One of the first posts I made to this blog was about the Center for Political Beauty, back then a fledgling performance art/activist organization which had undertaken several short-lived, performative events to raise awareness about refugee politics. In that post, I wondered about both the role of performance in political struggle and how long such a group would persist.
The Center for Political Beauty has developed a new piece that is both sweeping in its ambition and extremely complicated. “Eating Refugees”/Flüchtlinge Fressen has generated a massive amount of media attention and political ire, and focuses on an arcane piece of EU legislation which fines airlines for bringing refugees who have no visa to Europe by plane. Germany has a national law which adopts this EU document. Since the German Embassy in Syria has long since been closed, it is impossible for Syrians to get a visa to Germany before they board a plane. If airlines won’t transport refugees, because the fines for doing so would be bad for business, refugees are driven to rely on human traffickers who charge much more money and follow a route which entails certain risk and possible death.
Modeled on Roman gladiator games, the CPB has erected a stage and two cages with four Libyan tigers next to the Gorki Theater in Berlin. If the government doesn’t relent, and allow the plane to land, the CPB declares it has 9 refugees who are willing to be fed to the tigers and “be eaten by Europe.”
The CPB has chartered a plane, the Joachim 1, that hopes to bring 100 people from Syria to land at Berlin-Tegel on June 28 (tomorrow). Doing so is in violation of German law. The video below explains the project (kind of), and includes subtitles in English.
On another website, called “Flugbereitschaft” / “Ready to Fly,” the CPB breaks down the legal precedents which created this policy, listing each document in PDF form as the archive which informs the project. They use another animated video to explain the process by which refugees are driven to leave by foot, many of them drowning in the Mediterranean as a matter of course.
The cages and stage set up outside near the Gorki Theater have had their permit revoked, but are still standing. In fact, the CPB has set up live feeds on YouTube where you can look at each tiger cage or look at the stage. The stage, sits underneath a sign naming the space “Center’s Salon of the Last Beauty.” Huge mirrors reflect the audience back at themselves, a common technique to symbol self-reflection.
Since June 16, a variety of guests have come to discuss European refugee politics. These discussions have been archived as podcasts you can find here.
Christiane Kühl, writing for Die Zeit, describes the CPB as a group which
time and again has tried to make the discrepancy between our values and our political actions visible through extremely provocative and publicly visible events.
Kühl points out that the Federal Ministry of the Interior tweeted that this “event is cynical and is being carried out on the backs of those in need of protection.” Ironically, this is exactly the critique the CPB has hurled at the German government: that a European policy which finds need to defend itself against refugees is using the refugee crisis to maintain (CDU/CSU/SPD) or approach (AfD) domestic political power.
Kühl comes to the conclusion in her article that the CPB has been successful about educating the public about refugee policy through their free outdoor “salons” and their agitprop campaigns. Although I suspect that cynicism – if the tweet of the BMI is any indication – simply breeds more cynicism, there’s a depth to this campaign which illuminates global processes, domestic politics and articulates how complex transnational bargains affect lives. The tactics of the CPB are very much up for debate. But, after the shock of Brexit, the impulses feeding this campaign counter those of the far right, who argue that everything can be reduced to its simplest parts and that there is valor in reductionism. And yet, the CPB is not arguing against the European Union (although they do satirically call it the European Empire), but rather points out that there are actions politicians could take to ameliorate pain and thwart human trafficking.
That politicians choose not to do so is cynical enough. The tigers are just for show.
UPDATES: 6/28/2016 12:20 pm EST
Today was the day that the Joachim 1 was supposed to fly from to Germany. The CPB posted on their FB site and their project website today in German that AirBerlin, the flight company with whom they had entered into a contractual agreement to charter the plane, has broken the terms of the contract. This post from 8 hours ago signals that the CPB believes the Turkish Embassy became involved in the case, although I suspect that must be considered rumor until further notice.
The Federal Ministry of the Interior posted a very defensive tweet against the action, calling it a “tasteless performance.” You can see the tweeted statement here. The defensiveness of the statement requires future analysis – the tone certainly does not sound confident about the government’s attempts to aid human beings fleeing insecurity.
The police have also expressed concern that an actual suicide could take place in part of the court proceedings about the event. Desperate people have often used suicide as a method of protest. The CPB posted quotes from this document on their FB site as well – although there was no accompanying PDF.
The live YouTube feeds show a crowd gathered outside the stage, and one person in a cage. The tigers pace in a separate enclosure in the background.