Johannes Ebert am 7. Dezember 2016
Konferenz „European Angst“

Grußwort von Johannes Ebert bei der Konferenz „European Angst“ in Brüssel

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues, dear friends,

I am very glad that I can be here today to open the second day of the conference on European Angst together with my colleague Michael Metz, the secretary-general of the Danish Cultural Institute and acting president of EUNIC.

Europe plays an important role for the Goethe-Institut. It is anchored in the statutes of the institution and has its own goal in our strategy: “As a German cultural institute, the Goethe-Institut also sees itself as a European cultural institute. It works in and for Europe. Against the backdrop of recent crises, it is reinforcing its European initiatives and promoting an awareness of European citizenship through its cultural projects. It advocates the common European cultural space, which is based on cultural diversity and independence.”

For over a year, the discussion at the Goethe-Institut about dealing with the current situation in Europe has intensified considerably because of the strengthening of populist tendencies and ideologies in numerous countries. Ideologies that claim to be the “true” voice of the people against a so-called “elite,” which, reinforced by current refugee and migratory movements, stir up the fear of foreigners, which question European integration and campaign against cultural diversity. We are experiencing how the ideas and the vocabulary of the populists penetrate mainstream society and attack the values that we, also the Goethe-Institut, stand for: the values of freedom, of justice and the wealth of cultural diversity.

Europe, with all its crises, mistakes and challenges, is our home. That is why we are watching the present developments with great concern. For this reason, we increased the financial resources of the Goethe-Instituts in Europe this year in order to respond to the challenges of populism as a German and European cultural institute. In our programmes, we are concerned with reflecting the present situation and its dangers, responding to the fears, encouraging young people to raise their voices for free values, and strengthening the cultural stakeholders who are coming under pressure.

Today, our conference on European Angst plays a special role within the scope of the numerous events organized by the Goethe-Institut on the subject. “European Angst” is a genuinely European event and I would like to thank the colleagues from the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, the Polish Institute, the Alliance Française, the Ceske Centrum, the Bozar Cultural and Exhibition Center, the European Movement and from EUNIC for their good and trustworthy cooperation. As the name implies, my colleagues in Brussels are using this conference on European Angst to get to the bottom of this undefinable fear that is spreading like mildew across our communities. This angst is becoming an underlying emotion for an increasing number of European citizens in the face of a complex global world. It is the root of rejection and anger, and the gateway to populist ideologies that offer supposedly simple solutions.

How close and real this fear is. On Sunday evening, I telephoned with my mother after the Austrian federal presidential election. She is 82 and had to flee from her own homeland as an 8-year-old child. “The brutal language and political discussion frighten me,” she said. But a newspaper article about a refugee from Afghanistan being suspected of an act of violence also made her uneasy that evening.

On the one hand, we must take these fears seriously. And especially in Brussels, the heart and head of the European Union, we also have to ask uncomfortable questions. The populist candidate did not win the election in Austria. But almost 47 percent, or almost half of the society, voted for him. How do we deal with these dividing lines that are digging deeper and deeper into our societies? How do we prevent European citizens from feeling left behind and lost in a complex world? How do we reach a consensus, find a positive European narrative that unites us instead of dividing us? How do we approach those who – organized within closed peer groups on social media – call serious news channels the “lying press” and elected politicians “the system”? How do we deal with a “post-factual” world perception that values negative feelings more than facts? How do we take away people’s fear?

Today’s panels on racism, the role of media and the reflection on methods and narratives to counter extremism and European disintegration explore these questions.

On the other hand, after the disappointment over the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump as the next American president, the Austrian election also gives us hope. It mobilized many Austrians who did not vote in the first election to vote for the liberal candidate, for Europe and against populism. They took up a position because they became aware that the European achievements of peace and freedom cannot be taken for granted. They see that the commitment of every individual is necessary to preserve and further develop what we have accomplished in Europe. They realize that the populists do not represent “the people,” but that we are all the people and have a voice. We – artists, cultural stakeholders and institutions – have a special responsibility to reinforce these people and must take a stand: a stand that is committed to the values ​​of freedom, justice and diversity.

Thank you very much.

Es gilt das gesprochene Wort!