Category Archives: Performance

Eating Refugees: Center for Political Beauty

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.

 

 

“For Thinking” / Zum Nachdenken

There’s a lot going on, as always, in European politics. Germany has proposed an “integration law” to be enacted later this month. Lutz Bachmann has provisionally been found guilty of inciting the people, a verdict many thought would not materialize and which has yet to be enacted. Austria has elected a far-right chancellor after Werner Faymann, Angela Merkel’s right hand man who helped open the borders last September, abruptly resigned. In Idomeni, tear gas was used against refugees trying to push a train through a border fence. Thousands are still trapped in Greece, and more arrive in Italy daily. Dr. Frauke Petry keeps talking.

But there are some amazing pieces of work being produced in these times.

These two German audio documentaries have given me much to think about in the past week. Anna Frenyo produced this documentary called “The Fence” for SWR last December. In it, she goes deep into the supply lines and politics of construction that led to the construction of a border fence between Hungary and Serbia last fall.

This radio documentary produced for ARD by Thomas Gaevert, which was produced last September, is called “Wer ist das Volk?” or “Who is the people?” Through interviews with former East German guestworkers, primarily from Vietnam and Mozambique, he seeks to find historical continuity between the rhetoric used in the former East to describe foreign workers and the persistence of this rhetoric about foreigners in the paroles of the PEGIDA movement.

 

The folks at wirmachendas.jetzt have such an impressive array of projects that one can get lost in their mix of reportage, reviews and services. The website has an English tab, and one of the aesthetic projects that is highly innovative is the Syrian Mobile Films Festival, which recently had a screening in BOX.Freiraum in Berlin. Building on the use of mobile phone cameras in the Arab protest movements, the Syrian Mobile Films Festival moves throughout Syria and other locations to encourage professional directors and amateurs to make low-budget films with phones. This group also offers the “pixel” training program for emerging young directors through grants and awards.

The mission statement of the SMFF states that it “seeks to present free and different cinematic vision, a vision believes that the higher accuracy image is not necessarily the most clearness one.”

Finally, Idil Baydar has written this piece for ZEIT MAGAZIN, the glossy magazine of the weekly politics and arts newspaper Die Zeit. In it, she performs the code-switching which made her famous as the character Jilet Ayse, whom I blogged about here.

My dream is that we stop blowing smoke. Instead we should finally show young people more respect, recognition and attention. That’s what we call empowerment, it’s real cool, but most Germans don’t know about it. Valla haram Almanya, I swear, that’s not cool, Germany!

She also distinguishes between the freedom of speech and crossing the line to impose discriminatory rule:

You get it? You don’t get nothing? The Jilet in me would say: ok, I’m talking slowly and clearly with you. Pegida can walk to Germania and back, but please, please don’t determine how we, the majority in this beautiful country, should live with each other. Germany, you’re doing AfD, upper limit and stuff. I have solution! We make with you welcoming-kültür workshop, totally da bomb, valla! Chill your life, Germany! Then you be ok, too.

 

 

 

AfD Party Meeting in Stuttgart

Last weekend, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD/Alternative for Germany) party met in Stuttgart for their first national party meeting. This meeting was the focus of much attention for several reasons. First, the AfD is a new party, so what they decide at this meeting will shape both the party platform and the party’s ambitions. These ambitions are now clearly focused on national, rather than merely provincial, representation. Second, the party currently has two factions: the neoliberal-conservative group around Frauke Petry, and the nationalist-conservative group around Alexander Gauland, one of the founders of the party as a Euro-sceptic party. How the party will cope with dissent within its ranks is one of the questions political scientist Cas Mudde (UGA) tweeted the day before the meeting began. Given the warm welcome to racist-extremist Björn Höcke, it seems like the AfD will continue moving towards the right.

Finally, the party meeting itself was a controversial event, which inspired intense protest from left-autonomous groups and the preliminary arrests of 400-500 people. The Twitter feed from the German Association of Investigative Journalists posted a press release about crackdowns by police on the freedom of the press on May 2nd, when four photojournalists were arrested for participating in a sitting protest along the highway A8 and blocking traffic. Other charges included threatening behavior (Nötigung) and disturbing the peace. The press release details humiliation by police officers and that two of the journalists needed medical attention. It’s difficult to discern from the video below how extensive the protest was, but newspaper reports describe both protests near the convention center as well as a more peaceful protest in downtown Stuttgart.

 

My favorite use of technology as protest, however, was started by the satirical news broadcast extra-3 (the broadcast responsible for the recent Erdogan jokes). Deciding that the hashtag #AfD should really stand for “Aufmerksamkeit für Dackel” or “Attention to Dachshunds,” Twitter users started using the hashtag to tweet images of Dachshunds, making fun of the party and its approach to power.

The party meeting seems to have been largely symbolic – with a party program almost 80 pages long, the party meeting was hampered by organizational specifics and began late due to the protests. Of the more than 1,500 points to discuss, the party broached merely four. The “Islam Debate” was one of those four, and has caused the most uproar, with the Central Board of Jews in Germany and Green politician Volker Beck loudly condemning the AfD’s decision to include the statement that “Islam does not belong to Germany” in their program. (“Islam belongs to Germany” was a famous statement made by then-Federal President Christian Wulff in response to a racist polemic against Muslims published by Thilo Sarrazin in 2010, which monopolized the German newswaves for months.)

The best recap of the party meeting was by Lenz Jacobsen of Zeit Online, who summarized several important points:

  • Björn Höcke, the radical new right leader from Thüringen, who is infamous for making racist statements especially about Muslims, was the real star of the party. He showed up hours late, said nothing, but was greeted with so much applause that the person leading the meeting was clearly irritated and forced to stop the proceedings.
  • Albrecht Glaser is their candidate for federal president (a largely symbolic office), and was frequently addressed as “Mr. President-Elect.”
  • The provincial arm of the AfD in Saarland has been disbanded from the national AfD for working together with the NPD (Neonazi Party). Federal arbitrators are now the responsible party for the dispute.
  • Jacobsen rightly also points to the contradiction of the AfD and other groups like PEGIDA for hating foreigners who are Muslim, but praising white foreigners – like special guest Vaclav Klaus, former president of Czechia – who share their nationalistic approach. Indeed, for me, this transnational flow of right-wing ideas and collaboration across right-wing nationalistic parties is one of the most fascinating aspects of contemporary European nationalist-populism.

Finally, although the AfD has mostly been receiving press attention for their racist ideas towards Muslims and declarations by Beatrix von Storch that she would have border guards shoot refugees trying to enter Germany, queer.de published an important commentary on the heteronormative family biopolitics of the AfD called “Homophobia for Everyone!” The written goals of the AfD include elements of political struggles common to US audiences in the context of “culture wars”: no abortion, children should have two, opposite sex, traditional parents; Gender Studies should be abolished as a discipline; school curricula should not include mentions of homosexual behavior or transgendered folk; the German Christian heritage should be preserved. The ways in which this backlash would affect queer minorities can be intuited; what is important to remember is that backlash against queers extend negative effects to women and girls, single parents, divorced parents, step-families, infertile couples and single adults.

In reading through the program published by the AfD in advance of the meeting last weekend, what struck me is how the AfD party program reads like a textbook of the goals of the new right. There is an emphasis on promoting ethno-nationalist goals for Germany in order to strengthen the nation, all the while hoping to revert to some kind of mythical distant past in which there is no political union amongst European nations and no immigration. Immigrants are explicitly marked as criminal at several points in the program. Despite the prevalence of women at the top ranks of the party (Frauke Petry, Beatrix von Storch and Alice Weidel – who is romantically partnered with a woman), the platform is misogynist and homophobic – which are all part of the more basic repression in extremist movements to “close down the marketplace of ideas” (Lipset & Raab, 1970) and refuse to accept pluralism.

As the Green Party posted after the close of the party meeting:  “AFD: POLITICS FROM A DIFFERENT TIME. – Back to atomic energy, out of Europe, women in the kitchen . . . the program of the AfD is reactionary.”

 

Merkel’s Speech at the CDU Party Meeting

On December 14th, Angela Merkel gave an hour-long speech to members of her party the CDU. She’s been having quite a run, especially after being named TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year, and the speech has been widely covered by English-language media.

The Washington Post published a piece with the title “Multiculturalism is a sham, says Merkel” on December 14th. There’s not much more to that piece than its title, with one reference to her 2010 speech where she declared that “Multiculturalism has failed.” This article by the Guardian is evidence of much more responsible reporting, including several direct quotations on many issues from Merkel’s almost 80 minute speech. The Guardian also includes the statement on multiculturalism and links it to Merkel’s 2010 speech, but tempers this statement with criticisms of aid organizations as well as Merkel’s attempt to position German politics on the landscape of European integration.

What is missing from this English-language reporting is an understanding of what multiculturalism means in a German context.

Germany has never had a state-sponsored program of multicultural rights. Canada is a much better model of multicultural policy. Germans thus mean something different when they speak of multiculturalism – it’s a mix of having a diverse population, accompanied by the notion that civic participation and assimilation will happen without policies that provide access to populations of color and without having to discuss racism or equal opportunity. Multiculturalism doesn’t mean multiculturalism at all in this idiom: it is German shorthand for a policy of neglect. True multiculturalism seeks to strike a balance between group and individual rights in a way that is legally protected and does not infringe too much on human rights (although the criticisms are prevalent). German Multikulti is as much of a misnomer as using the English word “handy” to describe a cell phone.

Merkel’s speech – as is to be expected – is a political utterance. Because of its length, it also has a political logic all its own.

The speech begins with a list of events, month by month, that affected Europe. Merkel seems to be doing this intentionally: she emphasizes the role of Germany in Europe rather than allowing the nationalism of the CSU to taint her own speech. The banner raised behind her on the stage reads “For Germany and Europe,” the bright orange letters standing out against the blue banner as a political slogan.

The list is overwhelming. January: Charlie Hebdo. February: Minsk negotiations for peace in Ukraine. March: the German Wings crash. April: a special meeting of European leaders in the face of hundreds of deaths in the Mediterranean. June and July: Greek negotiations, a test of strength for Europe that has not yet been passed. June: G7 summit about climate change and the recognition of climate refugees. August: Prognosis of asylum seekers for this year: 800,000. Sept. 4-5: Thousands of refugees were stranded in Budapest, and Germany and Austria’s decided to allow them free entry. Merkel calls this decision “a humanitarian imperative.”  October 4: 25 years of German Reunification. November 13: the attacks in Paris. November 15: Cancellation of the German soccer match in Hannover.

By twenty minutes in, Merkel begins her historical rallying cry. Germany survived the Cold War and rebuilt itself out of rubble after the Holocaust. It is a country which doesn’t hedge its bets. Citing several famous historical utterances, Merkel insists that Germany chose freedom, not *some* freedom. (Wir wählen die Freiheit, nicht *etwa* Freiheit.) The economic miracle which followed World War II brought affluence for everyone, not affluence for almost everyone (Wohlstand für alle, nicht Wohlstand für *fast* alle).

This historical precedent also applies to the refugee crisis. After thanking the volunteers who are serving across the country to assist the processing of refugees, Merkel does the exact opposite of what her speech has set us up to expect. She hedges her bets. Germany can do it, but only if they reduce the number of refugees. According to Merkel, this is in no way contradictory and is in everyone’s best interest: Germany can only integrate so many refugees; Europe can only house so many refugees, and as for the refugees – well, no one leaves their homeland lightly, she says.

Germany can do it, but only with European help and partners like Greece and Turkey securing their borders. Refugees – at least some of them – have to be deported so that it becomes clear that legal protection is a status and laws have consequences.

And all of this takes time. Merkel undergoes a thought experiment about halfway through the speech. She asks her audience to imagine Germany in 2025. Later she will talk about imagining Germany 25 years from now. That repetition of 25, even though mathematically inconsistent, is important. 2015 is the 25th anniversary year of German reunification. It’s a symbolic gesture towards the unforeseeable changes Germany has already undergone since the Fall of the Iron Curtain, and an acknowledgement that just as many changes await them in the coming 25 years.

She uses this thought experiment to point out how young the refugee problem is. In ten years, she posits, Germans will look back on the actors of today and judge them for their lack of imagination. It’s only been four months! How impatient are we if we later look back and realize that we didn’t even allow ourselves the necessary time to arrive at a solution to a massive problem.

Some of her sustainable solutions to the refugee problem have ominous overtones: the establishment of a central database at all levels of civil society for refugees, as well as a two-year waiting period for family togetherness if subjects do not receive immediate refugee status. Merkel lauds Turkey, despite recent claims of humanitarian abuses by Amnesty International, as a primary partner in solving this global problem.  Rich countries are to be criticized for allowing aid organizations like UNHCR and the World Food Program to run out of funding, she says.

The part to her speech which is being picked up in these English language articles is actually a very small portion placed near the end. During this section, Merkel ponders the effects of cultural contact. After such an influx, what will remain of the Germany we know?

After stating her opposition to multiculturalism, she states: “The opposite of that [Multikulti] is integration. Integration that demands the openness to those who come to us, but as well as the readiness of those who come to us to adhere to our values and traditions. […] We will learn from our mistakes. […] Countries always profit from successful immigration, but that requires integration.”

She portrays the CDU as a people’s party; a party that creates bridges; a party that is neither a worker’s party nor a party of the elite, but which can cross borders and recognize individual dignity. The positioning is strategic – and pits the CDU against the SPD (traditionally blue-collar) and die Linke (a socialist party). More importantly, Merkel comes full circle and portrays the CDU as the party which developed the European vision and led directly to the integration of European countries into the EU.

This is, most likely, a simplification – but it is a strategic one.

English-language coverage of this speech misrepresents Merkel’s positioning by focusing on one line with a certain cultural connotation in Germany. Merkel agitates in this speech primarily for the German position within Europe – which, of course, requires an articulation of national identity and preservation of purportedly German values. But she is primarily pushing back against the anti-European sentiments of PEGIDA and the AfD party; she is cajoling her European partners to participate in solving the refugee problem together; and she is no more racist than any other central right party (and probably only moderately racist when compared to the rhetoric coming from the CSU, the AfD and PEGIDA). (It’s also ridiculous that I find myself in a position where I am quantifying levels of racism.) But it’s important to see the shades of intensity when comparing Merkel to some of the more populist elements of her party.

A better title? “Merkel insists on German Role in European Union and Stakes CDU’s Distance from German Far-Right.” But that’s not so catchy, is it?

I guess that’s why I’m not writing for the Washington Post. 

Digital Narratives

North German Radio (NDR – a subsidiary of ARD) has started a new long-form narrative storytelling series they are promoting with the hashtag #EinMomentDerBleibt  (A Moment Which Remains). In twenty to thirty minute videos, refugees to Germany – all shot standing or sitting next to a wooden chair against a white photostudio paper background – tell their stories about how they came to Germany.

Here is the story of Aeda and Bassam, from Syria. They tell their story in Arabic, and are dubbed in German in a way where viewers can still hear their own voices. They are from Damascus, and Bassam came along the sea route to Germany, where he watched another boat perish before his eyes. He himself developed heart problems from the journey. His wife often defers to him, and walks out of the frame at the beginning of the video as the story becomes too painful. The family patriarch standing on the sterile, white background looks lonely. The mood, in this story as well as some of the other videos available, bears a testament to the strengths of the traumatized. His wife walks off the stage, but he remains standing. She rejoins him and finds her voice. Bassam was the first to make it to Greece. After a long time, Aeda decided to take the children and join him, without his knowing, and with the help of a trafficker. There’s a steeliness to both of them. Aeda and the children were imprisoned twice, once on the Turkish coast and once in Greece. They travelled as a family from Greece to Macedonia by train, where they witnessed the death of a forty-year old man on the train. The man’s 15 year old son, who has some kind of mental disability, was taken along by his father on the trip, and was left alone after his death.

The family travelled by foot through Serbia and Hungary. Bassam reports that the Hungarian police were by far the most brutal, and had no empathy for the differences between children and adults making the journey, especially very small children.

According to the NDR schedule from last week, these short narrative films are airing late at night – after 11pm. There are ten portraits listed on the NDR website with refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, and other countries.

Given the escalating violence against homes for asylum seekers, refugee children in schools, and even the violence incurred by the policing of left-wing demonstrations to occupy buildings with the hopes of finding refugees housing, this kind of storytelling is imminently political and a laudable intervention to allow refugees to speak for themselves over a long period of time (rather than in soundbytes) or to merely be spoken about by politicians and journalists. I don’t know if these videos always air at night, but rather than filling airtime after most people have gone to bed, this series should be playing at prime time. Air them in the late afternoon, cut out a rereun of the odious Two and a Half Men, and then show another one after parents and adults get home from work. Cut the piano music that introduces the trailer and story; make the entry into the storytelling as steely as the narrative that follows. Find a way to market not to the volunteers who are already sympathetic, but to the tough brutes who think that the AfD and Pegida offer viable alternatives.

The lines between agitprop, propaganda and publicity are so porous. And in this age of populist Hetze – whether it’s Donald Trump, Horst Seehofer or Marine LePen – the only thing we might have going for the rest of us is spin. So spin this. Spin people’s stories and give them as much agency as possible (at least 30 minutes worth) for them to wind up and come back down.

 

Jilet Ayse / Idil Baydar / Gerda Grischke

About four years ago, the Berliner Werkstatt der Kulturen hosted a reading by the editors and contributors of the encyclopedia project Wie Rassismus aus Wörtern spricht (How Racism Speaks through Words). The bar area of the theater and gallery was packed – people were sitting on the floor, or uncomfortably close on some of the seats and couches, and a variety of contributors placed at microphones around the room read from their entries on words like “race” and “integration” and “foreigner.” The book was available for something like 40 or 50 Euros, and you got your money’s worth: this volume is truly encyclopedic, weighing in at several pounds and several hundred pages. The Werkstatt der Kulturen, the long-standing organizers of the Carneval of Cultures parade and contest in Berlin, had long been a location for topics of race, racism and difference. In light of the Sarrazin debates, the WdK had hosted three panel discussions about race hosted by Michel Friedmann in late 2010 with guests ranging from Shermin Langhoff, artistic director at that time of the Ballhaus Naunynstraße, Naika Foroutan and Kien Nghi Ha, social scientists working on these questions, and Nadja Afouatey-Alazard, the co-editor of this volume with Susan Arndt and a filmmaker and academic in her own right.

Glossar NdMM

An association of journalists called Neue Deutsche Medienmacher has now undertaken a similar project on a smaller scale and directed specifically at journalists. They define their project on their website as follows:

“As journalists we work every day with our tool: language. Our reports are supposed to present the facts correctly, without judgment, and with precision. Frequently, however, words like “immigrant” or “migrant” stand alongside each other in the same text with the assumption that these words mean the same thing. They don’t.”

The NDM has commissioned the comedian Jilet Ayse to perform satirical riffs on various entries in this glossary. In the most recent episode, Ayse defines “Armutszuwanderer” (loosely translated: poverty immigrants; those who are driven to emigrate due to poverty; “Wirtschaftsflüchtling” is another version of this term commonly translated as “economic migrant”).

Ayse’s character for these videos wears a poofed, bleached blong pompadour, with massive (and probably heavy!) hoop earrings, and her trademark t-shirt which says “WALLAH: Ich habe nix gemacht.” Each episode features her sitting on her couch, reading and getting irritated by the journalistic tropes transmitted by unconscious language use. Her performance hinges on the cliche, and subverts the critique of the media she enacts through dialect. Speaking fluent, but strongly accented German, her stereotype of a Berliner of Turkish descent sets her character up as the target of various debates in Germany about the integration of immigrants by encouraging them to master German. That Ayse uses this “imperfect” German to critique the language politics of the German mainstream is a beautiful subversion of the stereotype Ayse inhabits.

What I find really interesting about her performances is the way that they create discomfort through anger. The intensity of her performances fit well within the YouTube genre: this energy is unsustainable for long periods of time. The persona that she has created, because it is a parody of urban youth, plays with racist stereotypes – and that can be dangerous if one privileges appearances over content. This particular video focuses on the irony of calling refugees or immigrants “Armutszuwanderer.” In a moment at the beginning, Ayse calls out the racist undertones of this term and insists on recognizing a politics of self-identification: “They’re called Roma. You don’t need to make economic migrants out of them. They’re called Roma.”  Ayse’s character is designed to play with the grostesque; she exaggerates on purpose.  “Do you think they come here to be poor in Germany? Are you serious?” Ayse demands. Answering her own questions, she questions the motives of politicians who seek to exclude or devalue the potential contributions to society these immigrants could make: “You should call them work migrants, they come here to work!” Ayse ends by making fun of herself: although she has read the academic redefinition of the term from the glossary with no problem before flipping back into an exaggerated dialect, she makes fun of her character’s supposed Bildungsferne (distance from education) by tripping over the term “Bruttosozialprodukt” (Gross National Product).  “Du kannst froh sein, wenn sie kommen, und arbeiten, weil sie machen der sozi-prod-brutto-produkt- SIE MACHEN GUT, ok?”  (You can be happy when they come and work, because they make the g-g-g: THEY DO GOOD,OK?) She ends with a button, by reading once again from the glossary: turns out this migration is often profitable for Germany. She drops the booklet like an MC would drop a mike, opening up her arms and saying: “Live with it.”

Jörg Lau, a journalist on immigration and diversity for Die Zeit, already had “discovered” Jilet Ayse back in 2011 when she produced a YouTube video called “Ey, isch bin so sauer!” Lau called her a “Genius” in his blog posting. In that earlier video, Ayse does a similar character who hits much harder: this woman uses the stereotype of a loud, defiant woman who goes on and on about how perfect her life is while recounting obvious scenes of domestic abuse. The combination of toughness with obvious trauma is difficult to watch, and yet manages to illustrate both the costs of domestic abuse as well as the patronizing behaviors of social workers and possibly feminists intent on dialogue (represented in this video by an invisible sister who is dating a German man lacking the masculinity Ayse wants).

Language matters, but language is more than just words. The exaggerated emotion Ayse portrays here enacts an important element of debates about racism: those who hold dominant power within a society are the only ones who can talk about race as if it is an academic concern. Race matters; racism hurts. It’s visceral.

 

 

 

Angela Merkel appears on Anne Will

On October 7th, 34 (male) CDU politicians issued a public letter criticizing Angela Merkel for her refugee politics. This letter lists suggestions for handling the refugee crisis as well as articulates frustration with the Chancellor as a representative of their party who no longer seems to adhere to the political mission of the CDU nor to European laws such as the Dublin Agreement.  That only male CDU politicians signed this letter deserves a later post to itself.

On the same day, Chancellor Merkel appeared as a guest on the political talk show Anne Will. Sitting on beige, leather, Bauhaus-style chairs in front of a live studio audience, Merkel spoke with Anne Will about the criticism from her own party and Merkel’s “plan” for dealing with the refugee crisis.  Repeating over and over again, “We can do it,” Merkel committed to her approach to refugee policy.

Several reviews of the television broadcast, such as this one from Die Zeit, state that Merkel’s appearance was received positively by politicians. Sabine Rau, an ARD journalist, commented after the broadcast that this appearance was part of a broader offensive strategy to maintain control amid dissent, as the tagesschau reports.

Maintaining control was clearly the Chancellor’s focus during the broadcast: often talking over Frau Will and refusing to buckle under pressure, Merkel seemed confident about both her political decisions and her position as chancellor. Precisely this confidence has irritated many over the past several months, especially after Merkel proclaimed the German borders open to Syrian refugees on September 4th of this year. With that step, the Dublin Agreement, which states that refugees are supposed to be processed in the country within Europe where they first set foot, was essentially null and void. Other countries, like Greece and Hungary, who simply sent refugees who wanted to leave towards Germany, are, however, also at fault for facilitating the transfer of refugees across European borders and the breakdown of Schengen and Dublin – that does not fall solely to the Chancellor.

What I find fascinating about these two media events: one, the frustrated letter from CDU politicians, and two, the broadcast interview on Anne Will, is the lack of ideological difference between most of them. Merkel, for instance, emphasized in conversation many of the suggestions made by the CDU in their letter: strengthening Europe’s outer borders; providing Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Libanon with support for caring for refugees; speeding up refugee processing times. The ideological conflict seems to hinge on one point: can any action actually stop the flow of refugees into Germany?

The CDU/CSU wants to believe that some show of strength – a border fence or control, for instance – could help. Or even if the Chancellor would stop taking selfies with refugees. (As Merkel pointed out, the promise of a selfie with the German Chancellor is not what drives people to flee). But Merkel is much more honest when she says that this is impossible. With or without a policy of open German borders, people see Germany as a desirable destination. Irregular migration – across what the Chancellor acknowledges are porous inner-European borders – will persist with or without fences or border patrols. When asked by Anne Will if Germany should stop accepting refugees, the Chancellor replied: “How is that supposed to work? You can’t close the border. There is no stop to admission (Aufnahmestopp).

The last question of the Will broadcast is actually the most telling: Frau Will asked the Chancellor if the Germany we know today will persist in the face of such massive, sudden immigration. Chancellor Merkel was insistent: the values of Germany (values being a favorite phrase of right-wing politics across the globe) such as free speech, the social market economy, and freedom of religion will not change. She’s sure of it.

The political right, however, isn’t so sure Germany will persist – neither the Germany they know nor the Chancellor who has represented them for ten years. Oh, Ye of little faith.

 

Update: Political Beauty Float Anchored

The team from the Center for Political Beauty has posted pictures to their Facebook site showing a successfully installed rescue platform in the Mediterranean.

 ZPS5.10.15

https://www.facebook.com/politische.schoenheit/posts/881002485288137

Center for Political Beauty

The Zentrum für Politische Schönheit is, by far, one of the most visible groups doing performance work with high media impact. This summer, as a tribute to those who die crossing the Mediterranean hoping to reach Europe, they dug up the grass on the lawn in front of the Bundeskanzleramt (the Office of the Federal Chancellor) into 100 graves. The Queen of England was about to make her regular visit to give “The Queen’s Lecture” at the Technical University of Berlin, and Germany was enjoying a summer of rainy, British weather to boot. As the German newspaper Bild noted, the lawn was quickly green again. I went to look a few days later, having missed the demonstration, and indeed – the grass had already sprouted. A metaphor for the short memories of the German elite, or a tribute to the ethereal nature of political performance?

The Zentrum has continued to make headlines for its next project: setting up floating rescue stations in the Mediterranean for refugees who find themselves stranded. First articulated as a project to build a fictional bridge from North Africa to the Mediterranean, the ZPS produced this glossy video in the spirit of campaign advertisements:

 

According to an article in Der Tagesspiegelthe ZPS is also soliciting money to install at least one rescue platform by October 1st.  Getty Images has posted a before shot of the preparations taking place off the coast of Sicily, which you can see here.

The name “Political Beauty” is certainly accurate – the images and glossy video of the ZPS’s projects have a sophisticated aesthetic composed of satire and privileged resistance. But it raises the question in the context of an ongoing humanitarian crisis: what kind of a weapon can art be? Are these kinds of projects the brief blips of a group of young, bright, performance artists, who may turn their attention randomly to a variety of causes as it strikes their fancy? That modernist German poet Rilke, so much a favorite of the artistic adolescent, said, a century or more ago, that “Nothing touches a work of art so little as words of criticism.” But if we focus on the “political,” our critical tools might become far more adept: what is the political reach of a glossy video about an industrialized superhighway when the practical reality of this Aktion is merely one float on the edge of Sicily?

That question is by no means merely rhetorical; it is an open one. In the face of this kind of humanitarian crisis, where images of suffering are now our daily bread, any attempt to understand efficacy will need an understanding of both the political and the aesthetic.