Minorities and the Other within (the New) Europe

Marina Grzinic

In which way to understand the following politico-theoretical text in relation to Emanuel Danesch and David Rych Küba’s journey from Constanta to Vienna, travelling by car and towing a caravan converted to function as a mobile videotheque? This text is to provide a precise and as well disturbing (if it is not maybe possible to say difficult) political context to their work. We live in the time of unbearable lightness, talking about politics in art is disturbing! But, Danesch and Rych’s work minority logbox - multiple degrees of representation (log 0106-0506: TR-RO-BG-YU-HR-H-SK-A) is about constructing contexts, literally driving through them in order to show that each context is built and artificial and that a radical content in art is today unconceivable without a context.

Emanuel Danesch and David Rych’s project minority logbox - multiple degrees of representation (log 0106-0506: TR-RO-BG-YU-HR-H-SK-A) that deals with minorities and the construction of the Other discusses the paradigm of the new European Identity. It reformulates the postsocialist (transitional) condition of the former East of Europe within the matrix of relations and structures of power known today precisely as the New Europe. These questions arise with the political and cultural changes that are the effect of the enlargement of the European Union with 10 new members and with recontextualization of the war in the Balkans.

An analysis can be established by reviewing what the thinking academic heads stated about Europe at the end of May 2003. On May 31, 2003, Jürgen  Habermas published a text in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, co-signed by Jacques Derrida (who stated that he was not able to join the writing of the text, but was happy enough to have a chance to at least sign it). This text is to be seen as a precise answer and a sort of  “rebellion” against the January, 31, 2003 list of support for the US war in Iraq, signed by some old and some new states that will become part of the EU. On May, 31, 2003, on the date when the Habermas text was published, Umberto Eco, Gianni Vattimo, Richard Rorty and others also published, although in different, but not less important, daily magazines, additional texts of support for the main ideas formulated by Habermas.

Habermas exposed in his text two main points that deserve to be analyzed. First, the new Europe has to be seen as a space of different speeds, at the heart of which remains what he named the avant-garde, the nucleus of Europe, formed by the most developed European countries. He is presenting again, though through a slightly new rhetoric, the old story of West and East. This difference is in his view underlined further as he sees the West as a spiritual framework, a contour that is much more than Europe, it is a spiritual habitat that is connected with individualism, rationalism, and, last but not least, with the Judeo-Christian framework. Everything, and I repeat, according to Habermas, has to be seen in complete “symphony” with the USA, Canada and Australia.

We have to note that Japan is omitted, although this Western spiritual framework is, first and foremost, the depiction of nothing other than that of the developed Western World, therefore of the  First Capitalist World. It is important to note that according to the Vietnamese theorist and filmmaker,  Trinh T. Minh-ha, within the Global World the Asian space is granted a specific  set of domination relations and expropriation processes/evacuations of historical grounds. An obsessive situation exists toward this East (of Asia) that has to be seen as radically different from the East (of Europe).

Secondly, Habermas exposed in his text two main traits that are in his view at the root of  Europe today. He stated that Europe has in common two main features: the  totalitarian regimes and the Holocaust. Here I have to raise a question and to ask where and when we are then to include the massacres  within the Balkan territory: Kosovo, Srebrenica, and Vukovar. What is evacuated and abstracted is precisely the condition of the impossibility of Europe to become, as termed by Haberms, “a happily individual and rational Judeo-Christian entity.” Or lets put this differently, in this act of omission, we can detect precisely the evacuation and  abstraction of  that  impossibility that  today  prevents the new European home (as termed by Vattimo) to be fully closed, completed and at peace with itself.  The concentration camps, the massacres (SREBRENICA!) in  the 1990s in the Balkans must be evacuated, abstracted, and rejected, erased from the European memory, in order for this endeavour of the harmonious new European home to become a successful reality.
It is interesting to note that within the real space of Europe, the Balkans are, on one hand, perceived  as a disgusting “remainder,” and therefore the massacres and killings there are constantly abstracted. On the other hand, as has been pointed out by the theorist Boris Buden, a specific obsession regarding Eastern Europe, precisely the Balkans, exists on the aesthetic level. It seems that the Balkans are fulfilling a special role for the European imaginary identification processes. The Balkans are seen as an almost raw entity that can produce, but solely in the field of aesthetics, new concepts,  and therefore the Balkans are capable of providing to contemporary European art some sort of  fresh blood. Viewed from such an angle, I can state that the former West of Europe is a vampire entity or a modern cannibal searching for fresh blood and raw meat! This can easily be understood if we think about the proliferation of exhibitions in Europe that attempt to search for the Balkan identity and the ‘honey’ with which to cover up the bloody wounds produced in the real space of the Balkans also with the help of this same West of Europe.

Gianni Vattimo, takes us even two steps further in searching the new European identity, exposing the fact that if we are to talk about identity, then it is something that goes beyond the national states of Europe. But is he not simply giving the positive mark to what is going on anyway in the real space of Europe? The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, The World Trade Organization today make the most important decisions regarding the economical and political situation and the future of  a number of countries today, not only in Europe, but within the  global World.   Moreover, following  Giorgio Agamben, we have to  assert that what  really interests the West  is the  genetic material, the so-called biopower.  There is a  whole realm  of new technology and biology that is coming together, and opening a field that is known as bio-politics. Biopolitics is about exploring  and producing (artificial) life,  and it is also the way  modern States administer our lives today. Modern States and even more so multinational companies instead of, or in the name of, the national states, are prescribing what is life, when we can die, etc. It is not the idea of nations so much that is a problem today, pace Agamben, but the administration of the definition of life and of our right to die. The borders in  question are almost completely regulated by the bureaucratic administration of the Capital machine, assuming all rights to decide on these topics. It is time to understand that the neo-liberal principles of the  regulations governing economic, political and cultural  imperatives are already at work here, going well beyond the national state interest.
And again, Vattimo, talks about the gene of socialism, which can be seen as something specific to Europe. In doing so, he simply suggests that we have to put into parenthesis the real socialist histories of the horrors of Europe. But, the history of socialism cannot be evacuated from its Eastern European legacy.  The gene of socialism as proposed by Vattimo is a process of the swallowing, or better to put  evacuating, of several decades of  the histories of the East of Europe. This means to evacuate precisely those conditions of impossibility that would normally prevent one from seeing socialism only  as a process of humanization and progression. Emanuel Danesch and David Rych’s  project minority logbox - multiple degrees of representation (log 0106-0506: TR-RO-BG-YU-HR-H-SK-A) tackles precisely these questions. It is possible to reformulate in relation to their project the whole story of this region and to ask: “To whom belongs the genes of  war in the Balkan in the 1990s?” As if it is to talk about genes, then it is to underline the gene of oppression and wars exported from the nucleus of Europe toward its east/south borders or out of Europe. These genes produced millions of refugees, immigrants, people without papers, trafficking in bodies and minds, the slavery of millions, etc.

If we think within such parameters and the stories that are shaping the identity of  the new Europe, then we cannot be but critical of stories of the empowering of naked life.  Naked life (which I am using in reference to Giorgio Agamben) is a situation of absolute and total deprivation, when individuals have nothing but their (naked) life. The term comes from Roman Law, wherein slaves were perceived as sacred/animals, i.e. without any rights other than the right to have a naked life, and therefore only the  right to die. Today we have a similar situation in relation to refugees, immigrants, emigrants, people without papers, etc,  and also when thinking about contemporary slaves (the ones that are included within all sorts of trafficking: children, women, etc). We have to be critical toward such  interpretations that see a source of irrational power coming or dissipating from so-called people without citizenship, with undocumented lives. To credit them an over-empowerment when they are bearing just a naked life is a dangerous form of academic institutionalization and moreover a rationalization of the total forms of oppression of  people and bodies without papers, without rights, who are in possession of one thing only, their naked lives.

My critique is precisely against this transformation of naked life into a category of obscene jouisance, into a category of enjoyment. If we are to give credit to such stories, then it means we are to empower only and solely the  managerial academic groups within the global capitalist system that  are trying to rationalize, in the world of an almost panicky, rotating  global capitalist system, forms of deprivations and the naked lives of millions. Or better stated, with reference to Agamben, this is the rationalization of a life without form, or a process to give to formless life a kind of form, but  without life! Therefore the gesture proposed by Emanuel Danesch and David Rych’s project to “leave the tracks of determined descriptions of minorities and to reinscribe them within  various meanings of marginalisation, including national-, ethnical and gender-related viewpoints,” is to be the right one in order to deal radically different with the planned topic.

In the end it is about a context, it is about sharing again the analysis of “new” Europe I did in the past being presented now in an absolutely different context. The new Europe is not only and solely about differences, as it is more about processes of inclusion and exclusion within/out of Europe. These processes are having a history, and as well are having histories the videofilm works that will be shown as part of Danesch and Rych’s mobile videotheque. The question stays are these parallel histories to be (re)connected with different public sharing them in a collective action of viewing, reflecting and negotiating these contents?

In the end it is maybe about building a certain collective ground of understanding and acting, thinking and exchanging.

Marina Grzinic is artist, theoretician and curator based in Ljubljana and Vienna. She is researcher at the Institute of Philosophy at the Slovenian Academy of Science and Arts, Ljubljana, Slovenia. She is Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.