What exactly is going on in this city?
The reputation of Dresden has taken quite a few knocks in recent months, primarily due to PEGIDA, the far-right anti-Islam movement. How has the city been responding to the situation, and you two in particular?
Hilbert: It’s the biggest challenge we face at the moment. The conflicts that come to the fore in Dresden also manifest themselves in other parts of the country. Even so, the antics of a few hundred rowdies affect the way 500,000 Dresdeners are currently perceived by the outside world. The public have some legitimate concerns and fears, and they are doubtful about whether we politicians have the answers. I take this very seriously. However, I’m not prepared to accept a situation in which debates about society are used to fuel xenophobia and racism. That’s why I have proposed a strategy to counteract the threat of division in our community. This includes specific projects in the area of law and order, as well as public meetings during which ordinary people and politicians can discuss these matters on an equal footing.
Can the damage to Dresden’s image be undone any time soon?
Hilbert: Not from one day to the next. However, we will be working on issues that other German cities may not get round to addressing openly for months or even years. If we get this open dialogue to work for us, it will make our city more socially cohesive.
Klepsch: The current situation in Dresden has also shown us where we still have a communication deficit. We should not simply try to paper over the cracks in our image but instead give an honest response. As regards social cohesiveness, we need a public debate about the sort of society we want to live in. We have to listen to other opinions, however uncomfortable they might be. At the same time, the generally accepted norms of social behaviour should be observed and adhered to. Nobody should have to put up with being shouted down or insulted under the pretext of freedom of expression. The many arts and cultural institutions of the city can make a useful contribution to this debate.
Hilbert: We are deliberately linking this civic dialogue to issues such as our application to be the European Capital of Culture in 2025 and the national Zukunftsstadt (City of the Future) competition.