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German president: Onus is on individuals to end the pandemic

Richard Connor
December 24, 2021

In his Christmas address, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said that responsibility for beating the pandemic lies with each citizen, as well as with the state. He also addressed the devastating German floods.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier recording the Christmas address for 2020
Steinmeier will use his Christmas TV address to say the state alone can only do so much when it came to tackling the virusImage: Andreas Gora/Getty Images

German president calls for solidarity during pandemic

German head of state Frank-Walter Steinmeier has urged his fellow citizens to reassess the meaning of freedom, trust and responsibility when it comes to beating the coronavirus.

In his televised Christmas address, which aired on Saturday but was released ahead of time in writing, the president said that the state alone could not end the pandemic without individuals exercising personal responsibility.

He also praised the "silent majority" who had played a role by following the rules and getting vaccinated against COVID-19

'The state must act, but not only the state'

"Seldom has our state had such a responsibility to protect its people's health and lives," Steinmeier said, paying tribute to scientists, doctors and nurses, law enforcement officers and other government employees.

"The state has an obligation and must act, but not only the state. The state cannot put on protective masks in our place, nor can it get the vaccination on our behalf. No, it is up to each and every one of us to do our part."

"I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart the vast, often silent, majority in our country who have been acting cautiously and responsibly for months now. Because they have realized that more than ever before, we are dependent on each other – I on others, and others on me." 

But while there might be disagreements, for example between the vaccinated and non-vaccinated, the president called for this difference of opinion not to drive a wedge between people.

"We sense that after two years frustration is growing; irritability is widespread; we are increasingly seeing alienation and, regrettably, open aggression."

"It is true that in a democracy we do not all have to be of the same opinion. But I appeal to you to remember this: we are one country. When the pandemic is over, we need still to be able to look one another in the eye.

"And when the pandemic is over, we still want to live with each other."

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Rethinking old concepts

Steinmeier hopes "precious old words" must take on a new weight — in particular freedom, trust and responsibility.

"What is the meaning of trust, for example? Not blind trust, obviously. But could it perhaps mean also relying on competent advice, even if my own doubts have not been entirely dispelled?"

"What is the meaning of freedom? Is freedom a loud protestation against each and every regulation? Or does it not sometimes also mean that I place restrictions on myself in order to safeguard the freedom of others?"

"What is the meaning of responsibility? Do we simply say: 'That is something people have to decide for themselves?' Is it not true to say that my decision in fact affects many other people as well?"

The same approach, Steinmeier noted, was also important when it comes to other issues requiring agreement, such as how to address the climate crisis.

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A need to stay positive

Earlier in the speech he addressed the need to stay positive in the face of troubling events, citing the floods that devastated parts of western Germany in July this year, the West's chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, and tensions in Eastern Europe.

"When we look back on the past year, we see much that worries us, much, too, that made us fearful. And yet this past year also saw much which gives us hope.

"I am thinking of the tremendous solidarity with the flood victims, of the donations and especially of the huge practical assistance."

"I am thinking of the many young and not so young people who are committed to protecting the environment and mitigating climate change."

"Above all, however, I am thinking of the commitment shown by volunteers in all corners of our society. So much is done in the background, day in, day out; so many people are rolling up their sleeves and helping as a matter of course."

"Day by day they all weave the network which makes up the positive fabric of our society and holds it together."

Looking to the future

The president also thanked voters in September's general election and remarked on Germany's "democratic handover of power in an atmosphere of mutual respect" from the grand coalition under conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel to the center-left-led three-party "traffic light" coalition of Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

"Many people are now watching with curiosity and with hope a new federal government that has set itself ambitious goals in the service of our country," said the president, himself once a leading Social Democrat.