– Translation of advance text –
Ladies and gentlemen,
Almost thirty writers from more than twenty countries have gathered here in Berlin for the European Writers Conference “Europe – Dream and Reality”. They have come from France and Greece, Russia and Ukraine. That in itself is a European dream come true!
In the beginning, as is so often the case, was a fixed idea. Last spring, Mely Kiyak, Nicol Lubic, Antje Rávic Strubel, Tilman Spengler and I together had the idea to hold a writers conference here in Berlin.
Our idea had been preceded by debates on disappointed hopes, on concerns that a “lost generation” might be growing up in Europe, and on the re‑emergence of nationalistic mindsets that we thought had long disappeared. And I for one thought: we might be on the way to overcoming the economic crisis, but will we also overcome the political and cultural crisis?
Naturally we were inspired by memories of the conference “A Dream of Europe”, which took place back in 1988 in what was then West Berlin. On that occasion, writers from all across Europe gathered to give voice to their longing for a free, democratic, united Europe.
This dream was unbelievably prescient. Just a few months later, the peaceful revolutionaries on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, on Prague’s Wenceslas Square and in the Gdansk shipyards tore down the Iron Curtain.
I doubt whether our sense last summer of what was going to happen in the future was as good as that of those writers back in 1988. I certainly could never have dreamed a year ago that I would be talking to you today as Germany’s Foreign Minister. But I’m not sorry that I am.
Above all, however, not one of us imagined that, in today’s Europe, 25 years on from the fall of the Berlin Wall, we would be having to counter the threat of a new division of our continent.
But we were right on one crucial point when we started the preparations for our European Writers Conference.
Europe may be incomplete and imperfect. But, despite all its shortcomings, it remains the best Europe since time immemorial. No‑one would seriously wish to return to the divided continent of 1988, let alone to the Europe of 1939 or 1914.
And that is why I am keen that we do not allow those who think of Europe merely in terms of sorting out state finances and saving troubled banks to have the last word. Europe is about more than just the administrative routine in Brussels with all its directives and regulations.
We hope that this conference will set a clear tone for the debate on Europe. What kind of Europe are we dreaming of? And how can we make that Europe a reality? These questions, which we will be considering over the next two days, need to retake their rightful place at the heart of our thinking in Europe.
We must remind ourselves that Europe is still a cultural project too. As writers, you bear a special responsibility for this project. Not by sticking to a “narrative”, however well‑meant. But by finding the words to stimulate conversations about Europe beyond the all too often hackneyed political rhetoric.
This Europe builds on our curiosity, our wish to see the world through others’ eyes, and on our ability to recognise and appreciate the value that lies in our diversity.
This Europe believes in the creative energy inherent in doubt, in the unifying force of debate and in the ability to keep on rediscovering ourselves.
This Europe gives every individual the space to develop and allows everyone to participate in a tolerant society. Throughout its history, Europe has proved that borders can be overcome.
So I am very much looking forward to the lectures, talks and readings awaiting us over the next couple of days. I am sure that the European Writers Conference will bring us many moving, enlightening and enjoyable moments.