The aim of the FREIRAUM (Free Space) project is to assess the state of freedom in Europe's cities. What are the issues that come up when residents, sociologists and creative artists think about the concept of "freedom" in very local terms? What problems are observable in a city? By swapping questions across Europe, 42 Goethe-Instituts and their partners in the arts and civil society are developing creative answers - at a distance and with the aid of perspective - for one another. Here's an outline of this unique project.
Europe is changing. Populist and nationalist parties are gaining ground in many countries. EU-scepticism, while most glaringly epitomized by the Brexit referendum, is not limited to Great Britain. Portugal, Spain and Greece have to implement drastic austerity policies. And the integration process is running at various speeds, condemning countries like Romania and Bulgaria to continue playing a marginal role for the foreseeable future. In a word, Europe faces challenges at many levels and is looking for answers.
Goethe-Institut: Taking on the challenge and putting new European markers down
The Goethe-Institut sees itself as an institution with a European mandate. We subscribe to the vision of an integrated Europe and actively champion a shared - and diverse - cultural space. We are wholeheartedly committed to values like openness, freedom of movement, justice and the integration of all members of society. The Goethe-Institut is nonetheless well aware that Europe is perceived almost everywhere as being in crisis. Stubbornly clinging to the narrative of a united Europe can easily seem like a denial of reality. Just as Europe must face the challenge of the present-day situation, the Goethe-Institut must put more clear-cut markers down to show its commitment to Europe. We must set our course not by naïve enthusiasm, but by a willingness to engage in dialogue - even if that dialogue is bound to be fraught with tension.
Freedom of the city: Take a stand, bolster partners, reach new target groups
The Goethe-Institut is taking a clear-cut position with Freedom of the City, a large-scale project running from 2017 to the beginning of 2019. The focal concept here is freedom, a core value of European identity ever since the Enlightenment, if not before. And yet the promise of freedom seems to have lost its lustre. In fact Europeans have shown an ambivalence about freedom lately - and not only since illiberal politics took hold in countries like Poland and Hungary. In view of such distressing developments, many Goethe-Institut partners are now anxious, some are even actually at risk. The Goethe-Institut intends to remain a reliable partner to them - and to set an example of teamwork that is visible far and wide.
Through the Freedom of the City project, the Goethe-Institut would like to make a point of reaching out to new target groups: to often-marginalized young people from immigrant families and to people who have a critical or at least sceptical view of present-day Europe, but are still receptive enough for dialogue. Our aim is also to motivate people who are open-minded about Europe, but tend to take it for granted, to speak their minds.