Travel Diary: Secretary Clinton Receives Walther Rathenau Prize

Posted by DipNote Bloggers
April 15, 2011
Secretary Clinton With German Foreign Minister Westerwelle in Berlin for Walther Rathenau Prize

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton received the Walther Rathenau Prize at a ceremony in Berlin, Germany, on April 15, 2011. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle presented her the award. The Secretary said she accepted it on behalf of "the millions of Americans and Germans who have worked for decades to cement our friendship."

Secretary Clinton said, "...Today I met with Guido in a room in the foreign ministry named for the former foreign minister, Walther Rathenau. There is a portrait of him on the wall and it seemed especially fitting that on the day I was to receive this distinguished award, we would be talking about all of the issues confronting the world today in a room that bears his name and where he was peering over our shoulders. I felt, as I often do when I learn about those who paid the ultimate price for their thoughts, their convictions, their work, their dedication, that we are in the debt of those whose names we know, like Mr. Rathenau, and many others whose names may be lost to history but who also represented the very best values that we hold up today.

"This prize represents Germany's continuing commitment to face the past with unflinching honesty and to work for a more tolerant, peaceful future. Americans greatly respect this commitment and we are very proud of our alliance with the German people. Along with our other allies in the transatlantic community, we are united -- united by history, of course, but united by interests and values even more. We share a deep conviction that all people should have the freedom to pursue their God-given potential. So I accept this award in that spirit, and I dedicate it to the millions of Americans and Germans who have worked for decades to cement our friendship.

"Walter Rathenau's Germany was a nation in transition, struggling to build a stable democracy out of the ashes of conflict. Strident voices on both the left and the right advocated violent change. Rathenau and others like him worked to build a national consensus around solving the country's growing economic, political, and social challenges. But his efforts were tragically cut short, and the work that he gave his life for was ultimately derailed by hateful extremists. In the end, that extremism and the intolerance and hatred it represented ripped apart not just Germany but all of Europe.

"Today we see other people in other nations far from here who are grappling with their own transition to democracy, most notably in the Middle East and North Africa. Once again, there are people who are working to achieve change through discussion, through debates, through peaceful protests and practical politics. And there are others who advocate violence, takeover, the disruption of the transition, who would hold back progress in the name of an ideology or the simple, timeless lust for power.

So the legacy of a foreign minister who served this country so many decades ago is relevant today as we struggle to answer the questions that these new challenges pose. Walter Rathenau's life's work prompts us to ask how people and leaders in the transitions now underway can build their countries up rather than pull them apart. The memory of his assassination forces us to consider how we as individuals and an international community can promote mutual respect, stand up to bigotry, intolerance and prejudice, especially when it metastasizes into violence.

"Let us consider for a moment today's democratic transition. In Egypt and Tunisia, we were inspired by the young people whose courage in the streets made it possible for them to imagine a different future. Now they have to determine how to translate those aspirations into the reality of everyday life and politics. We know that citizens are looking for their universal human rights to be respected. And the United States, Germany, and our partners will support these efforts. We will support political reform and economic reform. We know that this moment belongs to Egyptians, Tunisians, and others. They alone will determine if long denied hopes for dignity and opportunity will be finally realized or if this promise will be remembered as just a mirage in the desert.

"The tragedy of Rathenau's assassination and its aftermath provides a cautionary tale about how these transitions can be undermined and hijacked by extremists. We know in our country that democracy is a never ending task. It requires participation. It requires pragmatism. It requires compromise. And yet compromise does not come easily in the minds of ideologues or fanatics, those who think that they have a monopoly on the truth.

"We see both very promising signs and troubling ones as well. During recent protests, women and men marched together in Tunis and Cairo. Christians and Muslims stood side by side and even prayed together. But that spirit of unity is being tested. For example, last month in the city of Qina, Egypt, a group of eight violent extremists cut off a Coptic Christian's schoolteacher's ear and burned his house and car. When Egyptian women returned to Tahrir Square to mark International Women's Day, they were met by harassment and abuse. It will be critical for those from different persuasions, different backgrounds, and beliefs to be united, to resist these dangers, to keep their nations on track, to become open, inclusive, pluralistic democracies.

"But there's a second question raised by Minister Rathenau's story: What can each of us do to promote mutual respect, to work against intolerance? The United States State Department issues an annual Human Rights Report. We've been doing so for 35 years. We do it to point out the dangers of repression and to try to influence governments and give heart to activists and human rights defenders. It documents repression around the world against racial, ethnic, and religious minorities.

"And it's not only in North Africa that we are concerned. We are seeing a rise in anti-Semitism in many places around the world. Over the past year, in countries like France, Poland, and the Netherlands swastikas were sprayed painted on Jewish tombs, schools, synagogues, and kosher shops. We see in European nations' textbooks and media increasing anti-Muslim or anti-Islamic rhetoric. We've seen young men of either Islamic or Jewish faith beaten on their way to mosque or synagogue.

"In the Western Hemisphere, we have Venezuela supporting government media messages that are anti-Semitic. In Cuba, we've seen churches not officially recognized, harassed, and intimidated through surveillance and detention.

"In China, the government crackdown on unregistered house churches and the Christians who worship there, and just this week we have new reports that Chinese authorities sealed off a Tibetan monastery in Sichuan with barbed wire and armed guards with the monks trapped inside.

"In Burma, ethnic Rohingya Muslims continue to be denied full citizenship and equal opportunities for education, employment, and travel.

"In Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan, and Iraq, extremists have targeted Muslims and Christians alike, burning Christian churches and bombing Muslim shrines.

"In Sudan, anti-conversion and blasphemy laws in the North continue to restrict the rights of religious minorities, leaving many thousands to migrate to the South.

"In Iran, non-Shia religious and ethnic minorities face harassment and discrimination. Many have been imprisoned and executed. Just recently, seven Baha'i leaders were sentenced to 20 years in prison and four Kurdish human rights activists were hanged.

"And in Pakistan, blasphemy remains a crime punishable by death. Earlier this year, two brave government officials whom I had the privilege of knowing, who sought to reform that law to allow greater religious freedom, were assassinated and their killers have been celebrated as heroes by some.

"Now, I am not a theologian by any means, but I do know it is very difficult to find support for murder in the scriptures of any faith. Yet all too often, the tenets of our great religions are twisted by fanatics to justify violence and discrimination. So it is the duty of every person of conscience to stand up and speak out when we believe religion is being perverted, misappropriated, or exploited.

"We have a responsibility as individuals to make good choices about what we say and do. What should be just natural human nature often takes teaching and learning. Tolerance is a habit of the heart; it must grow in our homes and communities to be shared with neighbors, family members, and passed down to our children.

"The State Department has started a new grassroots online campaign that we call 2011 Hours Against Hate. We are challenging young people from around the world to come together and volunteer 2011 hours to promote tolerance and mutual respect across the divides of culture, religion, class, gender, and any other barrier. So a young Muslim woman spends a few hours at a Christian church's soup kitchen, or a young man volunteers at a domestic violence shelter for women. I encourage all of you to encourage those whom you know to join us on Facebook and learn more about this effort.

"The international community must now stand together to defend people's rights, to defend people's dignity, to defend the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They provide a foundation for free and prosperous societies and a bulwark against extremism.

"At the same time, we cannot make the mistake that some have of somehow combining the ideas that in order to protect against hate speech, one must curtail freedom of expression. As we combat hate and intolerance, we should not make the mistake of violating the equally sacrosanct universal right to freedom of expression.

"For the past 10 years, this tension fueled a divisive debate in the United Nations. Some countries, including many a Muslim-majority nation argued for restrictions on speech considered to be religious defamation or blasphemy. They were understandably looking for ways to discourage hateful rhetoric.

"But the United States, with many of our European allies, preferred a different approach, protecting free expression while promoting tolerance and preventing religious persecution. Because while some speech, as we know, can be hurtful, even outrageous, we believe free and open debate ultimately strengthens societies and discredits bankrupt ideologies. Our great religions have all been subject to debate and discussion for centuries, and they have only grown stronger.

"If we want to answer extremists who attack religions they don't understand or don't respect, and that continues to be a problem in my own country, as we saw with the deplorable, inexcusable burning of a Qu'ran. One of the best tools we have is the free exchange of ideas.

"So with this in mind, we began working to advance a new approach in the United Nations. We wanted to use the multilateral institutions to form new partnerships. And we were joined by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which had long been a champion of anti-defamation measures. But working together, we finally achieved consensus. And the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva unanimously passed a resolution that condemns incitements to imminent violence, recognizes free speech and education as powerful forces for combating intolerance, and calls on states to ensure adequate legal protection for persecuted believers.

"This was a watershed moment. Now, our energies can be directed toward practical steps instead of divisive resolutions. And the United States is working with our partners, including the Islamic Conference, to translate this new approach into action.

"And now, let me return to Walther Rathenau, whose words I loved hearing read and whose kind comments about both the United States and American women I greatly appreciated. His death came at the start of one of the darkest chapters in human history. But Germany stands today as a living rebuke and a living testament, a rebuke to those who peddle hate, a rebuke to those who use violence as a shortcut to political process and necessary compromise, a rebuke to those who believe that they hold the truth, when none of us does; a testament to the resilience and decency of the German people, a testament to the capacity of communities to emerge from conflict and become forces for peace and progress.

"I was privileged to represent my country at the Brandenburg Gate as Berliners and Germans celebrated the 20th anniversary of reunification, with representatives from throughout the world. I often think of that moment and of the triumph of the human heart it represents. The United States was proud and grateful to be Germany's partner during those post-war years. And we continue to be proud and grateful today."

In conclusion, the Secretary said, "It is indeed an honor to accept this award, to stand here as your friend and ally, and to salute the German people. Together, I know, we will continue working to build a more peaceful and prosperous future for people around the world who deserve the same chance at freedom, liberty, and dignity that we enjoy."

You can read the Secretary's complete remarks here.

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