On July 17, 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a proclamation declaring the third week of July “Captive Nations Week” for that year and every year “until such time as freedom and independence shall have been achieved for all the captive nations of the world.” At the time, Eisenhower was condemning the unjust and oppressive Soviet regime and lending a voice to those countries trapped under Soviet rule. The threat of the Soviet Union no longer exists today. Still, we have celebrated Captive Nations Week every year since 1959, and are doing so this year, because, unfortunately, threats to freedom persist today.
President Obama released a beautiful proclamation this week that extols the value of liberty and the power of the American commitment to the ideals of democracy and freedom at home and abroad.
Since our earliest days, the United States has worked to uphold the rights enshrined in our founding documents. The ideals that sparked our revolution find their truest expression in democracy, and our enduring belief in the right to self-govern is not limited to our borders — we believe the human impulse toward freedom is universal. During Captive Nations Week, we recognize the inherent dignity of all people, and we renew our support for those struggling under oppressive regimes and striving to secure the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity.
Though the President acknowledges the progress the world has made towards peace and freedom since the first Captive Nations Week, he states that the ideal of freedom for all peoples still eludes us. He notes the political oppression of Ukraine, the devastation of war in Syria, the growth of the Islamic State, and the continuing human rights violations in Cuba.
President Obama affirms the commitment of the United States to freedom and justice at home and abroad and calls for Americans to “lead by example” in the constant fight for a more perfect world.
We will continue to stand for equality and dignity beyond our borders and encourage economic and political reforms that foster democracy. And we remain dedicated to leading and working with others to build security, prosperity, and justice, and to fighting for any person still suffering under the grasp of tyranny.
This week, Americans must stand in solidarity with those who live under the crushing thumb of oppression and speak out against tyranny and despotism wherever it persists. We must constantly remind ourselves that there are those whose hearts still yearn for liberty and continue the long battle for freedom that started in this country more than 200 years ago.
As President Eisenhower said in 1944, “Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed—else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die. “
Let us today and everyday seek to earn and refresh freedom everywhere so as to cultivate it for this generation and preserve it for the next.