Democracy seems to be on the decline in Russia and Ukraine, presenting a challenge for German foreign policy. Deputy Foreign Minister Cornelia Pieper explains how Berlin will navigate relations with both countries.
DW: Germany is presenting itself to the Russian public with a series of events as part of a project called "Germany and Russia - creating a shared future." What areas do you see as particularly necessary when it comes to a German-Russian future?
Cornelia Pieper: All areas. We have developed several levels of dialogue, but I think that it is very important to connect the countries' civil societies. That is the basis for peaceful, democratic developments. For us, cultural projects get across a sense of values. That is why I am very anxious to see cultural projects, educational projects and projects dealing with foreign scientific policy all occurring as part of the Germany year in Russia.
We opened the Germany year in Russia in mid-June with a large exhibition at the Historical Museum near Red Square. It's called "Russians and Germans. 1000 Years of History, Art and Culture." There was a joint concert in the Tchaikovsky Conservatory where young European musicians got together with young Russian musicians. Getting people together is the real task. Building bridges, improving communication, understanding each other better, strengthening civil societies. That's what is driving us.
To what degree is it possible to created a shared policy and have a societal exchange with a partner that is backtracking on democracy and that limits political and civil freedoms to the degree that Russia is under President Vladimir Putin?
We are currently experiencing that with the women's band [Pussy Riots] that really did not commit a crime but correctly pointed out what is known to everyone: There is no freedom of speech, freedom of opinion or freedom of the arts and culture in Russia. It makes me queasy to look at the developments currently happening in Russia. They cannot be tolerated.
But I think that we will not get anywhere by opposing dialogue. I strongly believe that German foreign policy was successful in the past because we remained very involved in discussions with governments - and with dictators - and made clear that democratic society requires more freedom.
If we look at Ukraine, the government is holding former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in prison. Do you see a vertical concentration of power happening in a way there that is similar to Russia?
It is not acceptable for members of the government - and it's not only about former government members like Yulia Tymoshenko, there are also other government members in prison - to be unfairly put in prison and that members of the opposition are put behind bars because they exercise their right to freedom of expression and the opinions they express happen to differ from those of the Ukrainian president. That is why I think we here in Europe have to pay close attention. We will not ratify the Ukrainian-European Association Agreement if human rights and civil rights are not respected.
Of course, we also want the people of Ukraine to have the feeling that Germany and Europe both want Ukraine to be a future member of the European Union. But for that to happen the government has to do its homework and human rights violations are not a trademark of the European Union. It's quite the opposite.
Influence is shifting on the global scale - Germany and Europe are shaky and other centers of power are emerging. How does foreign cultural policy need to adapt to meet new challenges?
I think that we need to make it clear to ourselves that we cannot live in peace as long as there are conflicts happening - and it doesn't matter if it's a climate conflict or conflicts due to lack of food or the destruction of agriculture as we are seeing during the drought in Africa. That means we need to partner with other regions in the world. That is why it is very important for us - in addition to the issues of culture and education - to highlight scientific policy and advances that could help other countries and serve as solutions when it comes to climate and energy policy as well as in the food industry.
The Foreign Office spends a quarter of its budget on cultural and educational policy on things like scholarships, projects to promote cultural cooperation, and exhibitions, but it also goes to scientific conferences where you can meet scientists from other counties, and climate conferences. I think that is the correct approach: talking to each other, continuing dialogue, look ing for new partners in the world and strengthening Europe. That will also help create more freedom around the world.
Culture, education and science as the basis for political participation, for the rule of law and for democratic principles. How do you see the Deutsche Welle's role in this process?
The Deutsche Welle is the most important medium for German foreign policy. The Deutsche Welle is the medium that is recognized outside the country and in the crisis areas of the world for delivering important programming in the key area of education as well as programming that informs and expands the role of democracy in society. That's why I cannot imagine my life as a politician dealing with foreign policy and cultural policy without the Deutsche Welle - the partnership actually serves as a fundamental prerequisite for the success of our work.
Cornelia Pieper has served as Germany's deputy foreign minister since 2009.
Interview: Ute Schaeffer / sms
Editor: Monika Griebeler / ji