Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. November 2003
  Plenum | Plenary Session | Séance plénière  DEUTSCH | ENGLISH | FRANCAIS

City Policy and Transnational Cultural Processes

Andreas Mailath-Pokorny (City Councilor for Culture and Science, Vienna)


Esteemed Ladies and Gentlemen!

I welcome you in the name of the mayor of the city of Vienna, who unfortunately cannot be here today, and in my own name as the politician responsible for culture and science in Vienna. Above all, I am especially pleased that many of you, whether as speakers or as participants, have traveled a long distance and are now guests here in Vienna for several days. Once again a warm welcome to you all. I hope that apart from the conference you will also feel comfortable in our city and make use of the abundant cultural and gastronomical offerings.

The speaker who preceded me, President Peter Horn, has just spoken about language as a common element of cultures. One can only agree totally with his remarks. When I was preparing for this conference a few days ago and was reflecting on the theme of the conference, I was brought to a stop while I was reading the newspaper by this very theme, the theme of language.

The German weekly "Die Zeit" in one of its recent editions confronted the President of the Russian PEN Club, the writer Andrej Bitow, with the following comment: "There is a remarkable geography, according to which France represents the head, Germany the heart and Russia the soul." To this Andrej Bitow replied: "I prefer linguistics: English is the verb, German is the subject and Russian is the adjective."

Esteemed Ladies and Gentlemen,

When one speaks here in a positive sense about a linguistic Babylon, namely, that there is a direct connection between language and culture, we are not far away from the concept of the city. Communication, you see, takes place where people encounter each other. And in all cultures that is urban space, the city, be it a city of millions or a provincial city.

The city in itself is a contradictory structure. Cities by their very nature are trans-shipment centers for the exchange of goods and ideas of all kinds. Cities offer in compressed form the possibility of generating ideas, of entering into competition with one another. And finally it is the urban space, in which the public is won over to the new or the experimental.

How existential culture is in this connection the great French historian Jacques le Goff clarifies for us, when he said: "Europe will either exist culturally or not at all." I agree wholeheartedly with this statement and add that it is absolutely valid in global terms.

At the same time we live in an age of the Internet and in a world dominated by the media. We live in an accelerated world, in which there is competition for the public's attention. Particularly for the urban space there are special parameters, which have been shaping the history of Europe ever since the time of classical antiquity. The city is a special cultural environment. At the latest since the humanistic world of the Renaissance cities have been regarded as the meeting places of the world and thus as centers for the exchange of knowledge, experience, education and art.

Viewed in this perspective, one can say that cities are seismographs for contemporary developments. They serve us as proving grounds for the testing of new ideas for future directions or courses. However, cities do not function apart and isolated from their environment. With the influx of people from the provinces and also from other countries the European metropolises have grown large. The cultural richness, the intellectual potential of a city is shaped essentially by those who are attracted to it as by a magnet and who ultimately remain there. The city is the humus for the spirit and the intellect.

And conversely the people make up the city. Vienna as a world capital of music would be unthinkable without those who settled here, just think of the composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Gustav Mahler. But this also applies to more recent history, a good part of Vienna's identity today derives from the active creativity in music.

Up to the middle of the 20th century the country, farming, shaped the world. Today in Europe an overwhelming majority of the population lives in the city. Worldwide, according to the estimate of UNO, more than 50% of the people live in more or less urban conglomerations. And the city has already made inroads into the provinces. Examples of this trend are the urban architecture in the Alps, the changed eating habits or the entry of the Internet into many farmhouses.

Esteemed Ladies and Gentlemen,

What does the concept city say to us in terms of your conference on "The Unifying Aspects of Cultures." In the last centuries the city was a center, in which spirit and intellect, but also social misery and impoverishment were united. Such a center was Vienna, which, like other metropolises, knew richness, but also social polarization: "Full of hunger and full of bread is this earth" - as the Austrian author Jura Soyfer wrote in the 1930s in Vienna.

The Unifying Aspects of Cultures, that which makes the person into a human being, stands at the center of your conference. A conference, to which Vienna opens its doors with special pleasure and which accords well with the fundamental commitment of the city of Vienna to openness and dialogue. We are sustained by the responsible idea that it must not suffice, if a person is simply indifferent to the other or does not restrict the other.

Tolerance - as a basic premise for the unifying aspects of cultures and for a peaceful coexistence - does not mean simply indifference and laissez-faire, in the worst case laissez-vivre. Rather it means knowing one's own identity as well as coming to terms with the position of the other.

Tolerance in our contemporary society must not simply mean to tolerate, "to suffer," in the original sense of the Latin word "tolerare." To tolerate is by its very nature a form of discrimination. Perhaps precisely because we here in Vienna had to go through such disastrous experiences with discrimination and expulsion, Vienna is simply different today.

The Viennese have had dramatic experiences with the policy of exclusion, above all with exclusion based on race. During the period of national-socialist rule the worst nightmare came true. War, dictatorship and persecution led directly to the destruction of the city and to individual suffering, which is scarcely still imaginable today.

After its liberation in 1945 the city of Vienna tried to learn from the consequences of that kind of policy. Today Vienna stands for a climate of openness to the world, of peaceful coexistence, of tolerance in thinking and acting. Vienna has adopted and still adopts trends, which immigrants over the decades and centuries have brought and continue to bring to Vienna.

One must not be exactly of the same opinion, but the enlightened maxim of Voltaire is still valid: "I am to be sure not of your opinion, but I will do my utmost so that you can express it."

Esteemed Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish you interesting and stimulating presentations and discussions over the coming days. In conclusion, let me say that I welcome the idea of having another conference in Vienna in December 2005.

I thank you for your attention.

© Andreas Mailath-Pokorny (City Councilor for Culture and Science, Vienna)

Plenum | Plenary Session | Séance plénière

TRANS       Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu

For quotation purposes:
Andreas Mailath-Pokorny (City Councilor for Culture and Science, Vienna): City Policy and Transnational Cultural Processes. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003.

Webmeister: Peter R. Horn     last change: 18.11.2003     INST