Appealing to College Students in Hungary
In the summer of 1989, President George Bush made an official visit to several East European countries, each in the midst of democratic demonstrations and public pressure on their Communist regimes. These visits provided President Bush an opportunity to lend support for the dramatic changes in Eastern Europe. In Hungary, for example, the President gave a speech at the famous Karl Marx University, which provided him a unique forum to address Hungarian students. In this excerpt, the President addresses the principle points of U.S. foreign policy as regarded Hungary, which would be based around three issues that appealed to students: the economy, the environment, and cultural exchange programs. While each of these issues related to the transition from a Communist government, these points are different than those used to appeal to the Hungarian government. This speech was intended to validate the efforts already underway by the students, rather than pressure the government to change from above.
Remarks to Students and Faculty at Karl Marx University in Budapest
July 12, 1989
Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister and Mrs. Nemeth, ladies and gentlemen, Dr. and
Mrs. Csaki, it is a great pleasure for Barbara and me to be back in Budapest. And I am
very proud to be the first American President to visit Hungary. Some might find it ironic
that I am speaking at a university named after Karl Marx. [Laughter] If you don't find it
ironic in Hungary, try it on for size in the United States. But the fact that I am here today
is less a cause for surprise than proof that America welcomes the unfettered competition
of ideas. And I understand that 50 or so of the faculty from this great university have
been as either students or teachers in the United States of America. And that is a very
good thing for my country, and I'm glad you came our way.
The university's principal task is to promote a competition -- an unfettered competition of
ideas. And that is the spirit that brings us together -- a spirit that guided a great teacher at
Karl Marx University whose name was Imre Nagy. As his funeral proceeded in Heroes
Square a few weeks ago, the rising voice of Hungary was heard reciting the ``Szozat.''
And in this simple, somber ceremony, the world saw something more than a dignified act,
an act of reconciliation: We witnessed an act of truth. It is on this foundation of truth,
more solid than stone, that Hungarians have begun to build a new future. A generation
waited to honor Imre Nagy's courage; may a hundred generations remember it.
While Hungary rediscovers its natural role in the affairs of Europe, the world again looks
to you for inspiration. A popular nonfiction book in my country today is entitled
``Budapest 1900.'' Dr. John Lukacs lovingly describes the Budapest of memory, with its
proud stock exchange and great opera, a time when Europe's first electric subway ran
underneath the handsome shops of Andrassy Avenue. A city that rivaled Paris in its
splendor, Vienna in its music, London in its literature -- a center of learning that
enlightened the world and gave America one kind of genius in Joseph Pulitzer, another in
Bela Bartok. But for four decades, this great city, this great nation -- so central to the
continent in every respect -- has been separated from Europe and the West.
And today Hungary is opening again to the West, becoming a beacon of light in
European culture. And I see people in motion -- color, creativity, experimentation. I see a
new beginning for Hungary. The very atmosphere of this city, the very atmosphere of
Budapest, is electric and alive with optimism. Your people and your leaders --
government and opposition alike -- are not afraid to break with the past, to act in the spirit
And what better example of this could there be than one simple fact: Karl Marx
University has dropped ``Das Kapital'' from its required reading list. Some historians
argue that Marxism arose out of a humane impulse. But Karl Marx traced only one thread
of human existence and missed the rest of the tapestry -- the colorful and varied tapestry
of humanity. He regarded man as hapless, unable to shape his environment or destiny.
But man is not driven by impersonal economic forces; he's not simply an object acted
upon by mechanical laws of history. Rather, man is imaginative and inventive. He is
artistic, with an innate need to create and enjoy beauty. He is a loving member of a
family and a loyal patriot to his people. Man is dynamic, determined to shape his own
The creative genius of the Hungarian people, long suppressed, is again flourishing in
your schools, your businesses, your churches. And this is more than a fleeting season of
freedom; it is Hungary returning to its normal, traditional values. It is Hungary returning
home; voices long stilled are being heard again. An independent daily newspaper is now
sold on the streets. Commercial radio and television stations will broadcast everything
from the news to the music of Stevie Wonder. And Radio Free Europe is opening its first
Eastern European bureau right here in Budapest.
Along your border with Austria, the ugly symbol of Europe's division and Hungary's
isolation is coming down, as the barbed wire fences are rolled and stacked into bales. For
the first time, the Iron Curtain has begun to part. And Hungary, your great country, is
leading the way.
The Soviet Union has withdrawn troops, which I also take as a step in overcoming
Europe's division. And as those forces leave, let the Soviet leaders know they have
everything to gain and nothing to lose or fear from peaceful change. We can -- and I am
determined that we will -- work together to move beyond containment, beyond the cold
One of the key steps in moving beyond containment is easing the military confrontation
in Europe. To this end, the NATO allies joined, at the May summit meeting, in my
proposal of a comprehensive conventional arms control initiative, an initiative that would
cut the number of tanks, armored troop carriers, artillery, combat aircraft, attack
helicopters, as well as United States and Soviet troops stationed on foreign soil in Europe
-- all to lower, equal levels. The issues may be complex; but we're working, day and night,
to get a solid, historic agreement to strengthen stability in Europe and reduce the risk of
war. And we are determined to get it soon.
No, there is no mistaking the fact that we are on the threshold of a new era. And there's
also no mistaking the fact that Hungary is at the threshold of great and historic change.
You're writing a real constitution, and you're moving toward democratic, multiparty
elections. And this is partly possible because brave men and women have formed
opposition parties. And this is possible because Hungarian leaders are going to show the
ultimate political courage: the courage to submit to the choice of the people in free
But to succeed in reform, you'll need partners -- partners to help promote lasting change
in Hungary. And I am here today to offer Hungary the partnership of the United States of
America. Three vital spheres stand out in our partnerships: economics, the environment,
and democratic and cultural exchange. The United States believes in the acceleration of
productive change, not in its delay. So, this is our guiding principle: The United States
will offer assistance not to prop up the status quo but to propel reform.
Of course, the weight of the past still burdens Hungarian enterprise. There are remnants
of the Stalinist economy -- huge, inefficient industrial plants and a bewildering price
system that is hard for anyone to understand, and the massive subsidies that cloud
economic decisions. All of this slows what you could otherwise achieve. It's an economic
Rubik's Cone [Cube] that defies solution.
To make the transition to a productive economy will test your mettle as a people. The
prices of some commodities may rise. Some inefficient businesses and factories will
close. But the Hungarian Government is increasingly leaving the business of running the
shops to the shopkeepers, the farms to the farmers. And the creative drive of the people,
once unleashed, will create momentum of its own. And this will bring you a greater
treasure than simply the riches you create. It'll give each of you control over your own
destiny -- a Hungarian destiny. And as I said, the United States will be your partner in
this transformation to a successful economy.
Last Thursday at the White House, I invited leaders from business, education, labor, and
other fields to come to the White House and discuss the new private sector opportunities
opening up in Hungary; and their response was enthusiastic. This was especially true of
Hungarian-Americans, so proud to be building a bridge between their new country and
their motherland. As long as our two governments ease the way, the people of America
and Hungary can do the rest -- the people can do the rest.
And it is in this spirit that I want to announce the following measures. First, as I said in
Warsaw, I will propose at the Paris economic summit concerted Western action for
Poland and Hungary, to back your reforms with economic and technical assistance from
the summit partners. Of course, our efforts for Hungary will be targeted to your needs.
And second, I will ask the United States Congress to authorize a million fund as a source
of new capital to invigorate the Hungarian private sector. I'll also encourage parallel
efforts from the other nations of the economic summit.
And third, once your Parliament passes the new emigration legislation proposed by your
Council of Ministers, I will inform our Congress that Hungary is in full compliance with
the Jackson-Vanik amendments to our 1974 trade law. No country has yet been released
from the restrictions of this amendment. So, I am pleased to tell you that Hungary will be
the first. And this action will give Hungary the most liberal access to the American
market for the longest terms possible under our laws.
Fourth, America is prepared to provide your country with access to our Generalized
System of Preferences, which offers selective tariff relief. Simply put, these last two
measures will allow you to take advantage of the largest single market in the entire world.
And fifth, we've concluded a draft agreement to authorize the Overseas Private
Investment Corporation -- OPIC we call it -- to operate in Hungary. And once our Senate
passes the enabling legislation, OPIC will be able to provide insurance to encourage
American investment in private enterprises in Hungary. Through OPIC, American
business executives will see firsthand the great opportunity of Hungary. Private
investment is critical for Hungary. It means jobs, innovation, progress. But most of all,
private investment means a brighter future for your children, a brighter future for
And yet, economic progress cannot be at the expense of the air we breathe and the water
we drink. Six weeks ago, in Mainz, I proposed cooperation between East and West on
environmental issues. And that is why I will ask the United States Congress to
appropriate million to establish an international environmental center for central and
Eastern Europe, to be based right here in Budapest, which will bring together private and
government experts and organizations to address the ecological crisis. After all, our
shared heritage is the Earth. And the fate of the Earth transcends borders; it isn't just an
East-West issue. Hungary has led Eastern and central Europe in addressing the concerns
of your citizens for cleaner air and water. And now you can do even more, working with
the West to build a bridge of technical and scientific cooperation.
Along these lines, I am also pleased to announce that the United States has proposed an
agreement between our two countries to establish scientific and technical cooperation in
the basic sciences and in specific areas, including the environment, medicine, and nuclear
It is my hope that this visit will also lead to a wider exchange between East and West so
our scientists, our artists, and our environmentalists can learn from one another; so that
our soldiers and statesmen can discuss peace; and our students -- God bless them -- can
discuss the future.
But to discuss anything requires a common language. The teaching of the English
language is one of the most popular American exports. And as students, you know that
English is the lingua franca of world business, the key to clinching deals from Hong
Kong to Toronto. So, to open the global market to more Hungarians, I am pleased to
announce that the Peace Corps will, for the first time, operate in a European country. And
our Peace Corps instructors will come to Budapest and all 19 counties to teach English.
And in such exchanges, we want to help you in your quest for a new beginning as a
democratic Hungary. So, the United States is also committing more than million to
cultural and educational opportunities in Eastern Europe. We will make available funds
for a series of major new U.S.-Hungarian exchange programs -- among Congressmen and
legislative experts; among labor-business leaders; among legal experts; among
community leaders, educators, and young people.
We are creating dozens of fellowships to enable Hungarians to study at American
universities. And we will fund endowed chairs in American studies at your universities,
and books -- many thousands of them -- to fill the shelves of your new international
management center and the libraries of schools and universities across Hungary. And the
United States will also open, within the next several years, an American House in the
center of Budapest. Today the celebrated American architect Robert Stern is releasing his
design for this center, which will be an open house of books, magazines, and video
cassettes -- an open house of ideas.
And so, in conclusion -- in economic reform and democratic change, in cultural and
environmental cooperation -- there are great opportunities and great challenges. Hungary
has a lot of work ahead, and so do the United States and Hungary, working together to
build this better future -- dynamic future.
Your challenge is enormous and historic: to build a structure of political change and
decentralized economic enterprise on the ruins of a failed Stalinist system. And given the
opportunity to show your characteristic initiative, creativity, and resourcefulness, I
believe that the Hungarian people will meet the challenge. You stand on the threshold of
a new era of economic development and, yes, political change.
And I believe with all my heart that you are ready to meet the future. I see a country well
on the way. I see a country rich in human resources -- rich in the moral courage of its
people. I see a nation transcending its past and reaching out to its destiny. I congratulate
you for having come so far. And let us be equal to the opportunity that lies before us. Let
us have history write of us that we were the generation that made Europe whole and free.
Thank you all. God bless each and every one of you. Thank you very much.
Note: The President spoke at 1:35 p.m. in Aula Hall at the university. In his remarks, he
referred to Bruno Straub, President of Hungary's Presidential Council; Prime Minister
Miklos Nemeth; Csaba Csaki, rector of the university; and Imre Nagy, former Hungarian
Prime Minister and leader of the 1956 uprising against the Soviet Union. Prior to his
remarks, the President participated in a discussion with students at the Old Prison on
George H. W. Bush, "Remarks to Students and Faculty at Karl Marx University in Budapest," speech, Budapest, Hungary, July 12, 1989, Bush Presidential Library, Documents and Papers, Bush Library (accessed May 14, 2008).