Culture and politics

The history of humanity provides enough proofs for what one can call the principle of support. Artists have supported many a regime with their talents. On the other hand, the fall of many a tyrant would not have come about without them. And what if the power of art is as attractive as any other form of power?
As food for thought, we analyse the alliance of culture and politics in its various aspects, formerly and now.

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      Jacek Purchla

      “Art as a spontaneous expression of life asks questions of ethics and not the other way round”, wrote Bruno Schulz to Witkacy “If art were only to confirm […], it would be useless.” This opinion would remain equally true if we replaced ethics with politics and power, including the suggestive power of the economic sciences in more modern times.
      An ideal is only an ideal while the history of humanity provides enough proof for what Anda Rottenberg calls the principle of support. Artists have supported many a regime with their talents. On the other hand, the fall of many a tyrant would not have come about without them.
      And what if the power of art is as attractive as any other form of power? Yekaterina Andreevna shows that a work of art as a protest against violence can spread around the world with lightning speed, multiplied by the mass media. The question arises how a work of art acquires this power: through its perfection, as it was once thought? Or through the work of the media copying it?
      Ivan Čolović analyses the relations between politics and culture in Serbia in the last half a century, while Bożena Gierat‑Bieroń takes up a similar theme and considers the concept of cultural policy with its democratic and totalitarian embodiments, and Janusz Sepioł presents potential scenarios for our region from the perspective of geopolitics – which is something not eagerly seen in the company of culture but very influential even in this domain.
      Katarzyna Jagodzińska and Żanna Komar comment on the current “museum crises” in Hungary and Ukraine while Drago Jančar writes about the political incorrectness of Ivo Andrić.

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      Worth a look

  • Art and Politics
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      The supporting principle of art
      Anda Rottenberg

      Almost since time immemorial art has served various ideologies and reflected the needs of the customers rather than the artists themselves. The eternal principle of supporting the ruler through art was revealed both in the content of the work and in its external form. The propagandist message, showing the power of the mighty, was present not only in painted or sculpted panegyrics but also in the monumental character of their residences – both for worldly living and as eternal abodes. The Egyptian pyramids as well as contemporary mausoleums also come under this category – it is enough to recall the items found in kurgans which marked civilisations from the Elbe River to the South China Sea. The famous Terracotta Army from Xi’an, with its eight thousand figures, was created to serve the post‑mortem needs of the first emperor of the Chinese Qin dynasty; while his worldly ambitions were satisfied by the Great Wall of China, built over decades. And thus one ruler left behind two monuments which count among the wonders of the world. History does not mention the artists,architects and constructors who designed these wonders. We do not know who invented and designed the canonical wonders of the world (there are fifteen of them now). Whose talent, efficiency and imagination was behind the magical names and symbols marking the highest peaks of human ability – from the Pyramid of Cheops finished in 2560 BC to Machu Picchu which dates to the second half of the 15th century? Four thousand years of anonymous service.

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      Tara the terrible
      Łukasz Galusek

      Who is Tara (von Neudorf)? An artist, born in 1975, provoker, a scornful ironist, who has already achieved the reputation of being the enfant terrible of contemporary Romanian art – with the emphasis on terrible.
      Tara is a real name, not a pseudonym. It is short, perfect for an artist, and without diacritics. With diacritics it would be the Romanian word ţară – “country” or even ţara – “this country”. Formerly the sound “ţ” was sometimes transcribed as “tz”. Not ţară but tzara. This gives us another clue – a Dadaist one. We see Tristan Tzara, properly Samuel Rosenstock, proclaiming a new movement in art called Dada, in the Zurich Cabaret Voltaire. (There were many young Romanians amongst the founders, some even speak about the “Romanian pregnancy of Dadaism”. Romanians are supposed to have a proclivity for irony gravitating towards the absurd). Rosenstock was born in a small Moldavian town. He became Tristan Tzara in Bucharest. In the name Tristan, some perceived an echo of Wagner’s dramas, while others explained that Tristan Tzara meant trist în ţară – “a sad country”.
      Today’s Tara doodles on maps.

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      Protest art Online
      Jekatierina Andriejewa / Ekaterina Andreeva

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      Culture and politics in Serbia. Conflicts and their settlement since the middle of the 20th century
      Ivan Čolović

      The pattern of actions already taking place on the battlefield of the early 1990s called ‘ethnic cleansing’ had its ideological source in the model of an ethnically purified culture. In addition to that of well‑known artists, writers and scientists, a contribution to the construction of ‘the Serbian spiritual space’, with which a national state territory should coincide, was made by popular culture, and in particular, by the new folk music, as well as rock music which drew on the ‘original’ Serbian musical tradition.

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      Cultural policy – a troublesome term
      Bożena Gierat‑Bieroń

      The concept of “cultural policy“, although it seems to form a logical and semantic whole, is not an obvious phenomenon. It is a complex and ambiguous notion. It has a wide‑ranging historical, social, political and cultural context. It is used in an interchangeable and trivial way, it has strongly political overtones, many negative connotations, it is a cliché used to define vague phenomena, reserved more for the bureaucratic rather than non‑governmental sphere, and more often refers to enigmatically conceived culture than art. In a word, it is a troublesome term. Especially in Central Europe, where it is burdened with the communist past between the years 1945–1989.

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      New “concert of powers” in Central Europe
      Janusz Sepioł

      Polish politicians are not really able to utter the word “geopolitics”, probably because it has too much bad odour about it. But elsewhere, in Russia for example, it is much more present in public discourse. This is understandable, and all the more so because the term is used to describe the rivalry between superpowers for domination over peripheral regions. But it could be defined in a different way – as a political reflection placing particular emphasis on geographical factors: space and demography. And since the author of the concept of “geopolitics”, Rudolf Kjellén, lived a century ago, a third factor should be added: technological potential. The key concept in the doctrine of geopolitics is the Raum‑motiv, that is the issue of spatial expansion, which broadens the geopolitical field. Among the seven laws of expansionism formulated by Friedrich Ratzel, it is worth recalling the claims that the space of a country expands with the development of its culture, and that the growth of a state leads to the development of ideas, production, trade and missionary activity, and that it occurs through absorbing smaller entities.

  • Interviev
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      A split mind
      Aleksandr Lipatow, Jacek Purchla

      Why has a modern state not emerged which is integrated with its society, which has communication and dialogue between all social classes and the government? Why has a “monologic” state come into being? This is Russia’s great weakness as well as its power, but I must repeat that it is a fractured thing.

  • European Capitals of Culture
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      Maribor 2012 – pure energy or turning point?
      Joanna Sanetra-Szeliga

      The ECOC in Slovenia is not just one city – it is a partnership of towns and villages around Maribor. It is Roman Ptuj, declaring the will to explore the subject of ancient archaeology, ethnology, wine culture and medieval heritage. It is the multicultural Murska Sobota and Nove Mesto known for their theatres and festivals which intend to present the heritage of the Hallstatt culture. It is the young Slovenj Gradec, a United Nations Peace Messenger City, as well as Velenje, proud of its industrial heritage and contributing to the ECOC programme for children and literary events. During the domestic competition forthe ECOC 2012 title, in which Maribor beat Ljubljana, Celje and Koper, an agreement was drawn up on January 25th 2007, for the purposes of the application. In the agreement, the cities declared that they would cooperate in organising the ECOC in Slovenia. Implementing the agreement, however, proved difficult, with one of the reasons undoubtedly being the financial crisis.

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      Suzana Žilič Fišer, Mitja Čander

  • Ideas in Practice
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      The Barcelona History Museum. Gateway to the city
      Joan Roca i Albert

      Museum as Agora. This debate has come to be one of the highlights of the so‑called critical museology, especially in contemporary art museums: the museum as part of public space, permeable. This requires prudence, as the idea is not to abandon museum autonomy for an uncertain heteronomy. In the case of a museum with a solid base in heritage like MUHBA, the notion is also physically manifest in its museum centres which are seen not as isolated institutions but heritage foci that are part of the urban fabric.
      The Project known as Transnational Barcelona. Connected Citizens is the museum’s pilot experiment that brings together various formats and agents – a good number of organisations have participated, in particular those formed by immigrants – with a clear purpose in mind: to ensure this network’s continuity in the future. The expansion of the Museum’s demos, in a city forged by successive waves of migrants, is certainly part of its fundamental mission.

  • Reflections, Impressions, Opinions
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      A burden or an easy loot? The Ukrainian museum crisis
      Żanna Komar

      Directors of the most important Ukrainian museum institutions are being frantically replaced. This operation is causing extremely emotional reactions, and periodicals abound with such titles as “cultural revolution”, “museum conspiracy” or “museum war”. It all started in Crimea where during the summer of 2011, new directors were appointed to Vorontsov Palace (the Alupka Palace‑Park Museum‑Reserve), the Bakhchysarai State Historical and Cultural Reserve, the National Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos, the picturesque Swallow’s Nest castle and the famous Livadia Palace.

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      Budapest – a political museum district
      Katarzyna Jagodzińska

      In 2011 the Hungarian government established a commissioner’s office whose task is to formally merge the two largest art galleries in Hungary: the Hungarian National Gallery (Magyar Nemzeti Galéria) and the Museum of Fine Arts (Szépművészeti Múzeum), and then to prepare the ground for building a museum district focused around Heroes’ Square in Budapest. According to these ambitious plans, by 2017 the Hungarian capital would be enriched with two new museum buildings and visitors would have the opportunity to experience Hungarian art in an international context, and to see a world‑class collection of photography. In postcommunist Hungary this is the second large‑scale museum investment in Budapest after the millennial one, in which arbitrary decisions are being taken without consultations with the cultural community and society as a whole, and without taking the economic situation into account and proper deliberation.

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      Europa Jagellonica

      Jiří Fajt, curator of the exhibition Europa Jagellonica – Art and Culture in Central Europe under the Reign of the Jagiellonian Dynasty 1386–1572, interviewed by Zoltán Gyalókay

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      Coffee in the heart of Europe
      Beata K. Nykiel

      Dr. Božidar Jezernik, a Slovenian ethnologist and anthropologist from Ljubljana who specialises in collective memory and cultural heritage, as well as being an expert on the history and culture of the Balkan Peninsula, and known to Polish readers as the author of "Dzika Europa. Bałkany w oczach zachodnich podróżników", surprises the lovers of this tarry drink originating from Ethiopia, not so much with the richness of facts presented in his excellent essay, but with his sociological and anthropological conclusions. The centuries‑long social history of this drink, with its alternative stages of elite and democratic status, constantly reveals new motives and interdisciplinary research on the reception of coffee in successive countries and societies, is food for reflection and goes much deeper than the bottom of an XXL paper cup filled with an aromatic mocha from the ultra‑fashionable Starbucks. By the way, the story of the expansion of global café chains in Central Europe mimics the spread of coffee itself in this part of the continent.

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      The eastern borderland in sepia and without it
      Wojciech Wilczyk

      I came across the album The Eastern Borderlands in the Photographs by Henryk Poddębski, issued by the Lublin publishing house Ad rem, in a Warsaw bookshop on Plac Bankowy. (...)
      There is also a stand in this particular Warsaw bookshop with a broadly conceived “independence” theme, where besides the historical monographs on guerilla units of the so‑called damned soldiers and the photographic albums with the word “Borderlands” in the title, I saw, much to my astonishment, Poddębski’s book. The subject of the book surprised me, for I remember his excellent photographs made during the construction of the city of Gdynia and its port, as well as the fantastic series showing the Uthemann Zinc Works in the Szopienice district in Silesia. Poddębski as a photographer of the Borderlands? Is it possible?
      Reaching for Zofia Chomętowska’s album Polesie, published in 2011 by the Archeologia Fotografii Foundation, and remembering about the catalogue of mistakes made during the preparation of Henryk Poddębski’s album, I was very apprehensive. I should have shelved these worries for I knew earlier publications by Archeologia, but whilst reading the previews and reviews of the exhibition which had preceded the publication, I was haunted by the question of how the editors of an album containing photographs of the eastern borderlands of prewar Poland would avoid the syndrome of “borderlands nostalgia”, so rampant in recent years.

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      A history lesson
      Anna Saciuk‑Gąsowska

      On November 10th 2011, the exhibition "Ernst Barlach: Images of Death in the Work of the German Expressionist" was opened at the National Museum in Szczecin. The exhibition, organised in cooperation with Ernst Barlach Stiftung Güstrow, presents Ernst Barlach’s works from this institution, as well as the Ernst Barlach Haus in Hamburg and Akademie der Künste in Berlin.

  • By Myself
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      The Devil in books
      Drago Jančar

      The other problem concerns our understanding of the term “The Balkans”. Just to remind you: in March 1992 the French government organised a debate of European intellectuals from both sides of the Iron Curtain entitled The Tribes or Europe. We sat in the Chaillot Palace under the large slogan of “Les tribus ou l’Europe”, with its very visual shape suggesting what the organisers had in mind. The letters in the word “Les tribus” were disorderly and bizarrely deformed, while “l’Europe” was written with regular, rounded and neat characters. Some participants, including a number of French philosophers, protested against this simplification: which part of the European continent is actually tribal?
      Western Europe had already been hard pressed to understand the events in the countries of the communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe, when in the late 1980s, dissidents and civic movements spurred on the attempts to regain democracy. It was difficult to grasp the complex nature of these processes and domestic relations in the communist system. But adopting a clearly Manichean vision of things could help in this matter: democracy versus dictatorship, the free world versus tyranny. When the Yugoslavian crisis broke out, the answer to the question on where the savage, tribal part of Europe could be found, was served up on a silver platter – in the Balkans.