“Partners in Transition: Lessons for the
Next Decade” Conference
Remarks by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
October 5, 1999
I'm delighted to be here with all of you. It is a pleasure to
see in one room so many people committed to the democratic transformation that
has been taking place over the last ten years. It is unimaginable that just
ten years ago, much of the energy and accomplishment represented in this room
would not have been possible. The world looked to the Berlin Wallwhere
once armed soldiers stood guardand saw young people dancing. Brothers
and sisters were united and families restored. In Prague, where tanks once crushed
the hopes of thousands, workers and students were gathering and demonstrating
without fear. And where once dissidents were led away as prisoners in handcuffs,
now they served as presidents leading free republics. And I am particularly
pleased we are joined here today by the president of Bulgaria, whose voice has
meant so much in this transition and who has given all of us courage and, with
his leadership, has really rallied the people of Bulgaria to a better future.
Now ten years ago, the United States shared in the celebration and euphoria
that swept so much of Europe and into Central Asia, but we know very well
that the story and the struggle did not end there. In fact, in many ways it
was just beginning. Because when the foreign TV crews had packed up their
cameras and their satellite trucks, the world's attention turned to other
events. The people of Central and Eastern Europe, of Russia, the Baltics,
and Central Asia, were left alone with grim choices and frightening challenges.
You were left with no clear map to the future. And there were many questions
on the minds of those who looked out and saw a different landscape as to how
it could be navigated successfully. Would you find the will to endure massive
job losses and triple digit inflation on the path to free markets? Could you
overcome decades of repression, dictatorship, and distrust to build a democracy
that served and answered all people? Could the principles of democracy take
root in societies where ethnic tensions, once suppressed by the Iron Hand
of Communism, were re-emerging?
Choosing the path of democracy, free markets, and freedom required great
vision, courage, and moral leadership. Ten years ago it was not the obvious
choice, nor was it the easiest. But today in so many of your countries, there
is no question that the path of free markets and democracy is the right choice.
I have been privileged to visit many of your countries and I have seen firsthand
the struggle and the possibilities of reform. I have met many of the people
and the organizations represented in this room and have seen with my own eyes
how you have contributed to the transformation that is occurring. Certainly
I have seen that here in Poland. This nation is a testament to the fact that
democratic and free market reforms, when decisively and thoroughly implemented,
do work. It's been three years since I last came to Warsaw, and in those
years, much has changed. New businesses and shopping centers are moving into
neighborhoods. New cars are crowding once empty streets. Cell phones are ringing
in cafes, parks, and sidewalksthat's an annoying indication of
progress. But all of them are signs that a new middle class, the backbone
of any democracy, is emerging.
I was very pleased that Hannah (Gronkiewicz-Waltz) would introduce me and
make the comments she made, because certainly the role that the bank has played
in this society has been central. But the success has not just been commercial
or economic. New local governments are being chosen and democracy is getting
closer to the people. Dozens of newspapers, magazines, and radio stations
are reporting the news and openly praising or disagreeing with the nation's
leaders. I've just come from the Lauder School, where countless Jewish
children and families are once again learning and singing about their heritage.
There is a wonderful air of tolerance and respect that is fueling a lot of
the changes that are occurring. I met this morning with a group of women entrepreneurs
in a factory. While the women I met marketed a variety of products and servicesfrom
cosmetics to language lessonseach of them had worked hard to thrive
in the market economy. And they told me of their struggles and their accomplishments.
I was pleased that several of them mentioned USAID programs, because America
is proud of the role that we have been able to play in this transformation.
And nothing better illustrates the successes we have seen in Poland than the
fact that we have created a new NGO, the Polish-American Freedom Foundation,
out of the assets of the Polish-American Enterprise Fund.
I know there are similar stories of hope and progress all across the region.
But I also know the past decade has been difficult and has, along with the
success, created and seen a lot of pain. You are in the middle of a transition,
but you face the same complex issues that globalization brings to us all:
dealing with the challenge of reforming pensions and social security; of finding
ways to make health care efficient and universal; of training workers for
jobs in the Information Age. For many, the path of reform has not yet led
to greater freedom or greater prosperity. Senior citizens are asking, What
good are free markets when our hard-earned pensions are worthless? Workers
are asking, What good is democracy when the closure of our factories
has left us without the jobs and skills to gain new opportunities; when we
have traded ration coupons for soaring food prices? Teachers are asking,
What good is democracy when paychecks don't arrive on time and
our children are hungry at home? And yet for all of these problems,
I know that people have not lost faith or given up. They understand that reform
is the answer to all of these problems and that, to help reform succeed, we
must work together and look to each other as partners in this transition.
The United States is committed to being such a partner.
We also have to look to civil society, because building democracy and prosperity
does not happen overnight. In my own country, we've been striving to
perfect democracy for 225 years. It took us more than ten years to draft our
constitution; almost 90 years to rid our nation of slavery; almost 150 years
to give American women the right to vote. And even longer to ensure that all
of our citizens are equal under the law. Each triumph in our American struggle
to live closer to our ideals was only possible because of our civil society:
ordinary citizens who spoke out against slavery or for women's suffrage
and Civil Rights, those who organized grass-roots NGOs that would bring about
change by bringing people together. We knew that the real changes had to occur
in the hearts and minds and actions of ordinary men and women. And that is
what is happening in your countries as well. These changes have to be rooted
in the real life experiences of people.
I remember, as though it were yesterday, a conversation I had in Siberia
with three generations of a Russian family. The grandfather and grandmother
had worked at one of the academic centers and had been very esteemed members
of that community: the grandfather, an applied mathematician; the grandmother,
a research librarian. Their two daughters were now teaching English in local
schools and their son-in-law was starting a new business. Their two grandsons
were learning both English and Russian, and how to use computers. For the
grandparents the transition was extremely painful. The grandfather kept saying
to me, I don't understand how we get along in this new economy.
It doesn't seem like there is respect for learning. It doesn't seem
like our values have really stood the test of time. And I remember so well
that even though we couldn't travel much and our options were limited,
we were safe. And now we don't feel safe anymore. Someone stole my bicycle.
That never happened before.
His two daughters spoke up: But father, don't you remember we
used to have to get up at two o'clock in the morning and stand in line
for butter and milk? Now we have so many more things than we could have ever
dreamed of. And wemeaning her sister and herselfwe
have traveled to the United States and to Europe. We know about the world.
And the grandmother said, Yes, but they stole our bicycle.
In that one conversation, you could see and feel the tension: an older generation
who had always talked about and dreamed of democracy, living with the costs
that come with change; and a younger generation looking toward the future.
Well, that is being acted out in countless kitchens and workplaces around
the world, and certainly here in this region most acutely, because we understand
very well that the changes that are required are built person by person, institution
You know, when de Tocqueville came to the United States back in the 1830's
and traveled around what was then a very young country, what he noticed more
than anything was what he termed habits of the heart. That somehow,
this rather unusual group of people that found their way to the shores of
the new United States had developed and were developing habits about how to
associate with one another, how to make economic success occur, how to be
self-governing. And as I said, this did not happen overnight, and it is still
ongoing. But it is those habits of the heart that must be instilled.
I was pleased when Slovakia's OK 98" was recognized, because
that epitomizes civil society in action. I remember very well my visit to
Slovakia when the government was, at that time, attempting to shut down civil
society, to outlaw NGOs. And the NGOs fought back, and spoke out, and organized
themselves, and convinced people to go to the polls and vote35 non-governmental
organizations working together to ensure fair elections. Now you know how
difficult it is to get two groups working together. To have 35 working together
was a real testament to the commitment to civil society. They marched 3,000
kilometers across the country. They held rock concertsa sure way of
getting young people involved. They ran TV commercials, they dropped leaflets,
they organized debatesand it worked. They can claim much of the credit
for the freely elected government that is now serving in Slovakia, and I'm
looking forward to visiting there tomorrow.
So it is that kind of commitment that is required in these times. And I
have seen that commitment in every country that I have visited and that is
represented here. In Kazakhstan, I met with a group called the Association
of Young Leaders, who are teaching about the importance of voting and becoming
involved in one's community. In Kyrgyzstan, I talked to NGOs who joined
forces to publish a newspaper to teach citizens the lessons of democracy.
In Russia, I met with women who are starting their own businesses and, through
their economic empowerment, are understanding more how to be active in the
life of their society. In Estonia, I've met with people who came together
to create a clinic that would offer a broad range of health services for women.
And in Ukraine, I met with citizens determined to stop the trafficking of
women. In Hungary, I met with those who are working with the Roma community
to overcome obstacles to education and employment. In Bosnia, I sat with women
and men who have come across their ethnic divisions to help rebuild their
shattered lives. In Bulgaria, students and professors of the American University,
who are committed to making it a front-ranked institution, are every day working
to expand the boundaries of the learning and potential available.
I know that there are many such examples and there are many individuals
who exemplify those examples. But there are also many people who have paid
the ultimate price in the last ten yearsthrough assassination, through
imprisonment, through many other kinds of distressthose who have fought
hard for democracy and feel that they have not made enough progress.
Often, at moments of great change, it is tempting to turn back. I think
often of the story in the Bible of Moses leading his people out of Egypt.
Now even there you can imagine people who had been enslaved for generations,
thinking they were on the way to the Promised Land. But it was hard. There
were many obstacles along the way. So when Moses went up to receive the Ten
Commandments, what happened? Well, many of the Jewish refugees fleeing from
Egypt got together and decided they needed a committee to go back; that they
wanted to return; that, as bad as things had been, at least it was a known
evil. So the Back-to-Egypt Committee was formed. And when Moses came down
with the Ten Commandments, he was met by people who said, This is too
hard. We can't do this anymore. Let's go back to slavery. At least
there, we get our bread three times a day, we know what our job is, we don't
have to think for ourselves, we don't have to break new ground.
Well, that is in the Bible for a reason. It tells us about human nature.
It describes to us what happens in every generation any time there is great
change. There are always those who want to go back to Egypt, or,
in this case, to turn the clock back on freedom and democracy and economic
empowerment. What you have done, and what we stand with you to do, is to continue
along the path, to continue moving forward. Because you know that at the end
of that path there is a better alternative, and that the price is worth paying.
The path of reform may be long and it may be rocky, and the goals may not
be reached in the next decade or even the decade after that. But it is still
worth the journey. So many of you know that and exemplify what the words behind
me mean. So I am very privileged to be here as a representative of the United
States, as someone who supports the work of USAID and the United States Government
in assisting you along this path. I want you to know that the President and
the government of the United States both understand how difficult the path
is, but also fervently believe that the rewards are more than worth the struggle.
You are the ones making the transition, making the change.
This morning at the roundtable discussion with women entrepreneurs, one
woman told me that despite the difficulties she had confronted in making her
business, she understood that we are the opportunity. I liked
that, because we are the opportunity, every one of us. So I congratulate and
commend you for what you have done, what you have made happen in your homelands,
the miracles that already occurred. And I will pledge to you that the United
States will stand with you as you continue to make decisions that will lead
to elections being commonplace, not remarkable; free markets that will function
effectively and be the engine for powering the dreams of so many people; and
a civil society and a democracy that holds out the reward that the 21st century
will be so much better than the 20th century has been for many of the brave
and courageous people you represent.
Thank you all very much.