AMBASSADOR KATE BYRNES’
INDEPENDENCE DAY REMARKS
Good evening, Добровечер, Mirëmbrëma,
Thank you for joining us tonight for this virtual celebration of the 245th anniversary of the independence of the United States of America.
For the second time we have decided to hold some of our celebrations on-line. While the situation with COVID is far better today than one year ago, we are not yet at the end of the tunnel—but we can see light.
One significant benefit from the virtual nature of this event is that we can invite all of you to participate in tonight’s program.
Franklin Roosevelt, our longest serving president and one who knew his share of crises, once said that “a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” He knew what he was talking about. He overcame paralysis brought on by polio, assumed the presidency in the midst of the Great Depression, and through leadership and determination led the country out of that crisis and then on to victory in World War II.
Both of our countries, along with the rest of the world, have gone through enormous challenges this past year and a half – not the Great Depression, perhaps, and certainly not a cataclysmic world war, but nevertheless an unprecedented global tragedy that has taken the lives of millions and upended nearly all of our lives.
Yet this crisis also brought out the best in people, and helped us all look past our busy and cluttered existence. It taught us to have a greater appreciation for the things we had taken for granted—taking your dog for a walk in the park, going out with your kids for ice cream, having dinner together as a family. We are also now more firmly bound together, all of us possessing that special sense of understanding, of empathy, that can only come from shared experience.
I would now like to take a moment to pause in reflection, out of respect for all of the victims of this pandemic.
The best way we can honor those we have lost is to seize this unique opportunity before us today.
Recently, President Biden said that “we’ve reached an inflection point in world history— the moment where it falls to us to prove that democracies will not just endure, but they will excel as we rise to seize the enormous opportunities of a new age.”
Today, on this Independence Day, it certainly does feel like an inflection point. Thanks to the ingenuity and dedication of scores of doctors, scientists, and other experts, helped along by massive government investments in research and development, we now have vaccines that can protect us from COVID. And thanks to a strengthened spirit of cooperation among the world’s leading powers to confront this global challenge together, we are slowly able to begin resuming more normal lives again.
The Euro-Atlantic political and security framework designed after World War II solidified trust between long-time foes, removed walls of division and integrated economies for the future. Last month, the world’s largest economic powers and leading democracies came together to revitalize this spirit to meet head-on the inevitable challenges that will befall us. Today, the threats are more nebulous, in some ways less predictable, but that should not dissuade us from this task. Because “We can do this.”
One important step in seizing this opportunity is for democratic societies around the world to work to rebuild trust.
Trust is what makes democracies strong, but it is also their Achilles heels. Trust can strengthen a country’s resolve; attacking it can create fissures between and among us.
We are struggling with trust in my country, certainly. A year ago, I spoke in my Independence Day remarks about the efforts back home to bridge seemingly unbridgeable divisions, following the tragic death of George Floyd and the outpouring of protests for justice. Just recently, the police officer who killed—murdered, we must now say—Mr. Floyd was found guilty by a jury of his peers in our court system. That accountability represented a small step towards rebuilding trust in our institutions.
We see the deficit in trust around us here in the perception that political systems are unfair and corrupt, or the worry that citizens cannot rely on institutions, elected leaders and rule of law to guarantee their well-being. We know that more can be done to fight corruption and injustice.
To the leaders of this country, from the highest levels to the most local, both in office and in opposition, your actions matter. The short-term political gain from undermining faith in institutions and each other, walking out instead of talking, or fueling division rather than bridging it, has a long-term cost attached that is too high a price for any country to pay, and it plays into the hands of those external elements that seek to undermine the trust that forms the foundation of a stable democracy.
I can understand why some of you are frustrated. Progress can feel unbearably slow. It is also hard to see positive change when you are in the midst of it. But things here are changing—maybe not always at the pace we would like to see, but they are. You should have no doubt—your future lies unquestionably within an integrated Europe. We will stand right beside you, as we have for the past three decades, supporting your efforts to realize this goal.
Fortunately, you have a powerful weapon to bear. Your youth are the antidote to the pessimism and cynicism that manifests itself, in small ways and large, today. I have had the opportunity to witness what happens when your youth interact directly with their elected leaders. Whether virtually or in-person, when you hear for yourself how these talented youth talk about challenges of the day, their goals for the future, their love of their country and their desire to see it succeed, it is as inspiring as it is humbling. Uncensored, unfiltered, direct but courteous, these young voters are demonstrating their passion for a better life and their commitment to the future. This is what we should continue to aspire to.
Let me end my remarks by quoting another U.S. leader, Vice President Kamala Harris. At a ceremony a few weeks back, at the signing of the law marking as a federal holiday the day slaves in the last state in the Confederacy were freed following our Civil War, she said “We have come far, and we have far to go, but today is a day of celebration.”
We have made huge strides together, your country and mine, as allies and as friends. While there is always more to do, we should reflect on that progress, and look at this moment in history as one of those great periods of disruption that lay before us new opportunities to define our tomorrow and build that shared future that we seek.
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