Lord Mayor, Lord Weidenfeld, Mr. Ambassador, ladies and gentlemen,
To those of you responsible for my receiving this honour today, I would like to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for placing me among people who have pursued their own paths in their own entirely unique and important ways. Yet their paths were different from the one I was destined to follow. I would like to thank you, Mr. Ambassador, for the speech you delivered. Indeed, there is a fateful bond between our two peoples, a bond that became clear to me in a very special way in 1989. In 12 days, it will be 20 years since I gave my annual speech at the United Nations calling for German unity. In that speech, I particularly addressed the foreign minister of the new Poland, Krzysztof Skubiszewski. I said: “I turn now to you, Foreign Minister Skubiszewski, to the foreign minister of the new Poland. I would like to say to you that the Polish people can live without anxiety, that we will never question the border between our countries. Instead, we seek a shared future in Europe.” I said this to express my respect for the women and men in Poland who, at that time, had assumed responsibility under the most difficult of conditions. But I also said it in light of emerging developments that were moving Germany towards reunification. That was a point when the Polish people had a right to know how the German people envisioned their shared future and within what borders.
Today, ladies and gentlemen, Poland is a member of the European Union and the Western alliance. Something that we can describe with good reason as the great European revolution of freedom has been completed.
There were many uprisings and revolutions in the years after the Second World War, for example, on the 17th of June, 1953 in the GDR, in 1956 in Hungary, in 1968 in Czechoslovakia – the latter both crushed by Soviet tanks – and time and again in Poland. If we are to speak about 1989, about the courage, the special nature and conviction of people who stood up for freedom and democracy, I would like to mention a man who was – like you, Mr. Ambassador – a Pole. The man I am speaking of is Pope John Paul II, who made a significant contribution to reunifying Germany and Europe through his exceptional authority and the way he used this authority to promote peace and understanding. (…)
What took place at that time was the healing of divisions, divisions not only between Germany and Europe but really throughout the entire world. We did not arrive at the end of history, as one American author claimed. Instead, a new chapter in world history – and, more specifically, in European history – was opened. (…)Today we are confronted with the task of shaping a new world order. If this world order is to be stable and foster peace, it must be based on those values that we in Europe have learned as the lesson of European history, a lesson learned in 1945 and the years that followed. (…)
Perhaps it was a whim of history that determined that our European Community founders were to be three smaller and three larger states – but it was a good one. The larger had to learn to negotiate with the smaller ones on the basis of parity and equality.
We have just heard a most impressive speech on the coexistence of religions, of individuals and of peoples. Every nation has its own dignity, and respecting this dignity is the precondition for peaceful coexistence. That is the secret, the key to understanding why the new Europe has succeeded in emerging. (…) But have we realized the task, the mission that Europe now faces in a new, emerging world order? It is a mission that Europe can use as an example of its ability to learn from history, one that shows that it is also possible for small and medium-sized states to arrive at mutual understanding. Ours is a region in which what counts is the strength of rights – and not the rights of the strong.
Indeed, today we face the challenge of deciding which path our humanity will take forward. We have two options before us: One is the chaos option, that is, just letting things go and seeing what happens. We found out in the financial crisis where that option can lead. The other option is domination, the notion that one is powerful enough to dictate what will happen to everyone else. And now the cooperation option suggests itself, the option based on equality among peoples, which a Europe and a world based on equality and cooperation can create. That is the model for the future, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the model for Europe.
We have not come to the “end of history” because the division of Europe has ended. No, Europe does not have just one future – and we don’t have a future other than Europe. Europe also has a responsibility in the new world order.
Ladies and gentlemen, what we have here is a new, trans-Atlantic task, a new way of thinking about the shared responsibility of Americans and Europeans for a world order founded on human rights, on tolerance, on cooperation and on everything that constitutes a humane world. That’s what it’s all about. To achieve this, we not only need politics on our side. Every individual must also realize that we live in a world that has moved closer together than ever before, that we live in a globally interdependent world. There are no longer any remote regions. Regardless of where they occur in the world, events affect us here. This applies to solving global environmental problems as well as dealing with financial issues and shaping the economic system. It applies to disarmament and to all areas of life. This is where our responsibility lies. But we will only be able to solve these problems if we keep in mind what constitutes Europe: the idea of freedom, the idea of responsibility, the idea of human dignity. It is what is so wonderfully expressed by Article 1 of our Constitution: “Human dignity” – and that means the dignity of every person, not just of Germans – “shall be inviolable.” It is inherent in the person, not granted by the state. We are all born with this dignity. That’s why it’s so important that our children grow up with respect for other people. And that means understanding tolerance as active tolerance. It’s not just about putting up with others as they are. Instead, it’s about appreciating what is different about them and feeling that it enriches us.
In a remarkable essay, Christa Wolf writes, “We know when war begins”. She then asks the question: “Where does the pre-war begin, and when?” We know where. It begins here in our hearts, in our minds. It is where prejudices against other people, other races, other religions, other opinions take root. Prejudices and notions of “the other” as enemy poison the hearts and minds of mankind. We must combat these first. Children who grow up respecting the differences of others – their different appearances, different beliefs, different origins, different opinions – can no longer be incited to turn on others. That is our mission. And it doesn’t just begin at school; it begins first and foremost in the home. (…)
We Europeans – those of us who have shared this great experience of freedom, who have been so close to each other – are duty-bound to preserve the shared experience of 1989 – not only as a legacy, but also as a covenant for the future. It is our message to the world, and it must be disseminated. Likewise, through a lucky chance of history, we now have an American president who proceeds from similar assumptions. (…) He has inspired the world and his own country with the confident words “Yes, we can”. That sounds better than what we in Europe are inclined to say: “Well, we’ll see”. I would prefer to say, ‘Yes, we can too – and we want to, too.” Thank you.