhail Saakashvili.

But professor Suny says Georgia has a long way to go before becoming a fully functioning democracy.

President George W. Bush, right, waves as he stands on stage with Laura Bush, center, and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, left, after speaking in Freedom Square
"With democracy, it seems to me, what's important is constitutions, institutions, the rule of law and that kind of progress that gets sort of routinized over time, that becomes a habit," he said. "Right now, what we have is a very vigorous, energetic, charismatic leader who is doing things largely on his own and in doing so, is creating some opposition to him as well. And I don't see in Georgia really institution-building that can contain executive power. In fact, the new constitution that Saakashvili put into effect, after the 'rose revolution,' increases greatly presidential power and weakens the parliament, which wasn't that strong before, in any case. So I wonder about the direction of some of the reforms."

At the same time, Professor Suny says President Saakashvili is committed to democracy and because of his association with President Bush, will have to, in Mr. Suny's words, "deliver the goods," in other words, bring about all of the reforms associated with a full-fledged democracy.

XS
SM
MD
LG