Welcome

Speech by Minister of State Michelle Müntefering at the opening of the Martin Roth Symposium: “What can culture do?”

22.06.2018 - Speech

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Ms Harriet Roth,
Prof. Ulrich Raulff,
Bill Sherman,

I.

I am most delighted to be able to open the Martin Roth Symposium entitled “What can culture do?” together with you today. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas would very much have liked to have joined us, too. Permit me to extend his warmest regards.

With its extraordinary architecture, Kraftwerk Berlin offers us a setting that is difficult to top.

It also suits Martin Roth’s hands‑on, and sometimes unconventional, character. Martin Roth was a Kraftwerk, a “powerhouse”, in the very best sense of the word.

II.

“First I was a European, then a German” – that’s how Martin Roth described himself.

He regarded every form of nationalism as a step backwards, and considered art and culture to be universal achievements of humanity that convey values such as charity, freedom, tolerance and solidarity.

Martin Roth was always steadfast in this regard. When he sensed that these values were being sucked into a demagogic vortex in the course of the Brexit campaign in the UK, he left the Victoria and Albert Museum. He had helped to make it museum of the year, of his own accord – even though he would have certainly liked to stay longer.

I met Martin Roth at the opening of the International Art Exhibition in Venice last year. We assumed that we would meet again, very soon.

I know how he is painfully missed by many people here in the room today. Martin Roth made true friends throughout his entire life all over the world.

Despite the fact that he was already suffering from his serious illness, he never ceased to captivate his audience with his charismatic personality.

In Venice, Martin Roth curated Azerbaijan’s exhibition. Critics argued that this ran counter to the democratic and liberal values for which he stood.

However, Martin Roth saw an opportunity to change something with this cooperative partnership. He believed in the power of reason and enlightenment, which makes such changes possible.

“What can culture do?” was a question of immense political value for him. He didn’t allow himself to be deterred on his path; he took note of criticism, but that was all.

Martin Roth didn’t want a big outpouring of grief and mourning.

What he actually wanted was an event attended by an international audience at which many of his issues are discussed.

  • “How can access to culture be improved?”
  • “How can museums become places of social discourse?”
  • “What’s the special innate power of culture?”
  • “How can we overcome nationalist thinking in cultural policy?”

These are just some of the questions that Martin Roth addressed and which we, as well, are focusing on within the framework of the Federal Foreign Office’s cultural relations and education policy.

Many of these questions will play a role over the coming two days of this event. And i hope that we will take away a great deal of food for thought for the strategic planning of our work.

I’m sure that Martin Roth would have loved to enter into discussions with you. Perhaps he’s listening to us now; his thoughts will be a great inspiration to us in any case.

Martin Roth’s legacy to all of us is a mission, or rather an obligation to ourselves, our children, our society and democracy.

Throughout his life, he was committed to the values of our democracy, to the power of arguments and enlightenment.

And he called for art and culture to commit to our society, to our democracy. After all, he reasoned, this responsibility cannot be left to politicians alone.

Democracy depends on criticism, and this criticism is practised in art and science, precisely because artists have a different way of looking at the world. For this, we need platforms for art and culture that give access to art, culture and education.

And these platforms are increasingly under threat.

It is, with this in mind, that the Federal Foreign Office is planning a new initiative to protect endangered artists.

Following the example of the Philipp Schwartz Initiative which gives displaced and persecuted academics the opportunity to live and work in Germany, we want to develop a programme for endangered intellectuals, artists and opinion‑leaders together with ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) and the Goethe‑Institut.

The aim is to allow them to work in a safe environment once again, either temporarily in Germany or in their home region.

We are currently seeking support for such an initiative in the German Bundestag, and I would be grateful to you if you would lend your support to us and the Members of the German Bundestag.

After all, this sends the right signal at a time in which platforms for thought, ideas, art and culture, as well as cultural exchange and working together for a better future, are shrinking everywhere. This is also the right signal in the face of developments, also in Europe, of national isolation and populism.

Inspired by Martin Roth, the objective is to stand firm and clearly articulate what matters to us and which values are important to us– and that we are prepared to defend them.

In one of his last interviews on his book “Widerrede!”, he said the following: “Where was the great commotion in the autumn of 2015 when imitation gallows were held up for Angela Merkel and Sigmar Gabriel at the Pegida demonstration in Dresden? This silence is killing me.”

III.

I’m therefore all the more delighted that so many people, many of his companions and friends, have come to Berlin to hold discussions with each other – precisely in order not to remain silent or accept things that are unacceptable, things that should upset us all.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the entire staff at ifa, whose President Martin Roth was, unfortunately only for a short time, preparing this event.

Above all, I wish to thank Dr Triebel, who organised this event with the Federal Foreign Office.

The result is exceptional and deserves a great deal of applause.

I wish you all a successful event with thought‑provoking discussions.

Thank you very much.

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