Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Dialogue, culture and democracy - Hatto Fischer

This is a brief response to the theme 'culture and democracy' of a planned conference in Tunesia 2016. (see appendix 1), but also meant to explain the concept of dialogue as perceived by children and youth painting peace murals in reference to Picasso's Guernica.

Since I have been discussing a lot with the poetess Najet Adouani from Tunisia what is happening in her country, I welcome such a conference which tries to examine the linkage between culture and democracy. This topic is most relevant not only to Tunisia and to all the Middle East countries, but encompasses as well what is happening in Europe whether now with regards to the Ukraine or to Greece.

I suppose many ideas can come to one's mind when looking at such a vast topic. Most recently, we have been exchanging ideas about 'citizenship education' within Europe. The organisers of another conference held in Thessaloniki in Sept. 2015 pose the question: what measures need to be taken, if the danger of polarization is to be averte? That refers in particular to those societies which are caught in between efforts to implement economic models of success and responses to migrants arriving with their own concept of life. While humanity was always about dreams about a future worth striving for, differences made out by applying in a negative way the term 'otherness'. Thus the distinction between us and them leads too often out of fear of the others as strangers to their exclusion.

Michael D. Higgins explained in his speech given in 2007 at the ECCM Symposium 'Productivity of Culture' that exclusion is the result of people being consumed by the drive to more consumption to keep the economy going. This artificial demand requires a privatisation which merely heightens insecurity, and instead of sharing culture with others, mistrust and fear creeps in. It means a loss of cultural spaces to be creative together, something practiced by Kids' Guernica - Guernica Youth when letting children and youth paint together peace murals of the same size as Picasso's Guernica (7,8 x,5 m).

Specifically given that experience of what happens when children and youth enter a collaborative learning process, a measure of time can be used just like the old Egyptians appraised everything symbolically with a tree of life. That tree contained birds of different colours, green for immaturity, blue for political maturity. As a measure of time this political maturity is what the Arab spring attained in 2011. It started by young people no longer sending anonymous text messages; instead they put their own face behind these messages. Consequently they could be recognized by everyone but as well by the secret police. By stepping into public spaces, they made history by taking on an identity of their own. Unfortunately upsurge in democracy was squashed by subsequent developments especially in Egypt but not only. One needs only to look at Libya and its failed state as much as at the turmoils inside of Iraq, to know that many people in the Middle East live in fear of violence and go empty beside abolute wealth. Everywhere a similar contradictions seems to be unfolding, and if it is not an outright repressions, then a sort of implosion of all kinds of civil wars. No where does a civic order seem stable enough to allow of a human life in dignity.

From the outside looking in Tunisia appears to be the exception even though the recent bombings and killings show how easily this country can be drawn as well into the ongoing civil war in the Middle East. The violence can easily spill over to any country. Tunesia seems only intact because very fragile structures stlll make possible governance. This is because the political practice is based on compromise rather than on an assertion of absoluteness. The latter can only be realized by means of assertiveness leading to violent clashes, especially if the others do not comply immediately to these demands to lead a life devoted solely to these absolutes. The latter are set without dialogue before hand, during and therefore are not even discussed after the consensus model based on an ancient text like the Koran has been imposed. Instead young men become members of the religious police which guards the safe keeping of these absolute rules. Such dogmatic practices are accompanied by all kinds of contradictory developments which manifest themselves in police brutality and absence in democratic spirit. For the prime rule is vindication for disobedience of these rules. Since still subject to interpretations, naturally the application of extreme meaures vary. On that scale, Tunesia seems to be more lenient mainly due to its culture having brought about a degree of literacy amongst its people so that a cultural consensus can prevail over any combination of economic and religious fanaticism and intolerance.

It seems that the ability to make a compromise has saved Tunisia from some of the more violent developments elsewhere but not completely as made evident by recent events. Interestingly enough the same applies to how danger of economic catastrophe was averted by Tsipras, the young Prime Minister of Greece. He was quoted by Deutsche Welle as to the explanation he gave as to why he went for the compromise:

"Compromise and 'State of emergency'

Once again, the stakes were high at Greece's parliament atop Syntagma Square.

Failure to achieve sufficient votes would have resulted in a derailing of the bailout, rekindling fears over the country's future in the eurozone.

In his address to parliament, Tsipras said the unpopular reforms were a necessary price to pay to keep Greece alive after stormy talks with its creditors had nearly collapsed earlier this month.

"We have chosen a compromise that forces us to implement a program in which we do not believe, and we will implement it because the alternatives are tough," he said.

"We are summoned today to legislate under a state of emergency," Tsipras implored." 1



Already in 2011 the poetess Katerina Anghelaki Rooke had posed the question during our action on Rhodes and at the height of the political assemblies on Syntagma Square when is a compromise not to be condemned but can be justified on even moral grounds?

To come back to culture and democracy as a theme, I suppose many of the radical Left are ready to denounce any sort of compromise and chide now Tsipras as even a traitor. But traitor to what cause and for what reason? It was Brendan Kennelly, the Irish poet who wrote the epic poem called 'Judas', that from day one children are taught at school to hate the traitor and in so doing they overlook that they betray their own dreams about humanity if they begin to focus in an one sided way to just hate some figure who fits the description.  It seems many societies fall victim to this one sided educational scheme as if only the religious lesson is upheld, namely in order to achieve goodness you have to delineate yourself from badness. It is the subversive element of irrationality which compounds so many political difficulties both in Europe and in the Middle East even though culture was kindled by the Arabic philosophers until the 9th century as being a combination of science and philosophy rather than religion and philosophy. 

I would use a poem I wrote about political maturity at the height of the public movement in Egypt in 2011 and connected with a question about the chances to realize a dialectic of securalization between culture and state (religion as represented by a certain institution) without the state feeling terrorized once culture begins to emancipate itself from the tutelage of the state. For when that happens Liana Sakelliou Schulz explained already in a lecture she gave at the 5th Seminar, Cultural Actions for Europe, and which I had organized in Athens 1994, that once culture begins to emancipate itself, then the mask of the state is torn off and all its brutal mechanisms are revealed. Till then the mask of culture has been used to appear as being a civilized state which respects human rights and human dignity. So that would be an important question of how the dialectic of cultural freedom and political emancipation from religious determination can combine with respecting the literacy people have gained by freeing themselves from the fear to revolt?

So I would use the poem about 'The Song of Freedom by the Blue Bird of Egypt (2011) as a measure of time it takes to attain this freedom. In the meantime, we have also some other measures, including that of Cavafy about the Barbarians coming and extended further by the Israeli poet Amir Or who wrote the poem "the Barbarians among us". For then you cannot trust any longer the other. In his other poem Amir Or outlines what 'together' means today, for you never know who else stands beside you at the bus stop and if anyone is a suicide bomber amongst those waiting for the next bus to come but which will never leave that station again.

A chance to get out of this mess exists. Yet there is a need to foster delicate dialogues, so as to allow for people to develop empathy for the other. All that requires an emancipation in the imagination. For that to happen, some developments related to the notions of 'dialogue' and 'culture' have to be reflected upon further.

Philosophy and dialogue

Dialogue in philosophy is known to be linked to Socrates, but at the beginning of the twentieth century it was differentiated by Martin Buber. He sought to bring together the three religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It amounts to a 'I-God' dialogue with the risk that people no longer speak to the other but only to the one and only God.

Aestheism sought to uphold this dialogue with God but without the support of the institution called church. (Ernst Bloch)

In culture, Adorno would call dialogue the showing of prisms through which everything appears slightly different from what a naked eye would perceive. It is a matter of attaining a sober truth to understand what happens in reality.

Ever since dialogue means staying in contact with reality, even if you do not agree necessarily with what is happening, there have developed art forms of staying in dialogue. Beuys did so by speaking to a rabbit about art.

It is something else if there is a need to say 'no' not to the other as a human being, but no to an action someone is about to undertake and which would harm someone else, even go against humanity. That constitutes both the difficulties of saying 'no' (Klaus Heinrich) and retaining an affinity to humanity even in the worse possible situations.

Dialogue was a philosophical discourse going beyond politics to relate to the world as the one in which one would wish to live. In Italy, workers would speak incomplete sentences and remind of what Michelangelo said about incompleteness and uncompleteness as the two defining moments of any artistic expression. To Michelangelo a stone used for a sculpture was more complete than the sculpture itself.

We need to distinguish between the dialogue with the materials in nature and which is based on our sense perception too often denied like poetry as a source of truth, and the dialogue we learn through the arts. The latter can be highly misleading.

In poetry dialogue is often misunderstood. For instance, Hölderlin preferred a dialogue with the Gods to entering one with those rough men because they would use only a rough language. Such a misconception of daily life is based on a projection upon Ancient Greece which has led in retrospect to a false idealization of man and, therefore, does not allow for a real conversation. Repeatedly not only Hölderlin, but others like Nietzsche and Kafka, would suffer as much not to be understood as they could not exist in their imagination when amongst business men. Kant remarked the latter are not refined enough to allow for a differentiated thinking out aloud, and in the presence of others. They simply could not exist amongst them. Kafka would state he could merely exist in between the lines he was capable of writing.

The failed intercultural dialogue in the Middle East (2000 - 2003)

The constant conflict between Israel and Palestine has shown repeatedly how the practice of 'intercultural dialogue' as diplomatic means of the European Union has failed. Once suicide bombers made Israeli afraid of their lives, walls were constructed to keep suicide bombers out but now they imprison the Palestinian people even more so.

It is important to acknowledge The failure of intercultural dialogue - letter by Frederique Chabaud (2002). She observed that this concept is used to subsume every kind of dialogue and nothing at all. There exists no chance for any real dialogue when people have made up already their minds since they observe what happens really on the ground. After all, they say to themselves if settlers continue their expansion despite peace talks being held, what is their use? This anti political stance is due to people seeing too many a times politicians saying one thing, but what happens in reality is something else. Frederique Chabaud adds that there is no chance in trying to initiate any dialogue, if the other side has withdrawn all empathy. 2

911 and human vulnerability 2001 - 2003

The attack on the Twin Towers altered the international world which had since 1989 lived for the first time without the threat of war. Instead the Rumsfeld doctrine of the permanent war replaced Kant's search for a permanent peace. It made any dialogue impossible since Powell's lie in front of the Security Council in the United Nations had demonstrated that the practice of politics is one of mendacity: the use of public lie as analysed by Martin Jay. No warnings were heeded and both Bush and Blair demanded of Saddam Hussein only such full cooperation and compliance which only a dead man can give. It is a demand for complete submission which only a dead man can give. The only answer possible at that time is to say vulnerability is a human strength and does not need war to be protected. For then we would become victims of the same kind of lie. Since then many people have given up the thought of peace being possible.

Olympic Truce and Kids' Guernica

When the Olympic Games were held in Athens 2004, the American embassy in Athens issued a statement that the USA government does not feel bound by having signed the Olympic Truce. It left many young people disappointed. After we tried to connect poets to the Olympic Truce, Poiein kai Prattein took up contact with PEAVE WAVES in Torino and together we organized a youth festival, so that young people can draft a new Olympic Truce and monitor it, if kept during the Winter Olympic Games held in Torino 2006. The youth resolution was given to the Italian Parliament and after adoption passed on to the United Nations. During that youth festival I came for the first time upon a Kids' Guernica action. Youth from different backgrounds painted a peace mural on a canvas the same size as Picasso's Guernica, namely 7,8 x 3,5 m. Among the youth was the Palestinian boy Jad Salman who became later on my adopted son, but only symbolically speaking since he has his real parents back in Palestine in the West Bank.

It is important to note that empathy is linked to the imagination and once turned into memory can make a difference. Picasso observed already that many adults have lost the imagination they used to have when still a child, they shall be without empathy. The Kids' Guernica - Guernica Youth movement seeks to let children and youth express their imagination in an effort to free the adults from their blind perception of the world. Without the imagination no dialogue with reality is possible. 3

Dialogue between cultures

During the ECCM Symposium 'Productivity of Culture' 4, there was devoted a special session to the dialogue between cultures with Professor Abdelaziz Kacem from the University of Tunis saying unfortunately this needed dialogue between Europe and the Middle Eastern countries has been neglected to the point of having become non existing. 5

That problem was taken up by Marseille 2013 6, but despite wishing to use Albert Camus and Arab philosophers, it was not fulfilled. Ulrich Fuchs admitted in an interview the French debate about Algiers is more complicated than he thought initially. 7

Madness of humanity with Jad Salman

Since we had a discussion in Jad Salman 's atelier about 'Madness of Humanity' 8 in Oct. 2013, things have escalated both in Paris and in the Middle East. At the same time, Greece has been going through a crisis made up of different qualities of uncertainties and impossible abyss to cross due to a lack of bridges. Now I received this announcement of a conference to take place next year in Tunesia. The topic of 'culture and democracy' is really an extension of our discussion back then when we met and discussed among other things also Jad Salman's painting called 'heroin land'.

Search for Peace - the delicate dialogue

In September 2014, Paul Dalli and I organised a poetry reading under the theme 'In Search for Peace, Marsaxlook, Malta 7.Sept. 2014 '. 9 While many of the poets reflected whether or not poetry can really change the world, most important is what Amir Or conveyed. As an Israeli poet exposed to all the perils of the Middle East, he invites Palestinian and Israeli poets to translate each other at his poetry centre. By having to learn the language of the other, he hopes some delicate dialogue will be possible.

By the same token, we need to foster this personal dialogue. It is the only way to stay alive and remain sensitive to small and subtle differences. Perception of the world differs when details begin to matter. We observe only then what is truly taking place in Europe and in the Middle East when it is no longer a matter of masking the negative by wishing to hear only the positive things.

Hatto Fischer



Appendix 1:




Téboursouk les 27, 28 et 29 Mars 2016, Tunisie

Appel à communication

La question culturelle ou la mise en question de la culture implique un déplacement de la question de son champ ontologique vers le champ des politiques qui en ont déterminé et qui en déterminent encore les formes directes, sous-jacentes ou réactionnelles. Les politiques de développement culturel sont souvent le reflet d'une politique de gouvernance plus globale, dont l'objectif est de garantir une unité sociale homogène, contrôlable et uniforme.

De là, se poser la question de la culture en tant qu'un enjeux de conceptions et de choix politiques (gouvernementaux) et leurs implications institutionnelles et sociétales, appelle un impératif de distinctions conceptuelle et pratique, entre une culture dite de masse (le mainstream), une politique populiste de la culture, une culture populaire et une quatrième idée de culture alternative. Une telle distinction nous permettrait de préciser l'endroit de la parole que nous tentons d'engager quant aux rapports potentiels entre "culture" et "démocratie", un endroit désaffecté des modèles pouvant prétendre à un déterminisme de l'un ou l'autre de nos deux termes de réflexion.

Dès 1972, la "démocratisation de la culture", en tant que politique culturelle, a subi critiques et mises en échec en raison de son caractère élitiste et globalisant. La "démocratie culturelle" venait contrer cette politique en se proposant comme une alternative qui laissait plus d'espace à la diversité de cultures et à leur caractère individuel. Ce dernier modèle de politique culturelle n'a pas manqué à son tour d'induire moult polémiques et controverses.

Aujourd'hui, en Tunisie l'action politique est décrite en terme de "processus de démocratisation". Dans ce processus, nous aimerions nous pencher sur la question culturelle. Il ne s'agit pas pour nous de discuter de politiques culturelles, mais de porter l'attention sur ce qu'il y a dans la culture de singulier et de propre.

Nous partons du postulat que dans un même pays, il n'y a pas la culture mais des cultures et que la notion de "local" est déterminante dans toute action culturelle. Une culture locale qui ne soit pas synonyme de folklore est-elle encore possible ? Comment définir "le local" dans un monde globalisé et dans quelle mesure engager cette notion de local en tant qu'une valeur non réactionnaire et non traditionnaliste ?

Étant artistes, enseignants d'art, chercheurs, travailleurs de la culture, comment penser la fonction culturelle ? S'agit-t-il d'éduquer, d'éveiller, de sensibiliser les peuples ? Quelle serait la fonction des arts dans un tel processus ? Cultiver est-ce rendre possible l'action expressive par les peuples qui ne mènera qu'à leur émancipation interne ou est-ce l'adoption d'un modèle de politique sans regard aux spécificités sociales et économiques ? La culture est-elle un dictat modélisé ou est-ce la garantie d'une ouverture permanente des êtres aux pratiques et aux idées du monde ?

À cet égard, nous soumettons le concept de culture et ses déploiements sur la scène mondiale à un examen critique axé sur ces quelques questions problématiques qui sont d’ordre suggestif et non limitatif.


Propositions de communication :

Les chercheurs internationaux souhaitant présenter une communication, d’une durée de 20 minutes, dans le cadre de ce colloque sont conviés à nous adresser leurs propositions accompagnées d’un abstract (300-500 mots) et d’un titre de communication avant le 30 Septembre 2015 à l’adresse suivante : a.r.c.a.d.siliana@gmail.com .

Merci de nous faire parvenir, également, une notice biographique précisant votre fonction et votre institution de rattachement. Les langues de communication sont le français, l’arabe et l’anglais. Les actes de ce colloque feront l’objet d’une publication à la fin de l’année 2016. Les auteurs des propositions retenues sont pris en charge au niveau de leur hébergement et leur nourriture entre le 27 et le 30 Mars 2016 par le « Festival International de l’Art de la jeunesse et la Cité». Cependant, leurs titres de transports sont à leurs charges.

Ce colloque international est une partie entreprenante du programme du « Festival International de l’Art, de la Jeunesse et de la Cité » dans sa deuxième session qui se déroulera, simultanément, dans les quatre gouvernorats du nord ouest tunisien, à savoir Jendouba, Beja, Kef et Siliana , entre le 19 et le 31 Mars 2016. Le colloque international se tiendra au gouvernorat de Beja, à l'Hôtel Thugga à Téboursouk. Les conférenciers seront invités aussi à la cérémonie de clôture du festival qui aura lieu le 31 Mars 2016 au gouvernorat de Siliana.




1Source: Deutsche Welle 23.7.2015 http://www.dw.com/en/german-chancellery-smiles-as-greece-passes-more-reforms/a-18603318?maca=en-newsletter_en_bulletin-2097-html-newsletter



4The ECCM symposium took place in Athens, June 2007. See http://productivityofculture.org/






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