Eighteen years ago, I stood on the bridge between the Polish city of Slubice and Frankfurt an der Oder along with hundreds of other people. At midnight, the anthem of Europe sounded, fireworks exploded in the sky, people hugged each other. It was the night of May 1, 2004 and the moment when Poland joined the European Union. The joy of being part of Europe was written all over the faces of the people on the bridge. For me, this feeling, this feeling of joy is inextricably linked to your country. Therefore I am pleased and it was very important for me personally that today I can spend the Day of German Unity in Warsaw. For October 3rd is also a happy day for Germany and Europe.
May 1, 2004 would not have been possible without October 3. However, in the same way, October 3 is unimaginable without May 1, 2004. Therefore, I want to remind you of something that is sometimes very rarely expressed in Germany. We Germans could not have written the chapter of our reunification without the courage of the Polish people. There is a love poem by Wislawa Szymborska in which she writes:
After all, every beginning is only a continuation, and the book of events is always open, halfway.
Long before the fall of the Berlin Wall, thousands of people here took to the streets with the Solidarno movement. They called for their voice to be heard, for democracy and freedom for their country and a new, free, united Europe. I am thinking of the workers who founded the first free trade unions in the eastern bloc at the Gdańsk construction site. So many strong women who may not have been in the front row in all the photos, but who were so important to these protests. Tram driver Henryka Krzywonos, who is with us this evening. Welcome! You organized solidarity strikes by transport companies. I think of actress Krystyna Janda, who sang protest songs at the Forbidden Songs Festival. I think of the millions of brave men and women who took to the streets and declared loud and clear: We want to be free!
The retreat of that freedom movement also invaded Germany. It was no less the images from Gdańsk, from Krakow, from Warsaw that drew Germans to the streets in 1989 and gave them courage. Until the Wall fell and Germany was reunited in a free Europe.
I was born in 1980. I grew up in West Germany and experienced the Cold War only through the eyes of a child. I have spent three quarters of my life in this united and peaceful Germany. When my generation and future generations take part in protests today in Europe, about the climate or women’s rights or our common Europe, we know that afterwards we can go home, to the cinema, to our friends or our families. My children are now 7 and 11 years old, born in Berlin and Potsdam. For them, east and west are just points on the compass, different directions. I think of this freedom, the freedom to move in any direction, when I see the brave people who are standing up against authoritarian regimes today in places like Tehran, Minsk and Moscow. These people deserve our solidarity. It is their courage that can change a society. It is this kind of courage that also made German reunification possible. And I say it quite deliberately as a Foreign Minister and as a politician that this freedom was not dictated or orchestrated from above. It was not the idea of a party or a government, nor a cabinet decision. It was the will and courage of the people that brought this freedom.
Without the courage shown in November 1989, we would not be celebrating October 3rd. The courage of the people who took to the streets and did not know what the outcome of these protests would be. Who didn’t know if the protests would cost them their jobs or put them in jail. And anyway they went ahead first to Poland, then to Germany.
And today I can tell you this: I am proud that Poland considers this reunited Germany among its friends. This was possible because you, above all as a people, reached out to us.
After the Second World War, after the most terrible crimes committed by Germany, the Polish people were ready to approach us. For that we are forever grateful.
I don’t want to start listing all the statistics about how many German-Polish enterprises we have now, how many youth exchanges, students and German-Polish associations. All that is impressive, but our relationships are more than these institutions. We are forever connected to each other, as grandchildren, as bride and groom, as colleagues, as neighbors, as friends.
What we have is an intimate friendship between millions of people. A friendship and partnership that is stronger than political differences. A friendship in which we must continue to invest, however challenging it may sometimes be to prevent the erosion of what we have achieved through the Good Neighbor Treaty. This is our political responsibility. Poland is one of our most important partners in European Union. And I am glad that the feeling I had and the joy I felt on the bridge over the Oder in 2004 has not disappeared. Now, as then, the people of our countries are united by the strong desire to be part of this European Union. A European Union that is much more than a common internal market. A European Union that is above all a union of freedom and peace. Because especially at the moment we are seeing that an effective European Union is not an end in itself, but our common life insurance.
For seven months, we have been witnessing a war on the European continent that is writing a new chapter in our history with brutal skill. The Ukrainian people are not only fighting for the survival of their country, they are also fighting for a free Europe, for our Europe. And again, Poland is at the center of those who are supporting this fight for freedom at all levels, above all among the general public. What the Polish people have achieved since February 24 in their support for Ukraine is unprecedented and fills me with the greatest respect.
That is also why I am here today. We will not ease our support for Ukraine, together with our partners in European Union AND niton. Because we Germans will never forget that we owe our life in freedom, in a reunited country in the heart of Europe, to our allies and neighbors. We will be there for them now, just as they were there for us. This is true for Ukraine. But the same goes for Poland. We will be there for you. The way you were there for us when we needed you the most. After all, the security of Eastern Europe is also the security of Germany. You can count on that.
And now I wish us all, despite or perhaps because of everything, a pleasant, joyful evening. Because we know how precious, how fragile is freedom, security and our peace project that is Europe. This evening, let us raise our glasses in the hope that Poland and Germany will fill our book of events, as described in the love poem I quoted at the beginning of my speech, with many more pages of stories of close cooperation, vividly and sometimes heated discussion, but above all with tales full of friendship and moments of happiness. Because today is a happy day for Europe.
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