Christoph Eichhorn, German Ambassador to Estonia, opened the international conference “Utopia unachieved despite millions victimised? Communist crimes and European memory” with the following speech. Germany was the main supporter of the conference. In the morning, the Ambassador had represented Germany at the inaugural ceremony of the memorial to Estonia’s victims of communism. In addition, as the dean of the diplomatic corps, he laid a wreath in memory of the victims and expressed his condolences to Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia.
Thank you very much for your kind invitation. And for the opportunity to share a few thoughts on the 23rd of August. A day of remembrance. Of a brown dictatorship. And of a red dictatorship. In all their unspeakable, inhumane variations and different dimensions.
We heard about the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism. It was signed, in addition to Tunne Kelam, Göran Lindblad, Vaclav Havel and others, also by a prominent German: Joachim Gauck, later the German president.
When President Gauck visited Estonia 5 years ago, he and President Toomas Hendrik Ilves agreed: the more we tackle the task of multi-faceted remembrance not only nationally, but as a community of free nations, the more valuable our lessons from history will be. This is why the “Eesti Mälu Instituut” began to work with the German „Foundation for the study of communist dictatorship in East Germany”. And why the German Embassy supports this conference.
President Gauck was impressed to observe how people in Estonia use their freedom to discuss the past affecting the future. People from different generations and different mother tongues debate how our experiences as individuals, societies and as nations shape our view of the world – present and future. And what lessons can be learned from these experiences.
For Germany, the country which started World War II and the mass murder of Jews, the memory of the holocaust and the Nazi regime will always mark the most horrific, the darkest chapter in our history.
What is also a fact:
before the war, Germans and others in Europe experienced what is still true today: liberal democracy is under permanent threat from the extreme right and from the extreme left.
After the war, with 80 million Germans under a Nazi dictatorship, 17 million East Germans continued to live under a communist dictatorship – for decades.
Here in Estonia, the communist regime left deep marks on almost every family. For many German families, that is true as well.
President Gauck, talking about making the Stasi files public, said: “shutting up, or covering up or suppressing will not produce sustainable solutions, neither in political nor in human relations.”
Our experiences with dictatorships and the horror of World War II are amongst the most difficult and thus the most important historic topics Estonians and Germans can discuss to produce sustainable solutions. Discuss them as honestly and nuanced as possible. Amongst ourselves. And with our neighbours.
Ladies and gentlemen,
One year ago this very day, Germany’s current president Frank Walter Steinmeier was in Tallinn. He laid a wreath on Vabaduse Väljak – the German colours amongst the many Estonian flowers.
In a speech, he reminded us that history is never clear-cut, and memory is a complicated affair… The 23rd of August marked the beginning of the darkest chapter…50 years on…this darkness was about to end … This day stands for the hope that …freedom can ultimately prevail… Nothing deserves our careful attention more than friendship between the peoples of the European Union.
And he offered some lessons of the 23rd of August – for all us in Europe.
- The power of freedom
A power that no inhumane ideology or totalitarian rule can put in chains forever. What prevailed was not the handshake of Molotov and Ribbentrop, but the hundreds of thousands of hands clasped in a show of bravery in 1989.
- The second lesson: European integration.
The European Union became the alternative after World War II – after the destruction of the entire continent, 60 million dead, nationalism, occupation and mass deportations.
Europe’s future, Steinmeier said, cannot rest on an individual country’s shoulders…It can be secured only if all members bear equal responsibility for keeping the community together. And stand up for European integration and European values!
The 3rd lesson: The strength of the law
In Europe and at home, what must prevail the power of the law – not the law of the powerful. Yes, there are larger and smaller countries. Yes, there are domestic issues like integration. But the EU has equal members and citizens have equal rights. International law, the OSCE principles of national sovereignty and territorial integrity. And we have equal rights in our constitutions which we must put into practice. We must strengthen civil society and make people more resilient against extreme populism, from home or abroad, from the far right or the far left.
Ladies and gentlemen,
as President Steinmeier said in Tallinn, collective memory is complex and highly emotional. Collective memory provides people and entire nations with a sense of identity. But there are also misunderstandings and misperceptions. The more we address collective memory together, the faster we will overcome these and the sooner we will achieve understanding between nations.
What I appreciate as a German living in Estonia, is that people here are calling things “as they are”, by their proper name, truthfully, frankly, and directly. They call a spade a spade, not a gardening tool. That’s what this conference will do today.
And it will discuss the most important value of all: freedom.
At a concert in the Mustpeade Maja in the summer of 2015, two choirs – one from Tallinn, one from Munich – sang together a song which brought all of us on our feet: “Ärgake Baltimaad”.
The Estonians knew it by heart. The Germans sang it from the heart – and without a song sheet.
In 1989, this love of freedom of the Estonians and their Baltic neighbours gave courage to the demonstrators in East Germany and to many more. This love of freedom brings us together here today. This love of freedom is what we must maintain – we together in Europe.