Speech by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the presentation of the German Foundation for Integration’s Talisman award to Dunja Hayali

11.03.2024 - Speech

I thought long and hard about whether I could actually make this speech here today. A politician, a minister honouring a journalist?

In our democracy there are very clear lines separating these functions and levels. And rightly so.

For that reason I am not here this evening to honour the journalist Dunja Hayali for her reporting, for what she says or writes.

That would not only be presumptuous, it would also simply be wrong.

We are here today to honour a great and courageous democrat.

A woman who, through her engagement and her work, shows that our democracy is never a finished product but that we all have a responsibility to defend it anew each day and above all to live it and shape it.

“Democracy is not something we can take for granted. And it is not a shop where you just help yourself to what you want.”

That’s how you, Dunja Hayali, once put it.

And I think right now we are all seeing the truth of those words once again.

Our democracy, our freedom are not things we can take for granted. They never were. They aren’t now and they will never be so.

We are seeing how a culture of nefariousness seems to be gaining ground, a willingness to violate shared rules in the most brutal fashion, to trample on the rights of human beings.

We are witnessing it in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, the goal of which is to destroy life.

We are witnessing it in Hamas’ brutal terror in Israel, which at the same time has brought unspeakable suffering upon the Palestinians in Gaza, who do not even have water any more.

We are witnessing it in autocratic regimes which silence journalists and throw protesters into prison.

Yet we are also witnessing it at home, here in Germany – when we hear how, in a back room, plans are being forged to deport people from our country.

Here, someone just asked why people are protesting now and not before. Not after the attack in Hanau, or when the National Socialist Underground was uncovered. I think the answer is simple, if bitter. It’s because it was people who were obviously from an immigrant background who were targeted, and not the majority population or those who think they are the majority population who saw themselves as the victims. In my view, it’s different now. That doesn’t make it any better.

But we now need to seize this opportunity. We can never change our past, but we can work every day to ensure that we do not repeat these mistakes in the future. The silence following the attacks in Hanau, in Halle – a partial silence – and particularly after the NSU murders – that must not and will not happen again in this country.

We are now seeing hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets, not only in big cities but also and particularly in smaller towns. We are seeing that people feel they need to show that “We are here”.

Yet at the same time we are seeing that others are very deliberately doing everything they can to prevent these majorities from taking to the streets. By very deliberately attempting to ensure that the nefariousness we are seeing in the world also takes root here.

When, for example, they depict the most horrendous picture of their political opponent with gallows and death wishes on placards.

We are witnessing how on social media people are being swamped with hatred and hate speech. How personal opinions acquire the status of exclusive truth in the bubble of the like-minded, how aggression is doled out under the cover of anonymity.

You, Dunja Hayali,

experience this nefariousness and this hatred time and again.

For saying what you think.

But also because you are a woman. Because your parents were not born in Germany.

And because, as a journalist, you simply get on with doing your job.

I am convinced that this nefariousness is highly dangerous if it is allowed to go unchallenged.

The Philippine Nobel laureate and journalist Maria Ressa described this as “death by a thousand cuts of our democracies”.

She warns that we need to be vigilant, saying that if we take our eyes off the ball, democratic institutions can crumble very quickly.

Particularly in the realm of social media. She writes:

“Without facts, you can’t have truth. Without truth, you can’t have trust. Without all three, we have no shared reality. And democracy as we know it (… is) dead.”

For every single hate-filled comment, every single small cut in our democracy, as tiny as it may appear, leaves a scar. And together, these cuts can cause our democratic achievements to fall apart. We have seen this happen in other democracies elsewhere in the world.

Because, as you, Dunja Hayali, have said,

our democracy is indeed not something we can take for granted.

But something we need to defend everywhere and at all times.

The good thing is that the reverse is also true, as we have also seen in recent years in other democracies: with every small cut we prevent, we protect our democracy.

With dignity, respect, empathy and optimism.

That is exactly what you do. And to achieve this, you not only go into television studios or to your desk to write clever books. You also go into the heart of our society: into schools, into sports clubs.

You get involved in initiatives such as “Gesicht zeigen!” (True colours) against racism, and encourage children and young people to take a confident stand against all forms of exclusion. To take a stand against all those little cuts.

Because young people who recognise early on that we may not all be alike but that we all have the same rights “rarely become racists”, as you once so rightly said.

It is our constitution, our Basic Law that enshrines this tenet: acknowledgement of the value of every individual.

You have summed this up very concisely: saying that our Basic law is a “short and simple instruction manual” for peaceful coexistence in our country.

And I say, yes, that’s precisely what it is. And if we disregard this instruction manual, our democracy doesn’t work anymore, it stalls.

So for you, Dunja Hayali, taking a stand means adopting a clear position when the rights that are enshrined in our constitution are called into question.

Article 1. – Human dignity shall be inviolable. For you, that is an instruction to take a stand in the face of antisemitic, racist or other forms of hate speech. As you yourself experienced again recently when a young woman on the train yelled at you “Foreigners, go home!”.

Article 3. – All persons shall be equal before the law. For you, that is a clear instruction to bring women to the table to join discussion and decision-making processes. And to encourage women then also to take a seat at the table. Because our society is strongest when everyone can participate on an equal footing.

Or Article 16 – Persons persecuted on political grounds shall have the right of asylum. For you, that is an instruction to repeatedly state loud and clear, despite all the hatred you have had thrown at you particularly in connection with the issue of refugees since 2015: “The right to asylum is a human right.” It applies unconditionally.

Getting involved, not being cowed when the tone of hate speech becomes loud – whether on the bus, on the train, at protests on which you are reporting, or on Twitter, TikTok and Facebook.

With a cool head and clear arguments.

What makes you, as an active citizen and democrat, stand out is that you not only talk in an abstract way about Article 1, Article 3 or Article 16 of the Basic Law and call for those principles to be respected. In books and lectures. From inside comfort zones.

For you, taking a stand means putting Articles 1, 3, 16 and all the others into practice. On a daily basis. For you, it means paying careful attention and listening and leaving your own comfort zone to interact with those who are worried, who express criticism and, indeed, also with those who are angry.

You have said that time and again you offer to talk on the phone with people who send you hate-filled emails.

That is by no means a matter of course. Any of us who have been on the receiving end of that kind of email knows what it is like. It takes courage and determination not to simply switch off your phone. That would be the easiest solution. To stay in your comfort zone.

You have said how hard it is to keep on standing up to this: “It is dialogue verging on madness.”

But this dialogue of madness, this arduous work is crucial – because it fosters understanding and communication. And because it serves as an example to others not to remain silent.

Because you often also speak out for those who, in that moment, are unable to do so. It is therefore no coincidence that you become a target of the hatred and hate speech. As a democrat, as a woman, as a journalist.

Because that is precisely what the opponents of our democracy want to prevent. Because it is precisely this understanding and communication that those who disregard our constitution want to prevent. Through hostility, through verbal abuse and, indeed, in some cases through physical violence.

Only recently I visited a school – and then there are many people with a lot of critical questions. And then there are Reichsbürger out on the streets or sitting in a tractor – whether it belongs to them or not – trying to stop people asking these critical questions – which come from cooks, nursery school teachers, plumbers.

You yourself experienced this in a dramatic way during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s hard to watch the videos showing how you were attacked.

Yet with your courage, Dunja Hayali, you protest against the silencing of dialogue here in Germany. Against the silencing of every attempt to promote understanding.

Your aim is to “get people to think”.

That’s how you once put it. And I think it’s a wonderful way of saying it. Because it makes clear what is needed to “get people to think”.

Not to be fully convinced of your own opinion but to have the desire to understand where your conversation partner is coming from, even if you don’t share their views. To constantly ask: “Why?”.

You frequently got on your parents’ and your siblings’ nerves with your “Why” questions. You have vividly described how your sister used to roll her eyes at you.

But these questions help us get to a point where we can see the perspective of others.

There’s a picture of you on social media. It shows a six – or a nine. Depending on where you are standing, you can take the view: “That’s a six. How could anyone see anything else?” But if you are willing to move and adopt a different perspective, you can see a nine.

I often use this example with school classes, but recently also in the Middle East and to be honest, sometimes also in the coalition committee.

Seeing things from someone else’s perspective is crucial.

Because when we do so, we are willing to move out of our comfort zones, to leave the spiral of self-affirmation, the parallel universes of one-sidedness which polarise our societies so dangerously.

Yes, it is easier to isolate ourselves in a supposed state of moral purity than to grapple with other views. But that prevents us from making any progress along the path towards understanding and communication and therefore towards solutions.

Not in the debates on domestic policy, nor with regard to the international crises that trigger so many emotions here in Germany, such as the violence in the Middle East, the terrible situation of the people in Gaza.

I believe we can only move forward if we are willing to grapple with this complexity, to not only tolerate other perspectives but also to spell out the dilemmas that result from them.

To “get us to think”.

Dunja Hayali, that is precisely what you do. And you do this with a wonderful gift of seeing things in a positive light despite the spread of nefariousness.

A few years ago, you debated with young diplomats who were still in training with us at the Federal Foreign Office.

A colleague told me about it.

“The most important thing I took away from this experience is this: Ms Hayali told us that she strikes up conversations with the person sitting next to her on the Underground in order to better understand the people around her. And that she goes surfing in the sun once a year. I thought those were both good tips for the future!”

I’m mentioning that here, even though some people might find it trite, because that, too, is one of the most effective antidotes: to not get dragged down into the spiral of nefariousness, of negativity. But to focus repeatedly on what is actually at stake. The beauty of our lives. Embracing life – with passion, with fun and sometimes with surfing.

If you ask your colleagues what the first thing is that comes to mind when they think of you, they say:

“Dunja? She is natural, straightforward. She’s up for anything. She’s always positive and optimistic.”

I would sum that up here quite unjournalistically - because that’s not my job – but also undiplomatically: Dunja Hayali is quite simply the epitome of cool.

Someone who “gets us to think”.

You show us how precious our democracy is.

You also show us what a huge blessing it is to live in our democracy. What a delight freedom is.

And that we can be grateful for it every day.

Dunja Hayali, what you embody is perhaps the greatest insult to all those who oppose our constitution: true appreciation, a real interest in other people and optimism.

At a time when those who disregard our constitution are attempting to discredit everything in our country, to divide us, to destroy the value of democracy in our eyes, to say that it is so much easier in countries where one strong man puts his foot down, to sow seeds of hatred, resentment and malice.

Because they want to crush the stance we need to adopt to defend our democracy. They want to stop us enjoying exchange. Enjoying learning about other people and opinions. They want to stop us looking to the future with optimism and expectation because we have the freedom to shape this future every day.

It is our democracy that enables us to do precisely this, that safeguards this freedom.

Dunja Hayali,

You once said quite nonchalantly: “What I do really goes without saying. It’s important to stand up for certain things in our society.”

No, what you do is not something that goes without saying. It is something very special. What you do is brave and it is important.

That is why I am delighted that today you are receiving the Talisman award from the German Foundation for Integration.

The name of this award stands for what you are:

an asset to our so beautiful country,

an asset to our democracy. Congratulations!


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