“Berlin Seminar” 2019 of the Fulbright Commission - Greetings by Minister of State Michelle Müntefering

18.03.2019 - Speech

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I’d like to take you back to the Ruhr region in West Germany. It was the 1980s. I was a little girl and overjoyed when my aunt would pick me up on the weekends with her VW Beetle. I was allowed to stay overnight at her place, and we would listen to Nena on her cassette player. Some of you will remember the days.

With her song 99 Luftballons, Nena landed a hit that rose to the top of the charts – also in the United States. At the time, I didn’t know about the cold war, Pershing missiles or the peace movement. But Nena was the first singer I admired.

A while later, in another one of her songs she sang “Zukunft wird aus Mut gemacht,” which translates to “the future is built of courage”. It’s a nice line – and is still relevant today.

Courage is also the theme of this year’s Berlin Seminar. It’s a good choice. Because we need courage. Courage to speak up, make a difference, and take a stand. That’s especially true these days, when we are called on to defend democracy and the peaceful co-existence of all peoples.

Senator Fulbright would have approved. He would have wanted you to get involved and not be a bystander in a day and age when these fundamental values are again being called into question.

That is why International Cultural Policy plays such a significant role today. It is the third pillar of our foreign policy. It supplements classic diplomacy and economic relations with what we refer to as the “foreign policy of societies.” This includes the Fulbright Commission. After all, you, the grantees, are an important part of the worldwide network – because, through your actions, you contribute to the foreign policy of societies.

It is impressive to see how many of you are here today. You all prove how crucial personal exchange and mutual learning are – not only for you, but also for the transatlantic friendship.

Right now, we are experiencing some of the most turbulent times in our relationship since the end of the Second World War. Despite this, the U.S. remains our most important partner outside of the European Union.

Especially when diplomatic relations become more difficult, we need personal exchanges in order to maintain the ties between our two countries.

We are bound by seven decades of partnership and friendship. Our societies are now deeply interconnected by a wealth of economic, cultural, and political ties.

Nevertheless, we do see how under the current U.S. administration diplomatic uncertainty between our countries is on the rise. For the first time after the Second World War, it is no longer self-understood that we share the same common values and interests that were the mainstay of our relationship for more than two generations.

That is why I am very happy that we at the Federal Foreign Office can help strengthen ties with our Deutschlandjahr USA programme, which comprises more than 1000 events in all 50 U.S. states.

We and all of our partner organisations know that we must do our share. In my opinion, the motto of Deutschlandjahr USA – Wunderbar together – is not only daring and ambitious, but also true.

Based on what I see here today, it is present in the spirit of this Fulbright Seminar in Berlin.

The German-American Fulbright Commission is one of the most important building blocks of academic relations between Germany and the U.S. It rightly enjoys the permanent support of both governments.

The signing of the Fulbright Executive Agreement between Germany and the United States on July 18, 1952, established what would become one of the most active programs in the global Fulbright network. It is a network that meanwhile spans more than 155 countries.

Since its establishment, more than 46,000 grants have been awarded as part of the German-American exchange programme. This amounts to one-seventh of all Fulbright grants. Around 700 new ones are awarded each year.

In addition to providing long-term study and travel opportunities, the Fulbright Program participates in international exchange by hosting and participating in events focusing on current issues.

Fulbright, for example, is part of Deutschlandjahr USA with its Meet a German project, which gives students in all grade levels and of all ages an opportunity to speak directly with German counterparts.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our 70 years of experience in the Federal Republic of Germany have shown that the decision to bring Germany back into the fold of the international community was courageous – so soon after the country had attacked its neighbours and perpetrated the Holocaust. But it was also a good decision. It laid the foundation for Germany to again grow into an economically strong democracy in Europe.

We Germans in particular should be grateful for this, to this very day. Above all, we can learn from our experience. Today, we again must nurture both our democracy and the opportunity for lasting peace. We must stand up for an open society, as well as for cooperation, multilateralism, a pioneering spirit, and the freedom of opinion. We must not allow our society to become divided, but rather need to work to bring people together.

Dear grantees and alumni, it is also thanks to your efforts that German-American relations have risen to a new level since the end of the Second World War. Our ties have proven to be excellent, strong and trustworthy to this very day.

The fundamental idea that exchange should not end when a grant elapses is, I think, extremely important.

We are convinced that through our joint efforts we can achieve much more than by acting alone.

On that note, I’d like to wish you lively debates, creative ideas and a great deal of courage for building the future.

Thank you very much.


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