Video message by Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the event Artistic Freedom in Europe of the Akademie der Künste

09.05.2021 - Speech

“World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.” One could easily think this sentence was written for our event here today at the Akademie der Künste.

At least it explains why the Federal Foreign Office has been a wholehearted supporter of the European Alliance of Academies from the very beginning.

This sentence, spoken by Robert Schuman precisely 71 years ago in connection with the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community, set out a revolutionary vision: Europe’s diversity should no longer be viewed as a threat, or as triggering competition between nations. Rather, unity in diversity should be encouraged – and even viewed as enriching.

This is the core idea of a united Europe. It is also the key to how we can stand up for our values and interests in a world that is becoming increasingly authoritarian – or, as some would say, illiberal.

And who can better amplify the creative efforts that are needed for this than art and culture, when they are free? It is through art and culture that we constantly reposition and renegotiate ourselves and our values of freedom, solidarity and democracy. They hold up a mirror to our identity as a diverse European community of values. And they warn us when our values are threatened.

That is why artistic freedom is also a thorn in the side of all those who strive for uniformity and pursue this goal at the cost of sowing division in society. A glance behind the façade of Querdenken and similar movements reveals the danger they pose, especially during the pandemic.

We must be vigilant. Cultural freedom is threatened not only where it is already censured and banned, or where artists are persecuted. Here in Europe, the dangers are often more subtle. Sometimes licences or subsidies are terminated or the ensuing necessary critical debate is much too soon silenced.

That is what makes your initiative so important – because, through it, cultural institutions across Europe are speaking up for artistic freedom and supporting one another. It can become a European early warning system for artistic freedom. It can sound the alarm when culture and cultural professionals are threatened. Wherever they become targets, the impact is indeed felt by our open societies as a whole – and by our idea of Europe as united in diversity.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Art and culture create identity. What we show, how we show it, and whom we show it says a great deal about us.

A united Europe can only accommodate diverse and open spaces in which we can be in tune with our identities, where we all can find ourselves. Creating, maintaining and strengthening these spaces may be the best investment we can make in a crisis-proof, sovereign Europe. In spite of the many, much-needed rescue packages, reconstruction programmes, and summit decisions during the recent years of crisis – we will have to truly feel European before acting European can become second nature. Only then will this Europe become fully future-proof.

Last year, Olafur Elíasson described the task at hand as follows: “Art and culture provide a space where we can meet, network, exchange views and, at the same time, celebrate our differences.” Networking and celebrating differences – both of these belong in Europe. And only in this combination will art become a space that can be filled with expectations for the Europe of tomorrow. An open and free space for the better future that we long for.

Ladies and gentlemen,
I know how hard it is, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, to believe in – much less help build – this future. And I know how painful these times are, especially for artists and the cultural sector as a whole.

But I firmly believe that here, too, borrowing Schuman’s words, our creative efforts will be stronger than the dangers we face. It would, after all, not be the first time that crises, when looked at in the rear-view mirror, actually brought forth a flourishing of art and culture. Because art and culture look beyond the present moment. Because they do not shy away from utopian visions. And because they time and again explore new spaces of freedom.

Thank you very much.


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