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Speech by Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, at the ceremony to commemorate the events of 30 September 1989 in the German Embassy Prague

30.09.2019 - Speech

Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me to break with Protocol by first welcoming the men and women I have just had the privilege to meet – people who were here 30 years ago as refugees and eyewitnesses. I feel very honoured indeed to have met you today.

Prime Minister Babiš,

Minister of Industry and Trade,

Foreign Minister, my dear Tomáš,

Minister-President Kretschmer,

Federal Minister Seiters,

Ambassador,

Excellencies, Ministers, Members of Parliament,

Ladies and gentlemen,

In one of the many reports sent by the West German Embassy Prague to Bonn back in the autumn of 1989, you can read about a meeting with colleagues from the East German Embassy.

The GDR officials asked their West German colleagues to “have the East German cars left in Prague collected promptly and in an orderly fashion”. Otherwise, they feared, there would be “problems with the host country”, Czechoslovakia.

The sheer number of abandoned Trabis had become a traffic problem here in Prague in the autumn of 1989.

Ladies and gentlemen,

What sounds comical today not only tells us something about the large number of people who fled from East Germany via Prague at the time.

It also tells us something about what freedom means to people.

And it tells us something about the courage which brought you here as refugees in September 1989, when you left everything behind, your friends and family – so much more than just your car.

And you had so little time to decide whether to immerse yourselves in the flow of history. You found yourselves at a unique crossroads.

When you said goodbye to your loved ones and home, you thought it was forever. You didn’t know if you would arrive. All you knew was that there was no going back.

And you did this to be able to live in freedom.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I see this as the legacy of that Prague Autumn of 1989, namely that it is worth taking risks for freedom, justice and democracy, none of which are a matter of course.

At a time when some people are heeding the siren call of populists and nationalist ideologists, awareness of this is just as important as it was 30 years ago.

Like many people – indeed, like most people in Germany – I spent the evening of 30 September 1989 in front of the TV. I saw the images and heard what was probably Hans-Dietrich Genscher’s shortest-ever speech. To my mind, if there was another magical moment in reunification apart from the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989, then it occurred here, on this very day 30 years ago. When Hans-Dietrich Genscher said the first words of his speech and loud cheering broke out in this Embassy’s garden, I thought that if there is such a thing as a cry for freedom, then we are hearing it now.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is no coincidence that the roots of this peaceful revolution are also found here in Prague, as this city and country had shown the whole world how they thirsted for freedom many years before in the spring of 1968.

This desire for freedom led to the Velvet Revolution, which overturned the communist regime all over the country.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We Germans will not forget this! The wall that divided our country, the wall that fell in our country a few weeks later, fell here in Prague, too.

And it did not only fall here, but also in the shipyards of Gdańsk and at the border fence at Sopron.

German unity is thus partly a gift from Europe to Germany, one we received at the end of a century in which Germans had brought incalculable suffering and terror to Europe.

As Foreign Minister of a united Germany, in a united Europe, I would like to thank you, Prime Minister, as a representative of all Czechs, most sincerely for this today.

Ladies and gentlemen,

When we Germans and Czechs now look to the future with this experience in mind, our task is to play a part in preserving cohesion in Europe.

In light of our shared experiences, we in particular cannot allow new rifts to emerge in Europe, be they between East and West or North and South.

We will ultimately only be able to assert our values and interests in the world if we remain united as Europeans.

The autumn of 1989 showed what Europe can achieve if we think and act internationally and look beyond our own country’s interests.

It shows the positive momentum we Europeans can develop if we stand up for our ideals together.

And that is why the experience of Prague, the events of 30 years ago, should help us to actually use this momentum we have at our disposal to strengthen Europe.

Germans and Czechs, side by side.

In the heart of Europe and with Europe in our hearts!

Many thanks and hezký večer!

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