Interview with the Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Germany to Armenia, H. E. Reiner Morell.
- Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for this interview. You know I wished us to meet on November 9-10 - on the 25th anniversary of the fall of Berlin Wall. However we met today and just in the morning I learned that today is another memorable anniversary – the 25th anniversary of the “velvet revolution” in former Czechoslovakia…
- Yes, actually this year is full of important anniversaries. And not only of those tied to the collapse of the communist regimes in former socialist countries. This year Europe – if not the world – also remembers the beginning of the WWI. By the way here in Armenia we together with the British Embassy initiated a number of public events marking the outbreak of that war a hundred years ago - to remember and to talk, discuss those events with the young generation. Also in the beginning of November we traditionally celebrate Remembrance Day – to pay tribute to the victims of both World Wars and to all those people that became the victims of the National-socialist regime in Germany itself and throughout the Europe. Here in Yerevan we commemorated the day visiting the German cemetery…
- Is there a German cemetery in Yerevan?
- Yes, there is. It’s a little cemetery in Kanaker district; there is another German cemetery in the south of the country and another one in Gyumri.
- I guess in that cemeteries should be lying the German soldiers that fell into Soviet captivation during the WWII. I remember from very young age I was told that the German soldiers as prisoners of war had worked over the construction of the Park of Victory and the Victory Bridge in Yerevan. However moving to the closer times and the November 9, 1989 - may I ask where you were yourself on that day and what were your feelings and thoughts at that time?
- When the Berlin Wall came finally down I was working at the German Embassy in Togo, Western Africa. We were overwhelmed with joy and hardly could believe this information. When you had your country divided for 44 years, then this sudden turn is a sensation, it's a miracle. And that was it, a miracle.
Personally we were of course very sorry that we could not be at that time at the historic location in Berlin to participate in all these events and in all that happy feelings. But my wife made sure that she was in Berlin right now to participate at least in all the activities and happy remembering moments on the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall.
- I think she was absolutely right to do that. And from the distance of some 25 years how do you personally assess the importance of the Fall of Wall today?
- First of all, of course, we were very much relieved that the fall of the Wall in 1989 happened without any bloodshed. It all started some time ago as a non-violent civic movement, the population would have their regular demonstrations in Leipzig and other cities of the former GDR shouting „we are the people“. And the more peoples followed the movement the more difficult it became for the communist regime to put them all away from the streets.
These events in consequence changed the map of Eastern Europe. It was the start of the implosion of the Soviet Union. Other countries within the USSR followed and became independent. We knew at that time that we all were living to really historic times. And surely, we are grateful to Mr. Gorbachev - the leader of the USSR at that time - that he let it all happen. Because of that he was and still is a greatly respected person in Germany. He was invited to Berlin to participate in the celebrations this year and he came and was present.
- I hope you’ll allow me not to agree with your phrase that the fall of Berlin Wall was the start of the downfall of the Soviet Union. Believe me that start was some 1,5 years earlier – in February 1988 when the entire Armenia got paralyzed with strike and hundreds of thousands of people rallied in downtown Yerevan We’ll return to that theme but first – did you anticipate in Germany after the fall of the Wall that the re-unification of the country may happen that soon?
- No, of course. At that time the situation was really an extraordinary one and no one certainly had an idea what could happen next - will the events unfold in the dimension of more democracy and reforms in Soviet Union or the old style Soviet policy will take the lead. So I think the Chancellor Kohl played the decisive role there. While many politicians and ordinary citizens were just reflecting on or discussing the gains and losses of possible re-unification, the Chancellor Kohl just thought as far as the circumstances and the developments allow we should fully engage and accomplish the process. Who could know what kind of turn the events could take in future so he was absolutely right to accomplish the re-unification process as soon as possible - despite of all the hesitating peoples and even some voices against re-unification.
And surely the re-unification of Germany and the fall of communist regimes throughout the East Europe allowed a new start within the continent. The EU got in consequence some new member states. The relationship with Russia changed very much to a friendly one. As you might know we offered Russia a modernization partnership.
- Yes, and for all of that endless thanks should be told both to Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Kohl. However returning to the Karabakh movement that was a real explosion at least inside the Soviet Union in 1988 - what were your thoughts and feelings when you saw the images of that rallies in Yerevan?
Actually, I learned about the Karabakh movement and the events that at that time unfolded in Yerevan much later, not in 1988. At that time, as I said, I was serving in German Embassy in Togo, West Africa. Close to the end of 20th century still the communication weren’t that advanced as nowadays – there wasn’t any Internet, any global broadcasters, and the European press would reach West Africa very slowly, sometimes even not reaching at all. So I myself learned about the events in Armenia much later - when I returned to Europe in 1991 getting assignment in Greece. To that time I generally found the Europe pretty changed.
Also at that time I learned that the German media and the press, “Der Spiegel”, etc had pretty much reported about the events in Armenia in 1988. And I learnt that it was a colossal movement. Like in East Germany again these were people who came out and stated “we are the people” and voiced the aspiration of re-unification, or rather unification of the nation. Simply the outcome and answers to the same aspiration in Armenia and Germany appeared to be different.
Yes the history unfolded differently. Mr. Ambassador, you’re in Armenia for almost 2 years - what do you think about the Armenia’s achievements and failures throughout these two and half decades of independence? What would you like to see different?
I think Armenia has achieved a lot during these last 25 years. And you should know that better than we – the foreigners. I understand that young people judge through the day in which they live, of course everywhere they find it not that good and make the conclusion that everything isn’t good enough. Still the reality is different.
You should admit that today Armenia is a modern state participating in the international community. Armenia has joined different international organizations like the UN, OSCE, and Council of Europe etc. And it contributes to the world. The Armenian side just on those days had organized NATO week in Armenia and we recalled again all the commitments that Armenia had undertaken and is currently realizing in the NATO peacekeeping operations to the advantage of other peoples in the world. As an example you might take our German-Armenian cooperation within ISAF in Afghanistan in the Northern Command Sector.
Inside the country you’ve achieved the build-up of the country’s economy that was devastated by war. Sure there are still some deficits, but remember from where the country had to start out in 1991. And then you might honor the enormous efforts in reconstructing the country. Your economy restarted from that lowest point and had high growth rates.
- Oh, not only the war devastated the economy but the earthquake before that and the collapse of the Soviet Union and the hundreds of thousands of our compatriots fleeing into the country from the neighboring Azerbaijan…
- And you overcame all that challenges. Nowadays Armenia is connected with the world, you can fly wherever you want to, you have internet access in a good quality, you participate in modern life. Construction industry has provided enough room for everybody. I know, not everybody can afford these prices. Health care was arranged for the population on a broad scale. And just lately government came up with the idea of a pension fund which I find is a good thing. I know some parts of the population don't like the idea. But this is democracy: the government has to care for the basic needs of the population - but their projects have to get the approval of society.
You have long term cooperation with the European Union, which started with the signing of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement as of 1999. Partly in result of that Armenia underwent some decisive reforms in all sectors of public life. In the Human Rights sector you have seen a lot of progress. Look for example: opposition parties can rally at the Freedom Square with thousands of their sympathizers without being forbidden or dispersed by police. I am happy to see a civil society that has started its rightful activities in the country and it is not stopped or forbidden by anybody. So, I find there are big achievements in Armenia and in Armenian society. You can be proud of these achievements.
-And what would you tell about the failures, what could be done better?
- Well, let me tell you in advance that as a guest in your lovely country I would not like to interfere in any politics. So I would only cite some aspects which you already know yourselves and which are circulated in the public. It's the problem of oligarchy, it's the problem of corruption, it's the problem of independent judiciary. Your partners and friends stand ready to be helpful in tackling these questions.
I would like to add one issue where I would think Armenia could do better: Small and Medium Enterprises (SME). PM is already spending efforts on that topic. I would like to see more SME in Armenia starting up like mushrooms. SME would relatively fast provide for jobs and the population could make a living and would stay in Armenia. So where ever we could be helpful we would like to support that idea and try our best.
- Here I’ve exactly a question. I all wonder why and how it happens that these industrial giants and even medium size Germany companies do not enter into Armenia so far, do not establish their branches or enterprises here?
- The business people may have their own reasoning, but I think simply all those German companies which wished and planned to expand their businesses in Europe already got engaged in former socialist countries and in Russia itself. Today we see some six thousand German companies doing business within Russia. I think their aspirations of expanding in Europe had almost completed there, therefore they didn’t move further to the south and to Armenia. This was already the situation since some time and now this sanctions that were put on Russia, and the formation of the EEU and the Armenia’s plans to engage with it made some more uncertainty. So it may be that everyone takes a pause to see what comes next.
- Thus, we arrive to the point that a lot depends on politics, so let me ask about the German FM Walter-Steinmeier’s recent visit to Armenia.
- We were very delighted to see our Foreign Minister Steinmeier to come to Yerevan on Oct. 23rd. In politics like in normal life nothing can substitute personal links or bonds. So I am happy to see that this was already the 2nd meeting of Steinmeier and Nalbandian in 2014, after Minister Nalbandian paid a visit to Berlin in May.
Discussions of course were driven by the problematic of Nagorno-Karabakh and questions to its solution. Germany a hundred percent supports the line of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs, i.e. that there is only a peaceful solution to the problem. And especially the so called Madrid principles - carved by the Minsk Group Co-Chairs - are the building block to enter into a solution.
Germany condemns the recourse to force in that conflict as we have seen it especially during July and August and just now in the downing of a helicopter and the death of the crew. We convey our condolences to the families of those poor soldiers. We would like to tell to both sides to refrain from the use of force and would wish that they really would come to an agreement on confidence-building measures. As everybody can judge by what we saw in these months - something has to be done about confidence-building measures.
And of course Minister Steinmeier had a Tour d'horizon with his colleague as well as with H.E. the President. It went on regional and international politics. But you would understand that I couldn't go into more details.
- It’s a pity that the rules of diplomacy never change. However would you tell us was there any particular discussion of Armenia-EU relations?
Regarding the relationship between Armenia and the EU my Minister outlined our position in the press-conference of both ministers: “Germany respects Armenia as a partner who of course has the right to decide upon its politics in full sovereignty – so as well upon its entering into the Customs Union or into Eurasian Economic Union.”
Minister said as well he sees that Armenia wants to continue with the Eastern Partnership. Germany totally supports the course of the Armenian government vis-a-vis the EU. President Sargsyan had made it clear last year in Vilnius that Armenia wants to secure what had been agreed upon so far. Actually there wasn’t any agreement to sign in Vilnius between the Armenia and EU, but the parties however exchanged Letters.
We want to continue with the cooperation between the Armenia and EU and a first meeting to structure this cooperation had been on the 4th of November in Brussels. We would like to come as soon as possible to an agreement on the basis of the „aquis“ (what has been achieved so far). How quickly this can be done is at the moment a question to the Armenian side. They have to tell us what is possible to agree upon in the light of the signed agreement for the membership in the Eurasian Economic Union.
- In bilateral relations I suppose the Ministers just confirmed that everything is OK?
- Yes, everything is OK, but the Ministers discussed what could be done further – beyond the already very intense bilateral relations. We have had for example in 2013 a bilateral trade volume of around 200 million EUR and in the first half of 2014 we saw an increase of 9,2%. Our development cooperation is strong, Germany being one of the biggest bilateral donors. You would know that our GIZ and KFW peoples are very active in Armenia. We just had our bilateral negotiations in September and we have committed ourselves to further projects of up to 133 million EUR.
- Absolutely delightful, and my last question - a bit converging with philosophy. Would you agree that the year 2014 became if not a watershed then at least a turning point in the history of Europe, as hardly the confrontation on the continent has ever been this tense since the end of WWII?
- This is a very difficult question. Let me start out with a look back to the years of 1990. With the implosion of the Soviet Union new states had the chance to establish themselves and states which existed already within the block of the USSR became really independent states. It was the well-accepted political understanding in Europe that these newly drawn borders were sacrosanct. This understanding had proven to be good unless Russia is now going to challenge this common ground. And more than that: the International law has been violated by Russia's annexation of Crimea and its activities in Eastern Ukraine. Europe cannot just accept that and continue with „business as usual“. We feel that Russia needs a strong wake-up call. Sanctions from the EU side just want to flag to Russia that this behavior is not tolerable.
- Did President Putin miscalculate the consequences of his actions and the international response to it?
- You know, we have a saying in Germany which tells that before entering somewhere one should define how will he exit from there. That means the return path should be known beforehand. President Putin interfered in Ukraine perhaps supposing that there are too many different interests in Europe, some countries like Germany maintain thousands of economic ties with Russia, hardly they would like to break all that, so hardly Europe would get unified and talk with one voice, moreover put sanctions. But the EU took unified measures and put sanctions to show to Russia what is at stake for it and for the future relationship.
However, although we can state the evident impact of the sanctions, we do not see any move towards de-escalation from the Russian side. On September 5th Russia signed the trilateral agreement in Minsk assuming obligations of stopping the supply of weapons to the rebels, controlling the border, etc. Still as van Rompuy stated last week in Brisbane, “The EU very much regrets that Russia so far has done nothing to honor its obligations from the Minsk Agreement”.
This is the overall picture. Are we at a watershed or a turning point right now? I cannot tell you. What we can state already now is a big damage to confidence. So everyone should work on mending that by first of all sticking to the Minsk Agreement and fulfill its obligations.