The German cultural institute's work has become particularly difficult in China, Russia, and Turkey, according to Goethe-Institut President Klaus-Dieter Lehmann.
With 12 to 14 institutes in each of 14 designated regions across the world, the organisation cooperates with local partners.
In Russia, a law restricting the activity of foreign agents has made life difficult for NGOs, Lehmann told DW. They are included among the Goethe-Institut's local partners and have to justify working as “foreign agents” with a German institution that “naturally represents freedom in the arts.”
At the same time, China has increasingly begun to use culture as a political tool, Lehmann said, pointing out that 500 new Confucius educational institutes have been founded worldwide over the past few years. Wary of using culture to fuel a competition of political systems, Lehmann argued that “culture should not be instrumentalised.”
'Beacons of hope'
Germany, he said, can act in its own best interest by creating “a liberal, open society willing to enter into debate and based on the rule of law, human rights and a democratic constitution.” If Germany stays true to those principles, the country will succeed in the long run, he added.
Demand for German language courses and cultural events is currently up in countries facing political challenges. “We are the beacons of hope because we are still operative,” Lehmann said, adding that quite a few international foundations have been banned in some countries where the Goethe-Institut today draws visitors like never before. Local communities seem to be saying, “Please don't abandon us”, Lehmann said.
In cooperation with two Turkish partners and cultural institutes from Sweden, the Netherlands and France, the Goethe-Institut has also set up small-scale local European cultural initiatives in the Turkish cities of Izmir, Gaziantep and Diyarbakir. Projects in the latter two southeastern cities otherwise lacking in cultural activity include film festivals, theater productions and instruction in culture management for Turkish colleagues. “We even include the Syrian refugees who live in this part of the country,” he said, indicating that those projects might soon expand.
“We have true partners at the local level,” Lehmann said.
The Goethe-Institut president also mentioned his organisation's educational projects in Africa, including “Music in Africa” and a digital platform that keeps up with various African film festivals.
Those activities offer an economic point of view in addition to the artistic perspective, said Lehmann, adding, “including economic considerations is beneficial to the arts.”