Exclusive Interview with ambassador of Germany - VIDEO

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Kitabistan studies the practices of developed nations and shares them with society, while also conducting interviews with their respective ambassadors. Learning and exchanging experiences is the impetus for future-oriented societies.

Germany is a country that is well-known for its achievements in industry, economic development, philosophy, and printing. The German education system has produced many notable figures such as Goethe, Humboldt, Max Planck, and Karl Gauss, and is still ranked in the top ten in the education index today. In our next interview on Kitabistan, we spoke with Dr Ralf Horlemann, the ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Azerbaijan. We had an interesting conversation with Ambassador Horlemann about a variety of issues, including science and education, economic development, industry, and peacebuilding.

We present you an exclusive interview of Dr Ralf Horlemann, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal Republic of Germany to Azerbaijan, to Kitabistan.

- His Excellency, Ambassador Ralf Horlemann,

First of all, thank you very much for accepting our interview offer and for having us in your residence. Since last year, Kitabistan has started a series of interviews with ambassadors from developed and democratic countries. In this regard, Germany holds a special place among the countries we study and introduce in Kitabistan due to its socio-political structure, economic accomplishments, of course, scientific and technological advancements, and educational benchmarks.

It is hard to imagine the history of the world's development without Germany. Printing, science, philosophy, industry - almost all spheres of life bear the signature of the German people. Accuracy, meritocracy, order, responsibility... It is probably interesting for many people, what is the secret of German thinking?

- First of all, thank you so much for coming. I am happy to welcome you here and to participate in this interview. Thank you for your kind words about Germany and German culture, literature. I am not so sure whether there is a secret I can share with you but definitely German literature, philosophy, science, also industry and innovation have a long history. And it goes back many centuries when Germans developed some of the traditions and the values that are still to be seen today when you look at Germany from abroad. One is as you mentioned, the hard-working people, the work ethics and the accuracy, meritocracy, etc. A lot of that comes from, let's say, 16-17th century of Protestantism and the conviction that you have to work hard to be accepted by God as a good human being. That was a typical Protestant attitude. And then later on, of course, you had Prussia. All the Prussian work ethics, people working very hard, being orderly and disciplined… All of this to some extent influenced Germany and Germans over the centuries. Today, I would say what makes up a major trademark of Germans in the world is that we are a very open society and an open country. About 25% of Germans have a migration background. We are a global economy and a country firmly integrated into the European Union and open to all kinds of influences coming from abroad. We try to keep our traditions and the culture and the values but we are also open to adopt new ones. Because in a world that changes, you have to be ready to change as well.

- Experience shows that two main factors ensure sustainable development: peace and democracy. Last year, the 60th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty was celebrated, which put an end to the long-lasting conflict between Germany and France. However, it is always more difficult to achieve peace, than starting conflicts. But, Germany is one of the countries that managed to achieve and preserve sustainable peace. From what did Germany start the peace-building process and how was the peace maintained?

- Maybe, I should start with the fact that unfortunately today in Germany and in Europe we do not have, and we do not have anymore, unfortunately, sustainable peace after Russia's aggression in Ukraine. There is a war on the borders of Europe. And we are confronted with a situation where the whole European peace architecture, the security architecture is put into question. But coming back to your question, because of Germany's and Europe's history of endless wars over the centuries and also of many wars between Germany and France - alone between 1870 and 1939, Germany started three wars with France, two of them ended as world wars. After the end of the Second World War European leaders were deeply convinced that a new peace order in Europe was necessary, and at the core of this order were Germany and France. So, the leaders of both countries - Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle - started the process of reconciliation and it led to the Élysée Treaty which was concluded in 1963. So, this year exactly 61 years ago. And it built the core of European integration and peaceful development within Europe. If you look at it, it even made the whole European Union a big peace project and if I may remind you in the year 2012 the European Union received the Nobel Peace Prize for being the biggest peace project of the 20th century. So, at the heart of this peace in Europe lies reconciliation between Germany and France and it all began with the Élysée Treaty.

- Many countries have their own interpretations of democracy. 35 years ago, democracy emerged victorious over totalitarianism within the borders of present-day united Germany. In fact, this was a result of the will of the people. Today, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, which was previously considered a monument of totalitarianism, has become a triumph of democracy. What are the reasons behind the success of German democracy? In general, what is Germany's model of democracy?

- Again, I am not so sure whether Germany can or even wants to be a model of democracy but our democratic tradition goes back to the 19th century. Our first democratic republic, we established after the First World War. Very similar to Azerbaijan. The difference is that Azerbaijan involuntarily lost its independence after only two years to Soviet Bolshevism. Whereas Germany continued to be an independent nation, but on the way, Germany lost its democracy because of the Nazi regime, because of the rising authoritarianism in the 1920s and 1930s, which ended in a catastrophe for Germany, in the defeat and almost complete destruction of Germany. As we discussed before, in the realization that Germany had to start anew and make democracy the basis of everything that Germany stands for after the wars and in order to end war completely, we built up a democracy in the west of Germany during the Cold War. Whereas East Germany was a totalitarian, a communist regime. With the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Germany had the opportunity to reunite peacefully and democratically. So, the two Germanys reunited in 1990 on the basis of a democratic constitution. And for Germans, with their own historic experience with democracy and how we lost democracy in the Third Reich, but also in East Germany during the Cold War, we know what it means to lose democracy. Which is why we are holding on very dearly, very closely to this democratic system which for us is the basis for freedom, for human rights and for equality in the society. So, democracy for Germany is very important and I think it's also very important for all of Europe and European stability and peace. 

- The German education system, which gave the world significant figures such as Goethe, Humboldt, Max Planck and Carl Gauss is in the top ten in the education index today. What are the main differences of the German education system from other education systems and the main achievements of the German education system?

- Thank you for not asking me about the secrets of the German education system (laughs). Again, I would say, yes, there is a long tradition, of course, of the education system. There are two main features. First of all, it's highly developed, which is why many students also from abroad are studying or doing research in Germany. The second feature is that it's basically free of charge, which is not common in most countries. So, again this is one reason why many students, also from Azerbaijan fortunately, come to Germany to study or to do research because the system is very attractive. One special feature, maybe, about the German education system is our system of vocational training. We call it a dual system of education which means you have a university study for a profession and you have practical vocational training in a company at the same time. It goes on for 3 years. You acquire a degree, a professional degree which is standardized and  recognized by the state. And every employer knows, if somebody comes to apply for a job and produces a certificate of the vocational training system the employer can absolutely rely on the qualification of his employee. So, this is maybe something special in Germany. It's a tradition that goes back 150 years to the beginning of industrialization in Europe. Over the years the system has been growing and we have made very good experiences with it. We are cooperating with a number of countries around the world, also with Azerbaijan. We know that it is not possible to just cut and paste our system and copy it to other countries. But there are lessons to be learned and we are happy to share it also with Azerbaijan.

- Last year, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock introduced new Feminist Foreign Policy guidelines. In parallel, the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development has also announced a new strategy on feminist development assistance. According to the Foreign and Development ministries, the German government aims to provide 12 billion euros in aid to projects designed to combat gender inequality. How would you explain the German government’s gender equality policy?

- First of all, I should say and remind all of us - half of the world's population are women. So, equality, equal opportunities, justice in society for all and everyone is very important. It lies at the heart, at the core of every society. So, what we call a feminist foreign policy or the feminist development policy should not be misread as a policy by women for women. Although women are the main target of a feminist foreign policy, this is all about equality, also about other members of society who do not have access to equal opportunities. And in the case of a feminist foreign and development policy, of course, it is our interest to promote equality around the world. In many countries, women do not have equal opportunities in society. Many countries are suffering from conflicts and very often the first victims in a conflict are women and children. So, it is important for us to work through projects in these countries to promote equality for women in particular. We have devoted quite some considerable financial resources as well to finance these projects which are designed to either reduce or avoid all kind of injustices or inequalities that make it impossible for women to have equal opportunities in a society.

- Germany has the largest economy in Europe, thanks to its stable legal environment, highly skilled workforce and world-class research. The country's economic success is mainly driven by its small and medium-sized enterprises, commonly referred to as Mittelstand, which account for more than 99% of the country's companies. What are the key lessons that can be learned from the German Mittelstand as the model of economic success?

- As you rightly pointed out the Mittelstand, small and medium-sized companies in Germany are extremely important for our economy. The fact that this is well-known also internationally is proven by the fact that the term “Mittelstand” is broadly understood around the world as a trademark of German economy. About 90 per cent of German companies are small and medium-sized companies - the Mittelstand, which means they are normally family-owned and quite small. So, these are not public companies listed on the stock exchange. Although there are big ones, too, like Bosch for example - a big international company with 370,000 employees worldwide, 70 billion euros turnover and still it's considered to be a company of the Mittelstand because it is family-owned. What makes these companies so special and why are they so important for the German economy? These family-owned businesses are always looking at the long-term development. Not so much focused on short-term profit maximization but rather on product development in the long term and also developing their workforce in the long term. I just talked about the vocational training system. The small and medium-sized companies in Germany are at the heart of Germany's vocational training system because they supply the majority of vocational jobs in companies. They do the training and this training again is then the basis of innovation in German companies. Many of these companies are very innovative. Most of them are global players and many of them are what we call hidden champions. About 2,000 German Mittelstand companies are hidden champions which means in their respective field of technology, or the product they produce, they are world leaders, a market leader in their small niche. This innovation is only possible because of a very good training of the workforce and a long-term perspective of developing the company. Of course, it's also the result of, let’s say, hard work and a sense of loyalty of employees to their employer and vice-versa of the employer caring about his employees like in a family basically. This all taken together has produced a very strong economic force that is maybe one of the major reasons why we are talking about “Made in Germany” as a hallmark of the German economy today, making them so well known for their quality. It all begins in small and medium-sized companies - the Mittelstand.

- Finally, I would like to address our traditional question to you as well. What book would you recommend to our readers and viewers to read?

- After all the hard questions you've asked me this afternoon, maybe this is the hardest because there are so many books. Of course, I love to read and I’d like to recommend, if you allow, two books, not only one. The first one is a book that was published exactly 100 years ago in 1924 by the German writer and poet Thomas Mann who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1929 for his trilogy, the “Buddenbrooks”. Already in 1924 he published a novel called “Der Zauberberg” - “The Magic Mountain”. This is a book about a young man visiting his cousin in a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps. His cousin is ill, that’s why he is sent to the sanatorium. He's visiting him and his plan is to visit for 3 weeks. Early on already he is kind of drawn into this mountain world and loses all perception of time and instead of 3 weeks, he stays for 7 years. The reader is kind of dragged, drawn into this novel just as the hero of that novel is drawn into this mountain world. That's why, it's called The Magic Mountain. It has a fascination. The Magic Mountain however is a novel of about 800 pages. So, it is a mountain to climb also for the reader which in these times with reduced attention spans of people, maybe it's considered to be quite a challenge. But I would definitely recommend reading it because it opens a fascinating world of imagination. And in the process, the reader himself or herself is losing the sense of time. So, you will not even notice that you have read 800 pages. 

So, the second book. It is a good example of how a German and an Azerbaijani have become friends and have helped each other. There was an Azerbaijani poet called Mirza Shafi Vazeh. Mirza Shafi was born in Ganja. He spent some years in Tbilisi in Georgia in the middle of the 19th century, about 1850, where he met a German, Friedrich von Bodenstedt. A young man at the time who was a teacher of German and was interested in everything about The Caucasus. So, Mirza Shafi became his teacher in Persian and in Turkish and he became his friend. They spent about three years together. Mirza Shafi produced a lot of poems but he was only reading these poems but never writing them down. Instead, Friedrich von Bodenstedt wrote them all down. After 3 years when he went back to Germany, he published a book - The Songs of Mirza Shafi, which contained all the poems of Mirza Shafi. It became a big success not only in Germany but all over Europe and even in the United States, with hundreds of thousands of copies printed in different languages. I think it's fair to say that without Mirza Shafi nobody really would have known Friedrich von Bodenstedt in Germany. And without Friedrich von Bodenstedt publishing the poems of Mirza Shafi, the world would not have known Mirza Shafi. So, the two men met in the 19th century, the time when German immigrants came to Azerbaijan, also in the region of West Azerbaijan, close to Ganja, Goygol, Shamkir and these places - Helenendorf, Annenfeld that’s how they were called by the Germans. And it was the time when the two countries and people from both countries discovered each other. It laid a very important foundation also of the relationship between Germans and Azerbaijanis until today. We are very proud of this heritage. We are cultivating it. There is a great German heritage still to be seen in Azerbaijan, including in Baku. And there's this literature, this little piece of poetry, “The Songs of Mirza Shafi”, published by a German. Through it, both Mirza Shafi and von Bodenstedt became friends and both became very well-known. So, I can recommend reading these poems which are all about love and emotions and the beauty of life and very nice literature.

- Thank you very much for your responses and for having this interview.

- Thank you very much for coming, please come again and read the books.

Malak Hajiyeva