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GoetheInstitute

28/03/2012

Signandsight.com says good-bye

After seven years we are shutting down signandsight.com. The site will remain online, but for now no new texts will be posted.

We still believe in the idea behind signandsight.com. We are convinced that Europe needs a public sphere, and we think that this public sphere is best achieved by combining the possibilities of the internet and traditional media. As before, we still love our motto "Let's Talk European". Yes, English is now the lingua franca of contemporary Europe. However, when English is used to bring articles written in another language to an international readership, then it serves as a bridge to these others languages and helps create waves. Interestingly, the most lively reactions to signandsight.com came from the US, where there is an intellectual audience that wishes to escape its domestic borders.

Some of the most wonderful experiences with signandsight.com were when Harper's reprinted an interview with Thomas Bernhard, because it had been first translated into English by signandsight.com, when Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post and Paul Berman of the New Republic discussed texts or debates that had originated from signandsight.com and which had found echoes in Swedish, Hungarian, Spanish, Polish, and French newspapers. Signandsight.com never had a wide popular readership, but it was a catalyst for European public debate.

Thank you to our editors – Lucy Powell, Naomi Buck und John Lambert. A Briton and two Canadians Europeanised the journalistic realm together with Thekla Dannenberg and the Perlentaucher team. Later American Laura Schleussner joined the team. Thank you to Gabriella Gönczy and Tina Balla, who were untiring in their work to promote signandsight.com to foundations and institutions and who even opened the doors of the EU commissioners.

Thank you to the German Federal Culture Foundation and Hortensia Völckers, who were courageous enough to bet on this utterly new kind of project and maintain it in the face of adversity. On an administrative level this cooperation was exceptionally collegial. Thank you also to Monika Maron, who supported signandsight.com as a member of the board.

Our thanks also goes to Jakob Augstein and the Rudolf Augstein Foundation, which supported signandsight with an annual donation of 30,000 euros after the "major" subventions by the German Federal Cultural Foundation came to an end. This enabled us to keep going with signandsight.com for a number of years.

Finally, thank you to all the authors, prominent and less prominent writers, who gave us their texts, often for very modest fees or none at all. And signandsight can boast a truly impressive list of contributors: from von Hamed Abdel-Samad to Oksana Zabuzhko. Jürgen Habermas, Pascal Bruckner, Timothy Garton Ash, and Andre Glucksmann allowed us to publish their texts. At the highpoint of signandsight.com activities - the debate we launched on "Islam in Europe" and the supposed "Fundamentalism of the Enlightenment" - Habermas wrote a very lengthy article that we then reprinted in signandsight.com. We believe that this debate was more elevated that the later, slightly hysterical Sarrazin debate in Germany. Because of the authors, and because they were European.

We definitely had bigger ideas for signandsight.com, and we travelled to London, for example, to speak with Alan Rusbridger from the Guardian about a cooperation. There was a great deal of enthusiasm, but there was always a lack of funds. Signandsight.com is not a business model. The editorial and translation costs are too high. Ideally signandsight.com would have become a project of an emerging European civil society, financed by European foundations and sponsors.

But there proved to be hardly any foundations that operate on a truly European level. Many foundations wish to bring the voices of their own country into the European chorus, but are unable to support projects based in other countries. Approaching the EU was futile: it would never have funded a project dedicated to the pragmatic notion of English as a lingua franca. And a pared-down and efficient working structure was important.

The current European crisis demonstrates once again how necessary international debates in Europe can be. The newspapers, which are usually geared towards a regional or national framework are not able to do this alone. Especially if they see themselves as existentially challenged by the internet. Signandsight.com has managed to prove that synergy is possible. It did not take anything from the media. In contrast, through signandsight.com newspapers became aware of texts that they were then able to translate into their own languages. An interview with Imre Kertesz, which we had translated from the Hungarian, thus found its way into a Swedish newspaper.

Signandsight.com bids adieu. But we have not given up the idea of the site. Perhaps at later date, in a more favorable economic climate, we will be able to reactive it.

Until then, we must give thanks where it is most due - to our readers in Europe and all those in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Oceania!

Anja Seeliger, Thierry Chervel

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