Joachim Sartorius: Turkey has grown more heterogeneous | Music | DW | 15.06.2012
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Joachim Sartorius: Turkey has grown more heterogeneous

DW presents the keynote speech from a podium discussion on Istanbul on German and Turkish cultural relations. Joachim Sartorius, a former Goethe Institute director, delivered the speech.

Joachim Sartorius is a former secretary general of the Goethe Institute, which transmits German language and culture around the world. Sartorius is also a published poet and translator who has worked extensively in the area of German cultural diplomacy. He offered a keynote speech ahead of a panel discussion in Istanbul on the topic of the role of education and culture in German-Turkish relations. DW presents a selection of his remarks from the speech below.

When accession talks between Turkey and the EU began, my friends in Istanbul started clammoring - half in jest, half in excitement, "We're not Ottomans anymore; we're Europeans!"

Meanwhile, the euphoria has cooled considerably. A "privileged partnership" - that's Angela Merkel's tidy term that has been adopted by the majority of EU member states. The expression is supposed to gloss over the fact that not everyone is welcome in Europe.

However, as the EU reels from a series of fiscal catastrophes, membership in the Union is growing less desirable for Turkey. Politically and in particular economically, Turkey is coming into its own and has less of a need for the EU.

Since the accession talks have gone on for years while the economic relations have grown ever closer, the areas of culture and education have become more and more important in the relationship between Germany and Turkey.

Integration and cultural education in Germany

Contemporary German society is now unimaginable without its Turkish immigrant communities. Recent years have brought significant progress in terms of integration. German politicians have long since dispensed with the idea of an ethnically or religiously homogenous country.

In terms of education and culture, the primary work on integration needs to be carried out by German states and communities. I think it's important that we support institutions that vigorously promote diversity and explore cultural differences. In so doing, they help us understand one another.

The Berlin theater Ballhaus Naunynstrasse offers a great example of what I mean in this respect, particularly with its best-known work, "Verrücktes Blut" (Crazy Blood). In it, a teacher retaliates aggressively against the brutal misdeeds of one of her pupils. Meanwhile, the students in her class - seven young people with Turkish and Arab roots - start clamoring for Enlightenment values and a second chance for the wrong-doer. A clever piece full of dark humor.

One thing that bears mentioning is that the fault lines where intolerance and misunderstandings emerge are not necessarily along cultural borders, as some would have us believe. The conflicts that now threaten to intensify are those between a globalized elite and the masses of those who stand to lose out on globalization. This divide cuts across cultures.

Cultural foreign policy in Turkey

A new situation in Turkey has emerged in recent years as the country has set aside its traditional political ideology known as Kemalism [a doctrine of secular nationalism]. The concept of a homogenous nation havine fallen apart, the country has begun discovering its long suppressed ethnic divisions and languages. In Turkey's metropolises, and particularly in Istanbul, artists, authors, publishers, architects and designers are creating a cosmopolitan public sphere. At the same time, there is a push from conservatives toward an Islamist homogenization of personal freedoms. The result: the makings of cultural conflict.

Prime Minister Erdogan has proposed privatizing the financing of Turkish theaters as well as establishing an independent committee to oversee the selection of works performed. Artists are growing nervous and demanding financial support with no strings attached about what can and cannot be performed. Germany has long offered public support to the arts in this way. As such, Germany is confronted with many new potential partners on the one side and an attempt at stricter state control on the other.

In terms of cultural exchange between Germany and Turkey, many things come about on their own. Curators, composers, filmmakers, authors and scholars from both countries know one another and network. Nonetheless, Germany still needs to establish an overarching and lasting cultural policy toward Turkey.

In general, Germany's foreign cultural policy has many instruments at its disposal. I've spent nearly my entire professional life working with these instruments. And please believe me that the most effective instrument of all is the provision of scholarships and grants that allow for extended stays in a host country. That is the only way to create emotional and cognitive connections that cannot be destroyed.

On the role of the media

The influence of the media on public opinion is, as we all know, enormous. A negative or hateful report can bring trust built up over years into question.

It seems important to me that we build up partnerships with Turkish media, such as was done here in the Encounters with Beethoven project with NTV, the daily newspaper Radikal and Acik Radio. Could we not sustain such partnerships on a long-term basis, without a specific project in mind?

In the future, we might even think about something similar to the German-French Arte network - perhaps a German-Turkish TV station?

Alongside the "traditional" media, social networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are growing more and more important. In both countries, a new generation is growing up that gets connected via these sites and exchanges information with a "new" language and with much different perspectives and expectations than older generations.

Perhaps something will develop from this wildly expanding plethora of possibilities - maybe even new and more sophisticated linkages between the young people of our two countries.

Speech: Joachim Sartorius / gsw
Editor: Rick Fulker

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