The Goethe-Institut is represented three times in Russia (here the building in Moscow).Image: dpa / Federico Gambarini
4/25/2022, 12:33 PM25.04.2022, time 12:35
Learning Russian and getting to know the country and its people: Until recently, this was an appealing thought to many people. But since the start of the war in Ukraine, cooperation between Western countries and the Russian Federation has stalled in many areas.
This puts educational centers, language schools and other cultural centers of international exchange in a difficult position. How should they continue to work? And: Should not the friendly exchange between the civilian population continue to be supported now?
Some language travel providers, such as GLS, have already relocated their Russian courses to Latvia to avoid some conflict. The crisis has also affected the well-known Goethe-Institut, as spokeswoman Viola Noll explains to Watson. In view of the occupation of Ukraine on February 24, “there can be no ‘business as usual’,” she says. “All public events have been canceled. Basically, everything is under surveillance.”
The Goethe-Institut has cut off numerous collaborations with Russia
The Goethe-Institut has been represented in three countries in Russia: in Moscow since 1992, in St. Petersburg since 1993, and in Novosibirsk since 2009. But work there is extremely difficult due to tensions: “In view of the attack by Russia, which violates international law, we can no longer work together with state bodies or even public representative bodies.”, according to Noll. The Goethe-Institut also supports political decisions by Germany: “In our view, economic sanctions against Russia are essential.”
“As the Goethe-Institut, we have unlimited solidarity with Ukraine and our partners there.”
Viola Noll of the Goethe Institute
In the culture sector, the Goethe-Institut has already canceled all film events and “we will not lend any film to partners until further notice,” Noll reports. Attendance at the EDUfair educational fair in Moscow, participation in the Moscow educational salon and information day at Mendeleev University were also canceled.
The Goethe-Institut in Moscow was a place of cultural exchange between Germany and Russia for many years.Image: Goethe Institute / Anastasia Tsayder
“As the Goethe-Institut, we have unlimited solidarity with Ukraine and our partners there,” she said. Special aid programs have even been set up for the war-torn country and its people. These include, for example, a funding offer for cultural workers from Ukraine and assistance especially for Ukrainian refugees who have to find their way to Germany (My Road to Germany).
In Ukraine itself, the Goethe-Institut has a large institute in Kiev since 1993. It employs a total of 115 people, some of whom have already been forced to leave the country.
Further language courses for the Russian population
However, Noll points out that man does not want to burn all bridges. Because: Even now there are still many people in Russia who want to learn German, are interested in cultural exchanges or want to continue to maintain friendly relations. They should not be penalized because of their country’s policies.
“There are a lot of people in the arts and culture scene who speak publicly, even at great personal risk,” Noll said of the situation in Russia. They should not be left hanging. Russian civil society needs “additional contacts”. Therefore, language courses and exams continue in Russian institutes. “Our courses have students who are interested in Germany – they too are part of Russian civil society, and learning a foreign language always means getting to know another culture,” she says.
“There are a lot of people in the arts and culture scene who speak publicly, even at great personal risk.”
Viola Noll of the Goethe Institute
The Goethe-Institut’s library is still accessible. “It gives stakeholders access to current literature and media.” Students and teachers would also continue to be taught media skills through online seminars. Small-scale cooperation, termination of large-scale contacts: It is a balancing act that educational institutions must endure in this international conflict.
For Johannes Ebert, Secretary-General of the Goethe-Institut, it is clear that “civil society exchange is more important than ever,” especially in times of war. Especially if you want to have a chance for peace again in a moment.
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