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Speech by Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier at the presentation of the German‑Polish history book at the Robert Jungk Secondary School, Berlin

22.06.2016 - Speech

My dear Witold,
honoured pupils,
ladies and gentlemen,

Two hours from now, Witold Waszczykowski and I will take part in a joint meeting of the Polish and German Cabinets at the Federal Chancellery.

It will be an impressive event – the participants will arrive in official flagged cars with a motorcycle escort, military honours and, I am sure, a huge bank of journalists with their cameras and microphones lying in wait.

And why not? We do, after all, have something to celebrate – twentyfive years of the GermanPolish Treaty on GoodNeighbourliness. Twentyfive years in which Germans and Poles have finally become what Willy Brandt once dreamed of – good neighbours in Europe.

Some of you will be thinking that this should surely be perfectly normal in the EU now, in 2016. But it is not entirely a matter of course, considering everything that the Germans did to the Poles in the 20th century. And, let me add, it is sadly not entirely a matter of course in a Europe whose inner cohesion is, now in particular, no longer what it was.

My dear Witold, the fact that we are about to sit down together at the same table – even if we are not always of the same opinion – is and remains a reason for me to give thanks.

Thanks for the courageous struggle for freedom waged by the dock workers in Gdansk. Thanks for the willingness of our Polish neighbours to trust us Germans once again. And thanks for the countless persontoperson contacts that have been made since the Iron Curtain was torn down, above all between you, the young people of Poland and Germany – regardless of who happens to be in power in Warsaw or Berlin. We are united by far more than passes by Robert Lewandowski and Lukas Podolski.

It is for this reason that this event, the presentation of the GermanPolish history book in the comparably modest hall of the Robert Jungk School, is in my opinion no less important than the big intergovernmental gathering in the Chancellery.

My honoured school pupils, from the next academic year you will be using the first volume of this new history textbook in your lessons – as will, we hope, many other young people in Warsaw and Wrocław, in Poznań, Potsdam and Halle.

My sincere thanks go to all the authors of this work, who finetuned the text in endless meetings and, where necessary, fought for the right wording.

I think the effort was worthwhile. A wonderful book has been produced.

A book that makes you more sensitive to the dreams and traumas that our neighbours entertain in connection with our shared history. A book that will hopefully help you develop a joint GermanPolish view of our past – taking into account the shadows that it casts to the present day as well as the light.

When I visited Warsaw two months ago I spoke of a particularly heartening episode from our common past. What I spoke of was the Congress of Gniezno. More than a thousand years ago, Holy Roman Emperor Otto III travelled to Gniezno. At the border, on the banks of the river Bóbr, he was met by Duke Bolesław of Poland. Recognising him as his peer, Otto placed his own imperial crown on Bolesław’s head as a mark of friendship. And Bolesław recognised in him a fellow human being and perhaps even a friend. A noteworthy encounter between two men who felt themselves to be part of the same common Europe. And also an early indication of what GermanPolish relations could be like.

In fact, my dear Witold, it’s the perfect frame of reference for our intergovernmental consultations today!

However, when I leafed through the new textbook, there was one thing that struck me as not being quite so contemporary – the presents. Otto gave Bolesław a nail from the Cross, and Bolesław returned the favour by presenting Otto with St Adalbert’s arm.

My dear Witold, our customs really have changed over the centuries. Nowadays we simply fly together to Paris to watch our football teams battle it out on the pitch! And in the Euro 2016 group stage in the Stade de France, our teams proved to be the ultimate diplomats, agreeing to part on an even 0:0.

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