Citizens of Ukraine,
President Zelensky, Volodymyr,
Dr Linden, Jürgen,
Madam President of the Commission, Ursula,
Prime Minister, Mateusz,
Ladies and gentlemen,
“Prezydent tut. Vsi my tut.” Mr President, Volodymyr, those were the words you directed to the Ukrainian people in one of your first video messages after the Russian attack: “The President is here. We are all here.” It was early in the morning of 25 February 2022. Standing in the centre of Kyiv alongside your closest colleagues, you added: “We are all defending our independence, and we will continue to do precisely that.”
Seldom in history can such a brief comment have had such a huge impact. It was clear at that moment that the Ukrainian people will not give way to Russia’s violence. The Ukrainian people will resist. And that is the sole reason why we can be here in Aachen together. Europe has a great deal for which to be thankful to the Ukrainian people, and to you personally, President Volodymyr Zelensky.
When the founders of the Charlemagne Prize had the idea for this European award back in 1950, much of Germany and Europe still lay in ruins. The horrors of two World Wars, the crime against humanity that was the Shoah, severe crises, suffering and starvation – all that was still very much present. A Europe united in peace and freedom was a very distant vision. Nevertheless, the dream of the mothers and fathers of the Charlemagne Prize took shape, every year a little bit more.
The list of Charlemagne Prize laureates reads like a “Who’s who” of European integration. It extends from Jean Monnet, Konrad Adenauer, Robert Schuman and Simone Veil to Václav Havel and Bronisław Geremek – men and women who, with courage and far-sightedness, drove the development that we in the younger generation gradually came to take more and more for granted: the peaceful development of Europe, without which our nations’ prosperity and well-being would have been impossible.
Today, however, a brutal war of aggression is again raging, Russia’s brutal war of aggression – a war that is bringing the people of Ukraine pain, suffering and sacrifice the like of which we could scarcely imagine any more; a war that is directed against everything Europe stands for today; but also a war that makes it crystal clear to Ukraine, the European Union and its member states: we stand together. We belong together. And our story will continue together.
This year, for the first time ever, the Charlemagne Prize is being awarded to a President and his people. That is, I believe, an extremely fitting decision. Because what both the Ukrainian people and you, Volodymyr, have achieved since 24 February last year has been amazing.
You are defending your country against Russia’s brutal aggression with the utmost bravery. Day after day, with unbelievable energy, you are all foiling the Russian invaders. Russia’s war of aggression has brought the European Union and Ukraine closer than ever before. We stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine, united in solidarity.
Germany has taken in over a million Ukrainian citizens. Poland has at times provided refuge for no less than 1.5 million, Czechia more than 500,000. The number of German-Ukrainian town twinning agreements has doubled in the course of the war, to more than 140. Across Europe, the war has cemented one clear realisation: Ukraine is part of our European family.
This was something French President Emmanuel Macron, Italy’s then Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis and I stressed during our joint visit to Kyiv a year ago, and we all stand by this statement. Russians and Ukrainians are not “one people”, as President Putin claims in his imperialist and colonialist blindness. The Ukrainian nation has its own long history, its own amazingly diverse culture, its own traditions, its own identity.
Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, independent Ukraine has insisted on its freedom to decide itself on its own path. And Ukraine has taken its decision – in favour of Europe.
Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine has our full support on its path towards the European Union. As Europeans, we know what power is inherent in the democratic will of the people. I am thinking of Solidarność in Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki. I am thinking of the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989, brought about by the force of courageous citizens of the GDR, and of the unification of Germany and Europe in the years thereafter. And of course I am thinking of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004 and the winter nights of the Euromaidan in late 2013, early 2014. In this Revolution of Dignity, the blue and yellow flag of Ukraine and the EU’s blue flag with yellow stars became symbols of Ukraine’s freedom, democracy and autonomy.
All these popular movements express the people’s strong desire to shape their future themselves. Russia’s war of aggression has not only strengthened Ukraine’s resolve as a political nation. It has also made the Ukrainian people’s decision to be a European democratic nation irreversible.
Vladimir Putin may have thought he could force the Ukrainian nation off its path to Europe through violence, but all his tanks, drones and rocket launchers have had quite the opposite effect.
The European Union stands for the peaceful coexistence of the nations of Europe, for the political and economic partnership of its member states, for the beauty of cultural and linguistic diversity.
The European Union stands for freedom and democracy, the rule of law and the protection of human rights, and especially for the peaceful reconciliation of former enemies. As German Chancellor, I am particularly conscious of that. And all of this is part and parcel of our identity as Europeans. That is why we must take care, day in day out, to protect and uphold the values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law, including within the EU.
Volodymyr, the Ukrainian people, too, share in this pursuit of democracy, of freedom, of the rule of law and of Europe. “Sluha narodu” – servant of the people: you assumed office as President of Ukraine with this pledge. ‑ And that is exactly what you are today in accepting the Charlemagne Prize on behalf of the people.
The desire for freedom and the resilience in dark times spread hope and inspiration far beyond the borders of Ukraine. As leader of the entire Ukrainian people, you are defending the values for which Europe stands. Ukraine can count on our full support – humanitarian support, economic support, and support with weapons. Above all, however, our enduring support.
The people of Luxembourg was the first to be awarded the Charlemagne Prize, in 1986. The text on the medal said: “The people of Luxembourg for their exemplary and persevering efforts in the interest of the union of the peoples of Europe”. Today this applies equally to the people of Ukraine.
That is why the award of the Charlemagne Prize today marks not an ending, but a new start – the start of our continued integration in Europe, along with Ukraine, the countries of the Western Balkans, the Republic of Moldova and, in the longer term, Georgia too. In view of the watershed Russia triggered with its war of aggression, our message today is clear: Europe stands firm and united.
The award of the Charlemagne Prize as a European civic award expresses our liberal societies’ profound admiration of the bravery and resolve of the Ukrainian people and its President.
Ukrayina tut. A Ukrayina ‑ tse Yevropa. ‑ Ukraine is here. And Ukraine is Europe.
Many congratulations and Slava Ukraini!