Conference of the European Ministers of Culture - 20 - 22 October 2003 - Opatija, Croatie 

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Gunter Mulack : ''Education is the first requirement for intercultural dialogue!''

While encouraging cultural exchanges with the foreign communities living on its soil, Germany has introduced specific programmes of cultural co-operation with the Arab countries. In both areas, education and training are emphasised before all else, explains Ambassador Gunter Mulack, responsible for “Dialogue with the Muslim world” in the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Interview

Question : There are over 3 million Turks in Germany, and several hundred thousand people from other countries, including Muslim countries. Do you have any special policies to encourage cultural dialogue between these various communities?

Gunter Mulack : Foreign cultural associations are entitled to public subsidies, and we also support initiatives - concerts, exhibitions, stage performances, etc. - which are designed to bridge the gap between cultures. However, we see education for immigrants as the first priority, to ensure that they do not end up in ghettos. Many young immigrants have problems at school, and overcoming those problems is vital.

Besides, many young Turks take absolutely no interest in the cultural programmes run by Turkish associations. Unless we can help them to find their place in the community, they are going to be rejected - by long-term Turkish residents, and by Germans too. We need social and education measures to integrate these young people, and harmonious dialogue between the communities also depends on those measures.

Question : Your Ministry has recently launched a programme, “Euro-Muslim dialogue”, which is aimed at all the Arab countries. What is this about?

Gunter Mulack : It is vital, particularly since 11 September, to dispel the misconceptions and prejudices which are threatening to drive a wedge between Europe and the Arab world. Many Germans today are frightened of Islam, and we need to take that fear seriously, while trying to get rid of it and help our two cultures to make contact.

That is why we have been organising seminars on Germany for the press in the Arab countries, and seminars on Islam for the German media. We want to get cultural institutions in countries as different as Egypt and Iran more interested in Germany. And our own institutions in those countries, including the Goethe Institutes, have been told to work for more exchange and cultural co-operation.

Question : How can this co-operation be made even more effective?

Gunter Mulack : I repeat what I said to start with - education must have top priority. We want more exchanges with Arab countries for university students and lecturers, and we also want schools exchanges for children. There’s nothing like spending a few weeks at school in a country to find out about its culture! Finally, we are particularly anxious to get women and young people involved in our educational and cultural co-operation programmes for the Arab world.