19 January 2017

Science – a bridge to intercultural understanding

Foundation President Helmut Schwarz calls for a knowledge-based culture of dialogue at the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s New Year’s Reception in Berlin

At the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s New Year’s Reception, the Foundation’s President Helmut Schwarz today warned against worldviews driven by ideology and shaped by dogma and emphasised the importance of the world-spanning Humboldt Network in promoting peace. Apropos Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th President of the United States, Schwarz made no attempt to hide his concern from more than 250 international guests from the worlds of science, politics and business gathered in the Leibniz Hall of the Berlin- Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Berlin.

Foundation President Helmut Schwarz
Foundation President Helmut Schwarz (Photo: Humboldt Foundation/David Ausserhofer)

“At present, it is still unclear what the effects of the isolationism propagated by the President on the science landscape in the US and on transatlantic scientific cooperation will really be. What is clear, however, is that many American researchers are very concerned,” said Schwarz. There were worrying developments in other countries, too. In this situation, the Foundation’s work and the activities of its global network were acquiring a special significance. “The Humboldt Foundation’s mission is clear: to build bridges for and through science and research; “bridgebuilding” is even explicitly cited in the Foundation’s statutes as a tool for intercultural understanding.”

In his speech, Schwarz warned against subjecting entire sections of the population to blanket suspicion, a trend that could currently be observed, amongst other places, in Turkey where the government obviously looked on journalists, judges and scientists as their enemies. He condemned the Turkish government’s actions which by restricting the freedom of expression and the press, had compromised fundamental rights and thus also the freedom of science. It therefore came as no surprise that by far the largest number of applicants for the Philipp Schwartz Initiative for threatened researchers, which is supported by the Humboldt Foundation and the Federal Foreign Office, came from Turkey. At this point, he thanked the Federal Foreign Office and the representatives of the Parliament for reinforcing the initiative by granting additional funds of five million euro.

In spite of a host of imponderables, Schwarz took an optimistic view of the year just beginning and called for greater knowledge-based discourse on social topics in the form of constructive dialogue. “In the Humboldt Network, we observe the ideals of tolerance and respect for human dignity being practised every day. Men and women, Muslims, Christians, agnostics, Hindus and Jews, black and white, old and young, all independently shape their relations with one another,” Schwarz claimed. “We must keep working together and sharing our knowledge in order not just to understand the world around us better, but ourselves as well.”

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