A cultural heritage of humanity

by Dietmar Berger*

Should the cooperative be proposed as an intangible cultural heritage of UNESCO’s humanity or rather not? In addition, if so, what should become a cultural heritage? The legal form – or the cooperative movement...? These and other questions came to my mind in 2013 when I wanted to suggest to the board of the Deutsche German Hermann-Schulze-Delitzsch-Gesellschaft that such a project should be tackled.
By most people also in Germany, the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage is linked to monuments, historic buildings, entire cities or neighbourhoods such as Quedlinburg or the Naumburg Cathedral. An economic form such as that of the cooperative had not yet occurred to anyone. So are we to to put the cooperative practically under “monument protection”? The cooperative was, is, and will continue to be something alive in the future, a construct that always attunes to the different challenges of time. One cannot really pull it over the cover of the “unchangeable”.
Intangible cultural heritage, however, is what is directly borne by human knowledge and skill. It is transmitted from generation to generation, thereby constantly created, and changed anew. The concept of intangible inheritance also takes into account the ideas of sustainability and alternative economic concepts. In addition, the Federal Republic of Germany only ratified the UNESCO Agreement on the Intangible Cultural Heritage in May 2013.
According to my motto “It won’t work is impossible” and with the energetic support of the Lord Mayor of the large district town of Delitzsch, in July 2013, I proposed to the board of our company only founded in 1998 to consider the possibility of applying for the World Heritage Title in an ad-hoc working group. In July 2013, we already sat together and decided to do so. We are going for this application. We were right to look for further allies.
On the one hand, this was the Deutsche Friedrich-Wilhelm-Raiffeisen-Gesellschaft. Schulze-Delitzsch and Raiffeisen are probably the most prominent cooperative pioneers. However, they are not alone: Victor Huber, for instance, was the father of the housing cooperative movement, which with more than 2,000 cooperatives makes an important social contribution to our society. To attract the chairman of the Marketing initiative of the Housing cooperatives, Dirk Löhner from Berlin, was not only appropriate, it was also a very success bringing decision. The “Raiffeisen people” were instantly ready to cooperate. With Mayor Josef Zolk from Flammersfeld, we had found an active combatant.
Our cooperative museum at Delitzscher Kreuzgasse 10 – at that place the first commercial cooperative was founded by Schulze-Delitzsch on 1 December 1849 and today the principal office of the company, became the headquarter of the working group since September 2014. Still today, I hold in high regard the commitment of my employees at the time, Enrico Hochmuth, Carola Loose and Claudia Ramisch.
What had to be done? First, we had to clarify what we would like to propose as “cultural heritage”. At the end of August, we had long discussions in Dresden: Is the cooperative a legal structure? That might be seen as to German. Is it a movement? This seemed little to be comprehensible. Of course not only Schulze-Delitzsch and Raiffeisen represent the whole! And it seemed absolutely unsuitable to reduce it to the city of Delitzsch!
We decided upon the “cooperative idea”. It best comprises what our concern was and still is. The cultural heritage of humankind is the equitable economic togetherness and constitutes the mutual advantage of the parties concerned, where the interest of the community and of each individual is the goal and not the profit of a few. It is secondary, whether this is carried out in a registered cooperative with its promotion task, or in an African village of women in the very individual small trade with joint marketing in the next city based on the community agreement and the mutual trust.
This idea had already a tradition prior to the modern cooperative pioneers. It exists today worldwide in many forms and rules and it adapts to the developments of the societies. And this always, or almost always with the mission to promote the interest of all members or stakeholders and not to meet the maximum profit orientation for a few. Thereby, cooperative idea means also that not only all will participate, but also all decisions are made (should be) on a democratic basis according to the principle of one person – one vote. This is, as far as I am concerned, the decisive feature of a cooperative. Any renunciation from that, there are also attempts in Germany, is a renunciation from this idea. It is a horror vision for me, if at any time in the future the cooperative came along as a disguised capital company.
The application had to be formulated and voted on with the involved. The German UNESCO Commission had to be allowed to express its opinion as well. We needed photos, we needed supporters. It certainly has been unique for such an application. Hence, we asked about 500 personalities in the Federal Republic to support our application and to sign a support certificate. There were about 220 supporters – from the patron, Prof Dr Rita Süssmuth, Federal Minister a D Norbert Blüm, Presidents of the State Parliaments, deputies of Federal and State Parliaments, Ministers of State, Lord Mayors, to today’s Prime Minister of the Free State of Thuringia, Bodo Rammelow, and many other personalities attached to the cooperative idea.
At the end of November 2013 the Mayor of Flammersfeld, in his capacity as deputy chairman of the Raiffeisen Gesellschaft in Mainz, and I, as chairman of the Schulze-Delitzsch-Gesellschaft in Dresden, handed over our joint and thus transnational application to the responsible state ministers. Thereafter, waiting was called for. In the name of the Schulze-Delitzsch-Gesellschaft, I had arranged for it that no kind of lobbying whatsoever be started. Either the application is convincing or not. Hence, we all felt confident that the application was convincing.
12 December 2014, 2 pm. I was just trying to drive my car through the wintery Dresden accompanied by the mood of the so-called Striezelmarkt towards the motorway, when it was reported on the radio that the German UNESCO Commission had placed the cooperative idea on the German list of intangible cultural heritage and that this was the first and only German proposal to be passed on to the UNESCO.
The joy was great.  We were convinced that the German application would also be successful at the UNESCO Head Office. This meant, however, that the German UNESCO Commission‘s requirements for the international application which had to be placed under the responsibility of the German Foreign Office were high. It meant a new extended text, a film, all in English, compliance with all specifications with regard to length and marks of the individual sections and the demands on all concerned of the German Commission, for whom such an application was well new ground and for the cooperatives a rather unknown matter. On 16 March 2015 in Berlin, the recognition certificates for the German list were handed over to 26 applicants from formerly 127. We knew that the cooperative idea is a global idea, which is of such particular importance for the emerging markets as well as for the Third World countries, as is no longer imaginable today in Germany and the German-speaking world.
On 30 November 2016, UNESCO has registered the cooperative idea in the table of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. What is important is the success of this great idea, according to which millions of people in the world work together economically. This way the individual in the community can create and safeguard their economic basis of life equally – if possible independent of those whose sole content is money, making more money. On this basis, the cooperative idea is to have influence in the region, the country, or in the world. For us, the European cooperatives and our organisations, the title should be an incentive to give the cooperative idea a further boost in its originality.     •

*    Dietmar Berger was chief executive officer of the Raiffeisenverband Sachsen eV (Raiffeisen-Association of Saxony) from April to November 1990. From December 1990 to April 1991 he was chief executive officer of the Association of Cooperatives of Saxony eV, and from May 1991 to August 2003 head of the Genossenschaftsverband (Raiffeisen/Schulze-Delitzsch ) (GVS). When the association was renamed Mitteldeutscher Genossenschaftsverband (Raiffeisen/Schulze-Delitzsch) (MGV) in September, he was, until May 2012, first director and then president of the association. Since his retirement, he has also been holding numerous public functions, including that of city councillor in Chemnitz.


(Translation Current Concerns)

“Cooperative idea” belongs to the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

First German nomination for inscription on the Representative List was successful

The cooperative idea belongs to the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. This was announced by the International Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of
UNESCO in Addis Ababa. It is the first proposal from Germany for inscription on the Representative List. In 2015, the German UNESCO Commission submitted its first international nomination with the exact title “Idea and practice of organising shared interests in cooperatives”.

Inscription is an appreciation of the heritage of Raiffeisen and Schulze-Delitzsch

Josef Zolk, deputy chairman of the Deutsche Friedrich-Wilhelm-Raiffeisen-Gesellschaft, explains the decision: “We are very pleased with the fact that the fathers of the cooperatives in Germany, Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch and Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen, are honored in this way – for the foundation of an idea that is more relevant than ever before. In Germany alone, more than 20 million people are organised in cooperatives.”
Dr Manfred Wilde, managing director of the Deutsche Hermann-Schulze-Delitzsch-Gesellschaft, says: “The inscritption equally appreciates the image of the Raiffeisen and Schultze-Delitzsch heritage: the concept of a model of self-help, self-administration and self-responsibility open for everybody interested and overconfessional, based on cooperation.”

Raiffeisen and Schulze-Delitzsch laid the foundations for cooperative idea

The Deutsche Hermann-Schulze-Delitzsch-Gesellschaft and the Deutsche Friedrich-Wilhelm-Raiffeisen-Gesellschaft had jointly advanced the nomination of the cooperative idea for inscription on the Representative List. In the mid-19th century, Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch and Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen developed crucial foundations for the cooperative idea that now operates around the world, and founded the first modern cooperative organisations in Germany.
The Representative List is intended to ensure a better visibility of the intangible cultural heritage, as well as to raise awareness of its importance and to promote dialogue while respecting cultural diversity. It lists a wide range of intangible cultural forms from all regions of the world. In 2013, Germany joined the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which came into force in 2006.

Source: Press release of the Deutsche Wilhelm-Raiffeisen-Gesellschaft e.V. and the Hermann-Schulze-Delitzsch-Gesellschaft, December 2016

(Translation Current Concerns)