Cultural policy in Germany - what not to expect
by Hatto FISCHER, Athens 15.11.2005
Already critical comments about the cultural policy of the next German government under Chancellor Merkel anticipate that there will be a fight between the federal government and Berlin as to the amount of money to be allocated for culture to the city for being the 'capital city'. So far the arrangement has been a 10 Million Euro contribution by the federal level; given the fact that a red-red coalition government is in power (Social Democrats and PDS now the Left Party in the Bundestag), it is likely that some squeezing of the budget will take place. But even if there is a political fight waiting already around the next corner, that does not constitute as of yet, so Thomas Schmidt of 'Die Zeit', a cultural policy at federal level.
What then will be the cultural policy and will it have any European dimension?
At the outset, however, one crucial observation has to be made: the recent suicide bombing attack on German troops in Afghanistan highlights another aspect - the fact that Afghanistan did not play any role in the debate leading up to the general elections indicates that cultural policy as everything else is perceived as internal matter while anything outside the scope of Germany and Europe is of no or little interest, or if then merely a matter of military, economic trade and development policy. Still it says something that the state prosecutor of Germany is becoming active to inquire about such an attack against German troops abroad - a novelty since it literally means no inquiry was made till then about the legality of stationing these troops there in the first place.
It should be recalled that this decision by the Bundestag was made under forms of coercion since then Chancellor Schroeder had connected the question whether or not to send troops to Afghanistan with a non confidence vote in his government, a move everyone considered to be a form of coercion about which ex chancellor H. Schmidt had said when he was forced out of office after loosing out on a similar vote that this tradition of coercion in Germany would have to stop. More important, no one thought about that enforced decision when Schroeder in turn forced an early election by provoking an 'artificial' vote of non confidence so that President Koehler had to dissolve the Bundestag one year earlier and despite the basic constitution of Germany ruling against such political manoeuvres. If that is not an expression of a certain 'complicated' political culture, then what else could it be called?
It is the nature of such twisted political logics that the opportune stands always in favour of expediency over principles when in German reality governing seems to be only possible through tough administration. The latter means always pounding on principles as a sign of great inflexibility, something this coalition government attacks merely with regards to labour rights by giving business the Right to hire and fire people in the first two years without penal consequences and without need for any justification. Although it is something German economists promise will bring about greater flexibility and thereby an improved competitiveness of German business in the world, a difference can be seen how Australians compared to Germans react to similar measures: they go in masses out into the streets and call it their wish to protect Civil Society from such injustices. If that is the case, namely no protest in Germany against such coalition agreement, but still sold as if an awkward way towards reform, then this promotion of greater flexibility with the greatest possible inflexibility as the new political style to be expected from Merkel as another Thatcher, should not give rise to great expectations in the ethics of German politics.
As matters stand, European, foreign and development policy do constitute federal competences in Germany even though the 'Laender' are quite able to represent their own interests in Brussels while Merkel has called back from Brussels a well known expert on foreign affairs to advise her in the chancellor's office. This expert was the second hand of EU foreign spokesperson Solena and upon accepting the job he made it a condition that European and Security matters would also be under his competencies. This is again significant as the former foreign minister Joschka Fischer was undermined systematically by Steinbrueck, then foreign policy advisor to chancellor Schroeder, and now designated foreign minister. While it will be interesting to see how things will be played out between foreign ministry and chancellor's office, and predictions have it that Merkel will only be able to show some contours in foreign policy matter of the future government composed of Social Democrats and Christian Democrats as she will be effectively the 'interface' between Germany and the outside world, the intricacies of competences are already an indication as to what power shifts shall occur under the new government.
The main question is where will all this leave culture and more specifically the government's strategy to do something in a foreign country like Afghanistan where military occupation and control may be called rhetorically speaking 'peace keeping missions' but which are in reality doomed to fail because they do not take into account any of the cultural differences or subtleties involved. Rather than sending soldiers the alternative may well have been to send more scholars ready to listen and to understand the voices of others, something Louis Baeck advocates in his essay about how Islamist scholars see the Western position towards Globalization. Indeed, German foreign policy must leave behind the traditional approach of showing strength with tanks and soldiers in the hope that resistance against foreign imposition will fade away like the shade along the walls in the late afternoon as sunset begins. It does not for the ethical and cultural dimensions cannot be resolved with military force but only by taking a cultural approach can the 'shadows of the future' be understood.
Precisely because Germany has no ministry of culture as have France, Greece or Canada (the latter linked as in Poland to cultural i.e. national heritage and culture), it is hard to say what will be the outcome between a Laender based bias for keeping cultural policy next to education a matter to be dealt with at the sub-federal state level and the Federal government attempting to gain a voice in matters where development and culture do converge. In other words by necessity the question as to what development concept is to be followed, has to be answered by including culture and thereby set the tone for future negotiations.
The points relevant to such an appraisal are then the commitments made by the big coalition to specific points. They are the following :
a) general principles of foreign policy
1. There is a declaration of intention that a combination of cultural and educational policy must become again the 'third' pillar of German foreign policy. The aim is to serve better German interests abroad. It translates itself into financing better the institution under the tutelage of the foreign ministry (in absence of an own Ministry of Culture), namely the Goethe Institute and the German schools abroad. The agreement between SPD and CDU /CSU acknowledges that both these institutions contribute towards close collaboration and cooperation between Germany and its partners and that they fulfil invaluable tasks when it comes to intercultural dialogue between different countries and their respective cultures. The main priority shall be here the promotion of the German language abroad. Now this point is of interest since the Goethe Institute has been involved abroad, but especially in Brussels to work out some cooperation agreement between all cultural institutes such as British Council, Cervantes, Institute Francaise so that the implementation of EU cultural policy could be facilitated abroad by such institutions. This was obviously an effort to get away from the narrow definition of 'German' or 'French' interests, i.e. from an exclusive national interpretation of culture, in order to represent Europe abroad together rather than again within only national language ghettos. It should be noted that the coalition agreement does not seem to realize that practicing even foreign policy in a fellow EU member state is absurd since here the division of interior/exterior policy realm no longer applies. But so far many of the existing schizophrenia with here EU orientation, there national and even egoistical interests have reinforced a too close identification of a member state with only 'national culture'. For instance, Jacek Purchla in his booklet called 'Heritage and Transformation' (Krakow, 2005) sees anachronistic structures prevailing which prevent Poland from participating in international cultural markets. He goes on to say a policy change will only be brought about once politics begins to understand that most crucial for future policy options is "the perception of the place of culture in the globalising world, and its perception as a factor in the creation of and a catalyst for socio-economic development" (p.16) He goes on to say that the reason for the overall crisis is the continual marginalisation of culture which looses its authenticity ever more so once subjugated to over commercialization. Two major premises of importance for any forward looking cultural policy stand out according to Jacek Purchla, director of the International Centre of Culture in Krakow and also leading figure in the Academy of Heritage where promotion and protection of cultural heritage is taught in combination with modern management techniques, urban planning, tourist development etc. The two premises are as follows :
"The 21st century will be a century of communication through culture. Intercultural dialogue will also mean intercultural rivalry."
"To be able to conduct effective international dialogue in culture, Poland needs to release its institutional culture from state hands into the public domain." (op.cit. p. 62 - 63)
If anything can be anticipated of the new Polish government, and this applies as well to the newly formed German coalition government, the Conservative bend will be not less but more emphasis on a national version of culture. Predictable will be that the institutional grip on culture will increase and therefore not come to any progressive reflections about the Goethe institutes' need to act in unison with other EU and national cultural institutes (something ex director Bernhard Beutler of Goethe in Brussel had advocated prior to his retirement). In short, national not European representation abroad will have again top priority in Berlin.
In that sense such restricted use of culture abroad - to further national interests and only the national language - there will not be developed any sensitivity towards what is happening, for instance, in modern environments in which children no longer can be defined as coming from bi-cultural and bi-national parents who send them to the German school in Athens, Istanbul or Seville etc. The conflicts and the differences to a purely German educational approach manifest themselves in a growing alienation from the German approach while on the other hand the incompatibilities between the Greek and German education systems leave students stretching more and more their resources to bridge an ever widening gap. It leaves such school system functioning but without any future perspective or any integrative capacity with regards to the greater community in which German schools exists. The same applies to the Goethe but for another reason since elite orientated its policy is directed merely at reaching the decision makers of the respective country and thereby forgets that culture is above all public participation and not the mere privilege of an elite which wants to enjoy culture as if the bunch of flowers on the dinner table.
2. To reinforce its general approach, the coalition government intends to strengthen the role of German Welle by asking for and supporting more a stronger cooperation with the two public German television stations, ARD and ZDF. In the agreement there is expressed the wish that through such cooperation the German foreign broadcaster shall be able to provide a "comprehensive, actual and attractive German foreign broadcast service". By wishing to strengthen this 'public domain' but in reality an official communication channel of the state, it gives every indication that no further going considerations have entered the minds of the politicians responsible for this part of the agreement. For instance, there are by now in the global world many new forms of international dialogues via the Internet, including such novel experiments as www.heritageradio.net The latter can be considered to be already a model of cooperation and has, as a matter of fact, the backing of the German Ministry of Housing and the Regional Government of Thuringia. The heritageradio network itself is comprised of various national, regional and local radio stations e.g. Malopolska Internet Radio. Consequently it would have been wiser to strengthen such models of cooperation by including Internet Radio stations created by organisations which consider themselves to be a part of Civil Society and are, therefore, already outside the narrow scope of nationally defined programs by the state. Since it is already a part of their 'working cultures' since such networks deal with many diverse partners, including national, regional, local and NGO types of radio stations, they demonstrate in fact that future cultural, institutional and broadcasting transitions have to be accompanied and maintained by new forms of public understanding of 'good editorial practices'. The latter cannot be grasped if dealt with as if merely a matter of intellectual property but does reflect itself indirectly in the controversy between the EU's position with the rest of the world when it comes to challenging the United States and its business orientated control over the Internet. Even the International Herald Tribune fears any change would only go in the direction of state control, China's recent arrest of a journalist after forcing Yahoo to reveal his name just one example, the efforts to limit access to the Internet as gateway to international communication yet another example. While the future models of web based information systems are being worked, fought and negotiated out with many 'ifs' in-between, it has to be recognized that since 9/11 the main trend has been to follow again the example of the United States wishing to disguise pure propaganda in the clothes of 'public diplomacy' as accompaniment (and not an independent form of informing the public) to the 'global war against terrorism'. In all of this it should not be forgotten that independent sources of information are vital for keeping societies open and in communication with others. Again the interesting question at European level is which institutional cooperation should be promoted. For example there is ARTE - it was the suggestion and a demand of some that at least the GREENS adopt in their cultural program for the recent federal election the point to support such European cooperation as exemplified by ARTE. Such co-operation should allow the compiling of local, regional, national and European news in order to give the voices in Europe a way to enter a dialogue with the rest of the world. It will simply not do to remain either national or there, in some form of tokenism, European orientated since these two exclusive channels do not allow diversity and synthesis to be expressed as authentic voices of Europe. Reference is often made as well to the 'multi kulti' radio station in Berlin as another kind of model. Definitely there should be followed up such models as Café 9 when nine cities were Cultural Capital Cities in 2000 and started to communicate through such a café with one another at 'horizontal and simultaneous level'. That should be the basis for future collaboration between all cities. They should undertake it as their task to ensure that through internet radio channels cultural governance based on horizontal dialogues will feed into and set the agenda of a European debate.
3. The coalition agreement of 2005 states furthermore that a main priority of the next German government will be to intensify negotiations with Russia with regards to the return of German cultural heritage which had been taken there during Second World War. It is intended to examine as well the general question on how to achieve progress in matters of returning cultural goods which have been stolen and have, therefore, become objects of illegal trade. A lot of work has gone into the latter domain and UNESCO is one of the main international institutions involved. The increased potency of powerful cultural markets has made world heritages subject to still further misuse due to exploitation and commercially motivated robberies or even veiled purchasing procedures. What Jacek Purchla referred to above as the international cultural market means that cultural policy for the protection and promotion of cultural heritage as source of common world identity is ever more important. It has to be recognized that abuse of cultures has reached quite another scale. Definite steps at all levels need to be undertaken if this matter is to be if not resolved then at least limited in a meaningful way i.e. by contributing significantly to the preservation of both tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the world. National and international interests are here not the two sides of the same coin since globalization means by definition quite another dimension of the newly emerging cultural market. A failure to realize that will leave national protection schemes in the doldrums, so to speak, i.e. with no wind to sail around the Cape of Good Hope. Here it might be of interest to know that plans are being made to hold such a conference in Athens next year on this very subject when the Acropolis museum shall be opened 2006 - 2007 for then it will become a crucial matter whether or not the British museum will return the Parthenon Marbles or not. Since Melina Mercouri this demand by subsequent Greek governments should be understood as wanting exclusively only the Parthenon marbles and nothing more in order not to create panic amongst Northern Museums holding in their imperialist collections still so many cultural items of other nations, continents and civilizations. The British Museum has taken the lead to rally around its position of wishing to keep the marbles many directors of famous museums so as to fend off these and other demands for the return of stolen cultural goods. Subsequently it will be of great interest what reinforcement of its own national interests the German government will want to attain by acting differently than in the past at international level, that is in solidarity with others when it comes to returning stolen cultural goods from its own museums to the places of origin.
4. As follow-up to point 3 the agreement between the coalition partners states explicitly that they intend to implement the UNESCO agreement of 1970 with regards to stolen cultural goods and furthermore also the most recent signed declaration in Paris with regards to protection of cultural diversity. How this implementation will look like, that is still written in the stars. Fore mostly the main misunderstanding of cultural diversity is delivered in the form of riots as just seen in French cities when such an international agreement is solely interpreted as instrument to protect French culture against the invasion of Hollywood. National culture does not mean 'diversity' either within any country and especially cities based on multi culturalism nor does the national framework guarantee international and intercultural dialogue. An artist living in Belgium but not Belgium nor German although his place of origin but who has also lived for years in Canada, England, Italy and France makes him and any other person into someone like Josef Conrad who was Polish, then went to Africa to write in French before going to England where he published in English. 'Cultural diversity' requires a very open mindedness about the prerequisites for 'cultural plurality', something Jean Tardif attempts to bring into discussion via the website www.planetagora.org
The future cultural policy of Germany specifies further while agreement with regards to international trade will have to take into consideration the special character of 'cultural services' as if 'cultural and economic goods' (a way to prescribe how cultural matters are to be treated so that they can be perceived as if 'commoditized goods') the national state will want still to reserve and to maintain enough independence from that in order to continue its own specific 'promotion of culture'. This is crucial for the definition of national culture for it falls under the tutelage of a state defining itself with the help (and mask) of culture as 'the' institution best suited to define what is 'culture': a tautology at best.
Here the right to intervene should draw lessons out of Hegel's 'Philosophy of Law' by which any citizen of the state has to swear first his or her allegiance to the state before being recognized as citizen. Hegel went so far to denote that Jews were not willing to give such an allegiance and hence he considered them to be 'cosmopolitans', a term with many derogative meanings as later political developments in Germany showed when it came to the institutional attempt by the state to exterminate the Jews. Consequently such a policy approach as advocated in the agreement draws neither lessons from the past nor does it embrace cultural rights as something independent from state tutelage.
Basically it means that the German state in this case refuses to recognize that every person is a human being and cannot be reduced by a national culture to being just a subject of that particular state. That this problem of cultural identity as not being the same as citizenship of one state is not easily resolvable, is indicated lately by the various developments with here Muslims claiming their religion as basis of citizenship and there extreme Right Wing politicians wanting to reaffirm the political affiliation to a particular state and the society it represents as basis of identity and citizenship. If anything can be said in the wake of the riots in French cities and after the murder of Van Gogh in Holland, or in the realization that the bombings in London on July 7th 2005 were done by youngsters who had grown up in distinct cultural communities in the UK, then the following: it is amazing that the future cultural policy of Germany shows absolutely no sensitivity to these pressing needs, tasks and challenges.
Clearly the matter of cultural complexity is reduced by the upcoming new German politicians to just finding at EU level agreement with the other member states what will then be a common sanctioned promotion by each respective state of its own culture, and this with regards to directives dealing with European funding of cultural actions and with regards to the mobility of artists, directors, film producers etc. for everything is to be covered by general service guidelines. The latter involves such tricky question how insurance coverage of artists performing in Berlin although of Greek origin is possible, especially if, in reverse, the German artistic insurance policy does not allow German artists to take up residency abroad (even if in another EU country) for then they shall not be covered. Again it shows that the national outlook on things is an inadequate service provision in a global world. Consequently the agreement underlines the wish of the German state to reserve full autonomy in its broadcasting service i.e. to keep 'German Welle' an exclusive German institution.
b) particular European orientated cultural policy components
Already the last two points indicate what can be expected of the new German government once in office, namely to seek agreement with other EU member states to retain the national grip on culture and to claim this as need for 'autonomy'. In the past this was considered to be the sovereign rights of every state and thereby defined its foreign policy in correlation to its own inner self determination (an echo of the famous Woodrow Wilson doctrine that created so much havoc especially in Eastern Europe after 1918, the end of First World War, and which has been carried into modern times under the term of 'nation building projects' by the new Bush foreign policy doctrine to justify, among other things, the invasion into Afghanistan and Iraq with all the consequences of countless civilians killed and new corrupt governments willing to torture its opponents installed instead of the former and brutal Taliban regime and/or dictatorship of Saddam Hussein). It should be said that in general such developments seem to accompany US led foreign conversions from one type of government to another. By entangling any new government in incriminatory actions (and this was also the case with Saddam Hussein insofar as the United States facilitated the attack on Iran and minorities in Iraq by using gas, if only to be used later as argument against Saddam and as justification for the invasion), it means no development can ever attain such 'ethical base' that governments would be able to challenge the practices of the United States in any effective way. For this reason it is in the interest of the United States that Europe never gains the high moral ground and thereby would pose a threat to the United States in terms of the European voices being heard more clearly and distinctly when it comes to making tough choices about future development paths. Indeed by making the improvement of relationships between the United States and Germany into a top priority, a Merkel led government will ham-string still further Europe's ability to shape policy over and beyond such a narrow definition of national interest as having to be aligned with interests of the US administration.
Therefore, it will be of little interest what consequences for a EU cultural policy shall emerge out of such a German approach to negotiations at European level since already doomed to be a failure in a global economy. Certainly Merkel's government will clearly follow more closely the British course and this without recognizing that Europe faces many more problems than just agreement about what each state can do without fearing rightly so or not interference from other states and from the European Commission. Given the massive influence of the United States this interference is a not fiction but a fact.
Moreover it should not be overlooked that the rejection of the EU Constitutional Treaty meant that the 25 member states cannot impose their own independently arrived at agreements - the agreement not to interfere in each other's affairs - upon the framework needed for European governance. The latter is based on a dialogue between citizens and European institutions and requires a constitution based on cultural consensus. This the member states wish to by-pass with their own anti democratic form of intergovernmental cooperation agreements. The continual side-stepping of any EU disagreement by not taking objections serious lowers, however, continuously the level of competences especially for culture at EU level and thereby weakens all other agreements whether about the economy or the budget.
Here should be realized what Louis Baeck wrote in his essay about "The Saga of Development and Globalisation", namely that
"In the first twenty five years after 1945 the world was moved by emanicipatory ideas and reformist policy-making. Then came a turn of the tide towards a more conservative approach. The flags of development were lowered and globalisation narrowed the choice of alternatives. Local wars, ethnic strife and new forms of global violence illustrate the fragility of our time. The core states of the West hardened their position. And, in reaction to the new forms of violence they put national security and the military defence of their geopolitical interests on top of the agenda. However, the history of the present has shown that even the most ingenious of protective shields cannot guarantee safety and stability if global governance is felt by the majority to be a factor of social inequality and exclusion. New and militant actors are on the stage who keep the saga of development alive." (p. 31)
If the German government reduces cultural policy to a wish to reserve its own autonomy and this as indication of a hardening of position, then it can be expected that such political direction will remain insensitive to the needs for an ethical base on which to challenge not merely German or European but equally global governance. But as a consequence of its position, and in realization that especially the media (radio, television and film) will be a crucial way to influence the masses of society, such a Berlusconi approach to things will repeat what was already to be noticed in the Cultural Committee of the European Parliament 1999 - 2004 when only media policy related to the wish to protect the own national film industry was at the forefront of all interests.
In relation to all the other aspects mentioned by the coalition agreement with regards to culture, it should be noticed that nothing more was said then the promise to heed this sensitive area despite of being funded by the smallest of all budgets compared to all other policy areas. If that is not already an expression of how creativity is to be promoted and supported despite being so important for the future of the country, then it just goes to prove that the institutional confinements of state budgets do not allow any other choices but the most obvious one, namely to continue marginalising culture.
Top of page
Discuss this topic on the FORUM »
Summary and Questions on that topic »
« Back to Theme 2 : Public Policies and Culture
No reproduction without
explicit prior consent
All rights reserved, PlanetAgora.org 2004