My speech at the Conference’s Opening Ceremony:
Dear Undersecretary Guglielmo Picchi,
Dear Professor Immacolata Amodeo,
Dear Francesco Fratelli,
Dear Ladies and gentlemen,
I may say that only in Rome have I felt what it really is like to be a human being. To this elevation, to this happiness of feeling, I have never since arisen…
These words written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe on his tour of Italy, have awakened a very special yearning and conception among the Germans for and of this country – with which Germany now maintains strong cultural relations.
Germany has more cultural institutes in Italy than in any other country in the world.
Some of them were the first of their kind worldwide. The list includes:
- six research institutes,
- four institutes offering fellowships for artists,
- two full branches of the Goethe-Institut,
- three German Schools (in Milan, Genoa and – since 1861 – in Rome),
- the Casa di Goethe, a museum and exhibition space established in 1997,
- the Villa Vigoni, the German-Italian centre of excellence here on Lake Como,
- and the German-Italian youth exchange office.
Not to mention all our German organisations like the DAI and others working on the ground.
And of course there’s also Venice and the Biennale, which makes such an impression on me every time I go, and at which Germany is a regular participant.
And – not to forget – the Triennale in Milan.
Just yesterday I talked to the president of the triennale, Stefano Boeri, about the german contribution for next years Triennale.
In my own constituency, the town of Herne, I was fortunate to see for myself, just a few weeks ago, that cultural exchange is alive and flourishing.
I had the privilege of opening a city, or rather a tented city, when the “Eurofication Camp” had come to town.
Young people from France, Italy and Germany had, in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut and youth theatres from the Ruhr area, erected their tents for several days, living communally according to their own democratic rules.
They put on modern dance performances and plays.
The remarkable thing was that only a few months before, some of the young people had been unemployed, with no hope for the future, spending their days at the railway station in Marseille or on the streets of Naples.
It was amazing to see the performances put on by these youngsters.
I really enjoyed witnessing the enthusiasm with which these young French, Italian and German adults worked together and communicated with each other.
These young people were a living example – on a smaller scale – of what we hope to achieve in European cultural policy and in Europe as a whole: cooperation and “co-production”. Dialogue and exchange in an open but safe space.
For this reason, too, it is my great pleasure and privilege to open this conference today on behalf of the Federal Foreign Office.
Places like the Villa Vigoni with all its history and its DNA of german-italian relations and transnational heart give us the opportunity to reflect on current social issues and challenges – in peace and quiet, away from daily politics, and to discuss them with each other.
This open-minded will for ccoperation is in a nutshell what Europe needs so badly.
The civil society, the arts in particular have a central role to play. This is because big contemporary issues – such as climate change, migration and the digital transformation – also need to be held up to the mirror of the arts.
In this age especially, when populism threatens to poison society, and the cooperation, multilateralism and democracy we have worked to achieve are at risk.
Today, when Europe faces new challenges and more and more of our certainties no longer seem to be valid.
Today, when the progress made by our modern societies has to be defended anew every day, as do the values and principles underlying any such open and modern society.
It is precisely at times like these that we need cooperation, exchange and dialogue.
It is vital that we look together to the future and learn from the past.
That is why I attach such great importance to youth exchange and the joint study of history.
This includes examining and coming to terms with the events of the World Wars. Since 2014, the German-Italian Future Fund, endowed with a total of four million euros, has financed projects designed to help establish a shared culture of remembrance, thereby putting into practice the recommendations made by the German-Italian Commission of Historians.
I am particularly pleased that the German government will make another four million euros available for the coming four years, once the budget has been adopted.
Ultimately, the two go hand in hand, for it is indeed the young generation that must build a shared and peaceful Europe, in full knowledge of the Nazis’ crimes.
I am very grateful to the Villa Vigoni in particular for providing essential support for the German-Italian youth office “Ciao-Tschau”.
I spoke earlier today with Mr Picchi, my Italian counterpart. We both agree that we should expand cooperation in the fields of culture, education and science in Europe.
As of this year, we have a joint cultural institute – the “Istituto Italiano di Cultura” (IIC) in Nancy-Strasbourg. We want to build on this cooperation.
I am glad that the Federal Foreign Office has been able to help make this important conference, “Vigoni For Europe – Cultural Heritage and International Cultural Relations”, a reality.
It is important, because we see what is happening in various places around the world, including Syria: cultural heritage has become a target of war. It is being deliberately destroyed for a purpose.
For the purpose of destroying people’s identities. Cultural heritage is not only bricks and mortar, it also has an immaterial value – cultural heritage is a force for creating identity.
If there is no culture, there is no memory – and so: no point of reference for the future.
The protection, preservation and reconstruction of cultural heritage in times of crisis and armed conflict must therefore increasingly become an instrument of international policy if peace and security are to be restored.
Culture is a force that can help prevent crises, or which can help build the future and support education after a conflict or crisis.
This approach has long since been propounded in various guidelines and directives at European level and elsewhere.
These principles have now also been taken into account in the drafting of our national guidelines on crisis prevention and stabilisation.
This came about as a result of an initiative launched by Italy and Germany in 2017 addressed to the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs calling for concerted international action to protect cultural heritage.
Federica Mogherini responded with a comprehensive analysis on the preservation and protection of cultural heritage within the framework of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy.
This was a milestone and Italy, in particular, was able to share its expertise in the field of the protection of cultural property.
The necessary know-how is now available, thanks also to the German Archaeological Institute’s network and other experts.
Ladies and gentlemen, work to defend culture is, in our view, work to defend peace.
I am looking forward to the discussions and hearing your ideas, and wish you all a successful conference.
This venue provides the perfect setting and a unique atmosphere. And it is no secret, Undersecretary Guglielmo Picchi also agreed: Italian food belongs also t the field of international cultural politics.
Thank you very much. E grazie.