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Culture

Cuts Could Hurt German Culture Abroad

Germany's cultural institutes abroad are unable to satisfy the demand for their services, including language courses. The Goethe Institute fears budget cuts will keep it from doing its work.

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Goethe Institute President Limbach wants more money from Foreign Minister Fischer.

Whether in Mexico City, Washington or Bucharest, more people want to learn German at the Goethe Institute than the organization has the capacity to teach. Even so, Germany's cultural organizations abroad have been threatened with funding cuts totaling €45 million ($54.8 million) by 2006, despite the fact that they've been tightening their belts for the past decade.

Promoting German language and culture abroad falls under the mandate -- and budget -- of the Foreign Ministry. Former German Chancellor Willy Brandt declared in 1967 that culture was -- along with diplomacy and economic relations -- the third column of foreign policy.

But Germany's current foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, told parliament in early March there just wasn't enough money to go around, especially not when cutting costs is the order of the day in financially-strapped Germany. His ministry spent one-quarter of its budget, around €560 million, on culture in 2003, but it will be less this year.

"If I have to save further it will really start to hurt. That applies to the cultural policy abroad as it does for the issue of foreign representation and similar things," Fischer said.


Drastic measures

In addition to the Goethe Institute, the cuts would also effect the Institute for Foreign Relations (IFA), the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. The latter two pay for 1,800 researchers to work in Germany each year.

The organizations have calculated that €45 million translates into closing 20 of the 142 Goethe Institutes worldwide or slashing 1,000 doctoral stipends or 30 exchange programs.

Critics accuse Fischer of taking not enough interest in promoting German culture abroad. "Foreign Minister Fischer stresses to the UN General Assembly the importance of foreign cultural work as a so-called crisis-preventive policy, and then he cuts the according budget in the ministry," The head of the North American, Mexican and Cuban Goethe Institutes, Peter Soetje, lamented to DPA news agency.

Not enough courses

Heribert Uschtrin, who leads the Washington Goethe Institute, said that every year more than 200 people hoping to learn German had to be turned away from the center in the U.S. capital because it couldn't offer enough slots to satisfy the demand.

Fischer has admitted that errors have been made in the aim to cut costs. "The closure (of the Goethe Institute) in Lahore proved itself to be a mistake in the light of Sept. 11, 2002 and ought to be reversed, he said.

But more closures may be on the horizon if the budget cuts for culture abroad is accepted. Andreas Schlüter, Goethe Institute secretary general since January, said the organization might be forced to put an end to politically important programs, such as its work in crisis regions, including opening a branch in Kabul, a reading room in Pyongyang and future activities in Iraq.

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