The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum congratulates the Society for the Development of German-Russian Relations (Münster/ Münsterland) with its 30th anniversary and published on this occasion a flashback by Karl Wolff, one of the organisation’s founders:
In spring 1988, in a wave of unravelling changes, four Russian language professors, Dr Helmut Rücker, Peter Wittig, Gudrun and Karl Wolff, along with Dr Detlef Glowka, a professor of pedagogical sciences, came together in the university city of Münster and founded the Society for the Development of German-Russian Relations. In the times of political reforms, Glasnost and Perestroika, where hostile imagery lost its previous relevance, Russia set its radar on coming back to the ‘European house’, freed itself from dictatorship and was ready to put itself on a path of democratisation. We, the originators of this society in Germany, felt a certain responsibility for promoting reconciliation between our nations. That is why broadening and deepening the ties between the citizens of the Federal Republic of Gremany and the USSR (since 1991, the countries of the former Soviet Union), overcoming the prejudices, hostile imagery and stereotypes in these relations, promoting the understanding of culture and different lifestyles, and, most importantly, ensuring peace between our countries have become our main objectives enshrined in our society’s charter. While implementing these goals, we identified two main areas of our activities. The first of them is the presentation of, primarily, the Russian contemporary culture, its trends and discourses in all its diversity. This part covers the spread of information about the politics and social life in Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union through organising public readings, expositions, concerts, movie festivals and collaborative projects. We were inspired, among other things, by the words of Theodor Heuss, the first President of the Federal Republic of Germany: ‘One cannot make culture with politics, but perhaps one can make politics with culture.’
The development of civil society structures as a contribution to the promotion of democracy in Russia is our second field of activity. Different to the governmental policies, contacts on the civil society level are aimed at addressing the most pressing vital issues. The main principle of work for civil society actors is solidarity; their joint activities are not impeded by the national interests or by some hierarchical structures. Thus, already the first trip of 19 representatives from various areas of public life in Münster to the sister city of Riazan in 1990 was based precisely on this principle and allowed us to foster lasting partnerships within various collaborative projects, which have been partly running to this day.
Three major symposia, which gathered distinguished Russian and German experts from various scientific fields, demonstrated that Russia could also be understood with the brain. The topics for the symposia included economics and society during the transitional period (1992), women in Russia (1994), as well as “Russia and Europe. Peace in Europe in the 21st Century” (1998), which was held on the occasion of the 350th anniversary of the Peace of Westphalia. Materials about these major scientific events, as well as numerous other reports from the previous years can be found on the society’s website: www.drg-muenster.org.
Trips to Münster and the fascinating public readings by Russian authors were truly unforgettable. Bella Akhmadulina and Liudmila Ulitskaya, controversial and disputed authors Viktor Erofeev, Lev Rubinshtein, Vladimir Sorokin, not to mention such important figures of Russian literature as Chingiz Aitmatov, Liudmila Petrushevskaya and Viktoria Tokareva, – they all came here. Dmitri Prigov and his conceptual art students from Moscow were also among our frequent guests. From the Russian underground scene of that time, we had the bands “Akvarium”, “Kolibri” and “Tequilajazzz”, as well as Oleg Mitiaev showcasing the Russian bards.
In 2000, the establishment of the Gender Centre in Riazan ensured a further share of knowledge, whose launch in the previous decade initiated the exchange of experiences among people from various professional backgrounds. We would also like to mention the cooperation and training project for the policemen in Münster and Riazan on the topic of domestic violence, as well as a project on hippotherapy. However, all the mentioned names and projects are just a few examples of achieved milestones in our activities. The work of our society has been recognised both, nationally and internationally, and we have received several awards for our civic activism efforts.
A distinctive feature of our work is that we look at Russia as a country of friends, and not as a country full of Russian government propagandists. Together with the Russian people and civil society actors in Kazan, Moscow, Perm, Riazan, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and other cities, we are anxiously following the pathological developments in modern Russia – the Chechen war, the annexation of Crimea, fights in Donbass. In the eyes of German citizens, Russia has lost all its appeal. However, our society, now more compact in the new environment, continues with its time-tested activities.