This year marks the 100th birthday of President Ronald Reagan. During his eight years in office, from January 20, 1981-January 20, 1989, the world saw the beginnings of a wave of democracy that would bring freedom to millions.
Created by IRIGlobal on Jan 19, 2011
Last updated: 02/16/11 at 11:00 AM
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President Reagan gives his farewell address to the nation. In it he says, “We stood, again, for freedom…We meant to change a nation, and instead, changed a world.”Photo Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.
In a statement on the ninth anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Reagan says, “On April 14 in Geneva, the Soviet Union formally agreed to withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan by February 15, 1989. The agreement required that in the first stage the U.S.S.R. remove half of its forces from Afghanistan within 90 days – a task they met. I fully expect them to honor their obligation to withdraw completely by February 15.”
Seven years of diplomatic negotiations bear fruit with the agreed-upon withdrawal of 50,000 Cuban troops from Angola. Cuba, Angola and South Africa reach an agreement and sign the Tripartite Accords on the withdrawal after strong pressure from the Reagan Administration. Reagan praised the agreement for ending a major regional problem in American-Soviet relations. Ten days before he left the White House, the first contingent of Cuban troops departed from Angola on January 10, 1989.
President Reagan speaks to students at the University of Virginia about the advancement of democracy, stating “Consider for just a moment the striving for democracy that we have seen in places like the Philippines, Burma, Korea, Chile, Poland, South Africa – even places like China and the Soviet Union. One of the great, unnoticed – and yet most startling – developments of this decade is this: More of the world’s populace is today living in relative freedom than ever before in history; more and more nations are turning to freely elected democratic governments.” Photo Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.
Voters in Chile go to the polls to vote on whether General Augusto Pinochet would extent his rule or leave office at the end of his current term. The no vote wins with 55.99 percent, ending Pinochet’s military dictatorship. In December 1987, Congress had voted to give the National Endowment for Democracy $1 million to support the democratic opposition as the country prepared for the plebiscite. The support is critical to the success of the opposition. Photo Courtesy of the National Democratic Institute.
President Reagan issues a statement, on the anniversary of the Warsaw Pact’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. In the statement he says, “August 21, 1988, marks the 20th anniversary of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. That invasion put a brutal end to the so-called Prague Spring, during which the people of Czechoslovakia sought to implement political and economic reforms which would have moved their country away from tyranny and closer to its own democratic traditions.”
To keep attention on those struggling for freedom, President Reagan issues a statement on the 27th anniversary of the Berlin Wall, stating, “Free men and women everywhere take heart from the courage of the people of Berlin. Their determination to protect their outpost of freedom remains undaunted despite repeated challenges over the years from those who would deny their liberty and who fear their example.”
The 8888 Uprising reaches its climax in Burma with large scale protest across the county. The protests are violently crushed with thousands being killed. During the crisis, Aung San Suu Kyi emerges as the leader of the democracy movement.
President Reagan signs Proclamation 5840 declaring the week beginning July 17, 1988, as Captive Nations Week. In signing the proclamation, President Reagan says, “Despite decades of suffering, the will to freedom is alive. It has survived its tormentors. It will outlast the communists. And truly, I can think of no time in my adult life when the prospects for freedom were brighter than they are today. The free world is strong and confident. The communist idea is discredited and around the world new progressive forces are emerging as political change and liberation sweep the globe."
President Reagan meets with Soviet dissidents during his trip to Moscow for his fourth summit with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. In his remarks, President Reagan says, “Over the past 3 years more than 300 political and religious prisoners have been released from labor camps. Fewer dissidents and believers have been put in prisons and mental hospitals. And in recent months, more people have been permitted to emigrate or reunite with their families. The United States applauds these changes, yet the basic standards that the Soviet Union agreed to almost 13 years ago in the Helsinki accords, or a generation ago in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, still need to be met.” Photo Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.
President Reagan hosts Father Vladimir Shibayev, Reverend Matveiuk, Mykola Rudenko and Iosif Begun at the White House for a meeting on religious freedom in the Soviet Union. In welcoming them, President Reagan says, “The presence of these four men here today is testimony to the fact that our witness here in the West can have an impact. Some Soviet dissidents have been allowed to emigrate. Some churches are allowed to organize and file for recognition, and recently the Soviets have said they will allow a printing of language Bibles. These are encouraging signs, and we welcome them.”Photo Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.
In response to the government’s 40 percent increase in food prices, large demonstrations and strikes resume in Poland. The strikes grow and continue throughout the summer. This new wave of strikes, which would last until August, would finally push the communist regime to negotiate with Solidarity. On August 31, government officials meet with Lech Wałęsa bringing the strikes to an end. Video is a tribute to those who took part in the Solidarity Movement.
Calling for religious freedom, Catholic dissidents stage the first major protest in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia in what becomes known as the Candle Demonstration. Security forces respond with water cannon.
President Reagan names Cuban dissident and former political prisoner Armando Valladares as Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. On May 20, at the Cuban Independence Day ceremony, President Reagan will note that, “The birth of the Cuban Republic was the culmination of a long and arduous struggle, of revolts, political imprisonment, executions, and exile. Today that passion for a free Cuba remains alive in the hearts of thousands of Cubans everywhere. Cuban-Americans have demonstrated what a free people can accomplish unencumbered by tyranny, and I am confident that the time will come when the spirit of freedom will reign in Cuba itself.”
In Proclamation 5772 recognizing February 16, 1988 as Lithuanian Independence Day, President Reagan says, “We join in Lithuania’s proud and solemn remembrance of the 70th anniversary of its independence, and together with people the world over we share the spirit and the hope of the Lithuanian people as they commemorate that day.” In June, dissidents in Lithuania form Sajudis, an opposition movement that seeks the return of independence. Lithuanian protest during the Singing Revolution.
Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev announces withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan (The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism, p. 273). The Geneva Accords, the formal agreement outlining the time table for withdrawal, will be signed on April 14. President Reagan says of the accords, ““This development would not have been possible had it not been for the valiant struggle of the Afghan people to rid their country of foreign occupation.”
President Reagan issues a statement on the 44th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. In the statement, he says, “One of the principal human rights violators in the Western Hemisphere, Cuba, has escaped attention for many years, but no more. The United States sponsored a resolution last year asking that violations in Cuba be placed on the UNHRC agenda, and we will do so again this year.”
In his State of the Union address, President Reagan discussed the role the United States has to play in supporting democracy abroad, saying, “One of the greatest contributions the United States can make to the world is to promote freedom as the key to economic growth… This movement we see in so many places toward economic freedom is indivisible from the worldwide movement toward political freedom and against totalitarian rule. This global democratic revolution has removed the specter, so frightening a decade ago, of democracy doomed to permanent minority status in the world.”Photo Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.
In a statement on the eighth anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Reagan says, “The people of Afghanistan have, as much as any people in history, won the right to freedom and independence. We applaud their commitment and steadfastness, for their cause is the cause of free people everywhere. Let us pray that in the year to come a free and independent Afghanistan will again take its place among the community of nations.”
Workers in Ljubljana, Slovenia go on strike demanding the right to establish an independent trade union. The leaders of the strike form the Social Democratic Party of Slovenia. This event is considered the beginning of political pluralization in Slovenia. The following May, the Slovenian Spring movement begins in Ljubljana, establishing the foundation for political change in that region; it goes largely unnoticed by international observers. Photo from a protest during the Slovenian Spring.
In advance of Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit to the United States, President Reagan meets with human rights supporters at the White House. In his remarks, President Reagan commits to the group that, “although we’re making a serious effort to improve relations between the Soviet Union and the United States, we will not do it by compromising our national interests or diminishing our commitment to the universality of human rights.” Photo Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.
In what will become known as the Braşov Rebellion, strikes and anti-government riots break out in Braşov, Romania; some 300 people are detained. Monument to those who dies in Braşov.
President Reagan speaks to the people of Europe via WORLDNET and Voice of America. In his remarks, President Reagan says, “Earlier in this century, during a time when fascism and communism were on the rise, there were those who believed that the light of democracy might well be extinguished. It was feared that the era of representative government, of political and economic freedom, would prove to be a short interlude of history and would disappear just as the democracy of Greece and the Roman republic had vanished. Well, our cause may have seemed precariously perched, fragile, and without the power projected by strutting troops and mass political spectacles; but it should be clear now that the courage and resilience of free people are too easily underestimated, as is our resolve to cooperate, to see a common purpose, and to act together in our own defense.” Photo Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.
In his weekly radio address, President Reagan discusses the anniversary of the Berlin Wall saying, “It takes more than walls and guns to imprison the human spirit. In the last 26 years, almost 5,000 people have broken through this barrier and fled to freedom. Some tunneled under the wall. Some rigged ropes and pulleys to glide over it. Some ran trucks through checkpoints. Some simply ran on foot across what officials in the Soviet bloc call a ‘modern border’ and the people of Berlin call the ‘death strip.’ At least 74 men and women have died in that race for freedom.”Memorial to victims.
President Reagan signs Proclamation 5680 declaring the week beginning on July 19, 1987, as Captive Nations Week. In the proclamation, President Reagan says, “For nearly three decades Captive Nations Week has symbolized the American people's solidarity with all throughout the world who courageously seek freedom and independence from Soviet domination. During this week, we recall that the liberties we enjoy are denied to many by the Soviet empire; and we publicly affirm our admiration for captive nations, who keep the light of freedom burning brightly as they oppose military occupation and brutal totalitarian oppression.”
The Circle of Polish-Czech-Slovak Solidarity Friends is established. The declaration was signed by democratic dissidents from both countries, including Václav Havel, Petr Uhl, Ján Čarnogurský, Jacek Kuroń, Zbigniew Romaszewski and Zbigniew Bujak (History of Polish-Czech-Slovak Solidarity). The group’s creation begins in October 1981 when members of Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia and Solidarity in Poland begin to meet and exchange information about democratic ideas and repression against dissidents in the two countries.
Taiwan’s President Chiang Ching-Kuo lifts martial law after 38 years, allowing for the formation of opposition political parties, ending media censorship and paving the way for Taiwan’s transition from a military dictatorship to a multi-party democracy. Protest demanding the end of martial law.
President Reagan travels to West Berlin to celebrate the 750th anniversary of the city. In his historic speech at the Brandenburg Gate in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, President Reagan uttered his famous challenge to Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, “There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”Photo Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.
Following South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan’s statement to protect the constitution that prohibited the direct election of president, South Koreans take to the street in what becomes known as the June Democracy Movement. On June 19, President Reagan sends a personal letter to Hwan urging him to pursue peaceful solutions to the protests. The protests end when Presidential candidate Roh Tae Woo (the hand-picked successor of Hwan) announces that, if elected, he will implement wide-ranging reforms, including a more democratic constitution and popular election of the president. His announcement puts South Korea on the path to democracy.
President Reagan announces that economic sanctions imposed against the communist regime in Poland have been lifted due to the regimes release of political prisoners and their willingness to negotiate with the leaders of the Solidarity Movement. Upon lifting the sanctions, President Reagan says, “Symbolic gestures were not enough. Economic and other sanctions were imposed on Poland in response to the repression that descended on the Polish people as a result of martial law. Our message was that America would not passively stand by while a grand experiment in freedom was brutally smashed in Poland. If the Polish Government wanted a decent relationship with the United States, we made it clear they would have to lift martial law, release the political prisoners, and enter into a real political dialog with Polish society.” Photo of the original demands written on wooden table tops by striking shipyard workers in Gdańsk.
In a statement on the seventh anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Reagan says, “As long as the Soviets and their Afghan surrogates continue to wage a war which threatens extermination of an entire people, that people will have the support of the international community – and our support – for their resistance. The tragedy in Afghanistan makes it clear that none of us can take our own freedom for granted. All free nations must do what they can to preserve liberty from assault. Let us pledge at this joyless anniversary marking 7 years of Soviet occupation to renew our efforts in seeking together a free and independent Afghanistan and peace on Earth.” Unknown at the time, the Soviet Politburo has its first serious discussion about the need to withdraw on November 13.
President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev hold their second summit in Reykjavik, Iceland. Following the summit, President Reagan discusses the meeting in an address to the nation in which he says, “We proposed the most sweeping and generous arms control proposal in history. We offered the complete elimination of all ballistic missiles – Soviet and American – from the face of the Earth by 1996. While we parted company with this American offer still on the table, we are closer than ever before to agreements that could lead to a safer world without nuclear weapons.”Photo Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.
Polish government declares amnesty for Solidarity activists and Lech Wałęsa officially reconstitutes Solidarity as an independent union.Photo shows Polish police arresting activists.
President Reagan issues a statement on the 25th anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall. In the statement, he says, “After 25 years, the Berlin Wall remains as terrible as ever: Watched night and day by armed guards in towers, the ground between barriers floodlit and patrolled by dogs. Those seeking freedom still attempt to cross the death strip in a burst for liberty. The Berlin Wall is tragic testimony to the failure of totalitarian governments. It is the most visible sign of the unnatural division of Germany and of Europe – a division which cruelly separates East from West, family from family, and friend from friend.”
President Reagan signs Proclamation 5512 declaring the week beginning July 20, 1986, Captive Nations Week. In signing the proclamation, President Reagan says, "When we approach our dealings with communist governments and the governments of other countries where freedom is under assault, we do so knowing that we have a special responsibility. We must not only be mindful to our own interests, but we must also keep faith with those millions of souls who live under oppression.”
For the first time, President Reagan’s administration sponsors a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Commission that is critical of Chile’s human rights record. The resolution calls on the government of Chile to “stop the use of torture and the abuse of human rights by security and police forces and to put in place democratic institutions.” (Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State, p. 971-972) Photos of people who disappeared in Chile.
Human rights activist and dissident Natan Sharansky is released from a Soviet prison and flown to Israel. On May 13, Sharansky meets President Reagan at the White House.Photo Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.
The Philippines holds its presidential election that sees Corazon Aquino challenge President Ferdinand Marcos. Bowing to international pressure, Marcos opens the election to domestic and international monitors. The International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute monitor the elections and train domestic groups on monitoring and parallel vote counting. The parallel vote counts show Aquino winning, but official government agencies claim the election for Marcos. On February 15, President Reagan says in a statement, “Although our observation delegation has not yet completed its work, it has already become evident, sadly, that the elections were marred by widespread fraud and violence perpetrated largely by the ruling party.” Despite losing the election, Marcos refuses to admit defeat and thousands take to the streets in what comes to be known as the People Power Revolution. On February 25, Marcos concedes and Corazon Aquino is sworn-in as president of the Philippines. On September 17, President Reagan meets with President Aquino at the White House. In his remarks following the meeting, President Reagan says, “Her courage and her commitment to democracy, mirroring those same qualities in the Filipino people, have inspired the world, and it’s been an honor to have her as our guest.”Photo Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.
In a statement on the sixth anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Reagan says, “When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan 6 long and bloody years ago, few in the West knew much about that distant land and its proud people. That certainly has changed, as the Afghan people, in their determination to defend their liberty, have added new chapters to the long anal of human courage in the face of tyranny. Forged in a similar crucible two centuries ago, the United States stands squarely on the side of the people of Afghanistan and will continue its support of their historic struggle in the cause of liberty.”
President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev meet for the first time at the Summit in Geneva. This was the first of four summits between the two leaders, which ultimately results in historic agreements on the reduction of nuclear arms. Two days later, President Reagan will address a Joint Session of Congress saying, “We discussed human rights. We Americans believe that history teaches no clearer lesson than this: Those countries which respect the rights of their own people tend, inevitably, to respect the rights of their neighbors. Human rights, therefore, is not an abstract moral issue. It is a peace issue.” Photo Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.
President Reagan addresses the 40th Session of the United Nations. In his remarks, President Reagan outlines his hope for progress with the Soviet Union stating, “In Geneva, the first meeting between our heads of government in more than 6 years, Mr. Gorbachev and I will have that opportunity. So, yes, let us go to Geneva with both sides committed to dialog. Let both sides go committed to a world with fewer nuclear weapons, and some day with none. Let both sides go committed to walk together on a safer path into the 21st century and to lay the foundation for enduring peace. It is time, indeed, to do more than just talk of a better world. It is time to act. And we will act when nations cease to try to impose their ways upon others. And we will act when they realize that we, for whom the achievement of freedom has come dear, will do what we must to preserve it from assault.”
President Reagan meets Polish labor leader Jerzy Milewski. Milewski thanks President Reagan for his support for the Solidarity Movement and the Polish people. In a statement following the meeting, President Reagan says, “I continue to believe that a genuine dialog between the government and important elements of society, including free and independent trade unions, is the only way to solve Poland’s serious problems. The release of political detainees would certainly be a prerequisite, both for improving conditions within Poland and for pursuing that country's relations abroad.”Photo Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.
President Reagan meets with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze to discuss human rights, security and arms control matters. Photo Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.
President Reagan signs Executive Order 12532, prohibiting trade and other transactions involving the apartheid government in South Africa. Upon signing the order, President Reagan says, "The system of apartheid means deliberate, systematic, institutionalized racial discrimination, denying the black majority their God-given rights. America’s view of apartheid is simple and straightforward: We believe it’s wrong. We condemn it, and we’re united in hoping for the day when apartheid will be no more." On October 1, President Reagan adds the prohibition of the import of the krugerrand in signing Executive Order 12535. Photo Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.
President Reagan issues a statement recognizing the fifth anniversary of the Solidarity Movement in Poland. In it, President Reagan says, “Despite all oppressive measures, provocations, imprisonment, police brutality, and even killings, this, the only free trade union in the entire communist world, has continued its struggle by peaceful means to persuade its government to provide all elements of the society a role in shaping Poland’s destiny.”
President Reagan issues a statement recognizing the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. In the statement, President Reagan says, “In 1975 President Ford affirmed the support of the United States for the universal standards of international conduct and the fundamental human freedoms contained in the Helsinki Final Act. Today I reaffirm our commitment to those principles and our equally firm dedication to give them meaning in the daily lives of all citizens whose governments have undertaken the obligations contained in the Helsinki Final Act.”Pictured left to right: Chancellor of Federal Republic of Germany Helmut Schmidt, Chairman of the Council of State of the German Democratic Republic Erich Honecker, U.S. President Gerald Ford and Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky sign the Helsinki Accords. Photo Courtesy German Federal Archive.
President Reagan signs Proclamation 5357 declaring the week beginning July 21, 1985, Captive Nations Week. In the proclamation, he states, “We are all aware of those many nations that are the victims of totalitarian ideologies, ruthless regimes, and occupying armies. These are the nations held captive by forces hostile to freedom, independence, and national self-determination. Their captivity and struggle against repression require a special courage and sacrifice.”
President Reagan addresses the Annual Conference of the Council of the Americas. In his speech, President Reagan says, “Four-and-a-half years ago when we picked up the mantle, I fully understood that if our southern neighbors were to live in peace and be spared the tragedy of communist dictatorship, we must have a balanced policy on Latin America. Our strategy's been based on four mutually reinforcing elements. We’ve been seeking to help bolster the development of democratic institutions, to improve the living conditions of the people and restore economic growth, to provide security assistance and thwart communist-supported subversion and aggression, to find realistic diplomatic solutions to conflict in the region.”
President Reagan issues a statement on the continuing exile of Andrei Sakharov and human rights in the Soviet Union. In it, he says, “As we honor Dr. Sakharov today and rededicate ourselves to the values of peace, freedom, and justice that he represents, we do so with solemn awareness that for more than 1 year, he and his brave wife, Yelena Bonner, have been cut off from all direct contact with family or friends in the West." It will be more than a year before Sakharov and his wife Yelena will be allowed to return to their home in Moscow in December 1986. In March 14, 1988, President Reagan will welcome Sakharov to the White House.Photo is from March 14 meeting. Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.
Mikhail Gorbachev assumes power in the USSR. Following Gorbachev’s first trip to Britain as General Secretary, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously said, “I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together.” Photo Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.