Albright, Schily Discuss Freedom and Democracy at Burns Dinners

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright

German Secretary of the Interior Otto Schily

The Burns social season has been in full swing with the annual awards dinner in Berlin on May 5 and the alumni dinner in New York on June 13. With impressive speakers and strong alumni attendance, both events were a great success.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and German Secretary of the Interior Otto Schily stressed the critical importance of the U.S.–German partnership during speeches delivered at Burns alumni dinners held recently in New York and Berlin. Both dignitaries focused on the importance of this transatlantic relationship as more countries in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union move toward democracy and freedom. Albright was the keynote speaker during the second annual U.S. Burns dinner on Feb. 16 in New York, sponsored and organized by Goldman Sachs. Secretary Schily spoke to German alums in Berlin on June 3, where the annual Burns awards were announced.

Both speakers agreed that a unified U.S.-German front must support the democratic movements and newfound freedoms spanning from Kiev to Beirut and from Palestine to Iraq, in varying stages of infancy. In her speech to alumni, Albright said international exchanges like the Burns Fellowship are valuable in building and maintaining mutual understanding. The Burns program is unique in that it promotes understanding in young journalists from Germany and the United States. The Fellowship’s values are important at a time when bilateral relations have not been “quite as tranquil the past four years,” she said.

Albright addressed worries about the deteriorating relationship between Germany and the United States, which she characterized as a “natural partnership between two great democracies, and between two peoples with shared values and hopes.”

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright

She said she welcomed recent speeches by the Bush administration indicating a return to “kinder and gentler rhetoric on both sides … at a time of renewed hope in world affairs. “It almost seems as if the administration is finally prepared to forgive Germany and France for being right about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” Albright said. “Meanwhile, European leaders seem ready to forgive President Bush for getting re-elected,” she added jokingly. Secretary Schily echoed Albright’s assessment of the importance of a healthy U.S.-E.U. partnership nearly four months later at the Burns dinner in Berlin. Without Americans, freedom and democracy would not have had a chance in Europe and the continent would not have been able to move toward unification, he said. “This is the substance of a trusting partnership and a steadfast friendship, which cannot be put in danger by occasional differences in opinion,” Schily said. “The United States of America will continue to be Germany’s most strategic partner in the world.” Describing Europe’s painful experience with dictators and tyranny throughout history, Schily said the value of freedom is worth fighting for and defending. In what many said they felt was a remarkably direct speech that was critical of his own party’s leadership, Schily said he disapproved of Europe’s distrust of the U.S. determination to secure freedom in the world. “Our American friends deserve our trust and support wherever they put their efforts into expanding freedom and democracy.” Noting that many Europeans would consider this idealistic, Schily pointed out that over the past 30 years, the number of free countries doubled from 44 to 88, an indication that “freedom is contagious, and democratic idealism is in reality a realism.”

Working together for freedom beyond our borders

In addressing the political instability in the Middle East, Albright asked if Iraq’s election would transform the country into a “reasonably stable, moderately united, and more or less democratic” nation. She insisted Germany and Europe, as much as the United States and the vast majority of Iraqis, had a large stake in the progress of democratic movements in the Middle East. Albright warned that “we would be fooling ourselves if we believed that the elections were the climax to anything.” Instead she said they marked the beginning to a new and uncertain phase. “Freedom in Iraq may be on the march, but it also remains under fire. And it has many more miles to go before ‘mission accomplished,’ becomes a reality,” she said.

Neither the United States nor Europe can impose peace in the Middle East, Albright said, but both can work to strengthen the forces of moderation and reason, provide incentives to reward progress, and work with friends in the Arab world to create a climate for a diplomatic solution.

At the Berlin dinner, Schily reiterated Albright’s premise that common vital security interests on both sides of the Atlantic will cement a lasting strategic partnership between Germany and the United States. “Because of this,” Schily said, “we have German and American troops in Afghanistan. Together we try to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear military force. Together we try to advance the peace process in the Middle East. “Freedom and democracy have many enemies, and often cannot survive on their own. They must be gained and defended. Those who no longer want to fight for the freedom of others, who do not want to export democracy, they will make themselves and their own values implausible,” Schily said. Although the European Union is not a homogenous entity, Schily said it is still a “union of freedom-exporting nations,” and as such it also should work in union with the United States. “Because the transatlantic relationship is a partnership of freedom, and at the same time for freedom, this is the fundamental core of our shared values. It is the moral foundation of our strategic partnership,” he said.

For Schily, Europeans and Germans should realign their notion of freedom with the Americans. “The endeavor for equality, as important as this may be, must not squash freedom.”

Recent French and Dutch votes on the European constitution shouldn’t be interpreted as a doomsday scenario for the European Union or an end its unification efforts, Schily said. A departure from the current path would not be desirable, especially in regards to common national security and economic issues among E.U. member states.

What’s missing in Europe, according to Schily, is “more self-confidence, audacity, courage, responsibility, reliance on its own abilities and initiative, and a little more American pragmatism and optimism.”

The Burns Fellowship program is grateful to Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Deutsche Bank for sponsoring these annual alumni events.