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10 questions about tomorrow for... Anetta Kahane

Published September 22nd, 2020

There are so many issues that we need to tackle if we want to create a better tomorrow for us all. We asked Anetta Kahane, Chair of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, what issues are at the top of her list, where we are at the moment and what needs to change for us to finally start making progress.

1. What are the three most pressing ecological and/or social issues for you right now – and why?

When I started campaigning for human and minority rights – more than 30 years ago – the whole ecology issue wasn’t quite as pressing as it is today. But these days it is closely linked to displacement and migration. My main focus, however, is on the topics of antisemitism, racism and right-wing extremism within immigrant communities. That means that the lines of conflict don’t follow ethnic origin, but a commitment to democracy and against inhumanity. Everyone in Germany should have the chance to stand up for their interests and equality in a safe and respectful way, whether they have an immigrant background or not. Racism and antisemitism are not acceptable for anyone.

2. When was the first time you really got to grips with these issues and how did it change how you think and act?

It’s simply because I don’t know any different! My parents fought against the National Socialists. They participated in the armed resistance. I was born after the war, in the GDR. Growing up as a Jewish child in Germany wasn’t easy, not even in the East. But somewhere along the line I realised that the foundations of anti-fascism my parents had built were not sound and weren’t reflected in the attitudes of the people. That’s why I turned my attention away from the GDR. When Germany’s reunification came around, I was finally able to openly stand up for the rights of foreign contract workers and minorities. That’s something I’ve been working for ever since. I can’t bear to hear about people being discriminated against because of their skin colour, sexual orientation or background and devalued or even physically hurt. I can’t help but take action against that and offer the victims some kind of security.

3. What needs to change politically and/or socially so we can finally make progress with these topics?

A lot of people think that change is the responsibility of governments. But governments can’t regulate everything, especially not when it comes to socio-political processes. Civil society plays and equally important role. Citizens need to actively participate in the fight against prejudice and bigotry.

Citizens can organise themselves into groups, galvanise each other and get help – and the government can certainly support them by funding infrastructure. Attitudes don’t change due to political decisions alone, but the government needs to set standards in refugee policy, legal regulations and criminal prosecution. When it comes to right-wing extremism in particular, democracies really need to be able to defend themselves.

I would like businesses and private individuals to get more involved in these issues – by providing their time, making donations and taking a stand. Especially in times of conspiracy ideologies and hate attacks on democracy.

4. How are you doing your bit?

By continuing to work on all these fronts. My friends always say I should do something for myself, but as long as people are still being attacked because of their background or orientation, I find that difficult.

5. If you were Finance Minister for a day, what would you do?

I would adapt the law governing non-profit organisations that makes it difficult for associations these days to get involved on a socio-political level. And I would invest more money in educational opportunities for all children in Germany, including education on social media, debating skills and raising awareness of antisemitism and racism. For everyone – or at least for all those who work in the public sector.

I would enforce the ban on discrimination. But that requires money. And of course I would make sure that projects for the greater good are supported on a broader scale.

6. Who inspires you when it comes to creating positive change – and why?

It inspires me when successes become apparent, when things start changing for the better. That happens quite often, but the public rarely notices. It inspires me when regions that are dominated by extreme right-wing tendencies suddenly come up with initiatives to bring about positive climate change. And it also inspires me when people cast aside old prejudices. There’s a lot we can do, and when it works then it’s great to have the opportunity to apply it in other places and other contexts. And to be honest, the times we are living in also inspire me. They are complex and ridden with conflict, but also dynamic and full of opportunities.

7. When I picture the future, I see…

…more effort and more activities to address the challenges of climate change and changing societies. But I also see fewer of the world’s age-old social ills like hunger, war and a lack of health and education. I see progress. We cannot afford to be pessimistic.

8. What do you personally want to look back on when you’re older?

That I inspired people. That I have made some headway in the fight against antisemitism and racism.

9. One thing that always gives me hope is…

…when the people who work at our foundation remain positive and friendly, despite all the difficult tasks, the hostility and massive threats that we constantly have to endure; that they still treat each other with kindness and that, despite everything, they still enjoy working for us.

10. What’s your tip for anyone who wants to initiate change, but doesn’t know where they should start?

Not everyone can run workshops or be active in associations. My tip is: get clued up on the subjects that matter to you. Find an organisation that acts in your interests and get involved, even if it’s by making a donation – that’s a great way to encourage and inspire everyone who works there. I know that from my own experience.