June 22, 2006

Bush Says Hungary Is Example for Iraq

By Tabassum Zakaria

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary's success in sweeping away communist rule decades after the Soviet Union crushed a bloody uprising in 1956 is a shining example for Iraq to follow, President George W. Bush said on Thursday.

"Hungary represents the triumph of liberty over tyranny," Bush said in a speech on a hill from where Soviet troops fired on the Hungarian capital Budapest to put down the revolt.

Just weeks before Bush visits Russia amid U.S. concern that Moscow is backsliding on democracy, he praised Hungary as a "beacon of liberty" in a speech delivered at the heart of a region that was under Moscow's control for decades.

He compared Iraq's struggle to develop into a democracy to Hungary's effort to bring down communist rule 50 years ago and said Iraqis would need the same kind of patience as Hungarians as they try to establish a thriving democracy.

"Hungary is now a valued member of NATO and the European Union. You know that the democratic journey is not easy but you continue to make the tough decisions that are necessary to succeed," he said.

"The lesson of the Hungarian experience is clear -- liberty can be delayed but it cannot be denied."

Aides said Bush's comments were not a signal to Russia, although he will attend a summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations in St Petersburg next month.

But his remarks on the difficulty of building democracy were clearly relevant to the Middle East, where Washington hopes a stable, democratic Iraq will serve as an example for the region.


Bush noted that he had met Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki last week in Baghdad.

"Hungarians will recognize his spirit. Prime Minister Maliki is committed to the democratic ideals that also inspired Hungarian patriots in 1956 and 1989. He has a sound plan to improve security, to unify his people and deliver a better life for the citizens of Iraq," he said.

He said Iraq's young democracy still faced violent threats and "determined enemies" after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

"Defeating these enemies will require sacrifices and continued patience, the kind of patience the good people of Hungary displayed after 1956," he said.

Bush said the United States would help them rebuild their country, adding: "We will continue to help Iraq take its rightful place alongside America and Hungary as beacons of liberty in our world."

Bush visited Budapest at the end of a brief trip to Europe that highlighted improving ties with the EU, which Hungary joined in 2004, and the importance of democracy after years of Soviet control of central and eastern Europe.

Bush laid flowers at a monument to the 1956 uprising outside parliament and stood before it with his wife in remembrance.

Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said he and Bush had discussed calls to relax U.S. rules which exclude citizens of nine of the bloc's 10 new member states, including Hungary, from visa waivers enjoyed by most of its other 15 member states.

"I understand this is a difficult issue ... We have developed a roadmap to work through this issue," Bush said.

Bush's only other stop was Vienna, where he took part in a U.S.-EU summit dominated by Iran, North Korea, global trade and EU concerns about the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Bush headed home on Thursday evening.