Speech by Federal Chancellor Merkel at the Central memorial ceremony to commemorate the victims of extreme right-wing violence
- Angela Merkel
- Thursday, 23. February 2012
President of the Bundesrat,
President of the Bundestag,
President of the Federal Constitutional Court,
Ladies and gentlemen,
and above all let me address these words to the families who have lost a loved one or themselves been attacked:
Thank you for coming to this memorial ceremony today.
On the stage to my left you can see the candles that have been lit. They have been lit for peo¬ple whose lives were extinguished, extinguished by cold-blooded murderers.
Enver Şimşek. He was 38 years old, lived with his wife and two children in Nuremberg, and had realized his dream of running his own floristry business.
Abdurrahim Özüdoğru. He often helped out in a tailor’s alterations shop in Nuremberg. It was there that he was shot to death. He was 49 years old, and is survived by his daughter.
Süleyman Taşköprü. He ran a vegetable market in Hamburg. When he died at age 31, his daughter was only three years old.
Habil Kılıç. He had opened a grocer’s shop with his wife in Munich just months before his violent end at age 38. They had a daughter.
Mehmet Turgut. The 25 year old had just arrived in Rostock from Anatolia. He dreamt of a better future. But he was not given the chance to realize his dreams.
İsmail Yaşar. His snack bar was particularly popular among the school-children of his Nurem¬berg neighbourhood. He was 50 years old, and is survived by three children.
Theodoros Boulgarides. The 41 year old businessman and father of two lived in Munich. He believed in his future in Germany.
Mehmet Kubaşik. He had come to Germany with his wife, ran a kiosk with her in Dortmund, and built a new life there – for his daughter and two younger sons. He was 39 years old.
Halit Yozgat. The 21 year old ran an internet café in his hometown Kassel – until his life was cut short by the murderers.
Michèle Kiesewetter. The policewoman moved from Thuringia to Baden-Württemberg to join the force. She was just 22 years old when she was murdered in her police car on the streets of Heilbronn. The colleague in the car with her survived the attack, but was seriously injured.
Ten burning candles – ten extinguished lives. Today we pay tribute to them. Ten candles to remind us of a series of murders committed in Germany between 2000 and 2006, the perpetrators of which remained unidentified for more than ten years, until 2011. And all the time they were among us; this is a case unparalleled in our country.
There are overwhelming questions. How could this happen? Why didn’t we notice sooner what was going on? Why couldn’t we prevent it? But before we answer those, let us observe a minute’s silence. This moment of silence will be observed at 12 o’clock by workers across the country, as agreed by trade unions and employers.
With this silence we pay our respects to the victims of a series of murders committed by a terrorist group, based since the end of the 1990s in Thuringia, which called itself the National Socialist Underground. We commemorate the victims of these terrorists, and we also recall the victims of other terrible deeds. We recall the bomb attacks in Cologne on 19 January 2001 and 9 June 2004, in which many people were injured. Some of them are with us today. Thank you for coming. Many of you bear visible scars. But we can only guess at the pain still caused by the psychological wounds you suffered.
Sometimes reports about unscrupulous far right thugs shake us to the core. They dominate the headlines for a few days. Sometimes the name of the town remains linked in our minds to the crimes committed there. But all too often we perceive such incidents as a mere side issue. We forget quickly, much too quickly. We block out these things that happen in our midst, perhaps because we are too busy with other matters, but perhaps, too, because we feel powerless in the face of what is going on around us.
Or is it just indifference? Indifference has a creeping and invidious effect. It can destroy the cohesion of our society. Indifference leaves the victims without a name, without a face, with¬out a story.
That is why there is an eleventh candle on the stage. We have lit this candle for all the known and unknown victims of right wing extremist violence. This memorial ceremony is also dedicated to them. Each and every one of them had a family, friends and acquaintances. Their grief and suffering can scarcely be measured.
The contempt for human life displayed by these far right fanatics is ultimately incomprehensible. But we have to try to find out how and under whose influence they have become what they are. We must do all we can to ensure that other young men and women do not come to hold their fellow humans in such contempt. That we owe to the victims, to their families, to us all.
Many of the victims’ relatives are with us here today. I know how difficult it was for them to join us. They have just told me what they have gone through, how alone they felt. I am thus even more grateful that we can all be here together today. I would also like to thank the relatives who will address this assembly after me: Mr Ismail Yozgat, Ms Semiya Şimşek and Ms Gamze Kubaşik.
Most of them were left on their own in their time of need. For the motives for the crimes were a mystery – for far too long. That is the bitter truth. Few people here considered it possible that right wing extremists might be behind the murders, since the patterns of the crimes did not match those typical of terrorist offences – for example, no group claimed responsibility for the deaths. Instead, the police looked for clues in the mafia and drug scene, and even investigated other family members. For years, a number of relatives were themselves wrongly viewed with suspicion. That is particularly disturbing. I ask their forgiveness.
It isn’t just that years passed without any progress being made in the investigations into the crimes. What is worse is that these years must have been an unending nightmare for you, the families of the deceased. In one of the conversations that former Federal President Christian Wulff held with the relatives, he was told, and I quote: “We just want to be treated like normal people.” Like normal people. These three words reveal their utter despair. How awful can it be to be falsely suspected for years, instead of being able to grieve? What anguish must they have suffered when friends and neighbours turned their backs, when even close relatives were plagued by doubts? And how do you deal with your own doubts as to whether the police and other agencies are really doing everything humanly possible to find out why your loved ones were murdered?!
May I say to the families: we know that nobody can bring back your husband, your father, your son or your daughter. Nobody can erase the years of grief and loneliness. Nobody can undo the pain, the anger and the disbelief. But we can all show you today that you are no longer alone with your grief. Our sympathy goes out to you. We share your grief.
As Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany I promise you that we will do everything to solve these murders, to identify all those behind them and to ensure that everyone involved is given their due punishment. All the relevant agencies at regional and national level are working with urgency on these cases. This is of great importance, but it is not enough on its own. For we also have to do everything consonant with the rule of law to ensure that something like this can never happen again.
A Bund-Länder Commission has in the meantime been established to examine far right terrorism. In addition, Committees of Enquiry in the regional parliament of Thuringia and the German Bundestag are working on the issue. The first steps have already been taken to improve cooperation between the Offices for the Protection of the Constitution and the police, and between regional and national agencies.
We are taking this action because we do not accept that people should be exposed to hatred, contempt and violence. We are acting because we take a firm line on those who persecute others on the basis of their background, colour or religion. Tolerance is the wrong answer wherever fundamental tenets of humanity are questioned. Tolerance would be its own worst enemy if it did not protect itself from intolerance.
“Human dignity is inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.” Thus begins our constitution, the Basic Law. This was our response to twelve years of National Socialism in Germany, to the unspeakable disregard for humanity and the barbarity evinced at that time, to that betrayal of all civilized values that was the Shoah. “Human dignity is inviolable.” That is the basis for our life together here. It is the foundation on which the free democratic constitutional order of the Federal Republic of Germany is built.
Whenever people in our country are marginalized, threatened or persecuted, the foundations of that our free democratic constitutional order are undermined; the values of our Basic Law are attacked. The murders committed by the terrorist cell from Thuringia were therefore also an attack on our country. They are a disgrace for our country.
As part of my job as Chancellor, I sometimes have to watch videos made by criminals such as hostage-takers. I have also seen the video discovered in the course of the investigations into the Thuringia cell. It contains images of the familiar cartoon figure, the Pink Panther. Its makers brag about the murders and ridicule the victims. I have never yet in my work seen anything more inhuman, more perfidious, more infamous – insofar as the term “more” can be applied to these words.
It made me wonder how people come to say and do such things. Who or what influences extremist criminals? How can it be that such criminals time and again find accomplices and followers? How can we best protect people from animosity and threats?
We have to face up to our failures in fulfilling this duty. We have to face up to the fact that sometimes, in precisely those places which are suffering high unemployment and the exodus of their populations, the familiar structures of youth work are lost as well, and leisure opportunities disappear – and the enemies of our democracy know how to exploit that state of affairs. We are in a bad way if neo Nazis can lure young people with nights out because nobody else is doing anything for them. We must not rest easy while an anti constitutional and far right party is able to attract young families with games and parties because they are not on offer elsewhere.
The state is obliged to mobilize all its resources in this situation. However, state measures alone will hardly be able to conquer hatred and violence. Our security services need partners, civilians who do not avert their eyes – we need civil society to be strong. You can’t legislate for that. It can only happen when each individual feels responsible for the whole, when everyone contributes personally to our peaceful coexistence. Civil society germinates in family life. It is already in the first few years of their lives that children learn the principles of living together responsibly. Among friends and acquaintances too, in schools, clubs and at work, that development continues.
I do see a lot of encouraging signs though, lots of people taking action so that we can live together in peace. A few days ago, for instance, thousands of people gathered and held hands in Dresden to commemorate the bombing of the city. Their gesture put a stop to the Nazis who wanted to use the anniversary to their own ends. Every day, a host of initiatives great and small speak out against hatred and violence in our country, launched by courageous people taking a stand. Some of those people are with us today. Allow me to thank you on behalf of many others in our country. The foundations, the media, the teachers and clergy, the businessmen and women, those representing clubs and associations – all those who do what they can to foster harmony and combat hatred and violence, all of them have our gratitude.
The fight against prejudice, contempt and exclusion is one that needs to be fought every day, in family homes, neighbourhoods, schools, our cultural and leisure facilities, religious communities, and places of work. In all of these places, we should keep our ears open and develop an acute sense for those little remarks, those throw away comments. We are often inclined to let the things people say go, preferring to assume that they didn’t really mean it.
Violence, though, is by no means the first sign of intolerance and racism. It’s not just the extremists who are dangerous. People who fuel prejudice and create a climate of contempt are dangerous too. That being the case, how important it is to be sensitive and alert to the first signs of victimization and disparagement. Indifference and inattention often mark the beginning of a creeping process of dehumanization. Words can grow into deeds.
The Irish philosopher Edmund Burke once said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Yes, democracy depends on people not turning a blind eye, it depends on our participation. It depends on all of us standing up for it, every day, each of us holding our section of the line. To live in democracy, we are called upon to take responsibility for ensuring that we can live together in freedom – and, therefore, that we can enjoy diversity in our lives. If that is successful, we will see the richness of that diversity bear fruit, to every¬one’s benefit.
Throughout our history, Germany has learned this lesson time and again. Our history has seen a lot of emigration and immigration, with the result that we have links to many places all over the world. Germany owes a good deal of its prosperity to its cosmopolitanism and the curiosity it brings to relations with others. The essence of life in this country lies in variety, in the multifarious life stories people have. Germany is all of us – all of us living in this country, wherever we come from, whatever we look like, whatever we believe in, whether we are strong or weak, healthy or sick, with or without disabilities, old or young.
We are one country, one society. And people who come to us from the many different countries on this planet aren’t just immigrants either. Like everyone else, they too display variety and difference. All us of together make up the face of Germany, our identity in the globalized world of the 21st century – grounded in our Basic Law and the values it contains, our free democratic constitutional order, expressed in our language. Committed to those values, we stand together to defend the inviolable human dignity enshrined in the first line of our constitution.
That is the message of the twelfth candle on the stage. This candle is a symbol of our shared hope and confidence in a bright future. Let us all, together, in the various places we occupy and with whatever tools we have, live for that hope and that confidence – for the good of our country and its people.
Friday, 02. March 2012