Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the event to mark the end of the German-Russian Year of Municipal and Regional Partnerships
First of all, many thanks for your kind words of welcome, Matthias. But most importantly, thank you so much for all your hard work to foster dialogue between our countries!
You are one of the people who played a major role in ensuring that our relations have been so wide ranging despite all the political difficulties. And this is a role you will continue to play.
I would also like to thank you most sincerely for accepting our invitation to Berlin. I think it is a good sign that we are both speaking here at this event today.
It is also good that we are taking this opportunity to discuss important bilateral and international issues with one another.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Leipzig is just one of the places where we see how impressively diverse this Year of Municipal and Regional Partnerships has been.
A monument built by Russians and Germans was erected in Leipzig just over a year ago. Over 300 guests from both countries attended its unveiling in the village.
Some of you are now probably thinking that “village” doesn’t really do justice to Leipzig.
However, I am not talking about Leipzig in Saxony, but rather Leipzig in the Urals, with a population of around 1000.
There has been cultural exchange between the Leipzig in Russia and MOST association from the Leipzig in Germany for several years. This has taken the form of
* a joint photo exhibition
* Russian-German celebrations in the kindergarten and – the highlight – the erection of the monument.
The monument looks a bit like the one commemorating the Battle of the Nations – although it is considerably smaller – but its name has been changed to Monument to the Friendship between the Nations.
I think that is a good symbol for today’s event. Although today’s event marks the end of the German-Russian Year of Municipal and Regional Partnerships, the links forged in the projects and the friendships made will remain. And that is the whole idea!
Musicians, businesspeople, school pupils, football fans, fire fighters, doctors, stage actors and automotive mechatronics engineers – I knew our countries had close ties at the municipal and regional level. But when I look at all those who are being awarded a certificate today – not to mention all the projects to which it was not possible to give an award – I am impressed all over again by the breadth and closeness of our relations.
One example is the town-twinning between Volgograd and Chemnitz. School pupils examined the history of the two cities, in particular Volgograd’s painful history during the Second World War.
In doing so, they showed that we will not forget the suffering Germany caused the Russian population during the war.
Without the people of Russia and their willingness to seek reconciliation, none of this would have been possible.
We have many people to thank for this, but I would like to mention just one person now, Yuri Starovatikh, former Mayor of Volgograd and a co-founder of the town-twinning with Chemnitz. I am delighted to see you here in Berlin today at the grand old age of over 80! Welcome!
I would like to express my profound gratitude to you and your fellow citizens for reaching out the hand of reconciliation to us.
Ladies and gentlemen,
One cannot deny that German-Russian relations have gone through difficult times in recent years. Sergey Lavrov and I have just held in-depth and constructive talks.
We need to discuss many points. And naturally, we also talked about the current situation in Idlib, where Russia has great responsibility for a humanitarian solution.
But differences do not preclude intensive relations. No, on the contrary! The contacts between people from our countries are what give us hope that our relations will be closer in the future, including at the political level. The interaction between our countries’ societies, between the municipalities and the regions, is one of the cornerstones of these relations.
Dialogue starts with the willingness to listen. It starts with asking how the other side is doing and how it sees things. All of the projects being awarded a certificate here today, but also the many other German-Russian partnerships, are excellent examples of this.
I am particularly grateful to them for their work. I am pleased that we are launching new projects today and continuing the tradition of German-Russian years, this time with a focus on university collaboration and research.
This direct exchange in particular shows us just how much unites us as people in Germany and Russia as in the case of the two Leipzigs, which realised by working together that they share more than merely a name.