Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Newsletter 1(2011)

The events in first Tunisia, then in Egypt gripped one. Other changes will follow. These bottom-up processes of masses of people suddenly questioning power by no longer fearing  to speak up, and this in the open, in newly created public spaces, that is remarkable. In Egypt they are no longer afraid to have their names be cited by foreign journalists. If anything not much more needs to be said after a listening to what people say. They want human dignity. This has started a new political process. Hence this recently found political courage can be reflected insofar as the freedom song by the blue bird of Egypt is heard once again. It symbolizes this newly found political maturity. Unfortunately not the same can be said about Libya.

Crucial is now to understand why Europe and the United States did not anticipate these uprisings? One thesis is that Western governments and their business partners preferred to deal with dictators to facilitate not just any kind of trade but also the selling of weapons as this is supposed to be good business for both sides. Many concerns for Human Rights were brushed aside for the sake of avoiding necessary regime change. It was covered up by a security agenda focusing primarily in fighting terrorism and therefore identifying almost automatically the Islamic movement as enemy number one. These false priorities and one sided enemy pictures left European and American foreign services not dealing with the real issues. Without an ethical commitment to freedom and justice they neglected as well at home to give their support to a humane development. The latter would have been in the interest of upholding a world governance in the same spirit which prevailed immediately after the end of Second World War and which led to the creation of the United Nations.

A second thesis could be that the European concept of intercultural dialogue, the use of 'soft power' is deeply flawed when it comes to understand human reality. The methods and concepts, but also the political approach to things leads to a systematic failure if cultural diplomacy is but another term for modern propaganda. It would mean to be out of touch with human reality. Unfortunately that applies in particular to the newly formed foreign services of the EU. That service seems to be more about awarding lucrative posts as if in colonial times than bringing about a true social communication between people of Europe and the rest of the world.

That fault line has been discussed among others by Roger Cohen - see

Libyan Closure
New York Times March 7, 2011
By ROGER COHEN LONDON — There's a video of Dr. Alia Brahimi of the London School of Economics greeting Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi as “Brother Leader” at the school three months ago, and presenting him with an LSE cap — a tradition, she says, that ...

Already in 2007 at the ECCM Symposium 'Productivity of Culture' Prof. Abdelaziz Kacem stated that the necessity of a dialogue between cultures was hardly being fulfilled. He meant by this fore mostly a long history of neglect of the dialogue between Europe and Arab countries. Only when Marseilles 2013 appeared with its concept resting on two philosophical pillars, namely Albert Camus and the Arab philosophers, then some hope started to exist that the long prevailing neglect will be overcome at least partially during this one special year when Marseilles shall be European Capital of Culture in 2013.

Despite efforts to find out how cultural projects funded by the EU apply the criterion of 'intercultural dialogue', the Platform for Intercultural Europe succeeded merely in its paper of recommendation to the conference 'Culture in Motion' held in Brussels, Feb. 15 and 16, 2011 to prove empirically after 60 out of 209 projects answered to the questionnaire that the term 'intercultural dialogue' is difficult to define. However, that conclusion has been obvious all along. There exists since 2002 when the term 'intercultural dialogue' came up already the criticism that this term amounts to an 'operation with half truth'. Unfortunately this has not been heeded up by those administering the EU Cultural program.

The problem with this term is that it does not give really recognition to the other side. Nor does it include the imagination as vital link to reality and therefore fails to ensure that what is done in reference to the concept is based on real experiences. Rather the term functions as a buzz word for those agitating at European level, in order to let them assume that under this term of 'intercultural dialogue' cultural diversity can be subsumed. Nothing is further from the truth then that. Equally evaluators of projects to be selected for funding have great difficulties in deciding if projects really fulfil the criterion. No wonder then that a policy based on such a term will lead to a systematic failure but once started as a program, the huge ambiguity shall mark the implementation.

Bringing cultures into dialogues with each other as envisioned by the Polish journalist Kapuscinski may be a way to examine the cultural dimension of peace and what could become the cultural component of EU foreign policy. All communication between cultures begins with the simple distinction between 'problem' and 'no problem', and then diverse actions can start off to bring each and every culture into contact and finally into dialogue with each other. And more so many things once everything is in a flux. The recent example of what is happening in the Middle East shows people understand emancipation is not merely about freeing themselves from dictatorship but from certain labels with which they had been stamped by Western powers. The political inspiration which started from Tunisea but also from Turkey has spread like a wild fire as it touches upon the aspiration of people to believe in themselves. Hence the key term has become human dignity in need to be respected.

However, if war allows established interests to force upon the culture false compromises, then dignity is not respected and many other things are allowed to go astray. Here the education system linked to certain ways to acquire power leaves the majority dumbfounded as to why they end up as losers rather than being the pillar of society. Thus what is happening right now everywhere, including in Greece, it is a questioning of these compromises. For people had enough! That slogan was articulated already strong enough by children painting a peace mural in Tripolis, Lebanon after the war of 2006 for it had the title: 'Enough! We want to live!'

Especially not just generally corruption is the problem but more so the 'corruption the mind' indicated by in what is accepted when really unacceptable, but this is due to having made false compromises. It can be called equally having arranged oneself with the system as if there is no other choice but to play along. If everyone does it, how should the individual adopt a different practice? That excuse eats away at the ethical base of society and leaves it without true creativity. Yet without contact with 'authentic art', so the argument of Adam Chmielewski when making the case for the concept Wroclaw would like to implement if it receives the designation of European Capital of Culture for 2016, people are lost. They cannot understand the situation they live in.

Once truth seems impossible, Robert Musil would predict that then only probabilities prevail, a state of affairs which would lead to terrorism. The latter can be understood as a frightened, equally over determined wish for truth. Its weakness can best be identified by preferring to subject oneself to the lie. It follows what Naipaul calls the work of the conversion logic for then it is not enough to prove to yourself to have become a faithful believer, but that already all forefathers were likewise believers of the same religion. This personal lie is the best way to destroy memory and therefore robs the person of any critical distance to the present. Thus while governments continue to practice mendacity (Martin Jay), people cannot understand the situation they have to face. They miss out on an authentic culture and therefore no longer know what life is conceivable in such a reality made up of hard bitten facts. Grace Boggs in Detroit would add it makes work be enemy number one even though in reality work is needed for personal development reasons. Too long have forces of creativity been side tracked and thwarted to serve that lie, but it shall work for only a short term. Again Egypt is a good example for even after thirty years of dictatorship by Mubarak, this has a definite end.

After celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2010, Kids' Guernica is beginning to build on these previous experiences all advancing at informal level a collaborative learning process on how to paint together, equal to living together. If culture is sharing and this free from hierarchy, then this basic principle allows for empathy for the other to be promoted by an imaginative process becoming accessible to all. It is not one painter like Picasso who is challenged by such a huge canvas, but a group of children, youth and even adults who learn by entering a process which can take two weeks, two months or even more than a year. Asit Poddar has just completed the third mural with the Blind Boys in Kolkata. It is amazing to see their message as their blindness contrasts to our usual reliance upon visual communication and yet their murals have a powerful impact precisely they can translate all what they sense minus the eye sight into something visual. It is something out of the range of their eyes but they can touch.

Some interesting experiences could be made at the start of collaboration with the Polish city of Wroclaw, one of the five candidate cities in Poland seeking the title in 2016. Since Piotr Olszowska calls this a city of journey, the city is on the best way to examine how it can become true to itself and this as 'secret capital of Poland'. It should be recalled that while after 1989 the work of redemption has taken on another dimension since now in the context of post Stalinist and Socialist times, there was issued already in 1963 the letter of forgiveness by the bishop of Wroclaw. It should be recalled that the city was called until 1945 Breslau for it was a German city. At the end of the war the entire German population was expelled or driven out. In their stead a Polish population moved in. This was a consequence of a huge displacement from the East to the West as ordered by Stalin and which became a part of the legacy after 1945. It should be said that this letter of forgiveness was drafted with the advice of the philosopher Krucina who calls redemption a work of love. Appropriately Wroclaw is also called 'lots of love' in order to help especially those who have difficulties in pronouncing the Polish name.

With cities and regions like Sonderborg 2017 or Wroclaw 2016 seeking the title 'European Capital of Culture', there is a need to bring about a clearer understanding as to what works, what not in culture. In view of all the over commercialization, European Capitals of Culture are at risk to become huge cultural industries (Bob Palmer). Already at the conference organised by the University Network of European Capitals of Culture in Pecs, October 2010, there was being referred to a growing resistance by artists against this mere functional use of culture. The same criticism can be applied to a way to speak about culture which is completely devoid of any artistic and therefore cultural content. So thanks to the initiative taken by the philosopher Adam Chmielewski, Wroclaw 2016 does stand for the need to take serious an authentic culture. As this has many implications, it might be best to take into consideration the essay Bart Verschaffel wrote on 'authenticity as criterion in architecture'.

As for the link between Wroclaw 2016 and Kids' Guernica, it should be noted that Picasso painted his famous pigeon in Wroclaw while attending an International Peace Conference held there in 1948. As to another, more problematic linkage, it has to be said that the person who was responsible for the bombardment of Guernica in 1937, originated from there. It was the aristocrat von Richthoven who was related as the name suggests to the famous pilot called the Red Baron. Adam Chmielewski has the intention to name one public space in the city the "Spanish Square" to underline the connection to the Spanish city which shall be designated as well to be the parallel European Capital of Culture in Spain come 2016 when there will be as well one Polish city, and hopefully it shall be Wroclaw. If so, Kids' Guernica shall be a major event of the year's program and the Kids' Guernica exhibition shall be held in that Spanish square.

Since a similar proposal has been made to the Spanish city Burgos by Diane Dodd, all these latest developments and proposals shall be discussed at the one day Kids' Guernica conference to be held in Gent, Belgium on February 18th, 2011. The aim is to examine the cultural dimension of peace and to bring about a White Paper of Social Communication for Kids' Guernica world wide. Since war forces upon culture false compromises, peace means reaching true compromises by means of cultural consensus. If successful, it will have a deep impact on how people communicate in the digital age as exemplified by what brought about the downfall of Mubarak in Egypt. The key element of that type of communication is that people step outside hierarchical organisations and liberate themselves by beginning to share and to contribute to the making of a lively society based on human dignity and the freedom of man, woman and child.

On another topic and related to the aims of cultura21, curator Haroula Hadjinicolaou is organizing on behalf of Poiein kai Prattein a multi-disciplinary workshop on Rhodes under the poetic theme "imperishable water" or in Greek:

« Τ' άφθαρτα νερά* και η προβληματική της ανάπτυξης»

between May 27th and June 6th 2011. The workshop is designed to examine the concept of development which is reinforced on an island like Rhodes especially by the tourist industry and to examine artistically, philosophically and ecologically the impact this kind of development has upon the environment, in particular the wetlands.

An interesting development is taking place as well in Denmark where many philosophers are eager to discuss the blue print for future development. Oleg Koefoed claims, for instance, one thing people need is to reconnect with the sea. As to the Flash Back Group of painters and writers with Jen Jensen, painter and poet, taking the lead, they have issued the Flash Back Manifesto in support of democracy in Europe not as a political project. Rather the Manifesto looks upon Europe as a liveable society in which the 'free conscience' of the individual is the source of creativity.

Hatto Fischer

Athens 18.2.2011

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