May 15, 2005

A return to Yalta: New European democracies need a new agreement that embraces freedom

By Mikheil Saakashvili

For The Washington Post

TBILISI, Georgia - For 60 years, the word ``Yalta'' has meant betrayal and abandonment. The diplomatic accord reached between Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States in that sleepy Black Sea resort in 1945 relegated millions of people to a ruthless tyranny.

As President Bush said during his recent visit to Latvia: ``The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable.''

Thankfully, the division of Europe created at Yalta, and the Iron Curtain that marked its boundary, are ghosts in our past. The generation of 1989 succeeded in the streets of Gdansk, Prague and Riga, and much of the territory Yalta allotted to a dictator is now part of the community of democratic nations.

Now it is our turn to contribute to the completion of a Europe that is whole, free and at peace. After recent discussions with presidents Traian Basescu of Romania and Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine, I believe that it is time for a new Yalta Conference, a voluntary association of new European democracies with three central goals.

 First, we must work together to support the consolidation of democracy in our own countries.

Georgia regained its freedom in the Rose Revolution only 18 months ago. Though we have made great strides, much remains to be done in building a lasting democracy. Two significant portions of our territory - South Ossetia and Abkhazia - remain untouched by the freedom the rest of Georgia enjoys. We can and must peacefully resolve these disputes to better the lives of Georgians.

Ukraine's Orange Revolution succeeded only five months ago. My friend Viktor Yushchenko faces real challenges in rebuilding his country's economy and in ending the corruption and criminality that are the legacy of decades of repression and misrule.

 Second, we must extend the reach of liberty in the Black Sea region and throughout wider Europe. Moldova, like Georgia, faces a separatist region that maintains itself with cast-off Soviet weaponry and the profits from an illicit economy based on trafficking in weapons, drugs and women. These are the last razor-sharp splinters of the Soviet empire.

In Belarus, 10 million people remain in a more regimented captivity. The regime of Aleksander Lukashenko rules by fear, yet fears its own people. The world can do much more to aid the Belarusan people in the quest for freedom. The new Yalta Conference will press for liberty in Belarus through increased travel restrictions on government officials, expanded financial and material support to the opposition, and enhanced training for civic society in the methods of peaceful protest that helped free the people of Georgia and Ukraine.

 Third, we seek to expand the frontiers of freedom far beyond the Black Sea.

Our message to the oppressors and their subjects is unequivocal: Free peoples cannot rest while tyranny thrives. Just as we benefit from the blessings of liberty, we have a duty to those who remain beyond its reach. In Zimbabwe, Cuba, Burma and elsewhere, millions live under cruel tyrants. Too many governments and international organizations appear willing to sacrifice freedom for what they mistakenly believe will be stability. We know that only the consent of the governed brings stability. And we know that if the world's democracies make liberty the priority of their policy, the days of the dictators are numbered.

Those on the wrong side of history in Tbilisi, Kiev and Bishkek - like those before them in Warsaw, Bratislava and Belgrade - lost touch with their people and did not see democratic change coming. Invariably they saw peaceful, popular protests as a ``conspiracy'' driven by mysterious forces. But the only mystery is why corrupt and despotic leaders thought they could retain power forever in defiance of their own people's will.

Historically, the Black Sea has stood at the confluence of the Russian, Ottoman and Persian empires. Now the Black Sea is a new frontier - a frontier of freedom, with vibrant new democracies. The values that drove our peaceful revolutions - accountable government, open society, the rule of law - are not exclusively European values; they are universal. The winds of freedom that swept across the Black Sea to Ukraine now rush across the central Asian steppes and stir the cedars of Lebanon.

It is time to return to Yalta. This time we will not engage in a secret diplomacy in which our values are compromised and innocent peoples are enslaved. In this new association of democracies, our diplomacy will be open and our focus will be the possibilities of our future. And, we will begin to make Yalta a symbol of hope.

Mikheil Saakashvili is president of the Republic of Georgia.