Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Goethe-Institut in Berlin

05.07.2011 - Speech

- Translation of advanced text -

Mr President,
Mr Secretary General,
Mr Jaibi,
Esteemed colleagues from the German Bundestag
Ladies and gentlemen,

In April last year Volker Schlöndorff accompanied me on my first trip to Africa. Together we officially opened the Goethe-Institut in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The Goethe-Institut is valued because it represents not the bureaucratization of culture, but the world of ideas and the amazing diversity that is Germany’s cultural life. It is successful precisely because it is not a ministry for representation, but provides scope for creativity.

Curiosity is genuine in the Goethe-Institut. This is also a sign of respect.

Germany is appreciated across all continents because we treat all our partners, big or small, nearby or distant, with respect. It is this respect for all our partners which has won us the trust which is the basis for German foreign policy today.

Germany has changed dramatically over the past sixty years. After the utter denial of all cultural values that constituted the National Socialist ideology of destruction, Germany is once again recognized as a nation of culture. Following the end of the Cold War, we have been able to re-establish the links with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe that were broken by war and the division of Europe. It is thanks to the work of many people that Germany now enjoys a high reputation throughout the world, and it would never have been possible without the outstanding role played by the Goethe-Institut.

Today the Goethe-Institut, like German diplomacy, faces the challenge of repositioning Germany in the context of globalization.

The economic and technological advances which just fifty years ago were still clearly the preserve of the West are now being made all around the world. However, the culture of our economic activity does not automatically go hand in hand with our culture of values.

Economic upturns and increased consumerism can be seen in dictatorships too. True freedom can only exist in a democracy. Even dictatorships can report impressive growth figures. But the culture of freedom cannot be expressed in figures. It is, on the contrary, the intellectual and spiritual frame of mind needed for every person to be a self-determining individual.

The success of our economic and social order is inextricably linked with the success of the order of values anchored in our constitution, the Basic Law.

Freedom, democracy and the separation of powers, effective legal protection with independent courts, a sense of humanitarian responsibility oriented to the common weal, free media and a free and diverse culture: these are the pillars on which our country’s success rests.

A dialogue on the concept of freedom is an integral part of our cultural dialogue. A person is not free simply because he or she is not sitting in jail. We need only think of Ai Wei Wei, Aung San Suu Kyi and many others to see the truth of that.

Just how free is someone really if he is constantly aware that, although he can speak unhindered everywhere, one wrong word might land him in prison? In many countries, simply asking the doorman at a branch of the Goethe-Institut for directions makes you the object of suspicion. That ideas have immense power becomes clear when one considers the huge efforts autocracies undertake to suppress them.

When a film like “The Lives of Others” wins an Oscar and is then shown uncut by Goethe-Instituts around the world, this says a lot about the current state of German society. It is a state of which one can justly be proud. Because reflecting critically on our own history is part of our cultural identity. The Goethe-Institut is rightly proud of an understanding of culture which does not ignore the dark chapters in our country’s history.

Demographic developments in Germany will pose new tasks for the Goethe-Institut. It is no longer a question of whether we will be dependent on immigration to maintain our country’s prosperity, but when.

There is creative potential in globalization, but it is not exclusive to Germany. This is true of art and culture, but equally of engineers and technicians, product developers and inventors. These are all people whose interest in our country we want to arouse. Cultural relations policy will become even more important in the competition for the best brains.

The experts we need are also needed elsewhere. And the ones we want will see that doors are wide open for them elsewhere too. A few years ago, only very few Indian engineers were coming to Germany, despite the new green card. The obstacles were too great, and what was on offer wasn’t attractive enough.

The lesson is clear. We must make people curious about Germany.We must make our country attractive for people from very different cultural circles. Everyone coming to Germany has to be able to feel sure that they and their families will feel welcome in our midst. Only if people think they are likely to give their lives a positive turn by having contact with Germany will they take the trouble to learn German.

Of course, cultural relations and education policy is about much more than just promoting Germany as a location for business or study. And the attraction of a society emerges from the society itself; it can’t be conjured up artificially, and it certainly cannot be imposed from on high. But there can be no doubt that a real, well-established cultural life is a hugely important element of a society’s attractiveness. Berlin is a magnet for musicians, writers and artists, because it embodies much of what Germany is and what it wants to be: a country in which very different ways of life are entirely possible.

In order to shape globalization politically, we have to nurture old friendships and form new partnerships. Particularly at times when a note of discord and maybe even mistrust is creeping into relations between European partners, we need the Goethe-Institut as well as our embassies and consulates – in Europe and for Europe. For a European identity does not stand in opposition to a German or Italian or Polish identity, but is rather a necessary complement.

Old friendships and new partnerships are also at the centre of our dialogue with Islam. Islamic societies too need to find their own way into the modern age. There is no structural conflict between Islam and democracy. An enlightened Islamic society will not want to dispense with the substance of its faith. But equally the people do not want to forgo the rule of law or democracy.

If it hadn’t been for our cultural relations and education policy, Germany would scarcely have received the appreciation and recognition during the Arab Spring I was privileged to experience in Tunis and Cairo.

The spontaneous jubilation on Tahrir Square a few months ago was not directed at the German Foreign Minister personally. No, it was an expression of the people’s hope and confidence in Germany’s long-term support and partnership. And where did all this find expression? Well, in the Goethe-Lounge directly on Tahrir Square for one thing.

There, under Goethe’s banner, new ideas are being developed for a better, democratic future for the people of Egypt.

The upheaval in parts of the Arab world is also an opportunity for us Europeans. If it is to be successful, this fresh start must also be reflected in the cultural exchange. A lack of understanding of a partner’s culture brings the risk of misunderstandings. It can happen very quickly. If you use the same terms but mean different things, for example. The words “elections” and “freedom” have a different sound in Egypt now than they did in President Mubarak’s day.

And the biggest misunderstandings arise when one fails to appreciate the cultural context and therefore doesn’t understand why other people do things differently from how we would do them. Mediating between cultures is therefore an important task and an important opportunity for the Goethe-Institut.

If cultural relations and education policy is to remain successful in future, its structures and instruments need to be adapted to the realities of the 21st century. The changes taking place in the world mean that Germany’s foreign policy has to be constantly updated. This is true both of traditional foreign policy at the Federal Foreign Office and for cultural relations policy. It is clear that our international presence has to follow the aims of our foreign policy, not the other way round. Only with a wealth of new ideas can we fulfil new tasks for which, realistically, no additional means will be available. Processes of global change call for new ideas and new strategies from both the Federal Foreign Office and the Goethe-Institut. This will have an impact on substance and structures.

The Goethe-Institut has proved time and again in the past how flexible it is in responding to political developments. The Goethe-Institut has a political instinct. And we need it. Open societies, liberal democracies cannot be created overnight. But, especially in emerging economies, increasing prosperity is creating new middle classes who are calling for greater political participation, in their own country in the first instance, but who will soon be claiming more political and cultural influence at global level too.

Long-established boundaries between politics, business and culture as three distinct pillars of foreign policy are becoming blurred. Preparations for the German Year in Brazil, for example, are being carried out in close cooperation between the Goethe-Institut and the Brazil Board of the Federation of German Industries. Old prejudices and negative stereotypes are disappearing. And that’s good; we need a new cross-sectoral approach in the way we present ourselves. After all, economics and culture are also political, and politics is influenced by culture and inconceivable without an economic foundation. I am very much looking forward to continuing cooperation with the Goethe-Institut, and I congratulate you on 60 years of successful work for our country.

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