Bonn. Former Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sigmar Gabriel, gave his first lecture at Bonn University on Monday. During it, he indicated the need for a common European strategy on Syria.
Sigmar Gabriel’s lecture has not lasted ten minutes when it suddenly becomes noisy in the upper tier of Lecture Theatre I in Bonn University’s main building. “How do you sleep at night?” yells a student towards the stage. “Why are you delivering weapons to Turkey?” calls another. Leaflets flutter into the room and a banner is rolled out: “Against Iran-Siggi! For Israel!”
More than 400 heads turn towards the protesters, then back to the lectern. There stands Gabriel, tanned and smiling. This is his statesman’s moment. “Take the time to inform yourselves about the complexity of the world,” he says calmly, and then, completely unscripted, covers a huge amount of ground. From the Middle East, the Iran Nuclear Agreement, Syria, Putin, the USA to the moral dilemma of weapons export. “In a world of meat eaters, it is hard to be a vegetarian,” says Gabriel. Even the protesters are silenced after a few minutes when faced with so many global political contexts.
The SPD politician has been the retired Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs for 33 days. He has started his next career with his inaugural lecture: as guest lecturer at the Institute for Political Science and Sociology at the University of Bonn, initially in this summer semester. His series of lectures is entitled: “Europe in a (more) uncomfortable world.” However, the lecture theatre full of students and older Bonn generations, the banner, the more than 30 journalists, the TV cameras – this is not the setting for a normal guest lecturer. Gabriel enjoys it, smiling. His new career is a kind of continuation of his politics through academics.
He then quickly gets to his subject: the need for Europe to develop a common strategy on the world stage – politically, economically and militarily. This applies to Russia, China, Iran and Turkey, as well as to the USA under President Donald Trump. Only those who are strong will be taken seriously by the strong and the weak.
Gabriel has encouraging words for the protesters
The fact that Europe has no common voice can be seen most clearly in the Syria conflict. While France and Great Britain participated in the US military attacks in Syria, Germany held back. This attitude of the Federal Government is “more than understandable,” says Gabriel. However, this meant a “division” among western allies. This is “really dangerous, because it encourages other powers to test us.”
He describes the air attacks themselves as “right” because they sent out a “clear signal” that the world would not allow the use of chemical weapons. After all, the Syrian army has already used this weapon at least 85 times.
Gabriel sees the greatest challenges facing world politics as the increasing trade barriers, China’s geopolitical strategy, the rescue of the nuclear agreement with Iran and the relationship between the west and Russia. “We face the danger of a new nuclear arms race, a Cold War 2,” warns Gabriel. This is where Europe must play its part.
Over the next few weeks, students can learn all this from Gabriel, the former world politician and now world educator. Not everyone is rejoicing: the student union Asta is protesting against Gabriel’s appointment because of weapons exports among other things.
Gabriel still has encouraging words for the protesters in the hall. “The last time I raised a banner at Bonn University was in the Hofgarten,” he says, referring to the peace demonstrations in the 1980s. “So you have the chance to first be Foreign Minister and then a university lecturer.”
Original text: Nils Rüdel. Translation: kc