Johannes Ebert am 15. Februar 2017
Konferenz „EU-UK Culture and Education Series“
Grußwort von Johannes Ebert bei der Eröffnung der Konferenz „EU-UK Culture and Education Series” in Berlin
In 1997, I took over as director of the Goethe-Institut in Kiev. One of our biggest challenges was to find a new building for the Goethe-Institut. After seeing 30 objects with brokers, I met Michael Bird, the head of the British Council in Ukraine. We decided to continue the search together and found a two-winged building at Mohyla Academy, one of the country’s important universities. The building was dilapidated and had to be gutted and redesigned. It was a difficult process during which I enviously got to know the pragmatism of my British colleagues: their expansion lasted two years, but ours took more than twice as long. But we did not give up. We had a vision: a vision of a German-British – a European – cultural and educational centre on the Dnieper. We would share a café, have alternating British and German artworks on the walls and many joint projects with our Kiev and European partners. So soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was a time of European euphoria and we had this vision... The shared building stands in Kiev and I am still a little proud of this co-operation. There were other European highlights with British partners, joint projects, collaboration in EUNIC and much more. Also today, we communicate regularly and closely and I would like to thank you, Ciaran, and your colleagues for this.
At the same time, much has changed. The European Union is experiencing difficult times: economic crises, lack of confidence in EU institutions and increasingly populist currents that stand for isolationism and national selfishness. We are seeing how the ideas and the vocabulary of the populists are penetrating the social mainstream and attacking the values that we, the Goethe-Institut and the British Council, stand for: values of freedom, justice and the wealth of cultural diversity.
It is in these confusing times in particular that we, the representatives of European cultural and educational institutions, need to take a common position for these values of freedom and openness. Because we stand for Europe – whether we are in or outside the EU. I see the British referendum on withdrawing from the EU as a symptom of these populist trends. Although it was extremely close – 52 to 48 per cent – the Brexit is announced to be a "hard" one and will probably mean Britain´s withdrawal from the EU internal market and the restriction of free movement. At least that is what the British Prime Minister announced before going off to visit the newly elected American President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Erdogan.
What does this mean for our work as cultural institutions? In the present situation, in my opinion, culture and education play a central role. For beyond purely economic aspects, culture can arouse emotions for Europe. Culture can convey insights beyond day-to-day politics and change worldviews through art and discourse or at least they can initiate discussions that open new perspectives.
One impressive example of this was the Collecting Europe festival, a joint project between the British Council, the V&A and the Goethe-Institut, which I had the pleasure of opening in London last week. Inspired by original artworks from an imagined future, each individual visitor was made more aware of Europe. The festival questioned certainties and called for a new vision of a democratic Europe. Today, we need more of these joint projects that appeal to young people in particular. Beyond being a means to enhance professional knowledge, for me, education is also the ability to understand social and political correlations and to open up the world beyond one’s own narrow environment.
The cultural ties between Germany and Great Britain are close. The German photographer Wolfgang Tilmanns, who was the first foreigner to receive the Turner Prize, the London-based children’s book illustrator Axel Scheffler, creator of the Gruffalo, Sir Norman Forster, the architect of one of the landmarks of united Berlin, the Reichstag dome, or Neil McGregor, who is one of the founding directors of the Humboldt Forum, are just some prominent names that stand for this relationship. The allure of British pop culture among young Germans or the new Berlin among young Britons are other signs. We must preserve this mutual attraction. In the face of the imminent Brexit we must take more responsibility for ourselves, for other institutions and actors in culture and education with a clear position.
We cannot foresee the consequences of a “hard Brexit”: tariffs on exhibitions and art productions could make the exchange of culture much more difficult, and grants for joint projects in the creative industries could be lost. During its first two years (2014 to 2015), the EU program Creative Europe has supported 228 UK cultural and creative organisations and audiovisual companies, and the cinema distribution of 84 UK films in other European countries with grants totalling 40 million Euro. More than 28 million Euro were invested in the UK´s audiovisual sector. Through Creative Europe´s Culture sub-programme, 93 cultural creative and heritage organisations in the UK benefitted from 11,3 million Euro. Culture, and especially non-commercialised culture that needs additional grants to fulfil the above functions, would be a loser in the hard Brexit. The imminent loss of EU funding in particular would worsen the financial situation in many places, for example the festival industry such as the Sheffield International Film Festival or the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. Both festivals receive funds from the EU. And it is precisely such cultural venues and events outside London in cities with economic challenges that seem important to the future – especially when we look at the results of the Brexit referendum.
Even if Great Britain is leaving the EU, our co-operation is as necessary as ever. Collaboration also always has to do with trust and trust increases the more one knows about each other. Language is the chief bearer of knowledge about different cultures. Worldwide, English, as we know, is not a problem. In the United Kingdom, however, learning foreign languages is becoming less important. The figures for German and French show a significant and steady decline since 2002. Spanish is the exception, but overall the number of foreign language examinations is decreasing. There are many reasons for this. If the trends persist, German will largely be taught only at private schools.
In order to strengthen the ties between Great Britain and Europe even after an EU exit, I would also encourage education policymakers to again support the learning of foreign languages at schools.
We would be pleased, indeed, it is a major concern for us to mitigate the negative consequences of the Brexit for culture and education through joint co-operation efforts at various levels.
To this end, the questions was raised if special arrangements could be found in EU-British negotiations for the areas of culture and education. For this, however, concessions are needed. No “cherry picking,” but agreements that lead to winners on both sides. We have gathered for the next two days to talk about what our common future can look like, and – like the common vision my colleague and I had of a German-British cultural and educational centre in Kiev – to find visions for the future co-operation of our countries and institutions.
Thank you very much.
Es gilt das gesprochene Wort!