"Freiberg ist Wissenschaft": 3 Questions to Rector Prof. Dr. Klaus-Dieter Barbknecht

A man speaking at a podium
The ongoing demonstrations and the media reporting during the last months shed a negative light on the university town of Freiberg. TU Rector Barbknecht aims to show that Freiberg is more than that. It is a university city, a location to study, do science and business, to attract industry.

Prof Barbknecht, what is your opinion about the Corona protests (so called Montagsspaziergänge) in Freiberg?

The protests in Freiberg and other places in Saxony with demonstrations contrary to the law and the threats against the Minister President, other politicians and the police are reprehensible and must be strongly condemned. Given the fact that over 100 thousand people have died in Germany, I do not understand why people endanger themselves and others by refusing to take preventive measures such as reducing contacts, complying to hygiene rules or wearing masks.

The pandemic has affected people economically in different ways. Restaurant and stores closures, a lack of cultural events, the breakdown of tourism, and others are all massive threats to many segments of the society. Many participants at the demonstrations may be walking along in fear of their own economic existence. This is understandable. However, no state in the world has been able to endure restrictions on public life for long without having to accept even more deaths. We must admit, it is the Corona virus that restricts our lives, not the rules to defeat it.

Therefore, I sincerely hope that the affected people will not let their worries and fears be exploited by politically extreme forces aiming at a different goal - to destabilize our democratic constitutional state. Offering a platform for this does not suit Freiberg.

The demonstrations, mask and rule refusals and scandling slogans on the level of a pub debate are not helpful. Those who participate should be aware that they can bring a lot of damage to the culture, economy and science of Freiberg and to the society, which cannot be patched so easily.

Fear is a human characteristic that we cannot eliminate. We must respect it and can only try to deal with it through education. This will be a major challenge with regard to further pandemic control. This also includes the debate about vaccinations and compulsory vaccination. The individual physical integrity is a human right and a very high good. Personally, I believe that it must essentially be an individual's decision whether or not to consent to vaccination. Conviction and trust are better than compulsion here. Perhaps it will help those who are afraid to be vaccinated that the majority of our scientists and students are vaccinated.

For this reason, the city of Freiberg launched the image campaign #WirliebenFreiberg at the end of last year. TU Bergakademie Freiberg is a partner. What is the university's position on the campaign and how is it involved?

The pandemic and the measures to stop it not only brought us into a health crisis, but also into a social crisis. We aim to bring this to an end and make clear that Freiberg is so much more than shown in the current media reporting - it is a cosmopolitan location of science, teaching, culture, business and industry. This is what the majority of Freiberg stands for - and also TU Bergakademie Freiberg.

In the spirit of our university's mission statement, we stand up for a science-based, fear-free and cosmopolitan discourse and do everything possible to stop the spread of untruths, radicalization and intolerance, and violence. We want to show this clearly to the public and to our partners from all parts of the world - through all channels and formats available to us.

The image of our city should not be determined by a small, but vocal minority, that damages our reputation in the world. Therefore, we support the campaign of the city of Freiberg and will contribute our own messages with the slogan #FreibergistWissenschaft.

By participating at this campaign, we want to make clear that we trust science and are committed to gaining knowledge, combined with factual analyses and constant questioning. Science has been anchored in Freiberg for centuries and is part of our history. And it is an important sector of employment in the region. In addition to the university as the largest employer, more and more renowned research and scientific institutions have found a place of business in Freiberg in recent years. The Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology, Fraunhofer THM and IKTS, the FILK, Freiberg Instruments, Meyer Burger, Saxonia, Siltronic or the hospital are just a few examples. They all represent research and development in Freiberg and the associated trust in science and knowledge gain.

Initiatives like the network "Freiberg für Alle" have been active against radicalization, racism and also against the instrumentalization of the ongoing demonstrations for quite a while. Why is the university positioning itself this late?

As the rector of our university, I always try to maintain a party-political neutrality. However, that does not mean that the university or I are apolitical. After all, we are part of the region and the urban society and thus always have political involvement. Nevertheless, I have to reproach myself for the fact that we as a university have been silent for too long. We are an institution of reasoning and of the Enlightenment. It is therefore also our responsibility to speak out and take a position on protests that are damaging to our reputation and do not conform to the rules.

Together, we must emerge from the social crisis and once again cultivate the peaceful and tolerant working and living together for which Freiberg has stood for centuries. Because at the end of the crisis, we all should still be able to look each other in the eye and talk to each other.