Can Europe Make It?

Thirty years in the shadow of the Wall

What have we (l)earned, what are we revealing/hiding, what can we see? In three pieces.

Christophe Solioz
14 January 2021
Šejla Kamerić, “30 Years after” (2006), C Print.
|
© Šejla Kamerić, Courtesy of the artist. All rights reserved.

“Thirty Years After”, what have we (l)earned, what are we revealing/hiding, what can we see? Wittgenstein wrote, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” (Tractatus, 7) – but we can highlight the silence with pictures.

Thirty years after the overexposed fall of the Berlin Wall, and after the “reunification” of Germany and of Europe, post-Wall Europe is shaped by paradoxes. In spite of the overall (apparently) successful integration of East-Central European countries, East-West divergences still structure the landscape to the point that we might even question whether the fall of the Iron Curtain really took place. Don’t we live in post-modern times in which events no longer really take place – except as (dis)simulation?

The “Return to Europe” prompted the “Return to History” – and not only in the East. The outdated Westphalian “software” was reloaded: nation, sovereignty, identity, border – thus “power politics” and for some, tentatively, nostalgia for empire. Brexit perfectly fits this scenario. Hence, not the end of history but the reversibility of history – one perpetuated in other, “retroviral”, forms.

Not the end of history but the reversibility of history – one perpetuated in other, “retroviral”, forms.

Sequencing the post-Wall decades highlights various polarizations: convergence versus de-convergence; consolidation versus deconsolidation; and democratization versus de-democratization. Instead of opposing forces, these tendencies – running on a Möbius strip – are connected. Hence, democracy’s “floating meaning”. Of course, some countries are simultaneously gaming on several levels, surfing the strip’s non-orientable surface: a democratic façade hides autocratic internal workings; there is a rhetoric of change and “stabilitocracy”; while formality co-exists with informality.

The fall of the Berlin Wall accelerated the viral transmission of the fragility of governmental power, amplified the fundamental uncertainty of democracy and enhanced the virulence of the deconstruction of power. Robust, consolidated democracy and power politics have faded away. “Weakness politics” has become the new paradigm.

As Jean Baudrillard highlights, Chernobyl’s nuclear fusion anticipated and presided over the political (con)fusion of the blocs. This process is symbolized by the radioactive cloud which, “by crossing frontiers with far greater ease than armoured divisions, prefigured the collapse of the Wall and the progressive con­tamination of the Western world.”

With the fall of the Wall, the disintegration, self-liquidation and the weakness of the East bloc became viral, contaminating the West. Alternatively, the West exported the illusion of its victory and successive interwoven crises: the transformation crisis; the (post-)accession crisis; and the global competitiveness crisis.

****

As “fusion turns into confusion, contact into contamination”, the transition and the overall process of transformation spread over the old continent.

As with the nuclear cloud, the borders are unable to stop the “migrant waves”. Nevertheless, some pre-programmed catastrophes are regularly happening on the “Balkan route”, especially in the former times, now the border between Croatia and Bosnia. [1] At the end of December 2020, in the open in and around the old camp of Lipa, outside Bihać in northwestern Bosnia, the situation is heartbreaking: up to 1,000 people lacking winter clothes, sleeping bags and tents have been sleeping outside after the temporary camp was dismantled.

Local hostility has blocked efforts to relocate them and the Bosnian authorities have been unable to resolve the issue. The EU’s Special Representative, the Austrian diplomat Johann Sattler, stated on January 2: “The situation is completely unacceptable” and called on Bosnia “to live up to its obligations”; reminding the authorities: “The EU provides significant support, €85.5 million, to help Bosnia and Herzegovina meet its humanitarian responsibilities and assist migrants and refugees present in the country”. Brussels promptly allocated €3.5 million and Austria send an impressive truck column delivering … containers rather than Pullman coaches and in place of granting asylum.

Against the exponential tendency towards total entropy — leading to the end of illusions, and beyond to death — art represents and enacts a poetic reversibility of events. Eros versus Thanatos. Following the negentropic path, the end of art is potentially to answer and overcome the chaotic form of politics and the “law of life”.[2]

2_Miljanovic?_The Didactic Wa ll, MSURS Banja Luka, 2020.jpg
Mladen Miljanović, “The Didactic Wall” (2019), view of installation at the MSURS, Banja Luka, 2020. | © Mladen Miljanović, Courtesy of the artist. All rights reserved

Here we have to mention Mladen Miljanović’s subversive educational installation “The Didactic Wall” (2.65 x 5.76 m.), presented notably in the City Gallery in Bihać in 2019. The Didactic Wall and publications contain transformed illustrations, schemes and diagrams based on a handbook from the former Yugoslav People’s Army (Miljanović trained as a Reserve Officer at the Military School). These show, among other things, how to move and survive in difficult circumstances, to overcome natural barriers and to orientate and move during the night and in conditions of reduced visibility. The installation is thus focused on how to act tactically and educationally in relation to the migrants’ situation through art… in helping them cross the border as well as other walls of shame.

3_Kameric?_Place to Stay_Svetv inčenat in Istria_250x350.jpg
Šejla Kamerić, “Place to Stay” (2020), outdoor steel installation, 2.50 x 3.50 m., Svetvinčenat (Croatia) | © Šejla Kamerić, Courtesy of the artist. All rights reserved.

Not far away on the same “Balkan route” and echoing Miljanović’s artwork, Šejla Kamerić’s impressive public installation “Place to Stay” (2.50 x 3.50 m.) in Svetvinčenat (Croatia) welcomes refugees. “Place to Stay” is a collage of inoperative signs for various types of tourist accommodation, written in different languages and characters. The composition is “underlined” by a single glowing sign that reads: “Refugees welcome”. Much more than a message in a bottle.

****

It is difficult not to speculate about the outcome of this contradictory movement. Does entropy drive an irresistible trend leading towards an inevitable final point? Or might the confrontation between entropy and negentropy, death and life instincts, wind up in a dead-end confrontation? Destiny has not yet spoken its last word. Against the seemingly irreversible movement of the totalisation of the world that Baudrillard calls “integral reality”, progressive universal art — immanent to the world system itself but to which it is integrally opposed — may nurture, beyond a symbolic form of defiance, a real movement of negentropy. In the words of Friedrich Schlegel: art “is still in the process of becoming; that, in fact, is its real essence: that it should forever be becoming and never be perfected”.[3]

Notes

This piece refers to the analysis presented in Christophe Solioz, Viva la Transición (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2020) and Jean Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994).

[1] At the time of writing, Croatia – an EU member state since 2013 – has not yet formally joined the Schengen zone. Nevertheless, the country has met almost all the necessary conditions for accession to the Schengen area since October 2019.

[2] See Bernard Stiegler (Eds), Bifurquer. Il n’y a pas d’alternative, (Paris: Les Liens qui Libèrent, 2020).

[3] Friedrich Schlegel, “Athenaeum Fragment Number 116”, quoted after Friedrich Schlegel, Philosophical Fragments (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), p. 32.

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