Merkel warns against nationalism in Fulbright Prize acceptance speech

Merkel warns against nationalism in Fulbright Prize acceptance speech
Chancellor Angela Merkel accepts the Fulbright Award for International Understanding in Berlin Monday. Photo: DPA
Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the continued importance of strong transatlantic ties and international cooperation to oppose rising populism and nationalism, during her acceptance speech for the J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding on Monday evening.

“Thinking in national spheres of influence is increasing and principles of international law or human rights are thus also being put up for discussion. We must resolutely oppose this,” Merkel said.

The Fulbright Association, the alumni organization of the Fulbright Program, awarded Merkel Monday´s prize “for her remarkable, compassionate leadership and her strong commitment to mutual understanding, international cooperation, and peace.”

In the award´s 25-year history, Monday’s ceremony marked the first time it was held outside of the United States.

Looking to history

Merkel, speaking steps away from the Brandenburg Gate at the AXICA Congress and Convention Centre, pointed to the past throughout much of her speech. She addressed shifts in international relations and the importance to remain wide awake on both local and international levels to deter nationalistic trends in Europe and beyond.

In particular, Merkel stressed Germany´s unwavering dedication to maintaining its friendship with the United States of America. She expressed gratitude for acts like the Marshall Plan, Allied troops stationed in Germany during the Cold War, the Berlin Airlift, and President John F. Kennedy's support in the 1960s that all helped lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Merkel used the Brandenburg Gate to illustrate her commitment and thanks.

“It is a symbol for the freedom of this city, for the reunification of Germany, for the overcoming of the division of Europe, and for the fact that all this could succeed, because our American friends tirelessly spoke out for a free Europe and made this Europe strong,” Merkel said. “We Germans will not forget that.”

US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell was among those in attendance at Monday's event.

Merkel also observed that, since the end of the Cold War, “security priorities have changed from an American point of view” and the significance of transatlantic relationships may no longer seem as obvious.

Understanding that regions like the Pacific present a new course in international relations, Merkel said that leaders like herself bear the responsibility to continue to teach the lessons learned from World War II as the generation that witnessed Nazi terrors passes away.

“But eighty years after the beginning of the Second World War, the lessons of history seem to be becoming somewhat paler and no longer have the same formative power. We have fewer and fewer contemporary witnesses among us of the incomprehensible crimes committed by Germans during National Socialism,” she said.

“That is why we, those who bear responsibility today, must carry on the lessons of what the world experienced with the First and Second World Wars. We must take responsibility for ensuring that things continue to progress peacefully,” Merkel commented. “We must remain attentive, attentive to social developments within and outside our countries.”

Promoting a united Europe as Brexit looms

The Chancellor also cited history for the creation of global organizations like the United Nations and the World Trade Organization among others, arguing that the international community continues to need such groups to combat both old and new threats.

“We should and must remember why the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and other international institutions were founded. These were the lessons of the horrors of National Socialism, of the Second World War and of exuberant nationalism,” Merkel said. “It goes without saying that these international institutions must also be able to respond to new challenges. They must be reformable, and they must continue to evolve.”

Though acknowledging Brexit as a setback, Merkel said it must be respected and Germany is committed to building a strong relationship with the United Kingdom after it leaves the European Union.

“Theresa May does not say without reason: We remain part of Europe. We want to build these relationships in the economic sphere, in the contacts between our civil societies, in the security field, in the field of foreign affairs, and in many other areas,” Merkel noted.

“As a partner and friend to the United States, Europe can only be as strong as it is united,” Merkel also said.

As far as settling expected differences, Merkel encouraged greater interaction, saying there need to be meetings and “lines of communication.”

Joining list of influential individuals

Merkel joins a diverse list of other prominent individuals who have been awarded the annual Fulbright Prize. Previous recipients include Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, Bill Clinton, Vaclav Havel, Corazon Aquino, Mary Robinson, Doctors Without Borders, and Bill and Melinda Gates. The Fulbright Association was founded in 1977 and began awarding the Fulbright Prize in 1993.

In addition to Ambassador Grenell, others in the international audience Monday´s included CNN's Christiane Amanpour, representatives from the American, German, and other governments, delegates from Fulbright Commissions worldwide, Fulbright alumni and grantees, and other distinguished individuals.

Amanpour introduced the German Chancellor, calling it a “great honor.”

“Angela Merkel embodies the best of leadership in times of unrelenting global crises and challenges,” Manfred Philipp, Member of the Board of Directors of the Fulbright Association, said. “We draw inspiration from her work and that of past laureates as we do our own work to build friendships and understanding, and ultimately a better world.”

Catherine Treyz is a 2018-19 recipient of the Fulbright Young Professional Journalist Award and was in attendance at Monday's event.


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