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On 1989 and the systems under wich I have lived
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On 1989 and the systems under wich I have lived

Umělec 2010/1

01.01.2010

Ivan Mečl | en cs de

Everything that we use and devalue beyond our basic needs becomes a victim of consumption. The process of consumption is the devaluation of material resources and non-material meanings. I was surprised to learn that this counts for thoughts as well. May this text be consumed too!

In response to the celebrations of the 1989 revolution, I have combined passages from the latest book by Czech philosopher Václav Bělohradský, Society of Uneasiness, with selections from the “Postcapital Archive” project by Spanish artist Daniel Andujar. The excerpts from the text are organized into newly created chapters accompanied by media diptychs. Just as Bělohradský’s text uncovers the origins of the contradictions in, and mechanisms for, the decline of our seemingly functional world, Andujar does the same with images. Although he works with existing images from media campaigns, his enemy is the enormous volume of such images. His virtuosity is in their selection and combination.
The following pages are proof that not everyone in Eastern Europe believes the things presented by the political jesters at their opulent celebrations : that, although the new busy-busy-busy era has robbed us of much of our time for contemplation, we have not ceased thinking altogether. That, although the infotainment industry has fragmented our thoughts, they have not yet disintegrated. That, just as we refused to wave the flags of countries with whom our governments happened to be friendly under the past social order, neither do we do so today. We refuse to wave flags of any sort. We refuse to honor emblems, symbols, and signs. We do not want to have understanding for conceptions, concepts, systems, contexts, strategies, and interests.
The celebrations of the twentieth anniversary of the revolutions in Eastern Europe presented a megalomaniacal farce attended – for honoraria – by our political representatives and the overwhelming majority of the cultural scene. A logical choice for the latter,
considering its existential dependence on infusions of subsidies. Thanks to the ideological and political demands of subsidiary economic programs, its activities and intellectual concepts have been degenerated, despite the fact that independence and impartiality take a leading position in their vocabulary. You just cannot help being influenced, whether you like it or not.
For the events associated with the 1989 celebrations, industrious institutions and organizations in Eastern Europe were treated to another helping. Some of them had been formed with sufficient advance notice just for this one purpose – to suck up money, funnel half of it away somewhere, and use the rest to put on a big show. There was plenty of money for the final outcome, even after this fraud, to drown out any doubts as to the right direction for marching backward.
Not even the organizers of celebrations of the Great October Revolution in Moscow would have been ashamed of the straightforward agitprop bombasticity of the celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall. And if we can consider curators to be intellectuals, then the exhibition in Vienna entitled “1989” was absolutely clear in showing us what Western coffeehouse intellectual think of when it comes to that year. Absolutely nothing, they don’t understand it, and use it as nothing more than a logo for their own fanciful contexts and stories. There really isn’t any point in being surprised, since 1989 has given the world a worse social order than their own.
I have now lived through twenty-one years of socialism and twenty-one years of capitalism. I am picky, and neither one of the two appeals to me. Both systems lie, steal, cheat, rape, and murder. The usual excuse that these are the mistakes of individuals do not apply, since both systems’ elected representatives either try to justify or cover up these acts. Something is fatefully wrong here.
The post-socialist countries are currently being governed by a cabal of the predatory economic sector and all political parties from the left and the right. The combination of this blossom of destruction annihilates all positive endeavors in the private sector, including any attempts at rectifying the situation on the part of civic movements. The governing clique possesses an absurd amount of stolen, laundered, or newly printed money. They present themselves using falsified diplomas and flexible resumes, they validate themselves by purchasing public support and academic titles accorded by bribed academics and issued by schools either staffed by their cronies or own by them outright. Here, too, excusing these acts by pointing out the presence of at least some fair and honest people does not count. Such people’s conscience shouldn’t allow them to sit down at the same table with them, to remain in their parties, or to work in their institutions and companies.
If such a social order permits the death of even one single penniless individual in the shadow of empty, lit, and heated office buildings, then all passive citizens have committed a crime against humanity. The only solution for such a society is to change the system. If the establishment punishes just one person for holding different opinions and social attitudes, it has forfeited its legitimacy and its citizens must no longer obey it. The citizen’s sole task is to dispose of such an establishment.
Left-wing theorists called the intelligentsia a class, and later this view became universal. In this view, the intelligentsia is a group of people engaged in mental and creative labor. Over the past decades, the immense expansion of this group has led to certain changes. In the nineteenth century, the burgeoning proletariat gave birth to a group that Marx called the lumpenproletariat. Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with the word “lump” (scoundrel). In German, Lumpen is another word for rag, and Marx used this term to label those who were incapable of self-awareness or action of any kind. Today, we have a lumpenintelligentsia, an immense group of educated and creative people who tremble in fear of being labeled activists, right-wingers, or left-wingers. They are incapable of any daring critique of the state of society or its culture from a clear standpoint. And yet they nod their heads in agreement when it comes to the official line that 1989 was the result of a yearning for capitalism, i.e., a right-wing revolution.
I was a student at the time, and can still remember everything clearly. Before 1989, my classmates and friends and I did everything we could in order to change the system in our country. During the revolution, we did our share during student demonstrations, occupational strikes, and campaigning in factories and mines. At the same time, I come from a family that did more than well under the regime; my father held high-ranking positions. Our aspirations changed his life, and his career fell apart. I have never apologized to him for that, and surprisingly he has never blamed me for it. We had many fundamental arguments and conflicts before the revolution. Maybe he had had enough of it, too.
I will never regret 1989, but I am ashamed of what the older generation – the people whom we handed the victory before returning to our schools – did with it afterwards.
After the revolution, I tried everything that the new order could offer. Going into business, being involved in decision-making at institutions and companies, publishing books by new authors, founding independent magazines, making films, acting in the theater, and organizing anything possible and impossible, at home and abroad. I also tried out all the pleasures that we had previously not been able to afford. A plentitude and then a surfeit of sensations, delights, culture, exuberance, perversions, luxury, drugs, speed, and technology. And yet – or precisely because of these experiences, I believe that we had the chance after 1989 to take a step forwards and not a step back. We chose the latter. In my opinion, this was a mistake.
And that is what the following pages are about.





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