Closing speech by Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth at the OSCE Conference on Tolerance and Diversity

20.10.2016 - Speech

– Translation of advance text –

Ms Mijatovic, Michael Link, Ladies and gentlemen,

Where better to practise tolerance than in lively debates and discussions? After a long conference day full of working sessions, you will all know a thing or two about that. Since the conference started yesterday you have been engaged in an intensive debate on the need for and the possible forms – and limitations – of tolerance. You have voiced engagement. And conviction. And, yes, the occasional controversy.

But it is precisely this broad range of views and feelings that is the best possible proof of the enriching impact diversity has in practice. Because we are primarily required to show tolerance where differences become obvious, where we see diversity in all its glory, but also where the resulting conflicts emerge.

We have seen this very clearly over recent months in Germany, where hundreds of thousands of people have sought refuge from war and terror. Their arrival has increased the diversity, the cultural mix, in our country. But there is no doubt that this increasing diversity has put many citizens’ tolerance severely to the test.

This is the question: how much diversity is possible and how much common ground is necessary for peaceful coexistence in our country, indeed in Europe as a whole? Admittedly, the coexistence of different cultures, religions and ethnic groups is demanding, but it is also enriching and rewarding.

However it won’t work without tolerance. Tolerance is very far from being static; it is not a stance you adopt once and never shift. No, tolerance is something that has to be relearnt and relived, over and over again. Again and again, it has to adapt to new questions and new developments.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Tolerance and dialogue are inseparably coupled. Without tolerance, without a willingness to respect differing opinions and views, dialogue is simply impossible. And without a real dialogue, without a serious consideration of other opinions and views, tolerance will remain abstract and passive.

Hans-Georg Gadamer, that great philosopher on dialogue, put it very aptly when he said that anyone who focused on differences was at the beginning of a conversation, not the end.

In that same spirit, we regard this conference not as an endpoint, but as a cordial invitation to continue the dialogue embarked on here. The question of how the increasing ethnic, religious and cultural diversity in our societies will affect our day-to-day lives together is one that will occupy us long after the close of this conference.

Tolerance also requires that we are willing to deal with each other with respect and to question our own standpoints. Tolerance is the admission that others might actually be right. And tolerance is the ability to bear contradiction. So to display tolerance is most definitely not a sign of weakness, but rather of self-assurance and inner strength.

Tolerance is a precious commodity. That’s why governments and state institutions too must respect, defend and uphold it. Every day anew. Along with all other engaged groups in society. In my work as Minister of State for Europe, I am driven by a commitment to fight the marginalisation of and discrimination against minorities. On almost all my trips, I meet representatives of minorities – be they refugees, Sinti and Roma or members of the LGBTI community.

Each and every one of us must live a life of tolerance, without giving in to the temptation to take what seems to be the easy course. We must not allow tolerance to be abused by those who cite it in order to spread their hatred and prejudice.

Or, as the philosopher Karl Popper put it: “We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.” How right he is. I would add this: otherwise dialogue in an open society will die.

We need the willingness to enter into genuine discussion, also in the international framework, like in the OSCE. We need a frank exchange – one open to criticism – on the best experiences and solutions when it comes to handling diversity and tests of tolerance. This includes our experiences of how to combat hate crime and discrimination on the internet.

And it includes very specific projects designed to promote tolerance and diversity through education. One example you learnt about today was the fantastic online project “Stories that move”, which presents young people’s very personal experiences of discrimination and intolerance. These young people were robbed of their dignity. But this project gives them a voice, a loud and articulate voice.

The project also tells the story of the increasing diversity of orientations, affiliations and identities in our societies. It tells of the opportunities inherent in this diversity. And that, I believe, is the most important message at a time when unfortunately many people see diversity more as a threat.

In order to flag up these opportunities, ladies and gentlemen, we must continue and use the dialogue on diversity and tolerance – within the group of OSCE participating States, in cooperation with our civil societies and in our own immediate day-to-day environment. We are all citizens, and we should set a good example.

I hope this conference has given you great impetus and a wealth of suggestions to that end. And I can already promise you this: this evening’s visit to the Zeiss Grossplanetarium, to which I warmly invite you once again, will be a source of further inspiration. Maybe you’ve always wanted to reach for the stars?

Thank you very much indeed to all those who organised this conference and made it possible. And a big thank-you to all of you for attending and for your lively contributions to the discussions. Keep talking – for tolerance and diversity!

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