In 2014, we look back on milestones that shaped the course of both German and world history. Two of these dates cast especially long shadows: one hundred years ago, two gunshots fired in Sarajevo cast Europe into the abyss that was the First World War. Seventy five years ago, our country unleashed the Second World War with the invasion of Poland – culminating in unprecedented crimes against humanity.
But we are also celebrating a moment of triumph in German and European history in 2014. The Berlin Wall came down 25 years ago. Less than a year later, German unity became a reality on 3 October 1990.
This day ended decades of division for our country. It was also a milestone on the road towards a united Europe, a process our neighbours in Poland and the other “new member states” completed ten years ago.
The peaceful revolutionaries on Prague’s Wenceslas Square, in the Gdansk shipyards and on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz laid the groundwork for this transition in 1989. It was their vision of a free, open and democratic Europe that tore down the Iron Curtain.
This is a vision that is not only confined to Europe, of course. I am reminded of this time and again when travelling around the world as Foreign Minister. It is a vision that inspires young people on Europe’s doorstep and in Asia and Latin America. It is a vision of democracy and the rule of law, free development of the individual and social cohesion.
“United in Diversity” is the slogan for this year’s Day of German Unity. The slogan is an expression of our commitment to an open minded and tolerant Germany that has learned the lessons of the dark chapters of the 20th century and sees our cultural and religious diversity as an enrichment of our society. At the same time, it is an expression of our commitment to a Europe whose strengths lie in the ability to find compromise among diverse neighbours.
Twenty five years of German unity are a cause for celebration. A quarter of a century after the end of the Cold War, this anniversary also encourages us to stand up against a new division of our continent with all our might.
A mentality informed by spheres of influence had disastrous consequences for our continent in the 20th century. Instead, we should focus today on the things vouchsafed to us by the historic watershed that was 3 October 1990: partnership, trust and the ability to see our diversity, within and beyond our borders, not as a threat, but as a force for good.