Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Fall of Comnudism.

Banish the thought that we should revert to leftist sympathies whilst in the grip of a capitalist recession, BBC is airing a stale documentary (hardly new as stated, having been out for ages on the history channel) on life in the DDR – GDR for the Anglophones – as a stark reminder of the alternative life behind the by now truly crumbled away Wall.

Although the title would suggest the scope of the programme to include all of Eastern Europe, it actually focuses only on Eastern Germany and is lavishly illustrated by many family movies cuttings that bear witness of a peculiar penchant for nudity and home made eroticism in the relative (STASI probed both with sound and hidden camera equipment) intimacy of their private – although state owned – abodes and also in the full sunlight of communal Baltic beaches. Who would have thought? MY MY.

Of course if one looks in this new light at the whole regime, it appears increasingly to have been inspired not so much by the bearded philosopher Marx but by another bearded thinker, could it be? Yes, Freud. Sexual innuendos all over the place, galore. It all looks as if it had been designed in the spirit of the photographers duo Pierre et Gilles, albeit on a tight budget and with faded out of date colour film.

Hugely titillating: a whole state run on voyeurism - allegedly one half of the population was spying on the other half – sadist repression with dark sexual undertones – but also women liberation, equality, emancipation and a positivist attitude as opposed to religious inhibitions. They were blessed children of the system, unaware of life at large, of the world’s problems and doubts, blissfully at play in the fields of the State. Chief of State Honecker leading the way, French kissing Breznev on May the first, shooting game compulsively on weekends, blessing parades that would include not only the best of German youths marching the goose step but also naked girls carted along on beds on wheels. Then, in the privacy of their palaces, the party chiefs would indulge in every possible vice, watch state approved Love Workers perform strip tease routines, drink and eat forbidden fruit, like bananas (these being completely absent in a normal DDR diet).

I fail to see how this approach will add anything interesting to our understanding of the period, other than an almost pornographic interest and a quite superficial propaganda effort, needless as the shooting of a corpse. Wouldn’t it be time to take a hard look at ourselves and see if we can at least try to redefine a few of our own huge problems? If the communist universe was an alternative one, still it did not escape the realities that bound all human societies. This is not a revelation. Communism wasn’t defeated by a superior West, but by its own inherent - wishful or maybe hypocritical -denial of a basic Darwinian truth of Nature: the selfish gene will prevail. This even though it would seem at times as if our economic system, loosely based on an essential lack of ethics other than the need to survive and win the weaker, will eventually endanger the existence of our whole species. Amiable Charity simply isn’t good enough a replacement for Social Justice, or will self-discipline and restrain of the polluting rich or the starving masses safe the environment.

Many sources of information seem to suggest that present day Russia – once home to world Communism - is still stuck in its tragic past: a Tsarist system of power with few rich Boyars and many serfs, a gilded beautiful Faberge’s egg glistening in the light from afar, full of blood and tragedy on closer inspection. Really a sorry state of affairs for people that always deserved much better and endured the unthinkable. As the recession bites the West, we too at last are being Balkanized. Will nudity bring solace? Feel free to try.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Another Country.

In a crisis stricken economy one of the telltale signs could be a renewed interest in immigrating to far, sunnier and possibly richer shores. So it is hardly surprising that a trade show dedicated to showcase different countries and opportunities was a busy venue to spend a midwinter Saturday afternoon at. Twenty years into our own emigrating experience, from Italy to Holland, it was curiosity or maybe a sense of nostalgia that lead us to join the crowds, cough up the outrageous entrance fee of 10 euros and find out what was on show. I was especially intrigued to see which countries would be represented and how they went about the business of recruiting the “right” kind of people or make themselves interesting to them, not to mention how they would filter out the “undesirables”.

First of all I had assumed that young people would be mostly sought after, and somehow felt that ‘white’ European types would make the majority of the visitors. I was right, although the closest to home destinations were keen to accept older applicants. France was present with a cluster of stands, three in total, as each region represents itself and most weren’t there at all. Rural locations do not mind settlers who can invest their capital in some old barn, maybe even a castle, in order to enjoy a slower pace of life and maybe a happy retirement in 10 years of so. While a nice enough man was churning out figures and facts about Limousin, bearing patiently with my accent – an absurd parody of the Italian – as I was putting up with his garlicky breath (amazing how life often adheres to commonplaces and stereotypes) we both reached high peaks of boredom stopping barely short of yawning. Auvergne did a much better job of it, a generally very convincing case but for the lack of a coastline – essential to us and hopelessly absent on the mountainous Massif Central -.

Many European countries are joined by one organization split in different desks. Is it me, or do Germans and Austrian representatives still have a vaguely guilty look about them? Their counter went largely ignored. The very exciting places: China and the far East, were not present but for Japan, in an ill conceived plan to attract business investors with a stand manned by a fairly unpleasant advisor at a venue designed to attract the ordinary public. The man looked down on us, figuratively of course, as I doggedly refused to be brushed away easily and kept hassling him with questions, as if I really had had a few millions too many. At last he had to give in – benefit of the doubt probably– and I could extort his business card for my fascinating collection of Eastern Stationery. The Romanian corner was empty, but for a large bottle of laughing gas used to inflate promotional balloons for Finland.

Much as the promotional material tends to look surprisingly like a holiday brochure, economic concerns are obviously on everybody’s mind. With a worldwide recession nobody is likely to get away unscathed simply by moving abroad, but there seems to be countries where labour, and maybe some specific qualifications, is in demand. As we were congenially chatted up by a representative of Nova Scotia – incidentally she came from Slovenia originally and had only lived in Canada 10 years – I decided to try my chances by stating my profession as commercial photographer. The commercial bit was meant to sweeten up the deal a little, as I have developed that sixth sense of knowing that creative professions are looked on suspiciously by just about everyone and not only while we are still young, by our prospective parents in law. Predictably I could instantly feel her gaze go cold and icy, a very convincing imitation of the yearly onset of the artic winter on her new home island, as she brutally fit me into the losing category of artists. One would think that there is no shortage of those, anywhere on the whole exhibition floor. But then, as Oscar Wilde had it, all art is utterly useless. Besides, anyone can take photographs.