Joachim Gauck Receives 2018 Freedom Award |

Joachim Gauck Receives 2018 Freedom Award

Presentation in front of 700 guests in Frankfurt's St. Paul Church
Joachim Gauck, former President of Germany, during his speech
Joachim Gauck, former President of Germany, during his speech Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit/Stephan Flad

It was a very special event: an award recipient who has left a lasting mark on Germany, moving speeches with important messages and, at the centre of everything, freedom. In the Frankfurt St. Paul Church, Joachim Gauck, former President of Germany, received our Foundation's 2018 Freedom Award in front of some 700 guests.

‘Our support for diversity and tolerance does not mean we are prepared to sacrifice our core values’, Gauck declared in a striking speech. ‘In 1998 or 2008 it was easier to sing praises to liberty – we felt like history's victors. But victories for freedom have to be won time and again – regardless of the threat they are up against’. Change is unavoidable, but we must counteract the disintegration of society. ‘We are facing challenges that have no precedent in history. What matters is the freedom of the individual in a free commonwealth’. In his speech, the former president drew parallels between a number of historical accomplishments and changes that have confronted people in the past. The changes brought on by modernity are always challenges ‘that we have to face if we understand ourselves as active creators.’

Regarding the polarization of society that threatens us today, Gauck pointed to the divide between city and the countryside – there is no harm in not discontinuing that last bus connection, and it does make sense to make sure there is a doctor available in the countryside. ‘We have to respect people's desire for safety as well as their desire for connectedness and belonging. At the same time, we need to strengthen their ability to deal with risks, for example, risks arising from migration, globalization, or digitalization. These areas of change must not divide society into winners and losers. I am happy to see that the Friedrich Naumann Foundation pays attention to these issues.’

Prof. Ludwig Theodor Heuss, Deputy Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, began his laudation with a question: ‘A Freedom Award for Joachim Gauck? Doesn't he already have one of those, many will have asked themselves. The question is rhetorical. Who, if not you?’

Campaigner for Freedom

Few other names are associated with freedom like the name of Joachim Gauck – his tireless activism for freedom has always been the core of his public engagement. At the start of his presidency, he referred to freedom as the necessary precondition for justice and self-realisation. In his 2009 speech on freedom at the Brandenburg Gate, he emphasized the great importance of democracy, the rule of law, and freedom in the context of the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He also felt an obligation to defend liberal values like tolerance, freedom of speech, and the protection of human rights. On the occasion of the 2016 European Future Conference, Gauck explained that actors who attain the analytical foresight of the great representatives of liberalism are less at risk of being surprised by societal developments. In the face of rising populism and the restrictive politics of Donald Trump, Gauck took special care to underline European ideas of human dignity, equality, and freedom of religion. ‘If you had to invent the prototype of a liberal, of someone free, independent, and responsible at the same time, Gauck would be it’, Nicola Beer, Secretary General of the FDP, asserted in a message. Prof. Karl-Heinz Paqué, chairman of the board of directors of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, and Prof.  Jürgen Morlok, Chair of the Board of Trustees, presented Joachim Gauck with the medal and the certificate of the Freedom Award.

Activism for a Liberal Society

Ludwig Theodor Heuss put a special emphasis on Gauck's accomplishments on behalf of liberal society: ‘You felt the need for liberal society when it was missing; you lived it when that was dangerous; you defended it when it was under attack.’ At a time when there was no freedom in public life, Gauck was encouraging people, confirming them in their knowledge that personal freedom still existed regardless; a freedom of choice retained by each and every individual. The awakening of civic responsibility and civic courage is the great gift the citizens of the former GDR have made to the history of German freedom. Gauck understood this process from the very beginning, helped shape and defend it. Thanks are due to Gauck for creating public consciousness for the value of freedom. ‘It was first and foremost Gauck in his capacity as a free private citizen who understood the fight for 'freedom after freedom' as his next big task. In the best tradition of republicanism, he stepped up to his responsibility as a citizen, as a matter of course’, Heuss summarized.

Every other year, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom awards the Freedom Award to a personality who has provided a notable impetus for the promotion of a liberal civil society and has thus assisted the entrenchment of liberal values and goals. In 2006, the Freedom Award was presented to Hans-Dietrich Genscher, former Minister of Foreign Affairs. In 2008, the recipient was Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the Nobel prize for literature; in 2010, the publicist Dr. Necla Kelek; in 2012, the philosopher Prof. Wolfgang Kersting. The award was presented to Helen Zille, Minister President of the South African Western Cape province, in 2014 and to Kaspar Villinger, former President of Switzerland, in 2016.