Bush Creates Volunteer Corps for East Europe
Declaring that the United States “must export our experience,” President Bush announced a series of low-cost measures Saturday intended to coordinate voluntary support for the democratic movements in Eastern Europe.
He also announced a modest expansion of loans to Poland by the U.S. Export-Import Bank.
And in an effort to promote “free and fair elections” in Eastern Europe, Bush said that he would send presidential delegations to observe elections in Romania and Bulgaria.
But while he saluted the budding democracies that have replaced Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, Bush declared that “there is still work to be done.”
“In the Baltic states, where people struggle for the right to determine their own future, we Americans, so free to chart our own course, identify with their hopes and aspirations,” he said. “We’re committed to self-determination for Lithuania and Latvia and Estonia.”
That was his only reference to the independence movements there.
“Ultimately, the Soviet Union will benefit from a Europe that’s whole and free,” said Bush, who has offered verbal support for the Baltic states’ efforts to break away from the Soviet Union but has urged them to use caution and to negotiate with the Kremlin leaders opposing the secessionists.
Equating the positions of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary with that of the United States in 1787 when the Constitution was being drafted, the President said, “For Eastern Europe’s constitution-builders, the work has only now begun.”
Speaking at the spring commencement of the University of South Carolina, Bush announced the creation of a “Citizens Democracy Corps” that would serve as a clearinghouse for private voluntary aid.
It would field requests from Central and Eastern Europe in a variety of fields, among them constitutional law and parliamentary reform, journalism, publishing, public health, economic and financial services, business practices, environmental protection and English-language training.
“The real strength of our democracy is its citizens--the collective strength of individual Americans,” Bush said. “We’re going to focus that energy where it can do the most good. America has much to contribute--much it can do to help these nations move forward on the path to democracy.
“We must export our experience--our two centuries of accumulated wisdom on the workings of free government,” the President said.
By one estimate, the government would shift $300,000 in fiscal 1991, which begins Oct. 1, from the budget of the Agency for International Development to begin the work of the Citizens Democracy Corps.
Bush said that the program run by the Export-Import Bank “will provide Poland a new line of medium-term export credits and loan guarantees for purchasing machinery, technology and services from American suppliers.”
The bank is an independent U.S. government agency that makes loans to American companies to help finance their overseas operations. It now holds loans worth about $52 million--a relatively small sum--for businesses in Poland.
Douglas Davidson, a White House spokesman, said that the significance of Bush’s Export-Import Bank proposal is not in the amount of money it would make available but in the decision to offer medium-range loans for up to five years, with an added two-year grace period. Until now, only short-term loans, generally of one year’s duration, have been granted.
The longer payback period, he said, is “a reflection of our confidence in Poland.”
The White House said that the new loan policy will help support private enterprise in formerly Communist Poland and state-run enterprises about to become private operations.
The programs unveiled by Bush in the Carolina Coliseum before the 1,661 graduates, their guests and robed faculty members reflect the approach his Administration has taken in recent months as democratic movements have replaced Moscow-supported governments.
In announcing the programs, Bush drew on a speech by Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who said in Prague last February that “the spirit of revolution needs to move from the streets into the government.” In that vein, Bush has frequently endorsed efforts to integrate Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary into a Western European order built around free elections and market economies. But he has offered only limited financial aid.
Last July, during visits to Warsaw and Budapest, he proposed a $100-million fund to capitalize Poland’s private sector and a lesser amount for Hungary, and he called for similar aid from other Western nations. He also has supported the rescheduling of Poland’s staggering foreign debt and favored duty-free treatment of its exports to the United States.
The South Carolina speech was one in a series of commencement addresses that Bush is delivering this month, each linked at least loosely to the theme of democratic change, as he prepares for his summit meeting beginning May 30 with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, and a followup meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organization chiefs of state to review policy toward Eastern Europe.
Later, speaking at the graduation exercises at Liberty University, founded in 1971 by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, a leader in the fundamentalist religious movement, Bush observed that the students who led the pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing last year drew their inspiration from Thomas Jefferson.
“Their image of America is not dollars but democratic ideals,” the President said at the Lynchburg, Va., institution as he urged the graduates to “reject membership in a ‘me’ generation, proving that yours is the ‘we’ generation.”