New Europe’s nightmare
In Yael Bartana’s Polish video trilogy, aside from the politically symbolic aspects it contains, the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland (JRMiP) that she had initiated, announces its manifesto on a new experimental societal form. This manifesto depicts a notion outlining a concrete political scope for action relating to this project. This is not a Zionist movement that yearns for Palestine. It yearns for Poland, inside the fortress of Europe. It has no need for any territory marked by borders because it intends simply to plug in. Neither mono-ethnic nor mono-religious, it is internationalist and open to all refugees and outcasts. Horizontally interconnected like a network, it needs no central leader. It is a political experiment.
Amidst the thoroughly capitalistic countries of the former Eastern Europe, this movement offers a model that will put the Western double-standards democratic concept to a test. The rhetoric of the new post-communist Europe speaks of the promise of openness and inclusivity. In reality though, the individual nations pursue elaborate practices of separation embossed with xenophobia. The JRMiP project is like a nightmare for this Europe. All those who do not pass through the filter are welcome here, whether they be Jews, who merely because of their physical presence stir up feelings of historical guilt, or those who remain stranded on Lampedusa, or those sweltering inside crammed refugee camps of France or Germany. All are welcome who have been expelled from Europe, whose families had been annihilated, or who are seen today as being a threat to industrial prosperity and the „Western culture“. Whether they embody the ‘Multitude’ as proclaimed by Negri and Hardt, or the network of politically inclined youth, their potential lies in the All, which when measured against current standards, has nothing to lose: and so it revolts.
The revolutions in the Middle East — the Arab Spring — have also been triggered by the politicization of young people without perspectives. And here too, one can again see the reluctant reactions of the West, see how Western democracy functions applying its binary (dividing the world into two) way of thinking when it comes to the principles of global capitalism. Hence, its tolerance for the support offered to brutal dictators who hold their people in check and throw any potential refugees who would wish to get to Europe into some dark and remote prisons — naturally of course also with the aim of remaining in charge of their oil reserves. And so, in the end, the West needs not to worry about the deprived and oppressed people in these countries, it does not have to share with them the oil and is offered free access to these resources in the Middle East. These undesirable migrants too will be welcomed by the JRMiP.
In theory, the possible democratization of the people of the Middle East that might be forced by the revolutions could tip the concept of Western democracy, or at least, it will put it to a test. But this is based on the assumption that the despotic rulers together with their thugs, their entourage and their beneficiaries will leave and that the newly politicized youth and their yet unformed organisations will be left to themselves. It also assumes that the people who will now be given the right to vote, and those candidates who will be standing up for election hold a broad enlightened and non-ideological view of nation, such that does not regard religion or a particular culture or a common history as its binding factor.
The JRMiP arrives to all this with its small societal experiment. It turns its back on Israel’s apartheid politics, but also on all other right-wing politicians, groups and theorists with an essentialist notion of culture. As Zeev Sternhell put it ‘If Nicolas Sarkozy, the political figure, Alain Finkielkraut, the intellectual, the Islamists, the nationalist religious Jews of Israel, and the neoconservatives and their evangelical allies in the United States are all waging, in spite of appearances, the same fight, it’s because they all assert, with Herder, that every person, every historical community has its own specific and inimitable “culture”, and that this is what must come first.’
That society which the JRMiP is calling forth is as more ethical than an ethnic nation State. It is inclusive in the way it is organised and internationalist in its thinking. Against the major revolutionary changes taking place in the Middle East, the JRMiP offers a flexible platform that will put Europe to a test — as a zone for a unique ethical activity. This is not about overturning a leader and dismantling a state system, but should, as envisaged by the plug-in principle, settle down like a guest next to its host. It will be an unwanted guest who will put its host on edge, forcing him into a debate with own historical guilt, confronting him with ghosts and noting whether he is prepared to face all that. The JRMiP is a complex and open political experiment, armed with a democratic-activist manifesto.
Zeev Sternhell, ‘From a Nation of Citizens to a Cultural Nation. Anti-Enlightenment Thinkers of the World’, in Le Monde diplomatique, 14.1. 2011, p. 3., translated into English by Mark K. Jensen.