Performing Democracy Input Paper | Kata Krasznahorkai 2nd Council of Europe Platform Exchange on Culture and Digitisation “Smart Creativity, Smart Democracy” 4-5 September 2015, Linz, Austria

The Reader to the Conference…

Performing Democracy

Input Paper | Kata Krasznahorkai

2nd Council of Europe Platform Exchange on Culture and Digitisation, “Smart Creativity, Smart Democracy”, 4-5 September 2015, Linz, Austria

Please note that this is a draft of the input paper and not a revised version.

The Montag Modus monthly performance series at the Collegium Hungaricum Berlin aims to adresses the topic of the „Berlin Dream”. What ideas, dreams and utopias are linked to Europe`s so called creative capital – a creativity which is both claimed by the cultural and the start up scene? We made an open call to ask performers how they would adress this issue in different aspects of performance art.

One of the most striking pieces was made by the Bulgarian artist Neno Belchev in May 2015 called „Immigration in a Box”. He managed to travel to Berlin from Varna with only 100 euros, and after arriving on a very difficult route he locked himself in a wooden box, and stayed there. The only sign of life was his breath, and a camera which showed him in the box. The audience couldn’ t believe he really was in there. On the box Belchev placed a sticker: „Handle with Care. Contains Immigrants.”

Neno Belchev: Immigrant. Handle with Care

For Belchev the only way he can keep contact to other cultural auteurs is via digital media. His presence is only secured with those communication tools. For the institution of the Collegium Hungaricum Berlin the Montag Modus program managed to gain new, young and a very dynamic and reflexive audience – and more than doubled its number of visitors only through social media.


So how is this program linked to the overall topic of the conference? The project began before the summer of the refugee-drama in Europe. However it addressed inner-European emigration of artists we have to think about it in a broader context:

Democracy is based on presence, the freedom of public and private spheres. It is based on participation and interaction. Culture is the basis of democracy but democracy is not the basis of culture. This fact clearly shows who needs whom more.

The link between human rights as the basis of democratic structures and smart creativity became all the more strikingly clear, when I was confronted over and over with the interviews of migrants who are desperately trying to escape places where neither democracy nor culture exists. They said, they come to Europe because here human rights are valid, and here is a place where solidarity should be the basis of our culture – just think about Kants Star-Sky above us and the moral law within.

The Hungarian organisation Migration Aid is a volunteer civil initiative to help refugees arriving to Hungary – they are at the core of what we can call performing democracy. Solidarity, effectiveness, sharing and participating are key features – all communicated and organized only via facebook. It is the most effective and only help asylum seekers get in Hungary nowadays. Many migrants stated that on their trip, the Migration Aid volunteers were the first persons who didn`t want money from them, kill them or get rid of them as soon as possible. On the other hand they stated Hungary was the worst station of their trip ever.

Beyond clothes and water the third most important thing you must have if you have lost everything is a smart phone. Not only for saving your life in thousands of cases but also because these are the last archives of lives that are left behind. And so the archives of cultural roots as well.

In the current situation we have to reflect on cultures immense relevance and link to human rights for European societies facing one of the biggest challenge since the end oft he Cold War.

Hereby the responsiblity of intellectuals is enormous. As Jaroslav Andel defined the role of art it connects ideas to feelings and emotions.

In the era of digitization communication is more and more based on presence and emotional attitudes by using communication apps stating that one is there. One is alive. But where are the intellectuals? Who hears their voice? The Internet of the Citizens desperately needs these voices, needs their presence! But the „instrumentalization of culture“ ( Andel) makes its intellectuals speechless.

The goal of the Council of Europe to recognise the new cultural and creative domains is crucial for the future of Europe. Art genres, which are explicitly based on presence, access, participation and direct interaction – like performance art – is one aspect of these cultural domains which has to be supported more intensely. It is an underprivilegd area of culture as the economical impacts are rather moderate but have an massive impact of key competences like sharing, interacting, participating and being emotionally involved in processes.

But it has to be clear, that without letting culture act beyond solely economic constraints will lead to the devastation of the whole European idea. And if this Idea is lost or misused as a fig-leaf for political agendas, Europe is not going to be able to face the migrants crisis in the future. Human rights cannot be thought of without the issue of culture and its communication.

The new citizens of Europe have witnessed that smart phones save their lives on their route to democratic ideals. But what are they going to experience once they arrived here?

One of the migrants with german Chancelor Merkel's photo on his neck walks out of Budapest, Hungary, 04 September 2015. Several thousand migrants left the Keleti station this afternoon heading for Germany on foot. Hundreds of migrants on 03 September rushed the platforms in Budapest after Hungarian police opened the city's Keleti station, which had been blocked to migrants since 01 September. Hungary's railway service said there were no trains headed to Western Europe for the time being. Thousands of refugees - many of whom have traveled from Africa and the Middle East in the hopes of reaching countries like Germany and Sweden - have been stranded at the station. EPA/ZSOLT SZIGETVARY HUNGARY OUT +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
One of the migrants with german Chancelor Merkel’s photo on his neck walks out of Budapest, Hungary, 04 September 2015. EPA/ZSOLT SZIGETVARY HUNGARY OUT +++(c) dpa – Bildfunk+++