Communication Front 2000 Book, “Crossing Points East-West”

Ostranenie Finissage, Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau, 30 October 1999

Small Channels for Deep Europe

(almost a sermon)

Andreas Broeckmann

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 withdrawal of Yugoslav troops from Kosovo, the Free B92 team published a text entitled ‘What is to be done?’ that was meant as the beginning of a discussion about the future of Current Yugoslavia on the Internet. [1] The text starts with:

‘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 Free B92 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 Free B92 Web site 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, [2] 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 homogenizing 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 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 1999, 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 prepared the Future State of Balkania. [3]

Reading from the First Balkanian Letter to the Syndicate by Brother Melentie of Skopje, verses 1, 2 and 3: [4]

‘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 Chechnya, 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*Revolution 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 diversity:

Some of you may remember the 1997 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 a mixed ethnic background, and thus also a mixed cultural identity.

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 air force 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 [5] from the Grisons in Switzerland, 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 to 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 Europe.

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 that 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 relations, 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, [6] 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.


[1] See <> – eds.

[2] Andreas Broeckmann, Changing Faces, in Stephen Kovats (ed.), Media Revolution – Electronic Media in the Transformation Process of Eastern and Central Europe, Edition Bauhaus Vol. 6, Campus Verlag, Frankfurt (1999). <> – eds.

[3] You’ll find the archive of the project at <> – eds.

[4] See <> – eds.

[5] Landsquenet: from the French word for German mercenary soldier, itself coming from German Landsknecht – eds.

[6] Inke Arns, Beyond the Surfaces, in Stephen Kovats (ed.), op. cit. <> – eds.

Tazi statiq na bylgarski / This text in Bulgarian
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