Address by Minister of State Michelle Müntefering at the annual reception of the German Archaeological Institute

16.05.2018 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Madam President, Ms Fless,
Fellow members of the Bundestag,
Members of the German Archaeological Institute,
Honoured guests,

Historical, cultural heritage has become a target of war. Its destruction is a means that is deployed deliberately – as a means of destroying people’s identities. Cultural heritage is not only a question of material substance, but also immaterial value – cultural heritage as a force for creating identity.
If there is no culture, there is no memory – and thus there is no point of reference for the future.
The protection, preservation and reconstruction of cultural heritage in crises and armed conflicts must therefore increasingly become an instrument of international policy if peace and security are to be restored.

The images of the destroyed city of Aleppo in Syria, of Mosul and Erbil in Iraq and Sana’a in Yemen – and also the cultural sites destroyed by natural disasters such as in Nepal – challenge the international community to act.
Preserving and strengthening awareness of our own history and that of other cultures is a political and, above all, socio-political task.

In the face of growing populism and the resurgence of national narratives, it’s more important than ever to remind ourselves of the diversity of our cultural heritage and our identity bound up with this.

This is precisely what the German Archaeological Institute does. Since its foundation in 1829, it has worked to protect cultural heritage, the memory of humankind – and to preserve this memory.
It’s a task of international cultural policy to bear in mind that future generations will also judge us by whether we have been able to deal with wars and crises and by what heritage we pass on to them.
It’s for this reason that the German Archaeological Institute is one of our most important partners.
Cultural relations and education policy is therefore also work for hope and peace – by giving people from crisis regions prospects for the time after a conflict. For where people have prospects, there is hope, for instance, they being able to take their destiny into their own hands and being able to contribute something to their country’s future.

We’re supporting this hope and helping to create new prospects. War refugees from the region, students and doctoral candidates from Syria, Iraq and Yemen and academics, craftsmen and stonemasons who have fled conflicts are being provided with scholarships, training and education programmes with the objective of teaching them the knowledge that they need. This is known as capacity building.

The German Archaeological Institute is doing important work in this regard, also by bringing people together. The courses are attended by Jordanians, Syrians and Iraqis – and this can help to achieve understanding.
One of the many outstanding best practice projects is the Iraqi-German Expert Forum on Cultural Heritage, which has created a dialogue forum for the preservation of archaeological and historical cultural heritage in Baghdad and Berlin and is committed to training on archaeological and building conservation techniques and methods.
Dr van Ess will no doubt talk about this in her keynote speech in just a moment.

Above all, this initiative was made possible by programme funds from the transformation partnership, the Cultural Preservation Programme of the Federal Foreign Office and the project Stunde Null: A Future for the Time after the Crisis.

International cultural policy also focuses on common processes, encounters and freedom,
and it facilitates networking among stakeholders, for example with the initiatives TransArea Network Africa and North African Heritage Archive Network, also spearheaded by the German Archaeological Institute.
It is, Ms Fless, not least thanks to you that this work can be done in such a way – with the support of the entire team at the German Archaeological Institute. For example, the ArcHerNet – a network of expertise and experts – has evolved within a short space of time into a globally prominent forum for international cultural policy. It pools expertise; it offers a platform and framework for experts and students in the fields of architecture, archaeology, conservation and building research.
This makes it possible to build sustainable structures and capacities which enable people on the ground to secure their cultural heritage, to preserve it on a durable basis and to research it scientifically.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Another dimension of international cultural policy is illustrated by the Syrian Heritage Archive Project run by the German Archaeological Institute and the Berlin Museum of Islamic Art.
This project is creating the very first digital database of archaeological sites and historical monuments in Syria.

Among other things, this process will make it possible to better track the illegal trade in cultural property. For the trade in valuable artefacts has also helped to finance extremist groups. It’s therefore all the more important that this has been discussed by policy-makers and put on the political agenda. The discussion began in the Subcommittee on Cultural and Education Policy Abroad. I remember dedicated colleagues and your visits, Ms Fless, during which your know-how always gave us new insights and you were happy to enter into discussions with the subcommittee members.
Something has changed since then: when digitally recorded objects are offered for sale on online platforms or in auction houses, this information can now be passed on to law enforcement agencies.

Germany has thus met its obligations resulting from its accession to the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

Ladies and gentlemen,

All of these examples highlight the importance of our joint efforts to preserve and protect our cultural heritage.

However, we always need broad support – and especially that of the Bundestag – for these committed international efforts in the cultural sphere. I would like to take this opportunity today to thank all colleagues, all Members of the Bundestag, who have made this work possible through their support in Parliament.
Ladies and gentlemen, during the Long Night of Ideas on 1 June and under the motto “The world in our minds – identity 4.0”, the German Archaeological Institute will discuss the following question in the Schinkel’sche Bauakademie opposite the Federal Foreign Office: how should society look in future – open or regressive?

How can the right balance be found between post-national cultural policy and cultural sovereignty?
Here the German Archaeological Institute again highlights the great potential of archaeology’s interdisciplinary approach in terms of practical relevance both today and in the future.
I invite you to take part in the Long Night of Ideas. You won’t be disappointed.
Ms Fless, you will actually thus be implementing a small part of the coalition agreement which states:
“In crisis regions in particular, we will step up our efforts to protect cultural assets and preserve cultural heritage ..., especially through the German Archaeological Institute.”

This is a clear commitment to developing cultural preservation into a strategic instrument. It’s an important statement.
The Federal Foreign Office, at any rate, will continue to support the German Archaeological Institute’s work for the future.

I would like to thank you and all staff members of the German Archaeological Institute for your work around the world, for your ideas also in the European context and for your enthusiasm for cultural heritage. Together with you, we want to keep on working to resolve pressing problems and, in doing so, to take advantage of the view into the far past which the German Archaeological Institute has opened up to us. Let us look together – to the future.
I wish all of today’s guests inspiring encounters and members of the Institute’s Zentraldirektion interesting talks.

Or as we say in the Ruhr region: Glück auf! (Good luck!)

Thank you very much.


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