The news that “documenta 14 Cancels ‘Auschwitz on the Beach’ Performance Amid Intense Criticism” should worry us all. Censorship is the coward’s way out of controversy. Dialogue, fierce disagreement and, hopefully eventual synthesis, is the hard road that democrats dare to tread.
Back in early July Franco Bifo Berardi wrote an open letter, addressed to myself and to DiEM25, explaining why he is resigning from DiEM25’s Advisory Panel. That letter of his was founded on the ‘Auschwitz on the Beach’ argument, which later became the basis for his performance – the one that was, in the end, censored by documenta 14.
When I read Bifo’s letter, I appreciated his rage against Europe’s lost soul. At DiEM25 we read it as a “I accuse you all” letter meant to awaken our consciences. His excellent point was that, despite denials, Europe wants the refugees who cross the high seas to face grave dangers, as well as harsh treatment when/if they land on our beaches, in order to deter more of them from coming. This instrumental use of the refugee’s trials and tribulations, and of their deaths even, is despicable and, yes, bordering on the criminal. As for the analogue with Auschwitz, I saw it as what it was: a deliberate attempt to say something outrageous to stir us up, to cause us to have this debate.
That Auschwitz and the Holocaust are truly exceptional and incomparable to other forms of cruelty or mass murder, I have no doubt – the basic difference being that the murders in Auschwitz and the other death camps were an end-in-themselves, rather than instrumentally useful to the murderers. Nevertheless, at DiEM25 we chose not to focus on Bifo’s provocation but, instead, to highlight our main concern as progressive internationalists: In my reply to him (you can read both Bifo’s original letter and my reply in full here), I put it as follows:
“…[M]ad as we are at Europe’s crimes, [we] understand that renouncing Europe but not Italy, France, Greece, Germany, Britain etc. only plays into the hands of those propagating the fantasy of returning to the bosom of our benevolent nation-states; a fantasy that I know you abhor and one that DiEM25 is railing against.”
Then, I finished with: “This is the reason we, at DiEM25, are proud of you and your “J’ accuse” letter of resignation from our Advisory Panel. And it is the reason we do not accept it!“
Bifo replied to my reply as follows:
Dear Yanis, thanks for your message and for your understanding.
So far DiEM25 has accomplished something important: it has asserted that there is no way back to national and nationalist politics. However, as you can imagine, I think that this is not enough. If we want to produce something effective we should re-frame our project, starting from a definition of our goals. I don’t believe in the fable that all of the problem is to re-establish democracy, and frankly I don’t think that you are not so naive to believe it neither. Let’s face it: things are going from bad to worse for workers all over Europe, and, as a consequence, racism is growing everywhere. In order to survive and grow effective, DiEM25 should launch a meeting for the definition of what is POSSIBLE and what is NECESSARY in order to avoid the final collapse of the Union, and the final breakdown of social solidarity. An international meeting in Berlin, or (why not?) in London aimed to launch a program: abolition of the Fiscal Compact, general wage increase, reduction of work time, retirement age at 58 years in every country of the Union, basic income, and a huge investment for the reception and social integration of five million migrants in the next five years. Let’s call the Unions, the ONGs, the universities of Europe, activists and artists to discuss about this. Is it unrealistic? Yes, it is, but the collapse is coming, and the next crumblings (economic, financial, military and political) will change the perception of reality and of realism too.
Franco Bifo Berardi
To conclude, this is how we deal with controversy at DiEM25. Through a hard, painful dialogue that focuses on the true sources of bigotry today: the faux clash between Europe’s Deep Establishment and the Nationalist International it begets.
In sharp contrast, the Deep Establishment’s avant garde – e.g. documenta 14 – opt for the tried and tested methods of censorship and cosmetic improvement.