Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in the German Bundestag on 27 January 2010

27.01.2011 - Speech

Speech by Guido Westerwelle, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, in the German Bundestag on 27 January 2010

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues,

The strength inherent in the concept of liberty is currently plain for all to see. We are seeing it not only in Tunisia but now also in Egypt. When this debate was planned, we all had events in Tunisia in mind. Now, we are seeing similar demonstrations or at least discussion of the same issues in the societies of other countries too. That is the often forgotten other side of globalization: values becoming globalized, democratic principles becoming globalized. At issue here is respect for human and civil rights. On this point, we share but one position across party lines. This Government – and, I have no doubt, this House – is emphatically on the side of democracy – whether in Tunisia or in Egypt.

I have five things to say, because the process we are seeing will undoubtedly occupy us for some time, and not only here in the Bundestag or in the work of the Government but also in Europe and throughout the West, which is after all rightly called a community of shared values.

Firstly – what we are experiencing disproves the claim that democracy and civil liberties make countries unstable. We are seeing exactly the opposite here. It is not civil liberties that make countries unstable, and it is not granting freedom that destabilizes them; stability is being shaken in these countries by the refusal to grant civil liberties. This fact also presents us with the clear duty to advance democracy wherever we can. The road to stability is through democracy. That is why we in Europe are particularly committed to this cause.

That cause includes safeguarding human rights, respecting civil rights and, expressly, upholding freedom of the press, of opinion and of assembly. That is the message that came out of Tunisia, and that is the message we are now hearing from the people in Egypt: democracy, civil liberties, freedom. Freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, freedom of opinion – it is precisely these rights which the citizens on the streets are demanding and claiming. Those who seek those rights can count on our solidarity and our political support.

We are a community of shared values, and we want to spread those values.

Secondly – people often try to justify violence by saying that violent suppression is necessary to ward off the danger of excessive Islamist influence, the danger of fundamentalism. That concept is precisely what these last few days have disproved – indeed, what is being disproved as we speak.

Anyone now using violence against citizens and against their longing for freedom and democracy is promoting Islamism and radicalism, by driving towards those doctrines perfectly ordinary middle-class people who have expressed an honest desire for education, freedom and betterment; the use of violence thus merely ensures that precisely these moderate forces are weakened and radical forces strengthened. He who uses violence does not combat Islamism; on the contrary, he who now uses violence against his own citizens generates fundamentalism, Islamism and radicalism in these societies.

Thirdly – in Brussels on Monday, we and our fellow Europeans will discuss what concrete assistance we can provide in Tunisia. It is of course too soon to talk about the details, since we have not yet agreed collectively on the measures to be taken. But I can assure you – as I assured my Tunisian counterpart on the phone – that Tunisia, once it embarks on the path of democracy, will have help with the process not only from Germany but also from the European Union.

An independent judiciary is important now. Wherever people seek to establish an independent judiciary, that essential condition for stability, we will support them every step of the way – providing advisory services as well as practical assistance.

Fourthly – it is becoming clear that opinions in this digital age can no longer be controlled by state television alone. This is a whole new reality for freedom of thought. When I talk about freedom of the press, therefore, I also mean freedom of the Internet. This freedom, as we can clearly see, has become an additional engine of democratization. We welcome this development and appeal to the Government in Cairo not to compromise freedom of the Internet by blocking the worldwide web.

Fifthly and finally, I would like to express my thanks, first and foremost, to many colleagues here for the work we have been doing together. Please allow me also to thank the travel agents for their collaboration and our diplomats and citizens on the ground for their dedication.

Let us not forget what a tremendous achievement it was to fly home 7000 German tourists wanting to leave – within one weekend. That was a huge logistical achievement. Please therefore allow me to end with a word of thanks to the civil servants who organized the operation and also, of course, to our colleagues in the countries themselves, who are working there at great personal risk, and to the travel agents and the many other companies who played their parts in getting those of our citizens who wanted to leave back to Germany unharmed.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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