New Europe’s nightmare

New Europe’s night­mare
Nina Montmann

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.