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Archive for Saturday, June 29, 1991

SATURDAY COLUMN

June 29, 1991

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"Freedom works."

These words were spoken by U.S. Secretary of State James Baker last weekend as he stood before a crowd of more than 500,000 demonstrators in Albania who were shouting "USA, USA" in response to Baker's appearance and the Albanians struggle for freedom from the Soviet communist bloc.

The words are simple, but Baker's statement is likely to become a well-known and often-used phrase as millions of East Europeans and Soviet Union citizens fight for their freedom.

This comes at the same time when this country is about to celebrate its Independence Day on July 4.

This past Wednesday evening, Secretary Baker visited with members of the Gannett Foundation to discuss his most recent trip to East Europe and to visit about ways the foundation might use its resources to help those seeking freedom and independence. This writer is a foundation trustee and this small group will be traveling to the Soviet Union and East Europe this summer to visit with government and media leaders to learn how foundation funds could be used to advance the cause of freedom in these countries.

THE GANNETT Foundation will change its name on July 4 to the Freedom Forum, and it is going to become increasingly active both domestically and abroad in stressing free press, free speech and free spirit.

Secretary Baker told the trustees and invited East European diplomatic personnel, as well as Washington media representatives, that "building democracy is a difficult task. It took decades, if not centuries, in the United States and Western Europe. And freedom's road is oftentimes a difficult one, and the people of Central and Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union need to know that, too.

"But they also need to know," Baker emphasized, "that we support them in their quest for freedom. We cannot insure their success. Only they can. But we can lend a helping hand as they cross the new frontier, the frontier called freedom."

Millions of Soviet and East European citizens want freedom. They are willing to fight and die for freedom, and it was the dream and demand for freedom, along with the strong, united military and political alliance of NATO countries that eventually brought down the Berlin Wall and forced Gorbachev to relax the Kremlin's hold and control of various East European nations.

NOW, GIVEN this opportunity for freedom, it is so important that those in the various East European nations succeed in their efforts. They cannot become disillusioned and so frustrated that they give up their dreams. Baker said that in the crowded square in Tirana, looking into the faces of those clamoring for freedom, "for me, the Fourth of July came early." He added, "that spontaneous outpouring of genuine affection and support of our delegation was very moving and made me extremely proud to be an American. Our country and our example of freedom are clearly symbols of hope to the Albanian people, who have had nothing to hope for for so very long.

"These people were totally intoxicated with freedom after more than 50 years of repression, isolation and the inability to express themselves. It was almost as if a long-dormant volcano had erupted with the people shouting freedom, literally from the rooftops freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of worship."

Baker, who some are suggesting is the most able secretary of state this country has had in the past 100 years and a man who has played a significant role in three different administrations, urged Freedom Forum trustees to give priority to four specific areas in trying to help the freedom-seekers in East Europe.

FIRST He said promising independent projects already are operating on nothing but shoestrings and local initiative. He suggested the Freedom Forum provide the means to keep these projects running at a time when the transition from planned to market economies makes equipment and supplies, such as newsprint, computers, satellite dishes, facsimile machines and desktop publishing equipment, difficult to obtain and expensive.

Second He told the trustees they can encourage Western investment that will help indigenous media establish itself. Also, investment to privatize existing media should be encouraged.

Third Help reduce government control of the media. Establishing the proper legal framework is one way to tackle the problem, Baker said. Another way, he mentioned, is by championing access rights for the independent media where scarce supplies such as newsprint frequently are dispensed or withheld by officials for political reasons.

Fourth Training of journalists. Baker said one independent Hungarian journalist told him, "We must learn that facts are more important than ideologies . . . We have to learn to dig out the truth from underneath all the lies and corruption . . . We have to learn to tolerate other views and understand that competitors are not necessarily enemies."

BAKER SAID, "I cannot emphasize enough the concrete contributions that we can make in the four main areas I have highlighted. The jamming towers, censorship laws and the Berlin Wall itself may be gone, but many serious barriers to the free flow of information remain: authoritarian methods, entrenched old structures, insular and intolerant attitudes. Overcoming these barriers will require what President Bush calls `the hard work of freedom.'"

As the U.S. is about to celebrate the anniversary of its freedom, and as millions of East Europeans struggle to gain their freedom, do Americans realize how precious and fragile their freedom is and how it must be protected?

Freedom does work, but it cannot be taken for granted.

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