Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair, 14 October 2008

14.10.2008 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Mr President, Abdullah Gül,

Orhan Pamuk,

Mr Honnefelder,

Mr Boos,


Madam Mayor,

Ladies and gentlemen,

One picture was constantly displayed during the run-up to this year's Book Fair – the Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul. This picture of the bridge joining Europe and Asia is indeed a highly symbolic one, not only because German engineers helped plan and build that link, and not only because the President of Turkey, my friend Abdullah, and I have personal memories of this bridge, beneath which we launched the Ernst Reuter Initiative two years ago.

We all hope that Turkey will act as a bridge between continents and cultures, and I hope that the Frankfurt Book Fair will help create that bridge, because today we need spiritual and cultural bridges even more urgently than motorway bridges.

Even in the age of the internet, the quickest link between continents and cultures is still the book! The Book Fair proves this every year.

When I first opened the Frankfurt Book Fair two years ago I said that we needed to bring the interior and the exterior closer together, to use cultural diversity to achieve greater togetherness in the face of the 21st century's looming challenges.

Two years ago I expressed this as a demand. Today it is an undisputed necessity.

We're all witnessing the most serious crisis in the international financial and economic system since the Second World War. My friend Abdullah and I have just discussed this situation.

He described the extent to which his country's growth is affected by the crisis, and his fears that Turkey's social cohesion might be jeopardized by an economic crash and above all by a collapse in Turkey's hopes of becoming a modern, democratic European society.

Not just Turkish society but our society are in the same situation. Although yesterday's actions watered down, perhaps even prevented, the worst consequences of the financial market crisis, what we're experiencing at the moment threatens to undermine the very foundations of our society.

Those who reduce mankind to homo oeconomicus, who advocate competition without limits and reason, who see short-term profit as the only economic yardstick, lose all sense of proportion and end up being ruled by pure greed!

Today I think we can all agree that this view of mankind, freedom and economics threatens our fundamental values and our societies' cohesion.

In the final analysis it erodes the relationship between freedom and responsibility, a relationship which is no more and no less than the heritage of Europe's Enlightenment.

Why am I emphasizing this here?

Because I believe that our societal model's clarity and its attractiveness will prove its worth during the current crisis, not only for ourselves but also for our friends and partners in the rest of the world.

Three years ago here in Frankfurt, Orhan, you described that attraction as follows:

“The great novelists I read as a child and a young man (...) described Europe through heroes who were struggling to free themselves, express their creativity and make their dreams come true (...) their novels spoke to my heart. Europe has gained the respect of the non-western world for the ideals it has done so much to nurture: liberty, equality, and fraternity.”

This is our task – to link these three values of liberty, equality and fraternity. Whether we like it or not, the issue of our relationship with Turkey is in some ways a test of how serious we are about our values and attitudes.

Are we renewing and defending them in our own society?

Do we see them as a good enough model for a society undergoing change like Turkey?

Or do we succumb to the temptation of hiding away in fear, in other words have we lost our self-confidence?

Yesterday I read in a newspaper that the financial crisis is a “crisis of the global system”. That is correct. It is therefore all the more necessary for us Europeans to put forward our idea of an equitable and peaceful order.

The Frankfurt Book Fair is a good opportunity to think about this, alongside this year's guest of honour.

This is because this year's Book Fair gives us a unique chance to experience at first hand the richness of Turkish literature, to speak to the authors and get an insight into the issues facing Turkish society.

Don't worry – I'm no literary critic!

But anyone who has read, even fleetingly, the works of authors like Zülfü Livaneli, Oya Baydar or Elif Shafak, can see that the range of self-reflection in Turkish literature includes everything from the East-West conflict in Turkish society and the tension between traditional role perceptions and a modern way of life to the difficult historical issues, Turkey's identity today, and the place of religion in a modern state.

That's very impressive. Some reports prior to the Fair suggested that this cultural wealth was a sign of a changing society. As a politician I say that it testifies to a society's strength if it can make its questions, its internal conflicts and changes the subject of cultural reflection.

We should accept that offer. Our ideal is not a harmonious society, but rather a democratic one in which different opinions can vie with one another.

The more we encourage multidimensional debate, the less chance we will give the simplistic demagogues, populists and Pied Pipers, and the less the state will be able to take erroneous measures which give a false impression of homogeneity where diversity is required!

Freedom of opinion is for good reason one of the vital criteria for EU membership. To guarantee this, you need to do more than just amend laws, there must be a change in attitude. We're all aware that in this regard Turkey still has some way to go, but we should support Turkey on this journey.

All of you here know my position on this – for me Turkey's integration into the European Union is the other side of the integration policy in our own country. We should pursue both objectives, and I don't see Germany's integration policy as being complete without Europe's integration of Turkey.

But let us not dwell on this point today, let us look at the encouraging message emerging from the Book Fair. Those here today can also see that Turkey is well on its way to being a pluralistic and democratic society.

Earlier I talked about Turkey as a society undergoing change. In my experience literature acts as a very sensitive and exact seismograph for such tremors, not because it presents social conflicts from a one-dimensional viewpoint, but because literature's idiosyncrasy, independent spirit and fictional power gives us a new insight into both our own and other people's realities. We should also take this idea to heart here in Germany!

Let me provide an example of what I mean:

In his great book entitled “Istanbul: Memories and the City” Orhan Pamuk states that the city he described as his own is not really his own.

It is just that experience, sometimes finding what is unfamiliar in one's own environment and vice versa, which forms part of Uwe Tellkamp's book “Der Turm” (The Tower), which yesterday won the German Book Prize. I warmly congratulate him on this achievement!

Why am I emphasizing this?

Because I regard fraternity not only as a political maxim but as a fundamental experience which is sometimes pushed too far into the background here.

Literature can teach us to take a step back from our own standpoint and to see life through another's eyes. It can show us how to find ourselves in what we see as being foreign and vice versa.

This is a cultural bridge we need to use more often, especially here in Germany. It is fortunately true that today no serious overview of modern German-language literature omits the names of writers born in Turkey or with Turkish-born parents or grandparents.

But we still often underestimate the fact that integration only succeeds if here in Germany, too, we learn to deal with multiple identities.

Jürgen Habermas once said that there can be no integration without extending one's own horizon. People with experience of more than one culture are the key to mutual understanding and the capacity to devise common solutions across geographical and cultural divides.

If we manage to draw more on the wealth of German-Turkish experience that exists here in our country, we will strengthen Germany's cohesion, and I'm certain that at the same time we will smooth Turkey's path to Europe, just as the integration into the EU of a democratic and pluralistic Islamic country would do much to increase the credibility and clarity of the European societal model to hold its own vis-à-vis our partners in the world!

This is no easy task, but it is worth the effort. This is why, two years ago, Abdullah Gül and I launched the Ernst Reuter Initiative in a ceremony beneath the Bosporus Bridge I mentioned earlier.

Together with figures from the media and culture, business and civil society, including Mario Adorf, Fatih Akin and Edzard Reuter, we started this initiative, with the aim not only to strengthen dialogue, concrete cooperation and mutual understanding between our countries, but also to show that a European future for Turkey and our aspirations for a cosmopolitan Germany go hand in hand.

Many German-Turkish projects have sought a home under this initiative. We launched some others, for example the establishment of a German-Turkish University in Istanbul. Our intention, which President Gül has just confirmed, is to lay the foundation stone before the middle of next year. At the same time we want to establish the link to another project, that of founding an artists' academy in the Istanbul suburb of Tarabya.

I'm sure that with both academic training and cultural discourse we will not only increase our mutual understanding but also strengthen the German-Turkish and indeed the European community of shared responsibility.

At the beginning of this speech I said that during the current crisis our European societal model will have to prove once again its attractiveness and clarity. I mentioned the themes of tolerance, freedom and responsibility for our common future.

Let me conclude by sharing with you a thought that was and remains central to our European societal model and our vision of a united Europe.

You once wrote, Orhan, that “those who believe in the European Union must see at once that the real choice we have to make is between peace and nationalism.” You also called on Europe to cooperate with Turkey on this peace project.

As Germany's foreign minister I have been able over the past three years, and perhaps more intensively over the past three months, to work on peace projects with my Turkish colleagues.

The Iran issue and the efforts to mediate in the Israel-Syria conflict show that Turkey is a linchpin not just between the continents but between East and West.

Moreover, even though the German public was barely unaware of this fact, without Turkey the European efforts to defuse the conflict in the Caucasus could not have been successful.

For that we must express our gratitude to Turkey. But above all, even in these difficult times, this should encourage us to maintain our shared confidence in the European model of society, in the heritage of the Enlightenment and in Europe's commitment to global peace and security. This goal is worth pursuing.

Thank you!

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