»What can we expect from art and culture?« 

Speech by the former Federal President Prof. Dr. Horst Köhler on the occasion of the opening of the 90th Ludwigsburg Festival under the motto »No more war« on May 5, 2022 in Forum am Schlosspark

Dear Prime Minister Mr Kretschmann; 

Dear Lord Mayor Dr Knecht;

Dear Jochen Sandig,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is wonderful to finally experience the Ludwigsburg Festival in presence again rather than just on a screen. At the same time many of you will feel – like me – the probing question: Is it possible to enjoy a concert while Russia's President Putin is waging a war of conquest in Ukraine that cannot be justified by anything and which is a blatant aggression on humanity? While thousands are wounded, raped, or killed, millions starve or flee? »What times are these«, Bert Brecht once asked, »when a conversation about trees becomes almost a crime because it implies a silence on so many atrocities?«


Well, the Ludwigsburg Festival does not remain silent. It consciously places today's festival overture under the motto »No more war«. What can art and culture do, especially in the face of war? What can we expect from music? 


First of all, and in spite of everything: edification. Precisely because we are so sore from the many crises of our time, moments in which we allow ourselves to be touched, shaken or even comforted by music are precious. Moments in which reality recedes and spaces of possibility open up — moments of hope, which prove that humankind is not only capable of destruction but also of extraordinary creations. When Kyiv Classic Orchestra plays on the Maidan, a violinist in a bunker in Kharkiv or a brass band in the streets of Odessa, then these are also acts of resistance and an expression of will of life in the midst of war.


But we should not instrumentalize music. It never is a means to an end – not even a good end. Music can create moments of understanding across borders. But it cannot stop the violence of war in Ukraine. This war now predominates everything. It is a war of conquest. Russia is violating international law. The further course of the war will decide on the future of democracy and self-determination in Europe (and beyond). Germany, too, is urgently called upon to do everything possible to help Ukraine defend itself and preserve the integrity of its national borders. 


At the same time, we must not allow ourselves to be misled into stereotyped thinking in our defensiveness against Russia's war of conquest. Art does not belong in national pigeon-holes. Art should not be taken hostage by politics. In my opinion, the generalised banishment of everything Russian from our concert halls or stages, from bookshelves or exhibitions, is the wrong approach. Not origin but an attitude of individual artists and the circumstances of a performance should be the decisive factors. 


With their decision to play Mahler and not Tchaikovsky tonight, the Festival is protecting its Ukrainian conductor Oksana Lyniv from the pressure of all those who find the performance of Russian composers unacceptable these days. I think this decision is correct, especially since the Festival has made it clear that they will still play Russian composers. And it is good news that this season they also want to engage in a discourse with other cultural institutions about the role of culture in times of war. In an interview, Oksana Lyniv said: »Politics cannot be separated from art. We don't play in a bubble of beauty, we are living life to the full. Only then genuine, truthful art can be created.«


To be honest, I was also looking forward to the opening concert because of Tchaikovsky, who is one of my favourite composers. And this will unquestionably continue to be the case. Like the works of many other Russian artists, Tchaikovsky's compositions to me belong to the world's cultural heritage. Long-term, applied peace policy will include its preservation and continued presence.


Strengthening the foundations for peace in the world is also the goal of the United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It makes me happy, dear Jochen Sandig, that you have tied up your festival’s programme with this global transformation agenda and that you are transforming the Ludwigsburg Festival into a »Festival of the Arts, Democracy and Sustainability«. 


The 2030 Agenda (I am wearing the logo here on my lapel) was adopted by world leaders during the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. It is the counter-draft to a world of sheer power politics and national egoisms. Its 17 Sustainable Development Goals are signposts for a policy in which all nations of the world work together, aspiring to enable all humans in the world to lead a life in dignity.


Is this a naive dream? Can we hope for co-operation amongst nations in times when international law is so shamelessly broken? I am convinced that this is not only possible, but also a necessity. The 2030 Agenda is not a naive dream, but true realpolitik. We will not be able to solve the immense challenges on our planet – such as poverty, climate change or the extinction of species – in any other way. Also the Russian Federation has endorsed this agenda in the United Nations General Assembly. I would therefore like to call on President Putin from here: »Mr President, return to Russia's approval of the 2030 Agenda and thus also act upon Russia's responsibility as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for peace in the world! Please join the round table with President Volodymyr Selensky and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to stop the war and discuss reconstruction. Continuing the war implies losing the war, for both peoples as well the international community«.


Ladies and gentlemen, 60 years ago, in 1962, something unprecedented happened in front of the Ludwigsburg Castle. I remember it well because I was there myself as a young man. In his »Speech to German Youth« French President Charles de Gaulle made us, the descendants of the former hereditary enemy, the offer of a friendship in German – and called on us to build a European unity on this cornerstone. After the Second World War this marked a turning point in the relationship between Germany and France and remains the foundation of a promising European future. 


Today we are again facing a historical turning point. This has become even more obvious with the Russian attack on Ukraine. The European Union is challenged in its feistiness, in its determination to overcome the fossile age and thus, at the same time, secure the future foundation of peace and freedom. This grand new transformation demands of us a willingness to change. Our lifestyles will have to change. Art and culture can inspire us in these inevitable processes of learning and searching – and in the great question of what gives meaning to our lives. With its programme, the Ludwigsburg Festival consciously places us all in this great context. Together with my wife I gladly took on the patronage of the festival.


Let us not be paralyzed by the multitude of crises. Let us be aware that we must reconcile our longing for stability with the courage to change. And let us grant ourselves with moments of music and art. They are essential. Thank you, Jochen Sandig and the team of the Ludwigsburg Festival, for your sensitivity and commitment. Thank you, Oksana Lyniv, for being here today. I wish us all a moving festival!