Dear family of President Herzog, Excellencies, dear friends,
Shortly after taking office as President of the German Federal Republic in 1994, Roman Herzog was invited by the Polish President Lech Wałęsa to take part in a commemoration, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. It was a time of heated historical debates and discussions about the wounds that could not heal. Not everybody in Germany thought that an inexperienced president should choose Poland, and specifically such a ceremony, as the destination of his first foreign visit. And not everybody in Poland accepted the participation of a German president in such a commemoration, in such a place. Newspapers published opinions of Polish citizens, both for and against. And then President Herzog came and offered Polish people words which were surprising, honest, bold and deep. He used language which won over many sceptics. Newspapers were now printing statements by Polish citizens, including veterans of the Warsaw Uprising, expressing respect for the President and taking back their earlier objections. We know that this doesn’t often happen. This is one of the reasons why we consider Roman Herzog’s Warsaw speech extraordinary and historic. And so, if today we refer to him as a president of ‘open words’, who did not like to ‘beat about the bush’, we in Poland understand this in a very specific way.
It is worth recalling this now, a few days before the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism, which was initiated by President Herzog himself on the twenty-seventh of January, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Roman Herzog belonged to a generation that had a living memory of the bad past – which for them was a source of motivation to reinforce European integration. This generation knew how high the stakes were. That is why President Herzog made calls not to treat the unification of the continent in terms of a ‘technique of living together’, ‘eine Technik des Zusammenlebens’, but in terms of a political and cultural identity. Only then would Europe be able to survive in an increasingly diverse and volatile world – and to counter external threats. Those words from 1997 take on new substance and a sinister relevance today. It can be added, following President Herzog’s argumentation, that Europe cannot remain only a project of older people, who have memory. What about the young ones, who do not remember? They will never produce this specific motivation to support a unified Europe. But since they do not remember, they should use their imagination.
It was already many years ago that Roman Herzog advised his compatriots to stimulate their imagination with the idea of freedom, that extraordinary experience from the Autumn of Nations of 1989. Freedom is our collective gift. Perhaps it is worth following his advice today, when we need to rebuild unity and trust in the European Union. If 1989 is considered the most European year since the Revolutions of 1848, known in some countries as the Spring of Nations, then perhaps it will provide a strong impulse for a discussion about why we must defend our community, its principles and institutions. And we will better understand that behind the often very technical debates in Brussels, there is actually much more at stake.
A prominent lawyer and a constitutionalist, Roman Herzog would be able to demonstrate to us for example that freedom is indispensable to the reconstruction of a European sense of community. Without it, any alternative attempts at unity, based purely on ‘identity’, would have no reference to civil liberties. They would not create sufficient justification or instruments to protect human rights or the rights of minorities. Roman Herzog chaired the First European Convention, which in the years 1999-2000, drafted the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the European Union, of which I would like to quote – and stress – the following words:
the Union is founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity; it is based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law”
With you, Mr President, it would be much easier to continue to uphold and defend these values. With the Charter, President Herzog equipped us with an important instrument in the fight against national egoisms and populism. Until his last days he spoke about fundamental issues of integration. And his words were always meaningful and carefully listened to.
At the same time, Roman Herzog was a sober pragmatist, a critic of a European construction struggling to free itself from excessive regulation and ambition to standardise everything. He made calls to focus on the issues that really mattered, to discourage any hard feelings from Europeans disappointed with a Union that interferes in issues that could be solved on a local
or national level. He would certainly agree with the realistic approach that European politics will always be a matter played out between Member States and the EU institutions. There are enough roles and tasks for both sides in it. And there is no need to bring down all the partition walls of the European building to reinforce that integration.
As already mentioned here today, everyone in Germany remembers Roman Herzog’s famous speech from 1997, about the need for a ‘jolt’, for a refreshing shock to inspire the country, which, as he said, should make better use of its obvious advantages. His diagnosis of the situation resonated far and wide also outside Germany. It can also be applied to a large extent to the present situation in the European Union. In a similar way to President Herzog in 1997 in Berlin, also in Brussels we say today that it is not the ideas we lack, but the determination to implement them. In a similar way to him, we seek more trust in our capabilities as well as recognition of our achievements. And we understand him well when he complained that the German word ‘Angst’ had appeared in other languages, as a symbol of a general mindset.
Today we should promise the President that we will take his message to heart and we will take advantage of the instruments he co-created for Europe. And that ‘Angst’ will not be an expression of our European mindset today. Yes, Mr President, ‘auch durch Europa muss ein Ruck gehen’.