Museums as ambassadors and political players? Impulses for German-Russian relations

This blog has already provided many important and interesting suggestions for my conference talk. Thanks to all colleagues for their comments to my contribution on German Russian museum relations. However, also many other contributions and comments have inspired me. Today I will share my theses and again I am looking forward to further impulses.


Exhibition “Our Russians – our Germans”, 2007 Berlin

German-Russian relations are not at their best. Recently, the crisis in Ukraine, tightened controls of the political foundations, and continuous discussions about the development of the civil society and the human rights situation in Russia have been straining the [mutual] relationship. Even the otherwise always prospering business community complains about decreasing turnovers and in the cultural sector rifts are clearly visible despite claims to the opposite by the German state-minister for cultural affairs.

History shows that such periods of estrangement have repeatedly occurred in the past in spite of a generally good relationship. The low point of course was the catastrophe of German policy of extermination in East Europe during the Second World War. This tragic period is documented by the German-Russian museum in Berlin-Karlshorst. It is, besides the Allied Museum, a unique institution of international museum cooperation in Germany. The importance attributed to the German-Russian relationship by the German Federal Government is shown by the fact that it is one of the very few museums fully financed by the Federal Government.Using this as a starting point I shall explore the role museums can play in international relations. Can museums actually influence, possibly even improve them and contribute to their stabilization? And if so, how? My assumption is that a strengthening of museums in culture- as well as in foreign policies can contribute to the taking up of controversial issues and to offer innovative platforms for discussions. This may result from the specific function of museums as informal places of learning and education as well as media of democratization. Perceiving museums more strongly as political locations they can give important impulses for politics and society.

This talk will examine this thesis in three steps using the German-Russian relations as an example with a sidelong glance at the US to find out which instructive stimuli on that matter are offered by American museums. First, a look at topical cooperation in the museum area shows that many, mostly big projects are realised, besides, however, they are reflecting many problems which mark all areas of the German Russian relations and thus put in question their lasting effect (I). This result needs to be regretted, as the second part of my paper will point out, since the unique institutional context of museums like no other could provide an improvement and steadying of the mutual relations (II). Which chances and perspectives for the German Russian relations can arise from these considerations? This will be my question for the third part (III).

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