-- Translation of advance text --
Prime Minister Garibashvili,
Ladies and gentlemen,
The two books that you, Prime Minister, have just presented to me are not just the symbols of a library – they are testament to a turbulent history. Printed in Leipzig and Bremen in the 18th century, they were moved from German collections to Tbilisi during the Second World War by Soviet troops. There, they survived for decades in the cellars of the Tbilisi State University library alongside thousands of other volumes from important German collections. It probably wouldn’t have been much longer before this part of our cultural memory would have been lost forever.
We owe our thanks to you, Prime Minister, that this did not happen. You made it possible for these books to be returned to Germany. This decision was not self‑evident in a country whose people endured great suffering during the Second World War. This decision is an expression of the trust and friendship that link Georgia and Germany today.
When Georgia declared independence in 1991, our country was among the first to recognise the young state with its long history. We have since become ever closer during many years of working together.
Prime Minister, just a few days ago you were here in Berlin for talks. And dear Maia, you have been to the city several times already this year – you know the city better than a lot of Berliners! Likewise, it is no coincidence that my first joint trip with the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in April was to Tbilisi.
Georgia has achieved a great deal in recent years, in terms of consolidating democracy, implementing economic reforms and building closer relations with the European Union. The foundations are firmly in place; the Association Agreement between Georgia and the European Union, due to be signed shortly, is the bridge that will in future bring us even closer together.
One thing is clear: closer ties with the EU are not directed against anyone. We are not interested in a politics of ‘either or’ in Eastern Europe. Hence, the Association Agreement should not and will not stop Georgia from maintaining economic and political relations with all of its neighbours. This also applies explicitly to Russia.
Georgia and Germany do not want to see a new division of Europe and certainly not a relapse to a way of thinking in terms of spheres of influence and power blocs.
But we do want to reconnect to old ties. The partnership linking together Germans and Georgians has long been a part of everyday life as we know it. In the 19th century, the global coorporation Siemens opened one of its first branches, not in New York, London or Paris, but in Tbilisi. Today, some 3,000 young Georgians are studying in Tübingen, Münster or Berlin.
In the coming months, librarians, museum experts and restorers from Georgia will cooperate with their colleagues from the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation to return the German books from Tbilisi State University. Together they will inspect, clean and restore the old volumes. This will be a great feat, but it will be worth it.
These two books that you, Prime Minister, have presented to me, are testament to our turbulent history in Europe. This history urges us to learn the right lessons for the future; you gave us an emphatic reminder of this, Prime Minister Garibashvili, when the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen was awarded to Herman Van Rompuy. Today we are turning over a new page in this history, a page that is about friendship, partnership and trust, not war and division. Working to this end is worth every effort in these times.