Why do people like Bhaghat Singh
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What a wonderful, what an impressive place! I can understand why some call this building the crown of Delhi University - this prestigious college with 200,000 students today. A college that was founded almost a century ago and is considered one of the most prestigious universities in India. A university with connections all over the world, not least - and I hope that some of you can tell from your own experience - to universities in Germany, in Potsdam, Würzburg and Heidelberg. What a pleasure to be here today!
This is certainly one of the highlights of my first visit to India as Federal President. I would like to thank the Vice Chancellor and everyone here today. It is a great honor for me to speak to you. Thank you for letting me be here!
Since my arrival in India I have already visited Varanasi and the Ganges, Sarnath and the Friday Mosque here in Delhi. The sight of these so symbolic places once again brought home to me the enormous historical and cultural diversity of this country. India is truly a treasure chest full of impressions and inspirations. For me as a German, every visit to your country has been an extraordinary experience.
Take, for example, this colonial building, the Viceregal Lodge. Many of you probably know that in the basement of this building, just a few meters from here, there was once a prison cell where a Sikh named Bhagat Singh was imprisoned. In 1931, at the age of only 23, Bhagat Singh was executed as a criminal for violently revolting against British rule. Today there is a statue of him in Sansad Bhawan, the seat of the Indian Parliament here in Delhi. How remarkable: a man - once branded a criminal - now a national hero. A former dungeon - today the center of a place where productive debates and research are carried out. What I want to say: My visits to India have taught me to always take a second look.
I have also learned to broaden my own perspective, to question my own assumptions and to treat things with respect. In many ways, I am deeply impressed every time I come to India. Impressed by the cultural heritage of your country and the unbelievable diversity in everyday life, but also by its multi-layered, lively and resilient democracy. I have the utmost respect for India's unique path.
I know that this path was not always easy, that there were always conflicts and arguments along the way. Who better to report on the efforts of pluralism than the extremely diverse population of India? Who better to talk about the painful imperfection of a democratic state than the citizens of the largest democracy in the world? I am well aware of all the suffering that past and current conflicts continue to cause - and I know that Indian society is still deeply marked by numerous rifts, wounds and divisions. And I know that Indian democracy differs in many ways from our democracy in Germany.
But India's choices matter in today's world. And they will have even more weight in the future. If our two countries manage to pool our strengths and unleash our common potential, we will be able to learn a lot from each other and give each other a lot. That's why I came to India. I want to challenge all of us - Indians and Germans alike - and encourage them to take a second, new look at each other. And I hope that our discussion today provides one of many opportunities for that.
A few weeks ago I saw a cartoon in a magazine. Imagine the entrance area of a large building, perhaps an office block. There are three elevators in it, right next to each other. Normally, elevator doors all look the same, but here each door had a different sign. The first door read: The second door read: And finally the third door read: But unfortunately there was only one person standing in front of this door. So there was no one with whom this person could have talked.
I fear that there are more and more people in the world who do not particularly like to talk, but prefer to ride in their own little private elevator. Viewed from Berlin and Delhi, it has recently become more and more common to see how states are exhibiting precisely this behavior and saying goodbye to multilateral cooperation. We see states increasingly question the value of rules and agreements. We see with concern that the search for strength and prosperity is increasingly leading to isolation and confrontation.
On the one hand, there are those who claim that it simply works better on their own. That the multilateral system does nothing. For example, when the country that showed Germany the way back to the free world after 1945, back to openness and democracy, is now withdrawing from established international institutions and wants to raise new import duties on steel and aluminum. Or when the European Union - the most successful peace and prosperity project that has ever existed on my continent - loses one of its largest member states.
And then there are also those who harvest without sowing, those who destroy without building and those who ruthlessly intimidate and harass others. We see powers violating their neighbors' right to territorial integrity. We see in the Near and Middle East - or in West Asia, as the region is called here - an arc of crisis, with a terrible civil war at its center that has already cost hundreds of thousands of lives - with a stuck international community that is unable to end the suffering.
These are great challenges indeed. It would be easy to put up barriers and just look to our own well-being. But what do you think would happen if every country, including India and Germany, started to behave like this? What would happen if we all retreat to our little private elevators, without anyone to talk to? What would the consequences be for the economy, trade, innovation, culture, global stability and our security if everyone only fought for themselves? Would we still be successful? Would we continue to live in peace and develop our potential in the same way? Shaping the future of humanity the same way we have done for the remarkable past decades? I do not think so. I think we are all undoubtedly much worse off than before.
On the European continent we have lived through centuries of conflict and bloodshed. We know what happens when everyone fights against everyone, when pure power politics determines action. In the past 70 years, however, we Europeans have managed to live with our diversity - in an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity. Stronger together than alone, and in peace only on the basis of binding rules - we Europeans have had to learn that the hard way.
European unification provided Germany with the best and most convincing answers to the challenges of our history and our geographical location. That is why we rely on the hard work and sincere dedication of ever new generations of young Europeans. In this regard I am optimistic - not least because the new German federal government has given European integration a prominent place in its political program. Germany will do everything in its power to ensure that Europe continues to be successful and that the European voice also helps to shape the world of the 21st century - as part of a rules-based international order and together with India as one of our strong and close partners.
India's environment is certainly not the easiest area for successful international cooperation. In recent years there have been many - perhaps too many - setbacks for those who believe in an open and cooperative world order. Working together requires commitment and perseverance. Common solutions rarely come in the form of simple answers. But that is no reason not to work together any longer - on the contrary!
Take, for example, a topic that is equally important to India and Germany - freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean. With the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea based in Hamburg, we have created a reliable basis for the protection of international waters. But we could strengthen this legal framework even further together - and it is encouraging to see how the idea of free seafaring has recently received additional impetus in this region in particular. The proposal for a Code of Conduct for the Indian Ocean, based on the Convention on the Law of the Sea, is an encouraging sign and should be discussed further. Germany offers its legal expertise and political support for this - not least because the stability of this region is also important for our own prosperity.
I believe that we should highlight such examples again and again, especially in times of setbacks, and not let up in spreading our message of cooperation and openness. Both India and Germany are advocates of international cooperation and common solutions to common problems. India in particular can look back on a long and proud tradition of multilateralism. Both of our countries are aware that in an increasingly multipolar world, no country can tackle global and regional challenges on its own. And especially in a new, harsher climate of international competition, it is important to concentrate on what unites us - instead of focusing on our differences of opinion.
The strategic partnership that India and Germany established 18 years ago is based on this foundation. It forms the agenda for our joint action. But we have to grow closer together. We should develop a better understanding of what we can achieve together based on our common goals. From investments and technology transfer to trade in goods and services to infrastructure and vocational training, Germany has a lot to offer that can be important for India's development.
In addition, we are also very active in cultural exchange, with a dynamic community of six branches of the Goethe-Institut, which are called Max Mueller Bhavans here and thus tie in with the tradition of this great German researcher of ancient Indian scripts. And finally, Germany is already India's most important trading partner in the European Union - and together with our French friends we can become India's new strategic anchor on the European continent and in the European internal market.
At the same time, Germany wants to build on India's growing importance and responsibility - both as a like-minded partner for constructive and multilateral cooperation and as a champion for stability in the Indo-Pacific region. We should make it our business to find common answers to the new challenges of globalization - challenges that our two countries are facing.
For example, India and Germany are both dependent on world trade and international investment traffic. Free and fair trade cannot guarantee peace and prosperity, but it can bring people together across borders, boost economic development, and at the same time make us realize how much we need each other. Since 2000, German companies have invested almost 10 billion US dollars in India and have contributed to the creation of around 400,000 jobs. Over 1,800 German companies are currently active in your country - and Indian investments in Germany are also growing steadily. We should continue to dismantle trade barriers in order to encourage bilateral trade and investment.
The European Union and India should also work swiftly and vigorously to conclude their negotiations on a free trade agreement. I am sure that such an agreement can give bilateral economic relations a new dynamic. Of course, trade often causes upheaval - it drives change and creates pressure to adapt. We all know how important a very fine balance is, so that we may actually have to find innovative answers for the trade agreements of the future. But in the end one thing is certain: our two countries want to trade more with one another, not less. Therefore, we should work together to prevent the existing global trade order - with the World Trade Organization at its center - from being undermined. Because such erosion would have negative consequences for all of us.
A second challenge facing India and Germany alike is dealing with innovation and technical progress. Both of our countries depend on being at the forefront in research and development, in science and technology. For you, the young generation, Industry 4.0, artificial intelligence and robotics will be part of everyday life. In the future, India will be both a rural country and a data-supported economy of the 21st century. Your India will be very different from the land your parents inherited. At the same time, international competition will continue to fuel the innovation agenda in many countries.
First of all, this is a very pragmatic challenge. For example, we have to invest in research and create the framework for future-oriented innovations. The German-Indian science and research partnership has been in existence for 60 years - and it is extremely lively. It ranges from basic research and scientific infrastructures to cooperation between our research institutions and universities - with more than 430 bilateral agreements to date. The German Science and Innovation House in New Delhi is the central point of contact for many of these partnerships.
But beyond such pragmatic answers, innovation and technical progress also raise more fundamental questions about the future. This is not just about technology itself, but also about its effects on the economy and society.
What consequences will it have for our jobs and labor markets, for example, if production and consumption change radically through technology? Will classic jobs in agriculture and industry still exist in 20, 30, 40 or 50 years? And will our economy be able to secure jobs for future generations?
We may also wonder whether our education systems are able to keep up with technological advances. And what happens to the healthcare system, the tax system or consumer protection? In other words: what does all of this mean for a system that was designed for a completely different type of economy?
And let me add one last question. What about economic development? Are our traditional approaches still valid in the digital age? It seems plausible to me that we need new answers and new strategies. Perhaps less developed regions today can skip traditional industrialization and catapult themselves straight into the digital age, as some regions in Africa show us.
These are all difficult questions. But we have to find convincing answers if our societies are to continue to flourish, if we want to achieve one, as Prime Minister Modi put it in his recent speech in Davos. I am confident that the strong democracies of India and Germany are up to the task - because they are designed to adapt to changed conditions. In my opinion, the greatest strength of democracy is its ability to recognize and correct its own weaknesses. Democracy has a unique ability to correct itself and to deal with new challenges.
I think it's worth working hard to maintain that democracy's ability to correct itself, to maintain that freedom and openness. We need all of this to face the challenges of our time.
For example, we should strengthen our universities, defend the freedom of research and ensure that science can continue to develop freely in the future - instead of restricting the space for debate and politicizing these institutions for our own short-term benefit. If the freedom of science is restricted by ideology, if students and scientists are threatened and harassed because of their political views, then democracy will soon die out.
We should continue to defend a free and critical press and freedom of expression rather than denigrating unpleasant truths and blurring the lines between fact and opinion. When journalists in many countries around the world refrain from reporting for fear of reprisals, when public debates become discredited and criticism becomes a threat, then it is time to speak out.
In addition, we should continue to wrestle with our political opponent in hard, but above all respectful, debates, ideally within the framework of political parties. We should defend women's empowerment and minority rights. We should advocate religious tolerance - instead of excluding those people who seem alien to us. We all have the right to our own opinion and our own religious convictions. That is why religious communities deserve special protection.
I am also familiar with these issues from debates at home in Germany, where public discourse has become rougher and old certainties are increasingly being called into question. As Federal President, I have set myself the goal of supporting all those who stand up for the cause of democracy. That’s why I’m here today. I would like to hear your opinions and encourage you to think about the future.
Because ultimately, dear friends, the future is not set in stone - we all have to help shape it. As a student and scientist, you have the great privilege of looking at things with foresight. Dare to look far ahead with an open mind and an open heart. We need you in the political debates of our time - as a strong voice for an open and peaceful world and for the future of our democracies!
Personally, I would like one thing above all for the future: let's continue to ride in the same elevator, let's talk to each other in the future - and let's all get to the top together.
That's it for me, dear friends. It's your turn now. I look forward to your contributions.
Thank you for your attention.
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