Just a few days ago, I stood on the same balcony on which, precisely 30 years ago, German Vice Chancellor Hans Dietrich Genscher informed many hundreds of East German citizens who had taken refuge in the West German Embassy in Prague that they would be able to leave for the Federal Republic.
Hungary, in what was an exemplary step, had opened its borders with Austria in September 1989 to tens of thousands of people who had fled East Germany, thereby enabling them eventually to travel to West Germany. We also celebrated this with young people from Germany and Hungary in Berlin a few days ago.
Both events were important milestones on the path to German unity. They left significant symbolic cracks in the Berlin Wall and, as a result, its days were numbered. It is therefore to a large extent also thanks to Hungary, and the former Czechoslovakia, that we Germans have been able to celebrate our unity for the past 29 years.
It was clear as I stood on the balcony in Prague, and in my conversations with eyewitnesses — for example during the celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of the opening of the border in Hungary — that the reunification of Germany and Europe was founded on the belief that a united continent offered all people a better future than the clash of systems. In 1989 and 1990, our international partners were confident that a united Germany would, together with its neighbors, give rise to a peaceful and free Europe in a spirit of solidarity.
The reunification of Germany and Europe was founded on the belief that a united continent offered all people a better future than the clash of systems.
We are more convinced than ever that a strong and united Europe is the best response to the pressing issues of our times. Such a Europe is also the best guarantor of peace and prosperity for Germany. It is, therefore, all the more important that, despite whatever differences we may have, we continue our close dialogue with our partners in Eastern Europe.
Reinforcing our community is what will take us forward, not emphasizing our differences. We want to underscore this especially during our presidency of the EU Council in 2020 — the 30th anniversary of German unification.
The events in East Germany in the autumn of 1989 also demonstrated the power that people have when they take to the streets in peaceful protest and stand up for their democratic rights. Examples come to mind from all around the world in which we can observe something similar today.
This shows how important it is for us to stand up for democratic values, the protection of human rights and a rules-based international order, not least against the backdrop of our own experience. We are assuming responsibility for this at the global level together with our partners.
• Heiko Maas is the foreign minister of Germany