Navigation and service

Speech by Federal President Horst Köhler at the event "Twenty Years since the Fall of the Wall: the Triumph of Freedom"

Bundespräsident Horst Köhler am Rednerpult Berlin, 31 October 2009 Photo: Guido Bergmann, BPA © Photo: Guido Bergmann, BPA

Is history made by great men? Yes, that's often enough been the case, especially when rulers were absolute - kings and dictators, sultans and emperors.
But the history of great, freedom-loving nations after the Second World War, has that been made by great men, too?

My first attempt at an answer is "no", and not only because nowadays there are also great women active in politics.

I say "no" above all because freedom-loving nations shape their own history. They have experiences, they try and learn from them, they reflect on their past and debate it both with one another and with others - with their neighbours and friends, but also with their adversaries. Nations are capable of learning. And of acting accordingly.

To experience, to reflect, to learn and to act: this is also what the Americans, the Russians and the Germans did after the Second World War.

The United States of America chose then not to retreat once again into "splendid isolation", like it did after the First World War. It had learned that the price of freedom was vigilance, and acted accordingly. It offered Europe help with reconstruction (although the nations in the Soviet sphere of influence were not allowed to accept the offer) and let Western Europe shelter behind the American defence shield. At the same time the United States was a beacon of freedom, a land of unlimited possibilities and a democracy strong enough to identify, acknowledge and correct its mistakes. That, too, has made America a role model.

In the Second World War it was the Russian nation that suffered the greatest number of war dead, either killed in battle or murdered. It wanted security, wanted peace and justice. But Marxism-Leninism soon proved a disaster and the Red Army, the liberator from National Socialism, quickly became a force of occupation. In the USSR people like Alexandr Solzhenitsyn were in near despair over the political and social situation and believed, too, that it was wrong to impose the Soviet system on the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

The Germans recognized the truth of what had taken place. They acknowledged the shame they had brought on themselves through their actions. They strove to understand their past, they sought reconciliation with those who had been its victims, gave them help and support, and they demonstrated a talent for freedom - in East Germany with the 1953 uprising and the millions who fled to the West and in West Germany by building a stable and flourishing democracy. The Germans also came to the realization that their country must never again call into question their neighbours' right to secure borders. By the late 1980s an overwhelming majority of people here knew full well that if the German question was one day to be resolved, this could happen only in the context of European unification and the rivers demarcating our eastern border could only be the Oder and the Neisse.

The three men we're honouring today epitomize the lessons their nations have learned. They've all lived through the Second World War and its terrible consequences. But the experience of war did not harden their hearts and paralyze their minds, it made them see even more clearly the importance of preserving peace and striving for freedom and justice.

George Bush saw action during the Second World War as the youngest pilot in the US navy. Later on, during the Cold War, he held a number of prominent posts. He knew the suffering of oppressed nations and called on those that were free to spare no effort in defence and in pursuit of freedom. And for us Germans his immense international experience, his global outlook and his good will towards Germany and Europe were of inestimable value.

Mikhail Gorbachev was still a child when the Germans invaded, carrying the swastika all the way to Mt Elbrus. He saw and experienced at first hand the invaders' wanton brutality and the catch-22 situation in which the Russian people found themselves. The higher he rose in politics, the more clearly he realized that the Poles, the Czechs and Slovaks, the Balts and the Hungarians would never give up their aspirations for freedom. The competition between the systems brought the Soviet Union nearly to its knees but failed to win people's hearts. What Russia really needed was transparency and change, glasnost and perestroika. And that is what Mikhail Gorbachev with his incredible courage stood up for thereby affording us unbelievable help. Thank you very much, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Helmut Kohl saw at first hand how Germany had mired itself in terrible guilt and how it was punished. His brother was killed in action. He encountered men such as de Gaulle and Adenauer, he espoused and took forward their dream of a new, united Europe. And he showed an unerring sense that far more unites the Americans, Russians, Germans and all nations than divides them and that people everywhere aspire to much the same things - they want peace and freedom and the opportunity, through their own efforts, to make something of their lives. Thank you, Helmut Kohl.

Ladies and gentlemen, my manuscript carries on but as I look at our guests of honour let me just say once more: The very fact that these three gentlemen are here with us today is wonderful. We are delighted they are here today and that is in itself a message of hope and encouragement.

Three nations, three men and one watershed moment, which according to our calendar lasted from spring 1989 to autumn 1990 - two cycles of sowing and harvesting.
Two cycles of sowing and harvesting - in Germany and in Europe. And is it not the case after all that these three men did more than others to sow the crop and bring in the harvest? Was this not a moment in which great men did indeed make history?

We need have no hesitation, I think, in answering "yes". For however percipient nations may be, they need ultimately political leaders in order to act. Back then the world did have such leaders, ranging from Willy Brandt to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, from Vaclav Havel to Lech Walesa, from François Mitterrand to Jacques Delors. Nations need statesmen and stateswomen who grasp the historic dimensions of a situation and have an intuitive sense of the kairos, the right moment to act. They need patriots who hold other nations, too, in high esteem, they need politicians who treat one another with respect, who see in the other the glory and tragedy of their nations, the pride in what their forebears have achieved and the pain over their aberrations and mistakes. Nations need such leaders, leaders who respect one another and thereby win one another's trust. This is the road Mikhail Gorbachev, George Bush and Helmut Kohl travelled together, when in 1989 that watershed moment came, that moment that changed all our lives. I thank you again on behalf of the German nation and I'm sure also on behalf of all European nations.

Nations' love of freedom, the peaceful revolutions of 1989 and the statesmanship of these three men have for millions opened up new horizons, have changed the map of Europe and given the world new and unprecedented opportunities and challenges. Back then many cherished the vision of a new and better world order that would bring freedom and progress to everyone. Many cherished the hope that Europe and the United States would shape and protect this new order. What has become of this vision and this hope? What do they imply for today's agenda?

The vision of freedom and progress has been at least partially realized. Many borders are now open for people and commerce and ideas. The European Union and NATO have welcomed new members. With economic liberalization, nations such as China are successfully tackling poverty and gaining in political influence. But the world is still very far from being in good order. Many international organizations remain stuck with the structures they had in the early post-Second World War years, have not adjusted even now to the rise of the newcomers in Asia and Latin America and the importance of the African continent. And where new institutions (like the G 20) have emerged, they still often need to find their role and prove their mettle. For me the United Nations continues to be the key forum for cooperative global governance. That is also the conclusion to draw from this watershed moment: cooperative global governance. Even if the going is tough, it's in the interest of all of us to strengthen the United Nations and make it more effective. I feel we need to be even more ambitious about this.

The major challenges facing humanity wait for no-one. We can only slow global warming and win the fight against hunger and poverty if we succeed in devising a development policy for the entire planet. That means we need to learn to do business better and more sustainably, deal prudently with nature and thereby foster peace and development. For this, we need an international order that makes the fair balancing of interests, the protection of human rights and trusting cooperation features of our daily work rather than those of a watershed moment. George Bush himself spoke of such a new, cooperative order back then. It can only be developed and negotiated together, not imposed from above. It cannot be a hegemonic order because no nation can make its fortune at the expense of others in our networked world - even in the relatively small Europe, all who tried to do so have failed. And the new international order will have to respect that nations will continue to seek happiness and harmony in different ways.

Twenty years ago many thought the world would change almost automatically into one large West. It seems that was naive. But that does not mean that the will for democracy and human rights has become naive or even unattractive. On the contrary. The vast majority of people want to live in freedom and self-determination. They want a government which does not suppress or steal from its people or let others do so.

That is why the United States and Europe serve as models whether they like it or not. The nations of the world watch carefully whether or not we have good governance, whether we are credible in standing up for our values and whether we use our capabilities and our power to establish the ground rules humanity needs. And although this order needs to be negotiated, it is nevertheless more than ever a question of leadership. In the long term, the only way to lead in today's world is through setting a good example and building a good reputation. This will encourage others to find the strength to get on board and only then will all enjoy success. President Obama was right to say, "America cannot meet this century's challenges alone; the world cannot meet them without America". In all modesty, I would like to add that is also true of Europe.

Are we clear enough about this responsibility? What tasks does this imply for us Europeans?

The first one is: We have to do more to relieve the Americans of the task of guaranteeing Europe's freedom. For this, the European Union needs a foreign and security policy that acts with strength and unity and through which the EU can talk to all as an equal partner. But we do not want to unburden the United States so it can, on our behalf, advocate freedom on its own and represent our shared interests. We Europeans also need to do our utmost to help a global awareness of the responsibility of states, democratic self-determination and human rights to thrive. That must be worth something for us in Europe, in Germany. That is why there is no alternative to nurturing and strengthening the transatlantic partnership. European agreement on foreign and security policy that also takes in Russia would be the perfect addition to this partnership.

And this brings us to the second task. Europe should do its utmost to become a force for good in the world in the long term. Europe has given the world much: the Christian-Jewish heritage, the Enlightenment, art, science and technical advances. But it also has much to redress. For decades or even centuries, Europe was the source of much suffering - in the colonial wars, the world wars, the period of de-colonialization and in the Cold War. After a seemingly endless hotchpotch of fallacy and violence, we have now found our way to long term cooperation and reconciliation here in Europe. For me, the European Union is the very embodiment of the idea of a truly peaceful order. For me, it is still almost a miracle that Germany is now surrounded exclusively by partners and friends. And I am delighted these partners and friends are also here today. The European Union, or if you prefer the European model, combines economic performance with social justice and creative unrest with a firm core of inalienable values and human rights. In the race between systems, we should be self-confident - without being full of ourselves - in advocating our model. It is a model that promises answers for the tasks facing humanity such as climate change and the fight against hunger and poverty. And where world history has to date been a kaleidoscope of new lateral powers and alliances in a stand-off, the EU could be an example of how a shared vision devoted to peace can bring strength and advantage to all.

However, for this, the process of European integration needs new momentum, through the Treaty of Lisbon and beyond. My friend Helmut Kohl, you were always a master in bringing the European Union forward. You tied up solutions and created connections from the "Stuttgart Package" which ended the notorious "Eurosclerosis" of the 1970s to the linking of the Economic and Monetary Union to the Political Union as the fundamental basis of the Treaty of Maastricht. At the same time, you always knew: the people need more than bare logical projects and the skilled pooling of interests. The people need roots, a sense of belonging and perspective. The people do not want to have to choose between home and fatherland and future. And they do not need to because the European Union offers the best prerequisites for a European alliance in which the nations and regions remain unique and yet inextricably linked politically and through a shared lifestyle. Many of our young people have already taken on this European lifestyle. They also ask: Why aren't there any European newspapers and leading television channels, textbooks, integrated armed forces and the pooling of European voting rights in international organizations? What isn't there an exemplary EU strategy to shift to a sustainable and resource-friendly economy and society? Why isn't there a European-African Youth Office given that we have had such positive experiences with the Franco-German Youth Office and with the American Field Service? Such questions are unfortunately leagues ahead of the legal and political reality - here and elsewhere I see much scope for new thinking and new momentum for integration.

The third task is: The whole of Europe should grow together in such a way that our borders no longer divide us but draw us together. Hans-Dietrich Genscher's proposal to create an area of security, freedom and prosperity from Vancouver to Vladivostok still points the way forward and can be achieved if the European Union develops a partnership for all of Europe together with Russia and the other CIS states, one which is rooted in intensive dialogue, good neighbourly relations and far-sighted cooperation. All this is possible.

Here, too, the prerequisites are better than they have ever been in the last century. Our nations share a sense of belonging to the economic and cultural Europe and they can also develop a shared sense of purpose, a shared vision of our continent's calling in the 21st century.

Cultural exchange between Eastern and Western Europe is as vibrant and creative as it was in its heyday. You can sense this particularly here in Berlin, but by far not just here. The number of visits and joint economic projects is growing and growing. And there can be no doubt that West and East can achieve much to the advantage of both sides. If we manage to extend trans-European transport networks, to put energy supplies on a firm footing and strengthen the economic and social convergence and coherence of all European countries, then Europe has an almost unprecedented opportunity to thrive.

The European Union and Russia should commit to such cooperation. If we manage together to tap the natural riches of our continent - first and foremost the talents of its citizens - if we manage together to end the plundering of natural resources and advocate justice and freedom, then Europe will reap global respect and influence and be a key pillar of the new international order.

The new partnership in Europe will also open the way for honest dialogue on democracy and human rights. Frank discussion on these issues is part of a partnership between equals. We also engage in this discussion with all others, with the United States for example, with China and with the Arab world. Our insistence on this is not some kind of bothersome appendage to our economic exchange. It is at the very core of our self-understanding, it is an important part of what we are in Europe. We know democracy and the rule of law cannot be imposed from the outside, they have to grow from within. And for that we also need time and patience. But we also know this is no comfort to those who are forcibly silenced, who are not given a fair hearing, who have no political rights. Those are the people we ask about, it is for them that we push for change, that is something we will never give up.

Twenty years ago, the nations made history, also because they found the right leaders to do it. So how do we best pay tribute to the three men we honour today? By setting to work again tomorrow and continuing to build the house of Europe and a development policy for our whole planet.