President Obama Tells Crowd of Thousands in Berlin: 'We Can't Hide Behind a Wall'

May 25, 2017

Former president Barack Obama told a crowd in Berlin on Thursday that wealthy nations cannot “hide behind a wall” when it comes to dealing with disruptions around the world, and encouraged the audience to engage in democracy.

The comments came at a discussion on globalization and democracy with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to the Guardian, marking Obama’s first speech in Europe since leaving office. Standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate, which was once cut off by the Berlin Wall, Obama told the audience of 70,000 people to “push back against those trends that would violate human rights or suppress democracy or restrict individual freedoms” and to “fight against those who divide us.”

He said he was “heartbroken” by the bombing in Manchester on Monday, which killed 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert, and went on to defend Merkel’s open door refugee policy, which has seen significant criticism from many in Germany.

Obama said he recognized the balance Merkel has to strike between helping those in need and protecting her own citizens, according to the Guardian. He emphasized that leaders need to explain to their citizens why globalization makes it impossible to isolate one nation from the problems of others. And as he faced the enthusiastic crowd, Obama appeared to take a shot at President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S. without ever explicitly mentioning his successor.

“When we provide development aid to Africa or we are involved in conflict resolution in areas where war has been taking place, [or] we make investments to try to deal with climate change … these things we do not do just for charity, not just because it’s the right thing to do or out of kindness,” Obama said, according to The Guardian. “If there are disruptions in those countries and conflicts and bad governance, war and poverty, in this new world that we live in, we can’t isolate ourselves, we can’t hide behind a wall.”

Obama’s friendly reception in Berlin came in contrast to some of Trump’s recent appearances — including one with French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday, when the two men locked hands so tightly their knuckles turned white.

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