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Sven Lütticken on Germany's cultural heritage law


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In the current issue of Texte Zur Kunst, Sven Lütticken writes about the recent debate in Germany over the country’s Kulturstaatsministerin, or law for the protection of German cultural heritage. He argues that the very idea of “national” art on which the law is based not only ignores modern forms of art production, but also undergirds the racist nationalism of groups like Pegida:

The Kulturgutschutzgesetz shows that in matters of cultural policy, the German nation-state is tenacious. Ever since Romanticism and the rise of cultural nationalism in the nineteenth century, Kultur has been defined as Nationalkultur, with the nation-state being the guardian of the culture produced by and belonging to a supposedly homogenous Volk. In Berlin, inscriptions on two nineteenth-century imperial constructions mirror each other: the Reichstag is adorned with Dem deutschen Volke while the Alte Nationalgalerie boasts Der deutschen Kunst, followed by the year of the unification of Germany (1871). Kunst, or art, is itself an intensification of Kultur: Kultur can also be everyday Volkskultur, but Kunst has clearer institutional boundaries, and functions as the prestige version of culture. In the debates about the Kulturgutschutzgesetz, however, the type of Kulturgut (cultural asset) under discussion was never in doubt – everything revolves around prized artworks, by “German masters” in particular …

To discuss the refugee situation and the explosion in xenophobic nationalism in conjunction with the Kulturgutschutzgesetz is no frivolous exercise in free association: the two are part of the same overall problematic. Pegida, too, deals in what it imagines to be Kulturschutz. Of course in many respects one can see the latter as the sinister proto- or not-so-proto-fascist counterpart of the federal states’ post-1945 conception of Kulturgutschutz. But while Kulturschutz, today once more foregrounds issues of territory and statehood, both have been transformed through technology. You can be part of ISIS’s social media filter bubble without being physically within the “Islamic state’s” geographical territory; being inside the filter bubble could encourage you to make the journey to Syria.

Meanwhile, in a disintegrating EU the actually existing nation-states do not necessarily enjoy a resurgence of credibility. In opposition to the reviled mainstream media (“Lügenpresse”), movements such as Pegida have created their own filter bubble, and the so-called “Querfront” of organizations such as the Montagswachen, the Kopp-Verlag, the magazine Compact, and the populist one-man band Ken Jebsen have created a paranoid-conspiracist counter-publicness. As part of this mix, the so-called Reichsbürger categorically deny the legitimacy of the German state; not out of a rejection of the nation state per se, but rather because they argue that the German Reich was never officially dissolved, making the current Germany a non-state that is de facto a US-occupied zone. At times the debate about the Kulturgutschutzgesetz has taken on shrill tones that eerily recalled this seemingly remote discursive world: the state was cast in the role of a dictatorial expropriator, taking measures that were bereft of any legitimacy and violating the sanctity of the home to snoop on collectors’ possessions.