Understanding Europe


It was a Russian artist who used clear words to describe how a weakened Europe can find a way out of its current crisis: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself”, as Leo Tolstoy reminds us. It is not the refugees who are a threat to Europe, but those movements within Europe which “flee” democracy, which base their arguments on fear and let their socio-Christian capacities waste away with calls for fences, limits and camps. I’m not fearful of the flow of refugees, but of the readily visible lack of empathy, helpfulness, yes, even soul. This is not a specifically European problem, however, but a global, centuries-old one.

It was an Englishman, William Shakespeare, who, as co-author of a play about “Evil May Day”, had the protagonist, Thomas Morus, Mayor of London in 1517, give a fiery speech against xenophobia. It was aimed at Huguenots fleeing France and Flanders for London in the early 16th century. At the time, these refugees were being accused of kidnapping English women and usurping English culture. On Easter Sunday, 1517, the situation escalated: Many of the French were attacked and lynched. Only the strong intervention of the King ended this revolt, with its leaders being executed. William Shakespeare understood the historical classification of “Evil May Day” as a clear call to respect the human rights of everyone. In The Guardian, Chris Bryant recently wrote that Shakespeare in the Brexit debate (you’ll recall…) would most definitely have shown “his love for Europe and a dislike of rampant nationalism”.

It was a German, Martin Luther, who, also in 1517, published his 95 theses in Wittenberg and in doing so demanded the right for people to be recognised and allowed to live as free individuals. Klaus-Rüdiger Mai sees in Luther’s action a “Foundation of Europe” that radiates into the present. And it was the artist family of Lucas and Lucas Cranach (and the printing press…) without whom Luther’s message would not have spread so rapidly.

It’s no coincidence that again and again minor and major protagonists from the worlds of art and culture are involved in the creation of an inquisitive, searching and free Europe, be that now or (unknowingly) 500 years ago. Today too, we still have to fight repeatedly for the rights of the weak, which we see in Europe just as much as we do in the rest of the world. However, today we can recognise, thanks to libraries, museums, cinemas, thanks to works of art, books, films and thanks to databases, what enormous advances have been achieved in the past hundreds of years in respect to human civil rights, equality, education, health and welfare. Thus the swan song so popular nowadays to a democratic and civilised Europe is clearly inappropriate; too strong are our democracies, too strong the illuminating and inquisitive forces of our cultural landscape.

Strong above all else is the desire of many of Europe’s citizens to solve problems differently, faster, more humanely, more honestly and more pragmatically (than sometimes politics is able to…) by recollecting their material and intellectual wealth, their pragmatism and a historically influenced and living sense of responsibility. This wish comes from within, from the soul. The soul of Europe is its many million citizens. And since it’s impossible to look into the soul of each and every person, an ingenious catalyst and filter called Culture helps to us get to know, understand and above all bring together Europe with all its languages, passions, peculiarities, faults, corners, scents, pitfalls, subtleties and feuds. Unimaginable is a Europe without printing presses, books, libraries, museums, concert halls, churches and cinemas. Culture, much like education and science, is more equipped today as a “soft power” than anything else to help our civil society to learn and maintain responsibility, define values and discover empathy and soulfulness.

As the dream of a Europe not just of economic relations, but unified in diversity, becomes more real in civil society, culture as an agent plays a significant role and needs to continue to do so in the future. This means appreciating, nurturing and financing culture. This means linking culture early on both with the education of children and adolescents and with science. In the same way that libraries are “spaces of discovery”, cinemas, concert halls, galleries and museums are also spaces in which our society can find its bearings through art. To this end, ongoing and greater support of cultural networks, events, rooms, venues, market places and discussion forums is necessary because: In what is now a very digital global community, you can be heard, seen and read, but are you understood? Culture helps us understand the world. And that’s what keeps us together.

Translated from the original German by John Neilan

Dieter Kosslick | Photo: Ali Ghandtschi, Berlinale 2015

Since May 2001 the creative direction and management of the Berlin International Film Festival have been the responsibility of Dieter Kosslick. Born in Pforzheim in 1948, Dieter Kosslick studied Communication, Politics and Education in Munich. He moved to Hamburg in 1979 to work as speechwriter and office administrator for the First Mayor Hans Ulrich Klose and later as press spokesman for the “women’s equality” unit. He left this position in 1982 to work as a journalist for the magazine “konkret”. A year later, he became involved in film funding, firstly as managing director of Hamburg’s cultural film fund (Hamburg Film Office). In 1988 he became managing director of the city’s economic film fund (Hamburg Film Fund). The same year, he was a co-founder of EFDO (European Film Distribution Office) and became the president of this European organisation, a post he held until EFDO’s dissolution in 1996. In 1992 he took over the barely one year-old Filmstiftung NRW as executive director. During his nine years in office North-Rhine-Westphalia became the leading German film site and established itself internationally as an important film region. In July 2000 the Land of Berlin and the Federal Government of Germany appointed Dieter Kosslick director of Germany’s prestigious Berlin International Film Festival in 2001. He took up his new position in the capital as head of the Berlinale on May 1, 2001. Dieter Kosslick has received many honours and awards for the diverse ways in which he has promoted film and culture.

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