There are no irreplaceable people in this world – but there are those, whom we miss more than we miss others – was one of the sayings coined by Willy Brandt and following his “Erinnerungen” repeated frequently by him at the times of departure. Today, as we mourn one of his closest comrades, friends and co-workers, Egon Bahr, we bid him this sad farewell saying “you will be missed more than the most, dear Comrade…”
Egon Bahr was a man, who knew the hardship of war, oppression and discrimination. While still very young, he was incorporated in the army that took orders from the regime holding him in contempt for who he was and what family he had originated from. The memory of that stayed with him ever since, being the motivation to do the exact opposite – to fight for peace, for disarmament and for mutual understanding among states, nations, people. He was convinced that it was needed to engage in dialogues, to show that alternatives are always available and to educate the younger generations in that spirit. This motivated his work in Olof Palme’s Independent Commission for Disarmament and Security and took upon the Directorship of the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy of Hamburg University.
Egon Bahr was a man, who was never afraid of telling the truth – regardless of how harsh it would be. Firmly committed to the principle of honesty and showing a great civic courage, he authored a great number of texts, which pave the way to a different understanding of post-war Germany. He spoke about the suffering and misery of the zone-divided Germany, he lamented the still persisting animosities of Europe and warned against the fall of the Iron Curtain. Having worked for Berliner Zeitung, Allgemeine Zeitung and Der Tagesspiegel, he frequently formulated the arguments that in 1950s were perhaps still considered as idealistic and implausible – but in fact were in its core inspiring, forward looking and foretelling.
Egon Bahr, was a man, who believed that politics is a tool to change the world. He served his party, his state, Europe and the world respectively in a number of functions – starting from secretary general of the SPD, through State Secretary and Member of Parliament, to name just a few of them. He will be remembered as the “Architect of the Eastern Treaties”, as the advocate of historical policies of “change through rapprochement” and “of small steps”. He pursued a dream of peaceful coexistence, of constructive cooperation and of mutual support of different states within international and European communities – which commitment is especially instructive and should be cherished by the European progressive family in the contemporary times.
The last time our FEPS Team met Egon Bahr was in Berlin – when he was introducing “Willy Brandt Award 2012” offered that year to Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway. Standing on the tribune of Willy Brandt Haus, he paid the tribute to all those who lost their life in Utoya and reminded that the only answer that social democracy can give to such horror is the one of more democracy. After the introduction, he as always resorted himself to a place in the background – somewhat fading away in order to offer herewith prepared stage for the others. In that cold, late evening he was praised by those gathered for the core-shaking speech and for the wise message that he offered. Today, remembering these last words, we join the mourners in our movement applauding his life and his achievements.
That his vision developed together with Willy Brandt – the Change through convergence - was the vision of an integrated European continent. In that sense we commemorate Egon Bahr as one of the spiritual fathers of today's Europe. This is an unforgettable legacy that Egon Bahr is leaving us with – which we will commemorate by pursuing his dreams of a strong social democratic movement, united and prosperous Europe, peaceful and sustainably developing world.
Photo by Holger Noß (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons