Speech by Foreign Minister Steinmeier to mark the 25th anniversary of the peaceful revolution at the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Prague

30.09.2014 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Mr Hamáček,
Hans-Dietrich Genscher,
Mrs Genscher,
Rudolf Seifers,
Minister-President Tillich,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Needless to say, I’m delighted to be here today to celebrate this anniversary with you. I’m especially pleased that I’m doing so not with just a few officials but that there are more than one hundred individuals among today’s guests who found refuge in this Embassy 25 years ago. I’m also pleased that many of the helpers, many of those working at the Embassy at that time, are here today, including many people from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Germany. A very warm welcome to you all.

The images from back then are still very vivid for all of us – the younger people among us will have seen them on television. We can still see people – often in a desperate race with security forces – climbing over this Embassy’s high fence. More than 1000 succeeded in one night alone. Around 5000 were living in the Embassy’s grounds by the end of September, including 350 children!

Standing here in this spacious and quite splendid palace, it’s hard to imagine that every stair, every corner was taken up with bunk beds and sleeping bags. More and more people had to sleep outside at a time when the cold nights were drawing in and the Embassy was more or less in a state of emergency.

As I said, I and my contemporaries still remember these images very well. Nevertheless, I was moved by the conversations with some of those among you who were here in the Embassy back then. Many of them showed me the place where they climbed over the fence, or the tree in the park where they hung the keys to their houses or apartments – as a symbol of the radical break with the past, but also of saying good bye to their families and homes. They went through all of that because the unwavering desire for freedom overcame all obstacles.

Despite all the tension and uncertainty, despite the rain which transformed the park into a muddy field in the course of September, hope of a life in freedom prevailed. One of you summed it all up when you said, “I’ve never felt freer than in the camp in the Embassy in Prague!”

And then, as the Ambassador mentioned, exactly 25 years ago, Mr Genscher, you spoke the words of deliverance, “We have come here today to tell you that you are free to leave ...”. That was all that was heard, the rest was drowned out by the cheers from the crowd. One of them told me while touring the park, “It was a bit like a football match: men were allowed to cry, too.”

Your speech from this balcony is firmly anchored in the hearts of Germans. At that time you – just like Rudolf Seiters who travelled to Prague with you and is with us today – sensed that this was a historic moment, a historic opportunity for which people in East and West had been waiting for many decades.

It was a moment similar to that described in the wonderful folk song which has been sung for more than 200 years by all those who believe in a united and free Germany: “For my thoughts tear all gates and walls apart: thoughts are free!”

This line quite literally became reality when the refugees were allowed to leave for West Germany. 30 September was only a few weeks before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

However, 30 September 1989 wasn’t just a great moment in German history. It was a shared triumph for Europe. For us Germans, this dream would not – and I would go so far as to say it would never – have come true without the courage of the protesters in Wenceslas Square in Prague and on the streets of Bratislava. We in Germany have not forgotten this, and we will be eternally grateful for it.

Hans-Dietrich Genscher, you said that, at that time, a political wave originated in Prague, the “most European of all European cities”. It took the Czech Republic back to where it belongs: at the heart of Europe.

However, ladies and gentlemen, nothing is guaranteed for all times and given the upheaval in the east of our continent many are asking themselves today, and rightly so: is everything we’ve built since those momentous days in 1989 in jeopardy once more? Could a new Iron Curtain emerge in Europe, perhaps just at a different location?

My response is: yes, there’s a danger that this might happen. For that reason, let’s not just look back today. The event of 25 years ago we are commemorating today didn’t just mean freedom for the people who had found refuge here in Palais Lobkowicz! It also stands for the beginning of the end of the East‑West conflict and for European reunification. This is why today’s date is certainly a reason to rejoice, but also serves as a warning and reminds us of our duty to prevent a new division of Europe!

Thank you very much.

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