Photo: Körber-Stiftung

Interview with Dr. Thomas Paulsen on changes in operational work, support for Ukraine, and existing links with Russia.

Kurt A. Körber’s motto: “Talk to, not about one another” has characterised the Körber-Stiftung’s work for decades. How has operational work in the field of international understanding changed?

Kurt Körber wanted to use projects like the Bergedorf Round Table to build bridges between East and West during the Cold War. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the focus shifted to the Middle East, and later to dialogue with China as an emerging superpower. At the same time, Eastern Europe remained a central focus of our work in many respects. Thus the Bergedorf Round Table met regularly, not only in Russia but also in Ukraine. There are also a variety of working relationships with NGOs from the region. In the context of EUSTORY, we repeatedly organised youth encounters where young people from all over Europe come together for discussions. Of course, we always have high-ranking decision-makers from Eastern Europe as guests at the programmes of the International Affairs Department in Berlin. Most recently, for example, the presidents of Latvia and Lithuania. The Russian invasion also formed a turning point for our activities. Yes, we are convinced that talking to each other is important in international politics, and that foundations have a role to play here. But dialogue is never without preconditions. The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine is diametrically opposed to our values. Therefore, we have suspended dialogue with Russian official representatives until further notice.

What concrete support is the Körber-Stiftung providing to help Ukraine?

We wanted to help the people on the ground quickly and directly.
Therefore, since the war began, to support several organisations based in Germany, we have given substantial donations to provide prompt, direct humanitarian aid on the ground, e.g. by evacuating orphanages or repatriating children who had been deported to Russia. We also work intensively with cooperating partners in Germany and Ukraine in the framework of our History and Politics Department’s programmes. For example, together with the Centre for Urban History in Lviv and the Research Centre for Contemporary History in Hamburg, we have organised grants for refugee scholars in Ukraine, and an interview project for war refugees from Ukraine in Germany. With our support, the Ukrainian history teachers’ association NOVA DOBA, a long-standing partner in our EUSTORY network of European history competitions, has successfully implemented educational projects with teachers and pupils in spite of the war.

Are there still ongoing links with Russia? And if so, what do they look like?

Of course we still have contacts with participants from Russia, although many of them have left the country in the meantime. However, in view of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, we have put our concrete project activities in Russia and our contacts with the country’s official representatives and institutions on hold for the time being. Instead, our current focus is on working with Russian individuals and organisations in exile, for example within the framework of our exiles programmes (Exiles Media Forum). Specifically, we are supporting the NGO and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Memorial International in a multi-year programme to organise its work in German exile. We also work closely with the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Centre, which had to leave Russia and relocate to Berlin due to increasing repression.

The Körber-Stiftung’s roots lie in Hamburg. What concrete activities are taking place on the ground here?

In our KörberForum in Hamburg, we regularly organise events dealing with Ukraine and the war. The evenings with musicians from Ukraine, curated by the Culture Department, were and are a great success. For people from Ukraine who have fled to Germany, such events are always a part of home in a foreign country. And for the Hamburg public, they are a welcome opportunity to get to know Ukraine better. Under the patronage of the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Selenska, and in cooperation with the Ukrainian Book Institute, we also donated 10,000 Ukrainian children’s books in northern Germany in the summer of 2022, and a year later another 5,000 books for 175 libraries in the Hamburg metropolitan region. And then, of course, the topic of Ukraine also plays a prominent role in regular background discussions for selected multipliers, such as the Hamburg Körber Round Table on International Politics.