Talking with rather than about one another should be the motto between Russians and Germans at this difficult time in particular. And that is precisely why I have come to Moscow.
With its illegal annexation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine, Russia has left the order we had agreed together in the form of the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris. Along with our EU partners, we will continue to take a firm stance against these breaches of international law by Russia and the massive violations of human rights.
At the same time, we want to continue talking. Only through dialogue can we clearly express what we expect of Russia, whether this concerns eastern Ukraine or the regime in Syria. How can we protect the climate? How can we combat terrorism? How should we shape globalisation?
How can digital transformation create opportunities for everyone? These questions can only be answered by working with Russia – not against it.
However, the dialogue we need should not be restricted to government officials and policymakers alone if we want to rebuild lasting trust in our relations. It is of particular importance to me that those who are active in civil society do not drift apart or even become estranged because they hold different political views.
I am mainly thinking of one problem, which is of particular concern to me as Minister of State for Europe. We are confronted with growing nationalism and isolationism all over the world. The United States is threatening to withdraw from international institutions. Russia’s future in the Council of Europe is contentious.
In EU Member States, democratic and rule-of law principles are facing increased pressure.
In Germany, too, nationalists and populists are making their way into parliament. There are more xenophobic attacks and violence in our cities. On the streets and square of our towns, we hear anti-Semitic slogans and witness discrimination against Muslims.
Arseny Roginsky, whom we held in great regard and whose loss we mourn with you, warned of the dangers of a stronger nationalist movement in Russia years ago during a visit to the Federal Foreign Office. Violent, self-appointed “defenders of Russia’s true interests” would be boosted by the atmosphere of hostility towards liberal movements, he said.
We need to counter this with our own message – that of zero tolerance for xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia! We need greater cooperation internationally and among civil society.
Democracy, the rule of law, freedom of opinion, freedom of the press and protection from discrimination – these values are the cement that holds us Europeans together. However, we also need a vigilant and active civil society that repeatedly reminds decision-makers of their responsibility.
We see this impressive dedication in you, ladies and gentlemen. You counter nationalist and revisionist trends with courage, decades of experience and passion.
And you do so despite the fact that the scope for civil society has been declining for years, despite the actions to counter “extremism”, and despite the laws on “agents” and “undesirable” collaboration with foreigners.
I am pleased to be able to learn more about you and your work today. I would like to express my great personal regard and respect for you. We want to support you in your extremely important work. We want to maintain and intensify the close connections that have developed between our societies over decades. We will do so via concrete measures, such as youth exchange, programmes for students, joint human rights and remembrance projects, and German-Russian years on particular topics.
Above all, I need your advice on establishing a shared culture of commemoration and remembrance. In Germany, we know far too little about the 27 million victims of the fascist campaign of annihilation in the former Soviet Union. Please help us to raise awareness of this monstrous crime against humanity and to keep memories of the murdered women, men and children alive.
Criticism of government decisions should never be misinterpreted as a lack of respect for your country – on the contrary! We feel particularly close to the many Russians who look to Europe and Germany, long for freedom, stand up for democracy and defend the rule of law. It is wonderful that we are all gathered here around this table. Thank you very much!