Almost to the day 25 years ago, on October 3, 1990, East and West Germany were reunited to become one sovereign state again. It was 45 years since the Potsdam Agreement between the four Allied Powers at the end of the Second World War had divided our country and the whole of Europe. For 45 years, the Iron Curtain ran over 1,300 kilometres through Germany, separating families and friends indiscriminately.
The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 marked the beginning of the end of this inhumane situation. When we remember the events leading up to reunification in 1990, we do so with a deep sense of gratitude to all those who made it happen. We honour the courageous people of East Germany who, for many months, took to the streets to peacefully demonstrate for their right to travel to the West, for freedom of expression, for a more humane system of government without permanent surveillance and the brutal oppression of political opponents. In demonstrating, they were risking their personal freedom. And we thank the leaders of the allied powers, first and foremost US President George H W Bush and the Secretary General of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev.
It is interesting to note that Cambodia also arrived at a turning point in its history at about the same time as Germany and Europe were entering a new era. As a consequence of the shift in the global balance of power at the end of the Cold War, the path was paved towards reconciliation of the warring factions in Cambodia, which led to the Kingdom’s own internal unification process.
Much has happened since then. Both our countries have seen remarkable progress. Germany, for most of the 1990s, was engaged in an enormous reconstruction and integration exercise with the aim of merging two countries and societies that had developed under very different auspices and moved in very different directions. Now, barely more than 25 years after trains with large numbers of refugees from East Germany arrived in West Germany, my country again has become the destination of mass migration, this time comprising hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East who have chosen Germany as a safe haven and, possibly, as their new home country. Again, a momentous task lies before us, but with the challenge comes opportunity.
Cambodia’s path in the years following the reconstitution of the country after the Paris Peace Accords has been far more turbulent than Germany’s. As a consequence of their experiences, people in both our countries are keenly aware of the true value of national unity – something that should not be taken for granted. We Germans have come to the conclusion that it is a vibrant and pluralistic society, a sense of accomplishment and a national consensus on basic values, including the principles of democracy which form the basis, in fact the prerequisite of our unity.
Three years after unification, Germany and Cambodia re-established diplomatic missions in their respective countries, thereby ensuring a permanent presence which has been pivotal to the development of our relationship. This relationship has seen steady development. Its most recent manifestation was the visit of a seven member delegation of the German Federal Parliament, the Deutsche Bundestag, to Cambodia in July of this year and the visits of Secretary of State Dr Kitschelt from the Federal Ministry of Development Cooperation in November 2014 and Secretary of State Asmussen from the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs a few weeks ago.
Germany, together with its European Union partners, is accompanying Cambodia on its path towards becoming a modern middle income state. We are following with great interest the process of democratisation. The outcome of the last parliamentary elections has shown that an ever increasing number of people, especially the younger generation, wants reform and an active role in the conduct of their country’s affairs. In the National Assembly, the minority party is seeking an active role as a check and balance. The creation of a “culture of dialogue” is a step towards strengthening the cooperation between government and the minority party. It seems not to be easy at times to keep a cool temper and to exercise mutual respect in political communication.
Yet, I feel that a constructive dialogue is the only way to move forward and to create trust among key players. Ultimately, I cherish the hope that this culture, despite recent setbacks, will become mainstream, not only in the political arena but also in relations between political and civil society. Germany, through experts in the National Assembly and the Senate and through the work of the Konrad Adenauer and Friedrich Naumann Foundations, will be able to continue to provide technical assistance to the modernisation of processes in the legislative and governance sectors.
Since the mid-1990s, Germany has engaged in development cooperation in the areas of health, rural development and good governance to the value of almost $500 million. In December, intergovernmental negotiations will be held in Germany on development cooperation covering the period until the end of 2016. The teams of the GIZ, the German agency for international cooperation, and the KfW Banking Group do a remarkable job, both in Phnom Penh and out in the field. On a sad note, GIZ lost one of their most experienced experts, Volker Müller, in March of this year – his vast knowledge and experience have been instrumental in developing a modern land registration system in Cambodia. The work of GIZ and KfW is complemented and enhanced by German non-governmental organisations, including the political foundations Heinrich-Böll and Konrad Adenauer, the Deutsche Welthungerhilfe, Johanniter, Malteser and others. It is in the interests, not just of these organisations, but first and foremost, the interests of all those Cambodians who benefit from their engagement, that the new law on associations and NGOs will be applied in a way that will ensure the effectiveness of the future work of these German organisations.
Development cooperation needs to be complemented and eventually replaced by the private sector. At present, more than twenty German companies are represented in the Kingdom by their own offices. Their turnover is still fairly modest if we compare it to the one in other countries of the region. But interest is on the rise. Several German companies have sent missions to explore opportunities and in August, a delegation from the German state of Bavaria presented its integrated investment concept to representatives from the Royal Government and the private sector. Cambodian exports to Germany last year increased by 12.45 per cent, with textiles being the single most important product. The number of German tourists has also grown, marking not only an increased import of German disposable income but also an increasing interest in Cambodia among Germans.
In the area of culture, the German teams of Hans Leisen and the GIZ continue to support Apsara Stone Conservation at the Angkor park. The twelfth year of Anton Isselhardt’s annual week-long International Music Festival will open on November 12 with a rich European program, again as in previous years, financially supported by the German Embassy and the Delegation of the EU.
In the field of education, academic cooperation has been extended to include a partnership between the Rhein Waal University, Kleve, Germany and the Department of Media and Communication of the Royal University of Phnom Penh. German language classes at the German language institute associated with the Meta House are enjoying increasing interest among students interested in Germany-related employment or academic opportunities.
And last but not least, Germany continues to support the efforts of the Royal Government of Cambodia, through its Mine Action Centre, to free the country of the countless remnants of the civil and Vietnam Wars. The German engagement is carried out by the Belgian NGO APOPO in Siem Reap and Oddar Meanchey provinces.
On this day of celebration, I wish the German and the Cambodian people a happy and prosperous future and I personally look forward to another year of continued and fruitful cooperation between our two countries.