Report from ECP Online Seminar at the European Academy Berlin on 12 December 2020
Report from ECP Online Seminar at the European Academy Berlin on 12 December 2020
Theme: Consequences of the Corona crisis – in Society, in Arts/Culture, in Europe
The Seminar was a zoom-meeting, with the premises of Europäische Akademie Berlin (EAB) as venue and hub. The vice Director of the Academy, Dr. Weronika Priesmeyer-Tkocz and Karl-Erik Norrman organized the meeting. 25 ECP Members participated. It was a four hours seminar and it followed an agenda. See annex 1!
The Director of the Academy, Dr. Christian Johann welcomed the participants and introduced the European Academy. The EAB was founded in 1963 and has the mission of encouraging educational and intellectual exchange between Berlin and the rest of Europe. The ambition is to offer interesting discussions at a qualified level of knowledge between civil society, politics and academia on European issues in a broad sense. Christian was very happy to connect with the European Cultural Parliament and expressed the hope that in 2021 a Seminar live could be arranged at the EAB.
The President of the ECP, Minister Pär Stenbäck thanked the EAB for co-arranging this meeting. He found it important that some ECP Members and Senators had the chance to compare notes at the end of a very difficult year, completely characterized by the Corona crisis. He suggested that all participants should give a glimpse of the situation in their respective country and sector of activity.
The situation in Europe in the Corona year 2020 – A tour d´horizon
The Secretary General of the ECP, Ambassador Karl-Erik Norrman, noted that the full ECP Membership should have met in European Capital of Culture, Galway, Ireland last month, but the Corona crisis had spoiled these plans. He moderated the following discussion and contributions from Members. Here are some of the main points taken during the discussion:
Weronika Priesmeyer-Tkocz summarized the complicated situation in the European Union in five “main cleavages”:
- East vs West
- North vs South
- Young vs Old
- Old vs New Europe
- Conservative vs Liberal
See annex 2!
Titus Leber, Vienna, deplored the lockdown of cultural institutions, but found some consolation in the “de-acceleration” of society, giving us a bit more time to reflect.
Peter Hanke described a situation in Denmark, characterized by a “perhaps too strong” Prime Minister, who had taken recourse to very draconic lockdown measures, affecting cultural life heavily.
Nik Dahlström noted that, although Sweden had introduced relatively liberal measures, mainly relying on the good judgment of the population, the crisis had already hit very hard on freelance artists.
Luise Kloos, Graz, noted the very radical restrictions of freedom during the corona crisis and expressed concern about the chances for normal democratic personal freedom after the crisis.
Guy Coolen, Opera director in Antwerpen and at the Rotterdam Opera Festival, reported on very serious consequences for theatres and festivals. There was a big risk that many technicians and other back-stage people, who were now unemployed, would leave the artistic sector and look for jobs in completely different parts of society. Another issue for the future was the risk of a widening gap between “high” and “low” Arts.
Tamas Szalay described the Capital-of-culture-2025-candidacy of Magdeburg. The city lost to Chemnitz in the German competition. However, the mobilization and commitment of the arts sector had been positive and was an advantage for cultural life post-corona.
Weronika Priesmeyer-Tkocz noted that the other Cultural Capital 2020, Rijeka in Croatia, had been forced to cancel more than 40 per cent of the planned 600 events.
Erna Hennicot-Schoepges described the difficult situation in Luxemburg, not least for the many German and French commuters to Luxemburg when the borders were closed. Music life suffered from the closing of the Philharmonics. However, at least music schools had remained open. She meant that the EU had been too helpless in the beginning of the crisis, but had since come on track and produced joint action.
Tuuli Lähdesmäki described a recent study on the corona crisis effects on school children. There had been less bullying in remote schooling, but on the other hand the gap between wealthier and poorer families had been widened. Tuuli has promised to present the results at some length at the next ECP Live Seminar.
Pierre Vasarely reported from Aix en Provence in a lockdown which was planned to go on until 7 January. He pointed at the inconsequence in opening shops but closing cultural institutions.
Savina Tarsitano described a pessimistic climate in Italy, where the media tended to play a destructive role. In her field of visual arts, however, she could see some new dimensions through the progress in digital arts.
Mary Miller described a Norwegian situation in which people tend to “disappear in bubbles”. The cultural sector belonged to the losers. On top of this we all live in the Brexit-fear, she concluded.
Richard Dubugnon, Lausanne/Paris, found that the International community had overreacted to the Corona virus. The hysteric reactions with absolute lockdown which deprived citizens of their constitutional freedom had led to widespread confusion. The economic compensatory support to affected people in Culture & Arts did not function well.
Steve Austin, Amsterdam, commented that the present “throwing money” into affected sectors and people was not the acts of a Welfare State, but rather of a “Watchman´s State”. The crisis had demonstrated that European countries did not have enough beds or testing places in the health system. However, the debate around the shortcomings revealed by the crisis at least might lead to some more focus on and hopefully understanding for Culture.
Andreas Richter, Berlin noted with great concern the incalculable and endless consequences of the lockdowns. He agreed with Guy Coolen that the risk of qualified technicians “behind stage” leaving the music sector was particularly serious. He added that young artists will face particular difficulties in starting a career in these times.
Ove Joanson meant that the crisis almost made you long for hibernating, like the bears. An interesting effect of the crisis was that people have tended to accept the role of a strong state. He was critical regarding the Swedish corona strategy.
Dudana Mazmanishvili,Berlin, reported that she herself had just been tested positive with Corona virus. She felt well, however, and was confident that she would soon recover. The situation in Georgia was bad in recent months which had led to a standstill in cultural life, including her planned piano festival.
Weronika Priesmeyer-Tkocz pointed at the rising tendencies of domestic violence in corona lockdown. The crisis also generally threatened the positive development in gender equality.
Pär Stenbäck was concerned that the many border closures could have a long term effect on the “Schengen spirit” in Europe. The risk was that Europe could be facing a continued nation-divide. Another effect seemed to be a changed balance between “individualism” and “collectivism”. And citizens seemed to have rediscovered a stronger confidence in Government.
The Belarus uprising
Nelly Bekus who should have spoken on this subject could not attend, due to her father´s death the day before.
Weronika Priesmeyer-Tkocz made a presentation:
Presidential elections were held in Belarus at the beginning of August. Autocrat Alexander Lukashenko has ruled the Republic of Belarus for 26 years and went for more, with all his powers. Four presidential candidates were prevented from standing for election on 9 August 2020. The election result of 80.1% for President Lukashenko is considered to be rigged. The EU and the citizens of Belarus did not recognize the election.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been demonstrating in the streets for months. State enterprises went on strike. Thousands of demonstrators have been arrested in recent weeks. According to reports and photos, prisoners have been tortured, some of them killed. The opposition politicians around the shadow cabinet of the challenger, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, have fled into exile or have been arrested.
Nevertheless, Lukashenko allowed himself to be sworn in for his sixth term on 23 September. Due to alleged radicalization within the protest movement, the police was allowed to use sharp weapons against demonstrators in future. On 12 October, the EU foreign ministers reacted to this continuing violence and threatened in a decision to impose further financial sanctions and a military embargo, also against Lukashenko, if the situation in the country did not improve.
Lukashenko recently met with Putin to ask for his support. The latter had already considered sending Russian security forces for support within the framework of bilateral agreements with “little brother” Belarus. He also warned against interference by other states. The Russian loans of 1.5 billion US dollars that have now been promised are to be paid for by constitutional changes – these weaken Lukashenko and strengthen the parliament.
Since a party landscape would first have to be formed, many fear that Russia could use this to exert considerable influence on the politics of its neighbouring state. The situation therefore remains critical and the EU is hardly capable of quick decisions due to the consensus rule in the European Council. European civil society and the Belarusian diaspora, however, are calling for support for the civilian population and a unified approach, also against Russian influence.
Weronika noted that Belarus is neither “east”, nor “west”. Women played a particularly strong role in the uprising. The role of women in Belarus was unique in comparison with other uprisings in recent decades. It was evident, however, that most EU Member governments had difficulties in understanding the Belarus situation.
Giuntautas Mazeikis referred to the closed borders, making it difficult to support the Belarus opposition. He pointed at the growing oppositional Diaspora network and meant that the EU should do more in support of these networks.
Pär Stenbäck concluded that the EU had a challenge in finding reasonable means of acting towards conflicts in the neighborhood. Belarus was a typical example.
The importance of LIVE experiences – Corona consequences for publicly financed Arts/Cultural institutions
Mary Miller, General Director of the Bergen Opera, presented her experience of and views on the corona crisis and the consequences for Arts/Culture. See annex 3!
Mary stressed the importance of LIVE performances. The direct contact with audience, which is both social and emotional, is crucial for everybody in a theatre and can never be replaced by streaming or other online solutions. The risk with all these lost performances is that artists loose not only their artistic platforms, but also their confidence and skills.
Guy Coolen fully supported Mary´s statement and underlined that the risk for lost confidence and skills also may hit the hundreds of thousands of technical backstage people.
Visual Arts in the time of Corona
Josop Zanki, Zadar, Croatia, gave examples of problems facing individual freelance visual artists during the pandemic. They are facing a completely new situation, where their necessary freedom of movement has been restricted. Their situation is completely unpredictable. See Annex 4!
What happens with our lives in the period of Corona?
Jacob Dahl Rendtorff, philosophy professor at the University of Roskilde, Denmark, presented his views on psychological and philosophical consequences of the pandemic. He made literary references and e.g. referred to the theory that “Nature is hitting back”. He also commented the ambitions of Governments to “defend lives at all costs” and the tendency to picture worst case scenarios. See annex 5!
Massimo Dell’Utri, Italian Philosophy professor, agreed with Jacob´s analysis and added that the crisis is showing how important it is to act ‘morally’ towards others. Therefore, the crisis caused by the pandemic could possibly bring “a moral tone” of solidarity and human rights to the European discourse. Moreover, since fake-news and conspiracy theorizing about the pandemic is affecting interactions through the social media, and since this is a clear sign of a weakness in critical thinking, an opportunity arises to remind politicians and society how important culture in general, and the arts in particular, are in fostering sensitivity, critical thinking and, all in all, democracy.
Giuntautas Mazeikis, philosophy professor in Vilnius, stressed the aspect of human dignity, which, after all seemed to be the priority of most governments in the crisis. The State – now in a new role – had engaged in a war on behalf of all citizens. A war against an invisible enemy – the virus.
Future Meetings and role of the ECP
Timothy Emlyn Jones, Arts professor in Burren, Ireland, shared the hope of Karl-Erik that perhaps in the future the ECP could meet in Galway. The idea for the November meeting had been a participatory approach, by which artists/actors/musicians from all of Europe would meet, work and brainstorm with Irish artists. He believed strongly in this approach.
Peter Hanke meant that the unique experience and competence of so many ECP Members could be used more frequently. There are so many European platforms, where the contribution of ECP competence would be very enriching.
Nik Dahlström agreed and pointed at the World Expo in Dubai next year and at the Agenda 30-meeting in Stockholm in 2022.
Erna Hennicot-Schoepges thanked everybody for all interesting information giving new perspectives to the crisis. She meant that both politicians and economists had a lot to learn from this group.
Karl-Erik Norrman informed that a dialogue is going on with the City of Tbilisi about having an ECP meeting there next autumn. All depended, of course, on the further development of the pandemic. Another interested host city was Timisoara, Romania, which had postponed its year as European Capital of Culture from 2021 to 2022.
He was also hopeful that a live seminar could take place in Berlin next year, at the Berlin University of the Arts and/or at the European Academy Berlin.
Weronika Priesmeyer-Tkocz and Karl-Erik Norrman thanked everybody for the active participation and the seminar was concluded.
Keynote speech Mary Miller:
I read a wonderful quote the other day in a London newspaper:
«There’s an ancient hunger to be among listeners and watchers in a dedicated space. We are still Anglo-Saxons in the mead hall, listening to the tale of Beowulf and Grendel while the wind howls outside.»
Something happens to us in a big “house”, and not only in opera and concert. In live theatre. In a cinema too. There is something that gathers us, an awareness of sharing our reactions of empathy, excitement or joy, or indeed prayer. For that something relates also to churches, cathedrals, religious festivals.
We focus in a way that doesn´t happen at home, we don´t wander off – and in a public venue, if we have any manners left, we don´t scroll down our phones.
So I´m not so worried about us, the audience. There is little evidence that we will stop caring about art, or stop gathering to enjoy its miracles.
My fear is that our artists, diminished and marginalized by lack of government recognition, lose confidence in direct relation to loss of income, lose skill from lack of opportunity to practice, and lose the very venues which have given them a platform. There seems to be only a dim recognition amongst the decision makers that the opera, TV show or broadcast or movie that they turn on any spare evening, has been carefully, painstakingly crafted by a community of professional actors, singers, technicians, directors and dancers who have spent their lifetime training to perform or support that performance.
This week, the Metropolitan Opera musicians, in solidarity with their technicians, announced: We are faced with this in common Met management is exploiting this temporary situation to permanently gut contracts of the very workers who create the performances on their global stage, while disingenuously advertising lasting cuts as the only way forward.
Recently, the British government, in its chaotic ignorance, put out an ad showing a young ballet dancer in costume, tying the ribbons of her pointe shoes. “This is Fatma, it said. Her next job is in cyber”. The uproar from the arts community was thunderous. People posted pictures of Boris Johnson trying to tie his shoes laces – “This is Boris. His next job is in classical music. It´ll only take 20 years….”
It´s unsurprising to say that the Covid situation has hit the large opera houses and concert venues the hardest – nationwide measures have bruised companies all over Europe, from the Czech Republic to Catalonia; in France, Belgium, Switzerland. In the US, New York, Chicago, Houston all scrapped their seasons, with smaller houses following suit. Australian Opera made 35% of its workforce reductant and is now talking about a totally new working model. Symphony orchestras are cutting salaries, discussing mergers, and wearying of streaming self-consciously distanced concerts from empty halls. Some countries, however, are behaving honorably, and the civility of their politicians deserves praise. Then there is the question: should the iconic houses – the great and historic theatres – have the bulk of these subsidies? Or should there be more focus on the new?
The great ocean liners of culture – the institutions – cannot turn with the alacrity of a speedboat. For it is certainly the small organisations – the speedboats – unburdened by huge operating costs and hundreds of staff, who are seizing the moment and forging forward. There is a whole raft of ingenious and imaginative work going on. At Bergen National Opera we have been able to roll out a genuinely inventive set of projects: for example: a point-and-click animation opera game for all ages, a Scandi Noir television adaptation of Carmen; a collaboration all over Europe called This Evening´s Performance is Not Cancelled where we built an opera call centre bringing together opera companies and festivals to share their experiences with audiences.
We – the smaller companies – could say, a little smugly, that Covid has just possibly given opera a kick up the backside – and that the pandemic may ultimately provoke a great deal of new thinking and creativity which the large houses ultimately will have to embrace.
But – and it’s a huge but – in the UK alone around 55,000 artists and creators are out of work. Very many are struggling. Some are driving Ubers. There was a heartrending story yesterday of a singer who finally was offered a Beethoven anniversary concert but had to turn it down because the supermarket where she was working part-time couldn´t give her the days off.
Then there are the increasing arguments around the whole issue of streaming. The Met - again - with its massive archive of productions, streams a different opera every night. Management hasn´t paid the musicians and chorus for months, yet they are on screen nightly.
For those who are managing to stream their work, there´s the issue of whether to charge for viewing. In which case, should the artists be paid a percentage of any profit? And is there any profit anyway? – streaming costs money and the market is increasingly crowded. I should say that the Carmen: Obession in Isolation film which we made – filming singers under lockdown in four countries – earned us a princely 8,000 gbp from Norwegian TV, of course far far less that it cost to make. We were lucky to be working. Our Oslo colleagues were not.
But to end with the positive: We are social beings. We want and need to share our emotions, and art is our emotional and intellectual fuel.
No pandemic is ever truly going to change that.
Weronika Priesmeyer-Tkocz, EAB:
European cleavages in 2020:
1. East vs. West: Poland & Hungary vs old EU Members, European values, understanding of democracy & rule of law.
2. North vs. South: Scandinavia, Netherlands, Austria vs. Italy, Spain & Greece. Money, spendings & investments that became visible in both the economic & corona crisis.
3. Young vs. Old: intergenerational conflict about attitude towards the climate change, sustainabililty & prospects for the future on the one side and caution & protection of elderly peope in pandemic times on the other.
4. Old vs. New Europe: digital schooling & education & digitalisation of the society much better performed in new memeber states, thanks to structural funds & economic development.
5. Conservative vs. Liberal: Women are in the heart of the pandemy. As state & government leaders they prove to take right decisions. As housewives, mothers, teachers, nurses & care-work-employees they take the heaviest burden of the corona crisis. The pandemy has also an effect on societal structures: there is a strong backlash in some countries towards the return to conservative values and underpressing women.
Presentation European Cultural Parliament, Webseminar 13.12.2020 by Jacob Dahl Rendtorff, Roskilde University, Denmark
What is our experience of the flu? How do we relate to the virus? What happens with our lives in the context of the epidemic? How could we see at Corona in terms of philosophy and literature? Here, the disease, flu and pandemic become a metaphor for our existence in a state of exception. When you are sick you want to recover and come back to a healthy state of life. In the metaphor this is generalized to the state of exception of society. We want to protect the kingdom of the healthy and there is a distinction between sick and healthy. The state of exception leads to isolation of the sick in relation to the healthy.
This is indeed a challenge for sustainability of the Anthropocene. The COVID-19 epidemic is a metaphor of the challenge of the Anthropocene. Italian Philosopher G. Agamben writes critically about the new biopolitical state of exception in states globally: Biopolitical states search to protect “bare and nude human life” (Homo Sacer) G. Agamben reminds us about the new biopolitical state of exception in states globally: Agamben says following a book from a French colleague (Tempêtes microbiennes, Gallimard 2013), Patrick Zylberman) that analyzes contemporary biopolitics as a political calculative strategy of heath terror and a method of governing according to worst case scenarios.
This logic the worst has followed WHO since the bird flu in 2005 where they predicted up to 150 million deaths from birth flu. So according to Agamben Zylberman helps us to define the biopolitics of COVID-19 as 1) the construction, on the basis of a possible risk, of a fictitious scenario in which data are presented in such a way as to promote behaviors that allow for governing an extreme situation; 2) the adoption of the logic of the worst as a regime of political rationality; 3) the total organization of the body of citizens in a way that strengthens maximum adherence to institutions of government, producing a sort of superlative good citizenship in which imposed obligations are presented as evidence of altruism but becomes juridically obliged to health (biosecurity).”
With this we can define the current Biopolitical regimes as the following to opposite points of extremes: Biopolitics, Biosecurity, Biototalitarianism versus Laissez-faire, Logic of the Worst, Destruction of the Welfare state, Destruction of the vulnerable in society As alternative to this I would myself like to argue for the importance of an ethical approach to the contemporary crisis. This Ethical Response to COVID-19 includes: Protection of Citizens, Responsibility and Solidarity, Concern for the vulnerable and weak, Basic ethical principles in bioethics and biolaw, which are the principles of Autonomy, dignity, integrity and vulnerability But what is the existential experience of corona?
How should we consider the epidemic experience in terms of literature and philosophy? How does this have an impact on our lives? Here, the most important reference is the book by Thomas Mann: Death in Venice from 1912, put into pictures by Luchino Visconti in the Death in Venice from 1972. It is a book about the forbidden homosexual love of an older man to a young boy, but it is also a book about the destruction of the old world as we know with the emergence of the cholera epidemic. The wellestimated and aristocratic German poet Gustav von Aschenbach travels to the Venice Lido for creation during the German winter. Here, he falls in love with the beautiful 14-year old polish boy Tadzio and this leads to a gradual existential breakdown, combined with catching the disease.
The disease illustrates the existential crisis of the individual in the context of the social and cultural transformation of society from the 2 old world to modernity. It is like the book predicts the total breakdown of the old European World from 1912. Is our world broken down? Will we miss the cosmopolitan, liberal global spirit of the pre-COVID-19 society and are we moving into a state of exception like a war and how do we respond to this? Here existential engagement, as suggested by Camus is an important interpretation of this situation: Albert Camus’ existential novel La Peste from 1947 presents another view on the epidemic and the disease.
The Plague tells the story of a plague in the French Algerian city of Oran. Camus used as source material the cholera epidemic that killed a large proportion of Oran’s population in 1849 but situated the novel in the 1940s. His novel illustrates human beings facing absurd life in the common struggle for survival and it is a story of human morality of the absurd heroes of existentialism. In contrast to an ideology of “glorification of power”, Camus’ heroes are ordinary human being that engaged in saving other human beings in relation to the Plague.
This is an example of human solidarity and community in the common struggle against the absurdity of existence and the plaque. It is a novel of the struggle for survival of the absurd heroes. And in this sense an optimistic story of the humanity of human beings. On this basis of such literary examples and the philosophy of biopolitics the question is how we can analyze the experience of the flu and the pandemic. Here, we can identify some themes of existential experience of COVID-19: The sickness in others versus the sickness in one-self. As a self we become more skeptical towards others and we keep social distancing. There is a tendency to look down on those who have the disease.
The “othering of the other” becomes a theme of the social discourse and existential experience of the disease. But, there is also the opening toward the respect for the humanity of the other in the words of the philosopher Lévinas: “L’absolument autre, c’est l’autrui”. The experience of isolation and social distancing. Here, we have the fundamental experience of ending up in a biopolitical prison where we are forced to stay at home and cannot get into contact with other people. For many people this experience leads to the of loneliness and some get the depression of isolation.
For others this is also an experience of a new freedom, as not being captured by the stressing movements of work life and dependency on social life and relations to others. As Sartre said “During the occupation we have never been freer. The relation between public and private. The experience of the COVID-19 lockdown makes the opposition between public community and private family very strong. We are living with our families. And those families that are dysfunctional are suffering from the crisis, i.e. the increase of domestic violence during the COVID-19 lockdown.
And the well-established families are becoming stronger. There is the fact that the crisis makes the poor poorer and the rich richer. The crisis is in danger of increasing social hierarchy in society. The relation between generations: Are we protecting the old at the price for the young: Their lives were stolen from the young in favor of the old, it is argued. Or is This true? The deeper problem is the loss of the loved ones.
The existential angst and fear for loosing someone that you love. What does this mean for the family or for the relation between reason and emotions and for the future of intimate relations. In the public debate there is often a focus on post-humanism or the great reset using the digital metaphor. Can we use the COVID-19 as the basis for a new beginning creating humanity .2.0? Or do we just have to keep calm and carry on, with existential decision facing the possibility of death and our destruction?
Visual Artists in the Time of COVID Pandemic
Based on experience of visual artists in Europe and my own experience I can detect 2 problems during COVID pandemic. First problem is limitation in traveling and different regulation in EU countries. This produced schizophrenic situation that even during summer travel could not be planed, and situation changed every day. For example middle of August I had research project in Germany and Czech Republic (10 days). In same period there was strict evidence in public places in Germany (museums, bars…) where authority collected your data; in Czech Republic no any aspect of control; and my homeland country Croatia were full of tourist and without any control.
Second problem, connected with traveling was limitation in interdisciplinary or exchange art project such as residence or exhibition. Irish artist Mark Cullen could not run workshop with my students in Velebit Mountain end if September; he could enter Croatia without self isolation, but coming back to IR he would be in 15 days quarantine.
So he gave instruction to my students via Zoom and I run workshop in Velebit based on his concept; but both missed embodiment experience, Mark those being in Velebit and students working with Mark. Then mid of October I curated show in Pallas Project/Studios in Dublin based on this and other artist workshop. Video was sent via We transfer and paper work via DHL.
Mark installed exhibition, and we created 2 talk with students and artist using YouTube Premiere but again students and me missed Dublin and Mark missed us. My conclusion is that in visual arts, not only in music or performing arts virtual reality can not replace objective reality. We are not Neo in Matrix, and we do not want to live in created New York 1999, we want to be in real world and does not matter how cruel it is.