Speech by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel at the presentation of the Theodor Wanner Award to Queen Silvia of Sweden

26.09.2017 - Speech

Graf zu Dohna,
Mr Grätz,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Esteemed guests,
But, above all, Your Majesty Queen Silvia!

We are all most honoured that you are with us here tonight.

And we are particularly delighted that you are the winner of this year’s Theodor Wanner Award as you, more so than most, stand for open‑mindedness, understanding and compassion.

I personally feel very honoured to have the privilege of giving this speech here today. There are a number of reasons for this.

I am, of course, the patron of the Theodor Wanner Award and, as my Ministry has instructed me to say, we are the biggest contributor to the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations.

And there’s also a most personal reason. I have met you, Queen Silvia, on several occasions in the course of my political career; we met for the first time back in 2000 when we both visited the Expo theme park of the Expo 2000 in Hanover, headed by Martin Roth, who was responsible for the Expo theme park at the time.

But what you probably don’t know is that your family hails from my constituency. To be more precise, your great‑grandparents came from Leve, which is located in the municipality of Liebenburg today. Johann Friedrich Waldau was a master baker, and the building still stands to this day. Waldau’s daughter Erna married the businessman Sommerlath from Hanover in 1887.

The third reason is that the Codex Caesareus Upsaliensis is being displayed at an exhibition in my home town of Goslar right now. This is a gospel book that belonged to Henry III, who was born a thousand years ago. Penned in 1050, it was commissioned by Henry III. Henry III was one of the Salier Emperors. His heart was buried in my home town and his body interred in the crypt of Speyer Cathedral. He was the father of the somewhat lesser‑known Henry IV, who did penance at Canossa. This gospel book fell into the hands of the Swedes during the Thirty Years’ War. It then went into private ownership in Sweden, before making its way to Uppsala University at the end of the 18th century. To mark the one thousandth anniversary of the birth of Henry III, the university loaned this wonderful artefact to my home town, which is now exhibiting it. We are most grateful to Uppsala and Sweden. Don’t worry, we’ll make sure you get it back!

So there are three good reasons to be here today.

I find what you have achieved in recent years, especially to help socially deprived children, quite remarkable.

There are presumably easier ways to be a Queen.

Instead, you have decided to roll up your sleeves and get involved. And not just any old how.

On the contrary, you are focusing on sensitive, difficult and important topics right now.

You have decided to devote yourself to protecting children in particular.

Protecting those who are especially at risk, owing to poverty, violence and abuse of all kinds.

You have decided to confront a taboo that is a key question in any society, namely, how well we are looking after our youngest, those who are often the weakest, and how well we are looking after our children.

You need a great deal of energy and optimism for this task.

You need a whole lot of support to be able to process suffering and pain.

But, above all, what you need is courage.

Courage to talk about these topics openly, even in a society such as Sweden’s, which is rightfully proud of its strong social system.

Courage to talk about weak spots and difficulties nevertheless.

Courage as Queen not to shy away from fighting for children’s welfare on the political stage, also when confronting those who either appear – or genuinely are – unconcerned about this wellbeing.

And the fact that you have managed to upstage Astrid Lindgren as the most popular Swede shows just how greatly such courage is appreciated. And not only in Sweden!

Your Majesty,

You have dedicated yourself to this field for decades now.

And I believe that, alongside the tangible results of your practical work, it is primarily the attitude with which you approach these tasks that many find so inspirational.

It is an attitude that reminds us that humanity knows no borders.

It is an attitude that seeks out what unites cultures and doesn’t take what divides us as its starting point.

It is an attitude that courageously addresses issues and problems, without retreating to the solace of the comfort zone.

That is what you stand for.

This attitude is more important than ever before today, here in Europe, and especially here in Germany.

I believe that we all feel that this attitude, these beliefs that many of us share, must be defended – against doubt, and sometimes also against hostility.

National egoism is not a suitable model for organising our world, just as backward‑looking small‑mindedness doesn’t offer solutions to the problems of our societies.

You, Queen Silvia, show that there is another way.

You demonstrate in your life how, as your country highest representative, it is possible not to harp on about the narrow confines of the national, but to oppose small‑mindedness with open-mindedness and humanity that permeate our societies from within and which create connections between societies and cultures abroad – between people of different origins.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The fact that Queen Silvia manages to do this so well is perhaps a reflection of the fact that the boundaries between the internal and the external appear to have been blurred in her own life.

After all, she has been shaped by her own very different cultural backgrounds.

In terms of language, of course, but also far beyond this.

To put it in your own words, you have a “Brazilian heart, a German head and a Swedish soul”. That’s a great combination!

To my mind, this wonderfully encapsulates what can happen when you are genuinely open to other cultures, when you absorb them and are curious to find out about the other.

By the way, your “Brazilian heart” is, of course, partly to do with your Brazilian mother, and also, I presume, with the time you spent in Brazil during your youth.

You were a pupil of the German school in São Paolo, which is now one of the largest German schools abroad.

Your Majesty, ladies and gentlemen,

Permit me therefore to make a brief aside at this juncture.

When focusing today on making German schools abroad cultural bridge‑builders, when focusing in our cultural relations and education policy overall on creating scope for exchange, for reaching out to others beyond borders, then we must be honest with ourselves and call to mind the fact that this has not always been the case.

I believe that, in light of the one hundredth anniversary of the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations this year, we may certainly be mindful that the Institute was founded with the intention of promoting “Deutschtum”, or German identity, abroad.

I believe that it is sometimes helpful to call to mind the background of our own historical experience against which we pursue our cultural policy today.

We needed to undergo such a radical transition to go from the idea of promoting so‑called “Deutschtum” to the Institute’s motto this year – to the “Cultures of We” (Kulturen des Wir).

And since this is the case, I would like to encourage us to bring this wealth of experience to bear also in our cultural work at home and abroad – and I believe that we shouldn’t be looking to do less in this area in the coming years, but more. And it could, incidentally, be a unique German recipe for peace and reconciliation in the world. We only became a respected member of the European Community because, not long after the Second World War, others had the courage to invite us of all people to return to the fold of the world’s civilised nations. Why did they do that? It must have been quite courageous as I am not sure that the citizens of Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, France and the Netherlands were that enthusiastic when their statesmen and stateswomen turned to them and said “we’re now going to invite the Germans, who only recently pillaged and burned their way through our countries”.

This shows that it is possible for enemies to be become partners, and even friends. It is a unique experience. We have the courage of our erstwhile enemies to thank for becoming partners and friends. We are now able to send a message to the world that nothing is impossible. We managed to make friendships in Europe even after the devastation of the Second World War. This is perhaps what sets our cultural relations and education policy apart. However, I want us to do this with a keener awareness of how much rethinking is necessary for closed national realms and narratives to open up.

Your Majesty,

You stand for the things that unite countries and cultures with the whole of your being.

You aren’t making things easy on yourself, but are getting stuck into the nitty‑gritty business of project work.

Since 1999, your World Childhood Foundation has supported over one hundred projects in 17 countries – from Estonia to Brazil.

You have, by way of example, supported integration projects, including in Germany, via this foundation since 2007 – you were ahead of your time.

Countless ongoing projects are helping traumatised, unaccompanied refugee children.

In Würzburg, the Wildwasser association is advising refugee families on administrative steps. Meanwhile, the 2WeltenMeister initiative is offering psychosocial support for children and young people with a refugee background.

These few examples demonstrate how you cross the boundaries between the internal and the external in your work. It isn’t important where someone comes from or in which country help is needed. What counts are the people themselves.

For you, this is a question of humanity, to which all children, and – I would like to add –preferably all adults too, should be entitled.

Your efforts as a whole are guided by this humanity, and not by notions of isolation and exclusion.

It is also with this in mind that you launched a foundation to promote sports for people with disabilities, as well as another that is committed to tackling drug abuse around the world.

The Silvia Home Foundation, which you run, promotes research, education and care in the field of dementia.

The Queen Silvia Jubilee Fund seeks to improve the lives of children living with disabilities.

You are having a direct impact on our societies with this wide‑ranging commitment.

You are assuming responsibility with your very personal work.

Your efforts are very much in the vein of other great figures who helped to shape the image of Sweden in the world. Allow me to mention just one such figure.

I travelled to New York for the United Nations General Assembly last week.

And when you walk from the German Permanent Mission to the UN building, then you pass by a small square called the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza.

Dag Hammarskjöld was a Swede and Secretary‑General of the United Nations. Then I read a bit more about him over the weekend – there wasn’t much going on then...

He was a citizen of the world who was tirelessly devoted to the cause of peace.

At the time, no one expected a UN Secretary‑General to get anything done.

Any yet, in the midst of the Cold War, hailing from neutral Sweden, he, on the strength of his personality and commitment alone, steered the sluggish UN to where it was needed, namely to the trouble spots of this world.

I think that Hammarskjöld had a basic attitude that I believe Queen Silvia also shares:

It isn’t important what office or position you hold.

That alone doesn’t mean all that much.

The only thing that matters is how you use the leverage that this position presents.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Sweden can be glad and proud to have such a figure as Queen Silvia, who breathes life into her position with so much energy, humanity and courage.

Countless people in the world can be grateful that they have such a committed advocate for their rights as Queen Silvia on their side.

And all of us this evening should count ourselves lucky and rejoice along with you that you didn’t just make things easy on yourself, but that you intend to continue to take the hard way when endeavouring to achieve your personal goals for other people.

Allow me to offer you my most sincere congratulations on winning the Theodor Wanner Award 2017, which bears the wonderful title “for peace, freedom and human rights”.


Thank you very much.

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