Brexit Continue Work on the European Project

 © Wolfgang Kumm/ picture alliance / dpa
© Wolfgang Kumm/ picture alliance / dpa

The Goethe-Institut has been active in London since 1962 and in Glasgow since 1973. As a member of EUNIC, the European Union of National Institutes for Culture, the work of both institutes was increasingly aligned to Europe. “We are very sorry about the result of the referendum on United Kingdom membership of the European Union. Even before the referendum, it became clear that the cultural and social dimension of Europe and the EU could not be extensively conveyed in the United Kingdom. The Goethe-Institut will continue to work to promote European integration through cultural and discourse programmes and language training in the UK and in other EU countries,” said the secretary-general of the Goethe-Institut, Johannes Ebert. In our interview, Angela Kaya, director of the Goethe-Institut London, speaks about the mood on location and the plans of the Goethe-Institut for the coming years.

It was a large majority of cultural professionals in particular who decisively spoke out for remaining in the EU. Did they do that for their own self-interest? Will the cultural influence of Britons on Europe lessen? Will exports of British literature, music and film decrease?

Angela Kaya Angela Kaya | Photo: Carolyne Locher Cultural professionals and especially young, well-educated people across the country voted to remain in the EU. Both groups associate lived positive experience with the EU: they benefit from the very natural dialogue with or in the EU, but also from access to EU-funded projects. All this will now have to be renegotiated and some of it will be put to the test. The effects remain to be seen.

Positively, perhaps, this may trigger national discourses that leave space for differentiated consideration of certain aspects. Such discourses have taken place far too rarely in recent years and have led to divisions in society. Overall, I am convinced that the cultural scenes and cultural workers in the United Kingdom are vital and strong enough to make a creative contribution in Europe in the medium term.

As important as it may be for Europe, Britain has always played a particularly distinct, special role. How do you explain their need to again be more British, more independent?

This special role is based on historical experience. A country that influenced large parts of the globe for centuries – from an island, at that – automatically defines itself unlike many a continental European country. While primarily Central Europe always needed to come to terms with its direct neighbours, the United Kingdom had very different experiences, always had an outside perspective. To be a member of the European Union means standing back and abandoning competencies to a group. This change in perspective was never easy for the people in the United Kingdom. With their vote, many British people probably hope to retrieve their supposedly lost independence.

The majority of people living in the north of the United Kingdom voted against leaving. Scotland considers the EU a crucial foundation for a certain degree of its own independence. Will Scotland’s voices for independence now get louder? Is there an independent Scottish culture?

Before the referendum and today the question of Scotland’s future is yet unanswered. Of course there is a Scottish culture and a lived distance between them and England. In many respects, Scotland feels more connected with its neighbour Ireland than the south of its own island. The question of the role of Northern Ireland may also become interesting in this context.

The weeks leading up to the referendum divided the United Kingdom. Will the deep rift last or will the nation regain its familiar composure?

We look at the rifts going through society with concern. It will take time for the country to recover. I am confident that it will happen, though, given the admirable attitude of most of the people as expressed, as you said, in their composure!

What does the Brexit mean for the work of the Goethe-Institut?

In the next two years the relations between the United Kingdom and the EU will be renegotiated. The Goethe-Instituts in London and Glasgow will increasingly position themselves during this transitional period.

Specifically, this means, for example, intensification of our advisory and committee work about the role and the added value of languages in the educational systems, strengthening the educational networks in primary and secondary schools and in industry.

We particularly invite the many disappointed young people to continue to work on the European Project with our cultural programmes. We will attempt to enter into a dialogue with those who evidently do not derive anything from this European Project. That will be our greatest challenge. And most of all, we want to broaden our scope and work even more outside of London and Glasgow by honing and intensifying our digital programming.

GS