A Short History of Unnoticed Notifications
Gathered around the storyboard of a comic book describing an Eastern European art worker, an uncanny, quirky cast of characters find themselves in a heated political debate. Revealing layer upon layer of unanswered questions, forgotten convictions, eternal doubts, ethical inconsistencies and abandoned dreams, Milikić depicts a world in which art workers navigate between cynicism and ideals. With strength, conviction and lots of humour, he advocates for keeping one’s course in the murky waters of compromise and concessions.
This is a part of notes taken during the meeting with a draughtsman. Instructions are given for a comic book intended to explain the ‘ups and downs’ of the independent cultural scene in an unidentified transitional (Eastern European) country in the last few decades. However, the meeting turned into a symptomatic political debate.
Now we see him waking up at the sound of an alarm… As he dresses, he is thinking: ‘What a terribly nice bad dream…’ While having breakfast he is mumbling phrases from the dream: ‘YOUUUU that did this… yoouuuu that are doing that…’
Draughtsman: That cannot be, you are just making this up.
Storyteller: Yes I do, but this is a comic book, fantasy is allowed. I cannot present everything, just the essence, even if it was never articulated in that way.
In the evening…
Draughtsman: Let me ask you something. Shouldn’t it be authoritarian mind? What is a totalitarian mind anyway?
Diary: I don’t think, I just register thoughts.
Draughtsman: I ask because serious studies have confirmed that the so-called authoritarian personality is predominantly formed through the subordination and submission of individuals to the authorities in production relations and processes…
Dreamer: Anyway, NO!! That’s just lies, I would never write something like this!!!
Diary: Maybe you only thought of it. I could also be a diary of your thoughts.
Dreamer: I never thought about something like that.
Diary: Maybe you just dreamed about something like that?
Dreamer: No, you are manipulating!
Diary: But isn’t this your handwriting?
Dreamer: It is, but now you can produce it artificially.
Diary: You mean Artificial Intelligence?
Diary: But the definition of AI is that it could be called AI only if it thinks like a human.
Dreamer: Ok, let me put it this way: I only thought that a socialist economy didn’t work because communists made people lazy.
Diary: Here, take a look. You wrote that you believed that socialist governments were resisting rational planning and inevitable reforms…
Dreamer: Yes, but…
Diary: … but, here are other perspectives, like the one by Agnes, which explains how and why the regimes in Eastern Europe were trying to save their economies and especially social policies. Or a lecture by Gaspar Miklos Tamás who is giving an overview of causes and consequences of the transitional disaster in Hungary that brought ‘populists’ to power.
Draughtsman: Look at those faces in the audience. They’d probably like to call him names, to label him as a ‘totalitarian mind’ but they can’t because he is such a famous dissident and today he is a stark criticiser and opponent of Orban.
Diary: One more remark: Now you complain so much about right-wing ‘populism’ but you still ignored warnings from the late nineties, in short, if democracy cannot provide for social integration and recognition/affirmation, the result will be a right-wing ‘populism’.
(Dreamer wakes up and now speaks from the tables looking at the readers)
‘Maybe I contributed…’
(Maybe here the image of an old-fashioned table scale)
‘But not deliberately…’
(He is taking weights to and from the pans)
‘Anyway, the interpellation is a much more complex process, culture is not enough.’ (Now we see that there are inscriptions ‘good’, ‘bad’ on the weights.)
Storyteller: Yes! But that complexity is somewhat under your control! Let me ask you, in the EP resolutions against twin totalitarianisms, why there is no mentioning of the European colonialism? Maybe because it is still profitable for EU MPs?
Awakened dreamer: But why are you at war with me? What did I do to you?
Draughtsman: No to war between people, no to peace between classes, let’s check the conditions of peace here.
Awakened dreamer: But we are in the same class!
Draughtsman: See it as a middle-class civil war, or as interclass war for the hegemony in class consciousness…. and sub consciousness as well.
Awaken dreamer: But this is not fair; in fact not normal, you are draughtsman, not a political commentator.
Draughtsman: Yes, but I refuse to become alienated from my work.
Now, draw a famous independent theatre director from Hungary, active since the mid-eighties. He is giving a speech at the opening of the IETM+TEH conference in Budapest, some time after 2010-2011. You’ll need three frames for him.
Draughtsman: And what is TEH?
Storyteller: Well, it is a network of independent cultural centres in Europe that depend on tail-wagging to any stupidity of European cultural autocracies. I don’t say to draw a doggy, maybe a very decent man with a dog’s tail? Or to put it less malicious: the association of cultural organisations that work in abandoned industrial venues, sugar-coating issues such as the social price of neoliberal deindustrialisation and deregulation.
Diary: They also have an active political agenda. For example, they righteously protested against the high-jacking of computers of the member organisation in the Ukrainian city of Donneck by pro-Russian rebels. At the same time, they elegantly stayed deaf and mute when it was about the state-sponsored devastation of socialist cultural heritage in Ukraine.
Storyteller: Maybe you can draw sort of a graveyard of destroyed socialist monuments that pile up to form a pedestal with a high-jacked computer on it?
Draughtsman: But who are the people who travel and attend these nice conferences?
Storyteller: These are cultural managers, artists, art entrepreneurs from all over Europe. Just draw a bunch of charming hipsters and several less charming, advanced hipsters. It is a bit of stereotyping and mocking but I bet that everybody will recognise who they are.
Diary: Of special interest are representatives of independent cultural centres from Eastern Europe. The word is that many of them are just faking independence and subversion while being very well connected with local political and economic elites (if they are not their friends and relatives, then protégées of various types).
Draughtsman: Yes. How come? It seems that you know each other quite well?
Storyteller: Not an easy question. Let me say something in favour of our character: ‘Definitely there are sincere activists and good artists and organisers, whose main fault is that they reproduce the donators’ fantasies related to the ‘culturalisation’ of Eastern Europe. I am just a writer, an observer of that process. With my work I try to talk them into being confronted instead of becoming integrated into such fantasies. It is something like, how to say… like turning windmills into dragons, for example. Rings a bell?
Draughtsman: Yup, rings a bell of you trying to change the topic.
Awaken dreamer: To cut a long story short: I believed that working in culture was a way out of social problems—many social problems; too many in fact. Besides, working in culture is always somehow prestigious, fulfilling, challenging, and promising in terms of self-promotion and self-realisation. We are humans. Humans of late capitalism, it is not an easy thing for us to find opportunity for self-recognition. Check once again Wilhelm’s speech at the conference in Fridericianum, linked above. On the other hand, in this job you often dare to tackle and/or do things that no one else could or would. You also discover that these are exhausting and demanding jobs, sometimes at the very brink of existence. Contrary to the widespread impression that the NGO sector is rolling in money, I can openly say that I am broke most of the time. :-)
Awakened dreamer: Really? But it’s all okay then, how stupid I was to be offended (now with an even more wicked smile, with even longer canines).
Draughtsman: Let me share something with you: I would draw a typical Eastern European cultural entrepreneur as a Cinderella. Really working hard under pressure, picking up hardest jobs dictated to you by the vicious phantasy of the donors. You do work hard so you righteously earn all the sympathy and compassion. The only problem is that you equally as Cinderella wait for a sort of a beautiful prince to save you from your misfortune. In fact the main horizon of expectation is a personal social climbing in an utterly unjust society. Or I am getting something wrong?
Awakened dreamer: You are ironising and bashing, playing good and bad cop. Sorry, but I did many useful projects. Educative, inspiring, emancipating…
Storyteller: Sorry, but who is being addressed with all these projects? When you see how eagerly people fall prey to the propaganda tricks of merchants, politicians, and demagogues; when you are appalled by their bad taste and wrong choices; do you not think that the education system is calibrated to reproduce class relations conducive to the dictatorship of capital and its massive need for unskilled labour, for reserve army of labour in fact? And, frankly speaking, it is only educated people that you address in your project ideas.
Storyteller: But it didn’t work, ‘you were all deceeeeiived’ as they explained it in Lord of the Rings. Or rather, self-hypnotised. Do you dare to read the reports of your projects from 1997, 2001, 2005 etc. until 2008, when you started to change your tune? I ask why that is.
Awakened and outraged dreamer: Bullshit! You in fact want to say that we deliberately faked social and cultural activism in order to promote our class interest??
Diary: Wow, even I couldn’t sum it up better than that!
Storyteller: In fact, the vaguely articulated interest of the (culturally superior) middle class was presented as the public interest, interest of the whole society.
Outraged and already a bit broken dreamer: Your negativity kills, that is what it is best at.
Draughtsman: Okay, it is a bit provoking… a bit… You do think that you are better than ‘them’, more diligent, more beautiful. And you also tend to show that clearly, for example with your dress and behaviour. The first feature of petty-bourgeois individuals: think of themselves as being better than the others.
Broken dreamer: Yes, let us all wear the same clothes. Mao’s uniform would be the best.
Draughtsman: But you are also in uniform. Dress code is almost more telling of a person than their accent. I can tell a cultural manager from a mass of middle-class people coming out of the busiest metro station.
Unbroken dreamer: No, wait a moment. If I do dress like a hipster this is mostly to mock the dress code of the elite, so do not mispresent and manipulate with my life style. It is so easy to mock hipsters, they are also a sort of social outcasts, frequently very intelligent, sophisticated, educated but unemployed, not just a bunch of lazy bags.
Draughtsman: Hey, I am a visual artist, I know. Maybe you have a point in some odd reasoning but from my point of view, when you sport stylish second-hand suits, when you arrange your cafes and bookstores to:
Storyteller: One that ignores that precondition frequently ends up a cultural racist.
Unbroken and up-risen dreamer: But this is a show trial… pure Stalinism!
It is the year 2012. Many fractions of the middle class are endangered and hopelessly redirected to precarious, unwanted jobs. The cultural sphere is now reflecting on this, even starts to question the capitalist system. Critique and alternatives do appear but there is no ambitious work, not even in arts and culture, on producing a substantially different world view that would focus the critique and make alternatives look realistic. The superficial idealisations of the West, of Europe, of bourgeois freedoms and ‘opportunities’ in capitalist society are fading. The policies of cultural foundations, with their contests and guidelines are barely scratching the surface of the problems, not daring to support digging up their roots and exploring their cores.
Storyteller: I especially liked this one: ‘Programmes of consciousness’. We wanted to question the concepts of remembrance and memorialisation of massive war crimes. But it appears that the foundation that was established to improve such concepts and related public knowledge is not interested in questioning its own concepts.
Unbroken dreamer: A typical complaint of a failed project writer. Everybody is against, him, his/her genius is unrecognised. which will bring the world to the end; a conspiracy against such a talent!
Diary: I can see you are back to your pre-2008 shape! But even then, an older friend, a former dedicated protester and dissident in socialism, timely advised you: ‘Let me tell you, these project applications work in the same way as censorship, only then you had the means to at least do something, so you might had been banned, while now you don’t even have the means to try.’
Unbroken dreamer: We only wanted to be young, beautiful, and free!! What’s so wrong with a bit of a middle-class optimism??
Draughtsman: What is wrong is class society itself!
Unbroken dreamer: What if we really saved our nation from communism?! Or at least we believed so? We can freely say that we enriched the failed deteriorated factory venues and boring socialist houses of culture with new concept and content. We introduced new media tools, networking, new fashion styles and so much innovation on so many levels, including the ones of artistic expression.
Storyteller: Ok, I don’t say that you didn’t work hard and produced a number shows, performances, exhibitions. But for whom? Or, rather, for which sections of middle classes? In fact, that is totally legitimate.
Draughtsman: But what about working class in our country and internationally? What about workers being forced to go abroad, leaving their families to scratch for living? Confronting prejudice, contempt and discrimination for being too competitive in the labour market? What about girls being sold to macros and pornographers as sex workers and sex slaves? What about disaster in distant provinces, deprived of all infrastructure and resources that you are seemingly providing now with ‘better cultural policy’ projects?
Party official: Let me ask you something. Is the support that you receive through European funds an adequate compensation for the extraction of resources and profits from the periphery? Did you know that the budgets for the development of undeveloped countries are thousands of miles (and billions of euros) away from EC abstract programmes and deceiving rhetoric?
Unbroken but again a little bit broken dreamer: Yes, yes, yes… I am guilty of everything.
Party official: And just to add, we did all that without relying on colonial plunder and crime.
Storyteller (ironically): Enough with communist propaganda, no matter how truthful it is. The thing is, we were happy with the rituals of imitation of the middle-class culture of the West, to have similar cafés, to listen to the same music, and to dress alike. Don’t get me wrong, I am ironising but I was also happy to do so. But try to understand this as if each of our bookstores-cafes was one village library less, each festival project was one cinema less in the suburbs, which in the end meant less and less people interested in your production.
Unbroken dreamer: What a constructing… like, the world would be saved, culture would flourish, workers would be kings, only if we didn’t commit all these crimes.
Storyteller: Ok, sorry for the pressure. Nothing is that simple, but this is the focus now. Please let me remind you how disappointed and offended you are by the low culture of suburbs and provinces, worried and often desperate because of the cultural level of the population and especially because of their political role models. But do you ever wonder why in the most developed economies in the richest societies of the world such a huge percentage of the population is prone to vulgare entertainment, kitsch, political demagoguery, even conspiracy theories?
Unbroken dreamer: What can I do? It is not my fault that there are millions of simpletons and there will always be a populist to mobilise and manipulate them.
Superego: And I was stupid to believe that all intelligences are equal, as Jacques Rancière explained in one small book that I read with you. Common, do you know what class struggle is? Do you participate in class struggle? Let’s face your .
Storyteller: You complain that there is no interest, that there is no audience for your work, and that there is no ‘middle class’. Well, but you keep saying that the communists destroyed the middle class and that it will re-emerge due to capitalist freedom of speech and entrepreneurship. And now what? Why do the average petty bourgeois suffer so much in these hard times? Is it maybe because they are not even needed in peripheral capitalist economies?
Draughtsman: Sorry, please do not move. I like your enlightened face, I want to draw you, as you fantasise, spurred on by expert advice on an idyllic private-public partnership that never comes.
Unbroken dreamer: But wait a minute! Was it not socialist economists, politicians, artists who promoted and supported ‘The Wind of Change’? Even party rulers insisted on opening up the economy, encouraging private initiative, partaking in international division of labour as they defined it. Now it is my turn to ask if you have read Agnes’ analyses!
Superego: I am becoming confused now…
Party official: ‘I am the officer who interrogated the theatre director from Hungary, mentioned above’
Unbroken dreamer: But… didn’t you disappear once and forever? Aren’t you an extinct species?
Storyteller: They are but they still appear in bad dreams…
(Here we need some good illustration related to the mentioned ‘eyes wide closed’ metaphor)
Super ego: Here, I can accuse him here for corrupting the public by the fight against corruption!
More and more broken unbroken dreamer: Right… so, it was only me that was mindlessly pushing for joining the EU and the developed world?
Storyteller (ironically): But, in some way you have developed things for yourself and some of your classmates. Check out this scheme, which side are you on? Or, which level are you on, if it is easier for you? That is Kamendin, a suburb in Belgrade, one of the recent social housing projects that is slowly turning to a ghetto as will probably be the case with all social housing projects after the end of the socialist housing project. It was partly built with the help of EU, probably as a pull factor for asylum seekers.
Broken unbroken dreamer: Okay, I didn’t fight for the poor, the minorities, for the excluded, for the invisible. Or, rather, I did it for my own class prestige. Are you happy now? What else am I guilty of? Let me confess everything, or, even better: you confess it for me, it is more practical.
Draughtsman: When they say a thousand times that you lived in a totalitarian system, and you are not quite sure of it, did you take to reading something about it? What it is, is that it’s a scientifically quite problematic term coined in fact to disqualify all the achievements of socialism and equate communism with fascism, which is a true alchemic if not exorcist thought experiment. Have you ever tried to explain to yourself and not to others that kind of ‘misunderstanding‘?
Diary: And why do you think you haven’t read it, even though it’s a quite known topic and a quite known fact? How many times did you write in the application that your work is conceived as a confrontation/remedy/protest against the heritage of totalitarianism? Look, here, here… and here.
Storyteller: Have you heard that in most socialist societies people have been depoliticised en masse…? What does it mean to be depoliticised? Are you and how are you politicised?
Broken again dreamer: You are all crazy… All that actions, demonstrations, petitions, and protests that I initiated or took part in… No, you are really idiots.
Draughtsman: Okay, okay, actions, protests, claims you took part in, they were all mostly welcomed, but hey, this was not politics, that was strictly policy levels. You do not question the system, you just want to improve it somehow… magically…
Broken unbroken: Enough of this game, let me know the verdict so that I can report you to the police.
DREAM of broken unbroken dreamer
(maybe some technical image of a hand cut by a peeling knife)
Storyteller: Unfortunately, this is not your dream, it is an introduction to one of Boris’ texts, which ‘reveals’ the belittling forms and formats of transitional philosophy: ‘The Cradle of Freedom’, the ‘First Steps of Democracy’, ‘School of Human Rights’.
Broken dreamer: I am broken. I promise that I’ll become something or somebody else…
Storyteller: Just a moment, finally, a question of today: Who is migrating/travelling through your country now? Weren’t these same people coming here to study just a few decades ago? What do your travels, your mobility grants, and open grants have to do with immobility, that is, roadblocks and the incarcerated lives of these people?
Diary: How about a glimpse to good old times of international friendship and brotherhood? How about summing up a transitional experience? Checking someone else’s diary…
Broken dreamer: I am not reading other people’s diaries like you do.
Diary: That’s okay but how about reading your own?
— End of notes —
First time published on RESHAPE website.
This text is licensed under the Creative Commons license Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International.