The importance of the European idea for democratic change before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the relevance of the European idea to a common future

Berlin, 8. 11. 2019 | press release, speech

At the invitation of the ICD - International Center for Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin, President of the Republic of Slovenia Borut Pahor attended a conference marking the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, where he spoke about the significance of events 30 years ago in Europe and what they mean for a common European future.

The importance of the European idea for democratic change before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the relevance of the European idea to a common future
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

The speech of the President of the Republic at the Berlin Wall 30th Summit is below. The spoken word applies!

"For me, the fall of the Berlin Wall was one of the most inspiring historical milestones of the 20th century.

It has become a wonderful metaphor for incredible dreams coming true. It symbolises the demand for freedom, it symbolises integration and association.

The fall of Berlin Wall goes beyond its literal significance for the integration of both Germanys and of Western and Eastern Europe. It symbolises the breaking down and overcoming of outmoded prejudices and represents a broadness of the human spirit. It is a metaphor for the progress of civilisation.

This historical milestone offers many starting points for our reflection on the past and future. In my introduction I will highlight one such point: the irreplaceable significance of the European idea, the idea of a united Europe, for the fall of the Berlin Wall, for the time immediately after it, for now and for the future.

It is my view that the real fall of the Berlin Wall, as well as the symbolic fall of the entire Iron Curtain and the authoritarian regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, are closely related to the power and ubiquity of the idea of European integration and association.

People in the totalitarian regimes demanded changes. It is very significant to see what they took as a model for these changes. First and foremost they aspired to democracy, the rule of law, the respect for human rights and a market economy. But they also wanted to become part of the European idea, a united Europe. They wanted to be part of it in terms of values and in a material sense.

Here, as I have already mentioned, I would like to particularly highlight the attractiveness of the European idea, the idea of a united Europe, which I believe equally inspired the demand for changes and the direction of these changes.

In Slovenia, the nation's demand for democracy and the establishment of its own state was also closely related to the demand to live an equal life together with other European nations.

In the spring of 1989, on the eve of the downfall of the old regime and the first democratic elections in Slovenia, one of the most high-profile political declarations of anti-regime opposition of the time contained all three aspirations of democratic changes: democracy, Slovenia's independence and its inclusion in a united Europe.

This is of great importance. We see that nations took the opportunity of democratic transition to establish their own states - but always in the context of their living in a united Europe.

Fifteen years after these democratic changes, Central and Eastern European Countries, with the exception of the Western Balkan countries, became equal members of the European Union. Today, the development of the European Union has somewhat come to standstill. However, historical and temporal distance allows us to see its first thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall in a positive light.

The essence of the European idea is that there is more that brings us together than sets us apart. The current standstill in particular shows that it is important for integration processes in the European Union to also take into account what sets us apart, as a part of the colourful pluralism of our identities.

I emphasise this because democratic changes in the time before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall were greatly inspired by consensual politics, that is the politics that primarily sought what brings us together within both national and European frameworks.

It seems that in recent years the effectiveness and successfulnes of the European idea has diminished. We are witnessing the rise of a more conflicting politics, which directs people to stigmatise, attack or exclude others in order to highlight their uniqueness and identity, be it political or national.

What I want to say is that the fall of the Berlin Wall belonged to the time when consensual politics, the politics of inclusion and not exclusion, predominated. Until recently, it was strong and persuasive enough to ensure thirty years of all-around progress.

Today, we have to pay attention to the rise of the conflicting politics, politics that is exclusionary. This type of politics negates the noble values of the European idea, which are integration and association. It also negates the efforts to find a common denominator.

To me, as a pro-European politician, it is perfectly clear that further integration processes should be led with a very sensitive understanding of all our differences. Otherwise, significant disagreements and divisions may develop. One of the divisions would be between Western and Eastern Europe, which would then be separated not by an iron curtain but an invisible one.

It is crucial that the European idea remains a common inspiration, common aspiration and common vision. I cannot emphasise enough how important this is for peace and the development of the European Union and Europe as a continent, as well as the international community as a whole.

In spite of the standstill in the European Union and in spite of Brexit, a united Europe remains the most wonderful experience in the history of the Old Continent. It is our moral and political duty to breathe new life into it so that it will again incite enthusiasm and be a source of inspiration.

Thirty years ago the European idea was an important complement to the demand for changes, for the fall of totalitarian regimes and finally the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain. In this regard its renaissance is the answer to the people's demand for changes today.

Whether we will see the decline or renaissance of the European Union in the next years and decades is of vital importance for all of us. Let me illustrate.

I come from Nova Gorica, a city on the Slovenian side of the Slovenian-Italian border. On the other side is the city of Gorizia. If we manage to give the European idea and the European Union new life so that they are once again a source of inspiration, I would want the two Gorica's to become one city. This is a wonderful idea I support with all my heart.

This would be a unique European experience. Two cities of two nations with two languages, two traditions and two histories would start to write a common story of the future.

If this will come true depends on how strong and inspiring will the European Union be. Without it, this project is not possible. With this example I wanted to demonstrate how, even thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the European idea is of vital importance for further development of democracy, the rule of law, the respect for human rights and our life together, for the prevalence of consensual politics.

This is my message. Together with the strengthening of democracy, the rule of law, the respect for human rights and social market economy in a global world, the renaissance of the European idea, the idea of a united Europe, which was one of the most important levers for enforcing people's demand for changes thirty years ago, is the lever for enforcing people's demand for changes today."