Helmut Schmidt Lecture 2022 Welcome speech

held by Peer Steinbrück on 10 November 2022

Peer Steinbrück am Rednerpult während der Helmut Schmidt Lecture 2022..

Dear Hatice Cengiz,
Esteemed Members of Parliament,
Dear guests, partners, and friends,

On behalf of the Bundeskanzler-Helmut-Schmidt-Stiftung, it is my great pleasure to welcome you to the second Helmut Schmidt Lecture 2022.

Seven years ago, exactly on this day, former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt died. Some of us in the room had the great honour of knowing him. And until today, many still consider Helmut Schmidt a global statesman and a thought leader. In Germany, we often remember him as a politician who advocated for international peace, economic cooperation, and democracy.

In 2017, the German Bundestag therefore established the foundation in his name. The mission of the foundation is far more than to preserve the memory of Helmut Schmidt. Its mission is also to deepen our knowledge of the foreign, security and economic policy of the 21st century – in Germany, Europe, and the world.

To do this, the foundation each year invites an outstanding public personality to deliver the Helmut Schmidt Lecture. The aim of the Lecture is to hear from a “thought leader of today”. We want to cover topics that already shaped Schmidt’s life and that have not lost their relevance until today.

This idea brings us together here this evening. Tonight, we want to talk about the importance of “speaking up” and about freedom of expression as a fundamental right. It a fundamental right that is too often trampled by dictators abroad. But it is also a fundamental right we need to act on at home.

For Helmut Schmidt, the freedom of expression, together with the freedom of the press, was a cornerstone of our democracy. As many of you know, he joined the newspaper Die Zeit as a co-publisher after his political career.

Let me therefore give you a quote by Helmut Schmidt. A quote that brings us here this evening. Helmut Schmidt once said: “If you don’t speak, you can’t be heard!”.

This is a well-intended invitation to speak up. Sadly, it is only partly true. Because around the world, those who speak up are regularly silenced. They are silenced by those who do not believe in fundamental rights. Authoritarian governments all over the world try to make sure that those who criticise power are not being heard. We see that in this very moment in countries such as Iran or Russia.

In dictatorships all over the world, journalists and human rights defenders are under threat. They are being defamed, they are imprisoned, they disappear, and they are even being killed. According to Reporters Without Borders, journalism is completely or partly blocked in 73 per cent of countries around the world. Also here in Germany, the situation for journalists has become worse.
Fortunately, there are brave people fighting these developments. One of them is Hatice Cengiz. She is a Turkish academic, a researcher in Middle Eastern studies, and a columnist for international newspapers. Hatice Cengiz has studied and lived in Egypt, Oman, Jordan and the United Kingdom. Today she lives in Istanbul.

Hatice Cengiz was engaged with the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He was a known critic of the Saudi government. Jamal Khashoggi fled Saudi Arabia in September 2017 and began writing for The Washington Post.

In October 2018, he was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. US and Turkish intelligence concluded that the Saudi Crown Prince personally ordered the killing. After the murder, the Crown Prince became a pariah in the West. Almost every country condemned the brutal attack on a journalist. Only a few weeks ago, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken remembered the fourth anniversary of the murder. He explicitly pointed out that the killing represented no less than “an attack on freedom of expression everywhere” in the world.

Since the murder of her fiancé, Hatice Cengiz has stood up for truth and justice. She speaks up again and again for press freedom. She criticises Saudi Arabia’s continued human rights violations. She wants the international community to hold those accountable who ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Because until today, they have not been brought to justice.

Hatice Cengiz has testified to the United Nations, the European Parliament, the US Congress and other parliaments.

Tonight, she will speak to us.

The year 2022 has given us a good reason to listen to Hatice Cengiz. Because four years after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the world has changed.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, an energy crisis has put Western states on a back foot. Priorities have shifted. Governments are trying to secure energy supplies without Russian imports. Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz – all have met with the Saudi leader this year. Human rights concerns seem to have taken a back seat, and Saudi Arabia's isolation has ended.

Should we simply accept this state of affairs?

As a former politician, I know that taking difficult and pragmatic decisions often comes with the responsibility of holding office. This is also the case now. Our economy and our population are greatly affected by Russia’s war against Ukraine. There is a need to fill the energy gap – and Saudi Arabia can help do this.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia has one of the poorest human rights records in the world. It has had it for decades. And it is unlikely to improve in the near future.

This balancing act between core interests and values is not going away any time soon. But it is the great strength of our democracy that we can debate it and that we can listen to and engage with different opinions and also criticism.

And therefore, it is my great honour and pleasure to welcome Hatice Cengiz here tonight and listen to what she has to say.

I know that you all want to hear from her. But before I hand over, let me say a few words of thanks.

First, I would like to thank the outstanding team at the Bundeskanzler-Helmut-Schmidt-Stiftung. They have not only put together this event tonight. As you leave the venue later, you will also receive an issue of the BKHS Magazine. This magazine takes on the topic of tonight’s lecture: “Speaking up”. It celebrates people like Hatice Cengiz. Those, who dare to speak up everywhere in the world. It features journalists who fight for press freedom, artists who are at risk of persecution, or workers demanding fair wages.

I know that everyone in the team went above and beyond the call of duty to put this event and the magazine together. Thank you for that!

Let me also thank Deutsche Welle, our media partner for this year’s Helmut Schmidt Lecture. Deutsche Welle has been promoting democratic values, human rights and the dialogue between cultures for more than six decades. It reports often on restrictions to press freedom. It has also felt the consequences of “speaking up” itself – for instance when Russia shut down its Moscow bureau earlier this year. Thank you for realising this event with us!

And now, it is my great honour and joy to welcome Hatice Cengiz to deliver the Helmut Schmidt Lecture.

We are all looking forward to your words and sharing this evening with you.

Thank you!

Peer Steinbrück am Rednerpult.

© Bundeskanzler-Helmut-Schmidt-Stiftung, Michael Zapf

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