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Speaker Boehner Opens Parliamentary Forum for Democracy
September 15, 2011

Speaker Boehner Opens Parliamentary Forum for Democracy

“Good morning all, and welcome to Capitol Hill.  It is a great honor as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives to open the Parliamentary Forum for Democracy.  Thank you, Speaker Diegutine, for your leadership and your kind invitation to visit the Baltics.  

“Each day in the House, we begin our work with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance to our flag.  So let me open this session by saying I pray democracy will continue to thrive and to pledge my allegiance to this critical work.  Think about all the democratic transitions that are being attempted in places we would never have thought possible just a year ago, and the experts are right here in this room.  That is a tribute to the vision and the foresight of the leaders who came together to create this forum.  

“I’m told that the Community of Democracies organized a ceremony in Warsaw to mark the tenth anniversary of September 11th.  Thank you.  The ceremony paid tribute to that day’s victims of terror and all the victims of terrorist attacks aimed at democratic societies.  We know freedom is a universal right, but we have learned the hard way it is an earned right.

“We know freedom and democracy don’t come on the cheap.  They require vigilance – and rely on the tools of persuasion and progress.  One election doesn’t cut it. There needs to be a lasting rule of law and fundamental respect for human rights. 

“There needs to be economic opportunity for all.  Power in the hands of the people is diminished when industry is controlled by government.  Even here in the U.S., we have to be vigilant about keeping our economy free so it can be a true source of opportunity.

“This is something I’ll be talking about later today in a speech at a building named in honor of Ronald Reagan, a great leader who showed us how freedom and democracy need to be a mission – not just a mission statement.  President Reagan once hosted a reception for a group of Baltic Americans at the White House.  This was in 1983, so before Gorbachev, glasnost, and perestroika.  And he said this: ‘I can promise you we will not, in the process of seeking peace, be lured from our moral commitment to those captive peoples who are now held in bondage.’

“He kept his promise, and it’s up to us to continue honoring it – so others don’t continue to endure the same injustices you have.  This morning, I was thinking back to my first month as Speaker, when I met with a group of Belarusians.  This was just after the crackdown following last December’s ‘elections.’  Hearing their stories, I came away thinking: the people of Belarus deserve better.  We should have their backs.  Leaders on our Foreign Affairs Committee – including Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Chris Smith – are making sure the House is supporting your efforts to bring freedom, democracy, and dignity to that country.

“Where better to lead the charge for democracy than from these cradles of liberty we call Congresses and Parliaments.  I like to think of this as the people’s House.  I tell my colleagues all the time: it’s about them – not us.  This is where we carry out their will.  We can’t lead unless we lead by example.   The most effective legislatures embody the pillars of democracy: rule of law, transparency, and a functioning civil society.  When legislatures are open, they are stronger; when they are stronger, they can more effectively serve as checks and balances on the executive.  Look at how well it’s working here in the United States.

“This forum serves a valuable purpose: to articulate our shared values and commitments.  To promote democratic principles and support the right of people everywhere to seek democracy.  To call attention to undemocratic practices, political repression, and human rights abuses.  And to demonstrate the need to prioritize the freedom and democracy agenda, both in the United States and the countries represented here today. 

“Let me close how I began, by praying for this important work to continue and pledging my firm allegiance to it.  Know that in these uncertain times the United States Congress will be a steadfast partner and a loyal friend.  I think you would agree we have a lot to lose right now, and a lot to gain as well.  So let’s look out for one another.  And keep at it.”