Podium: Johannes Rau - New challenges for Germany

From a speech by the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, delivered on his taking office in Bonn
Click to follow
TEN YEARS after the Iron Curtain was swept away and the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, we are still seeking a new order for Europe and across the world. The hostile military blocs of former years are gone. But we have yet to build the Pan-European order of peace and security which could ensure that in Europe at any rate, war would no longer be an instrument of policy.

In Yugoslavia we witnessed events which scarcely anyone in these closing years of the century believed could or should ever happen again. For the first time since its founding 50 years ago, NATO used military means in Europe, with the Bundeswehr participating in combat operations. For two weeks now, the guns have been silent. In Kosovo, German soldiers have been greeted as liberators. The way in which Germany shouldered this responsibility and continues to do so has enhanced our country's standing in the eyes of the world. What lessons can and should be learnt from the current situation in the former Yugoslavia?

For me, the most important lesson is this: prevention is the best policy if we are to avoid the false alternative of guilt incurred by standing aloof or guilt incurred as a result of military intervention that makes victims also of quite innocent people. A policy that seeks to build a Europe in which people live in peace side by side must take a strong stand on human rights before people are threatened with deportation, terror and death.

We need a policy that does not allow arms exports today only to intervene against their use tomorrow. We need to reject nationalism root and branch. Nationalism and separatism have the same roots. Nationalism has nothing to do with love of one's country but with hatred for the countries of others. Where this hatred leads we have seen not just over these past months or in the former Yugoslavia.

Willy Brandt, as I recalled on 23 May, spoke of our desire to be a nation of good neighbours. Who in 1969 could have believed that we would now enjoy relations with all our neighbours that epitomise what I mean by good-neighbourliness? That is of course by no means just Germany's doing. There are many we have reason to thank. And the best way of expressing these thanks is by remaining a driving force in the process of European unification. Good- neighbourliness - today that is simply home affairs in the European context.

But we need good-neighbourliness also here in Germany: between people of different origins and faiths, with different cultural traditions.

As a young man in the Fifties I went into politics because I could not reconcile myself to the division of Germany. Along with Gustav Heinemann and Helene Wessel, Diether Posser, Erhard Eppler and many others, I belonged to the not exactly successful All-German People's Party. My whole life long this has been a strong concern of mine going far beyond the political domain. So I count myself fortunate indeed that on the day the Wall came down, 9 November 1989, I happened to be in Berlin and Leipzig. On that evening and during the two days that followed I saw at first hand the sheer amazement, the indescribable joy of people over their new-found freedom, for which many of them had demonstrated week-in, week-out on the streets. Experience teaches me political life, too, can benefit if we in positions of responsibility manage to retain that capacity for amazement.

Let us work to overcome the grievous legacy of the past 40 years in the new Lander. Both in a reunified Germany and in an integrating Europe we need diversity in unity.

We should not forget even 10 years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall that the people who lived in the GDR, through no fault of their own, have carried by far the greater burden of German history. They were no less clever or industrious than people in West Germany, but under the prevailing conditions their diligence and commitment could not bear the same fruit.

Each of my predecessors left his own stamp on the presidential office. That was true of Theodor Heuss and Heinrich Lubke, Gustav Heinemann and Walter Scheel, Karl Carstens and Richard von Weizacker and also of Roman Herzog. While each sought to bring his own particular gifts and talents to the office, they were all nonetheless representatives of Germany as a whole. The German President today has, as I see it, a twofold task. He must speak for the Germans and he must provide a channel for minorities to voice their concerns. That is what I intend to do, with the gifts I have and in my own way.