The Volkswagen Group is committed to a united, strong Europe; this includes supporting the Foundation for the International Weeks against Racism. An interview with its initiator, Dr. Jürgen Micksch.
Taking a stand against hatred and discrimination. Since 2017, the Volkswagen Group has been a corporate partner of the “International Weeks against Racism” and has been promoting diversity in society. Initiated in 1995 as action weeks of solidarity with the opponents and victims of racism on the occasion of the International Day against Racism on March 21, the focus of the weeks this year was the forthcoming European election. The motto was “Europe votes for human dignity”. With almost 490,000 employees all over Europe, the Volkswagen Group also wants to encourage its employees to vote and to promote a united, strong Europe of diversity. An interview with Dr. Jürgen Micksch, managing director of the Foundation for the International Weeks against Racism.
International Day against Racism
The International Day against Racism is a day commemorating the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa in 1960. On that day, around 20,000 people peacefully demonstrated against the discriminatory pass laws of the Apartheid regime of the time. During the protests, the police shot 69 demonstrators dead, and at least 180 people were injured. The Sharpeville massacre went down in history; six years later, the General Assembly of the United Nations enacted the commemoration day.
International Week against Racism
Since 1995, the Intercultural Council founded by Dr. Jürgen Micksch has coordinated the initiatives and activities on and around March 21 in Germany. In 2008, the period of action was extended to two weeks. Since 2016, the foundation, which developed out of the Intercultural Council, has been coordinating the International Weeks against Racism, likewise under the leadership of Dr. Jürgen Micksch.
Call to the 2019 European Elections
From May 23 to 26, the European parliamentary elections will take place. They will point the way to the future of Europe – the home of the Volkswagen Group. Three quarters of its global workforce work on the European continent. The company generates around half of its revenue in Europe, with twelve brands from seven European countries.
Interview with Dr. Jürgen Micksch
Dr. Jürgen Micksch is a Protestant theologian, sociologist and the initiator of various social and interreligious institutions. He is the founder of the human rights organization Pro Asyl, Germany’s first newspaper for the homeless, BISS, and institutions such as the Intercultural Council, the Abraham Forum and the German Islam Forum. Since 2014, he has been the managing director of the Foundation for the International Weeks against Racism.
Dr. Micksch, you have fought against racism practically your whole life. What motivates you?
Dr. Jürgen Micksch: As a refugee child and with the experience of the war in the back of my mind, one of the central issues of my life has always been standing up for peace in society. Whether I was founding the human rights organization Pro Asyl, inaugurating BISS, Germany’s first newspaper for the homeless, or organizing the first events 24 years ago for the International Day against Racism on March 21, I always encountered initial rejection. Why? Because in Germany, for many years, people didn’t want to admit that racism exists. I was firmly convinced that I had to do something about this.
The foundation of which you are the managing director has been organizing the International Weeks against Racism since January 2016. This year, their motto was “Europe votes for human dignity”. Why did you choose this topic?
Article 1 of the German Constitution states: “Human dignity is inviolable.” We should therefore acknowledge and respect all people and take them seriously. Unfortunately, however, not everyone does this. But they can learn to do it. Particularly in the present day, when populist statements are becoming socially acceptable again and nationalist tendencies are gaining strength, we in Europe should promote human rights and democracy with determined unity and thus defend ourselves against racist attacks.
This year, over 1,850 events took place as part of the International Weeks against Racism. Are personal encounters and communication the key in the fight against racism?
Yes, my personal motto for these events is “Change through contact”. Through encounters, we can help change ways of thinking. Contact with those concerned – with migrants and with people affected by discrimination – enables learning processes to take place which help break down racism on both sides. Between cultures and religions, as well as between people themselves.
The Volkswagen Group is a supporter of your foundation. What does this partnership mean to you?
Volkswagen is an outstanding partner for us and gives us very committed support. Not just financially but also through numerous joint campaigns. This is wonderful, because I have felt a connection with Volkswagen ever since childhood. Our first car was a Volkswagen Beetle, which I drove myself for a long time and which never broke down. And my second degree was financed by the VolkswagenFoundation, which is of course independent.
Which campaigns are you referring to?
Actions such as Volkswagen’s “I am against racism” campaign. In this case, pictures and personalities were used specifically to attract attention and to clearly show the red card to racism. We need even more actions like this in Germany, and particularly in our internationally active companies.
What sort of action is needed in order to strengthen Europe?
Above all, we need international exchange and solidarity. With “Shoulder to shoulder” we have started an important project with the aim of strengthening processes of solidarity in society. Specifically, this means that, if anywhere in Germany refugees, Muslims, Jews, Roma, or other groups are attacked, we try to encourage people to form groups on the spot to assist the victims. In my opinion, the media is much too concerned with the perpetrators. However, it is the victims who experience an attack and who have to live with the psychological consequences. Many of them are often isolated and have the impression that they are no longer noticed or taken seriously by society. We want to do something to change this, because we all have a responsibility toward society.
The European elections will take place May 23–26, 2019. Where do you see Europe and the European Union in the future?
Europe is a really fantastic peace project, and we can be grateful that we have this European Union. On the other hand, there are many undesirable developments in Europe. By this, I mean the difficult administrative processes, the problems with fighting corruption and the social inequality. These are all forces causing racism to spread in Europe and all over the world at the moment. But they also make it difficult for many smaller groups in Europe to work and think in a European way at all. We therefore have huge tasks ahead of us. But without Europe, the whole social, economic and cultural situation would deteriorate considerably.
What do you propose?
Europe, and above all, politicians, must come into closer contact with the population. To do this, we must create structures and institutions. As I said before, it’s about encounters. It’s good that companies like Volkswagen are already supporting our foundation so energetically. However, I would like to see more commitment from other places as well.
What gives you hope?
A great example can be found in our projects against anti-Muslim racism. Our aim was for Muslims to build up a stronger connection to their environment. We therefore suggested that they invite their neighbors and mayor to the Friday prayers. This year, for example, eleven Jewish personalities came to the Friday prayers. Recently, I spoke in a synagogue in Augsburg as a Protestant theologian. And even more recently, we organized a church service in which the Church president of Hesse/Nassau met the director of the regional association of Jewish communities in Hesse and the General Secretary of the Muslim Central Council in Germany. Representatives of three religions spoke at this service. I am trying to expand this model – a model that would still have been unthinkable 20 years ago.
“I AM AGAINST RACISM” CAMPAIGN
With the “I am against racism” campaign in 2017, the Volkswagen Group took a clear stand against exclusion and xenophobia. Employees were asked to send in a photograph of themselves with the statement “Ich bin gegen Rassismus – I am against racism”. Hundreds of employees from 34 sites across the world — from Argentina to Taiwan, from Norway to South Africa and from Mexico to Poland — participated and sent in photos. In addition, brands and sites initiated their own action days against racism.