Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in the German Bundestag on “Cultural relations and education policy in flux”

31.01.2020 - Speech

I would like to express my thanks to all those who have made it possible for us to discuss cultural relations and education policy this morning. For not only the funds we make available for this purpose but also the engagement that now also includes issues relating to culture and education in foreign policy, particularly the work of Minister of State Müntefering, are worth discussing here in the Bundestag. The importance of cultural relations and education policy for sustainable foreign policy and therefore also for safeguarding peace in the world is often underestimated.

This has been a good week, because significant speeches were given here, specifically the one by the Federal President and the speech by the President of Israel. The focus was on remembrance. It has been pointed out that we may need to find new forms of remembrance, also in connection with our history, in order to pass on what we have learned from our own past. That also has something to do with cultural relations and education policy. Because many of the moving speeches we heard over the past few days contained a common sentiment, that no line can be drawn under Germany’s responsibility for the Holocaust.

Moreover, when antisemitism and racial hatred are on the advance in Germany, Europe and throughout the world, our own responsibility to fight it with all our solidarity and determination also increases.

Ladies and gentlemen,

My first message this week in particular is therefore this: fostering understanding and tolerance and fighting racism and antisemitism – that is the central mission of our cultural relations and education policy. And it must always remain so.

A survey revealed that a third of young Europeans know little or nothing about the Holocaust. One step we have taken to change that is to set up the programme “Young people remember”, for we know that education is the best way to guard against ignorant prejudices and resentments.

And we also intend to use our EU Council Presidency and our chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance to put the fight against antisemitism at the top of the agenda in Europe and throughout the world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The commemoration of the end of the Second World War 75 years ago emphasises the value of Europe and the European Union. For the generation of my parents and grandparents, who lived through the war, it was obvious why Europe needed to grow closer together. What was lacking were the instruments and institutions necessary for a united, a peaceful Europe. These days I sometimes get the impression that it is almost the other way round: the institutions are in place, we are more closely interconnected than ever before, travel within Europe has become something we take for granted, hundreds of thousands of Europeans study in another member state, and we use the same currency. Yet the more inconceivable war in Europe has become – thankfully – the more allegiance to a united Europe has become just one stance among many. And that is why strengthening Europe above all means strengthening Europe’s cultural values.

Umberto Eco recognised this several years ago when he said that it is culture, not war, that cements our European identity. – Today, we therefore understand access to culture and education as a common European task. Many people in Europe associate that with the European Union and with European values. We have quite deliberately opened up our programmes supporting civil society in Eastern Europe to our French and Polish friends. And before the end of the year we will open the first Franco-German cultural institute abroad.

During our EU Council Presidency, too, we will focus on the social power of culture, for example, through projects such as Europe Talks, in which citizens throughout Europe engage in discussion with one another, often involving heated exchanges. For that is the only way to foster reciprocal understanding and communication, which we now need so desperately in Europe. With Olafur Eliasson we have acquired a world‑class artist to provide artistic support for our EU Council Presidency. And anyone who knows him will be aware that he won’t be providing a conventional cultural programme but something that will be capable of awakening enthusiasm for Europe even beyond Brussels, Strasbourg and Berlin.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In this age of bot armies and disinformation campaigns, we have taken a conscious decision also to focus on education and information as part of our cultural relations and education policy. We have increased our strategic communication, for example on the topic of refugees and migration. And we are being more active in promoting our values and the international order that is so important for our country in particular. One example is the Year of Germany in Mexico and the Deutschlandjahr USA.

On top of that, we have intensified the work of Deutsche Welle. And we have deliberately established the first regional communication centres in the Arab world, in Latin America and in Africa. For in these regions particularly, democracy, freedom of the press and of expression, and artistic and scientific freedom are coming under increasing pressure, and the spaces for civil society are shrinking. The best remedy for this is access to culture and education!

Today, I therefore want to express my thanks specifically to all those who help make culture and education accessible. That includes our partner schools, our Goethe-Instituts, our universities, the German Academic Exchange Service, the ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen). Not only are they the cultural infrastructure of our country, they also transport our values and ideas into the world. And that is growing more and more important in the times of crisis in which we are now living. We have therefore set up initiatives for scientists at risk and artists under threat, and we will soon be launching a new programme intended to allow persecuted human rights defenders to spend a period of time in Germany for research.

A few weeks ago, at the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, I learned what a difference these initiatives can make. There, I met a young man who, like millions of his compatriots, had fled from the war in Syria. From Lebanon, he applied to the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative for a scholarship. Now, five years later, he has completed his studies in Germany and is researching the impact of climate change at the Helmholtz Centre. When I asked him where he found the strength to do all this, he replied simply: Education. Education saved my life.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I could hardly imagine a more moving confirmation of the purpose of our work and no better incentive to continue along this path, 87 years after Albert Einstein had to flee Germany. And I am pleased that the overwhelming majority of the German Bundestag shares that view. And this is why I say thank you very much for the conceptual and financial support over the past years. It also provides us with an incentive for the future. Without it, we would not be in a position to continue our work in the area of cultural relations and education policy. By this means, we have raised many expectations also abroad, and above all, we have brought many people together.

Thank you very much for making that possible.


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