Seoul Peace Prize

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Ambassador Lee,
Secretary General Kim,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me first of all to offer you another warm welcome to the Federal Chancellery and to thank you most sincerely for your kind words, and of course for the honour that it is to receive the Seoul Peace Prize today.

The Federal Government has conducted a far reaching dialogue in this legislative term, in the course of which we gave many citizens the opportunity to have their say on a range of different topics. The main question in this dialogue was: what does a good life mean for us? Although only very few people have had to live through war in Germany themselves – only the elderly recall this terrible experience – the number one priority among the citizens’ responses to the question as to what a good life means for them was peace – not only peace in their own country, but also around the globe.

We Europeans have seen just how easy it is to lose peace and how difficult it is to win it back also in our neighbourhood – not only in Ukraine, but also in Syria and in Libya. The suffering that people endure in the world’s trouble spots, especially in Syria today, is indescribable. This is a conflict in which there have been no qualms about using barrel and fire bombs, even chemical weapons. The civilian population is being starved and medical facilities are being attacked, while doctors are losing their lives and hospitals are being destroyed. And even the aid convoys of the United Nations are not immune from coming under fire. These are serious crimes against humanity, and we cannot simply turn a blind eye to them. This is not just a question of international law, but also about what we believe human dignity to be worth.

A yearning for peace and concerns about the fragility of peace are shared everywhere around the world. Stability is certainly not something that can be taken for granted in the region that the Seoul Peace Prize comes from either. North Korea has threatened its neighbours with nuclear tests and missile launches for years. The political leadership in Pyongyang has disregarded international law and provoked the international community. Growing tensions in the South China and East China Seas are a cause for concern. Again, it must be said that all those involved have an obligation to keep to the rules agreed by the international community, to undertake steps to build trust and understanding and to come together.

This is something that we care about deeply in Europe. Our countries now enjoy closer ties than ever before – through trade, investments, cooperation and relations in an extremely wide range of fields in the worlds of politics, business and society. This means that, also with respect to Korea, conflicts elsewhere in the world affect us much more strongly than our geographical distance from them might lead us to believe.

Each of us must live up to our own responsibility – including us in Europe with the European idea, which is our guarantor of peace, freedom and prosperity. This idea must not lose any more of its appeal. We are currently going through a difficult period. The referendum result in the UK is a major watershed, of course. As Europeans, we must be clear about where the advantages of our European Union lie. Germany in particular owes a great deal to the European integration process.

In view of the unimaginable suffering that Germany unleashed through war and the the Shoah, that ultimate betrayal of all civilised values, we are fully aware of the fact that our return to the fold of the international community was anything but a matter of course. Our neighbours were willing to reach out the hand of reconciliation. European integration is a great gift. And having a partnership with Israel is by no means something that we can take for granted.

It often fell to strong personalities to lay the groundwork, overcome resistance and set a process of reconciliation in motion. Of course, genuine reconciliation requires the broad based support of an entire society, support that we have also enjoyed. I am deeply grateful for this, both as Federal Chancellor and on a personal level. German unity and European integration – one is inconceivable without the other. The willingness to engage in dialogue and to compromise has always been the bedrock of Europe’s continued development. And this must also inform our efforts to promote the cause of peace in the world.

I know that your country still dreams of uniting its two divided states. We wish from the bottom of our hearts – I have reiterated this on numerous occasions in my talks with your President – that this dream will come true one day.

I would like to thank you for awarding me the Seoul Peace Prize – which may also encourage many citizens in Germany to build further bridges between our countries and to work to promote peace and reconciliation around the world. I am grateful for receiving this honour today, and would like to wish you all the very best for your work in the future.