Central social discourses are linked to us


Imme Scholz and Jan Philipp Albrecht have formed the new board of the Heinrich Böll Foundation since the early summer of 2022. In their joint conversation, they discuss the role of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in times of green government participation, war and climate crisis. And Heinrich Böll. The interview was conducted by Vera Lorenz.

Imme Scholz und Jan Philipp Albrecht stehen nebeneinander.
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The Executive Board of the Heinrich Böll Foundation: Imme Scholz and Jan Philipp Albrecht
This is an automatically translated article.
Translated with DeepL.
Original language: Deutsch

The Heinrich Böll Foundation is a rather small political foundation compared to other political foundations. What is its role?

Imme Scholz: Russia's attack on Ukraine in particular has called into question a great many fundamental certainties. In a situation like this, there is a need for places where the effects can be discussed in order to classify them and understand what corrections are needed in policy, but also in analysis. These are processes of understanding that go beyond the "green family." We need to reach a broad social and political understanding in such major crisis situations in order to agree on an appropriate way to deal with them. In addition, how do we manage to maintain the will to transform and the energy to do so, and not lose sight of this? Here, too, we need to create spaces for discussion in order to make room for critical questions.

Jan Philipp Albrecht: The great expectations of us are not only due to the Greens' governmental responsibility, but also because central social discourses are very strongly linked to us. This is about the transformation to a decarbonized society, about social cohesion, about questions of democracy and international governance. In this sense, we should not make ourselves smaller than we are. Not only because many people expect a lot from us, but also because we now play a much greater role than perhaps initially - we are still a young foundation - we were seen to do, so that today it is impossible to imagine many countries in the world without what the Heinrich Böll Foundation does.

Last but not least, however, because it simply no longer corresponds to reality. Not only the perception but also the reality has changed. We are no longer a small foundation. We have grown in recent years and we are currently growing at an enormous rate. This is also a challenge for us as a foundation. The party close to us has twice as many members as it did just a few years ago. There has been some growth overall. With our work, we are not only looking at a section of this society, but in part at the majority, which we definitely reflect with the topics we work on.

Imme Scholz: I would like to add something about the international dimension of the current situation. In these times of crisis, it is important to bring in the perspectives of our partners from the countries in which we work, and not only from the countries that are directly affected by the war in Ukraine. The war in Ukraine is also putting pressure on the United Nations and international law - defending this is an internationally shared interest, and our partners around the world have a lot to say about this.

Keyword networks. How should the Heinrich Böll Foundation network in the future?

Jan Philipp Albrecht: We are already a large network: with the national foundations in Germany, then in Europe and worldwide - we bring together so many actors that we are a very important point of contact for many who are seeking contact with these partners and who want to know: Where can I do what? In the transformative context, we are simply very important. Nevertheless, we still have a huge potential to use the network even better for us and to bring people together who should now talk to each other. For example, when we talk about the industrial turnaround and the energy turnaround, there are simply still too many gaps between the domestic debate on industrial policy or corporate and economic policy issues on the one hand, and the trade discussions, the issues of raw materials supply, the issues of future international energy networks on the other. These are all issues that need to be tied together. We want to bring the networks into a new resonance with each other.

Imme Scholz: The transformation towards climate neutrality, towards production and consumption without overexploitation of nature needs local solutions - but globally, the result must be positive; the rich countries must stop living at the expense of other countries or future generations. We are interested in both. Where we are represented with offices abroad, we support corresponding transformation-orientated networks, and individual organizations. Countries in the Global South where we work are very self-confident, because they know that it can't happen without them. We share this approach.

Is working in networks also about new target groups? About people that the Green Foundation has tended not to reach or represent so far?

Jan Philipp Albrecht: Well, yes! But it's not just about reaching new people, but always keeping in mind: What can come out of it, what do we want to achieve through it? For example, when we exchange ideas with the players in the climate movement, it is of great interest to us and holds great potential if we bring them together with those who are actually implementing the transformation in concrete terms - for example with trade associations and players in small and medium-sized enterprises. These, in turn, can do something about the shortage of skilled workers through contact with young, committed people. Such an approach offers an extremely wide range of opportunities to form new alliances that run somewhat counter to certain groups or milieus that we already know. For us, of course, that means addressing new people and reaching out to new milieus.

Imme Scholz: We are on the road with our offices abroad in many countries where the proportion of the young population is much larger than in our country. Young people see that their future is at risk and are therefore daring and innovative, including in social movements. What we see is that especially in the area of feminism and queerness, social movements in some of our partner countries are further along than in ours, for example in South America, in Argentina. Changes are demanded there as a matter of course, because they know: We are the future generation. This is also enriching for the work we do here in Germany. I would like to mention the Gunda Werner Institute, which is an avant-garde institute that works, among other things, on sexualized violence on the Internet and on antifeminism. The federal government has now appointed a queer commissioner and is active against discrimination of all kinds. That is very encouraging. That will shape our work for years to come.

You started at the Heinrich Böll Foundation with a "360-degree change agenda." What does that mean?

Jan Philipp Albrecht: We simply know that in the course of all these global challenges that we are facing right now - pandemic, climate crisis, war - there can no longer be solutions along the lines of domestic policy on the one hand and foreign policy on the other, or environmental policy on the one hand and economic policy on the other. Or looking at feminism on the one hand and foreign and security policy on the other. These things belong together. To do that, we first need spaces where we can meet, where we can talk together, because these perspectives have been dealt with separately for so long. We all need to take a fresh look. Let's do it together! That is the basic idea behind the 360-degree view that we developed, which we initially anchored in both of us, because we felt that this had to be an expression of this renewal, that the Executive Board in particular should live this and no longer divide things into two worlds, so to speak. But it is also important that this can be lived together as an attitude in our entire institution. This requires certain structures, and we want to develop them.

Imme Scholz: From the perspective of working with the global South, it is always striking to see how unusual it is for us here to take the perspective of the majority of people who live on this planet. That in itself is a provocation. These people usually live in worse conditions than we do, but they don't wait to be helped; they live in their everyday lives and cope with them. Many of them also want to change it. At the same time, this everyday life is also very much characterized by unequal power relations. They notice again and again where the 'West' fails to use its means to change something for the better, in resolving or preventing conflicts, in protecting human and women's rights.

As a foundation, we are working to raise awareness in our society that continuing to do so will cause great and lasting destruction. This is that trail of devastation that Robert Habeck once spoke of that we leave behind with our lifestyle. In other parts of the world, this is being strongly felt. Development cooperation can counteract this in part, but it is not enough.

Finally, let's turn to the name giver. Last December, the Green-affiliated foundation commemorated the fact that Heinrich Böll was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature fifty years ago. What do you associate with the author of Katharina Blum? What makes him relevant to you?

Imme Scholz: I associate him with someone who was incredibly attentive and alert in observing political events and then contrasting them with the ethical demands of political, but also human, action. Often it is rather a contrast. He was also prepared to pay a price for this - in the peace movement or when he reminded people that members of the RAF also have a right to a trial under the rule of law. Our commitment to human rights, to the rule of law, to democracy is also derived from our namesake. From my point of view, political education is very central here, working with young people, in the countryside, wherever we want to strengthen democracy and push back anti-democratic forces. Take anti-feminism, for example, and here I'll mention the Gunda Werner Institute once again. We also invest in analysis, for example with the Leipzig Authoritarianism Study - Heinrich Böll would probably be pleased about that.

Jan Philipp Albrecht: The Katharina Blum is of course also topical now, precisely because of these questions: How do we actually deal with different perspectives and opinions? How do we live democracy and the rule of law? What are the disputes that we have? What language do we use to talk to each other? This is a topic that Heinrich Böll always addressed and thus oscillated between the political and the cultural, the writing, the language we speak.

He was not only someone who was involved in the peace movement, but also someone who was very interested in democracy and freedom movements in Eastern Europe, and was himself active there with PEN.

In the end, it is a statement that we, as a political foundation, unlike the other political foundations, do not have a well-serving politician as our namesake, but a political person who at the same time earns his living with writing and has thus made it onto my shelf, as he has with many other people. His work is a very important cultural asset of German debate and German memory. And that's what we're cultivating.

Thank you very much for the interview.