Michelle Müntefering you are now Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office dealing with international culture. What parallels do you see with the work of Monika Grütters, Minister of State to the Federal Chancellor and Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media?
There are, of course, overlaps. Culture and education policy has been part of foreign policy for a hundred years now. Cultural federalism meant, however, that the post of Minister of State for culture was only created later, in 1998 during Gerhard Schröder’s chancellorship. The idea behind it was to leave culture within the remit of the Länder but to create a point of contact for questions arising at national level. Needless to say, we work closely together. What is more, international relations in the sphere of culture and education was a field I worked on intensively in the Bundestag.
Cooperation is well and good but do you agree that there has to be a clear delineation between competences?
Yes. International cultural policy is a foreign policy field in its own right. Alongside classic diplomacy and economic relations, it is cultural and education relations with other countries which make up the third pillar of Germany’s foreign policy. The sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf maintained we need to move away from a geostrategic foreign policy and towards a foreign policy based on civil society. It is anything but naive to add that open exchange between societies and cooperation instead of deal‑making are also in our own interest.
Traditionally, the Goethe‑Institut answers to the Federal Foreign Office. Are there any plans for new priorities?
One of my priorities is to support artists experiencing persecution. We are living in a world where the battle of narratives is being played out. They all have their own story to tell – China, Russia, America – but at the same time the space that critical minds have in which to move and express themselves is shrinking. That is why it is very important to support the people working within these spaces where freedom prevails.
What is more, we need to expand youth exchange. We are also addressing growing anti‑Semitism and talking about whether it should be obligatory for young people to visit memorial sites. To my mind, this seems obvious but for example in my constituency in the Ruhr area I also know that many schools just cannot afford it. This is why I during the coalition negotiations advocated setting up a programme called “Jugend erinnert” (Young people remember) to make this possible.
Provenance research is a controversial topic dealing thus far with stolen Jewish property. In her first term in office, Monika Grütters set up the German Lost Art Foundation in Magdeburg which aims to provide those affected abroad with a contact point. To what extend do you see scope for cooperation here?
The question of the colonial legacy in particular is anchored in the coalition agreement. That is the task of the Federal Foreign Office and thus also my task – to strengthen cultural cooperation with Africa and promote greater cultural exchange. What is key is that we do that together with the countries concerned and that we build partnerships particularly in the places where our forefathers left deep wounds and did serious harm.
The new coalition agreement underscores the communication of a liberal culture that is open to the world. What does that actually mean?
We are living in a world in which populism is on the rise. We want to counter this with the idea of open spaces. As a Social Democrat, I say quite clearly that we need to protect and preserve the great social progress we have made in our world.
Interview conducted by Franziska von Busse for WDR 3 Kultur am Mittag.