A Legacy of Fighting for Freedom

American Chronicle
Senator George V. Voinovich
July 30, 2010

Since 1959, each president has proclaimed the third week of July to be Captive Nations Week, recognizing the suffering of those who languished under Communist rule. The grandson of Serbian and Slovenian immigrants, I have fought throughout my career for the rights of people to rule themselves; free of oppression, cruelty and hatred.

As I look back over the past three decades, my heart fills with joy as I realize how far our brothers and sisters have come from the days of living under the “Yoke of Communism” to now joining us as partners in democracy. Never in my lifetime did I think we´d see freedom for the former Captive Nations.

Commemorating Captive Nations Week has been a priority of mine ever since my days as Cuyahoga County auditor. When I was mayor of Cleveland, we gathered at Public Square and the Cathedral and marched to City Hall, where we met in the Rotunda. First and second-generation Americans spoke out against the human rights abuses taking place in these Captive Nations, praying for brighter days ahead for their people.

We flew the flags and sang the songs of the Captive Nations – including the countries we know now as Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and the Czech Republic, just to name a few.

As governor, I continued to work on behalf of these former Captive Nations who had just recently shaken the bonds of Communism. I sponsored two trade missions to Eastern Germany and Slovenia to spur Ohio investment in the region and help rebuild the long-ignored economies of Eastern Europe. Additionally, I began my work campaigning for former Captive Nations to become members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union.

NATO plays a crucial role in promoting peace and freedom throughout the world, and one of my top priorities upon entering the Senate was to promote NATO expansion. I became very active in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and was the first to call the ambassadors of seven countries that wished to join.

I was fortunate to play a key role in welcoming many former Captive Nations, such as Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia into NATO – countries that are now some of our strongest allies. One of the happiest days of my life was when I joined President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as the only member of Congress at the Prague Summit in 2002 where we officially invited these prospering democracies into NATO.

I´ll never forget being in Lithuania in 2002, my tears flowing freely as the people around me in the town square were rejoicing and chanting “NATO, NATO!”

Extending visa waiver privileges to allies of the United States has also been one of my top priorities, and I worked to make it easier for our allies´ citizens to visit the United States. The Visa Waiver Program was established in 1986 to enable nationals of approved/certain countries to travel to the United States for legitimate tourism or business for up to 90 days without a visa. By 2007, 27 countries were participating in VWP. Still, no new countries had been admitted to the program since 1999.

I was proud to see President Bush sign the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 into law to address that inequity. The law included a provision I authored mandating increased national security requirements for Visa Waiver Program participant countries while expanding opportunities for aspirant countries to join the program. The Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia and South Korea have all joined the Visa Waiver Program since 2007 thanks to this provision. I continue to work to improve our national security and public diplomacy through the Visa Waiver Program.

For my work, I was honored by the American Nationalities Movement in Cleveland during Captive Nations Week this year, receiving a miniature replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue. Brave Chinese citizens erected a paper-mache Goddess of Democracy statue during the 1990 Tiananmen Square protests as a sign of the people´s fight for democracy. I was honored to receive a miniature of the statue and pledged my continuing support for the causes of freedom for all.

Although our global community is moving towards a prosperous and democratic future, millions today still remain under the yoke of dictatorships and totalitarian rule. Captive Nations Week is a tribute to the bravery of those who have suffered under tyranny and succeeded in shaking off its heavy chains. It is also a pledge of hope to those who still are not able to share in their God-given birthright to live free from free and to seek “liberty, justice and self-determination.”

The United States is the world´s beacon of hope for all who are still suffering under oppressive regimes. We must continue to show support for those not yet free and commemorate the struggle so many have undergone to overcome oppression by advancing the cause of liberty.