(Applause.) Thank you all. Thank you all so much. It is indeed a personal pleasure and honor to be in this historic hall for this extraordinary occasion. And I am delighted to join such a distinguished group of speakers and visitors and friends in support of the great effort to establish the Tom Lantos Institute, and with the hope that it will fulfill its promise.
I want to thank Katrina, my friend, for that introduction and for her leadership on behalf of human rights and internet freedom through the Lantos Foundation, which you and your mother and sister have established. And I want to thank all of the speakers that we have heard from. And thank you, Prime Minister. I am looking forward to our meeting later. We will be discussing many of the issues that have been alluded to, and that were so crucial to Tom’s life and work.
And I want to thank the foreign minister for that very important address talking about the transatlantic alliance, democracy, and freedom, values that we hold so dear, and especially to acknowledge the new director of the institute, Rita Izsak, and my predecessor, Dr. Rice, who has worked so hard for democracy and freedom around the world, and joined with then-Chairman Lantos at the State Department five years ago to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution.
Dr. Rice is here today to attend various events, along with members of the Reagan Presidential Foundation, upon the centennial anniversary of President Reagan’s birth. I know that Hungarians will never forget President Reagan’s commitment to a free and democratic Europe.
Well, that was a dream of Tom’s, as well. And he has not only lived it, but he has been the embodiment for many of us of what it would mean. Those of us who knew, loved, and admired Tom saw in him the physical moral embodiment of the values that we share, and the commitment to freedom that means so much to the American and Hungarian people. Tom believed with all his heart that a free, democratic Europe depended on a strong transatlantic alliance, and that through institutions like the European Union and NATO, Europe could create a foundation for prosperity, human rights, and democratic, open and pluralistic societies.
We agree. We know we are bound by shared values, and by that common commitment to protect and advance those values. Tom also believed in working across party lines, something that Katrina alluded to. So I am delighted to thank the Government of Hungary, and indeed, the prior government and all of the political representation here in support of this institute.
And I also want to acknowledge the members of the United States House of Representatives, both Democratic and Republican, represented so ably by Congresswoman Bass, who are with us. And yesterday, by unanimous consent, the United States Senate passed a resolution commemorating today’s opening of the Lantos Institute, and reflecting once again the admiration that his colleagues had for Tom. (Applause.)
But I believe probably what would have given Tom the greatest pride, and made his heart swell with love, was to see all of the Lantoses, Tillemann-Dicks, Swetts, and related family members here today. Tom and Annette created this big, extended, warm, wonderful family. And this is one family that didn’t need a village. It created its own village, and it has been influencing the rest of us ever since. And a special acknowledgement to that eldest grandson, who you just saw on the video, Tomicah, who is not only a pivotal player in the foundation and the institute, but also my senior advisor for civil society and emerging democracies in the State Department, so the work goes on that Tom Lantos started. (Applause.)
And lastly, and most particularly and personally, I want to thank Annette. This day belongs to her more than anybody else. Not only were she and Tom beloved companions for more than 70 years – and as we saw, adorable children – and apart from the terrible war that separated them and cost their families so dearly, they rarely spent a moment apart. Annette worked with Tom every day in his congressional office. She travelled with him around the world. They were soul mates.
But their story has not ended with Tom’s passing. It has evolved. Because through this institute and the foundation, Annette will share with Tom, as she always did, the commitment to a future that is better than even the present that we enjoy today, and far better than the past which they shared. Annette has given us this great opportunity to continue to be champions of human rights, democracy, tolerance, and reconciliation.
When Tom Lantos founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in 1983, that was new. And he did it because he saw there was a need. It became an invaluable bipartisan enterprise that, for close to three decades now, has brought Democrats and Republicans together. He made human rights seem right to people who had never thought about them much before, or who may have even had a little bit of antagonism to them. But Tom fought for refuseniks in the Soviet Union; for Tibetans to practice their religion; for Christians in Saudi Arabia and Sudan; for Muslims in China; for ethnic minorities in the Balkans; and for people living with HIV/AIDS around the world. No person was written off by Tom Lantos. He thought he had an obligation to reach out and embrace them all.
Now, when Tom grew up here in this country that he loved so much, the only debate that mattered was the one between freedom and fascism, and then between freedom and communism. Tom believed that in our country there were partisan political differences, of course, between Republicans and Democrats or between a President Reagan and a President Clinton, just to pick one. (Laughter.) But Tom always believed that regardless of our political party, we were fundamentally on the same side. We were for freedom. We were for democracy. And that through debate, sometimes contested, we would keep working toward what our founders set as the goal, a more perfect union.
Now, when Tom saw what happened after the communists seized control of Hungary, he realized that through what was called “salami tactics,” they were slicing away, bit by bit, fundamental freedoms. And that, to him, meant he could not go home. But he did not become embittered. He did not look backwards. He kept thinking about what contribution his life could make to the ongoing struggle for freedom and human dignity. He worked with Secretary Madeleine Albright and Senator Robert Dole to bring Hungary and other Central and Eastern European countries into NATO. He spoke out repeatedly for the protection of minorities, and he paid particular attention to the plight of the Roma, Europe’s largest disenfranchised minority. And I am very pleased that, during the presidency of the European Union, the Hungarian Government has pushed for reforms that would guarantee the Roma people the same rights and opportunities their fellow citizens enjoy. (Applause.)
Tom’s past served him in another way, as a call to conscience, a permanent vigilance against anti-Semitism, discrimination, oppression, and genocide. In the bookmark that appears at each of our seats, there is one of his most memorable quotes: “We must remember that the veneer of civilization is paper thin. We are its guardians, and we can never rest.” Tom not only tried to live by those words, he tried to hold other people’s feet to the fire, when he didn’t think they were. A Washington Post article about his life summed up by saying, “His efforts to inspire – or, if necessary, shame – individuals, companies and governments into honorable behavior were exhaustive and creative.” And that’s why, at age 78, he was arrested for demonstrating against the genocide in Darfur in front of the Sudanese Embassy in Washington.
Now, one of the aspects of Tom that has not yet been mentioned is that he was a politician. And, as a recovering former politician myself, I think we should pay tribute to that. Because it is one thing to stand on the outside, out of the arena, advocating for the changes that one wants to see in society, and it is entirely different to roll up your sleeves, subject yourself to the votes and the will of your people, and engage in the hard, often frustrating work of political change.
Tom was a great campaigner. I campaigned for him, he campaigned for me. He would come to my office in the Senate and provide both solicited and unsolicited advice. (Laughter.) And it wasn’t just about human rights. It was often about politics, about building coalitions, about winning elections.
So this was, indeed, a renaissance man. He had a full life that we honor and celebrate. But it would be a disservice to him if we did not look forward to what I am sure he expects from us. Democracy is struggling to be born around the world today. The nations of Central and Eastern Europe have so much to share from their own struggles and triumphs. So, the timing of this institute could not be more opportune. On Europe’s doorstep – across the Middle East and Northern Africa – citizens are demanding what so many others have before. From the United States in the 18th century, to Chile and Tunisia, South Korea, East Timor, post-Soviet countries over the past 30 years.
What are they demanding? That their voices be heard. That they have the opportunity to fulfill their own God-given potentials with enough freedom to make responsible choices for themselves, their families, and communities, that government become more effective, more responsive, more transparent, more open.
And what they are asking demands an answer from all of us. Later today, I will travel to Vilnius to join with the Community of Democracies, where we will work with emerging democracies to share the experiences with those fighting for democracy now, to show solidarity with those in the streets, in Belarus, in Libya, around the world. It is important for governments and civil society alike to shine a bright light on why some young democracies flourish while others fail. How can we help navigate the very difficult road they have begun?
At a time when technology transmits news and information instantly, we have all become the global equivalent of neighbors. And what happens in Tunis and Cairo reverberates in Budapest, Jakarta, and Washington. For all democracies around the world, old and new, including my own country and yours, it is vital that we continue building and strengthening our own democratic institutions. It is vital that we understand that the glue which holds together democracies is trust – trust between people as we widen the circle of democratic inclusion, and trust between the people and their governments. It is vital that we not engage in destructive political tactics or the kind of rhetoric that erodes that trust in democracy and one another. We need strong checks and balances across party lines and from one government to the next.
As we struggle to help new democracies emerge, we can’t let any democracy anywhere backslide. The stakes are too high. Other company – other countries are trumpeting national economic growth over freedom and human rights, as though the two are neither compatible nor mutually reinforcing. So that is why this institute is more needed than ever.
Let us work across all sectors of society and all the lines that we too easily believe divide us, to strengthen and support democracy, civil society, and the rule of law, and to protect the rights of minorities, to make sure that when justice is served, it is administered with due process and judicial integrity, not political vengeance or partisan meddling. Those were the principles for which Tom fought so hard.
In one of his last conversations with a close Hungarian friend, Tom expressed his faith in Hungarians and their ability to persevere through any challenge. He believed that Hungarians would always remember the spirit of the 1956 uprising. But watchfulness was crucial for Tom in our country and in his native Hungary. When he was invited to deliver the keynote address before the United Nations at its Holocaust Remembrance Day, he accepted, planning to repeat again his well-known quote about the veneer of civilization, but his health prevented him from going. And in the end, he asked Katrina to deliver the speech for him. So once again, from his daughter, he heard, the world heard the message of vigilance.
And you won’t be surprised that they also heard one of Tom’s famous rabbi stories. Anybody who knew Tom Lantos could not talk to him for more than 20 minutes without hearing a rabbi story, so let me leave you with one of his favorites. It goes like this: A rabbi asks his followers, “How can one know the moment when the night has ended and the dawn has come?” And his students gave various answers. One asked, “Is it when a man walking through the woods can tell whether an approaching animal is a wolf or a dog?” The rabbi shook his head no. Another student asked, “Could it be when a man walking through the village can distinguish the roof of his house from that of his neighbors?” And once again, the rabbi shook his head no. And then the rabbi spoke, “The moment when you know that the night has turned to day is when you see the face of a stranger and recognize him as your brother.” A story with a big message, as all of Tom’s stories had; a message not only for leaders but also for citizens.
So let us celebrate this inauguration of the Tom Lantos Institute, but more than that, let us pledge ourselves to continue his work in the spirit of Hungarian-American cooperation on behalf of the values that he held so dear and work to hasten that hour when night turns to day for everyone.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)