Away from home
An editorial on our central theme 2017
When we started planning the 2017 Heidelberger Frühling Festival, one thing struck us forcibly. Suddenly, everyone was talking about “enlightenment”. In debates on subjects as different as the future of Europe, the refugee issue, or fears about the Islamisation of our society, the values upheld in and by the Enlightenment were at the forefront of the discussion, a discussion in which the tolerance issue loomed largest.
In debates like these, connected as they are in sometimes very intricate ways, “enlightenment” is one of the key concepts at the heart of collective European identity. It epitomises what we stand for: human rights, democracy, freedom of opinion, the division of powers, equality and equity, social progress. Values that whole generations had to fight for, values we need to constantly renew our conscious awareness of. Are these fundamental values in danger? Naturally, the ubiquitous populist resentment we are witnessing is hardly a token of enlightened thinking. But homing in on that to the exclusion of all else is only seeing half the story. All over, people are stoutly espousing the cause of enlightenment in Europe, and it would be prejudiced to deny or ignore the fact.
meeting the unknown
The influx of refugees from Syria and Iraq and from the Balkan states is an encounter with the unknown, for “us” and for “them”. The dimensions of this challenge exceed anything that any living European can recall. People with entirely different cultural and religious backgrounds are knocking on our doors. In many places their effect on street life in our towns and cities is tangible, they are visible, they are in our midst. They have to come to terms with this undiscovered country. Either that, or they are doomed to live in limbo, in a state of transition, resigned to not knowing what will happen next. And they are not alone. We too have to find our bearings anew.
how shall we live tomorrow?
How does a society deal with this? Are we living up to those determinedly upheld virtues that constitute our European identity, chief among them tolerance? Can we come up with a vision of togetherness free of those knee-jerk reactions that divide our society into naïve do-gooders on the one hand and hidebound right-wing tub-thumpers on the other? Can we engage in a discourse that poses the right questions about our joint future, instead of churning out ready-made answers that are outdated as soon as they are uttered and merely serve to divide society? Is it not our most urgent task to overcome bloody-minded resentment and cultural arrogance vis-à-vis things, places and people that we have no knowledge of? Resentment and arrogance are quite definitely not the products of healthy common sense. As a community, the really pressing question facing us is: How shall we live tomorrow?
the foundation to shape the future
The way we respond to the unknown is the yardstick for whether we deserve to call ourselves enlightened or not. When we encounter things we know little or nothing about, we initially have no way of divining what they may signify for us. While it is surely a very human reaction to keep one’s distance first of all, it is quite definitely an inhuman reaction to respond with instinctive and unthinking rejection. This is a product of sheer resentment. If we want tolerance to be the foundation for the way we intend to shape the future, then we must always bear in mind that the unknown, whether positive or negative, can always enlarge our horizons.
a species of otherness
This is why the 2017 Heidelberger Frühling has chosen “Away from Home” as its motto, the first in a trilogy on key motifs of the Enlightenment. The title is aptly chosen. It not only sets off what is ours against what is not, “us” against “them”, it emphasises that “not belonging” is an experience that we all share. Dis-orientation takes many forms. Squaring up to it is in fact an essential prerequisite for the formation of our own identities. Only if we are sure of ourselves can we draw upon the tolerance that makes it possible for enlightened individuals to recognise the unknown as a species of otherness that can enrich our lives or, if that is sometimes asking too much, to at least respond to it in a way that makes productive and respectful co-existence a viable proposition. This year’s winner of the German Book Trade’s Peace Award, Navid Kermani, has asked a question that is as simple as it is essential: Who is “we”? The question clamours for an answer. What can we do? Where is it up to us to create a new “we” based on a vision representing an adequate response to the realities of the 21st century?
a meeting point for inquiring minds
We want the 2017 Heidelberger Frühling to be a place where the familiar and the unfamiliar can meet, where a new “we” can become a plausible prospect, achievable via knowledge, new aural vistas, shared cultural experiences. A place of encounter for different cultures, a platform for music that always comes with its own “otherness” (not mere exoticism but the challenge of the “unheard-of”), a meeting point for inquiring minds who want to know more about this “universal language” that means so many different things to us all.