Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at a ceremony to mark the 25th anniversary of the Democratic Forum of Germans in Romania on the theme of “Nationality and Identity” given in Sibiu/Romania on 9 March 2015

09.03.2015 - Speech

– translation of advance text –

Dr Porr,
Bogdan Aurescu,
Lord Bishops,
Madam Mayor,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Members of the Democratic Forum of Germans in Romania,

An hour ago, I opened a fascinating exhibition here in Sibiu on the history and present of the German minority in Romania.

The photos and models give an insight into the chequered history of the German minority here in your country, in your history. One thing becomes especially clear on viewing the wonderful testimonies to your life together: minorities are a boon to the majority. Their culture and traditions enrich Romanian society!

I was very impressed by a large map at the entrance. The various German communities around the country are marked in bright colours. It’s a colourful image – and it demonstrates how diverse they are: from Transylvanian Saxons, Banat Swabians to Bukovina and Dobrujan Germans.

The German minority was characterised by this diversity for many centuries. Actually, it wasn’t until the Democratic Forum of Germans in Romania was established 25 years ago that a single association was created to represent all Germans.

Since then, the Forum – whose anniversary we’re celebrating today – has helped consolidate a shared political identity, a German identity within Romanian nationality.

Nationality – in the sense of citizenship and identity – will be my theme today.

One of the best known representatives of the German minority in Romania, President Klaus Johannis, incorporates this very idea.

“I’m a Romanian national, that’s to say a Romanian. And I’m an ethnic German. My German identity has nothing to do with the Federal Republic of Germany as a state, but with language and culture”, Johannis once told a German newspaper.

This statement may not sound very exciting to many. But I believe it’s vitally important when it comes to talking about the identity of minorities. For it strikes at the core of the interaction between nationality and identity.

The German minority in this country plays an active role in Romania’s political life. Along with the 18 other officially recognised minorities, it is part of the fabric of Romanian society. At the same time, however, it has preserved its cultural identity, its traditions and its customs.

The many photos in the exhibition we’ve just viewed illustrate this very clearly: we see young people in traditional costumes dancing at village fetes, we see artists at the Radu Stanca national theatre in Sibiu performing innovative drama – in German, and we see school children researching and singing together – also in German.

This – preserving an own identity – hasn’t been a given over the centuries. Particularly in the 20th century, German minorities were confronted with crises and wars and had to endure suffering – especially as a result of armed conflicts instigated by Germany.

All of you here today know that only too well. The deportation of many members of the German minority from Romania to work as forced labourers in the then Soviet Union 70 years ago was one of the brutal consequences of the crimes against humanity committed by Germans. This is an especially painful chapter.

Despite these ruptures, you were able to preserve and further develop your culture.

I believe this was possible in Romania thanks to two developments in particular:

Firstly due to the institutional basis. By that I mean, first and foremost, the close bilateral cooperation, also in the German-Romanian Intergovernmental Commission for the Affairs of the German Minority in Romania – based on the friendship and partnership treaty of 1992.

At least as important in my eyes, however, – and this is my second point – is the way you here in Romania have implemented this treaty during the last two decades, the way in which the different communities live alongside each other and how you express your identity.

Identity – in my view, that encompasses not only historical buildings such as the famous fortified churches, which are part of the UNESCO world heritage, but also intangible assets – especially language.

The language of Romania’s German minority can be heard today beyond your country’s borders.

Nobel laureate Herta Müller, musicians such as Peter Maffay, director Calin Peter Netzer or the authors Eginald Schlattner and Joachim Wittstock all show what wonderful cultural works can be developed in one’s own language.

We therefore have to continue promoting the preservation of language. In Romania, this is done not only in the around 80 German-language schools – some of the most successful educational institutions in the country – but also in numerous cultural institutes, theatres and youth projects.

Representatives of the German minority are active in Romania’s cultural scene and in the political arena. President Johannis is a shining example of this commitment, and many members of the Democratic Forum are local councillors or mayors.

In business, too, cooperation is vibrant. In Brașov, for instance, around 250 pupils have opted for dual vocational training based on the German model. German companies and the German business club in Brașov played a key role in the establishment of the state vocational training school three years ago.

Relations between the German minority and the wider society in Romania seem to work. It would be desirable, looking at the internal conflicts within many other societies, if the situation was similar in other countries. This is a self-confident minority, rooted in its own culture which is – and this is why it works – committed to the country in which it lives and in which it is at home.

Many years ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt explained why this is so important: “No democracy can long survive which does not accept as fundamental to its very existence the recognition of the rights of minorities.”

This quote may be old, but it contains much that is very relevant to us today! For me, it aptly describes the relationship between nationality and identity – and not only back in Roosevelt’s day but almost more so for our time, which is increasingly marked by the interconnectedness of our world, migration and thus growing diversity within national borders.

The relationship between nationality and identity is important in terms of both domestic and foreign policy! It’s important to domestic policy because only a nation which protects diverse identities and integrates them into its society can enjoy enduring success in this modern dynamic world. And it’s important to foreign policy because only nations which protect and integrate diverse identities within their borders can co‑exist peacefully with other nations.

A look at the conflicts of the last few decades on our continent shows this. The darkest chapter in German history also makes it clear. Only too often in our history, minority questions have been an explosive issue and the trigger for bilateral tensions.

This is also clear when we look at the current conflict in Ukraine. For here a foreign nation has presumed to be the protector of a minority of its own ethnicity in another state, Ukraine, and has used this to justify violating the sovereignty of that state.

That, ladies and gentlemen, runs profoundly counter to the fundamental principle of nationality and identity in an interconnected world: a sovereign state has an obligation to protect diversity within its borders! No‑one from outside may violate this sovereignty under the pretext of protecting a minority!

If we water down this principle then we open up a Pandora’s box – that will make it difficult for the concept of the sovereign nation-state to survive in the 21st century!

In the European Union, we’ve learned from our history and committed ourselves to two crucial principles: firstly, the preservation of the identity of a community as a minority, its protection and its promotion are widely recognised as independent human rights in Europe. No state which doesn’t guarantee this protection can join the European Union.

This is the essence of progress for humanity.

A second European lesson from the past is that the protection of minorities must have priority over the mere relations between two states. We’ve created joint institutions and a legal system which stand above our bilateral relations.

The OSCE, whose chair we will take over next year, and the Council of Europe have important roles to play here.

The Helsinki Final Act 40 years ago, the Copenhagen Document 15 years later – by adopting these instruments the OSCE states confirmed that respect for the rights of national minorities is an integral part of the universal corpus of recognised human rights. And thus also a key security factor at international level!

By creating the office of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities in 1992, we established a political instrument which can mediate discreetly and at an early stage and can help prevent conflicts. We will continue to support this crucial work during our OSCE chairmanship.

We need international institutions in order to promote minorities. However, I believe that the dialogue among communities is equally important.

Lord Dahrendorf once said that we need to move from a foreign policy of nations to a foreign policy of societies.

Or to come back to my basic theme of identity and nationality: in foreign policy, not only nations should be engaged in dialogue – that’s traditional international diplomacy! Rather, the diverse communities should enter into dialogue, communicate with each other and benefit from each other – that, too, is foreign policy!

The dialogue between Germany and Romania in this sphere is vibrant – whether in the shape of youth exchange programmes, German-Romanian art projects or economic and scientific cooperation. It’s a dialogue which we’re also fostering in very concrete terms via our cultural relations and education policy.

The exhibition here in Sibiu which we toured today is another example of these cultural efforts to promote understanding. I’m glad that my Ministry was able to make a contribution via the German Embassy in Bucharest and the Consulate here in Sibiu.

The fact that we, as the exhibition shows, can say here today that the German minority and the rest of society are living together in a way which benefits all sides is thanks to all of you here in Romania.

For responsibility for the situation of national minorities lies first and foremost with the states and societies in which the minorities are at home.

And “home” is the key here. For I believe that citizens can only develop a sense of loyalty towards their state and their society if they truly feel accepted and “at home” there.

That also applies to our own country.

And I’m speaking here not only about recognised minorities in Germany – German Sinti and Roma, Danes, Frisians and Sorbs. I’m also talking about those people who only came to our country during the last few decades and years.

It’s of crucial importance to the future of our society that their integration is successful. It’s therefore important that we all work to ensure that Germany, that our country, grows together even more, that these people can identify both with their country of origin and with Germany.

Much work still lies ahead of us!

In Romania, too, many Roma are disadvantaged when it comes to education, health and adequate housing for a wide range of reasons. The state is called on here to look after its nationals. I therefore welcome the Romanian Government’s new Roma strategy and hope that it will now be vigorously implemented.

Minorities are a boon to the majority.

Like a kaleidoscope, the exhibition here in Sibiu shows in a very impressive way what’s happening here in Sibiu.

But more than that, your commitment and the way in which you live side by side with the rest of Romanian society demonstrates this every day!

Thank you very much.

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