War in Europe
Why we need to take sides
Your Excellency Ambassador Andreas Peschke,
Dear Inge Herbert,
Dear colleagues, partners and friends of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom opens its new office in Johannesburg at a time when there is much debate about the value of that very freedom. A value, that is indispensable for the self determined development of human beings and for democracy.
Today, there are more autocratic states than democratic states in the world. The list of dictatorial regimes that oppress their people remains consistently long. African countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Libya and the Central African Republic are consumed by brutal civil wars. In Europe, a war of conquest is being waged for the first time since the Second World War.
Freedom is not flourishing.
But why, one might ask oneself here in South Africa or for that matter in Germany, should we worry about these issues? Why should we take sides? Yes, we do live in democracies and enjoy our freedoms, but we certainly have plenty of problems to deal with ourselves.
Across the world, record inflation is threatening livelihoods. Here in South Africa, a historic energy crisis is paralysing the country.
So what is it to us that Russia is bombing cities in Ukraine, that Islamists are terrorising the people in Mali, that peaceful protests by women in Iran are being brutally crushed?
The answer is simple, yet profound: Because it is wrong.
It is wrong when homes are attacked, children abducted and women raped. It is wrong when autocrats seek to fulfil their imperial fantasies through war and oppression. And it is wrong when people are persecuted, tortured and murdered for expressing their opinion.
Last year, I travelled to Harare to observe the show trial against the Zimbabwean writer Tsitsi Dangarembga. She was indicted by the regime for carrying a poster demanding "We want better – Reform our institutions ". Just that, nothing more.
It was obvious that she could not expect a fair trial. She was facing a long prison sentence for peacefully expressing her opinion.
During the trial, Tsitsi travelled for a few days to Germany, where her children live and her husband is from.
She could have stayed there. She could have abandoned the trial and the chicanery. She could have lived a life of peace and freedom in Germany.
Instead, she decided to return to Zimbabwe.
Tsitsi knew that the significance of her trial went beyond the actual verdict. It represented far more: it was not only Tsitsi on trial in Harare, but alongside her in the dock was the longing for freedom and justice of an entire country that has been systematically oppressed by its government for decades. Tsitsi knew: returning to Zimbabwe and fighting, in person, was the right thing to do.
Most people know what is wrong and what is right.
It is right to support pro-democracy politicians in countries like Uganda, Tanzania and Guinea. It is right to support journalists and whistleblowers in their quest for the truth. And it is right to support the struggle of Ukrainians against an colonial aggressor. We should not do so because someone demands it. We should do so because it is right.
The struggle for freedom may sometimes seem endless or even hopeless. But the very fact that we are gathered here today in a democratic South Africa – regardless of our origin, our beliefs or the colour of our skin – shows: It is never in vain.
That's why it is so important that we support our partners in their fight for democracy and civil rights from our new office in Johannesburg. And I can promise you this:
The Friedrich-Naumann-Foundation will do everything in its power to support the survival and the success of freedom: In Germany, in Africa and all over the world.
This journey will certainly not be easy and it will not be quick. But I look forward to embarking on it together with the colleagues in our offices, our partners and all of you.