Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the conference entitled “People on the Move II” on 23 April 2009

23.04.2009 - Speech

Members of the German Bundestag,


Ladies and gentlemen,

I hope you all enjoyed yesterday evening's event, and that you are all fit and well today. We certainly got plenty of “people on the move”, and from what I saw the vast majority of them had a good time. That was what we intended!

Let me extend a warm welcome to you, and especially all those I missed out yesterday evening. Welcome to the Weltsaal in the Federal Foreign Office!

It is around two and a half years since we first met here under the motto of “People on the Move”, and at that time we were firmly committed to restoring cultural relations and education policy to their rightful place at the heart of German foreign policy. That was our objective, and I think we can safely say that together we have made significant progress in this respect.

This was necessary. Time is short. The world is changing at breakneck speed, and with it our political options, particularly regarding foreign policy!

The cynical certainties of the Cold War have been replaced by new uncertainties and new players on the global stage. This new century has not seen a decrease in crises and conflicts. Foreign policy has been more in demand as a form of crisis management than ever before, and we cannot shirk our responsibilities, neither in the Middle East nor in Afghanistan, nor anywhere else!

I therefore say, without a hint of romanticism, that crisis prevention, classic diplomacy, the whole range of instruments, remain vital. The question is whether they are sufficient to meet the new challenges. Lack of resources, conflicts over access to water and energy, as well as religious and cultural conflicts, are unfortunately playing an increasing role. We're not talking about a clash of civilizations here. Far from it.

But we cannot talk or wish these things away! In recent years we have found that isolationism and self-involvement are also not the solution.

On the contrary, what I saw at the beginning of my term in office, and what has since been proven by my experience, is that the world has now become less clear or, as we diplomats say, multipolar, and that new centres are emerging with economic and political influence, leading to a new cultural identity in East Asia, Africa and the Arab world.

We can assume less than ever before that European values and traditions will necessarily remain the aim and orientation for other regions of the world.

This gets some people panicky. All of you know my position on this – we need to step up our efforts. There is no guarantee that we'll be heard, but we must invest more in cultural, political and financial terms so that we can make ourselves “understood” in the best sense of the word, so that we can explain our history, traditions, values and positions to the rest of the world and thus make misunderstandings less likely.

I don't want to instrumentalize, politicize and particularly overburden culture, but I know that culture can achieve something that politics cannot – it can collect the bricks, away from day-to-day conflicts, to build the bridges over which understanding can take place, provided these are strong enough. This is what I mean by cultural dialogue – one which makes demands, but at the same time listens.

Alexander von Humboldt once said that “the most dangerous worldview is that of those who have never viewed the world”. That's why we must conduct this dialogue without being naive and having a childlike belief that everything in the world is good, but rather with open eyes and hearts. This is of the utmost importance.

I've already said today in an interview that culture and cultural exchange is not a peace treaty, but it gives others the opportunity to see the world through our eyes and of course vice versa, and to draw our own conclusions from what we see.

Much of this already takes place, without any fanfares, in our day-to-day cultural relations and education policy. Some things are more prominent, and I feel proud when some projects come to fruition after years of patient preparation.

For example, a sensational project in China, on which the three major German universal museums, the State Art Collections Dresden, the Bavarian State Painting Collections Munich, and of course the Berlin State Museums together with the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, are currently cooperating.

They have the opportunity, next year in Beijing, to organize an exhibition on the art of the Enlightenment lasting almost a year, in the newly-renovated National Museum of China, right on Tiananmen Square. This exhibition will be flanked by a conference and educational programme, in which the Goethe-Institut is playing a role, and the Mercator Foundation, one of Germany's largest, is also interested in taking part.

This example represents many others I could name in order to say that without the encouraging, constructive critique, the enthusiasm and the commitment of all of you here today we couldn't have managed all this.

I'd therefore like to start by thanking all those artists and art professionals who have accompanied me on my visits these past years, who have discussed cultural issues with us here in Germany or elsewhere in the world.

Some of you are here today. Let me warmly thank you once again for taking on the stress, lack of sleep, dangerous bus trips and night flights, and I promise you that today's event will be less stressful!

Let me also express my particular gratitude to those present from the creative industry, the foundations, the cultural institutions, and especially our cultural mediators, for supporting, shaping and promoting the modernization and liberalization of Germany's cultural relations and education policy, and for adapting to the new challenges. I thank you for having the necessary drive and courage to take on these reforms.

We all owe a debt of thanks to the Members of the German Bundestag who have supported, promoted and indeed called for our reforms across committee and party boundaries.

I see that two of these members, Monika Griefahn and Dagmar Freitag, are in the audience, and so I thank you on behalf of all the members of the parliamentary cultural affairs committee and the sub-committee for cultural relations and education policy. Last but not least, I thank the Bundestag budget committee, without which none of this could have happened.

Two and a half years ago our main concern was the Goethe-Institut, and in my appeal I said that this was our cultural infrastructure abroad, and that 130 Goethe-Institutes ought to be worth at least as much to us as 10 or 15 kilometres of motorway.

That was a different era. Some thought my line of argument was oldfashioned, believing that everything could be done via private cultural sponsoring. Don't get me wrong here – we need this sponsoring and will continue to need it if we want to go the extra mile. So I appeal to the German business representatives here not to decrease that support, even in these difficult times, but to maintain and strengthen it.

However, I want to make it clear that in my view the fostering of culture remains a public task!

As I just said, not everyone understood my point, but the German Bundestag did. So I'd like to thank the Members for supporting our reform approach by raising the cultural relations budget by over 30% in the last three years, for the future of our country and, I'm sure, that of our people in a changed world!

What does this mean in practice? Let me outline three examples of recent work in progress. First, the reform of the Goethe-Institut. Two aspects were and still are key: On the one hand, internal reform, i.e. modernizing procedures and processes. That cannot be done in a day, not even here in the Federal Foreign Office. In today's interview I said that we want more ownership, and to achieve this we must improve such basic management instruments as more consistent budgeting and clearer objectives.

That's just one side of the reform coin, however. The other is the fact that at the same time we have strengthened the existing network and above all opened new branches, ten since 2005, in China, India, Africa and Russia, in other words precisely where they need to be during the coming years and decades. Locations where we want to shoulder greater responsibility, and where we need more than ever to ensure that these partners take on international responsibility, together with us, for solving the major problems mankind is now facing.

In this regard my special focus is on one continent – Africa. We have already had some successes with the many projects we have begun or supported there: New Goethe-Institutes have been or are in the process of being founded, while others have been restarted, as in Dar es Salaam, or reconstructed as in Lomé. During my visit to Lomé I was able to see for myself how a building destroyed during the recent unrest has now been restored as a living forum for culture. That gives us courage.

Let me give you two other examples: our new scholarship and cooperation programmes with African universities, aimed not only at giving more African students the chance to come here to study, but also at helping to improve the education system there.

Not only through university education, however: For example, Deutsche Welle has created its own radio education programme for southern Africa, based on the assumption that where the children cannot go to school to be educated, the education has to be taken to the children via the radio.

One more project – recently, I think it was during the last Berlinale, for which I'd like to congratulate Dieter Kosslick once again, Christoph Schlingensief told me about his plan for an “Africa Festival Theatre”.

You told me, Mr Schlingensief, that you wanted to create a place for art and everyday life, with a powerhouse in Africa and an international network connecting it to other countries, particularly Germany. You later wrote to me saying that your aim is “an art which transcends society and culture”.

I think that is just what we do, too. Let us together make this dream a reality, Mr Schlingensief. The Federal Foreign Office and of course also the Goethe-Institut – I see you nodding in agreement, Mr Lehmann – will provide any assistance you may require with this project!

I now draw your attention to a second recent work in progress – our Schools: Partners for the Future Initiative. German schools abroad do a wonderful job, using the German language to create initial contacts with our country, and enabling their pupils to forge lifelong links with one another and with German language and culture.

Very many graduates of these schools later become highly-regarded and important interlocutors, also for Germany, in the fields of business, culture, politics and society, and in some cases even my counterparts, for example the Mexican or Greek foreign ministers, were educated at German schools and have a deep understanding of our language and culture which I greatly admire.

For that reason we set ourselves the aim of doubling the number of partner schools to 1000 by the end of this legislative term. We have more than achieved that goal – every day around 150,000 young people in over 1200 schools come into contact with Germany's language and culture.

But that's not a reason to be complacent or self-congratulatory. On the contrary, it shows clearly how attractive education “made in Germany” is, and that obviously the young people and their parents hope it will improve their chances.

I think we should continue to nourish that hope in the future, also in our own interest.

The third work in progress uses these foundations – learning and working together is also at the forefront of the promotion of academic relations. With the DAAD and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation we have greatly extended our programmes. Realization has finally set in that Germany has an interest in presenting itself and getting others interested in it!

That realization has led to the idea of the “German Science Fora”, locations in which research and scientific institutions work together with business and diplomatic representations. Now that work has already started on the Science Forum in Sao Paulo, I'm pleased that in the next few weeks I can give the go-ahead for its counterpart in Moscow.

Tokyo, New Delhi and New York are scheduled to follow by the end of the year. There are also new university projects, the most concrete example being the German-Turkish University in Istanbul. Just over two years ago I had initial talks with Abdullah Gül, then my counterpart and now President of Turkey, and last year I signed the founding charter together with Federal Minister Schavan and Foreign Minister Babacan. We are now awaiting the allocation of the building plot!

Another project in Istanbul is also making progress – the setting up of a cultural academy in the former summer residence of the German ambassador in Tarabya. The idea came from Members of the German Bundestag, and we followed it up, seeking to make Tarabya, under the auspices of the Goethe-Institut, a centre for cultural and artistic cooperation, encounter and exchange. I hope the final preliminary works will soon be completed.

Goethe-Institut, Partner Schools, Research and Academic Relations policy – these were the major works in progress in recent years, and they have one thing in common: they are mainly aimed at the younger generation. They are, if you like, generation and future projects, which work best when they are two-way streets. I therefore want to present another generation project of which we are particularly proud and which is especially important to me here in Germany, because it is aimed not only at opening our country's doors and windows but also at encouraging our young people to engage in volunteer work.

The “Kulturweit” (Bridging Cultures) programme gives young people the chance to take part in volunteer work abroad. 1500 have already applied for the programme, far more than the available places at the moment. So let me launch an appeal to all those here today: “Kulturweit” represents the desire of our youth to take active responsibility in our one world. This kind of experience will open their eyes, broaden their horizons, change their attitudes. Anyone who has seen the world through another's eyes will not subsequently revert to an artificially limited viewpoint, but rather will remain attuned to the crises and needs of our world.

So, if you can, please create more volunteer places, more room for this commitment!

There are also a number of other projects with which we seek to take “first steps”, the motto for today's conference – helping other countries practise and create civil and societal structures, “civility” if you will, through culture, education, and of course sports!

I have constantly found, on my visits abroad, and I'm sure many of you here will agree, that our football academies in Africa, our commitment to the Afghan women's football team, and the remarkable achievements of Ms Bader-Bille with disabled people in Senegal are not just about sports, but about training football players to play fair on the field so that this carries over into their daily lives.

However, we can only be credible in all these efforts abroad if we succeed in re-establishing our values at home, for example freedom and sense of responsibility, and in correcting the tendency to limit the idea of freedom to economic freedom.

We urgently need to become aware of the cultural reasons for the failings of the financial and economic sector.

It's not enough merely to adjust the incentives, to tinker around with the system, as some economists and, unfortunately, also politicians advocate. I also think it's quite wrong to claim, as some do, that when the crisis is over we could or should go back to business as usual.

I say we need to return to greater reason and responsibility in our society and economy. Over the past few days Gesine Schwan has repeatedly, and rightly, said that the current crisis is also a question of education, and that we once again need to link education with morals and responsibility.

A US university professor recently posed the right question, asking what the matter was with the MBA programmes that created so many greedy graduates without a moral compass.

We should all ask ourselves where and how we can teach our young people responsibility in view of the decreasing length of courses and the constant increase in pressure on them to perform.

How can we teach them that they have a duty to the rest of society and to coming generations, here and around the world?

In this sense, too, Kulturweit is the right approach, even though the numbers of people involved are almost too few to count, because in this way we can, I'm sure, sensitize many of these young people.

But we need culture as a whole to reflect upon what holds societies like ours together.

This brings me to my last point. I think it's high time that precisely this issue of responsibility, cosmopolitanism and global culture found its place in our country's cultural centre here in Berlin.

A place where Germany's cultural heritage can combine with world cultures and where guests from around the world can meet.

A place where we can give world cultures an equal status, enter into a new dialogue with them, and make it clear, also for our own society, that different origins and a common future are not contradictory.

Therefore, Mr Parzinger, the Federal Foreign Office will gladly step down as host when the next conference-but-one takes place in the new Humboldt Forum, because a neighbour like that will enrich us all. So let's get to work! Let's get people and things moving!

Thank you very much.

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