Dear Wladimir Klitschko,
Dear President Osmani-Sadriu,
Dear Ambassador Gutmann,
Dear Mr Tusk,
Dear Mr Schubert, head mayor,
Dear Mr van Dülmen,
Dear representative prize-winners,
Dear ladies and gentlemen,
What a lovely evening this could be.
I look back with pleasure on my last visit in 2020.
Here in the orangery – in this absolutely exceptional atmosphere in Potsdam where a first-rate public explores exciting and important issues at the M100 Sanssouci Colloquium.
But how the world has changed. Since 24 February 2022 it is no longer the same.
With Putin’s terrible and illegal war of aggression in Ukraine, a long period of peace in Europe has ended.
Putin’s Russia wants to redraw the border by force – something that we in Europe never wanted to experience again and that we oppose with all our might.
The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine marks a turning point.
That’s why the 18th Sanssouci Colloquium is dealing with the issues of freedom of the press, the importance of the free press and its essential role in our democracy before a completely different backdrop and with even more urgency than in the years before.
The topic of today’s colloquium was “War and peace. A new world order.” It is not a theoretical nor an abstract topic. War has returned to Europe.
This war is above all a dreadful catastrophe for Ukrainians.
Even now thousands of innocent men, women and children have lost their lives through Russian bombing; millions of people have had to leave their homes, and many have fallen victim to indiscriminate arrest and abduction. The terrible images and the pain of the Ukrainians affect us all very deeply.
This war has also had far-reaching consequences for our country and many other countries in Europe and the world.
It has an effect on our energy supply, on the world economy and food security.
But the worst effect, and I want to make this clear, is the death and destruction that Putin is responsible for.
We all want this war to end as fast as possible, particularly the Ukrainians themselves.
But the way it ends is also important. 6
If Putin achieves his imperialist goals through his war of aggression, it will not be a permanent peace.
This is why we are supporting the Ukrainian people in defending their freedom and sovereignty.
And I want to make the following clear:
The denial of the independent existence of the Ukrainian nation with its own culture, language and history through transparent, imperialist motives is a malicious falsification of history.
The fact that the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian nation exists is in itself impressively illustrated by the determination they show in fighting for their freedom and independence.
Those who speak with Putin, who listen to the speeches that he gives all over the place, who read what he writes, know that he sees this completely differently: For him there is no Ukrainian people – and no Belarussian people either, by the way. He actually wants to completely redraw the borders and assimilate everything. He comes out with some kind of theory about historical events and things that happened somewhere or other; he does linguistic research. But all this is wrong, and it is also not acceptable.
I want to stress: Where would we have ended up when, all over Europe and other places in the world, some statesman or other looked in the history books and discovered, “the borders used to be in a different place – we could move them back again”?
Where would we have ended up if analyses about linguistic similarities had been made and territorial claims made on the basis of them?
In the Security Council, a representative of Kenya said, “Do you know how our borders were created in Africa? Drunken colonial rulers simply drew up the borders. If we were to correct everything now, where would we end up and how many hundreds of years of war would this create?”
And, looking at Donald Tusk, I also want to say, What a major achievement it was for Willy Brandt and others to negotiate the contracts. They created facts and agreed, clearly and finally, that the border between Poland and Germany is now at the place where it is. After many hundreds of years of history.
And I don’t want someone or other to find occasion for revisionist efforts in the history books: Peace is based on the fact that the borders are immovable. We have to be in agreement about this.
But I also want to say: It didn’t work anyway: All this propaganda story that Putin is fighting Nazis. The Ukrainian president is Jewish, and he grew up speaking Russian.
And the fact that Putin imagined that he would arrive with his tanks and his soldiers, and everyone would wave their flags in greeting because they felt liberated, didn’t work. No-one felt liberated. Everyone felt threatened.
And those who speak Ukrainian in Ukraine, just like those who speak Hungarian and those who speak Russian and have grown up speaking Russian: They have all taken up arms and are defending their country.
And even though Putin was always wrong when he claimed that the Ukraine wasn’t even an independent country, with this war at the latest, he has established Ukraine as a nation.
Before this backdrop – and let me say right at the beginning, it is an excellent choice in my opinion – you, dear committee members have decided to present the M100 Award this year to the Ukrainian people.
It is a symbol of recognition, of wonderment and also of reinforcement for the courageous men and women who have been defending their country with heroic courage from Russian aggression for 203 days.
And they are doing this successfully, as the impressive territorial gains in northeast Ukraine clearly show.
During my visit to Kiev, I was utterly moved to see and hear that Ukrainians are fighting there at the front for their lives and their country, who never expected that they would have to do this.
They are workers, writers, teachers, architects and salespeople. They all led normal lives and now they have to defend their families and their houses in the war. My visit to the ruined houses of Irpin painfully brought this reality home to me.
Dear Wladimir Klitschko, in your video message on the Day of Ukrainian Independence you described these courageous men and women as “soldiers of democracy” and “freedom fighters”.
It is you and your people; it is the Ukrainian men and women about whom we can say without a doubt:
No-one is defending peace, the rule of law and the freedom of us all with greater commitment than you.
Dear Wladimir Klitschko, I am delighted that you have come to Potsdam today to accept the M100 Award on behalf of your people.
We owe you our unreserved recognition and support.
We will maintain this support, that I reaffirmed a few days ago in Prague, reliably and for as long as possible.
We will continue to do this together, and in close agreement with our European and international partners.
We are helping with heavy military machines, ammunition, the training of Ukrainian soldiers, because their fight is also a fight that we support.
We have broken with a decades-long tradition regarding delivery of weapons in war zones. We did this quickly, when the war broke out. We have delivered continually more weapons and today we are in the forefront among those who deliver the most: We have delivered the most state-of-the-art weapons that are important for deployment.
The decisions that we made were weighed up carefully and they were necessary. Even today, the defence minister has said that we will supply more of the multiple rocket launchers which Germany has already delivered. And these are very relevant weapons, now that conflict is taking place in eastern Ukraine. This also applies to our tank howitzers, the anti-aircraft Gepard tanks for air defence, the state-of-the-art air defence system Iris-T; we will provide more of these, although not even the army of the Federal Republic of Germany has them – and it applies to many other decisions that we will make on this matter.
They are all making a difference. And that’s why it is possible to say that the weapons we and also our allies have delivered have made a contribution to the fact that things have turned out differently than the Russian president had planned.
He thought that in two or three weeks, he would have conquered the entire Ukraine. And when that didn’t work, he thought he would simply conquer the eastern part and at least that would be fast and effective. Neither have been successful.
Ukraine has been putting up resistance for so long now with success; it is receiving a lot of support with weapons and ammunition. Because this support also forms the basis of why the courage and bravery is having an effect.
We are also providing economic and humanitarian help, however. Almost one million refugees have found safety with us. And we will also help to rebuild your country. Stone for stone.
That’s why I have invited friends and partners of Ukraine from all over the world, together with Ursula von der Leyen, to Berlin on 25th October.
There the European Union and myself as G7 president will consider together with experts how we can jointly achieve this rebuilding, this mission of generations, with our shared efforts. It is a matter of very large amounts of money: In Lugano a total of 750 billion dollars was spoken about.
This also has to be, because we need to organise the reconstruction over many years, yes perhaps over decades. And it is important that the global community is prepared to finance the reconstruction which may take decades, even after the end of the war – after the defence of the integrity and sovereignty of the Ukraine has been achieved. The aim of the conference is therefore to find a way to organise this over many years, so that everyone stays on board and that the issue is not forgotten, because this would be terrible.
We are all united in the conviction that Putin must not be allowed to win this war!
Together we defend the European order of peace.
We will not tolerate Russia’s attack on peace in Europe.
We will do what is necessary to secure peace in Europe.
We Germans in particular bear a special responsibility here.
We have learned a central lesson from the catastrophic history of our country between 1933 and 1945.
The lesson is:
Never again war.
Never again genocide.
Never again dictatorship.
We therefore defend the rule of law and freedom on the side of those who have been attacked.
Because the turning point was never merely a status description, it resulted in a mandate to act.
This includes putting our country and our alliance in the position of being able to secure its security, independence and stability – also against attacks from outside.
It is for this reason that the German Bundestag has got things off the ground by an overwhelming majority with a special fund of a hundred billion euros.
We will thereby be in a position to equip the German Federal Armed Forces so that they will be able to defend our country and our alliance partners effectively from all attacks.
As the largest country in Europe in terms of population size and economic strength, we are prepared to take responsibility for developing a new European security architecture with a common Europe security as a strong pillar within NATO.
We need to organise security in Europe in a completely new way and much more comprehensively.
The first priority is the need to coordinate our defence systems and investments more closely and better.
The pressure on us Europeans to change will grow, also independently of Russia’s war and its consequences.
In a world with eight or even ten billion people, it will only be possible for us to assert our interests and values if we act as a united European Union.
And in this Europe, as I have repeatedly made clear, belongs Ukraine; it is therefore right that Ukraine and Moldova receive candidate status.
And dear President Osmani-Sadriu, at this point I would like to make clear that the six countries of the western Balkans also belong to the free, democratic part of Europe, and their accession to the EU is also in our interest. The promise given many years ago – almost 20 – must now be followed by action.
I spoke recently and in great detail about these and other thoughts on Europe at the Charles University in Prague.
And even if, in the light of the horrors that we are experiencing at the moment, it is hard to imagine: We have an opportunity to have a good and secure future.
The name of this future is Europe, and it lies in our hands.
Our common values are essential for the continuation and successful further development of the European family. Peace and freedom, democracy and the rule of law, human rights and human dignity: these values of the European Union are our jointly acquired legacy and the foundation for our future.
And it is precisely in this context that you, the representatives of the free press, are so important.
Your work is essential for the functioning of democracy, which cannot exist without freedom of information and diversity of information.
There where individuals dictate what the prevailing opinion should be, is where dictatorship begins.
Where states prescribe what is true and what is false, truthfulness is lost. And where journalists are fearful of their freedom or even their lives, democracy dies.
This is what we experience in Russia, where the Russian leadership wants to silence the final critical voices with violence and intimidation.
Freedom and democracy were already endangered in Russia before the war on Ukraine.
But now freedom of opinion is in even more danger and many people are afraid to speak their own opinion.
We stand on the side of those who bravely deny Putin’s machinery of power and his war as much as we do.
Parallel to the military war, Russia is also waging a war of information.
The Russian citizens are presented with a self-contained parallel world that is hermetically sealed off from all reality.
The reality that this war too cannot be won by Russia: You are needed here too.
It is even more important that young journalists have explored intensively the topics of fake news and disinformation in the context of the Young European Journalist Workshops.
Because the bitter truth is: Disinformation is effective.
And where the disinformation is total, where no deviating information can be perceived any more, then scandalous things will be utterable and terrible crimes will be possible.
Russia’s terrible war of destruction against the Ukraine proves this.
One of the upcoming journalists of the Young European Journalist Workshops writes regarding her work for the foreign desk of a Latvian television broadcaster, that she has seen more horrors from the Ukraine than she can imagine.
The reports that describe the horrors of the illegal war of aggression, the terrible images of bombed houses and lifeless bodies from Irpin, Bucha and Mariupol have been burned deeply in our collective memory. We will not forget them.
I would like to thank you, that you do not close your eyes to these horrors, that through your reporting, you contribute to the fact that the truth is not lost, that justice can be implemented, because terrible crimes do not remain invisible.
To ensure this situation can be upheld, it is even more important for us to make independent reporting and reputable journalism possible, and to strengthen it.
The federal government does this by supporting Ukrainian journalists with grants, residence programmes and further temporary work opportunities in Germany.
And we do this by strengthening free and independent journalism in our own country too because – and I would like to say this at this point – in Germany too, it is increasingly falling victim to animosity and violence.
The federal government is therefore funding projects that strengthen the conditions for journalistic work and projects with role-model character that communicate the value of quality journalism for democracy.
Ladies and gentlemen, the challenges faced by our country and Europe are great.
They are associated with profound consequences for the citizens, which we need to communicate and explain. And naturally also, in that we do everything possible to help the citizens.
When I say “we” I mean all of us: Politics, the media and civil society.
And for this task, we need you.
I am sure that we will come out of this crisis together stronger.
We Germans experienced ourselves, 77 years ago, how freedom and the rule of law triumphed over oppression, violence and dictatorship – even if it took until 1989 until the peaceful revolutionaries of the GDR could push through freedom and the rule of law in the eastern part of Germany too.
The triumph of these values was made possible thanks to the unimaginably great sacrifices that our liberators made for us.
It was this victory of freedom that first made it possible to rebuild our country on the ruins of a devastating world war and after the crime against humanity that was the Shoah.
We Germans will be forever grateful for this.
Out of this gift of history grew an historic responsibility that we still feel deeply bound to honour today.
We therefore stand firmly on the side of the Ukrainian people.
I am sure:
Putin will not win this war.
Ukraine will survive, because the Ukrainian men and women are heroically defending their country.
Because they have friends and partners all over the world.
In our time too, justice will triumph over injustice, freedom over oppression and democracy over dictatorship.
I thank you all and in particular our Ukrainian friends, who are standing up for peace, justice and democracy in these challenging times.
We will defend our shared values.