The Benefits of Foreign Cultural and Education Policy

The world faces multiple challenges nowadays: from the global climate change, migration and refugees, the benefits and risks of digitalisation, pressure on liberal-­democratic systems, or global power shifts, to impending economic warfare – to name a few examples. We are all affected by these social dislocations and upheavals in times of globalisation. They can therefore no longer be discussed and resolved on a national level. These issues require an extensive international discourse concerning joint solutions and new and innovative channels for international exchange.

In light of this, culture, science, and education play an increasingly important role in providing a platform for an open dialogue and constructive criticism about benefits and risks, about different world views, and about societal models – set apart from questions regarding everyday politics, economic policy, and security policy. Faced with an ever-growing global complexity, the importance of these platforms will continue to rise until 2030.

The Significance of Culture, Science, and Education

Given Germany’s global standing, its ‘external’ and ‘internal’ politics – foreign cultural relations and interior cultural politics – can no longer be kept separate. German politics borrows approaches from key players in foreign cultural policy as a model for internal cultural policy and stimulates new connections in both areas.

Cultural exchange cannot save the world, but it can broaden horizons and stimulate creative impulses to respond to global issues and local problems. It can keep important channels of communication open, even under difficult political circumstances; it can strengthen civil-society actors in societies that are becoming more restricted and contribute to the understanding of enlightened social values. Cultural exchange based on the premises of freedom of expression and the independence of science and art is more important than ever in a multipolar world.

The main objective is to contribute to a peaceful co-existence of all nations, through culture and education.

The main objective is to contribute to a peaceful co-­existence of all nations, through culture and education. Germany’s foreign cultural and education policy is based on the values of a free democratic society. After decades of ‘Western’ dominance, we are now simultaneously seeing new geopolitical centres of power arise in the global framework. These new centres question the aforementioned values or weigh them differently. It is therefore important for us to introduce our standpoint into a global polyphonic dialogue and reflect on other perspectives. Ideally, with the aim of achieving a mutual understanding, appreciation, and agreement. Germany’s foreign cultural and education policy offers significant contributions concerning the issues of migration, refugees, and integration or the stabilisation of developing and transitional countries: through the promotion of language, joint artistic practices, cultural discourses, the development of platforms, or support for creative industries.

International Educational and Cultural Cooperation

A country’s international cultural policy, as well as the kinds of participants the country’s institutions are composed of, is deeply rooted in its social and political national identity. To understand Germany’s ‘model’, we need to review its recent history. Due to the atrocities Germany committed in the Second World War, the first decades following the end of the war were characterised by the endeavour to turn Germany back into an accepted member of the international community. Considering the Third Reich’s abuse of education, culture, and art in favour of national socialist propaganda, the young Federal Republic opted to separate international educational and cultural cooperation from direct government influence. Instead, they entrusted these cooperations to independent organisations, which are considered part of German civil society. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Goethe-Institut, the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa), and other facilitators are largely independent from the German government but work on behalf of it, in strategic coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This format has proven to be successful up to now as the autonomy of these intermediary organisations provides credibility and trust abroad, specifically regarding the public image of a pluralistic political system with an active and diverse civil society.

In the 1970s, the importance of Germany’s foreign cultural and education policy significantly increased, as can still be witnessed to this day. In 1967, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Willy Brandt, described cultural and education policy as one of the three pillars of modern foreign policy, of equal rank with diplomacy in a stricter sense and foreign trade policy. Although foreign cultural policy serves as the ‘self-representation of our people’, international cooperation – the exchange of scientists, artists, and writers – must also be strengthened. Brandt emphasised that foreign cultural policy should focus more on a long-term plan. Ralf Dahrendorf declared the extended concept of culture to be a foundation which, in addition to art, takes all forms of expression of social coexistence into account. Open dialogue, co-development and the design of cultural projects – all of these principles were fundamentally shaped at that point in time.

Evidently, Germany’s foreign cultural policy is in a sense already post-national, given that it has committed itself to the responsibility for a functioning global community.

The mindset behind Germany’s global cultural dialogue is therefore characterised by the nation’s history: its objective is not to view itself as superior, but to meet the Other with a certain sense of humility – an important prerequisite for listening, empathic perception, and thus a genuine dialogue. This also particularly applies to Germany’s confrontation with its controversial colonial legacy: the violence exercised in the appropriation of artefacts from colonial territories is now becoming increasingly visible to the public in Germany itself as well as in its partner countries, fuelling critical scrutiny of the country’s history for years to come.

Ideally, nowadays, foreign cultural and education policy are understood to be the gateway for equality and open dialogue between people – a platform on which global issues are addressed through art, discourse, and constructive debate. Supporting these multilateral cultural processes is gaining increasing importance in comparison to self-portrayal. Foreign cultural and education policies rely on formats that correspond to our liberal values: openness, criticism and self-criticism, communication skills, and the principle of freedom.

The concept of cultural dialogue, institutionally initiated cooperation, and co-productions organised by civil society is meanwhile facing a new dimension. The question of the future of the nation state as a model for a long-term, evolving European social order emerges due to the EU-led expansion of the cultural-political mandate. Post-national organisation and the design and practice of cultural relations are keywords in this discussion. Evidently, Germany’s foreign cultural policy is in a sense already post-national, given that it has committed itself to the responsibility for a functioning global community. We would like to discuss the most important and urgent among these structural, strategic, and conceptual challenges faced by foreign cultural and education policies, as previously described.

The EU in Crisis

The European Union stands for human rights, democracy, freedom of speech, peace, wealth, cultural diversity, and international responsibility. There is no alternative to the European Union, neither for Germany nor for the remaining European nations. Specifically, in light of the global power shifts witnessed in recent years, a united Europe alone ensures the necessary global influence required to strengthen democratic values and speak with one voice to address global challenges.

However, the European Union is currently in the midst of a struggle regarding this unity: debt crisis, Brexit, and growing nationalism and populism create scepticism, while terror threats fuel fear. Changes brought about by new technologies and digital communication, global migration, and increasing social injustice are unsettling citizens of the European Union.

There are currently three plausible future scenarios for the European Union in the year 2030: the worst case would be a collapse of the European Union with devastating effects. The opposite scenario would be a United Nations of Europe with a substantial transfer of national sovereignty to European institutions. The European Union’s reaction to initial suggestions along this line, uttered by Emmanuel Macron, raise doubts over the rapid implementation of this scenario. The third – and most likely – scenario is a slow progression, a series of national demands and compromises leading up to further European integration as described by Ivan Krastev: “the art of survival [is] an art of constant improvisation. (…) Only willingness to compromise will increase the chances of survival for the EU.”

Culture and education are pivotal to a successful and forward-thinking European policy, which can significantly contribute to the progress of integration in the coming decade. Cultural exchanges in particular awaken curiosity and empathy for one’s neighbour. “Nobody falls in love with a single market”, stated the long-standing President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors. This is all the more important given that the narrative of a united Europe as a peace project following the tragedy of the Second World War is losing its appeal, specifically among adolescents. It appears that each generation needs to re-establish its vision of Europe.

European! Solidifying Solidarity

In addition to the coalition agreement of the German governing parties in 2018, the Europeans Union’s future-­facing ‘New European Agenda for Culture’, established in May 2018, is worth mentioning at this point. The agenda emphasises the threefold dimension of culture in European contexts: the social dimension, which provides access and more cultural participation above all; the economic dimension of culture, which is linked to the topics of education, the promotion of cities and regions, and the creative and cultural industries; and finally the external dimension of culture, which focuses on social and sustainable development, intercultural dialogue, and cooperation with regard to cultural heritage.

The concepts of ‘nation’ and ‘region’ are hot topics.

The European Union represents a central power in designing our social and political life. Above all, it is the cultural project of a community reaching unity in diversity. Whether civic or governmental, foreign cultural policy facilitators are responsible for cultural dialogue. These facilitators need an extensive mandate to co-create a multilateral European cultural policy. European exchange programmes and cultural and educational projects aimed at young Europeans and those who are critical of the European idea should receive more support.

Exchange between Young Europeans

Real-life encounters between young Europeans are particularly important. Since 1987, the Erasmus programme has enabled over nine million Europeans to create long-lasting relationships across the continent. Ultimately, this programme created a new generation of over one million ‘Erasmus babies’. Erasmus is a prototype which needs to be developed for various target groups. It should be advertised within regions and social classes who have not travelled much, in order to strengthen their participation in Europe. Exchange programme alumni should be further encouraged to share their positive experiences within their respective communities.

There are many other projects that can aid in promoting cultural exchange between young Europeans, beyond the few metropolises. Along with this, value should be placed on the importance of promoting multilingualism – after all, languages are key to understanding other countries. Furthermore, networking and the Europeanisation of cultural and educational institutions should also be promoted, to address the topic of Europe more effectively and competently. This can include strengthening bilateral cooperation, as was recently discussed regarding the example of the establishment of joint German-French cultural institutes. Or we may think of the successful cooperation within the umbrella organisation of the European national cultural institutes EUNIC and similar associations, which advance European unification in an exemplary way through ­numerous project-based collaborations.

Post-national? Shifting the Frame of Reference

The concepts of ‘nation’ and ‘region’ are hot topics. From independence movements in Scotland and Catalonia, to growing nationalism in Eastern Europe and beyond: the tension caused by isolationist conflicts dominates the political and cultural-political debate in Europe. Old and new models of social organisation are at stake, meaning regulatory frameworks in the context of regions, culture, and identity.

As the historian Theodor Schieder stated in a speech in 1963: “Nation primarily means a community of citizens, not language or national community.” According to Schieder, what constitutes a nation is not culture but a legal community. Europe as a place of unity in diversity would therefore signify Europe as a legal entity with cultural diversity. This could be considered post-­national. Moreover, this kind of terminological shift from culture to law would also mean that Europe does not require a unified identity or a demos – a people – to become a nation.

The concept of the nation refers to the legal framework of ‘institutionalised solidarity’ and ‘sense of community’, as the French sociologist Marcel Mauss puts it. This solidarity is formed of connected areas of knowledge with similar experiences, historic spaces with a similar past, homogenous linguistic regions, and concentrated areas of communication, such as regions and neighbourhoods. Nation is not synonymous with identity. Identity is a hybrid, highly flexible term of personal development, individual self-understanding, and our personal narrative about defining a place that we can call home. “Regions are home, nations are fiction,” writes Austrian author Robert Menasse. ‘National’ most often only refers to a narrative, ‘regional’ refers to language, cuisine – in other words, culture.

This means that Germany’s foreign cultural policy must attribute particular significance to the framework of region, home, and identity of the target groups, by using local cultural frameworks as a guide. Foreign cultural policy and its participants do not see themselves as direct or indirect state players within the frame of diplomacy, operating with keywords such as cultural diplomacy or soft power. Actors and institutions of civil society, cities, and regions in this sense play a stronger role in shaping foreign relations. The significance of civic intermediary organisations of foreign cultural and education policy as the interface of and liaison for external exchange, particularly of these groups, will continue to grow. Post-national cultural policy negates the prior pursuit of government interests as a gain of advantages over others – be they rivals or competitors. It rejects a nationalist return to the concept of Leitkultur (guiding culture) and cultural policy as a boundary to other cultures.

To see, understand, and structure the world from a cultural perspective, to draw a map of cultures, languages, and identities – this means defining cultural regions and cultural heritage as a point of reference for action. The state must then be understood within the contexts shaped by history and globalisation. ­‘Nation states’ were also built in contrast to already existing cultural spaces – through colonial borders such as in Africa or Latin America, for example. The aim is therefore to work through this history and develop new post-national concepts. It is civic networks that predominantly pin down, apply, and test concepts of exchange. The aim is to enable and connect these networks, a task which falls under the responsibility of intermediary organisations.

Digital Future

Digitalisation pervades all areas of life and offers countless benefits: simplified access to knowledge and new forms of education through the Internet or augmented reality; optimised processes through algorithms, robotics, or artificial intelligence; global networking with empathic experiences; and new insights thanks to virtual reality. Simultaneously, the processes of change connected to this digitalisation introduce considerable challenges: the initial enthusiasm revolving around the notion that open access to data and the free flow of information would promote a global process of democratisation, has given way to a more realistic assessment. Digital technologies have penetrated our business and private lives to the point that commercial networks and platforms are increasingly shaping our interpretation of the world around us – which comes with well-known dangers. The commercialisation and influence of Google, Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, and similar companies will continue to increase in the coming years.

To assert Germany’s relevance and power of information in the digital world, it is important for cultural mediators and other foreign cultural and education policy players to curate a contemporary digital presence on the one hand, and to take an active position on other digital platforms and within social networks on the other hand. This is the only way to maintain the diversity and plurality of perspectives, which are vital for democratic societies.

Cultural and educational institutions in Germany, which have been internationally active over several de­cades, recognised the importance of these developments early on and began testing how digital media increase the intensity of cultural exchanges and help reaching new target groups. However, this process can no longer keep up with the rapid development of new technologies and forms of communication. Public investments are necessary but remain limited considering the vast scope of digitalisation. Aside from the necessary technical prerequisites, the aim within the field of culture, communication, and education is to find specialists who prepare content, curate social networks, and develop digital education offers, new platforms, and formats in order to meet rapidly growing user demand.

Diversity and plurality of perspectives are vital for democratic societies.

The overabundance in digital media content will continue to grow exponentially until 2030. On the one hand, this is a positive development, as options will increase; on the other hand, this poses a major challenge to cultural and educational institutions: “In the past, censorship meant that the flow of information was blocked. In the twenty-first century, censorship means flooding people with irrelevant and fake news. People no longer know what to pay attention to (…). Back in the day, power represented access to information. Nowadays, power means knowing what to ignore”, states Yuval Harari.

Digital 2030

Faced with this influx of information and its consequences, schools should focus on developing students’ digital competence considerably more than they have so far. International exchange also plays a large role in this regard. The images we create in our minds of other cultures and societies, and that which others create of us, are increasingly defined by the Internet. Moreover, we have witnessed a boom of cultural festivals and art biennales in the past years, in which the usage and importance of public space stood at the forefront. The need for real-life experiences and active political engagement seems to be growing in proportion to the expansion of the digital space. If we use these trends as a projection for the international cultural exchange in 2030, then we can predict that the significance of open spaces will increase, for example in cultural institutions, residencies, festivals, and activities in the public space – similar to the demand for exchange programmes throughout all levels of society.

Dangers of the Digital Transformation

Reaching one’s own informed opinion is the most effective protection against the deceptions which are particularly prominent in social media. Fake news, filter bubbles, and hybrid warfare are only the tip of the iceberg of threats we must face globally, due to increased media competencies across all levels of society. “Given the fact that several million people are connected by a single medium, which occasionally lets their worst tendencies shine through, concerns about sudden formations of large fascist mobs are far from unreasonable. I worry about the next generation of youngsters all over the world, because they are growing up with Internet-based technologies, which count entirely on collective aggregation mechanisms”, writes German Book Trade Peace Prize laureate Jaron Lanier.

We can get a glimpse of what the next decade may hold by looking at modern-day China: a social scoring system distributes points for good social behaviour – based on a combination of facial recognition technology and algorithms – and punishes digressions by deducting points. “A whole new temptation for all authoritarian rulers who do not read George Orwell’s ‘1984’ as a warning, but as a guideline”, writes Süddeutsche Zeitung.

This perspective sheds a positive light on the European General Data Protection Regulation: will Europe 2030 be the world’s last stronghold in which personal freedom is not largely restricted by algorithms as well as the merger and storage of personal data? Maybe this scenario is too pessimistic. However, digitalisation has introduced many responsibilities for cultural institutions: we will need a ‘culture of algorithms’, which illustrates how these algorithms were created, who they were programmed by, and which world view they support. Herein lies the opportunity to support open communities or alternative, independent networks, and platforms based on voluntary rather than commercial cooperation. The global network of German cultural and educational institutions should continue to be used to create a counter balance to the digitally supported, global, autocratic tendencies and commercial monopolists who threaten our civil societies. This is the only way for positive potentials of digitalisation and the ideal of a ‘good network’ to thrive beyond 2030.

Cultural Potentials of Conflict Resolution

Back in 2004, the German Federal Cabinet adopted an action plan entitled ‘Civil Crisis Prevention, Conflict Solution, and Peacebuilding’. Among other things, this action plan describes aspects of securing human rights, building constitutional structures, promoting climate protection, and fighting poverty.

The paper is based on two key findings: culture is in itself neither good nor bad, neither peacekeeping nor conflict-promoting. It has a different effect depending on context and use, and can be just as enlightening as oppressive. Art and culture most often stand for multiculturalism, tolerance, and pluralism; however, they also help promote autocratic or dictatorial power relations. Culture constitutes individual identity in both cases and can also create a collective identity through the power of its symbolism.

Similar to culture, the concept of ‘conflict’ is ambivalent. Conflicts can be liberating, illuminating, and even promote peace, or they can lead to or promote violence. A civilised culture of debate will fight to find the best possible solution to a problem and a mutually acceptable compromise. Stereotyping opponents and creating threatening scenarios, on the other hand, legitimises violence (for example regarding immigrants or refugees).

Culture is in itself neither good nor bad, neither peacekeeping nor conflict-promoting.

In a world dominated by confrontation, seemingly perpetuated by conflicts in a medialised reality, foreign cultural and education policies play a decisive role in creating peace and preventing violence. How can artists and those otherwise involved in forming culture ensure peace during, as well as after, conflicts in communities which are governed by dissonance?

Parties to a conflict regularly use culture and religion to justify violence or emotionally charge conflicts, often with the aim of consolidating their positions of political power, pursuing military objectives, or factoring in geostrategic and economic aspects.

Cultural intermediaries assimilate and analyse the influence of local culture on conflicts and use art and culture as a means of reaction. The task of their projects is to analyse structural causes for social dislocations and confrontations, to address mechanisms which led to conflict, and to create and promote new formats of conflict resolution. Cultural practices in the form of theatre, fine arts, literature, and music can highlight ways to solve problems.

Art and culture offer aesthetic breaks, alternative forms of discourse, and free spaces for conflict resolution. In this respect, they play a central role in the transformation of societies, with artists as agents of change. Cultural forms of expression possess a unique power to address taboos and points of conflict within a protected framework. They do so by transcending reality through play, allowing them to slip into different roles, and test different solutions to problems. In the best-case scenario, dialogue builds trust between previously warring parties. Artistic debates contribute to reappraisal, coming to terms with the past, and to the decline of stereotypes.

Cultural players must promote traditions and processes, conventions and social behaviours that represent an alternative to violence and a new form of conflict resolution. This is the only way to overcome crises and promote positive change within societies.

When Civil Societies Come under Pressure

Across the globe, civil societies face ever-growing pressure. Civic public spaces are becoming increasingly limited. According to the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s BTI Transformation Index, the quality of democracy, good governance, and the market economy has fallen to its lowest level in twelve years. This, according to the BTI, no longer only concerns autocratic regimes; governments were also increasingly trying to take rigorous steps in democracies.

An active and pluralistic civil society is, in our understanding, essential to ensuring the freedom and participation of individuals, strengthening the sense of responsibility of the citizen for the community, providing a solid foundation for the development of societies, and thus its sustainable development. While the diversity of voices of a functioning civil society needs to be managed, it is increasingly becoming the target of state repression. Particularly affected are those within independent cultural scenes, such as inconvenient filmmakers, writers, and directors who critically reflect on social developments in their work and promote artistic experiments. States use similar techniques to target these groups: tightening NGO legislation, restricting the freedom of assembly and press10, as well as pursuing cultural policies that completely limit or withdraw public funding from critical institutions. For many governments, peace at the price of repression seems to be an adequate means to maintain stability amid a chaotic world order. This situation poses challenges to German cultural institutions abroad: they must explore all avenues to create spaces of physical and digital freedom, facilitating open and uncensored dialogue for partners who face pressure. Through training and mobility programmes, German intermediary organisations can strengthen the content and structure of local networks, connecting them with partner organisations across the globe. It is precisely this international embeddedness which strengthens local groups. In the worst-case scenario of a concrete threat to creative artists or civil-society actors, protective programmes must be developed, allowing these groups to continue working outside of the boundaries of their country. Considering Germany’s history, the nation carries a distinct obligation towards its partners in countries threatened by eroding civil societies due to antidemocratic and autocratic developments.

International Education and Cultural Policy

How We Must Act

International exchange is vital in providing an adequate approach to the various challenges the world faces. The importance of culture, science, and education as platforms for this exchange has increased and will continue to do so. To improve foreign cultural and education policies, decision-makers must take into account the following recommendations for action:

  • Autonomous cultural intermediary organisations must be strengthened and their scope of action regarding European cultural politics, digital processes, the contribution of foreign cultural politics to interior cultural politics, and peace-making must be expanded and receive ongoing support.
  • Germany ought to be a pioneer in the European unification process. The country possesses the necessary cultural infrastructure, provided by strong intermediaries and institutions.
  • Culture must always serve as a reference point for a better understanding of the causes and solutions to conflicts. Cultural forms of expression and cultural programmes can help solve problems and should be taken advantage of more widely.
  • The role of civil society actors and institutions must be strengthened further. Countries with threatened civil societies must be provided with open spaces.
  • Further investments must be made in the digitalisation of international cultural and education policies. Programmes for media expertise need to be developed through international cooperation. And: it is equally important to foster physical spaces of encounter and exchange programmes, as it is to curate a deep-seated deliberation of digital processes within the scope of international exchange.

Johannes Ebert (55) has been the Secretary General of the Goethe-Institut since 2012. He studied Islamic studies and political science in Freiburg and Damascus, and worked as a journalist in Heilbronn. After having worked as a lecturer at the Goethe-Institut in Prien, as language course consultant at the Goethe-Institut in Riga, and as deputy head of the Public Relations division at the Munich head office of the Goethe-Institut, he directed the Goethe-Institut in Kiev from 1997 to 2002. From 2002 to 2007, he was Director of the Goethe-Institut Cairo and the Middle East/North Africa region. Following this, he became Director of the Goethe-Institut Moscow and Eastern Europe/Central Asia from 2007 to 2012.

Ronald Grätz (59) has been Secretary General of the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa) and publisher of the magazine KULTURAUSTAUSCH since September 2008. He studied German studies, Catholic theology, and phi- losophy in Tübingen and Frankfurt am Main. He worked as programme teacher in the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in São Paulo and as Vice Director of a UNESCO Associated School. He was a Lecturer for didactics and methodology at the University of Barcelona and language teacher at the Goethe-Institut. He subsequently worked as Director of the programme work for the Goethe-Institut East Europe/Central Asia.