German president uses unity speech to urge integration

By Jeff Black

dpa (MCT)

BREMEN, Germany – Germany on Sunday marked the 20th anniversary of reunification, and President Christian Wulff used the occasion to address a simmering controversy about immigration and integration. On Oct. 3, 1990, the country was reunified after more than 40 years of post-World War II division between the communist East Germany and the democratic West Germany.

Wulff spoke of a contemporary division between Germans and the nation’s Turkish and Arab Muslim community.

“Christianity belongs in Germany. Judaism belongs in Germany. And by now, Islam also belongs in Germany,” he said.

Controversy over the role of Muslims in German society recently led to the establishment of a new right-wing party. Wulff urged all sectors of society to strive for solidarity and tolerance.

“We cannot allow the perpetration of myths, the hardening of prejudices and exclusion,” he said. Wulff said that the duty conferred by Germany’s 20 years of unity was to “value diversity, close rifts in our society . . . to create real solidarity.”

Wulff was speaking at a ceremony in the port city of Bremen, attended by Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leading officials of state. The president’s post is largely ceremonial but Wulff’s speech was eagerly awaited as his first public address since an unusually contentious election in June.

President Barack Obama sent a message to the German people, praising “the courage and conviction . . . that brought down the Berlin Wall, ending decades of painful and artificial separation.”

The former president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, whose reforms in the 1980s terminally weakened the Russian-dominated empire, said that today Germany was an exemplary democracy.

“In the last 20 years Germany has held to the responsibilities of unity,” Gorbachev said Sunday in Frankfurt.