Felix Stalder on Fri, 11 Feb 2000 19:36:52 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> turning Austria inside out

>Elfriede Jelinek has declared a ban over her plays being performed in
>Austria, Valie Export has rejected the Kokoschka-Prize, Robert Fleck
>cancelled his future commitments in Austria etc. etc. There is a good deal
>of symbolic power in these gestures, and we understand the motivation.
>However, we think there are options beyond a deadlock choice between
>self-fullfilling exilation and opportunism.

I agree, cultural boycotts tend to backfire badly.

In 1990 and 1991, there was something called "Kulturboykott" (cultural
boycott) in Switzerland which reminds me of the current calls for a
cultural boycott of Austria.

A decade ago, the situation was the following. A massive scandal erupted
when a parliamentary commission uncovered that the Swiss "political
police"  had kept files on up to 900.000 people (in a country of six
million) who were considered politically unreliable in case of a
confrontation with the communist countries. Started in the context of the
cold war, these files were kept up-to-date (more or less) until the day
they were uncovered.  These files were used for all kinds of "security
checks" in civilian context.

The height of this scandal coincided with the preparations of national
festivities around the somewhat mythological 700 birthday of Switzerland
(1291-1991). Many artists felt that they would not lend their talents
participating in any events related to these festivities given how this
state had treated them (almost all artists were deemed suspicious and
spied on, as the files revealed more and more). 

They called for, and successfully staged, an almost complete boycott of
the cultural production relating to national celebrations. At first, the
situation was a bit eerie, since a number of already announced projects
had to be canceled. However, the overall outcome of the Kulturboykott was
very negative. 

The stage was left almost completely to the right-wingers and nationalists
who soon began to say: We can do it without those artists, and indeed,
they could it.  Artists lost a considerable part of the (limited)
influence they had by abandoning the only weapon they had: their voice. 

If there is anything to be learned from this experience then that cultural
boycotts only play in the hands of the enemies of culture. They want to
make critical culture disappear, and they are more than happy if the
artists do it for them. 

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