HISTORY was made when the president of a foreign legislative body addressed the National Council for the first time ever on the past shared by Germany and Namibia and the measures taken to accomplish satisfactory restitution for crimes committed by the former colonial regime.
Daniel Günther, President of the German Bundesrat the said he is very aware of the of the honour of being able to address the National Council as German leader and stated that the governments of both countries are engaged in constructive dialogue to address the colonial past.
“Germany is firmly committed to its historical responsibility. Even though it was not until later that the term was legally defined, the atrocities committed at the time in Germany’s name constituted what would today be called genocide.”
He said the German government recognizes its historical guilt without any ifs and buts.
“I bow my head before you in humbleness and respect.“
The President of the Bundesrat arrived in Namibia on Saturday and has since paid a courtesy call to the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah. Günther and his delegation also held discussions with the Ministry of Industrialisation, Trade and SME Development and met the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament before paying a courtesy visit to Sate House where the German leader was received by President Hage Geingob on Monday.
The President of the Bundesrat’s historic address to the National Council reads as follows:
Thank you very much for your invitation to the national Council in Windhoek. I am very aware of the honour of being able to speak to you today. As a German in Namibia.
Our countries are at the same time divided and united through history, as you all know only too well.
The terror that Germans brought to the people of this country at the beginning of the 20th century, especially the crimes committed against Herero and Nama, remain unforgotten.
The consequences of these past crimes are still felt today.
We recognize this historical guilt without any ifs and buts.
I bow my head before you in humbleness and respect.
Our governments are engaged in constructive dialogue to address our colonial past. From Germany in know that our Government is very much trying to move forward together on these issues. Germany is firmly committed to its historical responsibility. Even though it was not until later that the term was legally defined, the atrocities committed at the time in Germany’s name constituted what would today be called genocide.
However, by coincidence our two modern societies and nations shared a similar political experience thirty years ago. In 1989 Namibia fought for its independence and finally had its first free elections. What a milestone!
After WWII, Germany had been divided into two countries. The Federal Republic of Germany that was closely linked to the democratic West, and the GDR – the so-called German Democratic Republic, part of the communist, soviet-dominated Eastern bloc.
Also in 1989 the people of the GDR took to the streets in protest against the repressive rulers, famously chanting “we are the people”.
And this movement achieved what had been unthinkable before: they toppled the regime of the totalitarian GDR and brought down the wall that had split Germany into two countries.
The people of the GDR – just like people here in Namibia – forced the government to hold the first and only free elections of its Volkskammer, the GDR parliament. This event happened in both countries in 1989. Thirty years ago.
They show what courage can achiev!
I am happy that this year, during my Bundesrat presidency and as Minister President of the state of Schleswig-Holstein I can host the national festivities to celebrate the Day of German Unity on 3 October in the city of Kiel. 30 years after the Peaceful Revolution in East Germany. We chose the motto “Courage unites” for the festivities.
I believe that people in the GDR and people in Namibia clearly showed their courage in their struggle for liberation.
But we are not only connected through the historical events 30 years ago. What better place to address what we have in common than there in the National Council? We also have commonalities in our experiences with decentralized, regional politics, with a federal system.
Federalism has a long tradition in Germany. After the rupture in civilization of the Holocaust and the catastrophe of WWII, this tradition was important to continue. The experience of the centralized, aligned state of the National Socialists had just been too harrowing.
Responsibility and power were to be separated in the new Federation. Besides introducing the traditional horizontal separation of power, this was to be also vertical that is between Federation, states and municipalities. Federalism was the order of the day.
The result today is that after German reunification in 1990 we have 16 federal states.
Federalism is one of the great strengths of our country. Because it stands for “stability and identify, especially in times of rapid change.”
These are – by the way – not my words, but those of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who, as the Head of Government at the federal level often has her fair share of trouble with the Länder.
I agree with Fr. Merkel. Maybe it is diversity that is the real opportunity for stability. And maybe federalism compels us to truly cooperate in politics, despite all the competition.
Every law of the German Bundestag, which is the first chamber of the national parliament, has to go through the Bundesrat. Quite a few of these federal bills require the mandatory consent of the Bundesrat. That way the Bundesrat can make sure that the Länder are heard even where national laws are passed and that their interests are considered.
In addition, our constitution provides that we have to ensure “equivalent living conditions” in all regions of Germany. We achieve through a system called the “financial equalization scheme between the Länder”.
This system has the effect that people can enjoy living in any part of the country, can find work and care for their families. It means that all citizens can expect equivalent living conditions. It guarantees that people in our country can not only build a regional identity, but can lead good lives in their preferred regions.
We take care to actively emphasize and further expand the regional strengths and special characteristics of the individual Länder. 16 federal states stand for diversity in practice.
I am very interested to find out – here in the National Council and elsewhere – how you manage to unify your regions. How you, here in this huge country with such great biodiversity, bring together the large diversity of your 14 regions? How you reach the people locally in their regions, how you address their concerns.
How, for example, do you implement projects for better climate protection at the Atlantic coast or in the Namib desert? What are your solutions for offering suitable work in individual places, despite the challenges that exist in a region that may be far away?
I look forward to travelling to Swakopmund and Walvis Bay today after the talks here in the capital, and to the exchange there with, for example, the Governor of the Erongo region and the Mayor of Swakopmund, about the administration in the Namibian regions.
And I find it important, as the President of the Bundesrat, which is the body of the participation by the German Länder, to visit a regional place that remembers the German colonial past in this country. I will visit Memorial Park Cemetery in Swakopmund and lay down flowers in commemoration of the events.
In the 1990s there were official visits by the NC to the BR in Berlin, in 1997 a former President of the BR travelled to NAM. After that, the contacts at the level of the second chamber have become less frequent.
I am glad if our visit can relaunch the relations between our two institutions. And if during our conversations, it becomes clear what connects our two countries in a positive sense and the divisive power of history becomes less divisive.
Courage unites – and so does the exchange with friends.