The Promise of Europe (revised edition)

late-night

Image from a beautifully harrowing piece ‘Late Night’ by Blitz Theatre company that is playing at the Barbican as part of the LIFT these days.

I wrote the following text as a guest blog for Camden People’s Theatre ‘Being European festival’ that is due to happen this coming Saturday 18 June. Do join us for a day of performances and debates about the Britain EU referendum and what it means to be European today. Book tickets and find more info

here

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In February 2013, to mark the first gathering of a group of theatre and performance academics, who met at the University of Winchester to form the Inside/Outside Europe Research Network, I published the first entry on the network’s blog. The title was ‘The promise of Europe’ and it featured the front page of a Greek newspaper on 1st January 1993, welcoming the transition from European Economic Community to European Union as the Maastricht Treaty was implemented across European member-states. I remember that time as I was growing up in the South of Europe; a time of promise and expectations as the idea of European citizenship, guaranteed by the Treaty, was celebrated and places like Brussels and Strasburg sounded to the ears of my teenage self as promise lands. As the places where people met and debated and decided on the future of the people of Europe, deciding for the future of all of us regardless of nationality or social class. The idea of a united Europe as safeguard of the people’s interests as well as my feelings of loyalty to this idea were crafted around this time.

Twenty-three years later, I am wondering what happened to that promise and my feelings of Europeanness. The EU’s Eurobarometer has been reporting on a considerable lack of knowledge of rights among European citizens (apparently, according to the autumn 2015, only one quarter of the 1,000 Europeans interviewed is aware of fundamental rights they have as EU members). At the same time, a steady rise of Eurosceptic attitudes across EU citizens over the past few years has been reported. The opening paragraph of a policy memo produced by the European Council of Foreign Relations shortly after 2012, reads: It was once seen as a British disease. But Euroscepticism has now spread across the continent like a virus. As data from Eurobarometer shows, trust in the European project has fallen even faster than growth rates. Since the beginning of the euro crisis, trust in the European Union has fallen from +10 to -22 percent in France, from +20 to -29 percent in Germany, from +30 to -22 percent in Italy, from +42 to -52 percent in Spain, from +50 to +6 percent in Poland, and from -13 to -49 percent in the United Kingdom.’

 

In the three years that have gone by since the formation of the Inside/Outside Europe network, the crisis in Europe has not dissipated. This crisis is not only financial – although the neoliberal cycles of debt and guilt did lead to the paradigmatic punishment of Greece, its leftist, willful government and its people (notably in summer 2015 and to this very day). This is a crisis of ‘European solidarity’, as the UNHCR High Commissioner described the EU leaders failure to come up with a meaningful strategy of engaging with the migration crisis. Today, European citizens suffer from a crisis of faith and belief in the promise that was once put forward; and why shouldn’t they? Europe’s democratic deficit and the labyrinthine system of administration of the Union; the deteriorating quality of life for many (the unemployed, the precarious, the ‘refugees of the interior’); the EU’s ambiguous role in particular historical moments [most recently, with the outsourcing of the management of the migration crisis, through a controversial deal with Turkey]: all are very good reasons for questioning the values and the role of the EU.

This crisis of faith is highlighted in the debates unfolding in Britain today; however, this debate is focusing on the wrong questions, on xenophobic and divisive arguments about immigration and sovereignty. This debate emerges around politics of fear and panic, not a conversation about what matters, what may be at stake and for whom? Indeed, as the 2015 Greek referendum experience taught me, referenda instigate the most intense but toxic emotions among citizens. Are they really expressions of democratic will? Can you really answer all questions with a yes or no? And what about these questions that are answered with a maybe or with other modes of thinking? For example the question ‘Do you feel European?’ I still feel European – but I feel European among many other things. And the Europe we live in now is not the Europe that I was promised and I would like to work for and live in. The question for me is not the one posed by the referendum; but a different question that can open up the conversation in new terms. ‘What does Europe mean for you today?’

 

But then again, I am an EU citizen living and working in Britain. And I don’t have the right to vote. See you in the theatre, then.

 

Marilena Zaroulia

Co-convener Inside/Outside Europe

16 June 2016

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Video | 30th March conversation

performingborders

performingborders. conversation on art | crossings | europe
30th March 2016, Central Saint Martins – UAL, London

Video documentation (1h 42′ 22″):https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=mrTyi1DwI-Y 
Images and video by Annie Jael Kwan and David Daniel Sentosa, editing by David Daniel Sentosa.

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IMG_3740MZ_PH copy    IMG_4284

While newspapers speak of refugees’ crisis, Ukraine conflict, austerity measures, Brexit, and raising of right-wing rhetoric within Europe, how are artists responding? What can they do? Do they have to do something? ‘performingborders’, is an open dialogue on how artists, researchers and art organisations can use their practices and projects to respond to and challenge the borders of Europe and their shifting meanings.

Guest speakers Guest speakers Lois Keidan (Co-Director of the Live Art Development Agency), Sophie Nield(Senior Lecturer in Drama at the Royal Holloway University of London), Juliet Steyn (Co-editor of ‘Breaching Borders: Art, Migrants and the Metaphor of Waste’), Marilena Zarouliaand Philip Hager (Co-Founders…

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‘Crisis’ in Excess? Performing Europe today Symposium

590_3b4bfac9860d8ccf617e0c94e8f14dc0Pile of life vests at the shores of the Greek island of Lesvos, 30 September 2015 [Getty Images]

 

‘Crisis’ in Excess: Performing Europe Today

Friday 29th April, 10.00-18.00, University of Winchester, UK

Since 2008, the term ‘crisis’ has marked the institutional, socio-political, cultural and academic landscapes of contemporary Europe. This rather malleable, ‘sticky’ term seems to operate as both the cause and the result of the pathologies of the present moment – but, ultimately, it has been voided of meaning. The discourse of ‘crisis’ is producing a limited perspective on the present, haunted by ghosts of the past or doomed to a perpetual route to nowhere. At the same time, this volatile moment of ‘crisis’ has generated a body of writing and cultural works, which are directly aiming to engage with the ‘crisis’; by such means, the ‘crisis’ is both critiqued and normalized.

In an interview (‘A precarious dialogue’ Radical Philosophy autumn 2013), Jacques Rancière has pointed out that ‘we must try to think what we ourselves mean when we use the very word “crisis”’; in this symposium, the Inside/Outside Europe Research Network aims to do that. We wish to consider the value and political purchase of the term, which we have been using constantly since the formation of our research network in 2013, by focusing particularly on the ways in which theatre and performance (as practices and studies) can undo or offer insight into the semantics of ‘crisis’. If the crisis, as Rancière proposes, ‘is an excess in the logic of the system’, how can performance exceed such excessive logics? What is the place of history and memory for approaching the ‘crisis’ and the ways in which Europe is conjured through the prism of the ‘crisis’? What can we learn from the archives of the past about the archives that are assembled in the present? Ultimately, do we still need to use the term ‘crisis’ or might it be useful to return to the writings of Walter Benjamin, who in his 1940 Theses on the Philosophy of History reminds us that ‘the “state of emergency” in which we live is not the exception but the rule’?

The event aims to offer a platform for sharing methodologies of historicizing and contesting dominant discourses around ‘crisis’, excess, pathology, emergency and ultimately the need for ‘cure’.

For more information and to register, click here

 

 

Should I stay or should I go now?

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Giovanni Paolo Panini, Modern Rome, 1759

So, this is the day after an agreement between the British Prime Minister and the other European leaders was finally reached. Britain has secured its ‘special status’ in the European Union; it will never be part of a European ‘superstate’. In turn, the European Union, via the official announcement of the European Council, expresses its conviction that this ‘legally binding and irreversible’ agreement makes the EU stronger. Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, (in a symbolic gesture) repeated Winston Churchill’s words about Europe’s need to be saved from ‘infinite misery and ultimately doom’ to welcome the new agreement – ‘Europe needs Britain’, he said, and ‘Britain needs Europe’. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Channel, the various media (mainstream and online) seem to be trying to figure out what actually changes and for who. Is the agreement going to protect British sovereignty? Does this matter or what matters most is Britain’s economy? The phrase ‘You call that a deal, Dave?’ sounds like wounded patriotism, a desire for a repeat of Thatcher’s infamous ‘No!No!No!’ exclamation in 1990.

The date is set. 23rd June. Now, it’s the time for the British people to decide whether they want to stay or leave the EU. Another referendum to be added to the long history of referenda to determine the future of a particular country in the European edifice. This history is interesting to study, not only as it offers insight into the ways in which people in various countries responded to the European promise but also in terms of which countries and in what ways might have secured a ‘special status’ way before yesterday’s agreement. For instance, the Dutch and French rejections of the Constitution Treaty in 2005 led to the complete abandonment of the plans for a common binding political text that would seal ‘ever closer union’, although 18 countries had already ratified this text via their Parliaments. But in other cases, for example when the Irish people rejected the Lisbon Treaty three years later, in 2008, that result was not accepted by Brussels. Famously, the referendum had to happen a second time to make sure that the people of Ireland make the right decision. (Something similar had happened with the integration treaty of Maastricht when the Danish referendum originally rejected the Treaty in June 1992 but then, having ‘opted out’ from the common currency, Denmark held the referendum a second time in 1993 and in that case, they voted in favour of the Treaty).

In that way, the ‘opting in’ and ‘opting out’ of EU structures are not in any way ‘special’ to the UK; this ‘flexibility’ for certain member-states might actually be constitutive of what Europe under the current state of the European Union might be like; EU is flexible for those who cannot bend. To put it bluntly, certain countries hold more power than others and in that way, they can make demands that are likely to be heard/responded to. Others hold no power and in their case, what needs to happen is to be ‘disciplined’ till they make the right decision. During another long night of negotiations of European leaders, on 12th July 2015, the hashtag thisisacoup was trending as it became evident that the decision of the Greek people to reject the EU-controlled austerity policies as manifested in the referendum result a week earlier would not be honoured. This is not the post to analyze why and how this happened; suffice to say, though, that it was not necessary for the Greeks to vote again. The ‘no’ was understood as ‘yes’, in this case. A lot of us who voted no in that referendum maybe now define ourselves as Eurosceptics – I certainly do. That does not make us less Europeans; but certainly, we are under no illusion about how this political body, this ‘ever closer’ union is silencing, excluding and bending the rules to fit certain member-states. [For example, the ways in which certain countries have effectively ‘opted out’ from the Schengen Treaty since last summer, because of the refugee crisis, is a more recent example of how policies are made, decisions are reached and occasionally a blind eye is turned to certain cases.]

In a future post, I will write more about the actual question of the referendum, the importance of language used and how the choice of words might determine the final result. Lots will be written, I am sure, about who this referendum excludes. The EU citizens who have lived and worked and paid taxes and have made families in Britain for years as well as those British people who have lived in Europe for years cannot vote. Really, who is the question for and for what reason? (Incidentally, I was reading earlier this week that the voting rules for the Eurovision Song Contest will change this year to keep the jury and the people’s verdicts separate to make for a better TV experience/more exciting result; it’s partly a joke but also partly I genuinely wonder: what can the EU learn from the Eurovision,  in terms of who can get to vote and how their vote is valued?)

Should I stay…? I am going to leave you with this classic song. It is a bit of a cliche but I think, it’s the best kind of background tune for the months that are coming. The question for me is not who is actually thinking of staying. But instead what kind of reasons they have to do that? It would be naïve to think that all those who vote to leave EU are morons or fascists – but some of them, are. Equally, it would be naïve to think that all those who vote for remaining in the EU, actually care for the EU and that they don’t just want to continue enjoying their ‘banal europeanness’, criss-crossing the Continent for French wine, Italian art, Greek islands and so; in short, maintaining a version of the Grand Tour. But ultimately, I am curious to see how many people actually vote, how many people want to participate in that debate, how many people actually distinguish Europe and European Union (so often and so problematically conflated) and to who the question of EU (as it currently stands) matters and why.

 

 

The paradox of theatre [or thoughts on cancelling the National Theatre of Greece’s ‘Nash Equilibrium’]

Derveniotis-Ethniko-2

In a controversial decision, yesterday morning the National Theatre of Greece announced the cancellation of the production ‘The Nash Equilibrium’ which was programmed for the theatre’s experimental stage. What follows is a first response, bearing in mind that I don’t know anything about the piece. I have not seen it or read any reviews; however, it is the kind of show that if I lived in Athens I would run to see partly because I like theatre that triggers a good debate. And I am quite interested in how performance deals with recent history, especially in the current moment of widespread crisis [see previous post]. Also, the National theatre’s website says that the title of the play ‘is borrowed from Game Theory. It is a combination of strategies between two opposing players, each of whose strategy is the best response to that of the other.’ Judging from the title, the work must be engaging with antagonism and dissent – perhaps performing a useful intervention in a theatre landscape of the country where dissent was effectively silenced after the events following the results of the July referendum.

The performance triggered a series of angry reactions (including threats against the cast and company’s members) because the piece’s dramaturgy was partly based on the writings of one of the members of the infamous terrorist organization, 17 November – an organization that emerged shortly after the end of the junta (1974) and was dismantled in the summer of 2002. The point of this post is not to explain to the reader who may not be familiar with recent Greek history what was the impact of 17 November [the name of the organization alluding to the students revolt at the Polytechnic school in November 1973] on the socio-political landscape of the country during those 30 years. This is not a post to assess the criminal activity or the radical politics of this organization or indeed, its legacy, the reasons it emerged and the ways it was perhaps used by a political system during those thirty years. But I do vividly remember how weird it felt (for those of us who grew up in the 1980s) around the summer of 2002, when (almost magically) the organization unravelled and member after member were arrested and brought to justice. Everything seemed to be ‘resolved’ as the country had just entered the Eurozone and was busily preparing for welcoming the entire world for the 2004 Olympics. Everything was ‘sorted’; Greece was safe.[Meanwhile, of course, 9/11 had happened and the security costs for the Games completely skyrocketed the budget].

Back to theatre, back to what happened yesterday.

In the official announcement from the office of the theatre’s Artistic Director, it is explained that ‘unintentionally’, or ‘without desiring to’, ‘The Nash Equilibrium deviated from its artistic purpose’ and instead ‘seemed to be exhausting a society’s limits’. The announcement explains how the work and its makers were accused in the most ‘dogmatic’ and ‘extreme’ ways and concludes: ‘we believe that if we continue the run of this show, as programmed, then a false idea will prevail, an idea that the National Theatre, instead of promoting artistic production and fertile opportunities for public debate, it instead supports criminals who have been condemned in the consciousness of the Greek people.’ For these reasons, the production must be cancelled. The announcement concludes with the reiteration of the National Theatre’s expression of commitment to ‘free artistic expression’ (in other words, ‘freedom of speech’.) The only way I read this announcement is: ‘we can’t possibly have our reputation as a National Theatre contested in this kind of way’ therefore ‘we cancel the run’. Certainly, this kind of rationale for the cancellation of any show would have raised questions; is the theatre bothered because it might lose funding? It might not attract audiences? What is at stake when a theatre’s reputation is questioned? The fact that this logic is put forward by the country’s national stage makes the case of The Nash Equilibrium even more pertinent. What is a nation’s theatre supposed to do and how does it want to be imagined? And how is a national theatre’s role further contested in a context of ‘crisis’ or social transformation?[i]

Reading and re-reading this announcement , I was reminded of the most recent public controversy in Britain, due to the planned London performances of Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B that were cancelled in September 2014, because of its contentious representation of race, history of colonialism and slavery through what seemed to be a revised or ‘repackaged’ version of a human zoo. [Interestingly, the show is programmed to open in Athens later on this spring and I will be curious to see whether it will trigger any reactions in a context that is not so aware of debates about race. Or at least, I don’t think it is]. At the time, theatre academics and critics talked at length about freedom of expression, censorship, limits and responsibilities of representation. In the case of Exhibit B what seemed to be at stake for some was freedom of expression, while for others was the mishandling of histories of grievances, of exploitation, of racism, white supremacy and the reproduction of rather problematic frames of representation of race circulated in the international network of theatre festivals, which welcome particular kinds of audiences. Issues around silencing, censoring, misrepresentation, liberal guilt, subject positions, identity politics and effectively ethical choices [of attending or not such a work] were raised in multiple contexts [documentation of one useful conversation can be found here]. But what shall we make of what Greece’s National theatre did? And how any of the issues that were raised during the Exhibit B debate might be of use when reflecting on the Greek example? Who was silenced in this case? And why? Which ultimately, leads us to rephrasing the question: For whose benefit was the performance cancelled? And what are the power dynamics that underpinned that decision?

I still find the cases of reactionary protest to art, particularly in cases of live or on screen performance, quite difficult to process. I guess it is partly because I cannot understand how someone might read a piece of performance only in terms of what it is ‘about’; so in this case, someone would say this is a piece about a terrorist organization – or condoning terrorist organization. And not a fictional one, they would add – a real one, with real victims. What baffles me about the decision of cancelling a production with an ostensible contentious topic is that the theatre institution seems to agree that a theatre piece can only do one thing. It can only be about one thing. It seems to suggest that the theatre event is singular. I cannot understand this literal understanding of what is a much more complex visual, aural, spatial, aesthetic phenomenon, where one thing can stand in for another thing but the layers of theatricality might completely lead to other routes of watching and understanding. The paradox of the theatre is that it is one and many things at the same time; certainly it cannot be about one thing only – or perhaps it is not about at all. Unless it is bad theatre. When the National Theatre reproduces this very limited and limiting understanding of what theatre is, how it works and how it might work on us, then I am left wondering what that might mean about the role of this institution in the context of a crisis? What sort of multiplicities does it promote? Or not? And how does the nation appear through such performances of exclusion, silencing, and effectively ‘sensible, rational management of crisis’?

To be continued…

[i] I am thinking here of the recent uproar and of the wakingthefeminists campaign caused by the Abbey theatre’s decision not to include women in their theatre’s programme for the anniversary of the 1916 uprising. The theatre’s programming decisions, or more accurately the decision to silence women [again] by removing them from the programme, brought about an ongoing public dialogue about the position of women in theatre and society. See also, Louise Owen ‘Theatrical Nationhood: Crisis on the National Stage’ in Performances of Capitalism, Crises and Resistance: Inside/Outside Europe (pp 113-133) for a consideration of the role of the National Theatre of Great Britain in response to recent crises (e.g. multiculturalism) and for a useful consideration of the institution’s history that predates the vocabularies of crisis. Nadine Holdsworth’s Theatre and National Identity: Re-Imagining Conceptions of nation (Routledge 2014) present a series of articles on various national contexts and theatre’s role; in my piece, I discuss the programming decisions of the National Theatre in summer 2010, questioning the ways in which, in the Greek example, tragedy can be staged in ways that open up modes of ‘feeling’ the nation.

 

Cartoon by Spiros Derveniotis for today’s Unfollow magazine: http://unfollow.com.gr/web-only/epitelous-diafotismos/ It reads: ‘Ah! Finally some enlightenment’

What ‘rhymes’ with Europe

In a post written for this blog almost three years ago, I was trying to think through what I was describing as a sentiment of experiencing ‘time out of joint’ as an indirect consequence of the unfolding European crisis. Having attended an event that drew attention to methodologies of confronting the past in order to understand the present, to make sense of what was usefully put forward as ‘archive trouble’ (that was underlying cultural production and strategies of resistance to widespread austerity policies), I was trying to think what ‘coming to terms with the past’ might entail and how this might signal a way of confronting present injustice.

This morning, looking through the papers, I came across a piece in The Guardian, with the evocative title ‘history is not repeating itself, but it is rhyming’. The article mentions practices that have been introduced as a way of ‘managing’ the ‘unstoppable’, the unfolding refugee crisis and draws attention to the ways in which the ‘red wristbands’ policies in Cardiff (which have now been withdrawn, due to the outcry), the ‘red doors’ elsewhere in the UK, the confiscation of refugees’ valuables in Denmark, Switzerland and Germany (with the excuse of funding new refugee camps) might ‘echo’ sounds of the past. Meanwhile, in Amsterdam, EU ministers discuss the urgent need for responding to the crisis; and in an environment of utter delegitimation of the European Union project, the only way out seems to be to dismantle the Schengen Treaty of free movement (something that has already started happening as countries re-introduce border controls).

What concerns me here is not whether (as the Dutch PM put it rather dramatically) ‘the idea of Europe is questioned’ as Europe ‘cannot protect its borders’; after all, the idea of Europe is a very malleable thing, very much determined by the gaze of the beholder. Where you are on the map determines which Europe you end up perceiving (and by extension, determines how you see your country in relation to this Europe). But what is worth considering is how the unfolding events and the subsequent unravelling of Europe seem to be hosting a peculiar return of ghosts that we thought belonged to the past. But of course it is not that easy – we cannot produce a simplistic parallel between the atrocities of the 20th century and the attacks on refugees (attacks which range from smearing their doors or confining them in a school playground and throwing tear gas on them under the blazing hot sun of the Mediterranean to refusing to accept any more). What is happening is not a repetition, it is a sound that is rhyming with the continent’s past, a rhyme of Europe’s poetics (of injustice, exploitation and suffering). Is this history’s loop and what can we learn from history as a catalyst for the future?[i]

In a recent meeting of the Inside/Outside Europe network, the question of history, Europe’s history, Europe’s violent history [Europe as a continent of wars], the need ‘to remember to forget’ re-emerged (and of course, there is already important literature on Europe, performance and memory in the field[ii]). Examples ranged from the European Route of Industrial Heritage to the role of Shakespeare in contemporary Europe to the canonization of war in Ukraine as a way of measuring and branding Europeanness.[iii] We discussed how contemporary Europe, caught up in ‘crisis’ or transformation, often performs its past as a way of making sense of its present or even recuperates its past through recycling it in its present. Such performances that occupy the realm of the past and the present simultaneously (by being staged in historical sites/ruins, by making use of European universalism/Canon and so on) call for particular ways of engaging with the past and its remains as a way of conjuring the future. To borrow the terms of one of our panelists, it seems to me that we need to ‘imagine theatrically’, to use the ‘spatial and temporal logics of performance’[iv] in order to make sense of those performances of time ‘out of joint’. Perhaps, through that kind of engagement, we can hear the ‘rhyme’ of history but also we can perceive the ways in which certain subjects have no control of their own representation but they are confined always to the stories we tell about them.

 

[i] See Giulia Palladini’s article on the return of the ghost of the Weimar Republic and how the discursive strategies employed to conjure this ghost is a strategy of the crisis that effectively exposes ‘a time dispossessed of a future and yet projected towards – and marked by – a horizon of potential, forthcoming failure and collapse.’ (‘The Weimar Republic and its Return: Unemployment, Revolution, of Europe in a State of Schuld’ in Performances of Capitalism, Crises and Resistance: Inside/Outside Europe, pp.17-36)

[ii] See Milija Gluhovic’s Performing European Memories: Trauma, Ethics, Politics (2013) and Silvija Jestrovic’s Performance, Space, Utopia: Cities of War, cities of exile (2013)

[iii] Thanks to all contributors to this day; specific examples for this post are borrowed from the presentations of David Calder, Aneta Mancewicz and Olga Danylyuk.

[iv] Thanks to David Calder for this approach.