PRAGUE, NOV. 17 -- President Bush, greeted here by tens of thousands of flag-waving Czechoslovaks, joined in a moving celebration today of this nation's freedom with a call to the international community to join in common cause to resist Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.
Noting the swift condemnation of the Iraqi invasion by Czechoslovakia, which was dismembered in 1938 in a British and French policy of appeasement toward Nazi Germany, Bush told a vast crowd gathered in Wenceslas Square: "It is no coincidence that appeasement's lonely victim half a century ago should be among the first to understand that there is right and there is wrong. There is good and there is evil. And there are sacrifices worth making."
The theme of resisting appeasement ran through the president's public statements today, along with repeated pledges that Washington will not abandon Czechoslovakia as it struggles with its emerging democracy a year after its "Velvet Revolution" ended Communist rule.
No more than a tiny fraction of the emotional crowd crammed into the half-mile-long square could catch sight of Bush, who was ensconced in a brightly lit, three-sided, bulletproof glass box. Framed by a violet twilight sky and the grimy, baroque splendor of the national museum, it looked from a distance like an aquarium or a fluorescent nativity scene, correspondent Mary Battiata, who was in the crowd, reported. But loudspeakers echoed Bush's words through the crowd standing shoulder-to-shoulder, perched in treetops and crammed into sidestreets.
Estimates of the crowd, the largest Bush has faced as president, ranged from more than 100,000 to 250,000. It was the first time a U.S. president has visited this country.
At the speech's end, a chorus of local singers serenaded the hushed thousands with "We Shall Overcome," the American civil rights song that became the anthem of protesters who succeeded in toppling the Communists a year ago today.
A beaming Bush ended his speech by ringing a replica of America's Liberty Bell and telling the crowd, some with tears streaming down their cheeks, "When bells ring in Wenceslas Square, or in Bratislava or anywhere in this glorious country, think of this bell and know that all bells are tolling for your precious liberty, now and forever."
Bush, surrounded by a wall of Secret Service agents, then joined President Vaclav Havel in a brief, handshaking foray into the front rows of well-wishers. Chants of "Long Live Bush" and "Bush, Havel" erupted through the crowd.
After leaving the square, Bush was forced to wait nearly a half-hour in Hradcany Castle, the seat of government, because the crowds had washed over barriers into his motorcade route. Swarms of spectators lined the streets along Bush's routes throughout the day, waving tiny Czechoslovak and U.S. flags.
While Bush was upbeat in his 20-minute speech, Havel was gloomy. "Today we are standing here somewhat embarrassed," he said. "We know very well what we still have to accomplish and the question springing up to mind is why do we find it so difficult to launch our joint project off the ground?"
He said "dissatisfaction, nervousness, insecurity and disillusionment are widespread" a year after the revolution, because the promises of democracy have not been quickly fulfilled. "Rancor, rivalry, mutual denigration, envy and boundless ambition are . . . ever more obvious at every turn."
Havel made reference to the nationalistic rivalries erupting here between the Czechs and the Slovaks and to the country's economic struggles, made worse by rising oil prices resulting from the Persian Gulf crisis. But, on an optimistic note, Havel said he was convinced that "tolerance, decency and common sense" would triumph in Czechoslovakia, and reminded his countrymen that they should take heart from the example of the United States, which overcame crises at its founding and "developed into a powerful citadel of democracy."
Bush arrived here, the first stop on a weeklong tour of Europe and the Middle East, after an overnight flight from Washington. From his first words, he invoked parallels between the appeasement that preceded the unopposed Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 and Iraq's invasion of Kuwait Aug. 2. The overarching goal of this trip is to solidify the international coalition against Saddam to force him to withdraw.
In remarks to the country's Federal Assembly, Bush said the gulf crisis "is a warning to America as well as to Europe that we cannot turn inward, somehow isolate ourselves from global challenges."
The president recalled the Nazi takeover of Czechoslovakia when he noted, "You know from your own bitter experience that the world cannot turn a blind eye to aggression," adding, "You know the tragic consequences when nations, confronted with aggression, choose to tell themselves it is no concern of theirs, just a 'quarrel in a faraway country between a people of whom we know nothing.' "
The quote is from Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who, at the September 1938 Munich conference, agreed with France and Italy to give in to Adolf Hitler's demands that Czechoslovakia cede its western border area -- the Sudetenland -- to Nazi Germany in an attempt to keep the peace.
Emboldened by this policy of appeasement, Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. The Allies' refusal to oppose him in Czechoslovakia then encouraged Hitler to invade Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, the act that finally triggered World War II.
Bush also said the United States "must resist the temptation to consider our work complete" with the democratic revolution that swept Eastern Europe last year, and must join in a "commonwealth of freedom" consisting of new and old democracies united against acts such as Saddam's.
"Good will prevail," he said, referring to the gulf crisis. "The darkness in the desert sky cannot stand against the way of light."
Although Bush promised that the United States "will not forget" Czechoslovakia, he offered little additional aid. The president said that he would ask Congress for a $60 million "enterprise fund," similar to ones approved for Poland and Hungary, and noted that the United States has asked the International Monetary Fund to increase to $5 billion its lending to Central and Eastern Europe to cope with increased energy prices. Bush also cited legislation granting the country most-favored-nation trading status with the United States.
Asked later at a news conference whether the United States is prepared to increase direct assistance, the president said what Czechoslovakia needs is international lending, increased private investment and technical assistance, not increased direct aid, and that the two leaders had discussed these issues.
The president used the questions on Czechoslovakia's economy to raise the issue of the gulf again. Bush noted, "One thing that is very clear is that what Saddam Hussein has done . . . is devastating to the economies of Eastern Europe" because of higher energy costs.