“As we discussed this morning in detail, I am, as President of this country, concerned about German citizens who are imprisoned in Turkey for political reasons, and I am also concerned about Turkish journalists, trade unionists, lawyers, intellectuals and politicians who remain behind bars. Mr President, I trust that you will understand that we cannot simply gloss over this issue.”
Welcome to Berlin!
It is good to see you again. It is good to talk. And, yes, it is also good to argue – if, at any rate, we do this
“in a way that is best”, as the Koran tells us. Mr President, I am glad that our countries are seeking dialogue with one another after too much verbal sparring.
Exactly 70 years ago, just a stone’s throw away from here, Ernst Reuter, who later went on to be Mayor of Berlin, gave a speech that we remember to this today:
“People of this world […], look upon this city!” – it was a famous ode to Berlin, a speech rooted in the first hand experience of war and dictatorship and a passionate plea for freedom.
By calling to mind Reuter’s speech – and the values that it invokes – I am also calling to mind the close relations between Germany and Turkey. That he was able to give this speech in the first place, after all, was thanks also to your country that was so open and bighearted to take in displaced Jews and politically persecuted Germans in the years of the National Socialist dictatorship – including hundreds of persecuted scientists such as Friedrich Dessauer and Ernst Eduard Hirsch and artists such as Bruno Taut and Paul Hindemith.
Turkey became a second home for many of these people. Ernst Reuter himself spent 12 years of his life in Istanbul and Ankara, and his family came to love and cherish Turkey.
While German emigration to Turkey is not a terribly well known phenomenon, it is an equally remarkable chapter of our long and eventful relationship. It stretches back for many centuries, has been through highs and lows, and has evolved into a particularly special relationship thanks to the people who have come to us from Turkey. This German Turkish relationship is certainly unique – and certainly not easy.
Germany has been
enriched by the almost three million people with Turkish roots who have since made Germany their home. And, by the way, I also mean
“enriched” in quite a literal sense. The economic progress and prosperity enjoyed by my country would have been simply inconceivable were it not for the many people from Turkey who we asked to come here and work for us in decades past, without their families who joined them later on, and without their children and grandchildren. And I mean
“enriched” also in a social, cultural and real world sense. I am proud and grateful to be the Federal President of a diverse and cosmopolitan Germany where generations of Turkish migrants have left their mark and where people with very different backgrounds have made their home – a home of freedom and the rule of law.
It goes without saying that our free and open society is full of contradictions and conflicts. There are neither magic formulas for, nor a happy end to, the oft debated issue of integration. Integration is a process that entails obligations for everyone involved – both for those who have been Germans for generations and for those who have come to live in our country. Integration begins with a commitment that all of us – regardless of our origins – are entitled, a commitment which says
“I want to live here; I want to help shape the future here”. Integration means that we learn together how to share in this democratic community, to nurture it, tolerate diversity and a plurality of voices, and stand up together to oppose attempts by others – be they in our own country or from outside – to sow the seeds of mistrust or discord. And, without a shadow of a doubt, these common obligations include countering each and every form of discrimination, racism and xenophobia. We stared into the darkest abyss of hatred only recently in the trial of the series of murders committed by the National Socialist Underground (NSU). We have not forgotten these terrible crimes, and especially not their victims. They make us ashamed to this day.
On our travels throughout the country, my wife and I have been delighted time and again to find that, more so than at any other time in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, members of parliament, journalists, authors, actors, sportspeople and entrepreneurs with Turkish roots are part and parcel of everyday life in Germany. Such individuals include people like Mevlüde Genc, whose perseverance and will to achieve reconciliation after the terrible arson attack in Solingen 25 years ago impressed me deeply. We would have liked to welcome her here this evening, and she would have liked to come – unfortunately, however, she is unable to muster the strength for this, and so we send her our warmest regards.
All of these people are leaving their mark on our common Germany, and I am delighted that a number of them are with us here this evening. They are the most important part of our relations – relations which depend upon them. They are able to testify to the fact that many, many people in Germany care about the state of relations between our countries – and about the situation in our respective nations. The interest we have in each other is great and emotions run deep. What happens in Turkey is important to these people, and it is important to Germany, just as a close eye is kept in Turkey on the goings on in Germany. We are, and will remain, important to one another. We should shape our future relationship with this in mind.
Remembering Ernst Reuter, whom I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, is about two things to my mind. Firstly, gratitude – for the openness and humanity that Turkey showed him and many others. And secondly, hope. Eighty years ago, Germans found refuge in Turkey – today, a worryingly large number of people from Turkey are seeking refuge here in Germany from the growing pressure on civil society. Ernst Reuter’s example should be a source of encouragement for us. His entire biography embodies the struggle to overcome coercion and lack of freedom; it embodies the hope for freedom and the rule of law.
He expressed this hope for the coexistence of nations – and in particular for our two countries, of course.
And I too share this hope, along with many other Germans. We hope that Turkey will return to the path of reconciliation two years after the trauma of the attempted coup. We hope that it will be possible to reconcile its stark social differences on the basis of human rights and the rule of law.
This is not all that we hope for. Germany has a most concrete and pronounced interest in an economically successful and stable Turkey rooted in democracy and with a European outlook.
I therefore expressly welcome all efforts being made to help us to return to our long standing good relations after months ridden with conflict. Such efforts include engaging in open dialogue on the things that divide us. As we discussed this morning in detail, I am, as President of this country, concerned about German citizens who are imprisoned in Turkey for political reasons, and I am also concerned about Turkish journalists, trade unionists, lawyers, intellectuals and politicians who remain behind bars. Mr President, I trust that you will understand that we cannot simply gloss over this issue.
Germany and Turkey need each other – also in Europe. We need each other in the bid for peace in the Middle East, in the fight against terrorism and for the efforts to alleviate the situation of the refugees from war zones in the region. Mr President, we pay tribute to your country’s towering efforts to help people who have fled Syria. Just under one million school age refugee children are set to be integrated into the regular school system by the end of the next school year. And that is just one example of the major tasks that migration and integration pose – in your country, and, of course, also here in Germany. I believe that we should talk about how we can tackle these tasks together.
Ladies and gentlemen,
These challenges call for us to make haste. And yet understanding takes time; it requires patience and perseverance. And it requires trust. Mr President, you have felt the strong emotions that your visit to my country has aroused. These emotions are both a reflection of the special relations between our countries and a reflection of the tensions of past months that have yet to be overcome. A single visit is not enough to restore normality. However, it could be a start, the start of a path that leads, via many tangible steps, to new trust. Mr President, Ms Erdoğan, I would now like to raise my glass to this path – may the trust between our two countries grow once again. May the special relationship between the Republic of Turkey and the Federal Republic of Germany and between the people of our countries give rise to amicable and fruitful relations for both sides.