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Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on the 25th anniversary of the arson attack in Solingen

29.05.2018 - Speech

-- Speech at a memorial ceremony to mark the 25th anniversary of the racially motivated arson attack in Solingen* --

Esteemed Genç family, esteemed İnce family,
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu,
Vice-President of the German Bundestag, Claudia Roth,
Minister Stamp,
Minister of State,
Mr Mayor, Tim Kurzbach,
Ladies and gentlemen,

“We do not want to forget. We do not want to look away. We do not want to remain silent.” This is what it says on the memorial here on the school grounds – a memorial with which the people of Solingen remember the cruel murder of five of their fellow citizens 25 years ago.

We do not want to forget – this is why we have come here today. German and Turkish people, and a Turkish and a German Foreign Minister – united in remembrance of what happened on 29 May 1993 and united in the fight against intolerance, xenophobia and racism. And, for a few days now, also immortalised together with two rings as part of the memorial. I would like to thank the German and Turkish young people and the workshop of the youth welfare service in Solingen for producing and installing these rings.

These rings are a visible symbol that encourages us to remember rather than forget – to remember Gürsün İnce and Gülüstan Öztürk, as well as Hatice, Hülya and Saime Genç, who fell victim to blind hatred and senseless violence.

I have vivid memories of the terrible pictures from the night of the fire, of the charred ruins of the house on Untere Wernerstrasse, of the riots in the days following the attack, and also of the chains of lights in many German cities, which were an expression of the disgust and indignation felt over this terrible crime.

But what made the deepest impression on me was an interview on television with you, Mrs Genç, just a few days after the loss of your loved ones. “We don’t want any more victims or any more grief – we want reconciliation” – that was your moving message.

It is a message whose impact can be felt until this day. Twenty-five years later, Solingen is no longer one of those places that are immediately associated with racism and xenophobia. Solingen has now also become a symbol of reconciliation, a place where a new cohesion has taken root.

When remembrance is defamed by some today as a “cult of guilt” and memorials are ridiculed as “memorials of shame”, then we must take a stand together. We know that remembrance is not a sign of weakness. Assuming responsibility for the mistakes of our past makes us strong. Extending the hand of reconciliation is not an act of humiliation, but an expression of true human greatness.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Not looking away – that is the task that is bound up with remembrance. There were 312 attacks on shelters for asylum-seekers in the past year alone – that’s almost one per day.

And despite the fact that the number of racially motivated acts of violence went down by a third last year, we must make it abundantly clear that – no matter what the alleged motives for violence may be – there is no justification for extremist violence. Each and every single crime is one too many. What is more, the perpetrators must be brought to justice with the full force of the law. The rule of law must not turn a blind eye. No fight merits as much courage, perseverance and sacrifice as the fight for human dignity.

We have tightened our measures to combat hate crime significantly in recent years.

Part of this is our resolve no longer to tolerate criminal hate propaganda and violent hate speech on the internet. The brutalisation of language, particularly on the internet, has consequences. Violence starts in the mind, and words all too often give way to deeds.

As long as incendiary devices are hurled at mosques, young men wearing a kippah are attacked in broad daylight and homosexuals walking hand in hand are beaten up, there is no reason to believe the danger has passed.

On the contrary, we must treat such crimes for what they are, namely attacks on all of us, our values and our peaceful coexistence – and also on what makes Germany the country that it is today.

I know that many of you who came to Germany yourselves or whose parents or grandparents settled here still experience discrimination in your everyday lives. I want to tell you that you are not only welcome here, but that you are also part of our country.

Our country, our Basic Law, places human dignity above all else.

But it is precisely this dignity that the perpetrators of Solingen denied their victims when they, driven by blind hatred, only saw what divided them and lost sight of our shared humanity.

“We do not want to remain silent” as all of us can do something together to oppose discrimination, xenophobia and racism.

Let us speak up when we see that people are disadvantaged in their professions because of where they come from.

Let us weigh in when discussions with our families or friends descend into the realm of crude resentment.

Let us put forward arguments and facts to oppose the doomsday scenarios peddled by right-wing populists who seek to profit from disinformation and people’s fears.

This isn’t easy and is often unpleasant. But we mustn’t be afraid to stand by our convictions and also to tolerate differences.

Incidentally, the same also applies to foreign policy, where dialogue and understanding are only possible in the first place when we clearly articulate positions and points of view.

I say this also in light of the criticism regarding the attendance of Turkish government representatives that was voiced by some prior to this memorial ceremony. It goes without saying that Turkey and Germany have different political views in some areas.

But the upshot of this must not be a refusal to come together to remember a crime that united our citizens in pain and in grief, but also in resolute action against violence and racism.

A democracy not only withstands different opinions, but also depends upon debate and thrives on contradiction. It is only weak when we fail to defend it against those who indiscriminately label those who think differently as liars and traitors; who shout “we are the people”, but actually mean “only we are the people”.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Over the course of a quarter of a century, the chestnuts that were planted where the Genç family home once stood have grown to become large trees.

Time may also have healed some wounds – indeed, this is my most sincere wish for you, the Genç and İnce families.

And yet more than a gap remains. The five people who lost their lives will always be missed.

It is our mission to remember them – not to forget, not to look away and not to remain silent. And to stand up for tolerance, diversity and humanity in our country and the world every day anew.

Many thanks for listening and for coming – it was important to me personally to be here today and it is a great honour to be able to speak to you.

* This speech was not delivered at the event as the ceremony had to be cancelled due to a storm. The text of the speech may be quoted at will.

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