Press release

“With freedom comes responsibility”: Federal President Steinmeier at the Humboldt Foundation’s Annual Meeting

Focus on academic and scientific freedom and the importance of international collaboration

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The Humboldt Foundation organised its 2024 Annual Meeting around the motto #AvHBridgeBuilders. Held in Berlin on 27 and 28 June, the meeting celebrated making new acquaintances and offered individuals being sponsored by the foundation and their families the opportunity to get together in person and meet other researchers. More than 560 researchers from 70 nations discussed science and research, shared experiences they have gathered in Germany and at home, and gained new perspectives. 

It’s up to us to respect, time and again to facilitate and to protect science as an open-ended process. Scientists and researchers are not obliged to pursue political objectives in the research process. Nor are they obliged to adhere to an ideology of any kind. This freedom brings with it responsibility.
Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier
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Speech by Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier

In his address, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called upon those present to protect academic and scientific freedom. In a growing number of countries around the world, this freedom is not only being treated with hostility and contempt, it is also being severely restricted in many places. In liberal democracies, he said, it remains important to respond to attacks from within: “It’s up to us to respect, time and again to facilitate and to protect science as an open-ended process. Scientists and researchers are not obliged to pursue political objectives in the research process. Nor are they obliged to adhere to an ideology of any kind.” However, this freedom does not relieve scientists and researchers from their responsibility toward the world and society, he noted, adding, “On the contrary, this freedom brings with it responsibility. And this responsibility also means that scientists have to stand up as citizens for freedom, democracy and the rule of law.”  

Steinmeier thanked the Humboldt Foundation for its continuous commitment to academic and scientific freedom and to cross-border exchange even in difficult times. “Your foundation is an outstanding ambassador for our outward-looking and future-oriented nation of science.” He also stressed how very much Germany benefits from its international guests with their experience and knowledge. “You help build bridges and make us aware that we can shape a better future when we work together worldwide. You foster optimism at a time when it’s not easy for anyone to be optimistic.”

During his reception for Humboldtians, President Steinmeier presented the 2024 Philipp Franz von Siebold Award 2024 to the Japanese researcher Naoki Yoshida in recognition of his exceptional scientific work and his outstanding contributions to fostering exchange between Germany and Japan.

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#AvHBridgeBuilders - der Hashtag zur Jahrestagung
President Schlögl opens the Humboldt Foundation’s 2024 annual meeting
Welcome address by Katja Keul, Minister of State in Germany’s Federal Foreign Office
Humboldt Professor Jochen Guck
Attendees at the annual meeting
Attendees at the Humboldt Foundation’s 2024 annual meeting
The Paladi Quartet
Germany’s President Steinmeier with Humboldtians
Foundation President Schlögl with Humboldtians

The President of the Humboldt Foundation, Robert Schlögl, opened the annual meeting on Thursday. In his remarks, he explained this year’s motto #AvHBridgeBuilders and pointed out how very relevant it is today. “These are boom times for division. Fault lines run through societies around the world. Democracies are at threat from populism, making it more important than ever to build bridges”, he said. Schlögl encouraged the audience, “Let us together – actively and audibly – prevent a slide into populism, nationalism and unfreedom”. It is also the responsibility of science and scholarship, he pointed out, to expose ideology and misinformation as elements of division in our society and to help people distinguish between opinion and knowledge.  

With reference to current wars and conflicts, he noted that Humboldtians could foster and maintain ties with one another, even when things that divide us in other areas appear to be greater than what unites us, adding, “You are bridge builders between countries, bridge builders to Germany. We have to prove ourselves as science diplomats and use discussion and dialogue to help parties at odds with one another to find their way out of their imbroglios.” 

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Speech by Katja Keul, Minister of State in Germany’s Federal Foreign Office (PDF, 113 KB)

Katja Keul, Minister of State in Germany’s Federal Foreign Office, gave the welcome address to open the meeting. She also stressed the importance of personal relationships and collaboration, noting that “no international agreement in the world can master global challenges single-handedly. It takes people who will build bridges and seek solutions together”, noting that with its dedication to education and science, the Foundation is making a vital contribution to foreign policy work. “The Humboldt network is globally unparallelled and is a beacon for our cultural relations and education policy”, said Keul. With an eye to the restrictions being placed on academic and scientific freedom around the world, she pledged additional funding for the Philipp Schwartz Initiative for researchers who are at threat, an initiative launched by the Humboldt Foundation and the German Federal Foreign Office. “The growing number of researchers who are hoping to receive support for their work in Germany speaks volumes – sad volumes. In light of this the Philipp Schwartz Initiative is more important than ever and can continue to count on our support.”

The physicist Jochen Guck, Professor at FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg and Director at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light, built interdisciplinary bridges in his keynote address “What is a physicist doing in biology and medicine?“. Originally a physicist, Guck conducts research along the interface between biology and biomedicine, with a focus on the mechanical properties of cells and tissues. Guck was awarded an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship at TU Dresden in 2012, which brought him back to Germany from Great Britain.

Video of the opening ceremony for the Annual Meeting can be viewed here.

(Press release 13/2024)

Every year, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation enables more than 2,000 researchers from all over the world to spend time conducting research in Germany. The Foundation maintains an interdisciplinary network of well over 30,000 Humboldtians in more than 140 countries around the world – including 61 Nobel Prize winners.

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