Crisis, order, Europe – speech by Foreign Minister Gabriel at the 9th Federal Congress on Cultural Policy

15.06.2017 - Speech

Ladies and gentlemen,

“Internal and external cultural policy” is the title you have chosen for your Congress. And you have tasked me with talking about this. You probably expected the Foreign Minister to focus on the “external” part of this title, that is to say the foreign policy dimension of cultural policy.

However, I must disappoint you from the very first sentences of my speech.

I believe that the division between internal and external, the division between what is happening here in Germany and what is going on out there in the world, is outdated and that we have known this for a long time.

It is plain to see that we can no longer shield ourselves from the course of things, from the crises in Europe, the conflicts in the Middle East, from the wave of authoritarian modes of government, such as in Turkey, and their consequences in the form of global migratory movements. And don’t think for one moment that the disintegration of the internal and the external will be comfortable. It’s going to be most uncomfortable.

After all, we in Europe are used to having our own unique character. The Americans have staked their claim to an exceptionalism that goes thus: “we know what is right and we will bring this to everyone else in the world, occasionally also with the means of military intervention.” We have trodden the opposite path, namely “we know how it’s done, but we don’t want to have anything to do with the world. The Americans are welcome to handle what’s going on out there – if something goes wrong, then we’ll have someone to blame. But we don’t really want to be a part of it.”

Those who fuse the internal and the external are given responsibility for the external. That’s sometimes particularly uncomfortable. Because, for example, there are sometimes situations in which, before you can get long-term changes under way, you have to ensure that people are no longer murdered. Those are difficult consequences because we preferred to keep such things at arm’s length in the past. I would like to tentatively point out that the times when you are no longer able to separate the internal and external are more strenuous than when you could keep the two apart.

These developments are reaching us in Germany and Europe in a very real way in the form of refugees. And we are feeling the shock waves up close here as a result. And, at the same time, these experiences are intermingling with parallel processes of economic and social change in our own society and throughout the world. Asia is growing. Africa is growing. Latin America is growing. We are shrinking. And if our children intend to continue to have a voice in the world, then it must be a European one – and not a national one. Even a strong Germany won’t stand a chance of being heard.

There is no doubt that all of this gives rise to uncertainties, to perceived and real material uncertainties among a part of the people here about their life prospects, jobs and security. Cultural uncertainties also emerge.

In all of this, there is no doubt that we are undergoing a phase of major processes of change. And it is becoming clear that the technological revolution that is digitisation, the economic competition in industry and the political challenge to the established international power of the West, as well as the trials and tribulations of a society of immigration are also increasing the fear of powerlessness among many people here, especially among those who no longer feel that they count or are represented.

A loss of power, a loss of control and orientation, a loss of or endangered social identity – anxiety has many facets and dimensions.

The temptation all around the world, also here in Germany, to seek to make up for the loss of economic and political influence, or indeed sovereignty, on the part of individuals is therefore all the greater. The focus here is not on clubbing together in order to win back the sovereignty that you no longer have when you stand alone. Europe doesn’t represent a loss of sovereignty, but rather helps to recoup the sovereignty that you would no longer have as a nation state. However, the answers that are posited are more tempting. Europe is complicated and there are simpler recipes, such as cultural sovereignty or identity. A chimera that appears to make a good impression on many people.

Along the lines of “if we have less of a say, then fewer people should say or decide anything at all”.

There is a new authoritarianism. And this new authoritarianism is the biggest challenge facing our liberal democracies as we know them. And, above all, it is a cultural challenge as this is about nothing less than a fundamentally different understanding of our coexistence than has been the case to date. Coexistence with our neighbours in the world and, of course, in our own country.

A new authoritarianism is bent on isolation and exclusion and not on partnership. It is certainly not concerned about the fact that many people gathering together has a far greater cultural value than the sum of individual interests.

This point was brought home a few weeks ago in an essay by the US President’s Security Advisor. Under the heading “America first does not mean America only”, a wholly changed world view is posited in which the international community no longer constitutes a common forum with regulated relations, but is an arena or battleground. States, associations, non-governmental organisations and culture are all part of this arena. It is not the strength of the law that prevails here, but rather the law of the strong. Those who form an alliance with the strong – in this case the US – are friends and may be accorded benefits. Those who don’t do this but define their own interests or even consider cultural differences to be necessary are enemies and are opposed.

That is pretty much the opposite of the idea of the West, which has never been a geographical notion, but a universal and cultural concept. This concept is focused on the benefits that emerge when we interact with each other in the context of legally, politically and economically regulated and reliable relations that are based on freedom, democracy and mutual respect, as well as on a desire for peace and cultural exchange. Coexisting in an international community, a common home – and not in a battle arena.

You can see therefore that this isn’t a question of the internal and external, but of our conception of coexistence both within and without. Or, as Willy Brandt once put it, a people of good neighbours – within and without.

The new authoritarianism is bent on the opposite – on superiority and arrogance instead of dialogue, exchanges and open communication.

Essentially, we are talking here about nationalism pure and simple, which ultimately entails isolation and denigration of people, societies, countries and cultures – namely those who are not on the side of the strong in the arena.

We sense that, particularly here in Europe, such new nationalist simplifications, which enjoy considerable electoral success, are being held up as the solution to our complex social problems. What is the AfD if not the German variant of this right-wing populist movement in Europe?

Such populists are bandying slogans about that would have us believe that individual states can recoup their lost glory by cutting themselves off from an interlinked Europe and a globalised world. Above all, by cutting themselves off culturally.

Ladies and gentlemen,

What bearing do these findings have on our cultural policy?

I believe that we must, on the one hand, face up to the real erosion of the importance of the nation state while at the same time doing our utmost to ensure that people do not fall into the trap of new nationalist narratives and promises with which populists on the left, but above all on the right, seek to turn these new uncertainties to their advantage.

There will be an opportunity for us to come up with an idea on this in the coming year. After all, 2018 marks the centenary of the end of the First World War. There will be plenty of narratives on this in Europe. We must take care to ensure that these aren’t all nationalist ones, but that there is also a common Europe narrative in the mix. And that mention is made of something that, unfortunately only after another world war, led to nationalist narratives being held in check in Europe. It is a good opportunity to respond to such an occasion with the instruments of cultural policy.

We must therefore mention the new “internal and external” in the same breath. We must ponder these dimensions together and respond with determination and conviction –

by making it much clearer than to date that the nation state of the 19th century is certainly not, nor can it be, the appropriate form of common thought, empathy and decision-making. In short, we must get a second Enlightenment off the ground!

And we should start with ourselves here. Our democratic culture, the entire democratic culture of the West, which is certainly not a geographical construct, but rather a foundation of shared values, is based on this very concept of Enlightenment.

Of course, we know that people have different fortunes and skills and varying economic, social or cultural backgrounds.

But we want to think of each other as equals. The clarity and potency of the first twenty articles of our Basic Law are founded on these paradoxes.

With all due respect for the debate on cultural identity – we do have one. And that is the first twenty articles of the Basic Law. These articles comprise everything that you need to know in order to lead a civilised life and to deal with others in a civilised way. I know of no cultural identity that is better than the Basic Law.

In his great speech to mark its birthday, Navid Kermani stated that as a beacon, indeed as a fundamental law for our actions, it doesn’t set out what is a reality, but what should be a reality – and is therefore an obligation for each and every individual! With this in mind, I have – as defined by Jürgen Habermas – always considered myself to be a constitutional patriot.

Why am I emphasising this?

Because foreign policy and cultural relations policy can help us to master this common challenge.

That’s not always easy, and not always stress-free. And sometimes we must be especially patient as in the example of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation’s intention to exhibit the collection of the Tehran Museum for Contemporary Art here in Berlin.

We are supporting this project and will continue to work on this. We must strengthen the cultural fabric that establishes connections especially where the political dialogue is difficult.

Of course, there is another key task for the coming years here in Germany that is particularly important to me and where the synergy of the internal and external must prove its worth far more intensively and urgently. How can we teach the Shoah in school classes in which 60 to 80 percent of the children grow up with very different narratives told around their families’ kitchen tables and in their friendship groups?

We need the experiences of cultural bridge-builders more than ever here. In the battle of the narratives, we must make our country’s story accessible, communicate it and make it a common narrative.

I have therefore asked the Goethe-Institut to summarise its experiences garnered abroad and to enter into a dialogue with the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany as soon as possible. Particularly in light of such a decisive question for the makeup of our country, we need, more than ever before, these experiences from abroad in order to have a greater cultural impact on the domestic stage!

And I would like to mention another aspect with respect to the Luther year. Some of us in this room may perhaps remember how difficult it was, as recently as in my childhood, for a Catholic girl to fall in love with a Protestant boy. How strongly religion – not belief – wanted to keep them apart.

No, religion is not necessarily a social adhesive as my Cabinet colleague Thomas de Maizière wrote recently. Religion certainly has the capacity to be that. In the best case, it is indeed that, but not necessarily.

But it is called upon to rise to this challenge. And religious communities are doing this on a large scale especially here in Germany.

Religious communities certainly have a responsibility for peaceful coexistence among people nowadays. It was with this in mind that we invited around 100 representatives of religious communities to the Federal Foreign Office a few weeks ago. We did this not only to find out about their experiences, but also to face up to this responsibility.

And to learn from the religious leaders’ experiences, as well as to come together to prevent religious experiences and narratives from being abused in order to create new lines of conflict. In order to do this, we also have to talk to people who think differently and who we find to be difficult. The “Bild-Zeitung” wrote about how terrible our choice of invitees was. If there were only nice people in the world, then we wouldn’t need to invite them. We will need to talk with people who aren’t nice, who are complicated and difficult. However, it’s just election time as you know.

I firmly believe that our experience out there in the world can only be useful also here in Germany.

And, against this backdrop, allow me to remark on a cultural policy debate that appears to be making more of an impact on this city right now than a number of other things. I must admit that the question as to whether it is appropriate to afix a cross on the dome of the newly constructed façade of the Prussian Stadtschloss appears a little strange to me. And incidentally not only because I come from a town that, by the way, is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site on account, among other things, of the fact that it was planned and built in the shape of a church cross. I say this with all seriousness because I have made the acquaintance of Christians in this country who are refreshingly unorthodox and culturally open.

However, the question that we actually need to ask in view of this very metropolitan debate is this: did anyone actually ask themselves beforehand whose façade they are reconstructing? After all, if you choose to iconocise a Prussian-Wilhelmine façade, something that you can reject out of hand for good reasons, then you have to know what you are doing. Of course, architectural historians might wish to point out that the façade dates from the Baroque. However, the reconstruction of this façade does not, politically speaking, stand for the Baroque period, but for the Prussian-Wilhemine era. Of course, the dome and cross were an anti-democratic symbol of the divine right of the rulers of the German Empire. The entire resistance against the bourgeois revolution and this epoch’s understanding of itself were informed by this. The entire Stadtschloss in the heart of Berlin represents this claim to power targeted against the democrats – incidentally, also if the Prussian eagle and not the cross had been erected on the roof of the dome.

Indeed, we have a certain tendency in Germany to glorify the Prussian era. We’re big fans of Alter Fritz the music-lover, the miller who successfully sued the King, Sanssouci and quite a few other things besides. However, Prussianism also encompasses a military, aggressive drill culture and conservative, nationalist aspirations that facilitated the intellectual and political rise of extremely dangerous ideologies. In view of the historical references, I find it astonishing that the cross has triggered this row and not the political attitude of the Prussian-Wilhelmine age for which this palace also stands.

Anyone who reconstructs Prussian façades must also address the Prussian import of the façade. And it seems to me that this isn’t something that can be done by making alterations to it, which rather looks like an attempt to correct something that you hadn’t thought through beforehand.

But I’ll admit that I’m just a Social Democrat, and sometimes we react somewhat awkwardly to attempts to glorify Prussia and Bismarck.

As far as the current discussion surrounding the cross and dome is concerned, we should perhaps take a leaf from the book of the bourgeois revolutionaries, who certainly had their difficulties during the Prussian age. Although they were victims of the alliance between the church and authority, they had a relatively relaxed approach to the issue.

They set a new text extolling the virtues of civic spirit to the melody of an old song, an old ode singing the praises of the nobility, in what was essentially a form of “reconstruction”.

Translated into English, it goes like this: “Whether we are weighed down by crosses on our fronts or bear them on our backs, that doesn’t matter.”

And, in the next verse: “But whether we build something new/Or just reuse what we have/That does matter/Whether we create something for the world/Or just gawk at the world/That does matter.”

It is for this reason that I believe that a little bit more Republican composure would do us good in this discussion!

What matters is something completely different, however. In the 19th century, the Palace’s dome symbolised, to all intents and purposes, the illiberal alliance between the throne and the altar against the bourgeoisie.

We must therefore strive to transform the aristocratic Palace, or indeed its façade, into a democratic place. In a nutshell, this is not so much a question of symbols and icons as of filling rooms and buildings with the substance of democracy!

And part of this involves granting others in our world access to us and to our culture while reaching out to the world and to our partners’ culture in return. That is to say, treating each other as equals.

And I’m not concerned about the democratic context here.

However, I would like to use one example to illustrate how we as the Federal Foreign Office can do more to help here in the future. There are fragments of what are known as the Turfan mosaics here in the state museums of Berlin, and also in China, India, Russia and the UK. They were hammered out of caves along the Silk Road by archaeologists in the 19th century and taken to different places.

Together with the museums here in Berlin, with the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and the Federal Foreign Office, we are working to ensure that enjoying the sight of this World Cultural Heritage is no longer contingent upon buying a plane ticket to Berlin.

Instead, we want to facilitate joint access to these objects and their history across continents and also the current discussions surrounding the new Silk Road that we are focusing on with such intensity in the worlds of business and politics. It is incumbent on us to express an interest in its cultural and historical dimension.

In what we are calling a “Virtual Dome”, we intend to create a new form of unity in a virtual space, one which can then be supplemented with new tangible forms. This dome is intended to give rise to one thing in particular, namely access, critical engagement and a new sense of unity both through and within this forum.

And if this project is a success, then it could become a starting point for how we, far beyond the Humboldt-Forum, can alter the work of museums between the domestic and foreign realms.

We can do this not only by making the collections accessible in digital form, but also, through improved and closer collaboration between academia and culture, by making these archives and collections available for our joint work on the issues of the 21st century both at home and abroad.

Martin Roth, who is an important dialogue partner for me in all of these matters, intends to address this particularly intensively as the next President of the ifa. This is something that I am looking forward to tremendously!

Ladies and gentlemen,

At the beginning of my speech, I mentioned that we are experiencing upheavals and uncertainties.

However, we shouldn’t start scrabbling around for new truths at such times.

Instead, we should forge new trust in the power of culture and enlightenment. In so doing, our assumption is that art and culture and academia and education, when taken seriously with their freedoms, open up a different world and a different mode of perception, thought and experience.

This is why it is so important to create and protect these spaces, and also to open them up and make them accessible.

I experienced this for myself in my small home town of Goslar, where, thanks to civic engagement, thanks to the artists of the Kaiserring, access to culture is made possible in a most tangible way. Moreover, I am delighted that we had an opportunity to support a similar experiment, namely documenta in Athens and Kassel, in precisely this way.

It is for this reason that we are establishing branches of the Goethe-Institut abroad and supporting schools and cooperative partnerships between universities and research bodies. Because mutual understanding for what we have in common can develop in these spaces.

In the realm of Cultural Relations Policy, for which the Federal Foreign Office bears responsibility, we are resolutely pursuing the path of opening and compassion, as Willy Brandt once called it.

In so doing, we believe that we need bridge-builders between cultures more urgently than ever before if we intend to overcome the straitjacket of nationalism.

And we must come to the aid of those who have to flee in the face of nationalist pressure. This is why the Federal Foreign Office is supporting the Philipp Schwartz Initiative for persecuted researchers relocating to Germany, especially those from Turkey.

I am therefore delighted that the Deutscher Bühnenverein intends to take the Philipp Schwartz Initiative as an example for establishing its own programme to support “artists at risk”. You have our full support for these efforts!

Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me, of course, to combine this appeal to the power of the culture of enlightenment with my particular thanks to the Members of the German Bundestag. It was they who worked with great commitment to ensure that we also have the funds for this.

Whether it be the language work and funds for schools and branches of the Goethe-Institut.

Whether it be the creation of cultural spaces or reforming Cultural Relations Policy to make it a policy of civil societies.

None of this would have been possible without the support of the Bundestag, and especially the responsible subcommittee and the Budget Committee!

Here are just a few examples:

As the Ukraine conflict is so entrenched in the politics between states, we are committed to fostering civil society exchanges both with and in the countries of the Eastern Partnership.

As the current emergency situations of forced migration not only call for a political solution and humanitarian assistance, but since culture is also a vehicle for humanity, we are working in such a wide variety of areas here.

From our commitment to protecting World Cultural Heritage, to which Minister of State Böhmer, as President of the responsible UNESCO committee, has devoted herself so resolutely, to the German Archaeological Institute and the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which are working together to promote the cause of preservation and reconstruction in Syria together with 20 other institutions as part of an international project.

There are countless other similar examples. They remind us that, especially in times of crisis and in crisis regions, we must step up our efforts to facilitate the preservation of and access to culture and education.

Ladies and gentlemen,

If there were one place where the boundaries between the internal and the external are becoming blurred, then it is here in Europe.

Overcoming thinking in terms of the nation state and empathy with our closest friends and partners calls for a very deliberate and targeted policy.

Perhaps I wouldn’t have become the convinced European that I am today had I not gone on a visit to England in my youth. It wasn’t just open to the best of the best, recruiting students from the Humboldt and Oxford, so to speak, but also included Kassel-Nord, Goslar and Herne in its remit. By the way, this is something that has preoccupied me for years. Many of our funding programmes reach an incredible number of young people, but relatively often these are young people from families that could afford to do that anyway. And, at the same time, we have secondary modern schools in Germany where 90 percent of the pupils don’t leave the city in the summer holidays. I believe that we face a huge task especially among those who, for material reasons, but also owing to educational privation, have no access to cultural exchanges.

Making this possible once again is one of the objectives for the coming years. This also requires a different approach on the part of our institutions and project executing organisations, as well as more funding, of course. This is why we also believe that gratitude is the friendliest way to ask a favour. If I praise the Budget Committee now, then I think it’s clear to everyone what comes next.

Secondly, we intend to support city twinning projects once again if they promote such exchanges between citizens.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I therefore believe that we have much to do and great tasks ahead of us as far as the internal and external are concerned. But we also have incredible opportunities in our country. By the way, one of these is an artistic treatment of extremely difficult topics in the coming year. “Look back, think forward” is our slogan for the remembrance days.

At the next Franco-German Council of Ministers, we will propose that the branches of the Goethe-Institut and the Insitut Français be brought closer together where only one of the two has a presence.

So “Goethe mit Frankreich” and “La France avec Goethe”. There will be around ten joint locations to this end in the next four years.

We have also approached the Goethe-Institut and the Insitut Français, as well as our Dutch and Swedish partners and German and Turkish foundations with the idea of opening joint European cultural centres in Turkey.

We set aside one million euros last week to help establish these centres in Gaziantep, Dyarbarkir and Izmir.

These efforts include two new developments that are important also to me especially in light of the current situation. Firstly, we are not building entire structures of our own unnecessarily, but are strengthening those in the region with our expertise and thereby helping to preserve and expand existing spaces in both a literal and metaphorical sense.

Above all, we are attempting, together with our European partners, to find a common approach from conception to implementation.

We need more than just European partners though! I am delighted that we have set up so many cooperative partnerships here in Germany and with German institutions and that we will continue to expand these. Allow me to thank you most sincerely for this cooperation.

And I firmly believe we can work together to ensure that blurring of the boundaries between the internal and external not only gives rise to uncertainty and fear, but also to a thirst for knowledge, zest for life and an interest in the unknown. With the power of culture and enlightenment, we will be able to forge connections and ties both between and within our societies. That would be my objective at any rate.

Not abusing culture as a sphere of distinction for isolation and denigration, but seeing it as the unifying force between countries, peoples and individuals with the most diverse backgrounds.

Thank you for listening.

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