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Foreign Minister Fischer celebrates the 50th anniversary of the German-American Fulbright-Program

Speech by Joschka Fischer, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs at the ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the German American Fulbright Program, Berlin, 12 March 2002

Translation of advance text by Federal Foreign Office. (Emphasis added by Atlantic Review)

Dear Fulbright scholars,
Mrs Mayor Fulbright,
Mr Ambassador,
Ms Harrison,
Mrs Yang,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to welcome you here in the Weltsaal of the Federal Foreign Office. Fifty years of the German American Fulbright Program - that is certainly something to celebrate! And it is a fitting moment to recall the man whose brainchild it was and the vision behind it. This is a good time, too, I believe, to reflect both on what unites Germans and Americans and what sets us apart - as well as to reflect on how we can work together to give real meaning to the ideals both nations share.

Rarely have the strong emotional bonds between Americans and Germans been more tangible than on September 14 last year at the Brandenburg Gate, three days after the horrific attacks that shook the whole world. That all happened just as our new Fulbright scholars from the United States arrived in Germany. We are very glad you came and especially glad you stayed. Because you are an important channel for communication between Germany and the United States, which this year is particularly crucial. However deep our sympathy with the American people in the wake of those murderous attacks, however great the threat of international terrorism to the free society we prize - the way people feel, the general mood on either side of the Atlantic is not the same. And it is important to perceive, understand and also to communicate these different moods and expectations. To this end we need, apart from policy-makers and officials, people who can serve as "translators". People who know and understand the world as it is seen from the other side of the Atlantic. That is the role which William Fulbright anticipated you and your fellows would play, the now 30,000 German and American Fulbright alumni and scholars of this, the largest of the binational Fulbright programs.

No one has more aptly described the very idea of international exchange than J. William Fulbright himself: "The essence of intercultural education," he noted, "is the acquisition of empathy, the ability to see the world as others see it and to allow for the possibility that others may see something we have failed to see or may see it more accurately." Such words betray no misplaced euphoria that unbounded tolerance will suddenly happen overnight but rather a level-headed optimism that giving people opportunities to understand the world better may in course of time indeed help to make it a better place.

When the Program started in the early fifties and Fulbright scholars still had to cross the Atlantic by ship, the United States were instrumental in guiding the young Federal Republic of Germany into a close political, intellectual and also emotional alliance with the West, after the brutal crimes and aberrations of the Nazi era. In time that relationship developed into a true partnership, which now manifestly enriches both sides. Our cultural, academic, economic and political contacts are livelier and more intensive today than ever before. At the same time the American presence in Europe and the close ties between the two continents remain for Germany in particular of paramount importance.

J. William Fulbright embodies the best traditions of such American engagement with the world - from the impetus he gave to the founding of the United Nations to the exchange program that bears his name and of which right to the end he was justifiably proud. His outlook was moulded by his years as a Rhodes scholar in Oxford and his extensive travels in Europe. He was a passionate critic of the Vietnam war and wrote a trenching criticism of "The Arrogance of Power", his best-known book. On the other hand, his Southern background led him to political views - on racial segregation, for example, or the civil rights movement - we nowadays find somewhat unpalatable.

We all have our roots - that we cannot nor should we deny - and clearly those roots also limit us in a sense. Yet that need not prevent us from looking beyond our own narrow field of vision, from seeing the world in all its diversity and richness as well as its contradictions, and from acting accordingly. Senator Fulbright, whose work on behalf of the program that bears his name and his many years as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earned him great admiration and respect in Europe, is an outstanding example of what a man with his ideas, his personal and political calibre can do to make the world a better place.

For you Fulbright scholars this year in Germany will be a formative experience, too - and I hope a positive one. It will bring new insights, new opportunities, perhaps also new job prospects. All of you, however, together with your predecessors and those who will follow you, will become part of a dense network linking the two sides of the Atlantic and making those links ever stronger and more resilient.

Investing in such transatlantic networks is supremely important at a time when new threats make it imperative that we reassess long-standing ties and policies and order them anew. The Federal government has therefore expanded its support for the German American Fulbright Program through a special grant program and hopes to continue this over the years ahead.

Ladies and gentlemen,

You are witnessing interesting times also in the history of Europe: It is up to Europe after all to discover and develop its own strength so that it can be a true partner for America. Europe must vigorously pursue the path of integration on which, thanks to the continued US presence in Europe since the end of World War II, it has been embarked for the past 5 decades. Since January 1 of this year this integrating Europe of ours has also had a single currency - and you have all seen for yourselves that the introduction of the euro went without a hitch.

Alongside that, we need a Common Foreign and Security Policy with the necessary military and civilian capabilities for crisis management at its disposal, a common policy in the area of justice and home affairs as well as institutions which not only have democratic legitimacy but also ensure that tomorrow's Europe of 25 or more members can continue to function effectively. Ten days ago the Convention on the Future of Europe met for the first time in Brussels - which prompted the Wall Street Journal to headline: "Is this Europe's Philadelphia?" The Convention can indeed play a crucial role in making progress towards a true constitution for Europe.

Understanding this unique experiment is by no means easy: a number of European nation states have made common cause, determined to overcome their long history of bloodshed and conflict yet eager to preserve their cultural identity. That is a process all of you will this year have the chance to observe at first hand. You can follow the debates and draw your own parallels. Today's Europe can hardly be compared with the 13 American states whose delegates assembled in Philadelphia in 1787. Nevertheless, the key questions about the right balance between big and small member states, between the European and the national level, are akin to the challenge of Philadelphia long ago.

If Europe succeeds in what it has set out to do, it will not only have made the continent a bastion of peace both now and for the future but also be a true partner for America in other areas. Acting in partnership, there are abundant global challenges for us to tackle.

Let me close by urging you to take back to the United States what you see, hear and experience this year in Germany and Europe. But above all let me urge you to keep in touch with people in Germany and Europe when you return home. The challenges of a globalizing world can only be met if we tackle them together. Together we can be proud of what has been achieved over the past fifty years - as can everyone who has worked or is currently working for the Fulbright Program. For future generations, however, much still remains to be done. Allow me therefore to wish you now every success for the tasks that lie ahead!


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