Nepali Times: Why does Bhaktapur hold such fascination for you?
As a young student, I trained as a historian. We have a shared history with Bhaktapur, and I often talk to those who remember. I was fascinated to see that the relationship between Bhaktapur and Germany is History with a capital H. This relationship is interwoven with Nepal’s decade-long struggle for democracy and local autonomy, and it changed both Bhaktapur and Germany.
It changed Germany. German development cooperation came in the late seventies to reconstruct or preserve some of the world heritage treasures Bhaktapur harbours. What many people don’t know: the encounter with Nepali politics in Bhaktapur had a deep influence on how the Germans thought and acted. The German development cooperation changed their original ideas, the methods, and even the staff.
I also believe that it also changed Bhaktapur. The city’s political leadership adapted to those “foreigners” who stubbornly wanted to help, and they kept this relationship alive over the decades. Over the decades, Bhaktapur’s success was a shared success story.
Today, if you walk through Bhaktapur, the people of the city point not just to the buildings which still stand or function because of this relationship. They also tell you the stories about those who spent parts of their lives talking, negotiation, building and restoring in the city, and they reminisce that also the water supply ion the city was improved, architects were trained and schools flourished, because of this relationship.
I believe our relationship is strong because it was able to incorporate big political change. Change over decades is the most important ingredient in the success story which German development cooperation shares with Bhaktapur.
I am therefore confident that this relationship is there to last, and that it will be able to adapt again. To new capacities in the city, new challenges and to citizens which enjoy more rights than ever before. I think we will again be able to see the city as a whole. Not just the havoc which the 2015 earthquake wrought over the city, but a living political entity with manifold and amazing capacities.
Why did the German government pull out of the agreement to restore Bhaktapur monuments?
“Pulled out” does not describe what happened, if you allow me to say sp. KfW cannot just “pull out”. KfW, the German Development Bank, is an instrument of German Development Cooperation, a very valuable one, but it does not take those kind of decisions.
What happened is that after two years of negotiations, one had to come to the conclusion that KfW had to defend modalities for a reconstruction grant because of its general mandate (not related to Bhaktapur), and that this could not be adapted to where Bhaktapur’s leadership saw the city moving between 2015 and 2017.
The conclusion was reached by the German Government and communicated to the Nepali Government before I reached Nepal. The recently elected mayor and myself, the new German ambassador, we have now the task to take stock and do what predecessors have done in the past: adapt to the realities and keep the relationship moving. For that is certainly what we want to do.
I do not wish to discuss whether this disappointment could have avoided, because I was not there when all this happened. I prefer to think that those involved did actually try their best and that they still wish to help those who have to pick up the pieces where they lie and move on. If one modality of cooperation does not work, for a short period of time, that is not the end of the world, is it?
Will the budget set aside for Bhaktapur be used elsewhere?
By the end of the year, I expect the Nepal and German governments to take decisions on the current earthquake recovery funds in their entirety — that is an immediate administrative necessity. That has to be awaited. But we have been transparent with the leadership of Bhaktapur during the preparation of this decision.
What is at stake now is to listen very carefully to the political needs which Bhaktapur’s leadership seen in a new, federal environment. We need to do this in a really holistic way. My hunch is that it will be very interesting to listen to Bhaktapur, not just for the Germans, but for many mayors and reconstruction experts in Nepal. That is what we think is a way forward.
Bhaktapur, today, is not the Bhaktapur of the 1970s. But also the Government of Nepal is not the Government of that period of a king’s rule. In this environment, Bhaktapur must be listened to, and I call on Bhaktapur to talk, teach, demonstrate and help analyse all things related to municipal development. How does it relate to tourism, local economy, religious heritage, infrastructure and buildings? That is at stake for so many more cities in Nepal, and we Germans want to use our contacts in order to be able to join the learning process.
If in this process, good ideas emerge and people come together who have the courage to make them happen, the Germans will be part of it. I am sure we will find the best modality for cooperation in this new context. KfW was a possible instrument, but not the only one.