June 30, 2015
U.S. Ambassadors’ residence
Vítám Vás na oslavě našeho státního svátku [Welcome to the celebration of our national holiday].
Senate President Štěch, Ambassador Kmoníček, government ministers, fellow diplomats and distinguished guests…
My wife Tamar and I are so pleased to welcome you all to this celebration marking the 239th year since the United States declared itself an independent democracy. It is wonderful to celebrate our nation’s birth with one of the United States’ truest friends and allies, a country with its own remarkable history of fighting for independence, the Czech Republic.
Americans and Czechs fought for their freedom at different times, but with the same goals. We wanted democracy, security, human rights, and individual freedom. Our founding fathers, George Washington and Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, Thomas Jefferson and Václav Havel – along with the men and women who supported them – all held the same spirit and resolve to reach these goals.
As friends, we are committed to defending our hard fought freedoms and to defending a Europe free, whole and at peace.
This is a special honor for me as it is my first Independence Day here in Prague as the Ambassador representing the United States. As I look back on the very short time I have been in the Czech Republic, I see a partnership that has endured over the past 25 years and that continues to strengthen and to grow.
I can safely say that our security relationship is very strong, our economic relationship is becoming even bigger, and the values that we share continue to undergird everything we do together.
As NATO allies, we work together to defend our common values against aggressors who threaten our peace and security in Europe. On Ukraine, your government has stood with us against those who threaten Ukraine’s aspiration to be free, prosperous, and secure.
Earlier this year, I watched with pride as tens of thousands of Czech citizens braved the cold and the rain to cheer on Operation Dragoon Ride, the convoy. The response to that convoy showed how much the Czech people shared NATO’s goals.
Last month, I also had the opportunity to visit our U.S. and Czech soldiers at Bagram Air Force base and in Kabul who are protecting our freedom in Afghanistan. A little over a year ago – on July 8 – five of your soldiers gave their lives in that effort. I want to tell you that the people of the United States are profoundly grateful for those sacrifices. And here today, are some of your wounded warriors who with the benefit of improved science and technology can share this day with us. For this, we give thanks.
On a less somber note, I’m pleased to report that our economic relationship is also progressing. We see the benefits from the growth in bilateral trade to $6.6 billion and an increase of over 125% in exports, for both of our countries, in the last five years.
I can’t discuss U.S.-Czech relations without mentioning our shared values. I am so gratified to see the Czech government’s continuing strong commitment to the advancement of democracy and human rights around the world.
And this includes both of our communities’ commitment to promoting greater tolerance of disadvantaged groups including the LGBT community and the Roma. In the U.S. this year will mark the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, which provides equal access and opportunities in employment for disabled persons, as well as other important protections. We welcome and honor many guests who continue the struggle for disability rights, as well as businesses that work to provide employment opportunities to disabled persons. One such company is the Elias workshop, which has a booth here today. I encourage all of you to visit their booth and to learn more about the important work they do.
Prague is a marvelous city, but you can’t get to know a country from its capital alone, so in the ten months that I’ve been here I’ve also made a point of getting out and visiting other cities and regions: I’ve to Brno, Ostrava, Olomouc, Zlín, Ústí, Hradec Králové, Pilsen, and more. It’s been wonderful, and I intend to continue to travel throughout this great country.
In closing, I have to observe that today is also very special for me because of my Czech roots. My mother lived a few hundred meters from here as a little girl, in a building that still stands: the Skleňák dům. I drive by her apartment every day on my way to work – to the US Embassy which issued the visa that saved my mother’s life. I’ve also had the chance to travel to places where my ancestors lived and worked. Coming full circle like this has made an already extraordinary experience even more so. I only wish my mother had taught me a little more Czech!
It is truly a privilege to be here an Ambassador of one of the greatest countries in the world, and also to have roots in another truly great country, the Czech Republic.
Happy Independence Day to all. Děkuji Vám za pozornost [Thank you for your attention]. Enjoy the afternoon.