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Remarks by President Clinton and Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov in Exchange of Toasts

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For Immediate Release November 22, 1999


Kempinski Hotel
Sofia, Bulgaria

9:10 P.M. (L)

PRESIDENT STOYANOV: Dear President Clinton, dear guests, ladies and gentlemen. May I once again say welcome to you, President Bill Clinton, and to the distinguished members of your delegation. (Applause.)

Mr. President, you are paying a visit to a country whose roots lie deep in the soul of the European civilization; and a people which has gone through trials and tribulations, but in the face of many difficulties has managed to keep its identity, its language, its religion and its culture intact. And, what is more important, it has kept its unquenchable thirst for a better life.

May I, Mr. President, through you, greet the people of the United States of America, who created a great republic of democracy. And here I will digress slightly from my pre-planned notes and recall a book which I came across as a child. I leafed through its yellow pages, an interesting book by an even more interesting poet, Walt Whitman. In fact, what I'm going to quote from it is in prose and it's entitled -- it's his preface to "Leaves of Grass."

When I read this book, I was still a student, and I'm afraid I didn't quite appreciate the quality of the verse. But something else struck me in the preface, which was in prose. This is what the poet Walt Whitman wrote about the United States and its people. He said, "the genius of the United States is best, and always, expressed in its common people, and their definite attachment to freedom, the terrible significance of their elections, and the fact that the President takes off his hat to them, not they to him."

At that time, I couldn't even dream that I would ever be a President. But it struck me that at the moment when in Bulgaria fanatic communist ideology meant everything, and the human being was nothing, this work's lines, which impressed me very deeply, indeed.

Your visit here is not significant just because it's the first visit of a President of the United States of America to Bulgaria, but because it coincides and happens at a very important and significant moment for my country. A couple of hours ago, we celebrated and spoke about the lessons and the significance of the fall of the Berlin Wall. But indeed, the two events are closely interconnected, because had not communism left us, had not communism collapsed, Bulgaria and the United States would never have developed these relationships of trust, friendship and understanding.

It's difficult for me to speak about, and try to define the relations between small Bulgaria and the United States of America because, for 45 years, the communist regime daily pledged its love to the Soviet Union. It was an imposed love which was thrust upon us by force, and it had nothing to do with the affinity, with the friendly feelings which the Bulgarians felt for the Russian people.

Today, relations develop on a better, sounder basis, because the lasting friendship, trust and closeness between two people or two countries does not depend only on their love, on their mutual love; it rather is fostered by their mutual and common shared love for the same things, for the same values.

And something that we are facing today is the fact that we share the same set of values -- simple, at the same time great -- the values of democracy, the values of the freedom of the human spirit, of free enterprise, the rule of law, all those simple things which make life better.

Our countries, Mr. President, have had different historical paths. But sometimes they strangely intersected, and I will quote here, again, one historian, American, Bill Monroe, who wrote in 1914 a book, "Bulgaria And Her People." And there, he said, "Bulgaria is the only country in Europe in which the U.S.A. has played an important role in the development of a state." Indeed, it sounds strange, but it's a fact.

What Dr. Monroe meant were all those Bulgarians who received their education in Robert College in Istanbul, and who then laid the beginnings. This college bred a whole group of Bulgarian intellectuals, enlightened new Bulgarians who laid the beginnings of the new Bulgarian state after the liberation from the Ottoman Empire.

These were the same -- those same intellectuals who helped bring about the Bulgarian wonder about which another famous American, Theodore Roosevelt, wrote in 1912, saying that no other nation has struggled so far and so fast as Bulgaria in the past
-- in the last third of the century and, indeed, comparing Bulgaria with Japan.

Nowadays, I would never dare to compare or compete with a country -- compare our nation or compete with a country like Japan in the area of -- knowledge or labor productivity. But what one thing this shows, it shows that spirit which helped the Bulgarians at that time gain their success.

Trying to think of the final words of my toast, I leafed through a selection of American poems, and I found these most apt including words in a poem by Carlos Williams. His poem is entitled, "Spring In All," where he describes the miraculous appearance of the tender new plants above the Earth after a severe, hard and cold winter. They enter the new world naked, cold and certain of all fate that they enter, the stark dignity of entrance; still, the profound change has come upon them; rooted, they grit down and begin to awaken.

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to propose a toast to this awakening of the Bulgarian nation, this awakening for a new and better future. I would like to propose a toast to the relations between Bulgaria and the United States, and their development toward a better and more intensive state of development. I would like to propose a toast to you, President Clinton, and to the health of everybody here.

To your health.

(A toast was offered.) (Applause.)

PRESIDENT CLINTON: President Stoyanov, Mrs. Stoyanov; Prime Minister and Mrs. Kostov; distinguished government leaders; citizens of Bulgaria; our American friends. Mr. President, let me begin by thanking you for your warm welcome. This is a day that I will remember for the rest of my life. (Applause.) You gave my wife a memorable day here not so long ago, and our daughter and I had a wonderful time today in so many ways, a few of which I would like to mention.

But first let me begin with the time President Stoyanov came to the White House. Hillary and I welcomed him there a couple of years ago, and I was very interested in this young President of Bulgaria, so I read up on him.

He was only a little younger than me -- he looks much younger, but he's only a little. (Laughter.) He studied the law. His wife studied law. He's a father who likes to jog. He likes to read. He grew up listening to rock 'n' roll -- just like me. (Laughter.) The only difference I could find from our biographies is that he liked John Lennon and I liked Elvis. (Laughter.)

Earlier today on Nevsky Square I had the opportunity to speak to a vast and immensely impressive throng of Bulgarians about the new partnership we are forging for democracy, peace and prosperity.

Mr. President, as you pointed out in your remarks, the relationships between our two countries and our mutual admiration goes back quite a long while. Perhaps the best symbol of this is the American College here, which I learned, as I prepared to come, was actually first opened in the year Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States, 1860.

During the dark days after World War II, the college was closed. The war first brought its closure and then afterward, in the communist era its grounds were turned over to the secret police. But Americans and Bulgarians never lost faith that it would open again one day, because we never lost faith that Bulgaria would be free again one day.

A few years after the school reopened, our ambassador at the time, Ambassador Bohlen, took a trip to the famous Rila Monastery. And right before she left, the abbot came up to her and said, I have a secret to show you. They walked to a basement and there in a hidden place was the entire library of the American College, preserved for 50 years by the same monastery that helped to preserve Bulgarian language and culture for 500 years.

Just as those books were hidden deep in the heart of Bulgaria for half a century, there was an energy and creativity hidden deep in the heart of Bulgarians through all those same years. More than 100 years before the Renaissance began, Bulgarian thinkers and artists were already shaping the world.

Now, the energies and creativities of the Bulgarian people have been liberated again, and from now on, you will always be masters of your destiny -- neither vassals, nor victims to anyone. Now you're on a road that is often hard, but with a very happy destination. I believe it will lead you to prosperity, to peace, to security -- to being part of a Europe that is whole and free.

Tonight, I come here again to reaffirm the friendship and the partnership of the United States; our gratitude to you for being a symbol of freedom and determination. I come to offer a toast of respect and thanks.

I toast Bulgaria, its President and its leaders for casting your lot with freedom in spite of the pain of transition; for standing strongly with humanity in reversing ethnic cleansing, in spite of the sacrifices imposed; and having the courage to follow your dreams, and the vision to achieve them.

May Americans and Bulgarians always be friends and partners. Thank you.

(A toast was offered.) (Applause.)

END 9:35 P.M. (L)

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