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Eröffnungsrede von Staatsministerin Müntefering zum 2021 Philipp Schwartz and Inspireurope Stakeholder Forum

26.04.2021 - Rede

It was on an April day like this that Philipp Schwartz was dismissed from his university post in 1933. Years of academic research and commitment shattered into pieces. He lost his work. He had to flee his own country. But he found a safe haven. He became university professor in Istanbul. And he helped many other scholars persecuted by the Nazi regime make a new beginning in Turkey. Many of them returned to Germany after the Second World War and helped rebuild the country.

It was in honour of Philipp Schwartz that we started an initiative for scholars at risk 5 years ago. This initiative reflected the responsibility originating from the persecution of scientists during the Nazi regime. Originally, it was developed primarily in response to the crisis in Syria. But in the meantime is has provided a safe haven for scholars from 19 different countries.

It is surely no cause for celebration that the need for scholar protection programmes is rising. But unfortunately, this is the sad truth: The spaces for free speech and free academic research are shrinking worldwide.

For each and every scholar who faces the effects of this development, this means great hardship. But also for the global community as a whole, it is a dangerous development. We all know: the challenges ahead of us are huge. The Corona pandemic has shown once again that we are all sitting in the same boat. It is impossible to decouple from developments elsewhere, be it global heating or a pandemic.

In order to master global challenges, we need global responses. And that is: not only by states, but by the entire global community. “Foreign Policy is too important to be left to governments alone”. This sentence by Willy Brandt is more true than ever. It is only through the ideas and the determination of civil society and by cross-border cooperation that we will be able to succeed.

If we look back in history, it was always through the exchange of people and ideas that progress was made. Just recently the masons’ guild system was admitted into the UNESCO list of immaterial world heritage. Monuments such as the Cologne Cathedral wouldn’t have been possible without the transnational expertise within the medieval fabrics.

The same is true for today: The vaccination against COVID 19 was developed in record time. Why? Because scientists around the world shared their knowledge: from the genetic deciphering of the virus up to the testing of medication. And it is surely a lucky chance for Germany that the Biontech vaccine was developed by two German scientists whose parents came here as migrants from Turkey.

Exchange and openness trigger innovation. Nationalism and isolation mean stagnation. It is as simple as that.

That is why we have made science diplomacy a cornerstone of our new international cultural policy strategy. The basic idea is quite simple: We want to facilitate international academic exchange by creating new platforms of exchange; and by keeping shrinking spaces open.

We don’t see academic exchange as a zero-sum game. We don’t want to draw all bright minds to Germany. Rather, we see science diplomacy as a means to keep the stream of people and ideas afloat. Metaphorically speaking: less of a vacuum cleaner, more of a fan.

One central element within this strategy is the protection of academic freedom: for those who have been placed at risk by armed conflict, but also for those facing political or identity-based persecution. Our goal is clear: sustaining intellectual power and the gift of critical discourse worldwide.

For this aim, we need strong partners: partners such as the Humboldt Foundation. For almost 70 years, the Foundation has fostered academic exchange across political and ideological borders.

Also, it is very important for us to strengthen the European dimension of our science diplomacy. As Europeans we share the same vision of an open and transnational international academic exchange. That is why in 2019 I signed a joint Franco-German declaration with Ambassador Anne-Marie Descôtes. In this declaration we were calling on our EU partners to join our efforts in supporting academic freedom worldwide.

This declaration has now become a reality. Today, we are coming together not only under the umbrella of the Philipp Schwartz Initiative, but also of the Inspireurope project. This Europe-wide alliance of 10 partners supports academics at risk, protecting academic freedom and providing welcome advice to policy makers.

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

The start of the Philipp Schwartz initiative 5 years ago was a crucial step. It is now the oldest and largest programme of its design and scale in Europe. Since then, other important steps have followed, from the Martin Roth Initiative for artists and members of the cultural sector, to the Elisabeth Selbert Initiative for human rights defenders. It has even become a reference point for programmes abroad, such as the PAUSE programme at the Collège de France, which was launched in 2017 and is now one of the Philipp Schwartz Initiative’s closest partners.

It is in this tradition that I am glad to announce the most recent addition to our range of protection programmes. Two weeks ago, the Foreign Office and the German Academic Exchange Service launched the Hilde Domin Programme. Building upon the Philipp Schwartz Initiative, the scholarship program will enable at-risk students from the undergraduate to the doctoral level to continue and complete their studies at a higher education institution in Germany. This further broadens our efforts in supporting academics and academic freedom worldwide. Namesake for the new programme is the German-Jewish poet Hilde Domin, who was forced to continue her studies in exile in the 1930s.

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

Almost 300 scholars at risk could continue their scientific work in Germany thanks to the Philipp Schwartz initiative. Behind this number are 300 personal stories of people who had to overcome many challenges to reach Germany, to settle in, to restart a new life and to find a place in a new society and a competitive labour market.

I myself had the privilege to meet some of the very first Philipp Schwartz fellows in 2017, for example a Syrian scholar pursuing research at Ruhr University Bochum. I recently learned that he is now employed in the private sector. Like so many others, he is enriching our society with his ideas, with this work, with his commitment.

Protecting academic freedom is not an abstract exercise. It is about the protection of human beings like him and his family; it is about giving them the chance to carry on their research; and it is about us as a global community to opt for openness and cooperation instead of nationalism and isolation.


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