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Statement by Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the launch of the Ernst Reuter Initiative for Intercultural Dialogue and Understanding, Istanbul

07.09.2006 - Speech

– Translation of advance text –

Mr Abdullah Gül,
Ladies and gentlemen,

When Ernst Reuter was running for mayor of Berlin, one Berlin newspaper headlined: "Is a Turk to be mayor of Berlin?" That was of course not meant as a mark of appreciation but as a sneer.

Seen from today's standpoint, however, it was in fact a tribute to the German patriot who throughout his life cherished his close ties with Turkey. Like many others, he had escaped persecution by the Nazis only thanks to the support of the Government and people of Turkey. A tribute to the outstanding citizen and politician who in his own person epitomized the voice of reason, the inner composure needed to reconcile what may often appear to be opposites.

These are the aspirations and values to which the Ernst Reuter Initiative is committed. And I am most grateful to Edzard Reuter for allowing us to name our joint German-Turkish Initiative after his father. Many people may be wondering why we have decided to launch this Initiative. In recent years the world has become increasingly polarized along cultural and religious lines – with disastrous consequences. Particularly at the present time the attacks of 11 September 2001 are on all our minds, as are the subsequent acts of violence and terror in London, Madrid and here in Istanbul.

The cartoon controversy early in the year highlighted the prevailing lack of mutual respect as well as sensitivity to and knowledge of other cultures. There is an alarming degree of islamophobia in the West and anti-Western sentiment in the Islamic world. Such attitudes pose a threat to our own citizens as well as to international peace and security and create a vicious circle. That is why my Turkish opposite number and myself have decided to launch a joint venture that will manifest in a very practical way the importance of our two nations working together to foster mutual understanding. That demonstrates how much has already been achieved in this direction. And that calls upon people in all sections of society to contribute to this joint venture.

I am therefore delighted that our Ernst Reuter Initiative has been endorsed by representatives of the world of business, culture, the media, sport, academia and politics. That German companies such as Bosch, Siemens, Öger and others have heeded our appeal and pledged their support for concrete projects. That major media like Deutsche Welle, Bild-Zeitung, Hürriyet and Süddeutsche Zeitung have risen to the challenge and started a series of joint German-Turkish projects ranging from media education to journalist exchange programmes. That today a German-Turkish university now seems a realistic prospect and existing partnerships such as that between the Humboldt University and the Middle Eastern Technical University Ankara are to be expanded and intensified.

But most particularly I am delighted that I have with me here today a number of people who, through the support they have given, the cooperation projects they have been involved in and what they have accomplished both professionally and in a personal capacity, are a splendid example of what our two countries can achieve when we work together. And what we need to achieve indeed. Not merely in the interest of our bilateral cooperation but in order to show that the best solutions and answers to the problems and challenges facing the world today are produced by dialogue.

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