Hungary recently unveiled a statue to honor former President Ronald Reagan in its capital, Budapest. Speaking at the unveiling ceremony, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban lauded the former president for “chang[ing] the world and creat[ing] a new world for Central Europe.” It was Reagan, Orban said, who, “tore down the walls which were erected in the path of freedom in the name of distorted and sick ideologies.”
At this time in particular, a month when we reflect on the values upon which our country was founded, it is important to hear stories such as this one. With all of the problems facing our country, and for all its current imperfections, the United States is still the brightest beacon for freedom in the world.
Before Reagan, Hungarians had little hope that they would ever escape from under the Soviet Iron Curtain. For a few brief moments in 1956, Hungarians tasted what it meant to be free. They revolted against their Soviet masters and succeeded, briefly, in throwing off the shackles of communism.
But their freedom would not last. Despite desperate pleas to the West for assistance, help never came. Soviet tanks rolled in. The revolution was crushed.
It would be decades before Hungarians would again dare to hope they might be free.
Reagan knew this was wrong. In his 1964 Time for Choosing speech, he warned against “committing an immorality so great as saying to a billion human beings now enslaved behind the Iron Curtain, ‘Give up your dreams of freedom because to save our own skins, we’re willing to make a deal with your slave masters.’”
As president, he put these principles into practice. He confronted communism rather than appeased it. He did this even though it strained relationships with the Soviet Union.
Reagan understood the importance of keeping hope alive for those suffering under the Iron Curtain because, one day, freedom might come.
And it did. We all know what happened during the Reagan years and beyond: Solidarity’s rise in Poland, Glasnost, free elections, and the revolutions of 1989. Communism’s fall was swift, but it was no accident. Hungarians, Poles, and Czechs became free because non-Hungarians, non-Poles and non-Czechs were willing to support their freedom. It was because Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and others believed in the founding principles of our nation — the principles we now celebrate — and put them into action.
Speaking at the Budapest dedication ceremony, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that Hungary’s freedom fighters inspired President Reagan and “Americans and all free peoples never again to leave those alone who are struggling for their freedom.”
We should remember our success in Eastern Europe as we look out at the world today. Millions still live under the boot of cruel and repressive regimes. Let’s not forget their desire for freedom — or the price paid by our soldiers fighting overseas for the freedom of others — as we celebrate our own.
Sen. Jon Kyl is the Senate Republican Whip and serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees. Visit his Web site at www.kyl.senate.