President Bush Makes Amends in Yalta and Hungary

Paul Weyrich
Friday, June 30, 2006

I have not always been in lockstep with the George W. Bush administration foreign policy. However, two trips the president took this year were necessary corrections to black periods in recent American history.

The first trip was to Yalta, in the Crimea. The president noted there that the free world agreed to seal the fate of Eastern Europe, giving these nations to Stalin to control. The Soviets were always paranoid about being attacked. That is why they wanted a buffer all around the main territory of the Soviet Union. At Yalta they got that.

Our president all but asked for forgiveness both for what we did and what we failed to do. The Yalta Accord, as it sometimes is termed, facilitated the Soviets in their harsh dominance of Hungary and other Central European countries and helped extend that dominance for a period approaching two generations, forcing, among other things, trade with the Soviet Union and extensive use of Russian and the Cyrillic alphabet.

Franklin D. Roosevelt is lauded these days for his having fought Hitler and tyranny. He is entitled to that. But how FDR could have said the absolute and principled things he said about liberty and the need to fight for good vs. evil, in those words, and then have turned millions of people over to the most ruthless dictator in modern times is beyond me.

Hitler is reprehensible for having killed millions of Jews and directing genetic experiments with both Christian and Jews and toward the end killing anyone who vocally disagreed with the regime, Christian or Jew. Stalin killed tens of millions of his subjects. In Ukraine, "the bread basket of the Soviet Union," he killed many more millions, including farmers. These farmers did not want to go along with his collectivization program. In the other Soviet republics and in Eastern Europe, Stalin and his successors killed even more.

Bush at Yalta gave the most pro-freedom and pro-liberty speech ever uttered by an American president.

On the second trip, last week, Bush went to Hungary, where the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolt was observed. In late 1955 and 1956, the American government, presumably with the tacit approval of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, encouraged the Hungarians to rise up against their Soviet captors. The Soviet Union was presenting all sorts of problems for America by then and supposedly Ike and Dulles wanted the Soviets to have problems of their own.

For whatever reason, when the Hungarians rose up against the Soviets we did next to nothing. Thousands were killed. About the only thing we did was accept refugees from Hungary who spoke English or had some other connection with the United States. I was only a young teenager then, but I spoke with a refugee family who settled on our block. I was even then fascinated by Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. They described the blood running in the streets in such vivid terms that I recall it to this day.


President Bush went there precisely because he wanted Hungarians to understand that not all American presidents would have turned them over to a harsh dictator. "The lesson of the Hungarian experience is clear," President Bush said: "Liberty can be delayed, but it cannot be denied."

Bush noted that Hungarians are helping in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that by assisting these fledgling democracies, Hungarians will be helping potential allies in the war on terror. Whether or not that works, the president is right to point to the struggle which Hungary endured through the decades. Even after 1956 there were small cells of liberty all along until 1989, when the Soviets finally left Hungary.

Hungary has had its ups and down since the Soviets departed. Its first government tilted right, but voters then reverted to the leftists. Now the current government is more middle of the road. Voters clearly are seeking results. They do not want to see a group of quarreling politicians accomplishing nothing. Compared with other Eastern and Central European nations, Hungary has had only modest economic growth. Still, things are far better than when good old Uncle Joe had his thumb on every Hungarian citizen.

One of the issues Bush discussed with Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom is permitting Eastern Europeans to come to the United States for a three-month visit. The State Department worries that many would come here and remain. But things are so much better now and Hungarians have a stake in making their country great again. Therefore, the chances of their overstaying are less than with Latin Americans, inasmuch as so many Latin Americans are miserably poor, with no prospect for betterment.

Yet there are concerns. Those concerns were not the main purpose of the visit. Although Bush is supposedly unpopular in Europe, he was warmly received in Hungary. They understood the symbolism of his visit. They understood his words about liberty.

I don't recall when an American president has attempted to correct the past. Bush has done so. Whether we agree with all his other policies, we should thank this president for attempting what no other has attempted.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.