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Berliner Philharmonie
10. September 2020

A Plea for Democracy and Culture

Event with Nora Bossong, Daniel Kehlmann, Sharon Dodua Otoo, Pankaj Mishra, Olga Tokarczuk and Mario Vargas Llosa.

Part of the internationalen Literaturfestivals 2020.

The current pandemic is one of the greatest challenges since the Second World War. Art and culture, like all areas of life, have been severely affected by the crisis and their very existence is threatened. In particular weaker agents, such as free artists, independent publishers, but also cinemas, theatres, opera and concert houses, libraries, universities, and museums have been hit hard — and likewise the international cultural dialogue is under threat.

Culture is more than a path to personal enlightenment. It is also a way for citizens to participate in a discourse that gives substance to the process of democratization. Cultural life has come to an almost complete standstill as a result of the pandemic – with the exception of efforts to communicate artistic works at least online. Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, Monika Grütters: “This means that art is missing as a medium of social self-reflection and as a driving force of democratic culture of debate and understanding at a time when democratic freedoms had to be temporarily restricted to an extent that until recently seemed unthinkable, and when the future is more uncertain than ever before. And Berlin’s Senator for Culture and Europe, Klaus Lederer, writes: “Culture and art are existential nutrients.” And: “I think it would be unfortunate if in two or three years we found out that although we have defeated the coronavirus, the coronavirus has destroyed the diversity of our society, that in the end only big chains of cinema or musicals have survived and only commercialized mainstream art exists in the city”. This is of course also true for cultural life online and social media, which is even more seriously affected by the dominance of global technology companies.

The pandemic potentially fuels emerging nationalism in many regions of the world, even in Europe. In recent years, once stable democracies have been increasingly shaken by the dismantling of the rule of law and restrictions on political freedoms. In many countries, governments are actively promoting the weakening of democracy and the strengthening of repressive systems – systems that work, in particular, against the free press – in favor of a resurgence of nationalism. The effects of the pandemic threaten to exacerbate precisely these developments.

The pandemic is also strengthening the power of big technology and communication companies, with serious consequences for cultural life: the surveillance of citizens; the spreading of fake news; the reduction of the diversity of cultural life to private spaces while public platforms such as libraries, theatres, galleries, and concert halls are being temporarily closed.

Reflections on culture and its role in democratizing societies constitute the core of this event. How can culture con-tribute to strengthening democracies and containing nationalist tendencies even in times of crisis? In cooperation with Allianz Kulturstiftung, Heinrich Böll Foundation, Instituto Cervantes and Stiftung Berliner Sparkasse.

Greetings from Heiko Maas (tbc), Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ignacio Olmos, Director of Instituto Cervantes Berlin, and Ulrich Schreiber, Festival Director.

Ticket price: 24€