-- Translation of advance text --
Ladies and gentlemen,
I’m delighted to be with you here today for the opening of the exhibition “Russians and Germans – 1000 Years of Art, History and Culture”. The exhibition also marks the launch of the Germany Year in Russia. Over the year ahead we look forward to a whole series of events designed to explore and raise public awareness of the many different facets of our relationship with Russia.
In this connection the exhibition we’re opening today is a true flagship project. Its planning and organization has been a joint endeavour by leading German and Russian museums: the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation along with the Museum of Pre- and Early History of the National Museums in Berlin and the State Historical Museum in Moscow. Major German and Russian companies have provided financial support. I’d like to make special mention of E.ON in this context.
This is the first exhibition to open here at the Historical Museum after its wholesale renovation. This is a great honour for us. It will be on display here in Moscow until early September and then move to the New Museum on Berlin’s Museum Island, where it will run from October to mid-January 2013.
The exhibition aims to show visitors how intensely both countries’ governments and societies have interacted over the centuries and how this interaction has influenced and enriched both sides. This makes it the ideal starting-point for this year-long programme of events, which we hope will not only showcase contemporary Germany in all its multiplicity and diversity in over 50 cities across the Russian Federation but also help to forge even closer ties between our two countries across the whole spectrum. Major cultural highlights such as this exhibition are of course an important part of the Germany Year in Russia and the Russia Year in Germany. But what awaits us over the next twelve months doesn’t have to do only with culture. The Germany Year calendar contains highlights of special relevance to business as well as other areas of public life.
The Year’s chosen motto is “Germany and Russia – Shaping the Future Together”. In addition to exploring important topical issues, the over 1000 events planned will focus attention on the challenges ahead for both countries and the need for a joint response.
In this connection a host of Russian and German partners are working together to realize projects that place great emphasis on cooperation and exchange. Collaborating on a project enables the various partners involved to get to know each other better and helps them understand, too, that their partners’ perceptions of the past, present or future may differ from their own. This is particularly true of civil society exchanges. It is in no small part due to this vibrant network of people-to-people contacts that German-Russian relations are so good, I believe. That’s why I take such a keen personal interest in these intersocietal encounters.
Here I’m thinking of the many partnerships that exist between German and Russian cities and regions, of all the associations, school classes and individuals who travel to the partner country and cultivate contacts there. All this is nothing new of course. This kind of give and take between both countries has a long tradition in fact, as the exhibition makes very clear. Yet considering what the past century brought in the way of tragedy and unimaginable suffering, this is something that can by no means be taken for granted.
How important the political dimension of our relations is was highlighted by President Putin’s visit to Berlin earlier this month. That one of his first trips abroad after assuming office took him to Germany is something we much appreciate. Even if our views on many international issues may differ, we both know that in our strategic partnership frank dialogue in a spirit of mutual trust is essential.
Economic exchanges are undoubtedly an important foundation of this German-Russian partnership. This is particularly true of the energy sector. Bilateral trade continues to expand. German and Russian companies do good business in the partner country. And this helps generate employment also at home. I’m optimistic that Russia’s forthcoming WTO accession will create an environment that will encourage the development of even closer economic ties.
In centuries gone by countries enjoyed good relations when crowned heads chose to make common cause. Law and order sufficed to guarantee social stability. Nowadays that’s not enough. Societies today can prosper and prepare for the future and its challenges only if they offer all their members freedom and opportunities for personal development. A society of responsible citizens must be founded on the rule of law, human rights and democracy.
Following the demise of the German Democratic Republic, German society embarked on a radical transformation. Over the past 21 years a great deal has been accomplished. What belonged together has now grown together. This process is now irreversible. We see freedom and democracy as the cornerstone of our constitutional order and the guarantee of individual rights and freedoms. They shape our way of thinking and guide our actions. And this also goes for the values-based policies we pursue both at home and abroad.
That’s the reason I feel so concerned and troubled when I see developments in Europe and further afield that are likely to restrict people’s freedom of expression. The way we treat those whose views differ from our own, and the opportunities they have to contribute to public debate and express their opinions – whether in the media, at rallies and demonstrations or in parliamentary or local government bodies – are a yardstick of a society’s political maturity.
For many years now German-Russian relations have no longer been the exclusive domain of politicians and diplomats. This reflects a widespread trend. The kind of mature societies I’ve described look beyond their own borders and engage with people in other parts of the world. One way they do this is through personal encounter – that’s the traditional way. Another increasingly popular way is online using the new social networks which have made physical distance completely irrelevant. I firmly believe that in its own way the Germany Year, too, will help expand and intensify contacts between our citizens, for it will stimulate and provide tremendous opportunities for a lively exchange of ideas and opinions.
Let me at this point express sincere thanks to everyone who has worked so hard to make this exhibition possible. Here a special word of thanks goes to the Federal Foreign Office’s project partners, the Goethe-Institut and the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations as well as the Moscow Chamber of Commerce!
And I’d also like to say a particular thank you to the trio who played the delightful intermezzi we heard today. They are members of the Young Euro Classic Orchestra Russia-Germany, who – thanks to the support of Dr. Gabriele Minz GmbH – will perform in another Germany Year kick-off event this evening at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory.
So may I now offer the many German and Russian organizers as well as our partners and sponsors in the German business community best wishes for a highly successful Germany Year in Russia. I hope the participants in the many events taking place in Moscow, St Petersburg and other parts of the country will find them an enjoyable and rewarding experience.