Citation by Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the ceremony to award the Knight Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany to Heidi Tagliavini

17.08.2015 - Speech

Ladies and gentlemen,
Ms Tagliavini,

In awarding you the Knight Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for your outstanding services as a mediator and crisis diplomat, Federal President Gauck has approved a nomination that I regard as richly deserved. On his behalf, I am tasked with presenting this award to you today. And I can imagine no better task!

You and I have worked very closely together in recent years, often under the most difficult conditions. I recall one of my visits to Kyiv during a particularly volatile stage of the conflict. You had had countless crisis meetings that day, and had just returned from the Donbas. We had tried to meet over the course of the day, but hadn’t been able to find time. The only possible appointment was at one in the morning, but that was absolutely fine with you.

You showed no signs of tiredness; you discussed the developments with great energy; and you analysed the areas of conflict very skilfully and shrewdly. One thing really stood out: your huge determination to make progress and not to give up, even in that difficult situation.

That meeting, and the many others that followed it, showed me why it is absolutely no exaggeration to say that you, Ms Tagliavini, are a crisis diplomat par excellence.

Your work in Ukraine, Russia and Georgia has proved that diplomacy can make a crucial difference. Your profound knowledge of the Russian language, culture and mentality is your essential tool kit. However, I believe that your success really stems from something else, namely your personal approach. You combine courage and determination with prudence and sensitivity. You meet all your interlocutors with an open mind. You show that you respect them as people and that they can trust you. After all, everyone, even the most hardened warlord, wants to be seen and valued as a person.


You recently demonstrated these special skills in the Ukraine conflict. Just over a year ago, the Swiss Chairmanship of the OSCE tasked you with setting up the Trilateral Contact Group. Only one day later, you arrived in Kyiv. At the time, none of us could know how the conflict would develop. From the start, you had no illusions. You warned that a solution would not be found overnight. But perhaps you yourself did not realise at the time that you would stay in Kyiv for more than a year.

Under your guidance, the Contact Group quickly agreed on criteria for a peaceful conflict resolution. These criteria became the basis for all subsequent endeavours to agree a ceasefire and reach a political settlement. The Contact Group then established a constant channel of communication with representatives of the separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk. During the Contact Group meetings, you also provided the initial blueprint for a comprehensive ceasefire, which was first agreed in Minsk last September.

Due to the dramatic way the conflict developed, you were constantly having to put out fires and resolve acute crises, such as securing the release of OSCE observers, addressing the outcome of the disastrous shooting down of flight MH17, and dealing with the so‑called humanitarian convoys from Russia, to name just a few issues. I know what a high price you paid personally for this work. And I would like to take this opportunity to thank you once again for your great dedication!


Ms Tagliavini,

Ukraine was not the first time you were literally thrown in at the deep end in your crisis work.

I’d like to mention just a few other occasions. In April 1995, a military helicopter dropped you and a small group of OSCE diplomats in Grozny, which lay in ruins. You had landed in the middle of a civil war zone, and your job was to promote a peaceful settlement through contacts and talks, as your mission rather concisely put it. This marked the start of your 20‑year career as a crisis diplomat working mainly in the post‑Soviet region.

Two years after your mission in Chechnya, you returned to the Caucasus on behalf of the United Nations observer mission in Georgia.

You once said this mission showed how hard it is to explain to outsiders what you actually did and achieved there. Believe me, I know the feeling! But the fact is that you kept talks going between the parties and patiently and painstakingly investigated each and every incident. You succeeded in preventing hostilities from breaking out again during this time. For the people affected by the conflict, this was a great achievement – perhaps the only one that really matters.

You also proved that it is possible to give people hope again, regardless of the political uncertainties. You launched dozens of practical projects. I would like to mention just one example. You set up a bus service across the Inguri Bridge. This sounds banal, but it was of tremendous help to the local people.


Ladies and gentlemen,

The Ukraine crisis was not the first time we realised how little we can take it for granted that a ceasefire will actually be upheld. We saw what happened in August 2008, when war broke out between Russia and Georgia. Under President Sarkozy, the EU fortunately managed to negotiate a new ceasefire. However, there was no end to the war of words on what had caused this conflict and who was responsible for it. Each side accused the other and made up stories. In this situation, it was clear that we first needed to find out what had actually happened in order to lay the groundwork for a political settlement.

The EU foreign ministers asked you, Ms Tagliavini, to set up and lead an investigation into the war. Ten months later, you presented a report on the war and the events leading up to it – a text known since then as the “Tagliavini Report”.

In this document, you pulled off the incredible feat of examining the conflict so thoroughly on almost 1000 pages that all sides accepted your report – or rather, had to accept it – as a definitive reference document on the events.

Something like this can only be accomplished through incorruptible impartiality and meticulousness – along with a great deal of resilience to political pressure.


Ms Tagliavini,

Your work has set benchmarks for international conflict management. You have thus enhanced the profile, authority and ability to act of the OSCE and other international organisations when it comes to dealing with armed conflicts.

For me personally, and for my staff, you were an essential source of orientation and guidance, particularly during the Ukraine crisis. Part of this involved your repeatedly reminding us – even if we weren’t always happy to hear it – of the realities on the ground and the difficulties they posed to implementing apparently simple and rational solutions.

Like Friedrich Dürrenmatt, you know that

“Irrationality, not reason, is the rule in the world.”

Unfortunately, the developments in some parts of the world suggest that Dürrenmatt was right. But he also said something else you like to quote:

“One must never cease to imagine the world in its most reasonable configuration.”

Taken together, these statements form the guiding principles of your work. They stand for your realism and your adherence to your principles.

In conflicts where irrationality prevailed, you worked tirelessly and under no illusions to make the world somewhat more reasonable. And I may add that you also made the world somewhat more human.

Thank you very much!

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