Speech by Dietmar Woidke, Coordinator of German‑Polish Cooperation, at the award ceremony for the 2014 Tadeusz Mazowiecki German‑Polish Prize for Journalism in Potsdam

08.05.2014 - Speech

Welcome to Potsdam! I’m delighted that so many of you have come. The response to today’s event, and indeed to the media conference as a whole, shows the high level of interest in German‑Polish issues at the moment. Of course, I would like to extend a special welcome to all the journalists who have been nominated for the Tadeusz Mazowiecki Prize as well as former prizewinners. We are proud that this year the German‑Polish Prize for Journalism has for the first time been named after the great Polish politician Mazowiecki. There could be no better inspiration. I am particularly delighted that his son, Wojciech Mazowiecki, is here with us today. Welcome!

Ladies and gentlemen, as journalists you are the ones who demonstrate how authentic European reporting works. The German‑Polish Prize for Journalism is being awarded for the 17th time. Something that began as an experiment has become a success story. This year 136 contributions were submitted! You, ladies and gentlemen, are playing a unique role in promoting understanding between Germans and Poles: You are shaping German‑Polish and therefore also European public opinion. Right now we are experiencing how important this kind of public opinion is. In a few weeks the elections for the European Parliament will take place.

The future of Europe is also the theme of this year’s German‑Polish media conference. I don’t need to tell you here today that a Europe with capability to act is more important today than ever before! This is not just a conclusion drawn from looking at the past. In the anniversary year of 2014 we can look back on a chequered European and German‑Polish history. We remember the tragic moments of our history: the centenary of the First World War, the 75th anniversary of the Second World War, 70 years since the Warsaw Uprising. But we also remember the happy moments: Twenty‑five years ago peaceful revolutions transformed this part of Europe.

And we East Germans should remember that it was the Poles who showed us in 1989 that revolutionary change is possible without revolutionary violence. The round table in Warsaw – the original of which, incidentally, I recently saw for myself – heralded the revolution not only in Poland but in the entire Eastern Bloc. The citizens of the GDR were encouraged by this example. Poland deserves the thanks of all Germans for this achievement! And I would like to take this opportunity to mention another happy event: Ten years ago Poland, along with other Central and Eastern European countries, joined the European Union. Unlike East Germany, which with German reunification became a member of the European Union more or less over night, Poland had to spend many years undertaking arduous preparations for accession. I have considerable respect for the fact that, despite all the hurdles, the Poles never lost sight of their ultimate goal of Europe.

Other eastern regions embarked on a different path in 1989. When we see the events unfolding in Ukraine today, we can understand the tenacity shown by the Poles. As part of the European Union Poland is not only able to rely on the solidarity of the other EU countries, but can also have its say in shaping the destiny of Europe. At the moment we are all watching Ukraine with concern. We can all only hope that further military escalation, which would lead to a rift between East and West, can be avoided. It has to be said, particularly when we think back to 1989, that just like Germany and Poland then, Ukraine must now have the chance to freely choose the path it wishes to adopt. That means without threats from outside, yet with the solidarity and support of its European neighbours. At this point allow me to address a personal appeal to the journalists. Time and again the German media talk about Ukraine without letting the Ukrainians speak for themselves. In this area there should be less talking about and more talking with one another.

By the same token, I read a lot in the Polish press about how the German population and policymakers have no sympathy for Poland’s current concerns about escalation in the East. They claim that the so‑called “Russia apologists” set the tone while Warsaw’s and Tallinn’s concerns are overlooked. In the Berliner Zeitung recently Ulrich Krökel posed the question: “Why are there hardly any Poland apologists in Germany?”

Let me answer that. Firstly, the fact that a lively debate is finally emerging in Germany and Europe on the future of Eastern Europe should be welcomed. We don’t have to agree with all the opinions being voiced. However, in connection with the specific policy of the Federal Government, I want to make one thing clear. German foreign policy is closely coordinated with all European partners. And especially with Poland. I can’t remember a time when diplomatic relations between Berlin and Warsaw were so close. These German‑Polish ties are influential in Europe. I’m not advocating that we be totally uncritical towards one another. My concern is that we don’t denigrate this common ground. Instead we should nurture it in the interests of Europe! And as regards the “Poland apologists” Ulrich Krökel is looking for: In this hall alone I see numerous friends of and experts on the German‑Polish neighbourhood. You understand Poland and you understand Germany! As Minister‑President and Poland Coordinator for the Federal Government, I am striving to do my part to promote this understanding. I am delighted that you all accepted our invitation to come to Potsdam!

I am very grateful for the opportunity I have as Poland Coordinator for the Federal Government to help shape German‑Polish relations. I regard this as a personal obligation which I take very seriously. As a Brandenburger who grew up not far from the Polish border. As a German. And as a committed European. Germany supported Poland’s accession to the EU ten years ago more than any other country. This accession was a huge catalyst for relations between Germany and Poland. Now more than 700,000 Poles live in Germany, 11,500 of whom have settled in Brandenburg. They work as doctors, carers, nursery teachers and tradespeople. And the most important thing is that they are welcome in our country! The close ties between Poland and Germany are also reflected in the economy and trade. The development of the Polish economy has been very dynamic since the country joined the EU. Poland is the number one trading partner for enterprises in Brandenburg. Since 2004 exports from Brandenburg to our neighbour have doubled. Yet, however closely connected the economies may be, there is one thing that cannot be replaced: exchange and interaction among citizens. To put it another way, “grassroots” integration. More than 700 cities and communities in Germany are involved in German‑Polish town twinning programmes, we have 400 school partnerships and a large number of university partnerships. Each year almost 110,000 young people from Germany and Poland participate in the events sponsored by the German‑Polish Youth Office. Incidentally, Brandenburg provides the largest number of participants. Of course, I am especially happy about that. After all, it all hinges on young people. The future of Europe is theirs!

Today you could say I’m wearing two hats – as Poland Coordinator for the Federal Government and MinisterPresident of Brandenburg. Close cooperation with Poland has become a natural part of day‑to‑day life for us as residents of Brandenburg. Our relations are wide‑ranging and cover almost all areas, beginning at an early age. In Frankfurt, for example, there is a nursery for children from both sides of the border, and soon a German‑Polish nursery is to open in Słubice. Interaction with neighbours is a part of normal life for those who live in the border region.

Yet the border region is also a microcosm. That means that common challenges are brought into particularly sharp focus, for example in the area of security. In one week, on 15 May, I will attend the signing of the new German‑Polish police agreement by the two interior ministers. In the Land government of Brandenburg we have worked for many years to achieve this. The new agreement will simplify cooperation in this area considerably. At this point I would like to state specifically that Germans and Poles are already pulling together in the area of security, whether with flood protection, rescue services or in police and customs work. Here, one‑sided thinking was abandoned a long time ago. Yet German‑Polish history demonstrates how little we can take such cross‑border normality for granted. The border used to represent paralysis, now it is one of Europe’s main arteries. In the border region particularly it is important that citizens are mindful of these benefits.

That brings me back to the journalism prize. This year a special prize for journalism in the border region, endowed by Land Brandenburg, will be awarded for the first time. For it is a personal desire of ours in the Land government to recognise this form of journalistic work, which often has its own specific challenges. Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to return once more to my role as Poland Coordinator for the Federal Government and to take the opportunity to formulate a few goals and priorities.

What is important to me? I believe it is important that the network of German‑Polish cooperation holds firm even in difficult times. This constellation of foundations, institutes, initiatives and associations is what makes our relations strong enough to withstand crises. I believe in good, trust‑based cooperation which also benefits others, whether within the EU or through our contacts with states such as Ukraine. Here, too, our foreign ministers, together with their French counterpart, have recently shown us a fine example of successful cooperation.

We want to continue to nurture and use the Weimar Triangle, as the Federal Government set down in its coalition agreement. The Stiftung Genshagen in particular can play a key role in this area. For some time now it has adopted a trilateral approach as opposed to a merely Franco‑German outlook. Professor Süssmuth, to whom I would like to extend a warm welcome here today, is active in this sphere.

Working on specific solutions is also important to me. The German‑Polish institutions focusing on youth, language and science are particularly close to my heart. I have already mentioned the German‑Polish Youth Office. Over the past twenty years this institution has supported no less than 15,000 projects. In the coalition agreement the Federal Government has committed itself to improving the allocation of funds still further. My first visit to the Polish Foreign Ministry convinced me that Poland shares a similar view. I am also thinking of the International Youth Meeting Centre in Auschwitz. Following talks with those in charge, including Foundation Council Chairman Dietmar Nietan, whom I would like to welcome here today, I am confident that we will succeed in establishing a sound basis for funding. The German Poland Institute in Darmstadt also deserves our attention. It is a cornerstone for dialogue between our two countries. Its Director, Professor Bingen, is also here today. Allow me to extend a warm welcome to you. The German Länder and the Federal Foreign Office are working to secure a lasting, reliable financial basis for these important institutions.

I will use my two roles as Poland Coordinator and Minister‑President on this issue – as in other areas – to continue to raise awareness of German‑Polish affairs throughout the Länder. These include the need to further extend cross‑border transport infrastructure. We now have well‑developed motorways and an increasingly dense network of regional train connections, such as the one between Berlin and Gorzów. Nonetheless, the key routes between Berlin and Szczecin and Wrocław are literally still building sites. There remains plenty to do in this area.

Cooperation in the field of academia is a particular concern of mine. Greater use of shared resources could create new opportunities. And of course I will work to ensure that the European University Viadrina remains a key pillar of academic cooperation. Ladies and gentlemen, I am sure that you will continue to subject the work of policy makers to critical scrutiny. It is right and important that you do so. You all help the general public to discern what Europe means for them in practice, by providing both the big picture and the small details. I can only encourage you to maintain this commitment. And I would like to encourage you to make use of the opportunities offered by the media conference in Potsdam. Get to know one another and link up with one another. I wish you all a good German‑Polish evening!

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