Andreas Broeckmann on Wed, 10 Nov 1999 10:32:15 +0200

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Re: Syndicate: the myth of culture in conflict resolution

Dear Brother Aleksandar,

although the text I sent was (almost) a sermon, and a sermon is by its very
nature not to be disputed but merely listened to, I will make an exception
and engage with you in a discourse whose irony will hopefully not be lost
to you, as some of the irony of my lecture seems to have been. Brother
Trevor's contribution has suggested to me that it will be fair if I try a
short and hopefully clarifying response.

>* As an 'embittered Balkanian', I will criticize here some of your words.

In a way, this position makes the discussion difficult from the beginning,
because I started by saying that I was going to present a utopian position
which somebody like you would not accept; and you didn't, q.e.d.

>* I don't believe in the active role of culture in the conflict
>resolution. ...
>There are so much delusions about the role of the culture and intellectuals in
>conflicts. I wonder why is it so. Do the people really believe that the elite
>art and culture can stop the war? Or they know it can't, but love to pretend
>they believe it can?

I understand your frustration about this, but something like this was
neither suggested by me, nor by Father Fintan who I am quoting (and some of
whose sentences you are wrongly attributing to me); I don't really
understand why you get so wound up against me. You could have read very
clearly in my text that I speak of a marginal role for art and culture, for
a micro-engineering of identities, not for stopping wars or solving the big
questions of societies in conflict. none of that is suggested in my text.

The more interesting question here is obviously what art and culture can
actually achieve. It is interesting that Trevor makes a reference to the
fall of the Berlin Wall, because the role of the dissident and democratic
movements, of artists and intellectuals, in bringing down the GDR, has been
in dispute ever since, but I think it is evident that the marginal meetings
and events that they staged in churches and private homes throughout the
80s did play a role in formulating a resistance which became
mass-demonstrations in the autumn of 1989. The spirit of those marginal
meetings was also in the big demonstrations. And if you had asked these
people even in the spring of 1989 what the relevance and impact of their
activities was, they would probably have been very pessimistic.

This is not to say that a poem and a painting brought down the wall, quite
the contrary. Without big political and economic changes - like the
Perestroika in the USSR and the bankrupcy of the GDR state finances -, such
micro-pressures rarely have much impact. The failure of the 1996-97
protests in YU indicates the same.

We can only have more or less hope, more or less optimism, about the
significance of what we do on a cultural level. I thought that in the text
I said very clearly that what we can do are only small things, small
channels, small tunnels, friendships and events. It turned out to be a
sermon exactly because the insistence on hope in a situation where
desperation and hopelessness rule, reminded me of Catholic mass where, esp.
in the time before Christmas, the insistence on faith and hope in dark
times plays such an important role.

I would defend this as a gesture - not Catholicism, but the attempt by
cultural practitioners to create situations which go against the grain of
the macro-situation. Maintaining personal contacts between Belgrade and
Zagreb or Sarajevo, translating texts from Serbo-croat into English or
German, bringing together cartoon artists from the Balkan region,
publishing a literary journal in several different languages in Sarajevo -
these things don't make sense if you want to stop a war. But they do make
sense as acts of cultural exchange, as acts of communication and for the
construction of a different reality. The fact that these things don't reach
the masses but only small groups of people, does not invalidate them. If
you feel it does, I suggest you try something else.

>* Well, could someone please explain me the true sense of that Balkania stuff?

>And what we're talking about at all: religion, art or politics?

Brother Aleksandar, forgive me, but I think you have a problem with the
pleasure of utopian, imaginary, ironic forms of expression. Not everybody
needs to have a sense of humour, but to accuse somebody who is inventing a
story to cheer you up and maybe offer you a different view on a bleak
reality, - to accuse that person of being imprecise and ineffective is a
bit of a waste of energy. 'The true sense of the Balkania stuff' - you must
be joking ! (he said ironically) It's a construction, an attempt to work
together on building something that creates space in the minds of people.
All your rash responses and angry answers are understandable, but all you
exercise is the mechanism of closure which is deadlocking the social and
cultural situation that we are trying to make *just a little bit* more
fluid, more permeable, more open through these interventions and ideas. We
are talking art and imagination. None of this claims to be the truth. It's
an attempt to do something else when the reality (that you are insisting
on) is so stupid and unbearable.

>The Lord be with you.
>* Don't hate me for saying that, but I think the Lord is obsolete and
>compromised. The wars here were all lead by the people declaring themselves
>Being religious, I prefer to salute people with 'May the Force be with you' -
>no one ever was slaughtering the neighbours in the name of the Jedi knights.

I am unfamiliar with your colleagues the Jedi knights. If The Force is a
good tool or path towards enlightenment, peace and friendship, then I would
welcome a more extended presentation of its powers.

May you be with others.


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