July 12, 2024

Interview with President Joski on November 9th

Interview with President Joski on November 9th

Göttingen. The Lower Saxony Academy of Sciences in Göttingen wants to confront its past. A commemorative plaque will be unveiled in memory of Kristallnacht on Thursday 9 November. It commemorates the 29 members who were excluded or forced to leave during the Nazi era for racial and political reasons. In an interview, Academy President Daniel Guske spoke about the lessons of the reassessment, the rise of the AfD, and the extent to which science is political – or even ideological – for him.

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On November 9, the Lower Saxony Academy of Sciences in Göttingen unveiled a commemorative plaque. Why now of all times?

The memorial plaque is the result of dealing with this topic over many years. I believe we are the first academy to devote an entire book to this sordid event, or rather to our history of this terrible half-century. We say to passers-by with the memorial stele: In addition to many bright moments, we also had our darkest moments. That is, excluding colleagues simply because they are Jewish or are perceived as Jewish, even if they do not see themselves as such.

You are talking about the book “Competing Identities: The Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Its Members from 1914 to 1965” by historian Desiree Shouse. What did this review reveal?

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There was no conviction at the Göttingen Academy. In our case, it was a kind of official act: it was ordered by the Reich Minister of Education, and the Academy had to carry it out as a subordinate authority. But you can say that our colleagues were not against it at that time. Today, of course, we always wish that people from the academy or our institutions would stand up and say: “This is a scandal.” And I will resign if you don’t retract this.” Who would do that?

“The Göttingen Scientific Society only reacted to the changing political situation when it saw that its existence was threatened,” Schoz wrote. What lessons does the academy learn from the review?

There are certainly a lot of lessons for everyone to learn for themselves. Because conscience is an individual thing. The institution has no conscience, but it has a memory. No institution can teach human morality. She is not immune to situations where human evil prevails. All we can do as an institution, especially the scientific institution, is make sure that these stories of shame become known, and that they emerge from the darkness of the past. Personally, I don’t think much about ethical guidelines in this context. Young people at the University of Kassel where I teach do not like when they are always told their opinions on a particular issue. Instead, each person should be able to decide for themselves: that was bad. Also ask yourself: How would I act?

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But doesn’t the term “shame” ignore the fact that the Nazi era was not about individual misbehavior, but rather about systemic, structurally embedded processes?

you are right. This is due to certain structures within society, but ultimately also to the fact that in some elections people voted in the wrong place. Or they allowed certain people to seize people and hold them hostage. People who make it difficult for an individual to stay fit.

In an interview with the Tageblatt newspaper, University of Göttingen President Metin Tolan expressed concern that the rise of a party like the AfD threatens Germany as a location for science. Do you see it similarly?

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There is no other way to see it. Unfortunately, at least anti-Semitic riots are not caused solely by far-right parties and movements. This is what we are experiencing at the moment. Likewise, Jews are no longer safe from extremist leftist movements or movements that pretend to be leftist. This is a fatal development in the recent past. I also have hijab-wearing students in my seminars, and I think they feel safe there. In a city like Kassel, they feel relatively comfortable in neighborhoods with a large Muslim population, but perhaps not in other contexts. But this has nothing to do with science really.

But if foreign researchers have to fear being racially insulted in the street and therefore don’t come here, that’s a problem for science – even in Göttingen.

This is often a question about the site. Göttingen is a relatively quiet place in this regard. I have never heard from our foreign members of the academy and many Gauss Masters who come here from abroad that they feel uncomfortable here. This is a different number if you live in certain major cities and regions in Germany.

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Does that play a role when you look at Germany as a whole from the outside?

Overall, Germany faces a big problem. And not just the East. If we wanted to send a message to the outside world: “We want to be a “pure” people of organic Germans,” this would not only be nonsense and morally reprehensible, it would also cause us very specific harm, e.g. In light of the extremely unfortunate shortage of skilled workers or nursing staff. Naturally, this also affects science, but perhaps this is the latter. As a professor, you usually get a good salary, high status, and can afford to live and work where you’re not surrounded by weirdos and racists. We are unique. The American student who drives his electric four-wheel drive car to his institute in the morning is not affected by the presence of any right-wing parties in Göttingen. For example, with my mother’s Eritrean caregiver, I don’t know if he feels safe everywhere.

Tolan also called for scholars in Göttingen in particular to be “very vocal” in the face of xenophobia and the growing AfD party. Do you want to be loud too?

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It is not just a matter of party record. It is also said that there are people among AfD voters and their representatives who can still be described as respectable. The problem is: If you want to condemn a party that gets 15 or 20 percent in a democratic country, you have a democratic problem. Then you have to say: I choose a new people, that is, those who vote only for “good” parties. I am careful not to locate the AfD’s villains only. I would rather try to talk about historical situations and how to act appropriately and conscientiously.

How does it work?

If you only respond when there are no consequences for you – you don’t lose your job, you don’t take a pay cut, you don’t get ridiculed, and you don’t get shunned by friends – you don’t really need to. To talk about having conscience or decency anymore.

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Is science political? Should it be her?

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Science should not be partisan politics. It should not allow itself to be subordinated to certain parties, whether it is the Nazi Party, the AfD, the Social Democratic Party, the Green Party or any other party. There is also a ban on science, which tends to come from the left-wing party spectrum. For example, the ban on “dual-use” science, that is, the use of research results for military-technical purposes. Now we realize that, if there is any doubt, we must defend our democracy militarily against its opponents.

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What is the relationship between science and ideology?

It must be devoid of ideology, but it cannot be devoid of politics. Science must not retreat to the ivory tower. The academy has always been viewed as an ivory institution, which we are not at all. We consciously go out in public. This does not mean that we do accessible science. Science is more ideologically correct and political in that it should be concerned with the topics being discussed that are relevant to society.

This is Daniel Guske

Daniel Guske was born in Lüneburg in 1960. He studied English and American Studies as well as German in Göttingen, at the University of Kent in Canterbury in the UK and at Pennsylvania State University in the USA. After completing the state examination and doctorate in Göttingen, he went to Princeton University in the USA for two years. He qualified as a professor in Göttingen and then worked as a professor at the Technical University of Braunschweig for three years.

Guske has been teaching at the University of Kassel since 2001. His research focuses primarily on nineteenth- and twentieth-century English classics, literary translation, the history of transnational reception, and the relationship between literature and religion. The 63-year-old is a full member of the German Academy of Language and Poetry, a corresponding member of the Academy of Mainz, and since 2014, a full member of the Göttingen Academy. From 2020 to 2021, Joske served as Vice-Rector of the Lower Saxony Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, and has been its rector since January 2022.

Keyword ivory tower: Do you notice a growing hostility to science, also driven by a conscious demarcation between a supposedly insular elite and “ordinary citizens”?

To me, elite is a positive term. Every society works with elites, which means nothing more than “selecting them on the basis of certain skills.” The only question is: Are elites understood in this way really open to competence regardless of gender, origin, social class, party affiliation, or the like? Or are there obstacles that are unrelated and unrelated to belonging to such elites? That would be fatal.

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This accusation of elitism is often heard from circles that are themselves elitist by definition.

This is the classic victim narrative these days. This has really increased dramatically in recent years. They can attract attention if they fit the victim’s identity. And then there are people who are already in the elite, who have a good salary, a good job, who suddenly present themselves as being threatened in some way, and then want to generate rhetorical stakes out of this, so to speak. For example, old white men say: “We always invite old white men.” Or scientists who claim to not be taken seriously, but never stand up and announce themselves. You shouldn’t complain about being stuck in an ivory tower.