Being a cultural journalist means often having to deal with topics that are not only influenced by the latest cultural developments, but also by politics. In a country like Germany, where culture is partially funded by the state, political decisions also partially determine the cultural landscape of the country.
What are the major concerns for a ministry of culture or ministry of the arts in a comparatively rich country like Germany, where the cultural sector is so large and diverse? How does one become interested in culture as a politician and former activist? What does the current cultural-political situation look like and what actions are needed in regards to culture politics in the state of Baden-Württemberg?
In September 2016, Theresia Bauer — Minister of Science, Research and the Arts of the state of Baden-Württemberg, Germany, and a member of the Green Party — met with three cultural journalists – Tony Feda (Democratic Republic of Congo), Rasha Hilwi (Jerusalem), and Yania Suarez (Cuba) – for an interview about her positions relating to politics and culture today. The three journalists were fellows for cultural journalism at Akademie Schloss Solitude. The fellowship for cultural journalism first began in 2016 and was co-founded by the Carl-Zeiss Stiftung.
Yania Suarez: When you were younger, you were an activist who participated in numerous demonstrations. Perhaps this is a period of your life not very well known and I would like you to tell us a little more about these beginnings.
Theresia Bauer: During my childhood I was engaged in Catholic organizations working with children and youth. So my first impetus to change the world had a religious background. We fought during the Cold War against air missiles, for equal rights between men and women, for protection of our environment and the most important issue, I think, was the struggle against nuclear power plants. This kind of energy production seemed to be too dangerous for us and dangerous for our population in general; the problem of nuclear waste still has not been solved. We also struggled for more education and participation in politics.
»Gandhi was very important to us and our goal was never to harm others, but rather to convince them in a non-violent way. We didn’t want to do traditional demonstrations, we wanted to act stronger, but without violence.« Theresia Bauer
YS: You were active in the Catholic Church?
TB: At that time there was a movement known as the »Theology of Liberation« in the Catholic Church that was really strong, and we were inspired by Ernesto Cardenal and Victor Jara.
YS: … and you participated in demonstrations as well?
TB: Yes, but peacefully. Gandhi was very important to us and our goal was never to harm others, but rather to convince them in a non-violent way. We didn’t want to do traditional demonstrations, we wanted to act stronger, but without violence. It was interesting, it was fun, and it wasn’t dangerous. We never had to be afraid of violence from the German police. We did our best to cooperate with them and each other.
YS: What remains and what has changed of that Theresia Bauer?
TB: I learned very early that it is not enough to only be against something. If you want to change the world, you have to give answers and to explain how to do things better. This was one lesson I learned really early: it is not enough to only say »no«, you have to say »yes« to something. You need to have an alternative. And the second lesson was that you can’t change the world alone; you have to collaborate with others. It is very important to not only work with women for the rights of women, and to work with others for a better environment, but rather you have to unify these forces. And this was the moment when the Green Party came together; we united different social movements into one party and we learned that we have to create a joint program.
»This was one lesson I learned really early: it is not enough to only say »no«, you have to say »yes« to something. You need to have an alternative. And the second lesson was that you can’t change the world alone; you have to collaborate with others.« Theresia Bauer
Now we have 30% of the state parliament here in Baden-Württemberg. That’s a strong development and I’m sure being part of the government is one more challenge. It’s not enough to say »yes« to something anymore, you have to implement it too. That’s another part of the lesson.
Rasha Hilwi: Starting from political activism, how did you get into culture?
TB: I think we in Germany need a culture of creativity and a culture of open mindedness to take on new challenges in the world. The power to be open to something new or something unknown comes from science, culture and the arts. We need this spirit of innovation for our economy, but also for our democracy, because we have to be open to the more rapid changes in our society. If one becomes too satisfied, you become less able to accept change or progress. Because of science, education, and culture, we can be better prepared and more open to the future.
»The power to be open to something new or something unknown comes from science, culture and the arts.« Theresia Bauer
RH: What is your cultural policy in your position? And how do you see the cultural future of Baden-Württemberg?
TB: In the state of Baden-Württemberg we are proud to have a very rich cultural landscape. We fund numerous theaters: 2 large state theaters, 9 theaters provided by our municipal communities, 46 private theaters, 11 state museums and much more. Having such a wide range of cultural offerings from numerous different institutions requires a lot of work to provide them with funding for their future development. I think good funding enables them to live the idea of liberty and freedom of the arts, because creativity is only truly possible when you are not burdened by these other issues.
Providing this freedom is one of our most important jobs. The second thing which I think is very important is to always have the possibility to fund new ideas. It is important to assure the existence of already established institutions, but we also need space for new ideas. We try to keep a balance between these two sides.
YS: Speaking of the state sponsoring cultural programs, I would like to ask you how you manage to maintain the independence and freedom of projects sponsored by the state, such as public theater? In Cuba, where I am from, if the state is paying for something, it means they also run it.
TB: It is very important to be aware that our society needs some spaces for creativity which are as free as possible of economic and government influence. This is why it is so important to defend the idea of freedom for science, education and culture. This is written down in our constitution and therefore it is part of the identity of our entire country, and especially of our artists and our scientists. We have to protect this independence and this sense of freedom, but they themselves defend it too. This is very important, because it is not enough for this freedom to only be written down; it also needs a vivid culture to realize and protect it.
»It is very important to be aware that our society needs some spaces for creativity which are as free as possible of economic and government influence. This is why it is so important to defend the idea of freedom for science, education and culture.« Theresia Bauer
RH: Germany hosted and is still hosting a great number of refugees. What is your policy regarding cultural integration for refugees in the state?
TB: We feel a historical responsibility for welcoming refugees in Germany seeing as many Germans had to flee their homes during the last century. We also have a responsibility to the rest of Europe and to help deal with conflicts in Africa or in the Near East. We have no need to be passive and wait for Russia or the US to take action first. In 2015 we accepted nearly one million refugees. That is a huge number, but we have the experience of integrating many more refugees who came to Germany after the Second World War. Our society knows about the challenges of integrating people. When they came in the 1940s and 1950s, Germany was destroyed and really suffering from a lack of food, among other issues. I am convinced that refugees coming to us, living here, and starting and creating new possibilities for themselves and their families can be very important for our own society to be innovative and open to the world.
»I am convinced that refugees coming to us, living here, and starting and creating new possibilities for themselves and their families can be very important for our own society to be innovative and open to the world.« Theresia Bauer
Besides our historical responsibility, there are also economic reasons to welcome refugees. Our society is demographically getting older; we need young people to be able to work. It is to our own economic advantage to welcome these people. To open the way for integration, culture is very important – as important as education. Integrating refugees into the society does not only mean giving them food, clothes and accommodation. They need to become a part of our society. One of the best ways to get to know each other is through common activities. The fear of the unknown has a lot to do with a lack of contact.
We create these common spaces by singing together in international choirs, or through theater or joint activities in the arts for example. Cooking together is also a great opportunity to create confidence for children or young people. It’s easy, but it works and it is so nice to see how cultures are coming together and having and creating new experiences with each other.
Tony Feda: From Germany’s history, we know that The Greens are a leftist party. But during the coalition with the SPD, the Green Party appeared to make many decisions aimed at leading Germany away from a welfare state, such as cuts in the social welfare system (national health insurance, unemployment, payment pensions), lowering taxes, and through reformed regulations. With so many neoliberal decisions, has the Green Party given up its critiques of capitalism?
TB: That is a big question. I think socialism is not a good alternative to capitalism. We have to think about new models for economic development and about our social responsibility to everyone. We don’t have an exact name for this economic system, but we usually call it the social and ecologic modernization of capitalism. This means we believe in individual initiative and we believe in the system of markets and competition, but we know that a strong democratic system is important to legitimize and establish rules for this economy. We need the rules of democratic society to ensure a bright economic future, because capitalism without democracy and the capacity to regulate will destroy the basis of our own development. The right of the richest would always win.
»We need the rules of democratic society to ensure a bright economic future, because capitalism without democracy and the capacity to regulate will destroy the basis of our own development.« Theresia Bauer
TF: In 2016, the German Bundestag and Federal Government officially recognized the Herero Genocide committed by Germany during its colonial history in Namibia. However, Chancellor Merkel has said that Germany won’t pay financial reparations. What is the Green Party’s position on the situation?
TB: I think I need to know a little bit more about the details of the dispute before I can answer that question.
In Germany, we know a lot about our responsibility around fascism and the Second World War, but we are more or less in the beginning of learning and doing more with respect to our colonial past. I unfortunately lack the details related to this issue in particular, but in general I think that we have a lot of work to do and that we need to raise the national consciousness in regards to our colonial history.