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Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the opening of the Studio Bosporus Exhibition

21.11.2018 - Speech

Speech by Heiko Maas, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs and Member of the German Bundestag, at the opening of the Studio Bosporus exhibition of the Kulturakademie Tarabya at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum in Berlin on 21 November 2018

Ladies and gentlemen,

I’m delighted that so many people are here today. And I’m also delighted to have got through nine hours of debate in the Bundestag. Culture is the only medicine that will cure me now.

Ladies and gentlemen,

“Each work of art is the translation of life into a language.” 

This was how sculptor Georg Kolbe described his perception of artistic freedom. 

Kolbe, who lived in Berlin, found a piece of this freedom in Tarabya 100 hundred years ago. 

In 1917, he had heeded the call of the German Ambassador in Constantinople, who sought to encourage artists to go there during his term of office. 

Georg Kolbe accepted this offer, and was thus a kind of precursor to the 70 scholarship holders who have stayed as guests on the premises of the Bosporus for a period of several months since the opening of the Kulturakademie Tarabya six years ago. 

Scholarship holders and visitors will be familiar with a number of works that Kolbe created there – and also with the tea house in the garden of the residence in which George Kolbe set up his workshop. 

He stayed in Constantinople for two years in all, describing his stay as “paradisical” during his lifetime. 

I can perhaps hope, but not judge, that today’s scholarship holders will likewise remember their time there as being paradisical. I hope at any rate that it will have been a formative time for them. 

The Studio Bosporus exhibition on display here at the Hamburger Bahnhof is an impressive illustration of the fact that a number of things appear to have stuck. Film, literature, performance and music – the diversity of the works that you can see here is most impressive. 

Above all, they show how actively scholarship holders in Tarabya have studied the current situation in Turkey – and also in Germany. 

They have – to take a leaf out of Georg Kolbe’s book – translated life into the language of art while at the same time enriching life through their art.

Germany and Turkey, and also the complexity of German-Turkish relations, often served as a source of inspiration and ideas in this regard. I believe that this is what makes many of these works attractive and, above all, topical.

Hardly any other country enjoys as close human ties with Germany as Turkey.

People with Turkish roots shape our society. By the same token, many people who once lived here and have returned to Turkey take their experiences of Germany with them. 

These people, who are instinctively at home in both cultures, help to support our relations in a most special way. 

However, we have seen in recent times that political conflicts taking place in Turkey have also had a divisive impact here and have, in some cases, deliberately been stirred up. We don’t want to allow that to happen. 

This is why we’re doing everything in our power to, first and foremost, strengthen what unites us. 

I’m thinking here, for example, of the many town twinning projects that have been established between our countries since the 1960s. We want to strengthen the almost 100 partnerships and thus the dialogue between people in our countries at a meeting in Berlin in February.

I’m also thinking of the Turkish-German University in Istanbul. In the past two years alone, the number of students enrolled there has doubled to almost 2000. Each and every one of them stands for the things that unite Germany and Turkey.

And I’m thinking of the German-Turkish Youth Bridge, which is helping to bring together young people from non-academic contexts in both countries and enabling them to build friendships and to take an unprejudiced look at each other’s countries. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Kulturakademie is at the heart of this commitment. Ms Vlasman, you described this most vividly after your stay this year when you said: 

“My Turkish friends seem to me to be like sponges that want to soak up our views and experiences. Trust has grown, and they’re talking about the conditions in Turkey in a more open way. I’m also a sponge and soak up everything that my friends tell me.”

On the one hand, your words describe the wonderful impact of the Kulturakademie’s programme, the productive friction that is generated by this very exchange. 

We will be able to enjoy a product of this friction in a moment in the form of the contemporary Tarabya Ensemble in which you play together with German and Turkish musicians.

On the other hand, Ms Vlasman, your words also express concern surrounding the political situation in Turkey in which artists and culture professionals are increasingly coming under pressure. This is a concern that I believe we all share.

After all, translating life into language, the language of art, can only succeed when this language is not subject to any restriction from without. Art must be free. And artists must be free.

This is why we cannot stand idly by and allow people like Osman Kavala to spend months in prison without charge. Osman Kavala in particular is an important partner for our cultural work in Turkey. 

Together, we have, among other things, developed the Spaces of Culture project, which we are using to promote artistic creation and exchanges about art also outside major cities in Turkey.

We haven’t forgotten about Osman Kavala’s case, and we won’t forget about it either. We expect, and we made this plain to the responsible Turkish parties once again recently, a swift but, above all, fair trial.

And only last Friday, we learned that further culture professionals and academics have been temporarily arrested. 

They include Director of the European School of Politics Haka Altınay, whom I only met there in September. And then there’s Asena Günal, who actually wanted to be here this evening to hold discussions with us and who has now been unable to come owing to a travel ban. 

We have therefore once again made it very clear in recent days that Turkey must comply with the rule-of-law standards to which it has committed itself. 

Academia and culture require safe spaces. 

And only when we manage to preserve these safe spaces and to protect artists will they be able to bring their creative and enlightening force to bear. We want to do our part to ensure this.

The Philipp Schwartz Initiative and the new Martin Roth Initiative, which are supported by the Federal Foreign Office, are part of precisely this policy. 

With these initiatives, we want to protect academics, artists and culture professional who are committed to the freedom of art, democracy and human rights in their home countries by enabling them to stay in Germany or third countries on a temporary basis. A large proportion of those receiving this support now come from Turkey.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Martin Roth once said that art must be political. 

As a politician, I’m loath to tell art what to do. However, one thing is clear to me, which is that art must be allowed to be political.

We must exercise tolerance when works of art have a disconcerting impact – for instance when they draw attention to abuses that some would prefer to hush up. Film director and Tarabya scholarship holder Tuğsal Moğul is an example in this regard. 

In an impressive film, which can now also be seen here at the Hamburger Bahnhof, he recalls the many questions surrounding the court proceedings against those who were involved in the terrible murders committed by the so-called National Socialist Underground from 2000 to 2007. 

There are those in this country who consider this matter to be a closed case following the conclusion of legal proceedings in Germany. However, it is not possible to simply draw a line under such a crime. No line can be drawn for as long as the pain of the relatives remains and many questions continue to be unanswered despite the court proceedings. And that is precisely this film’s message. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Kulturakademie Tarabya was the safe space in which this and the other works on display here could be created. One hundred years after Georg Kolbe’s stay, Tarabya is a safe space in which Turkish and German life enrich each other and can be translated into language. 

Let us preserve these safe spaces – not only in Tarabya, but also in Germany, Turkey and all around the world.

Thank you very much.

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