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The Humboldt Forum and its donors: more transparency, but not enough

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The excitement was great when the architecture critic Philipp Oswalt announced the anti-democratic and anti-Semitic sentiments of Ehrhardt Bödecker, one of the major donors to the Humboldt Forum, in the Tagesspiegel in 2021. Bödecker’s family, who claim to have known nothing of the relevant passages in his writings, was dismayed and had the medallion of honor for the banker and conservative Prussia fan, who died in 2016, removed from the entrance foyer of the museum building for the non-European collections. The Humboldt Forum Foundation promised to work through the case.

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Since then, the donation practice of the Berlin Palace Association, which collected funds for the façade decoration and the dome under the management of Wilhelm von Boddiens, has also been up for debate. Many donors remained anonymous, and the association was not even allowed to share their names with the foundation. “In order to dispel doubts, more transparency towards the public would certainly be good,” said Hartmut Dorgerloh, Director General of the Foundation, to the Tagesspiegel in 2021. The foundation asked the association to seriously investigate possible further suspicions, especially among major donors.

Results are now available for the Bödecker cause – only those who donated at least one million euros are honored with a medallion – as well as for the other major donors who paid more than 100,000 euros. The report by the Munich Institute for Contemporary History states that Bödecker, who in 2002 had downplayed the Holocaust, said that he was fixated on an “imagined, positively transfigured image of Prussia”. As far as his anti-Semitism is concerned, there is talk of “clear anti-Semitic clichés on the one hand and the counteracting of anti-Semitic resentment on the other”.

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The Humboldt Forum Foundation draws the conclusion that the association did not violate the donation guidelines. According to the report, Bödecker was “neither a right-wing extremist nor anti-Semitic in a right-wing extremist sense”. A highly questionable formulation. Anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism: would non-right-wing anti-Semitism – whatever is supposed to make the difference – be less of a concern?

As far as the other major donations are concerned, there is largely a lack of transparency – even if the foundation says the opposite in a statement. The Friends of the Association sent his lawyer Peter Raue the names of 113 major donors confidentially – only in the case of the donations from the German Donors’ Association and a Swiss donor are the names not known to the association. The law firm checked the others and found “no indication of right-wing extremist or even extremist donors”.

The development association is “fully rehabilitated,” says the home page of the association’s website. With exclamation mark. However, the foundation is only “gladly” aware of this, for its part it cannot check the conclusions of the Raue law firm. The same goes for the public. It has been known since 2021 that other right-wing figures also belong to the circle of donors, such as AFD politicians. Supported by the federal government, the Humboldt Forum is one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in Germany. For this reason alone, one would like to get an idea of ​​​​the funds with which tax revenue financing was increased.

The report came to the conclusion that Bödecker was neither a right-wing extremist nor anti-Semitic in a right-wing extremist sense.

Press release from the Humboldt Forum Foundation

The foundation has also revised its donation guidelines. So far, there has only been a brief mention of the fact that donors should not violate social or ethical standards – this is still the case in the guidelines of the association. Now the foundation lists ethical exclusion criteria in more detail. Donations will not be accepted if anyone “indicates discrimination based on race or ethnic origin, gender, religion or belief, disability, age or the sexual identity of other people” through statements or behavior.

Good this way. What is even more important, however, is that from now on the foundation will only accept donations from the association if they are not of “unclear origin”. This means that the association must provide the Humboldt Forum with the names of the donors. Otherwise, violations of guidelines could not be checked at all.

Only the public remains outside. That can only be changed by law, with a transparency clause similar to that for donations to political parties. It could ensure that voting and tax-paying citizens have to be informed about the identity of major donors in major (cultural) projects of the federal government. A job for Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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