Andreas Broeckmann on Sat, 6 Nov 1999 18:57:36 +0200

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Re: Syndicate: WHAT TO DO?

[Note: The following is the slightly edited text of a talk that i gave at
the ostranenie Finissage at the Bauhaus Dessau on 30 October 1999; it is a
late response to a message posted by Gordan Paunovic on 4 September. - For
the record it should be mentioned that, on the evening of the 30th, the
Novi Sad band the Love Hunters went into battle with a wild, deep European
dancing crowd in the basement of the Bauhaus. After fierce singing,
screaming, shaking, rocking and rolling, truce was declared at around
01.30h. Many thanks to Stephen Kovats and his crew for making all this
possible. -abroeck]


Andreas Broeckmann

Small Channels for Deep Europe
(almost a sermon)

I guess that most of you will agree that Europe, and the world, are in a
chronic mess these days. Whether this has to do with The Big Conspiracy,
with the so-called end of the so-called Millennium, or with some natural,
barbarian pre-determination of a continent's inhabitants - I don't know.

In the summer, after the end of the NATO bombing and the withdrawl of
Yugoslav troops from Kosovo, the Free B92 team published a text intitled
'What is to be done?' that was meant as the beginning of a discussion about
the future of Current Yugoslavia on the Internet. The text starts:

'By asking this famous question posed by Lenin, we are trying to open a
discussion on the current situation in Serbia and Montenegro. Our intention
is to cut through the obviously chaotic and pre-revolutionary mid-game and
find our way, at least in theory, to the simplest, the most rational and
the most efficient closure. Of course the conditions are completely
different from those at the beginning of this century in Russia. However
the dramatic and tragic nature of the situation forces to ask certain
questions. Without the answers to those questions there is not only no way
out of this situation, but no awareness of what we might soon be facing.'

The text from FreeB92 then goes on to describe the political dilemmas of
action and inaction for people living in Serbia and Montenegro now,
culminating in the question: 'We especially want to know what everyone, for
their own part, is prepared to do.'

I am in no position to come up even with suggestions that would help to
spur or resolve the un-revolutionary situation in Current Yugoslavia. On
the FreeB92 website there is a long list of responses, more or less
concrete, more or less constructive.

What I want to do here is to take it as a more general question, and to
give some indications for constructing a productive role for culture in how
the people of Europe live together. I expand on some of the points that I
made in the text for the Media*Revolution book, which dealt with the
ethical problem of 'losing your face', and with a plea to multiply, mix,
undermine fixed cultural and national identities.

I hope that none of the following sounds too grandiose: I obviously have no
answers, but only reformulations of questions, plus some utopian ideas
which embittered Balkanians can only laugh about. This finissage is a
ritual, and I have had to play the role of the minister for the Syndicate
before, so if the following sounds to you too much like a sermon, just
imagine that it actually is a sermon. And because I was brought up as a
dialectical Catholic boy with a converted Protestant mother, some of whose
ancestors were Polish Jews, the undertones will possibly be mostly
Catholic. So it goes.

Brothers and Sisters.

Sister Katarina of CyberRex recently gave me a copy of a text that she had
been given at a seminar in Ireland about Cultures, Art and Conflict. The
seminar is part of the long-term Phoenix Project that tries to formulate an
active role for culture in conflict resolution, and from what Katarina told
me about the meetings in Dublin and about a trip that they made to Belfast,
it must be a very interesting and strong initiative. We will hopefully hear
more about it in the future.

As a preparation for the project, the Irish author Fintan O'Tool was
commissioned to write an essay under the title Cultures, Art and Conflict
which was published this summer. In this essay, O'Tool first writes about
the ambiguous role of culture in relation to many of the modern social,
political and military conflicts. Artists and intellectuals from Buenos
Aires to Teheran, from Belgrade to Brussels, from Belfast and Bujunbura to
Jakarta, can be both affirmative and critical, supportive and subversive in
the face of the nationalisms and ethnic chauvinisms that often spur these
conflicts. Poets write the pamphlets that prove racial superiority and the
need for war, just as they can be the most fervant opponents of such
conflicts and ideologies. The main point here is that people working in art
and culture are neither naturally opposed, nor necessarily opportunistic in
the face of narrow-mindedness, stupidity and madness.

Father O'Tool goes on to formulate some of the possible ways in which
artists and cultural institutions can respond to the forces waging the
culturally inspired wars. He says that many artists have 'the horror of
cliché', and while clichés play an important role in inflating differences
and conflicts, they can, as O'Tool contends, 'never make for successful
art. In this sense - he continues - it doesn't matter greatly whether
artists are good or bad people. If they are to be good artists, they are
forced to make things new, to alter the angle of vision, to deal in
complexities, ambiguities and contradictions. In doing so, they bear
witness to the fact that reality is not as simple as the propagandist would
have us believe. And they make fixed, pre-determined ideas potentially open
and malleable.' Furthermore, O'Tool claims, art is particular and naturally
contrary. He says: 'The very decision to make art, particularly in a
situation of conflict, is a perverse one. It goes against the grain. (...)
And it often begins with the act of trying to imagine that the world is not
the way it is. It tends to start with the question "What if?". And that, of
course, is the very question that those who have an interest in sustaining
conflict don't want to ask.'

I am not sure whether we must follow O'Tool in his optimistic
structuralism. This can easily backfire when you are dealing with modern
and postmodern thugs. But I feel that the description of artistic
strategies for undermining homogenising tendencies and conflict situations,
are very useful, for instance when he talks about history and memory.
Father Fintan of Dublin writes:

'What artists have to do is not to forget the past or be trapped by it but
to find a way of remembering it that releases us from the belief that its
consequences are inevitable and inescapable. They have to find a way of
telling the story in which it remains possible to re-write the ending.'

One such hypo-historical initiative took its departure from Melentie
Pandilovski's project The Empire, and from the text The Balkans to the
Balkanians, which he published in April this year, in the middle of the
Kosovo war. Based on this initiative, a working group was created during
the Syndicate meeting in Budapest in April, that is currently working on
the preparations for the Future State of Balkania.

Reading from the First Balkanian Letter to the Syndicate by Brother
Melentie of Skopje, verses 1, 2 and 3:

'Let's create peace. Let's rebuild our own region. It coincides with the
boundaries of the Balkans.
This time on safe ground. Openly face and overpass all hardships. Get
acquainted to each other. Maybe for the first time properly. A creative
explosion will come from this. Let us conduct a thoughtful reorganization
of the Balkans where cultures interact one with another constructing thus a
new socio-economic system that will make good use of the existing cultures
on our peninsula. Expand the conscience for spiritually and materially
prosperous Balkans. Have us use in a good direction the historical
conscience of our people. Let us reject the untruth and hatred. Praise the
joy of people, praise their peace. Allow for reconciliation of the
Balkanian people and settling of their disagreements. Negotiate how to
demilitarize, transform. Preserve the cultural heritage of the Balkans. The
Balkans are flexible enough to adjust to sociological, economical, and
political changes accepting all religious beliefs. Holy places are holy for
all. It only makes them more holy if more people regard them as such. Let
us surpass the destroyed economy, the end of millennium catasBalkantrophy.
In accomplishing this let us try not to harm anyone. Do not work on
splitting the region but work on its unity. It's so easy to split and so
difficult to unite. But so much worthier. We need wisdom more than courage.
We need a constant revolution of the heart. We need a concept of
togetherness. We need creative minds with love for the people. We do not
need leaders with hunger for power. Nor do we need stubbornness but rather
adaptable, power sharing people. Nobody is alien on the Balkans so nobody
should be discriminated on issues of nation or faith. Religion is a private
affair of the individual. Fear no one and nothing. Let the people of the
Balkans determine the faith of the Balkans. If we don't someone else will.'

So far the words of Brother Melentie of Skopje.

What I find is so powerful about this text, which continues in the same
spirit, is its exuberant optimism that takes its vision and will as more
important than the mythologies of the present reality.

The key to many of the cultural conflicts that are turned into nasty
situations on the streets of Berlin or Warsaw, and into full-scale wars in
Kosovo or Chechenia, is the question of identity, of over-identifying with
a certain group or ideal, and the problem of inferiority complexes and
alienation against others, that often goes with such identifications. In my
text for the Media*Revolutions book I suggest the counter-strategies of
dis-identification, of dispersing the monotonous notion of a specific
identity, of becoming minor.

Here are three illustrations, prayers - if you like - to the saints of

Some of you may remember the1997 March on Washington, in which hundreds of
thousands of black men protested against the continued racism in the United
States of America. This march was in part motivated by a census form. There
was in this census form one question about people's ethnic background which
they had to answer by ticking off one of several boxes. The demand of the
protesters was to be allowed to tick off more than one box. Instead of
having to identify with one or the other singular background, the marchers
insisted to be acknowledged as people with mixed ethnic backgrounds, and
thus also with mixed cultural identities.

Second illustration: In 1942, during his American exile, the German writer
Carl Zuckmayer writes the theatre play Des Teufels General, The Devil's
General. The central figure, Harras, is a German airforce general who comes
to resist the Nazi order and eventually kills himself at the end of the
play. In one scene, Harras is talking to a young SS officer from the
Rhineland, who is very proud of his pure arian family tree. Harras laughs
at him and says:

'Imagine all the things that can happen in an old family. And especially in
one from the Rhine, of all places. From the Rhine. From the big grinder of
populations. From the winepress of Europe! And now imagine your ancestral
line - since the birth of Christ. There was a Roman field captain, a black
fellow, brown as a ripe olive, he taught Latin to a blond girl. And then a
Jewish spice merchant came into the family, he was a serious man and became
a Christian before the wedding and he was the founder of the Catholic
tradition in the line. And then followed a Greek physician, a Celtic
legionary, a landsquenet from the Grisons in Switserland, a Swedish
cavalryman, a soldier from Napoleon's army, a deserting Cossack, a mine
worker from the Black Forest, a miller from the Alsace on his travels, a
fat boatman from Holland, a Magyar, a Pandur, an officer from Vienna, a
French actor, a Bohemian musician - on the Rhine, all these people have
lived, fought, drunk and sung and made children.'

Harras tells the young SS officer not be proud of some purity, but to be
proud 'because everything has been mixed in the Rhineland'. To come from
the Rhine, he says, means to be from the occident, from the Abendland, from

Third prayer to the saints of diversity: On the morning of 26 May 1999, the
day of a European football cup final between Manchester United and Bayern
München, the Berlin yellow press newspaper BZ included a subtitle on its
front page, reading: Heute abend sind alle Berliner Bayern. Tonight, all
Berliners are Bavarians.

This vignette encapsulates the degree to which identities are constructs
which can be changed, acquired, rejected, manipulated. The flexibility
suggested here - turning Berliners into Bavarians when that seems to be
opportune - is a good start. Let us look out for the stories with headlines
such as:

Tonight, all Brits are French.
Tonight, all Serbs are Albanians.
Tonight, all Belgradskis are Croatians.

And, a challenging one:

Heute abend sind alle Europäer Zigeuner. Tonight, all Europeans are gypsies.

This last one I find particularly intriguing because it might take us into
the heart of what Father Félix de la Borde has called 'becoming minor'. In
the context of this sermon, the challenge lies in the fact that while the
Sinti and Roma people have full-blown cultures with customs, social
realtions, languages, song and dance, they have a culture that implies no
claim to nationhood, to a state of their own, to a specific unified
territory. We will need a European culture in which everybody, including
the gypsies, can develop an identity that is recognisable, respected and
non-conflicting with others. Not another Zionism, but the possibility for
friendly, homely, universal diasporas.

It does not really matter whether you assume a special role for art and
culture in achieving such things, or whether you book them as simply one of
the social practices alongside other forms of material and immaterial work.
One way or the other, art and culture deal and play with the fateful
symbols of culture. Creating, or helping to create, a world that we don't
have to be ashamed of, would already be a lot.

I'm coming to the end. What is to be done? I don't know. What seems to help
is the digging of small channels, rather than attempting to find universal
roads to freedom and prosperity. Inke Arns, in her text for the
Media*Revolution book, reminds us of the tunnels in Emir Kusturica's movie
'Underground'. 'Branching off from a basement under a house in Belgrade -
the main location in the film - are 32 tunnels which link up all of
Europe's capital cities with one another' - creating an alternative,
underground, networked reality, deep in the belly of the continent.

An important task could be to make these tunnels bright and wide enough to
keep the Deep European underground traffic flowing. I feel that the team of
diggers here in Dessau, Stephen Kovats and all the other people who have
made the ostranenie series possible, have helped to enliven the Deep
European Channel Tunnel traffic, creating a whole fleet of encounters,
experiences, and opportunities for envisaging a, dare I say, peaceful and
civilised Europe.

The Lord be with you.

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