Speech by Foreign Minister Baerbock on the occasion of German Unity Day
Eighteen years ago, I stood on the bridge between the Polish town of Slubice and Frankfurt an der Oder with hundreds of other people. At midnight, the anthem of Europe sounded, fireworks exploded in the sky, people hugged. It was the night of May 1, 2004 and the moment Poland joined the European Union. The joy of being part of Europe was written on all the faces of the people on the bridge. For me, this feeling, this feeling of joy is inextricably linked to your country. I am therefore delighted – and it was very important for me personally – to be able to spend German Unity Day in Warsaw today. Because October 3 is also a happy day for Germany and Europe.
May 1, 2004 would not have been possible without October 3. But likewise, October 3 is inconceivable without May 1, 2004. I therefore want to recall something which, in Germany, is sometimes too rarely expressed. We Germans could not have written the chapter of our reunification without the courage of the Polish people. There is a love poem by Wislawa Szymborska in which she writes:
“Every beginning is just a sequel, after all, and the book of events is always open, halfway through.”
Long before the fall of the Berlin Wall, thousands of people took to the streets with the Solidarność movement. They called for their voices to be heard, for democracy and freedom for their country – and for a new, free and united Europe. I am thinking of the workers who founded the first free trade union in the Eastern bloc in the Gdańsk shipyard. The many strong women who may not have been front and center in all the photos, but who were so important to these protests. Tram driver Henryka Krzywonos, who is with us tonight. Welcome! You organized the solidarity strikes of the transport companies. I am thinking of actress Krystyna Janda, who sang protest songs at the “Forbidden Songs Festival”. I think of the millions of brave men and women who took to the streets and said loud and clear: We want to be free!
The attraction of this freedom movement also took hold of Germany. Not the slightest images of Gdańsk, Krakow, or Warsaw attracted Germans to the streets in 1989 and gave them courage. Until the fall of the Wall and the reunification of Germany – in a free Europe.
I was born in 1980. I grew up in West Germany and only experienced the Cold War through the eyes of a child. I have spent three quarters of my life in this united and peaceful Germany. When my generation and the following generations attend demonstrations in Europe today, for the climate or women’s rights or our common Europe, we know that afterwards we can go home, to the cinema, to our friends or our families . My children are now 7 and 11 years old, born in Berlin and Potsdam. To them, east and west are just points on the compass, different directions. I think of this freedom, the freedom to go in any direction when I see the brave people who stand up today against authoritarian regimes – in places like Tehran, Minsk and Moscow. These people deserve our solidarity. It is their courage that can change a society. It was this kind of courage that also made German reunification possible. And I say deliberately as Minister of Foreign Affairs and as a politician that this freedom was not dictated or orchestrated from above. It was not the idea of a party or a government, nor was it a cabinet decision. It is the will and the courage of the people that have allowed this freedom.
Without the courage shown in November 1989, we would not celebrate October 3rd. The courage of the people who took to the streets and who did not know what the outcome of these protests would be. Who didn’t know if the protests would cost them their jobs or land them in jail. And they went ahead – first to Poland, then to Germany.
And today I can tell you this: I am proud that Poland counts this reunited Germany among its friends. This was possible because you, especially as a people, reached out to us.
After the Second World War, after the most heinous crimes committed by Germany, the Polish people were ready to reach out to us. For that, we are eternally grateful.
I don’t want to start listing all the statistics on the number of German-Polish companies we currently have, the number of youth exchanges, student exchanges and German-Polish associations. All this is impressive, but our relations are not limited to these institutions. We are bound to each other forever, as grandchildren, as sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, as colleagues, as neighbors, as friends.
What we have is an intimate friendship between millions of people. A friendship and partnership stronger than political differences. A friendship we must continue to invest in, however difficult it may sometimes be – to prevent the erosion of what we have achieved through the Good Neighbor Treaty. It is our political responsibility. Poland is one of our most important partners in the EU. And I am delighted that the emotion I had and the joy I felt on the bridge over the Oder in 2004 have not dissipated. Now as then, the peoples of our countries are united by a strong desire to be part of this European Union. A European Union which is much more than a common internal market. A European Union which is above all a union of freedom and peace. Indeed, at this particular time, we see that an effective European Union is not an end in itself, but our common life insurance.
For seven months, we have been witnessing a war on the European continent that is writing a new chapter in our history with brutal calligraphy. The Ukrainian people are not only fighting this war for the survival of their country, they are also fighting for a free Europe, for our Europe. And again, Poland is at the center of those who support this fight for freedom at all levels, especially among the general public. What the Polish people have achieved since February 24 in their support for Ukraine is unprecedented and fills me with the greatest respect.
This is also why I am here today. We will not let up on our support for Ukraine, together with our partners in EU and NATO. Because we Germans will never forget that we owe our life in freedom, in a reunited country in the heart of Europe, also to our allies and neighbours. We will be there for them now, just as they were there for us. This is true for Ukraine. But it’s the same for Poland. We will be there for you. How you were there for us when we needed you most. After all, the security of Eastern Europe is also the security of Germany. You can count on it.
And now I wish us all – despite or maybe even because of everything – a pleasant and joyful evening. Because we know how precious and fragile our freedom, our security and our project of peace which is Europe are. Tonight, let’s raise our glasses to the hope that Poland and Germany will fill our “book of events”, as described in the love poem I quoted at the beginning of my speech, with many more pages – with stories of close cooperation, with lively and sometimes passionate discussions, but above all with stories full of friendship and moments of happiness. Because today is a happy day for Europe.