30 years ago, the wall didn’t just fall. It was brought down by courageous people fighting for freedom

On 13 November 2019, the European Parliament held a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. You can find my speech here in video and text:

30 years ago, the wall didn’t just fall. It was brought down by very courageous people. People, who took very high and very concrete personal risk. They fought for fair and free elections, for freedom of expression, for an end to being caged-in and under constant observation. All those things we take for granted right now. Back then, those demands could get you into prison, tortured, lose your job and social connections.

But despite all of this, people took to the streets, organised long before 89 and never gave up. And it is this courage that changed the world and it is this courage that is still changing the world today.

Because also today, we need to be vigilant not to forget the lessons from 89.

Democracy needs to be gained every day again and again. In every action that we do here, in this house but also everywhere in Europe. Unfortunately there are governments who are trying to dismantle democracy, bit by bit. This is a disgrace, especially given the sacrifices that people in countries like Hungary made to free their country.

Those who shut down universities, those who harass civil society and build walls against refugees, those are betraying the demonstrators of 89!

Freedom is something that needs to be expanded every day aswell. Too many people are still not free in this world, not free for who they are, whom they love or where they are from. We are all citizens of the world, born free, born equal. Discrimination and hatred should not prevail.

Freedom of expression is also being curbed when hatred and threats are being used against people active in politics, active in their communities. When people there are faced with threats on an everyday level, then this is a problem for the freedom of expression as well as democracy.

Constant observation is becoming a trend again but we should never forget what history teaches us. Surveillance, a control state does not lead to freedom and security, it ends both. We don’t know what the future will bring and any law that we do here needs to work also when governments don’t mean well.

Things have changed a lot over the past 30 years. The border zone that once divided Germany, where hundreds of people lost their lives trying to cross looking for freedom, often with the help of others. This is now a nature protection area, safeguarding climate and biodiversity for future generations and becoming a symbol of hope.

The borders that divided Europe then have become places where people meet and get to know each other. But let’s not forget: there are many walls today that need to be torn down. There are many people today as back then who are looking for freedom. Let us not turn our back on them, let us not forget what it means to look for freedom, to not have it and then to gain it.

Without the courageous people 30 years ago, I wouldn’t be here today, just like many other colleagues. Europe as we know it only exists because a wall that divided us all, finally was torn down. But the 9th of November 89 is not a date where we should just hold commemoratory speeches and congratulate each other on how well it worked back then. I believe it’s an anniversary to remind us to be courageous, to tear down the walls that divide us and to be the change that we want to see in the world.

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