Angela Merkel told students to 'tear down walls of ignorance' in a Harvard commencement address, in an obvious swipe at Trump

Harvard UniversityMerkel urged students to defend democracy at a speech at Harvard University
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a Harvard commencement speech Thursday urged students to “tear down walls of ignorance and narrow-mindedness.”
  • Merkel celebrated multilateralism and free trade, and the virtue of truthfulness and restraint.
  • “Our individual liberties are not givens. Democracy is not something we can take for granted,” she warned.
  • The speech has been interpreted as a thinly veiled attack on Trump’s America First nationalism.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Harvard graduates to “tear down the walls of ignorance” in a commencement address at the university Thursday, a rebuke interpreted as a thinly veiled attack on US President Donald Trump.

Though she did not name the president, Merkel devoted much of the address to discussing the need to overcome the boundaries that stifles human progress.

During the address she described growing up in communist East Germany during the Cold War, and walking past the Berlin Wall every day on the way to work.

“The Berlin Wall limited my opportunities. It quite literally stood in my way. However, there was one thing which this wall couldn’t do through all those years: It couldn’t impose limits on my inner thoughts, my personality, my imagination, my dreams and desires,” she said, in a speech mainly delivered in German.

Merkel warned that “protectionism and trade conflicts endanger free world trade” – on the same day that Trump threatened to impose new sanctions on the EU, and announced tariffs against Mexican goods – and said that only by working together can nations tackle problems such as climate change.

“More than ever we have to think and act multilaterally instead of unilaterally, globally instead of nationally, cosmopolitan rather than isolationist. In short: together instead of alone.”


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She said it was vital “not to describe lies as truth and truth as lies,” and urged students to step back and think instead of being governed by impulsiveness.

“Take a moment to stop, be still, think, pause,” she said.

She warned students not to take hard won liberties for granted.

“Our individual liberties are not givens. Democracy is not something we can take for granted. Neither is peace, and neither is prosperity,” said Merkel. “But if we break down the walls that hem us in, if we step out into the open and have the courage to embrace new beginnings, everything is possible.”

Trump merkelSean Gallup/Getty ImagesGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Donald Trump arrive for the group photo at the G7 Taormina summit on the island of Sicily on May 26, 2017 in Taormina, Italy.

She finished her speech in English, to resounding applause.

“I want to leave this wish with you: Tear down walls of ignorance and narrow-mindedness, for nothing has to stay as it is.”

She added: “Take joint action in the interest of the multilateral, global world. Keep asking yourselves: Am I doing something because it is right, or simply because it’s possible? … Letting go of the old is part of the new beginning. And above all, nothing can be taken for granted. Everything is possible.”


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Merkel has spent more than a decade as German chancellor, and has clashed with Trump since his 2016 election. Earlier in May she called on Europe to stand up to the US, describing the country as an adversary.

“There is no doubt that Europe needs to reposition itself in a changed world,” she said.

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