From a German language course in Hanoi to an exhibition opening in Los Angeles, cultural relations and education policy builds bridges to Germany from all over the world. Cultural relations and education policy was not just “a nice add‑on”, Steinmeier said, but also an important part of German foreign policy. The Federal Government’s new report on this issue was presented in the German Bundestag on Thursday (29 September).
Cultural relations and education policy: the “third pillar” of German foreign policy
How do people in Mexico, Zimbabwe or China get any impression of Germany? Whether they’re interested in German literature, love the sound of electronic music from the clubs in Berlin or dream of studying at a top university in Germany, countless people around the world have a direct link with German culture, the German language or educational opportunities. These arouse interest and confidence in Germany across the globe. That’s why, at the Federal Foreign Office, cultural relations and education policy is the “third pillar” of Germany’s foreign policy alongside politics and commerce.
In this context, the Federal Foreign Office relies on many different intermediary organisations and partners, including the Goethe-Institut, the German Academic Exchange Service and the German Archaeological Institute. Through their work, these actors transport the entire diversity of our society and the independence of the German cultural relations and education system to the very last corners of the earth. The fixtures of cultural relations and education policy include support for the teaching of German abroad, for international youth exchanges and for programmes for the global exchange of students, scientists and academics.
Cultural understanding at times of crisis
The report presented in the German Bundestag highlights the importance of cultural relations and education policy, not least in the face of pressing global challenges. The Bundestag discussed the political and military situation in Syria every day, Steinmeier said. At the same time, Germany was also busy hosting expert‑level meetings on measures to preserve Syria’s cultural heritage and organising exhibitions by Syrian artists in exile in Berlin. “These two approaches have more in common than may be apparent at first glance,” emphasised the Foreign Minister. After all, he continued, “political crises and economic conflicts of interest are increasingly accompanied by religious and ethnic conflicts”. So it was all the more important to contribute to understanding at cultural, ethnic and religious level too, and to learn to understand each other.
Increasing Germany’s engagement
Germany’s engagement to promote education and cultural relations abroad are to be stepped up in two areas in particular. Firstly, access to education and culture is to be made easier. In this context, protecting the cultural heritage played a particularly important role, the Minister said. For example, it was a matter of combating the attempts of the “Islamic State” terrorist militia to annihilate cultural identities in the Middle East. To this end, the Syrian Heritage Archive Project is currently being implemented in cooperation with the German Archaeological Institute and the Berlin Museum of Islamic Art. The project aims to draw up a digital register of Syrian cultural objects, which can later be used as a basis for restoration work.
The second focus, Steinmeier said, was to protect cultural freedom: “The only way to fight the rise of ideology is differentiation, and that requires cultural freedom.” Only through debate and exchange could understanding emerge, could diplomacy take place at political level. Projects such as the German-Russian year of youth exchange, language promotion in Saudi Arabia and the agreement on cultural cooperation with Cuba aimed, the Minister went on, to create understanding and an awareness of how things are perceived by Counterparts.