Why should we care about our nation?

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I.
Madam President, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kind words, on behalf of all of my family.

Mr President, my first thought today is for you. You take on a task that is difficult and fulfilling at the same time. You will go to work with proven experience, with a sober mind and wit, with heart and courage. We will all benefit from this. May you exercise your office with strength and wisdom, and may happiness and blessings guide you!

My heartfelt wishes go no less to your wife. I have seen what it means that the President's wife - later perhaps also the husband of a Federal President - is, so to speak, not provided for by the constitution, that she nevertheless feels the same inner obligation for the office and willingly bears it - less spectacularly but at times more reluctant and certainly just as responsible, helpful to all who ultimately put their hopes in them because no one else in the country knew how to help them. Just as I owe my wife a deep thank you for this, which I cannot adequately bear, I would like to assure you, dear Ms. Herzog, of the same trust that we have in your husband.

When changing the relay, you don't look back, you look ahead. But first I would like to express my thanks for an unforgettable abundance and density of human care. That is how it was said in ancient China. The source of my office were the people I met: voters and politicians, residents and foreigners, experts and lay people, unemployed and employed, homeless and housed, men, women and also children from near and far. They warned and encouraged me, gave me trust, criticized me, and shared worries and joy with me. It's right here with us. That's where you learn what really matters. Official loneliness cannot arise at all, and that is a great stroke of luck.

II.
It will soon be five years since the wall came down. It was an epoch-making event, far beyond Germany. For me it was also the greatest personal experience. Anyone who lived in Berlin again and again had always felt that the Wall could not endure in history. According to the plan of its builders, it should separate us. But it was so much against the nature and will of people that it itself continually urged to overcome it, to unity. There was only one thing none of us knew: whether we would see her fall.

And then on November 11, 1989, I was able to walk alone to the East Berlin control barracks via Potsdamer Platz. A lieutenant colonel of the National People's Army came up to me, made a correct honorary certificate and said:. As if nothing had happened - but it was overwhelming. Back then, in November 1989, a deep feeling of liberation and a wave of joy went with us Germans around the world. We don't want to forget that on any day, now that we're traveling together in Germany and Europe.

Unprecedented in history was to achieve unification in peace with all powers and neighbors involved. Internal unity was based on Article 23 of the Constitution for good reason, because the East no less than the West wanted the guidelines of this Basic Law. But we should confidently stop talking about it. This term is constitutionally correct - the Federal President will confirm this - but the human and historical process is not an association of Federal Germans and those who have joined. We have different life experiences and are now growing together into an inner unity that is new for both parts.

We're moving forward and we're going to make it. The advantages of an open society help us here: the fixed rules of democracy and the efficiency of the market economy. They offer the best paths of discovery known to us for solving ever new problems. They are sensible because they enable us to face conflict without violence. They are not heart-warming. This is not an unworldly comment, but a reminder of Ranke's idea that peoples are not determined by rational circumspection alone, but above all by strong feelings.

It is the same with us. The compatriots in the east are grateful for the freedom they have been lacking for so long. You know very well how to appreciate the huge transfer payments. You will feel the positive effect of the partnership between communities and associations and the personal commitment of numerous selfless helpers and advisers.

Nevertheless, a lot is still foreign. Nobody overlooks the fact that the market is indispensable and has proven itself in the supply of goods and services. But too many still have to look for access to the market, namely employment, especially women. One often hears it like this: This does not express any longing for new bondage. But with all due respect for the competition, people hope for a market economy that not only socially supports the unemployed, but also has the strength to help jobseekers in solidarity.

It's also about more than just material worries. Competition and profit are not the measure of all things. Value is different from price. We should also be careful not to demonize the past in general or to rewrite it afterwards. People have truly suffered enough from the barbaric compulsion to collectivism. In doing so, however, they do not need to be constantly persuaded that this is why they personally have only had a lost life so far. Today they are looking for justice and neighborhood, for a connection between solidarity and security. Who wouldn't want to take that seriously?

III.
The labor market strengthens our mutual understanding in the unification process. People in the West also have worries and need to learn. There, prosperity in the economy and the success of the welfare state were common living conditions. The forces of the market were able to prevail. The dismantling of trade barriers in Europe and around the world had a stimulating effect.

In the course of rising productivity, however, unemployment grew even during the boom. In a great trial of strength, the welfare state has fended off social upheavals. Given the heavy additional loads after the unit, its load-bearing capacity is truly impressive. Now all those involved are required to have a high degree of flexibility, the strength to innovate and to overcome inhibiting thinking in terms of vested interests. We have not yet solved the tasks on the labor market. That is now one of our great common challenges.

IV.
The more we ensure humane conditions, the better we will survive them, ladies and gentlemen. I mean our culture in the broadest sense of the word: the culture of relationships between people and fellow human beings, between people and nature and between people and the future.

There is competition and performance in the market; it cannot be otherwise. Culture also includes turning the strong towards the weak, i.e. not only through a vertical social obligation on the part of the state, but also the help of horizontal solidarity among citizens.

An example of tremendously growing importance is the relationship between locals and immigrants. For centuries Germany was predominantly a country of emigration. Today far more people want to come in than out. In order to find the human attitude and the state framework for such a changed situation, we need time. We have to look for solutions based on consensus, which the majority of the population understands and supports, in public discussion. There is no point in hiding from social reality. Anyone who wants to make the keyword immigration policy a taboo because he otherwise fears xenophobic excesses is turning the context upside down. Social conflicts are far more likely to be caused by the withholding or delaying of due political targets than by their wake.

We need new regulations for immigration and citizenship, but of course not in order to open our gates indefinitely to hikers from all over the world, but in order to control immigration in accordance with the interests and obligations of our country. Then immigration becomes a sensible provision for the future. Whoever adjusts to immigrants in this way has more of them than if he only feared them like intruders. Similar tasks exist in many countries of the European Union. Striving for joint solutions is necessary, but not a pretext for neglecting the national scope for action. We too have some catching up to do.

Recently we have seen shameful acts of violence against property, life and limb of non-Germans all over Germany. They are individual acts without central planning, but not without incitement. They come from a predominantly right-wing extremist climate that feeds on slogans and marches, pamphlets and symbols. Nobody should speak of chance whims or, as recently, of unpredictable, spontaneous hunts for foreigners, only to wonder how it could have come about later on. Someday? - It's always today! For the law enforcement agencies of the state as well as for us as fellow citizens.

We must not get used to unhappiness of others, which is what the daily television pictures tempt us to do. We don't want to look the other way when something inhuman happens in our own field of vision. Those who duck back, in the end accept the rule and violence of others over themselves as well. Those who do not dare to stand up for their freedom become a fare dodger of our liberal democracy. He's hollowing them out. We must not and we do not want to tolerate a second revocation of living together with those who have a different passport or different lifestyles, who are disabled or homeless. We don't want to think of this just for the sake of our reputation abroad. What is more important is how we look in our own mirror. For us - and the vast majority of our population fully agree on this - the dignity of every human being must be inviolable. That is the core of our own freedom. Any civil courage is worthwhile for their protection. It is the greatest virtue of democratic civil society and, moreover, its best insurance.

There are encouraging signs of our culture of coexistence with strangers. I recently came across a cultural association in Stendal, in northern Saxony-Anhalt. An amateur play group of young people performed a ballet with a black African in the lead role. The whole city learned to respect and enjoy his being, his movements, his culture, which was so foreign to us at home and yet so gripping to us. Students recently came to me from Karlsruhe. They had written a play about living together with foreigners themselves and performed it in the wider area. The response was strong. This is how art becomes a human force.

At this point, the housekeepers and those responsible for finances, including the heads of government in the federal, state and local governments, may allow me a request. Feel free to follow the voice of your heart and, in times of the urgent need to save, meet the many cultural and artistic cells and centers in the country, whose lobby is so weak, with understanding! Choirs, orchestras and stages, collections, exhibitions and initiatives of all kinds are also among the role models in the cost-benefit ratio. Their costs are lower than almost any other budget item, but their effect goes deep and is good for society as a whole. It is not only more beautiful, but in the end it also saves money, promoting good coexistence and relaxation among people with the help of culture, instead of having to bear the follow-up costs of social strife. Culture is not an expendable ornament, but a humane way of life of the citizens.

V.
In any society, the intergenerational relationship is one of the pillars of culture. Are they still carrying us enough? Even the demographic figures are alarming: a hundred years ago there were ten young people under the age of twenty-one compared to only one old person over the age of sixty-five. In a few years, however, in the year 2000, both groups will be roughly the same size.

This cannot be without serious consequences. The burdens for the young are increasing more and more, both when they want to have children of their own and, above all, because of the care of the elderly. Are we at the beginning of a revolt by the young against the old?

In any case, new thinking grows within the age groups and can change their behavior towards one another. This is normal for boys; they want to have their own experiences. Sooner or later they realize that nobody can start from scratch. It is also in their interest not to let all experience-based knowledge be lost. Maintaining and respecting the continuity of the generations is especially helpful for the young.

The old also have reason to rethink. We should and we can learn, educate and educate ourselves for a lifetime. Unfortunately, according to my impression, questions of education and upbringing in general are strangely quiet in the country at the moment. Education politicians in charge are vigorously fighting for reform steps. But big politicians and the general public rarely take it seriously, although we know at least one thing: that a country's education system is one of the central location factors in the liberalized world economy. But beyond its pure efficiency, the quality of education depends above all on the values ​​and goals of people living together. No education can do without the courage to educate, and courage to educate means, in the changing times, the courage to change our own lives, especially in old age.

The most important issue for this is the environment. The finiteness of the preconditions for life becomes visible in all fields. What we waste or air and water, energy and biodiversity today, will be lacking for our offspring. So what better job could there be than frugality and shared responsibility for natural resources? There can only be continuity of the generations if we do not ceaselessly consume the future with our current life.

The ecological obligation applies worldwide, but it always starts at home. Environmental protection is changing from party to common good. Here a national goal is waiting to be put into practice. As before, the general public has to bear the costs whenever the private market causes external consequences which are not included in the price. It is more honest and also more economical for society as a whole when the prices themselves tell the ecological truth. What is ecologically necessary should also be able to assert itself on the market. That is why - to give an example - there is ultimately no avoiding polluting products such as fossil fuels and working towards a corresponding agreement in the CO2 / energy sector in the European Union.

VI.
This is one of the great tasks that Germans connect with the world. Our nation is only part of the larger and more important community of humanity. We share in their worries, knowing that many peoples suffer far more than we do.

I cannot go into the specific fields of foreign policy, security and cooperation in our part of the world and the improvement of development conditions in the southern hemisphere. Just one more question, Madam President, allow me to speak: what is the German nation? And where is it aiming?

It is not surprising that there was less talk of this during the Cold War, but it is now that we have achieved political unity in peace with the world. Now the eyes of our neighbors and those of distant countries are on us. We are big by European standards, and worryingly big for some neighbors. One listens sensitively to our pitch. People are following with tense interest what we are planning to do with our eighty million inhabitants in the middle of Europe, how we will use our intellectual and material resources and, above all, what human temperatures are developing in our home.

The madness of nationalism in Europe, which sought nothing other than the advantage of its own to the disadvantage of other nations, had thrown our continent to the ground. That had turned out to be a rejection of civilization. In our time, a new, historically highly significant chapter has begun: the merger in Europe.

We do not cease to be a nation any more than our neighbors. We still have no other level than the nation state to guarantee democracy. But the nation is not an abstract concept that is fixed once and for all. Rather, it is shaped by the will of its citizens, which can preserve or change its character.

It is not just religion or race, skin color, ethnic roots or language that make up a nation. Certainly the geographical location of a country has its weight, as does the pursuit of security that holds people together. Political interests are also decisive.We have to recognize them clearly and openly and honestly call them by their names. Not admitting them to oneself or hiding them from others, even though they exist, would only arouse suspicion on all sides. But they do not form the true core of the nation. Rather, everyone, including ours, is a spiritual living being that, like every life, grows into the present in a long time. It has a significant history and a present will to live together.

History should not weigh down our memories, but rather illuminate our minds, as Lessing says. To be able to remember is a great power. To accept the whole legacy of the past, its good and its difficult chapters, or, in the words of the great French religious historian Ernest Renan, to share responsibility for his fame and repentance, that is one thing that shapes our nation.

The other is our will to the present, our readiness to face the challenges of our time.

  • How do the generations treat each other?
  • Are we giving young people the opportunities they need to bear increasing burdens in the future?
  • Do we understand that international competitiveness is more important for the labor market than marginal increases in internal societal distribution struggles?
  • How do locals and immigrants relate to one another? Are we open to ourselves and to our neighbors? Are we able to respect and appreciate what is our own so that it does not need to fear what is foreign, but can attest to its dignity and strengthen it?
  • Do we all, elected citizens and elected politicians, do what we do to ensure that moral courage is noticeably strengthened and that politics also gain prestige?
  • Are we aware that culture is the source of our humanity and the foundation of our future, which must be vigorously promoted and practiced on all sides?
  • Finally and above all: do we keep the nature entrusted to us for our descendants?

We can build trust when we have trust - trust in ourselves in the awareness of the riches and burdens of history and with the firm and responsible will to live in the present. For our nation, on the way to Europe and as a member of the community of peoples, I count on it with confidence.

VII.
Ladies and gentlemen, Madam President, I have finished my term of office. The relay is passed. You survived me happily. Thank you for the time we spent together.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have to add one more sentence, because: According to Lichtenberg, I can continue to hold that council in our democracy to which we all, young and old, with or without office, belong together - for the good of our country.