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Commenting article: Europe's Black Stain

Last week I had the opportunity to spend two days in Brussels, Belgium. Of course, I used my first spare minute to see the exhibit that stirred a storm of controversy across Europe - the infamous "Entropa".

I rushed into the lobby of the European Council building and there it was! It looks like a giant plastic child toy, with colorful snap-out parts, sounds and lights. Yes, Romania is a Dracula theme-park; France is covered with the inscription "Strike!"; Sweden looks like an IKEA box; the Netherlands are series of minarets submerged by flood; Germany, with its network of motorways, resembles a swastika; Spain is buried under concrete; Italy is a giant football stadium; Slovakia - a sausage wrapped with a string with the colors of the Hungarian flag; Denmark is composed of Lego blocks, which seen from afar remind of the Mohamed caricatures that fired up the Arab world in 2006 and the Finish are a bunch of dinosaurs, sitting on barren land.

"Entropa" is provocative, funny, witty, ingenious, I thought. Then I saw Bulgaria. No, not the squat toilet that triggered heated debates and angered many Bulgarians, especially officials at European Institutions and at home. The toilet was gone, covered by a untidy, shabby looking black cloth.

In the lobby of the Justus Lipsius building, this kind of response, this running away from the facts, seemed so inadequate that it felt much more insulting than the image of the squat toilet.

At the exhibit's inauguration, Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra officially apologized to Bulgaria and offered Bulgarian diplomats to hold constructive discussions about ways to repair the damage. The talks obviously led to the black cloth.

It is true, "Entropa", which was supposed to be the prominent symbol of the Czech Presidency of the EU, caused the Czechs some embarrassment and discomfort, but they surely knew what to expect when they commissioned the work to the "enfant terrible" of Czech art - David Cerny. The choice, itself, speaks to their anticipation and desire to have something provocative, clever, controversial.

After all, Cerny is the one who painted a Soviet tank, a Second World War memorial in Prague, bright pink in the early 1990s. This, as well as his other pranks, has not been a secret to anyone. Let's not forget that the Czechs gave the world Yaroslav Hasek and his "Good Soldier Sveik".

Maybe they got more than what they wished for? Maybe Cerny's own apologies for misleading his government, the promise that he would return the money, or the explanation that this was "just art" and he wanted to "see if Europe could laugh at itself" are not enough and not an excuse... But we must give him credit for seizing the opportunity to poke fun, promote his work and avoid censorship.

Well, almost. Bulgaria, somehow, managed to censor "Entropa".

Michael Archer recently wrote for the British "The Guardian": "Well, I laughed. But then I'm not from Bulgaria."

It is hard for a Bulgarian in Brussels to laugh, even smile. Certainly, not just because of Entropa, the toilet and the black cloth...

Of course, being perceived as a toilet is not flattering. But the ragged black spot on the map of Europe isn't either. Instead of trying to repair the image, those in power in Bulgaria resorted to the good old censorship, embedded deeply in their minds since Communist times. It was easy then: "What we don't like must be taken away, removed, covered and it would never bother us again." They have yet to realize that the times have changed.

The European Council lobby was filled with visitors, flocking from all over to see "Entropa." People around me were pointing at the different countries, checking out maps, laughing. Even the Brits, despite the fact that their country was absent from Europe altogether. All, without any exception, asked about Bulgaria - either where the toilet was, either what was behind the black cloth. The censorship did not work.

Maybe the Mayor of the Bulgarian Black Sea town of Balchik, who wrote Cerny to tell him that art must not be construed literally, invited him to have his own art display in the town and promised to show him that Bulgaria could be associated with much more pleasant things, was the only one with the right reaction?

Otherwise we face the choice to continue to be seen either as Europe's toilet or Europe's black stain. And what kind of a choice is that?

...
#1
xNELLIEx - 30 Jan 2009 // 17:55:35

"Of course, being perceived as a toilet is not flattering. But the ragged black spot on the map of Europe isn't either. Instead of trying to repair the image, those in power in Bulgaria resorted to the good old censorship, embedded deeply in their minds since Communist times. It was easy then: "What we don't like must be taken away, removed, covered and it would never bother us again." They have yet to realize that the times have changed."

Excellently well said. Couldn't have said it better myself! lol

#2
just me - 30 Jan 2009 // 19:15:49

Very nice Barometer, Maria Guineva!
One correction: "squat" instead of "squad" toilets.

I did have the same thought about putting the ugly black cover over Bulgaria. The least they could have done was to use velvet, reminiscent of a theater curtain that implies "the best is yet to come." Alternatively, a little black satin with some sequins and feathers, maybe some rhinestones to dress it up a little. There is a certain mystique about Bulgaria.

What a shame to do this in a piece commissioned for this organization, but the "artist" did poke fun at every country represented.

#3
Indeks73 - 30 Jan 2009 // 19:58:57

Indeks 73 is an informal collective of critics, artists, theoreticians and journalists from Poland who analyze contemporary censorship strategies.
We have prepared the on-line petition to the Bulgarian authorities to protest against the threats of instrumentalisation of Cerny's artistic work by politicians. An honest debate on real intern European problems, such as discrimination or national clichГ©s, can not be hidden any more or replaced by irresponsible censorship reactions or hypocritical gestures of national pride.
The demand to curtain the part of the integral artistic installation with a black fabric is nothing else than the act of censorship directed against the Art. 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Art. 23 of the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria, which guarantees that “the State shall establish conditions conducive to the free development of science, education and the arts, and shall assist that development”.

Everyone in Europe can sign our on-line petition till 16 February 2009 on http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/entropa/

#4
DP - 30 Jan 2009 // 19:59:08

"It was easy then: "What we don't like must be taken away, removed, covered and it would never bother us again." They have yet to realize that the times have changed."

But they did realize that times have change.

Otherwise they would have send a dark Bulgarian subject clad in a dark gabardine long coat, wide brimmed soft hat carrying an umbrella and a paper written with invisible ink pertaining to the routine movements of the Cherny subject. And the rest of the story would have been be covered (figuratively speaking) with a black, thick maybe made of metal curtain. As it happened, it was just a poor choice to cover up an even worse choice ....

Censorship? My foot!

#5
DP - 30 Jan 2009 // 20:06:39

corrections
Times have changed*, sent*, etc, etc... My editor is on a Holiday in Mongolia. Sorry!

#6
judge advocaat retired - 30 Jan 2009 // 20:19:38

DP Hi, Why all these edits and corrections to your posts? Are you afraid Bill is watching LoL

#7
DP - 30 Jan 2009 // 20:30:21

Hi Judge,
Cause I felt like it ;-)))))
BTW, Me thinks that Bill is gone; can't handle Nellie. lol

#8
just me - 30 Jan 2009 // 20:37:05

DP,
"dark Bulgarian subject clad in a dark gabardine long coat, wide brimmed soft hat carrying an umbrella and a paper written with invisible ink pertaining to the routine movements of the Cherny subject...."

That is a very vivid depiction, and it reminds me that I could never speak with any credibility about how it might feel as a Bulgarian first to see the country shown as a primitive toilet and then to see it covered up by a black cloth. I've never been Bulgarian and I've never had the experiences some of you have with secret informants, communist teachings, and the many other things you've written and spoken about.

If my comment about the covering up of the toilet struck you as insensitive to that perspective, please forgive me.

Running along now,
jm

#9
DP - 30 Jan 2009 // 21:10:54

"If my comment about the covering up of the toilet struck you as insensitive to that perspective, please forgive me."

Hi JM,

You have nothing to apologize to me for. As I said, it was a bad choice covering the toilet that way, but...

What I have a problem with is the overreaction of the artists' community, the press, etc.. and the unappropriate bringing up of the old communists censorship into that. And this is done by Bulgarians who should know better than to trivialise the past, imho.

Hope you and mini are doing well! Hugs (non for Kolegialen though)!

DP

#10
Bill - 30 Jan 2009 // 21:16:51

DP:

Not gone, just disgusted. Nellie has chosen to drag my religion through all the mud she can find. No sensitivity whatever to my feelings and the thngs I know to be true and sacred. I wonder if she even knows what the word, sacred, means.

I don't know if I CAN handle Nellie; I just don't want to. Her sense of humor is appalling.

#11
DP - 30 Jan 2009 // 21:35:43

Well, Bill,
All I can say to you is: if you can't take the heat get out of the kitchen. We (including Nellie) will be missing you, but we'll survive.

#12
Bill - 30 Jan 2009 // 21:40:08

DP:

Well, how would you like it if someone started picking something you hold dear apart? And doing it deliberately just to be nasty? I doubt you'd be any happier than I am.

Religion is not something to be played with just for malicious fun, and anyone who does think it's fun must have more than one scew loose.

I asked her several times politely to stop, but she simply ignored it and ploughed on.

Now if you want to call that "heat", I suppose that's your right, but I consider it disgusting behavior.

#13
DP - 30 Jan 2009 // 21:51:21

"Well, how would you like it if someone started picking something you hold dear apart?"

Bill,
So you haven't noticed that I have been picked on, chewed up, and spitted out by some on more than one occasion?

How blissfully self-centered you are Bill! LOL

#14
Bill - 30 Jan 2009 // 21:58:27

DP:

Well, religion is a deeply personal thing--or should be. I've taken a lot of crap from others on this forum and stuck with it in spite of that, but Nellie has simply gone too far.

It's bad enough that she'd never get off that "flirting" kick; but hammering sacred things is way out of line.

#15
xNELLIEx - 30 Jan 2009 // 22:46:00

Yes, David Cerny is a genius, I love his edgy sense of humor. It really resonates with me, it reminds me of myself. All great minds think alike. lol

I don't know if a black stain is better than a squat toilet, perhaps they should have put a black sheep over Bulgaria. It is the black sheep of the EU right now.

I think the worst and most insulting satire is the Netherlands - global warming flooding it and only minarets sticking out. That's so perceptive and sarcastic, since their "political correctness" has caused them to allow so many Muslims into their country and allowed them to build so many mosques. To me that's the worst one, much worse than a squat toilet.

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