How can culture bring different people together


Speech by Thomas Krüger at the 15th annual meeting of open channels in Berlin, September 11-12, 2008

The acquisition of intercultural skills is currently the central task in all areas of our society. Civil society - to which the media work of the open channels belongs - plays a prominent role.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you very much for inviting me to your conference and I would like to say that the Federal Agency for Civic Education supports your cause with full conviction. The Federal Agency for Civic Education has been working closely with the organizers for years, and I am particularly pleased that you made intercultural dialogue the central topic of this annual meeting.

I would like to propose the following thesis here: We must first be able to engage in intercultural dialogue before we can conduct it. The acquisition of intercultural skills is currently the central task in all areas of our society. Civil society - to which the media work of the open channels belongs - plays a prominent role. That is why there is a triad for me: intercultural opening, acquisition of intercultural skills and intercultural dialogue. Opening up, acquiring skills and dialogue go hand in hand.

Only in this triad can we manage to master the challenges and to achieve better social coexistence. Civil society organizations play a very special role in this. They are the protagonists of openness, skills acquisition and dialogue.

What intercultural opening means, why intercultural skills acquisition is necessary, how this can be put into practice in order to be able to lead the dialogue and what role civil society organizations can play here, I want to make this clear to you with a few arguments.

I. Challenges

Today we live in Germany in an immigration society. Migrants have become an important part of the population. More than 15 million people in Germany have a migration background (2006); that is almost 20 percent of the resident population. In Germany, the largest groups of migrants are the German-Russians with five million and the Turks with two million. Many other groups come from neighboring European countries and from the European Union.

They bring their culture, their way of life and their religion with them and don't just drop them at the border - not even if they have acquired German citizenship. Without a doubt: German society has become more diverse and social inequality has gained a new meaning. The old milieus that have long shaped society are gradually dissolving and new ones are emerging. However, there is a risk that social differences will become ethnicized and the Turks will suddenly only be perceived through educational and employment deficits.

In politics and society, especially in Germany, the issue of migration has long been suppressed. The fear of parallel societies had infected the political discourse and the discussion about the issue of migration. Only under the red-green federal government after 2000 did integration become a central political issue. Since then, participation has been the new buzzword. It affects all areas of society and all institutions and organizations - from schools to the media to companies and the labor market. The result of this political change was the Immigration Act of 2005, with which the immigration and acquisition of citizenship was reorganized.

Last year the federal government launched the "National Integration Plan". Because there are still numerous deficits in integration - insufficient German language skills, inadequate training and high unemployment among migrants. In this National Integration Plan, all social groups - from companies and their associations, to churches and civil society organizations - have committed themselves to making their contribution to integration and intercultural dialogue. Because integration cannot be prescribed by politics from above, but has to be promoted by society itself, by the willingness to get involved with migrants and their culture, to accept and promote them.

The National Integration Plan also uses the triad of intercultural opening of society - institutions and organizations, the development and acquisition of intercultural skills and cultural dialogue.

Companies that operate around the world have known these challenges for a long time. For them, diversity is the keyword for sensitive and respectful interaction with employees from different countries, cultural traditions and ethnic origins. After all, migrants represent an important, so far underutilized potential not only for companies, but also for social development as a whole.

In post-national societies there will no longer be a dominant national uniform culture, even if the discussion about a dominant culture suggests the opposite. Rather, it will be about the principles according to which cultural differences are recognized and how the dialogue between cultures can be conducted. This applies particularly to the European Union because, as a community of "old" nation states, it depends on the combination of cultural diversity and commonality.

In my next step, I would therefore like to refer to the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue.

II. Europe: public space, European identity

The Commission of the European Union has declared 2008 the year of intercultural dialogue. Your goal is to use a campaign to improve mutual understanding and coexistence. The citizens should be made aware of the benefits of cultural diversity. They should be motivated to take an active part in the discussion on European issues. Overall, the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue aims to promote a feeling of togetherness across cultural boundaries.

With the last round of enlargement of the European Union, Romania and Bulgaria were added in 2007. In the previous round, in 2004, the Mediterranean islands and especially the Eastern European countries joined the EU. With now 27 member states and almost 500 million inhabitants, the European Union is a multicultural entity that needs dialogue between cultures all the more.

The number of languages, creeds and ethnic and cultural backgrounds within the EU has increased. A European identity and a European public in which cultural diversity has its place are long-term goals of a European integration policy.

A European public arises, however, only through dialogue and through media in which a common point of reference has been established. This will not succeed without the mobilization of civil society.

I would therefore like to take a closer look at civil society in the next step and use it to illustrate my triad of opening, acquiring skills and dialogue.

III. The role of civil society

Since the intercultural dialogue cannot be prescribed from above, i.e. by politics alone, and since it is also not decisively promoted by the economy, only civil society organizations remain that can organize and lead it in an appropriate manner. Civil society is that world between the state and the economy. While the state functions primarily hierarchically and, endowed with legitimacy, makes political decisions, the economy is primarily about making profit. Both are legitimate and important, but not a good prerequisite for any kind of dialogue. In the best-case scenario, politics and business can make contributions, but it is inconceivable without civil society. One of the most important functions that civil society organizations have is described by the term integration. Alexis de Tocqueville pointed this out more than 150 years ago in his book on American democracy. Amitai Etzioni, the founder of communitarianism, emphasized the community-building power of civil society organizations in the early 1970s.

Today the integrating power of civil society organizations is associated with the concept of social capital. Civil society organizations should produce this special form of capital because - as sports clubs, music groups and political initiatives show - they can bring people of different origins and cultures together.

But not every civil society organization automatically has this integrating power and this ability for intercultural dialogue. The American political scientist Robert Putnam drew attention to this with his distinction between bridging social capital and bonding social capital. Because the effects between "bridging" and "excluding" social capital are contradictory. Bridging means relationships of trust - in our case: intercultural relationships - between different ethnic and social groups; Bonding refers to a relationship of trust between an ethnically and socially homogeneous group. The mafia would be a good example of this.

Building bridges, intercultural dialogue, is a task that many civil society organizations face. Because it is much easier to stay "among yourself" first.

The term "intercultural opening" has been used for this task in recent years. The above-mentioned National Integration Plan of the German Federal Government also uses this term. Because civil society is not the kingdom of the good, but social inequality and exclusion are also reproduced in it.

Opening means that people of different ethnic origins, cultures, religions and social status get the chance to participate in schools, administrations, associations, communal associations, music groups, churches, religious communities etc. Intercultural opening refers above all to the fact that traditional clubs, associations, social services institutions and other organizations show that they are ready to accept migrants and to adapt to their wishes and needs. Because all too often one can observe how ethnically homogeneous groups form again and again in sports clubs and in other areas. The Germans then stay among themselves, for example, and so do the migrants.

Cultural openness can mean, for example, that migrant self-organizations are included in the local networks. Cultural openness can also mean that the funding criteria of federal and state programs are changed and it can mean that more migrants work in institutions such as the police and public administration.

Intercultural opening is a task for the whole of society - but it particularly affects civil society organizations, because they claim to prevent social and cultural exclusions.

While intercultural opening relates primarily to the organizations, the acquisition of intercultural skills is aimed at the people in these organizations. According to Darla K. Dearndorff, intercultural competence describes the competence to govern effectively and appropriately in intercultural situations on the basis of certain attitudes and attitudes as well as special action and reflection skills. Such competencies relate to the interaction between individuals. They include practical skills such as extensive cultural knowledge, communication skills and conflict resolution skills. They are based on attitudes and attitudes such as appreciation of diversity and tolerance of ambiguity. And they ultimately require the ability to empathize and the ability to change perspective. It is precisely one's own cultural, religious and ethnocentric worldviews that should not be set absolutely, but reflected and the cultural rules that the actors consider binding should not be violated.

This creates high hurdles for intercultural situations that become more important for our everyday life the more often we find ourselves in such situations. Such situations are now part of everyday life for civil society organizations - unless they decide to maintain the traditional structures and, in the sense of Robert Putnam, only to form "exclusive" social capital, i.e. to stay among themselves. Civil society itself and the organizations in it are a learning field and see themselves as an area of ​​competence acquisition.

The numerous voluntary services, which are constantly being expanded, are understood as learning services. Thousands of young people have had experience here for years and learn to deal with other people from different cultures, origins and social areas. More than 10,000 applications have already been received for the development volunteer service "weltwärts", which is currently being set up. As part of this voluntary service, young people are sent to third world countries to make a contribution to voluntary work there and in Germany.

This voluntary service aims to raise awareness of global interrelationships in future issues such as energy, climate and a just world order. "Weltwärts" focuses on intercultural understanding, respect, tolerance and solidarity. This voluntary service is part of intercultural learning locations offered by civil society organizations without which a networked world can no longer function.

Such intercultural learning locations also exist in Germany. More than two thirds of civic engagement takes place at the municipal level. There it is the district groups and initiatives, the church groups, the clubs in the fields of sport and music, it is the advisory councils and parent groups, the local alliances and many other groups in which people of different cultures, ethnicities and religions meet. The intercultural skills mentioned are required here so that a dialogue can even start. But this is not an "ideal" or a completely different world. In this area too, social inequality has an impact, prejudices become noticeable and here too, positions of power are stuck to. For example, the club chairmen are still predominantly older, established men. The way to the top of an association is difficult for people from a different culture.

In many areas in Germany, but also in Europe, there are counter-tendencies towards intercultural understanding. There, right-wing extremist and right-wing populist groups try to prevent cultural diversity with threats, infiltration and an ideology of cultural purity and superiority. Here it is the task of civil society organizations to organize dialogue and learning across cultural boundaries and to reject such extreme ideas of purity and superiority.

This means that civil society as a whole and many of its organizations or initiatives claim to be open to intercultural learning and intercultural dialogue, but not all of them can meet this claim. It is therefore all the more important and significant to look at where this dialogue is actually taking place. Because dialogue has to be open and want to learn as a prerequisite. Intercultural dialogue, however, is the conscious and reflexive examination of cultural differences. In essence, this means that the others have their say, their arguments heard and the difference is respected against the background of common - universal - principles.

This brings us quickly to a central area of ​​civil society engagement, which I would like to talk about in my last section.

IV. Culture / Media and Open Channels

Culture is traditionally an area of ​​society that is strongly supported by civic engagement. In all areas, in museums, theaters, music and literature, it is volunteers who maintain operations through their commitment or who take on an important part because the state or the municipality no longer sees itself in a position to do so. The smaller the cultural organization, the more innovative the topic and the closer to the local level, the greater the proportion of civic engagement.

I would like to show here that it is precisely the area of ​​culture and the media - I'll come to that in a moment - in which the intercultural dialogue is deliberately conducted. Because in the cultural field it is also about the perception of what is one's own and what is foreign, i.e. the formation of cultural identity, which can decisively succeed in dealing with other cultures. The nucleus of intercultural dialogue is communication between people of different cultural origins.

In the field of culture - but not only there - such a dialogue can be conducted successfully, because dealing with cultural goods (pieces of music, texts, images, installations, films) often enables contact with other cultures. Dealing with culture opens up other worlds and worldviews, and today culture is an area of ​​transnational communication.

It is similar to culture with the media - and here especially with a form of citizen media, the open channels. Because one of the most important tasks of the media is the information function. They are intended to increase our knowledge, and above all our knowledge of other cultures, ways of life and political and religious convictions. The media also have the function of sensitizing us and opening us up to other cultures.

Open channels as citizen media can act as bridges in intercultural dialogue because they offer a different reality to mainstream media. It is precisely the fundamental openness of access for very different groups that is the prerequisite for a dialogue to take place at all.

Open channels have another advantage: they offer a connection with local civil society networks and can thus make a pluralistic media practice involving citizens' initiatives, NGOs, associations, migrant self-organizations and political groups a reality. This can be the basis for a cultural dialogue that is in principle open to everyone.


Civil society and intercultural dialogue belong together. But they only come together if the triad of intercultural opening, intercultural competence acquisition and intercultural dialogue is actually lived. The open channels offer the opportunity to realize this triad.

- The spoken word is valid -