70th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War
As we stand here together, I want you to imagine this moment, 70 years ago.
Across Europe, crowds of people were gathering too.
They were coming together and speaking the words they had dreamed of…
…but dared not utter:
The war has ended.
The Nazis have lost.
In those final, bloody months the Allied Forces, led by the British and the Americans and with the support of many, had landed in France and advanced all the way along the Western Front.
Soviet troops had come from the other direction, closing in on the Reichstag from the East.
This was how the war was won.
The Nazi High Command signed their unconditional surrender in Berlin, along with the Heads of the Allied Forces – the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, the United States and France.
In Germany it was late in the evening on May 8th, and already after midnight in the Soviet Union.
This is why much of Western Europe marked this anniversary yesterday, on the 8th of May, and why it will be commemorated in much of Eastern Europe today, on the 9th of May.
And standing here together, on the 9th, we all recognize that our continent could not have been released from the grip of fascism…
…without the profound sacrifices of the Soviet people:
More lives lost were lost in the siege of Leningrad than by the British and American forces during the entire war.
Twenty-seven million people from the Soviet Union lost their lives in the war.
These facts must be remembered.
We must pay tribute to every life given for our freedom.
Every innocent civilian.
Every soldier who marched into the sound of gunfire.
Every nation which has borne the scars of this conflict.
We would not be here – we would not be here – as free and equal citizens if it was not for them.
And let us remember that this was a liberation of the German people too.
Today we lay flowers at the foot of each flag of our member States.
We also recall the contribution of Belarus, which is not yet a member of the Council of Europe…
…but which also sacrificed heavily, probably more than anybody else.
This conflict – and the one which preceded it – gave rise to our organisation, and to the European Convention on Human Rights.
Out of the rubble of war, Europe’s leaders managed to lay new foundations for our societies:
Democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
Against all the odds…
….mistrust gave way to reconciliation.
The worst excesses of nationalism…
…were replaced by the greatest example of internationalism.
From unprecedented violence…
…flowed decades of stability and peace.
So today we also lay flowers at the foot of our European flag.
When you hear people describe Europe as a continent in crisis – as they often do, these days:
Yes, it’s true, we face many challenges:
Profound hardship and unemployment in many of our economies:
Growing populism and xenophobia in many of our societies;
The military conflict in the East of Ukraine;
The fact that we are an old continent still finding our place in a fast-changing world.
But always remember what Europe is capable of…
…with enough leadership and vision...
…and when we unite between the values of freedom and hope, which all people share.
Today we should recommit to those values.
We should promise to keep working with one and other in order to overcome our problems.
We can never undo what happened 70 years ago.
But if, on this anniversary, we can say that our nations will continue to work to overcome our differences…
…striving for a Europe that is stronger, more united, more prosperous and safe…
…where we uphold the rights of all people, no matter where they come from, or who they are….
…I believe it will be a fitting tribute – and the best that we can pay.