This was no normal National Day celebration. Both Graf Lambsdorff and Carrie Lam surprised everyone at the 25th anniversary of German reunification.
National Day events in Hong Kong can be predictable affairs, especially when it gets to the speeches. The nation’s best food and beverage in Hong Kong are put aside for boring bromides about friendship and tedious trade statistics.
But on rare occasion, something different happens. This was one of those nights.
Yes, the food was German and fantastic. The beer and wine doubly so (Früh!). But the speeches? Unusual.
The German Consul General showed once again his willingness to be bold. With a rapt centre and distracted fringe audience, standard at these events, he welcomed guests and explained a mystery – why were they having two 25th anniversary celebrations in a row (2014 and 2015)?
He got heavy and the whole room got quiet. Graf Lambsdorff did not shy away from tough issues explaining why the Germans decided to go for October 3 (the official day commencing the reunification – in 1990) instead of November 9 (fall of the Berlin Wall – in 1989), as the National Day. The latter date, he explained, also marks the “Reichsprogromnacht” of November 9, 1938, when “the systematic persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany began”.
“After all what happened in the past century – and Germans are guilty of the most horrific crimes in history – we now enjoy the results of an unprecedented, peaceful revolution which culminated in the unification of our people and our country,” Graf Lambsdorff noted.
His willingness to raise the unpleasant aspects of Germany’s past is reflective of its maturity in dealing with its dark historical moment and his speech reflected his own, unflinchingly clear moral stance that he brings to modern diplomacy.
He moved on quickly from the post war economic transformation of Western Germany to describe how, on October 3, 1990, the East German Parliament’s act to vote itself out of existence came into effect. “Soon after the fall of the [Berlin] Wall the GDR [East Germany] decided to join the West German basic law. In essence, East Germany wanted to become part of West Germany”, leaving only one United Germany. He acknowledged that it had not been without struggles and challenges, but overall a resounding success.
That success meant that Germany now attracts millions seeking hope, instead of driving them away. He remembered Germany’s acceptance of 400,000 refugees from a disintegrating Yugoslavia in the 1990s – and the much greater need today.
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He then turned to comment on the recent influx of refugees into Europe, explaining, “Of course, we know that our capacities to integrate foreigners are limited. But we have every intention to do what we can do.”
He made a subtle, oblique implication about those who are critical of Germany for creating “pull-factors” that attract refugees to Germany, mostly through other nations. Without singling out any critics, he tackled the criticism head on.
“If by pull-factors it is meant that unified Germany has become a democratic, peaceful, prosperous country where people can expect to be treated in a decent way, then we will certainly not change anything about that.”
Graf Lambsdorff suggested that Europe could learn from Hong Kong, which “after all, is to a large extent the very successful product of refugees, migrants and foreigners.”
Carrie crowd pleaser
Carrie Lam was the Administration’s representative – again. She explained they normally have a rotation of Financial Secretary, Secretary of Administration and Secretary for Justice, but it was a special case that she was allowed back for a third round for her favourite, and most visited, European country: Germany.
Given her Prussian general style discipline, it should have been expected! She expressed her admiration for Germany and showcased her talent as a tourist guide of the country, listing out big cities, heritage towns, and historical sites. Breaking with form, she showed the true Hong Kong spirit by finishing with a (very) detailed recommendation of her favourite shopping hub in Metzingen, outside Stuttgart. The crowd loved it and cracked up. Carrie the comedian had arrived!
Ms Lam also used the occasion to highlight a handful of collaborations between Hong Kong and Germany, including the 15th Asia-Pacific Conference of German Business which will be held in the city in November, 2016, and high-level visits, including Financial Secretary John Tsang in Germany at the moment.
The night hosted an impressive list of distinguished guests, including Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So, Secretary for Education Eddie Ng, Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing, lawmakers Jasper Tsang, Emily Lau, Kenneth Leung and Paul Tse (accompanied by spouse Bak Wan-kam), and representatives from the diplomatic, business and German communities in Hong Kong. See photos for many more!