Bush compares fall of communism to democratic elections in Iraq and sends his regards to Vaclav Havel

US President George W. Bush (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin, photo: CTK

On Thursday, the US President, George Bush, visited Bratislava to hold one of the most anticipated meetings during his five-day trip to Europe. Mr Bush met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and with the backing of his advisors and senior politicians back home and in Europe called on the Russian president to reassert his commitment to democracy in Russia. Mr Bush also met with Slovak politicians, addressed a crowd of several thousand that had gathered on Hviezdoslav Square in Bratislava, and met various other people, including former Czechoslovak dissidents.

George Bush (left) and Vladimir Putin, photo: CTK
We have Rob Cameron on the line from Bratislava - Rob, how did Mr Bush's final day of his European tour go?

"Well, Dita it was a very, very busy day for President Bush. He started off by meeting senior Slovak officials - the Slovak President Ivan Gasparovic, and of course the Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda - and we should remind our listeners that Mr Bush and Mr Dzurinda do enjoy a close and personal friendship, especially because Slovakia has been a very firm ally of the United States over the war in Iraq.

"But of course the main meeting was with Mr Bush's Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. It was a very difficult meeting, primarily because they had a very long shopping list of things that they needed to discuss. They emerged from that meeting saying they had a very open, candid exchange of views and had actually reached some specific agreement on a number of issues such as Iran's nuclear programme, North Korea, Russia's entry into the World Trade Organisation and a whole host of other issues, and of course concerns that Russia is backsliding on democracy."

...and that's where most of us thought the amicable meeting between the two presidents, who call each other by their first names, would go sour and result in much chillier US-Russian relations. But it appears that Mr Bush was not as assertive and demanding as he initially intended to be...

George Bush (left) and Vladimir Putin, photo: CTK
"Concerns over Russia's alleged backsliding on democratic reforms, the rule of law, and press freedom, and so on, were set to dominate this summit. What actually emerged from the meeting was that Mr Putin said that Russia has made this transition to democracy and that there is no turning back. Mr Bush publicly seemed very satisfied with that. He said that Vladimir Putin is a man who, when he says 'yes' means 'yes', and when he says 'no' he means 'no', unlike some politicians who, when they say 'yes' they mean 'maybe' and when they say no they mean 'if'. Mr Bush says he was satisfied that Vladimir Putin had made a public commitment to preserving democracy in Russia. Of course Mr Putin's critics and the people who are pressurising Mr Bush back home in the United States won't be satisfied with that."

But Mr Bush's meeting with Putin was not the only event in Bratislava that was dominated by issues of freedom and democracy. Mr Bush also recalled the Velvet Revolution of 1989, through which the communist regime was brought down in Czechoslovakia before the country split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic some four years later. And on Radio Prague on Thursday, we also heard from the Czech writer and former dissident Ivan Klima, just before he was going to meet Mr Bush at a separate event, at which the US President sent his regards to the great Czech democracy and human rights advocate Vaclav Havel...

"It was freedom, really, which dominated Mr Bush's speech to the Slovak people. In the centre of Bratislava around lunchtime on Thursday, Mr Bush even compared Slovaks celebrating the fall of communism in 1989 to Iraqis holding up ink-stained fingers after the recent first democratic elections in Iraq. Mr Bush told the crowd that Slovakia had taken great risks for freedom.

"Mr Bush also met a group of what he described as freedom fighters from a number of countries around the world such as Ukraine, Georgia, and of course from the former Czechoslovakia and among them was the writer Ivan Klima and former Ambassador to the United States Alexandr Vondra, both of whom played a role in the fall of communism in the country in 1989. Freedom and liberty really played a key role in Mr Bush's trip to Slovakia."