Culture Is Not a Servant to Politics | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 01.05.2008
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Culture Is Not a Servant to Politics

The German Foreign Ministry is currently presenting an exhibition on Israeli literature in honor of the country's 60th anniversary. Foreign Minister Steinmeier told DW what culture can do for politics.

A stack of books

It's shouldn't be up to literature to fill in where politicians have failed, Steinmeier said

Deutsche Welle: Mr. Steinmeier, Israeli literature is being presented in the German Foreign Ministry, but do you ever get a chance to pick up a novel?

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier: I have never stopped doing it. Not during my time as foreign minister and not in the years before as head of the Chancellery -- where things also never got boring. Reading is a part of life for me. That's why I'm pleased that it's still possible for me to read -- on long flights or weekends -- and, yes, I also read Israeli literature.

Do you have any favorite books or authors?


Literature can help give people a look at other's lives, Steinmeier said

I don't have a favorite book. It changes all the time for me. Sometimes I engage myself with particular regions. This year that's foreseeable since it's the year the state of Israel -- with which we have multifaceted, and naturally political meetings -- celebrates its 60th birthday. At the moment I'm also trying to support forms of memory and knowledge among younger generations here in Germany. We can no longer be sure that recourse to history books will address Israel's particular situation and the special relationship between Israel and Germany comprehensibly enough for young people. That's why I think it's important for younger generations in particular to look at Israel's multifaceted literature.

It's literature that is not characterized by pessimism or depression. Many authors are using very witty language that sometimes covers over the suffering and tension seen in their own country. Once you have an entry point, you can develop a sense for the diversity of life in Israel. That's why I think that this literature appeals to readers in Germany -- possibly even more now because, I think, a new generation of Israeli literature is emerging. It's dealing less with the Holocaust and instead looking at the history of growth and development of the state of Israel and immigration, which has not been free of tension in Israel. It's immigration that is accompanied by people bringing the history of their country of origin with them. This history is not regarded as a simply as a weight but as an enrichment, and that could really be an example to others. All of this can be found in modern Israeli literature.

Can culture influence political culture?

No, I would never see it as that instrumental. Culture is not a servant to political policy, and culture isn't able to fill the gaps where politics or political instruments have failed. But I think that in order to understand each other, there needs to be -- in addition to the political establishment's relations -- a real interest and curiosity from both sides about other people. This curiosity can be better served by culture, and especially literature, than it can be by political statements.

After the series of Israeli literature in the foreign ministry ends, will there be a continuation with other focuses?

That's something I could imagine. But this is an experiment for this year, and I'm pleased that many people have come to see the exhibit. If the level of interest keeps up, I could imagine that we continue it next year with a different focus.

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