PRAGUE—In an address today to a special session of the Czech Parliament, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) called for “solidarity on this frontier of freedom” and hailed strong U.S.-Czech ties based on common values and interests.

The speech comes during an official visit to mark the 100th anniversary of the establishment of U.S.-Czech relations. Speaker Ryan is the first American leader in history to address the Czech Parliament.

 

Following is the text of Speaker Ryan’s remarks, as prepared for delivery: 

"Speaker Vondráček, Prime Minister Babiš, ministers, distinguished members of this chamber: 

"It is wonderful to be here in Prague, this inspiring city of a hundred spires. 

"Thank you for convening this special session. 

"I know it is a rare privilege for a foreign leader to address this body. 

"While I am deeply honored, I view this far more as a tribute to the warm friendship between our countries, which share such a unique and lasting bond of history. 

"This is a special moment in that story, 100 years after President Woodrow Wilson collaborated with your first president, Tomas Masaryk, to establish an independent Czechoslovak Republic.   

"Just as our declaration of 1776 spoke of a 'pursuit of happiness,' Masaryk’s declaration —drafted in Washington—calls the Czech people to begin a 'constant endeavor for progress.' 

"What an extraordinary endeavor it has been. 

"There were times along the way when few would have fathomed a gathering such as this. 

"In the mid-1970s, the Chancellor of West Germany predicted that Western Europe 'has only 20 or 30 more years of democracy left in it.'

"But today, the American and Czech militaries serve side by side to keep the peace. 

"American and Czech businesses invest in each other’s workers and economies.

"Countless students, artists, and entrepreneurs go back and forth each year. 

"And today, an American speaker appears before you, the elected representatives of a free and thriving Czech people.

"Colleagues, freedom is flourishing. We should not take this milestone for granted. 

"You know, in a way, our ties run even deeper than the last century.

"The Czech Republic is often referred to as being in the 'heart of Europe.'

"Similarly, my family is from Janesville, Wisconsin, a small, working-class town in America’s heartland. We raise our kids on the same block where I grew up.

"My great-great grandfather, James Ryan, made the long voyage from Ireland sometime in the 1850s. 

"To this day, there are some 60 Ryan cousins in Janesville. . .all living in one square mile. 

"Wisconsin is where many European migrations of the mid-19th century ended. 

"In fact, most of the first Czech settlers in America came to our state. Many began as farmers, and went on to open their own shops and businesses. 

"Racine, a community I have the privilege to represent, was actually called 'Czech Bethlehem.'

"The first Czech newspapers in the United States were published there. One of the first mayors of Racine was Czech. 

"The Czech people helped shape our country. 

"That sense of striving and upward mobility—of making the most of your God-given talents—is at the heart of what I call the 'American Idea.'

"It is the notion that the condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life. 

"Those beautiful timeless principles—freedom, free enterprise, self-determination, government by consent…they give us the ability to chart our own course. 

"Government is at its best when we are applying those founding principles to the problems of the day. 

"This 'American Idea' animated my own studies, and motivated my own very unlikely pursuit of public service.

"When I first ran for office, I was 27 years old. 

"And to tell you the truth, there were few people willing to take a risk on a 27-year old running for Congress. 

"I needed to find someone who would, and would help me get a start. 

"So I reached out to one of the top political leaders in our state. His name was Steve King. 

"By then, Steve was a giant in Wisconsin politics. He had long been our state party chairman. 

"And I simply would not take ‘no’ for an answer. 

"When Steve signed on to be my campaign chairman, it gave me instant credibility. And, as I know now, it gave me a lifelong friend too.

"This man is a true patriot and a class act. We are so blessed to have him as America’s ambassador to the Czech Republic. 

"Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.

"Yesterday, over at our embassy, the Ambassador and I walked up the hill to the Glorietta. The view from up there is just splendid, it really is.

"There, I presented him with an American flag that recently flew above our Capitol building to commemorate this centennial.

"You may recall that in a much different, and darker, time—when the Iron Curtain divided this continent—we kept our stars and stripes flying above the Glorietta. 

"It was a signal of our unending support for the Czech people and our desire that we would one day return to our deeply shared values.

"But this republic did not merely return from communism. 

"It roared back to life, in large part on the vision of Vaclav Havel. 

"Every day, just before heading up the stairs to my office in the Capitol, I walk by a bust of Havel. 

"It was sculpted by a Czech artist who was forced into exile during the period of communist rule.

"The Havel bust is actually just across the hall from a bust of Winston Churchill. 

"I always wonder what those two talk about at night when no one is around.

"They stand watch in a space we call Freedom Foyer, as a tribute to all those who have fought and sacrificed for our guiding principles.

"In a scene that only a playwright of his caliber could have crafted, Havel was just months removed from prison when he addressed the United States Congress in January 1990.

"He reminded the Congress of our collective responsibility to preserve the greatness of democratic values.

"He said this: 'Our freedom, independence and our newborn democracy have been purchased at great cost, and we shall not surrender them.'

"On this occasion, we would be wise to recall Havel’s words, and his determination too. 

"When he said ‘we shall not surrender’ freedom, he surely knew there were powers that would try to wrest it back, and take us backward. 

"He knew there were forces that would seek to remake the world in their own authoritarian image.

"And as we gather here to celebrate the ties of the last century, we are called to confront the challenges of the next.

"The Czech people are no strangers to Russian influence, whether in the guise of oppression or subversion.

"Russia has violated international norms with its aggression against our closest allies in Eastern Europe.

"More furtively, it spreads disinformation, and engages in cyber attacks.

"It meddles in democratic elections throughout Europe, as it did in the United States.

"Russia does not share our interests or our values. 

"If anything, it seeks to undermine those values.

"We must see this for what it is: an attempt to sow discord among our peoples, divide allies, and destabilize democratic institutions.

"We cannot and we will not tolerate it. 

"This week, more than 20 countries, including the United States and the Czech Republic, took action to expel Russian diplomats in response to an attack on British soil. 

"Solidarity on this frontier of freedom is more important than ever. It is everything, really. 

"All of the nations that once suffered under Soviet rule have a common interest in building security and prosperity.

"In this work, our two republics are not simply allies mutually dedicated to the cause of liberty. 

"We are partners and leaders in the community of democracies. 

"Our common values are the foundation on which we will build stronger, more resilient institutions.

"First, there is our shared commitment to economic growth. 

"A strong economy is essential to spreading liberty and ensuring stability. It is what gives people confidence they can get a good job, live a good life, and take care of their own. 

"Faster growth does not solve all of our problems, but it certainly makes our problems easier to solve.

"Here in the Czech Republic, you have an economy that is doing extremely well, featuring strong exports and low unemployment.

"We are proud that the United States is one of the top foreign investors here. 

"Leading American companies, such as AT&T, Honeywell, GE, IBM, and Microsoft, do innovative research and development in and with the Czech Republic. 

"And I just learned this today: Prague is home to one of the oldest Harley-Davidson clubs in the world. A great Milwaukee company. 

"There is so much potential for more trade between our two nations, which will bring more opportunity to Czechs and Americans alike. 

"Second, there is our security cooperation, an area where we have a range of tools at our disposal.

"Here again, the Czech Republic is an example to its neighbors, leading in the NATO alliance, aggressively fighting disinformation, and upholding sanctions against Russia. 

"On NATO, as President Trump has said, we have demonstrated with our words and actions that we stand firmly behind Article 5, our mutual defense commitment. 

"That commitment is rock-solid.

"Of course, we have all pledged to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on our defense. We are glad that the Czech Republic has a concrete plan to reach its goal in the years ahead. 

"And we look forward to seeing you take on a larger share of the defense responsibility. 

"This is not simply about meeting a benchmark. It is about expanding our capabilities to address evolving threats. 

"That is why last week, our Congress passed, and President Trump signed, legislation increasing support for the European Deterrence Initiative. 

"It includes beginning the build-up of a division’s worth of equipment being prepositioned over five locations on this continent.

"We want you to see that America is committed to an enduring presence in Europe. 

"For us and our allies, the bravery and the expertise of the Czechs are indispensable. 

"We know, and appreciate, how much you have fought side by side with us in Iraq, and in Afghanistan. 

"We are also fortunate to have you watching over our embassy in Damascus, providing critical support for American citizens. 

"You are an active and valued member of the Global Coalition for the Defeat of ISIS. 

"And yes, we must defeat ISIS. 

"We need to collectively do more to stop this insidious threat. We need all allies to assist robustly in sharing information, and addressing the sources of extremism.

"You have not only helped to roll back ISIS on the battlefield. You have also taken part in efforts to rebuild liberated territory so that Iraqis can return home. 

"No one knows better than you do just how much that means, for people to be able to return and rebuild their lives.

"Your contributions to these missions have greatly enhanced your stature in Europe and the world.

"And I am very encouraged by the discussions we have had here about how to expand our defense cooperation even further.

"Third, there are the things we do every day to support democracy and human rights. 

"Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit Radio Free Europe, and to see firsthand the remarkable work they are doing. It was just incredible. 

"How fortunate we are to have them broadcasting from here. Thank you for what you do to support them. 

"Let it serve as a reminder that a free and transparent media is a vital component of a healthy democracy.

"We also partner to support the heroic efforts of organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy and the International Republican Institute. 

"We, as elected legislators, should never forget just how powerful it is to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves. 

"After all, that is why we are here today, because people who were free and sought to be free banded together in common cause. 

"Colleagues, I know democracy is not easy. 

"It can be just as hard to keep it as it is to win it.

"It has its flaws, and that is never going to change. 

"It has its skeptics, and that is certainly never going to change. 

"This truly is an ‘endeavor for progress,’ and so long as we are imperfect beings, we will have an imperfect form of government. 

"But there is always that fearless aspiration to do better, pushing us forward. 

"Our task, in the time we have to serve, is to build up the antibodies of our institutions—to leave them resilient enough to endure come what may. 

"This is our great moral and political responsibility.

"In this swirl of events, I refer you back to those moving words of Masaryk’s declaration of a century ago:

"'The forces of darkness have served the victory of light; the longed-for age of humanity is dawning. We believe in democracy, we believe in liberty and liberty evermore.'

"This is a time to raise our gaze, to renew our faith in what we believe, and what we can achieve together, to reach the grace and capacity of humanity. 

"America was with you for the first 100 years. 

"We will be with you for the next 100 years. 

"We will be with you always, and evermore. 

"God bless you. Thank you very much."

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