Let us defend Europe together

MARTIN RENNERT

Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to find a volcano upon which to dance a reckless jig? The current eruption is a vile mixture of nationalism, contempt for politics, xenophobia, intolerance, anxiety and a vague sense of being overburdened. And yet so many people are acting as if the stage has not been set, as if nothing has happened. Have we forgotten all the admonitory words describing the insidious and outwardly haphazard nature of the catastrophes of the 20th century? Have we come to a moment we thought we’d never reach again? Have we attained a state of denial in which we act as if everything is as it ever was?

How wonderful that we don’t have to invent anything anew. We already have a peace project, an Enlightenment project, a tolerance project and an equality project. It is called Europe. Born on the continent of the Enlightenment after centuries of carnage with the firm conviction that peace and mutual understanding are goals that will always unite us. Indeed, we have grown accustomed to peace, a certain level of prosperity, a free press and pluralism — and this has led us to see our good fortune as self-explanatory, as a sure thing that’s here to stay. This attitude is palpable everywhere. At this point, however, it is imperative that we become aware of the fact that these achievements face grave dangers posed by all kinds of well-networked profiteers, by our own level of satiation and, last but not least, by a mindset of apolitical detachment.

How quiet it has become in the corridors of public authorities, in schools, on the streets, at universities. How little we hear spoken of Europe in these places! And who is speaking with — rather than about — our partners in Hungary, Austria and Poland? Who is speaking to those frightened Danes and oblivious English before it’s too late? And who, for example, actually takes young people seriously — many of whom are highly qualified yet still unemployed? These are people for whom we must work to defend a life lived amidst peace and freedom of thought. We must speak with them; not in a preachy or reproving way on the blessings of agricultural subsidies, but instead with the passion and courage to engage in a differentiated view of a world resonating with hate-speech slogans.

For many people, Europe is a promise. But on the continent itself? Here we see an increasingly misinformed lethargy alongside fears stoked by particular vested interests. Those of us who know the value of freedom, an open society and a state under the rule of law must stand in opposition to this lethargy and these fears. And we must do so knowing that there will be criticism and that we will not always share the same opinion, but that we are nevertheless willing to forge ahead on a path to democratic unity that was launched over sixty years ago. One of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s early and most memorable films is “Fear Eats the Soul”, and indeed this is the way things work with fear and scare tactics. Fear is a dangerous and insidious poison that can have tremendous consequences. The first thing it does is paralyse its prey. Generating fear has always been a means by which authoritarian despots achieve their goal of exclusion. We must take fears and concerns seriously while at the same time resisting their power to capture our minds. It is up to us to defend our fragile world.

Translated from the original German by The Hagedorn Group

Martin Rennert | Photo: A. Pein

Prof. Martin Rennert was elected president of the Berlin University of the Arts in 2006. He was born in New York in 1954 and studied classical guitar in Vienna and Graz, Austria; as well as in Granada, Spain. In 1985, he was appointed professor for guitar at the Hochschule der Künste Berlin, and from 1989 to 1995 served as Dean of the College of Music at the UdK Berlin. From 1995 to 1997, Prof. Rennert was president of the European League of Institutes of the Arts (ELIA), based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Since being named president of the Berlin University of the Arts, he has also served as deputy chairperson of the Landeskonferenz der Rektoren und Präsidenten der Universitäten und Hochschulen des Landes Berlin (LKRP), an organization that brings together all the University presidents in Berlin. He is also the spokesperson for the higher education institutions in the arts at LKRP. In addition to these responsibilities, President Rennert serves in an advisory capacity for the European Union on questions of cultural policy and arts education, especially in regard to issues relating to the growth of the Union. He has advised ministries of culture and science of several European and non-European nations, and beginning in 2007 has been a member of the Advisory Board (“Beirat”) of the Zurich (Switzerland) University of the Arts.
Since 2011, President Rennert has also sat on the Broadcasting Council for the public broadcaster Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (ARD), serving as its deputy chairperson since 2014; additionally, he is deputy chairperson of the Telemedienausschuss of the ARD, and a member of the Program Advisory Committee of ARTE Geie.

Read more about the A Soul For Europe Pre-Conference debate here.