We are linked to key societal discourses


Imme Scholz and Jan Philipp Albrecht have become the new board of the Heinrich Böll Foundation since early summer 2022. In this interview, they discuss the role of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in times of green government participation, war and the climate crisis as well as about Heinrich Böll. The interview was conducted by Vera Lorenz.

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The Board of Directors of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung: Imme Scholz und Jan Philipp Albrecht

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 has probed many fundamental certainties. In a situation like this, there is a need for spaces where the impacts can be discussed in order to categorise them and to understand what corrections are needed in politics, but also in analysis. These are processes of understanding that go beyond the "green family": We have to reach a broad social and political understanding in such major crisis situations in order to agree on an appropriate way of dealing with them. In addition: How do we intend to manage the transformation itself, and also to manage the resources needed in order to make this happen without losing sight of our main aims? Here, too, we must create forums for discussion in order to make room for critical questions.

Jan Philipp Albrecht: The great expectations of us are not only due to the governmental responsibility of the Green Party, but also because central social discourses are strongly linked to us. It is about the transformation towards a decarbonised 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 was perhaps initially seen of us - we are still a young foundation - 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 pace. This is also a challenge for us as a foundation. The party close to us has twice as many members as 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 partly at the majority, which we definitely reflect with the issues 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 a widely shared international interest, and our partners around the world also have a lot to say about this.

Keyword Networks. How should the Heinrich Böll Foundation engage in networking in the future?

Jan Philipp Albrecht: We are already a large network: With the regional 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 want to get in touch with these partners and who want to know: Where can I do what? In a transformative context, we play a very important role. Nevertheless, we still have a huge potential to use the network even better for ourselves and to bring together the people who should now be talking to each other. For example, when we talk about the industrial turnaround, the energy turnaround, there are still too many gaps between the domestic political 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 create a new resonance between the networks.

Imme Scholz: The transformation towards climate neutrality, towards production and consumption without environmental destruction calls for local solutions - from a global perspective, however, the result must be positive; the rich countries must stop living at the expense of other countries or future generations. We care about both. In places where we are represented with offices abroad, we support corresponding transformation-oriented networks, individual organisations. Countries in the Global South where we work are very self-confident because they know that it cannot be done without them. We support this approach.

Is working in networks also about new target groups? People that the Green Foundation has not yet addressed or represented?

Jan Philipp Albrecht: Yes, of course! But it's not just about merely addressing new people, it's always about having that in mind: What can emerge from it, what do we want to achieve through it? For example, when we exchange ideas with the actors of the climate movement, it is of great interest to us and holds enormous potential if we bring them together with those who are actually implementing the transformation in a concrete way, for example with skilled crafts associations and actors from small and medium-sized enterprises. These in turn can do something about the shortage of skilled workers by contacting young, committed people. This kind of approach opens up an extremely large number of opportunities to reach out to new alliances that run somewhat counter to certain previous groups or milieus that we already know. For us, of course, this means addressing new people and reaching out to new milieus.

Imme Scholz: With our offices abroad, we are travelling in many different countries where the percentage of young people is much higher than in our country. Young people see that their future is at risk and are therefore daring and innovative, also 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 ahead of us, for example in South America, in Argentina. They demand change as a matter of course because they know that: We are the future generation. This is also rewarding for the work we do here in Germany. I would like to mention the Gunda Werner Institute, which works as an avant-garde institute on sexualised violence on the internet and on anti-feminism, among other things. The federal government has now appointed a queer commissioner and is active against discrimination of all kinds. That is very encouraging. This will shape our work for years to come.

You joined the Heinrich Böll Foundation with a “360degree agenda for change”. 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 any 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 this, we first need spaces where we can meet, where we can engage in conversation together, because these perspectives have been dealt with separately for so long. We all need to have a fresh look at it. Let's do it together! That is the basic idea behind the 360-degree view that we developed, which we first embedded in both of us, because we believed that it had to be an expression of this renewal, that the Executive Board in particular should live it and no longer divide things into two worlds, so to speak. But it is also important that this attitude can be jointly practised throughout our institution. This requires certain structures, and we want to develop them.

Imme Scholz: From the perspective of cooperation 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 inhabiting 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 also want to change it. At the same time, this everyday life is also very much characterised by an unequal balance of power. They notice again and again where the 'West' fails to use its means to change things for the better, in the resolution or prevention of conflicts, in the protection of human and women's rights.

As a foundation, we are working to raise awareness in our society that 'business as usual' causes great and lasting destruction. This is the trail of devastation that Robert Habeck once referred to, which we leave behind with our lifestyle. This is strongly perceived in other parts of the world. Development cooperation can counteract this in part, but it is not enough.

Let's conclude with the eponym. 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 topical for you?

Imme Scholz: To me, he was 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 willing to pay a price for this - in the peace movement or when he reminded us 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 eponym. As I see it, political education is very central here, working with young people, in the countryside, everywhere where we want to strengthen democracy and push back anti-democratic forces. Take anti-feminism, for example, and here I mention the Gunda Werner Institute once again. We also invest in analysis, for example with the Leipzig Authoritarianism Study. - Heinrich Böll would probably be happy about that.

Jan Philipp Albrecht: Of course, Katharina Blum is also topical now, precisely because of these questions: How do we actually deal with different perspectives and opinions? How do we live democracy and a state under the rule of law? What are the disputes we have? In which language do we 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 serving politician as our eponym, 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 remembrance. And that's something we also cultivate.

Thank you very much for the interview.

This article first appeared here: www.boell.de