German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Harvard University graduates on Thursday to “tear down walls of ignorance and narrow-mindedness,” in what appeared to be a rebuke of President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric.
During her commencement address at the university, Merkel warned against nationalist and isolationist sentiments that are adopted by Trump and right-wing groups in Europe. She also encouraged graduates to act on climate change and said to never “describe lies as truth and truth as lies,” a statement that resulted in a standing ovation.
Speaking primarily in German, the chancellor criticized “walls” throughout her address, noting that her own life was significantly affected by the Berlin Wall that divided Germany while part of the country was still under communist rule. Merkel grew up in Soviet-ruled East Germany and said she saw how the wall separated her from democracy every day as a college student.
She also talked about how walls exist “in people’s minds.”
“Walls of narrow-mindedness and ignorance, they exist between family members, as well as between groups within the society,” she said.
But the chancellor stressed that “walls can collapse” and that the challenges of the world can be resolved if people come together.
“Dictatorships can disappear,” she said. “We can halt global warming. We can eradicate starvation. We can eliminate diseases. We can give people, especially girls, access to education. We can fight the causes of displacement and forced migration. We can do all of that.”
While Merkel did not mention Trump by name, the president has repeatedly called for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to stop the influx of migrants and has told asylum-seekers to turn back. Trump has so far failed to secure funding for the wall and has faced multiple legal challenges in his attempts to get it built.
In her speech, Merkel also warned against “protectionism and trade conflicts,” which she said “jeopardize free international trade and thus the very foundations of our prosperity.”
Trump’s trade policies and isolationism have created growing tension between the U.S. and Europe, which have historically had a close relationship. The president has also increased trade conflicts with China and Mexico.
“Nothing can be taken for granted. Our individual liberties are not givens. Democracy is not something we can take for granted. Neither is peace, and neither is prosperity,” Merkel said. “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.”
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