US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stressed to Russian university students Wednesday that their country's prosperity was dependent on its willingness to cultivate core freedoms, including the freedom to participate in the political process.
"Citizens must be empowered to help formulate the laws under which they live," she told about 2,000 students at Moscow State University. "They need to know that their investments of time, money and intellectual property will be safeguarded by the institutions of government."
Clinton is wrapping up a five-day tour of Europe with a series of informal meetings in Moscow and the Russian republic of Tatarstan aimed at helping redefine US-Russian relations.
Her message to the students appeared aimed in part at countering the fears of Russia's beleaguered liberal democrats that the US would no longer seek to hold the Kremlin accountable for the rollback of democracy and violations of human rights in exchange for Russia's cooperation on Iran and Afghanistan.
"In an innovative society, people must be free to take unpopular positions, disagree with conventional wisdom, know they are safe to challenge abuses of authority," Clinton said.
"That's why attacks on journalists and human rights defenders here in Russia is such a great concern: because it is a threat to progress," she said, standing in front of a monumental Soviet mosaic topped by a red hammer and sickle, the showcase of the university auditorium.
Clinton told the students that one of the books that most affected her life was "The Brothers Karamazov" by Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, in particular the parable of the Grand Inquisitor, which she saw as "an object lesson against servitude."
"I believe one of the greatest responsibilities we have as human beings is to open ourselves up to the possibility that we could be wrong," she said. "One of the greatest threats we face is from people who believe they are absolutely, certainly right about everything and they have the only truth and it was passed onto them by God."
In closing, Clinton returned to a favorite theme of US President Barack Obama's - the need to move past the Cold War - as she called for a feeling of partnership between Russians and Americans.
"I chose partnership and I chose to put aside being a child of the Cold War. I chose to move beyond the rhetoric and the propaganda that came from my government and yours," she said. "I chose a different future and that's a choice every one of us can make every single day and I look forward to sharing that future with you."
The students responded with polite applause.
Prior to the meeting with students, Clinton attended the unveiling of a statue of the American poet Walt Whitman on the university's campus.
"Just as Pushkin and Whitman reset poetry we are resetting our relations for the 21st century," Clinton said. A statue of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin was placed at George Washington University, in Washington, DC, in 2000.
Later, Clinton was traveling to Kazan, the capital of religiously and ethnically diverse Tatarstan, east of Moscow.
Clinton said she chose Kazan because she heard it's a beautiful city where Muslims and Orthodox Christians live peacefully together. "I want to see that for myself and hear how successful that has been," she said in an interview on Ekho Moskvy radio Wednesday.
She will be the first secretary of state ever to visit Kazan, which bills itself as Russia's third capital, and Tatarstan, an oil-rich moderate Muslim-majority republic that is often hailed as a model of multicultural tolerance.
Clinton returns to Washington late Wednesday.