By George C. Marshall European Center Public Affairs
Garmisch Partenkirchen, GERMANY (October 3, 2017) – George C. Marshall European Center German Deputy Director Brig. Gen. (ret.) Johann Berger and Garmisch Partenkirchen Mayor Dr. Sigrid Meierhofer marked the Day of German Unity in a ceremony held in the Garmisch Partenkirchen Kongresshaus, Oct. 3, 2016.
Berger and Meierhofer spoke in German and their remarks were translated by the George C. Marshall European Center.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The celebration of the 27th anniversary of German Unification takes place in an eventful year full of significant changes in the regional, global and security environment.
When we take a closer look at the events and developments that started in spring 2014 we realize the enormous impact and scope of those changes:
Crimea and Ukraine, Syria, the IS, terrorism in all European countries, political shifts in Turkey, but also in some European countries, the Brexit vote, the new U.S. administration, the conflict in Korea and the result of the federal election in Germany a week ago.
In his editorial for the Frankfurter Allgemeine (26 September) Klaus-Dietrich Frankenberger describes the election result as a turning point in German history, the most drastic change since 1949 which shakes the very foundations of the Western alliance and the ties between eastern and western federal states.
So the new government -– still to be formed -– will face difficult tasks in the areas of foreign and security policy.
When we take a closer look at the domestic challenges ahead, the changes in our society, economy and social structures, we realize that the new government will have to solve a wide range of problems to prevent the fabric of our society from tearing apart. Mayor Meierhofer has already talked about this in detail.
So what is the situation today, 27 years after the German unification? Has Germany grown together? Have we overcome the “Ossi-Wessi” mentality and become one people?
At a first glance we can say, yes, we have. Bavarians enjoy their holidays at the Baltic Sea resorts, in the region of the “1,000 lakes”, in the Spree Forest or the Erz Mountains as much as people from the new federal states like the Alps, Lake Constance or the Black Forest.
But 27 years after Germany’s unification, the East is still lagging behind in its economic development and is slow to catch up with the West. According to a report of the federal government which was debated a couple of days ago the economy of the Eastern federal states will not reach the level of the West any time soon.
In the meantime East Germany’s per capita gross domestic product amounts to 74% of that of the West, but there are still many obstacles to the complete elimination of the deficit accumulated over four decades of socialist economy in one part of the country.
We need to make sure that the divide between strong and weak regions will not become too deep. In some federal states the difference between booming regions and impoverished areas is larger than in France or Britain.
The impact of globalization and the demographic change could aggravate an already difficult situation and give rise to insecurity.
In many regions people feel forgotten and left behind, this leads to social divisions and provides fertile ground for radicalism.
Political apathy, downward social mobility and xenophobia seem inevitable and start undermining social cohesion, optimism and the basis of a free, tolerant and open-minded society of people ready to help those in need.
But we do need a stable society, and Europe needs a strong and stable Germany which, together with France and other neighboring countries, can become the core of a functioning, stable and resilient Europe.
The large number and complexity of the challenges facing us require concerted action at the European level. Therefore the stabilization and further development of a European Union that will not get stuck in excessive bureaucracy will be the main strategic interest of the new government’s foreign policy.
To achieve this goal, Germany’s political course has to be predictable, its structures reliable and its spirit confident. The state in the center of Europe needs a well- functioning society on a strong ethical basis which gives support to those that are weak and can be trusted to be willing and able to help those in need.
Both Germany and Europe need the transatlantic link and the support of our transatlantic partners to be able to defend their interests, their security and their stability in the face of the enormous challenges in today’s security environment. Europe on its own is not strong enough and does not have the appropriate means to address large-scale military threats effectively, so a purely European policy of prevention and deterrence would lack credibility.
5 June marked the 70 anniversary of the day when George C. Marshall, then U.S. state secretary, gave a speech about the initial draft of a Marshall Plan for Europe addressing the students of Harvard University.
Throughout the 70 years to follow the protection guaranteed by the United States of America under the NATO treaty has been vital for the reconstruction and development of Germany as well as for Europe’s freedom.
There are of course different interests and different opinions – not only in the U.S., but also in Europe.
Still, the shared values that have become the backbone of our democratic, free and open societies have enabled us to cope with problems and challenges, and will continue to do so if we adhere to them.
The visits of both the U.S. defense secretary and the German minister of defense at the Marshall Center on 28 June demonstrated, proved and confirmed the truth of this. They both emphasized that U.S.-German relations were built on a close dialog characterized by mutual trust.
Albert Schweitzer once said that if you really want something, you will find a way, if you don’t, you will find a reason.
So let us on this 27th anniversary of German Unification look for ways and not for reasons.
For a united Germany, for a functioning European Union, for a functioning and vibrant transatlantic cooperation and friendship.
Then we will be able to ensure that our children, grandchildren and their children will live in a world they love and that is worth living in, where those that are helpless will enjoy support, those without hope are given confidence, and the old and the weak will be treated with respect and maintain their dignity.
Now let me wish you all a peaceful and, thanks to the mountain infantry military band, enjoyable and pleasant day of German Unity.
Mayor Dr. Meierhofer and I would like to thank you for coming and for your attention.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very happy that you have followed our invitation and joined us here today to celebrate with us the Day of German Unity. On 3 October, we commemorate an event that is among the happiest in German history. German reunification was a moment of good fortune. It was one of the few nonviolent societal and political changes in the history of Europe - triggered by nonviolent civic protest and effected without the use of weapons.
Naturally, the initial feelings of happiness and euphoria have faded over the years. This often happens when promises remain unfulfilled and expectations remain not or not fully satisfied. Maybe, that will help us understand why so many of our fellow Germans in the East have turned to new political promises of salvation – as happened in the recent federal elections.
Today is a holiday that gives us reason to refresh our memory:
Who would have imagined in the middle of the 1980s that the iron and unshakeable curtain between East and West would fall a few years later?
Who would have thought that the people in the East would be free? Freedom instead of isolation. Democracy instead of dictatorship.
The 3rd of October reminds us primarily that our fellow citizens in the East accomplished a feat.
This day brings home to us that with the peaceful reunification of Germany, something previously unimaginable had happened. This day also makes us aware of how precious our liberal-democratic constitutional order truly is.
Despite all the joyous memories, we have to admit that even 27 years after reunification we have not overcome all the challenges. Globalization, European integration and advances in information technology have undoubtedly added new challenges.
Nevertheless, the inviolable dignity of men, freedom and equality before the law as well as freedom of speech are our greatest, albeit vulnerable values. It is worth fighting for these key values in our constitution. They need to be upheld at the highest level of politics as well as at our regional level. Based on my long-term experience as local politician I can tell you that we are not taking decisions lightly in our municipal council. We often have controversial discussions and debate vigorously about details - sometimes until late at night - until we finally reach a conclusion.
Yes, democracy can be arduous but it is worth the struggle! In our capacity as politicians, we have to ask ourselves whether our decisions are always in the interest of our citizens. The results of the recent federal elections have unfortunately shown that many people in our country feel misunderstood by politicians, they feel left-behind and at a disadvantage. Many people did not go to the polls out of protest or resignation or they gave their votes to those that pretend to have simple solutions for complex problems.
This development increases the division in our society. Division is a contradiction to today’s commemoration of unity and of growing together of our country. We had already been much further!
It is obvious that politicians in their capacity as elected representatives are obligated to counteract such a division and to do all they can to maintain and increase trust. I am of the opinion that above all we have to promote social justice in order to prevent further divisions in society.
Social justice starts with education, thus as early as preschool. If we want to guarantee equality of opportunity, we have to make sure that education is accessible free of charge to everyone! Day care facilities, schools, and universities need to provide education at no cost. Free education must be put into practice at the federal or the Länder level, it cannot be done at the local level.
Another important aspect for promoting social cohesion in society, especially at the local level, is the provision of affordable residential housing by the municipality. I am very glad that our local council recently made a decision on social land law, which will provide the preconditions for realizing urgently necessary social housing projects.
Currently, the most important aspect affecting public opinion is security. In recent years, numerous terrorist attacks, an increased media coverage and continuous reporting on such events have upset people´s feeling of security.
Nevertheless, I would like to caution against automatically linking the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism. It is very clear that in Garmisch-Partenkirchen most conflicts involving refugees or asylum seekers take place within the housing facilities. Apart from these facilities, the overall crime rate in the region has not increased significantly over the past few years according to official statistics. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the local police station headed by Mr. Thomas Kirchleitner and all the police units for their work. Due to their significant contribution, we still feel safe and protected here in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
Naturally - and it cannot be downplayed – integrating a large number of refugees poses immense challenges. In Germany, the preconditions are favorable in order to cope with this complex task. For example, we should use the shortage of skilled labor and the numerous unfilled apprentice positions in the hotel business, food service industry and crafts and trades to give asylum seekers the opportunity to work or receive education and professional qualification. I would like to call on policymakers to set the course as quickly as possible to give asylum applicants easier access to the labor market.
In terms of integration, many things are already working well. This is due to the many volunteers who have supported refugees in various ways. In our market town and in the administrative district of Garmisch-Partenkirchen there are dedicated groups of helpers who have moved things forward quite a bit. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the helpers and volunteers with all my heart!
Undoubtedly, we are living in times of great challenges. We - the Europeans, the Germans, the Bavarians, the people of Garmisch-Partenkirchen – are in a position to cope with these challenges, providing that we face these tasks - entirely in the spirit of today´s holiday – by working together in unity!
“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided”, says headmaster Albus Dumbledore in J.K. Rowling´s “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”. In “Faust” Goethe said 200 years ago, “He only earns his freedom and his life, who takes them every day by storm.” Today this is true more than ever.
In case of uncertainty, let us always decide for unity: together we are stronger and together we will cope with the challenges of the future! Thank you!