skip to content

Managing cookies on Parliament's website

We use cookies so that you can make the best possible use of our website. If you proceed without altering your settings, we assume that you will accept cookies from Parliament's website.

More Continue
 
 

25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall - Speech by Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, given at the commemorative ceremony held by the Land Berlin in the Konzerthaus am Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin

Speeches
Berlin
09-11-2014
Credits : Wikimedia commons
Credits : Wikimedia commons

Mr President of the Federal Republic,
Mr President of the Bundestag,
Madam Chancellor,
Mr President of the Bundesrat,
Mr President of the Federal Constitutional Court,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

On 9 November 25 years ago the eyes of the whole word were fixed on Berlin.
And the whole world was a witness as courageous men and women tore down the Berlin Wall.
A wall which symbolised the arbitrary division of Germany and Europe,
guarded by soldiers,
fortified by barbed wire,
made concrete by this very Wall,
a wall of fear,
across which two superpowers eyed one another as enemies;
at which two political systems collided;
a wall which had brutally rent families, a country, an entire continent apart.
This painful division was ended by a peaceful revolution.
Not one single tank rumbled through the streets.
Not one single shot was fired.
Not one single drop of blood was shed.
A magical moment in the history of Germany and the start of a new era in Europe.

Images which we will never forget:
People dancing on the Wall, hugging one another, crying and singing with happiness.
Their shouted slogan, ‘we are the people’, still finds an echo today in freedom movements the world over.
Even today, their courage is an inspiration for freedom fighters the world over.

For on the night of 9 November 1989 it was not superpowers, it was not statesmen, who made history.
On that night, it was the people who wrote their own history and changed the course of world events.
First and foremost, it is the brave campaigners for civil rights in the GDR who deserve our thanks and our respect.
They made this miracle possible.

Berlin - which for decades had been the symbol of the division of Germany and Europe - became a symbol of unity and freedom.
That night was a Berlin night.
That night was also, but not only, a German night.
That night, ladies and gentlemen, a European movement for freedom reached its climax in Berlin.
Wherever one looked in Europe in the months leading up to that night, the spark of freedom had been lit.

Let’s take one example: in Leipzig, courageous women and men joined together in peaceful protests.
Intellectuals and environmentalists, reform socialists and church activists, trade unionists and writers, musicians and priests.
It was their diversity which made them strong, because it was so clearly the antithesis of the shattered one-party state.
Every Monday, they came together to pray.
They then carried their opposition movement out of the church and on to the streets.
Their shouts echoed through the streets of Leipzig:
‘Democracy - now or never’
‘Freedom, equality, fraternity’
And: ‘We are the people’. Again and again: ‘We are the people’. Hundreds became hundreds of thousands.
Hundreds of thousands of people who chose the path of civil disobedience.
They had no more reason than we did to suspect that the system would soon implode and that the Berlin Wall would fall.
But then the spark of peaceful revolution turned into a fire which spread throughout the German Democratic Republic.
And on that day, 9 November 1989, the people took power.
And so, whether we like it or not, whether we call it a coincidence or not, 9 November once again became a landmark day in the history of the German people.
Because 9 November 1918 was the day on which Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed the republic.
Because 9 November 1923 was the day on which Hitler and his supporters marched to the Feldherrnhalle in Munich.
Because 9 November 1938 was the day on which synagogues throughout Germany were set on fire, a day of shame for our nation.
A day which was the prologue to the most appalling crime in the history of humanity.
But in 1989, 9 November also became a day of joy for the German people.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Wherever one looked in Europe in 1989 the spark of freedom had been lit.
In the Gdansk shipyards, for example, where workers had formed a movement with Lech Wałęsa as their leader.
Since the previous year, Solidarność had been organising general strikes, shutting down mines and shipyards, in an effort to wring concessions from the dictatorship.
It was a genuine workers’ movement, which showed up the self-styled workers’ state for what it really was and ultimately brought down the regime.
And they did not allow themselves to be guided by violence, but instead by the words of Pope John Paul II, who urged them to ‘Fight evil with good!’
Here’s another example: people formed a human chain stretching from Vilnius via Riga to Tallinn.
1.8 million people, standing hand in hand in three Baltic states, commemorated the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact.
At impromptu night-time meetings, people sang together.
And so, the peoples of the Baltic sang their way to independence.

In Prague - I am sure that many of you feel the same way about this as I do: my imperishable memory of 1989 is of the German Foreign Minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, stepping out on to the balcony of the German embassy and addressing the 4000 people gathered in front of the building as ‘my fellow Germans’ and telling them that they could now leave the GDR - in Prague the Velvet Revolution unfolded against the background of demonstrations on Wenceslas Square.
The voices of hundreds of thousands of people came together in the call ‘Havel to the Hrad’. And they brought the government down.

At the Hungarian-Austrian border, a pan-European breakfast was organised. Hungarian Prime Minister Miklós Németh had the installations guarding the border with Austria taken down, creating a gap in the Iron Curtain through which tens of thousands of East Germans escaped to freedom.

Whether in Berlin, in Leipzig, in Warsaw, in Prague or in Bratislava, in Vilnius, in Tallinn or in Riga, the paths to freedom and democracy may have been different, but they were all peaceful.
What united the demonstrators were the peacefulness and the courage with which they overcame injustice and dictatorship.

Ladies and gentlemen,
In hindsight, the success of this European movement for freedom seems inevitable.
It was meant to turn out well. The Iron Curtain was meant to fall.
That’s how it seems to us today, looking back. But it was by no means a foregone conclusion.
There was no guarantee that banners, candles and flowers, songs and prayers, would triumph over tanks and rifles, over walls and borders.
How easy it would have been for the demonstrations to end in tragic bloodshed.
As they did in Berlin in 1953, in Budapest in 1956, in Prague in 1968 or in Beijing in 1989.
We must keep that in mind if we want to understand the extraordinary courage which these people showed, the fears they faced and overcame, all because they wanted to live in a free and just society.
Thanks to these courageous men and women, in Germany what belonged together could grow together, as Willy Brandt put it. And Europe could be reunited, too.
This European movement for freedom demonstrated once again the extent to which the history of Germany and the history of Europe are inextricably linked.
Just as the future of Germany and the future of Europe are inextricably linked.
And in those weeks and months nobody sensed and recognised this – and the special responsibility which Germany bears as a result – more clearly than Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Ladies and gentlemen,

For the peoples of central and eastern Europe, these revolutions were about much more than just throwing off the Soviet yoke.
They were also about a ‘becoming part of Europe again’ – one of the guiding principles behind the 1989 movements.
As the great historian Tony Judt has written, ‘The opposite of communism was not “capitalism”, but rather “Europe”’.
For them, Europe meant freedom and justice.
Democracy and solidarity.
Prosperity and safety.

It is only fitting, therefore, that the 1989 revolutions should only truly come to fruition through a series of reunifications.
The first such event was the reunification of Germany on 3 October 1990 – which was, at the same time, the first eastward enlargement of what was then the European Community.
It had been made possible – in part – by the clear-sightedness of a man who is one of the great figures of the 20th century: Mikhail Gorbachev.
Above all, however, the 1989 revolutions came to fruition through the reunification of Europe, through the major eastward enlargement of the EU which took place 10 years ago.
At long last, the peoples of central and eastern Europe returned to the European family.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have achieved so much in Europe.
We have torn down walls and thrown open borders.
We have held out the hand of reconciliation to one another and become friends.
We have created the largest and most prosperous internal market in the world and, in so doing, afforded whole generations unprecedented opportunities.
We have created societies founded on freedom, equality and democracy.
We have inoculated ourselves against the threat of war.
Our Union is founded on solidarity.
A ‘sense of common purpose’, as Robert Schuman put it, which in practice means standing shoulder to shoulder and helping the weak to become stronger.
Within countries and between countries.
Solidarity is the soul of the European Community.

For that reason, in particular on a day such as today, we have a duty to take a critical look at the state of our Union and ask ourselves whether the hopes and dreams of 1989 have been fulfilled, whether the promises have been honoured.
Ask ourselves whether today’s society would stand up to the scrutiny of the freedom fighters of that time.
In some areas, the hopes have been fulfilled, as I have said.
In others, however, the situation is much less rosy.
Many people have lost their jobs. Some parts of Europe have fallen behind.
The economic imbalances are too great, and the recent financial crisis has only made them all the more glaring.
An entire generation of young men and women – the children born in the years immediately before and after the 1989 revolutions – have little or no hope for the future. A lack of hope leads to despair, however, and despair to radicalisation and extremism, extremism which is increasingly coming to pose a threat to democracy.
I fear that the heady new freedoms of the post-revolution years led us to forget that freedom has its own prerequisites.
There can be no freedom without a just society founded on solidarity.
The founding fathers of the European Union knew this; they knew that social stability is a prerequisite for the political stability which makes freedom possible.
Today, at a time of growing inequality, extremism is once again rearing its ugly head.
Everywhere in Europe, nationalist prejudice is once again gaining ground, populists are using empty rhetoric to incite Europeans to hatred against other Europeans.
The propagandists of nationalism are on the march one again.
Twenty-five years after we tore down borders at which people died for freedom, they are calling for borders to be reintroduced as a way of addressing problems for which there are certainly other solutions.

Will we stand by and watch as new walls and new borders are put up in Europe?
Let us say it loud and clear: the right to travel and live anywhere in Europe is the greatest achievement of the European unification process.
Why? Because for too long people were forcibly prevented from exercising just that right.

Today, a quarter of a century after what we thought was the start of an era of lasting peace, the fear of war is once again stalking Europe.
In our immediate neighbourhood, wars are being waged, states are collapsing, borders are being shifted by force of arms and people are fleeing from the most appalling atrocities.

Will we stand by and watch as ‘right before might’ once again gives way to ‘might before right’?
The peaceful European revolutions of 1989 had a clear objective: replacing police states with states founded on the rule of law.
On the basis of the principle of mutual respect.
On the basis of respect for others.
The people who took to the streets were very diverse.
But they were united, and they had one common objective: democracy and justice, where previously there was dictatorship and despotism.
Nothing sums up the era which followed the fall of the Berlin Wall better than the first sentence of the Berlin Declaration of 2007: ‘We are united for the better’.
What does 9 November 1989 teach us?
That anything is possible, but that nothing is forever.
What can we learn from the courageous people who made the 1989 revolutions happen?
That anything is possible if we remain committed to our fundamental values and accept responsibility for the society in which we live.
So that we end up living in a society which is free, just and founded on solidarity.

If we are prepared to fight for our fundamental values, to take risks in order to defend them against attack, then we are following the example that the peaceful revolutionaries of 1989 set us. And if we do follow that example, we can be sure of living in a society which is free and just, and remains so.

Thank you for your attention.

For further information:

europarl.president.press@europarl.europa.eu