Statement by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in the debate on the Federal Government Report on Cultural Relations and Education Policy in 2021 in the German Bundestag

25.01.2023 - Speech

Nickey Diamond from Myanmar, an activist who fled the military and is now a doctoral student in Constance, and the Congolese Professor Francine Ntoumi who last year was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for her work as an infection biologist with a scholarship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation – these two people are just two from the ranks of hundreds who show us: we are making a difference with our work on cultural relations and education, what is more we are making a difference all around the world.

We are protecting the freedom of women, men and children, are driving education and research forward and in doing so sometimes we are even protecting people from risk to life and limb.

The report on cultural relations and education policy that we are discussing today looks back to the year 2021. To be honest, that seems like a lifetime ago. Back then, we highlighted Shrinking Spaces and had to observe how freedom of speech was being curtailed in Belarus and in many other countries. Today we would in many places have to use the heading Disappearing Spaces. Human rights, for example freedom of the press in Russia, are not just being curtailed, they are being swept away – also in Iran and Afghanistan.

This brutal violence is of course also changing the tasks to be performed by our cultural relations and education policy. We will have to take a more strategic approach. After all, our cultural relations and education policy is not taking place in a vacuum but also faces the global challenges posed by a systemic competition between autocracies and democracies.

We know that Germany’s credibility and attractivity very much underpin the success of our foreign policy. Doubt is being cast on this very credibility in some regions by others but also here in this House, where it is even occasionally defamed using blatant disinformation. We need to be more active in countering that by resolutely pursuing our dialogue and exchange with societies and the interaction between the people and cultures of our world. We need to work together and keep trying to understand other points of view, also by making ourselves more comprehensible.

This holds true for us, the Federal Government, and also for our wonderful intermediary organisations: schools abroad and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Goethe-Institut, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and many more. We need their engagement more than ever before because cultural policy is without a shadow of a doubt also security policy. If we promote the freedom of culture, science and the media, we are also strengthening people’s freedom and security.

That is why we have expanded protection programmes in the light of the current situation, such as the Hilde Domin Programme, whose first beneficiary was Nickey Diamond from Myanmar. We have furthermore increased the budgets for these programmes. At this juncture, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to you as parliamentarians. We have also for instance set up the Hannah Arendt Initiative for journalists.

We are setting great store by science diplomacy so that, just like with Professor Ntoumi, we can work with others in the fight against malaria, tuberculosis and Ebola. Of course we are also keeping up our work so that 13 million pupils around the world learn German. We need partners in our world, some of whom can understand us in our own language, not least because of our ever more pressing need for a highly qualified workforce and scientists.

But because we know that the world’s ten-year-olds and fifteen-year-olds do not necessarily consider taking German as their first foreign language, we need to modernise our cultural relations policy by making qualifications competitive, by improving what we are offering – working closely with business.

If we fine-tune our cultural relations and education policy in this way, it is not a “nice to have” in the 21st century, but an “essential to have”, because what we are talking about here are people, whether in Ukraine, in Myanmar or in the Congo, because it all comes down to us, to their and our shared freedom and security in an interconnected world.

Thank you very much.


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