Academic Lecture "Interculturality and the virus" by Professor of German Studies Marko Pajević | University of Tartu

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Contacts of UT units

Faculty of Arts and Humanities
Faculty phone: 
+372 737 5341
Faculty address: 
Jakobi 2, rooms 116–121, 51005 Tartu
  • Dean's Office
    Faculty phone: 
    + 372 737 5341
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, rooms 116–121, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of History and Archaeology
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5651
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5221
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of Philosophy and Semiotics
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5314
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, rooms 309–352, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of Cultural Research
    Faculty phone: 
    (+372) 737 5223
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 16, 51003 Tartu
  • School of Theology and Religious Studies
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5301
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18–310, 50090 Tartu
  • College of Foreign Languages and Cultures
    Faculty address: 
    J. Liivi 4, 50409, Tartu
  • Viljandi Culture Academy
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 435 5232
    Faculty address: 
    Posti 1, 71004 Viljandi
Faculty of Social Sciences
Faculty phone: 
+372 737 5957
Faculty address: 
Lossi 36, 51003 Tartu
  • Dean's Office
    Faculty phone: 
    + 372 737 5900
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 36, 51003 Tartu
  • Institute of Education
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6440
    Faculty address: 
    Salme 1a–29, 50103 Tartu
  • Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5582
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 36–301, 51003 Tartu
  • School of Economics and Business Administration
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6310
    Faculty address: 
    Narva mnt 18, 51009 Tartu
  • Institute of Psychology
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5902
    Faculty address: 
    Näituse 2, 50409 Tartu
  • School of Law
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5390
    Faculty address: 
    Näituse 20–324, 50409 Tartu
  • Institute of Social Studies
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5188
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 36, 51003 Tartu
  • Narva College
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 740 1900
    Faculty address: 
    Raekoja plats 2, 20307 Narva
  • Pärnu College
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 445 0520
    Faculty address: 
    Ringi 35, 80012 Pärnu
Faculty of Medicine
Faculty phone: 
+372 737 5326
Faculty address: 
Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
  • Dean's Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5326
    Faculty address: 
    Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Biomedicine and Translational Medicine
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4210
    Faculty address: 
    Biomeedikum, Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Pharmacy
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    +372 737 5286
    Faculty address: 
    Nooruse 1, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Dentistry
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 731 9856
    Faculty address: 
    Raekoja plats 6, 51003 Tartu
  • Institute of Clinical Medicine
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5323
    Faculty address: 
    L. Puusepa 8, 50406 Tartu
  • Institute of Family Medicine and Public Health
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4190
    Faculty address: 
    Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Sport Sciences and Physiotherapy
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5360
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 5–205, 51005 Tartu
Faculty of Science and Technology
Faculty phone: 
+372 737 5820
Faculty address: 
Vanemuise 46–208, 51014 Tartu
  • Dean's Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5820
    Faculty address: 
    Vanemuise 46–208, 51003 Tartu
  • Institute of Computer Science
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5445
    Faculty address: 
    Narva mnt 18, 51009 Tartu
  • Estonian Marine Institute
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 671 8902
    Faculty address: 
    Mäealuse 14, 12618 Tallinn
  • Institute of Physics
    Faculty address: 
    W. Ostwaldi 1, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Chemistry
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5261
    Faculty address: 
    Ravila 14a, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Genomics
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4000
    Faculty address: 
    Riia 23b, 51010 Tartu
  • Institute of Mathematics and Statistics
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5860
    Faculty address: 
    Narva mnt 18, 51009 Tartu
  • Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5027
    Faculty address: 
    Riia 23, 23b–134, 51010 Tartu
  • Tartu Observatory
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4510
    Faculty address: 
    Observatooriumi 1, Tõravere, 61602 Tartumaa
  • Institute of Technology
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4800
    Faculty address: 
    Nooruse 1, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5835
    Faculty address: 
    Vanemuise 46, 51003 Tartu
Institutions
  • Library
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5702
    Faculty address: 
    W. Struve 1, 50091 Tartu
  • Youth Academy
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5581
    Faculty address: 
    Uppsala 10, 51003 Tartu
  • Museum
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5674
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 25, 51003 Tartu
  • University of Tartu Natural History Museum and Botanical Garden
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6076
    Faculty address: 
    Vanemuise 46, 51003 Tartu
Support Units
  • Administrative Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5606
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
  • Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4809
    Faculty address: 
    Narva mnt 18, 51009, Tartu
  • University Office in Tallinn
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6600
    Faculty address: 
    Teatri väljak 3, 10143 Tallinn
  • Estates Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5137
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
  • Finance Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5125
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 4, 51005 Tartu
  • Grant Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6215
    Faculty address: 
    Raekoja plats 9, 51004 Tartu
  • Information Technology Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6000, IT-help: +372 737 5500
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
  • Human Resources Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5145
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, rooms 302 and 304, 50090 Tartu
  • Internal Audit Office
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18-244, 51005 Tartu
  • International Cooperation and Protocol Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6123
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, rooms 104, 301, 305, 50090 Tartu
  • Marketing and Communication Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5687
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, rooms 102, 104, 209, 210, 50090 Tartu
  • Office of Academic Affairs
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5620
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, 50090 Tartu
  • Procurement Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6632
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
  • Rector's Strategy Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5600
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, 50090 Tartu
  • Student Council
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18b, 51005 Tartu
  • University of Tartu Press
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5945
    Faculty address: 
    W. Struve 1, 50091 Tartu
Other Units
  • University of Tartu Academic Sports Club
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5371
    Faculty address: 
    Ujula 4, 51008 Tartu
  • Tartu Student Village
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 740 9959
    Faculty address: 
    Narva mnt 25, 51013 Tartu
  • Tartu Students’ Club
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 730 2400
    Faculty address: 
    Kalevi 24, 51010 Tartu
  • Tartu University Hospital
    Faculty address: 
    L. Puusepa 1a, 50406 Tartu
  • University of Tartu Foundation
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5852
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, 50090 Tartu
  • View all other units

Academic Lecture "Interculturality and the virus" by Professor of German Studies Marko Pajević

Watch or read the academic Lecture "Interculturality and the virus" by Professor of German Studies Marko Pajević.

Dear university community, ladies and gentelmen!

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak here, today, to you, at this honourable occasion.

Having arrived here not even three years ago as Professor of German Studies, I am very grateful for how wonderfully I was received, and I feel very comfortable in this beautiful city with its wonderful living conditions and rich cultural life. So, my trajectory from Berlin via Paris and London to Tartu is highly recommendable.

I am German with a father originally from Yugoslavia, and have lived in diverse countries – Germany, USA, France, Ireland, England, Cyprus, now Estonia – with constant family contact to Austria and Serbia - one could say, I am myself interculturality incarnate. I find it more appropriate to call myself European instead of identifying with any national definition. You can see, my choice to talk about interculturality came very naturally to me.

I did so as well, because it is related to my field in modern languages, that is, cultural studies, and because, in my view, it is an issue of high relevance in Estonia’s current identity struggles between national self-affirmation and internationalisation.

And, of course, I speak of interculturality’s role today, in the year of the virus, an unheard-of situation, that would have been unimaginable in its effects on society only one year ago. At times, one was reminded of science fiction, for instance Margaret Atwood’s impressive dystopias such as The Year of the Flood, or The Handmaid’s Tale, where fear is instrumentalised to turn a democratic modern society into a nightmare. Fortunately, Estonia has remained a good country to live in, compared to other places, where restrictions are much harder to endure. However, even here, the effects could be felt. First of all, there were the travel restrictions: borders became so important again. The other was considered to be a danger again: ‘we’ have to protect us against ‘them’. And Trump likes to speak of ‘the China-virus’. But also within the nation the division exists: it is such a delicate topic with so much at stake that the people feel reluctant to voice their opinion freely, at least, if it is an opinion critical of the measures taken. We all have experienced suspicion, isolation and social distancing.

Unfortunately, also today, we are not reunited in this beautiful auditorium, celebrating together a long tradition of learning, cultivation and the expansion of our worldview. This is a first point to mention regarding our topic: this university particularly is shaped by interculturality (as is the entire country), it even used to be a Swedish-Latin, German and Russian language Institution, and you are familiar, I suppose, with the nice exhibition we had in Toomemägi park on important Tartu professors originating from various countries.

Generally speaking, also beyond Estonia, there is no culture without interculturality. From the very beginnings of civilization, there was a mixing of cultures and languages. The Estonian national epos, Kalevipoeg, considered mostly to be nation-defining, is, as you know, largely inspired by the Finnish. All the national cultural movements of the 19th century in Europe were triggered by MacPhersons forged Scottish folk songs from the 1760s. He wrote them shortly after the definitive defeat of the Scottish Jacobites against the British at Culloden in 1746, taking a lot of the material from Ireland, but attributed them to an invented ancient bard he called Ossian. The German Herder declared this to be the authentic roots and voice of the Scottish people, true poetry, thus paving the way for many small peoples to claim their independence, based on such supposedly authentic age-old cultural roots.

One of the foundational pillars of European culture, Christianity, is built on translation and, more or less, imported from Asia. Most other intellectual and institutional European concepts are based on Ancient Greek and Latin, including the term culture, or interculturality. Where can we even start to talk about interculturality? It has always been there. The process of civilization is always stimulated by contact with the other.

It is no coincidence that internationalisation is a major criterion for university rankings. Having students and staff from different backgrounds ensures a stimulating environment by feeding in ideas from other countries, widening and enriching ideas of a community. I want to stress again that this has always been this way in academia, universities have been almost from the outset highly international places and globalisation is far from being a recent phenomenon. In the cultural and commercial centres, one would have heard a rich mix of languages in the street hundreds and even thousands of years ago already.

Interestingly enough, the real explosion of knowledge in early modern times came about when the intellectual discourses started to move away from Latin and developed high discourses in the vernacular. That means, European scholarship, formerly unified by Latin, started to get differentiated in national cultures. However, and this is key, these national knowledge cultures were in exchange with each other and thus created fertile symbioses where differences worked together, and thus advanced faster and better. And this happened not only because it might have been easier for more people to participate at these discourses, but even more so because there were then different languages, many languages, contributing to academic knowledge. Languages are not only tools for communication, languages are ‘organs of thought’, as Wilhelm von Humboldt called them, or ‘worldviews’. We develop our vision of the world in language so that every language presents one perspective – the more perspectives we have, the richer our grasp of the world. That means that I give this talk now in Estonian – not a very firm grip for me yet! – because in Estonia high discourses should also be in Estonian and make this language all it can be; and, at the same time, it is an enterprise that enriches my personal spirit and mind. But giving it in German, French, English or another language would also be an option since these languages actually do feed into this speech since through them, I received my forming educational input, my thinking, my Bildung – this highly charged German word which is not wholly translatable.

We need both, a fully cultivated national language as well as an opening of our worlds through other languages – multilingualism is not only a matter of communication skills: for that, we could all be limited to English nowadays. No, multilingualism is about gaining an insight into other worldviews, about seeing things from a different angle. This happens via a different language, which means also a different culture because languages are cultural mirrors and edifices. This is why I doubt that it would be helpful for the development of the human mind to all speak one language. No, sure, we need to have also English as a means for international communication, but next to our own mother tongue, and, at least, one other language for in-depth cultural insights, for an interculturalisation of ourselves. That is, by the way, also the official EU language policy. All of this applies equally to interculturality.

You can see, I take a constructivist position. We construct our ideas about our community, ‘imagined communities’, as nations were famously called by Benedict Anderson. It has been a long, intended process to create this feeling of belonging to a certain group of people, a feeling that, unfortunately, has been mostly closely linked to casting others out, to creating a supposed ‘other’. This other, in its turn, is equally constructed, as has been shown so well by Edward Said and his notion of orientalism. Orientalism means that the Western World has created its own identity largely by constructing the Orient as a counter-world, certainly also charged with the eroticism of the unknown, but just as much as something we do not want to be and which we fear.

After the Iron Curtain fell and world identities shifted into new constellations, Samuel Huntington gained enormous popularity with his notion of the clash of civilizations. He posed that the world enters a phase of new divisions, more cultural than ideological or economic, and focused basically on the Western (Christian) World against the rest of the World. He presented this in a very matter-of-fact way and wanted the West to develop strategies to cope with this situation in a favourable way, turning things to its advantage at the expense of the other in this agonistic conception of the world, where it is ‘we’ against ‘them’.

Of course, we could say today that Huntington was right, the divide he painted in his book has become an evident reality. We could also take a different perspective, take a bit more of a distance – according to the German philosopher Hans Blumenberg, this distance is the basis of the process of civilization – and consider in how far we have created this situation by choosing to cultivate this kind of Huntington-discourse. There is no doubt that the way we thematise our relationship to the other, impacts this relationship. If we consider and treat the other as enemy, it is likely for them to look at us, and behave, accordingly. It is all a question of the premisses: if the other is considered a threat, they have to be fought and vanquished. This is a logic that necessarily leads to a clash.

There is a general problem in the premisses of certain ideas of culture and interculturality, that is, that there is something like a clearly defined culture, a generalisation of difference. This is evidently never fully true, within one ‘culture’ there are so many differences, and in-between cultures, there are so many overlaps in so-called functional groups world-wide, that we will probably share much more with our peer-group-members in different ‘cultures’ than with many others from our own ‘culture’.

Interculturality should therefore not be seen as a possibility to categorize people, nor as an annihilation of difference, but as an attitude where difference is acceptable. That is also the basis for a functioning democracy. There is no community where people are and think all the same way: in a democracy we must be willing to live with difference.

And this finally leads us back to our times of the virus. Here I am talking probably less about Estonia than about other countries. Public discourse on corona has developed in a way that the position became a question of belonging to one side or the other, the people who fear for health and those who fear for democratic freedom. This is a constructed opposition, constructed with much effort and ardour by polarising speech. But it is false. I am sure that few people do not care about health or freedom. However, people differ in what they believe is good for health and freedom, or they look more on direct or side effects in this matter. Experts have been divided on these things as well, even though some positions were less publicly heard than others. We do not know things for certain, everything has up- and downsides. But what I am absolutely convinced of, is that everybody loses when alternative viewpoints are suppressed. What is important, in dealing with other people, with other opinions, and with other cultures, is that we can have an open exchange and an open mind, and when there are conflicting views, that we have an open debate. The most dangerous virus for humankind – history has sadly shown that again and again – is the belief that the other is a threat and needs to be annihilated.

A strong democracy can handle difference; if it cannot, it is no democracy anymore. To accommodate, to cultivate and to foster a culture of openness also in difference – that is one of the key tasks of this honourable university as an institution of free and critical thinking.

Thank you very much.

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