Dear Wladimir Klitschko,
Dear Chancellor Olaf Scholz,
Dear President of the Republic of Kosovo, Mrs Osmani-Sadriu,
Dear Ambassador Amy Gutmann,
Dear former Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland, Mr Donald Tusk,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear members of the M100 Advisory Board,
The length of the personal welcomes extended to dignitaries this evening demonstrates that the M100 Media Award is not only taking place at a moving time, but that it has become an established and highly recognised media award.
Welcome to the 18th M100 Media Award ceremony.
I am delighted to welcome you to Potsdam, the capital of the state of Brandenburg – and I am thrilled to be joined by the Minister of Education, Ms Britta Ernst, and the Minister of Science, Dr Manja Schüle.
It is a particular honour for me to welcome Wladimir Klitschko here today.
You – like your brother Vitali, my mayoral counterpart in Kiev, as well as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and many other representatives of Ukraine, which is fighting for its sovereignty – represent the courage and determination of the Ukrainian people, to whom we would like to dedicate the M100 Media Award today.
“If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it – then I can achieve it.” This quote comes from a former heavyweight champion.
Not from our award winner or his brother, but from Muhammad Ali.
However, it could also come from Wladimir or Vitali Klitschko in describing the heroic struggle of the people in Ukraine against their supposedly dominant aggressor.
“If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it – then I can achieve it.”
We all see on a daily basis how the Ukrainian people are fighting with their heads and their hearts for freedom against their Russian aggressor.
The Ukrainian people are defending their country because it was attacked by Russia – we must never forget this during all the debates about the conflict in Germany. Our support is for the defenders.
Thank you, dear Wladimir Klitschko, for accepting this award and I look forward to hearing your words later.
For me, you are a symbol of the many people in Ukraine who are fighting for freedom in their country with their hearts and minds, without any mandate or previous military experience.
I would also like to welcome you, Your Excellency, Ambassador Gutmann, as one of two speakers later on.
It is a great honour for us that you are completing one of your first engagements here in Potsdam. There was a turning point in European history here in 1945.
“Today, we are once again at a turning point”, you said in one of your first speeches, at the Free University near Berlin, speaking about the war in Ukraine.
I must say that I am personally glad that in these changing times we have a US administration that stands by Europe’s side and is a stable partner in the free world.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In 2017, the artist Hannes Forster created a war memorial with a column made of 400 bricks in the German-Polish border town of Frankfurt an der Oder / Slubice.
The 400 bricks symbolise 400 years in Europe, and each brick was given a number representing the year in which there was a war.
Up until 1945, there are only a few stones without engravings in the column. War was the normal state of affairs.
And yet war has never been the norm.
The main benefactors of the major European peace project after 1945 have been Germany and Poland, which for 77 years, since the end of the Second World War, have shared the longest period of peace.
This provides hope that after every war there can be a chance for reconciliation and peaceful coexistence.
I am therefore very pleased to welcome the former Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland and passionate European, Mr Donald Tusk, here today and I look forward to your speech.
The war in Ukraine has also led to new tensions in other regions of Europe.
In Southeast Europe, the tensions that led to the first armed conflict after the end of the Cold War more than 20 years ago, and which severely shook Europe, are becoming increasingly evident.
Thank you, President Osmani-Sadriu, for demonstrating with your participation today that you, who have experienced the horrors of war in your own country, stand with the Ukrainian people.
I was deployed in your country exactly 20 years ago as a soldier with the KFOR protection force and during my deployment I saw the suffering and destruction that the war brought to Kosovo.
For me, images from Prizren and Pristina flood back when I see the recent footage from Kiev, Kharkiv or other cities in Ukraine.
It is from a deep personal affinity that I still have today that I wish your country all the best for the future.
My dear ladies and gentlemen,
A year ago, at the last M100 Colloquium, we were told that Germany would probably be governed by a coalition between the SPD, FDP and Greens in future.
This news came to us first-hand, as Christian Lindner, today’s Minister of Finance, spoke to us on the day of the decision to enter into coalition negotiations.
I am particularly pleased that we are able to welcome you, Chancellor, today.
It reflects the high value and recognition that the M100 Colloquium and the M100 Media Award are accorded that we are being addressed not only by the second representative of the current German government within the space of a year, but also by a German head of government for the second time following Angela Merkel.
Dear Chancellor, your clear words in the speech on 27 February in the German Bundestag not only marked a turning point in German foreign and security policy, but also made it clear that Germany stands by the Ukrainian people in defence of their sovereignty.
We look forward to your keynote speech later.
My dear ladies and gentlemen,
As Lord Mayor, please permit me to take a brief look at the war in Ukraine from the perspective of a city politician whose duties usually have less to do with discourse on war and peace.
The battle that the people of Ukraine are waging is above all a battle for their way of life, which is much the same as in our cities:
they want to go to work, take their children to school, look after their elderly parents, meet with friends, sit in a café, go to the theatre.
All the things that are part of a normal life.
However, since 24 February 2022, none of this has been possible.
A war is waging and they have to remain vigilant in many cities.
They have to hide in air-raid shelters; some have left their country whilst others serve their country by defending it against the invaders.
And not just that.
There are cities like Mariupol where homes, schools, businesses and theatres have been destroyed by Russian attacks and where it will not be possible to return to normality for a long time. People in Ukraine are first and foremost defending their homes, their homeland.
As a member of the international movement Mayors for Peace, in which I have the honour of representing our city, I stand with my colleagues in many cities around the world in calling for a stop to the Russian attack.
As Lord Mayor, I have also been made aware from conversations with Ukrainian mayors such as Ivan Federov, Mayor of Melitopol, who was abducted by the Russians in the spring, of the great pressure that my mayoral colleagues in Ukraine are under in this horrific situation.
I was able to meet Ivan Federov after his release in the summer at an event organised by the German Association of Cities in Berlin.
I admire and have the deepest respect for the way mayors in Ukraine have been organising civil protection for months, maintaining public infrastructure and most importantly, projecting confidence.
Vitali Klitschko, the brother of today’s winner and winner of the 2014 prize, would certainly have liked to be here today, but given the current situation where the war seems to have taken a turn, he has stayed on the ground in Kiev where he is the mayor, because he is needed there.
Allow me to quote from his acceptance speech from eight years ago:
“We Ukrainians are grateful for the support and solidarity from the West.
But we don’t think the support is enough yet.
We cannot win the fight for freedom alone.
We can only succeed if Europe’s politicians are even clearer that they do not accept Russia’s aggressive behaviour.”
Ladies and gentlemen,
This quote is from 2014. It is impossible not to question what would have happened if we in the West had listened more closely to this urgent warning and, more to the point, what would have happened if we had heeded the call for strong support at the time.
There is one thing we must not forget: the people of Ukraine are defending themselves because their way of life is currently being determined by the life that the Russian president has imposed on them with his war of aggression.
This war is also being imposed by the Russian president on the rest of Europe, on all those who stand beside Ukraine.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We in German cities also face challenges – albeit under completely different conditions that are not even remotely comparable to those of the people in Ukraine – as our way of life is reshaped by the war in Ukraine.
Undoubtedly in a different form – the suffering and privations of their people are not comparable. But we also have to recognise that economic warfare, using gas supplies as a weapon, is part of the Russian president’s calculated actions.
He also wants to impact our way of life.
And this is not without effect.
Normality is changing in our cities. People are feeling the impact on their lives.
Combating social upheaval and mitigating social decline requires resources that should really be allocated to political action; as Lord Mayor, I have to deal with problems of scarcity and rising prices on a daily basis and sometimes have to accept difficult consequences.
This also leads to anxiety among the people in our cities.
Russia is counting on people’s fears to try to undermine Europe’s solidarity with Ukraine.
We must not forget that shortages and increases in the price of energy and rising prices are perceived as exceptional circumstances and they change what was previously considered normal for people in Germany as well.
And the loss of normality and what is taken for granted creates anxiety.
Anyone who tries to reduce people’s concerns and needs to the question, “Are you for or against Ukraine?” is, in my view, acting irresponsibly.
The media in our country also play an extremely important role in this context when it comes to discussing the order of life and ways of life.
It is a feature of our free society that we engage in discourse and also treat with respect anyone who articulates their hardships out of serious concern that they will no longer be able to make a living.
In my view, it is wrong and dangerous that some statements and declarations by politicians and the media are limited to reacting with ignorance to these hardships and instead try to advocate sacrifice and restriction as a contribution to freedom and to ending the war.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Taking the worries and hardships at home seriously and mitigating them with courage will also contribute to Ukraine’s struggle.
The more resolute we in Germany are in mitigating high energy prices and inflation, and the fairer we are in our discourse with each other, the clearer our response to Russia will be that we are just as resolute and united in our opposition to the economic war designed to unsettle the citizens as we are in supporting the Ukrainian people in their struggle for freedom.
We must not forget that both are caused by the same thing – even if the suffering and loss of the Ukrainian people is unimaginably painful and incomparably higher.
My esteemed ladies and gentlemen,
In Potsdam, there is no getting away from a historic quote from the time of Frederick the Great, especially here in Sanssouci.
Voltaire, the most influential author of the European Enlightenment, lived here in the Prussian court from 1750 to 1753. He made the statement,
“Offensive war is the war of a tyrant; whoever defends himself, however, is in the right”.
By dedicating the M100 Media Award to Ukrainians, we are once again shining the spotlight on defenders. For that is their right.
Please, esteemed representatives of the media, continue to report on this battle so that none of us gets tired of focusing on Ukraine.
After all, it is there that the European order of life, as the basic foundation of our free and democratic way of life, will be determined.