Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Rammstein off to Belarus after all

Recent media reports indicate that the German band Rammstein will after all be allowed to appear in Belarus. The Belarussian Ambassador in Berlin has assured the band that the concert will go ahead on 7 March and has passed off the proclamations of the Public Morality Council as "private opinions".

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Belarus bans Rammstein

Belarus has banned the March concert of German rock band Rammstein. The band is currently on a sell-out European tour and was scheduled to play in Minsk on 7 March. The nation's Public Morality Council found, however, that the band promoted "homosexualism, masochism and other deviations, cruelty, violence and obscene language" (see here).

The band has never been afraid of controversy. Its songs often pick up on controversial current social themes and treats them with irony and satire. Rammstein's latest album - Liebe ist für Alle Da - includes a song about the Fritzl case, that of an incentuous father gained worldwide attention for imprisoning and raping his daughter who he kept locked up in the cellar of there home in Austria. But the band's sense of irony seems to have been lost on the moral watchdogs in Belarus.

In a delicious irony of its own, The Public Morality Council invokes Belarussian traditions of "anti-Nazism" to further justify its anti-libertarian position against the band and its music. Too bad that its language and thinking is so redolent of Fascism, but all the better for we connoisseurs of irony!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Let's start really communicating

The world today faces many challenges, just as every other generation before ours has. And one of the biggest challenges we face is how we talk and write about the challenges facing us. 

We are surrounded by communication. But the quality of the communication we practise today has sunk to such a low level that poor communication itself has become one of the biggest challenges we face. 

Our public discourse has become burdened with meaningless motherhood statements, hollow rhetoric and evasive generalisations. In our attempts to avoid accountability and responsibility we hide behind untestable platitudes and trendy jargon marinated in evasive drivle. This kind of communication has become so prevalent in the public sphere that we have created a parallel universe, happily divorced from life's harsh realities. 

These realities call for a radically different language. We need  clean, direct and honest language if we are going to have any hope of dealing with the very real challenges we face. Let's drop the double-speak. Let's find the courage to make genuine committments when we enter the public debate. The alternative is a trip to Hell in the proverbial hand basket of sickly platitudes and motherhood statements!    

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Politics and memory

The German city of Dresden suffered a series of the most destructive bombing raids of World War II between 13 and 15 February 1945. The exact number of casualties will never be known, but reliable estimates range between 25,000 and 35,000 people. Today the bombing of Dresden remains one of the most controversial operations of the allied air forces in World War II.

Sixty-five years later commemoration of Dresden's suffering has become a political hot potato. A 2006 two-part TV mini-series titled Dresden The Inferno helped raise German awareness of the city's fate, even though the film was burdened with a fictional and highly unlikely love story between a British pilot and a German nurse. The commemoration of the dead from Dresden began in the first years after World War II and was politically charged from the beginning. When Germany was divided in 1949 the city found itself in communist East Germany and Dresden became a symbol of American capitalist imperialism. In 1950 signs with slogans such as "We Hate the American Warmongers Who Murdered Dresden".

Today the controversy remains and this weekend's commemoration looked like it would be overshadowed by extreme-right political groups who were keen to push a neo-Nazi agenda and portray the bombing as an attempt to destroy German culture. Last week a German court overruled the City of Dresden's ban on a march by extreme-right groups to commemorate the attacks. Police warned of violence as the Mayor of the city called for a human chain around the city to stop the rally. Eventually the rally was called off and the day passed without any major incidents.

Dresden remains symbolic for the political charge contained in many historical events from different parts of the world. The way we remember, commemorate and interpret the past remains one of the most important elements of our present and future.

Image: Wanderer above the Mists , Caspar David Friedrich (1818) Kunsthalle, Hamburg

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Peymann and Richard

Claus Peymann is one of Germany's greatest theatre directors. These days he is the Director of the Berliner Ensemble, a small company with its own house in the former eastern half of the German capital. From the late 1980s through to 2000 he was Director of the Burgtheater in Vienna, one of the most important and prestigious stages in the German-speaking world.

Peymann is widely regarded as a member of a dying breed of theatre director. In a theatre landscape increasingly populated by bland managerial types in directorial roles he is not afraid to be political, provocative and controversial.

Now in his early seventies, Peymann's most recent production - Shakespeare's Richard II - shows what a master he has become. This version of an older production opened at the Burgtheater on 9 January. It is a reworking and partial recasting of a production from the year 2000.

It is hard to imagine better theatre. This is gripping, exhilerating and enthralling drama. Michael Maartens in the title role was able to captivate his audience like a king speaking to his loyal subjects. He held the packed theatre in thrall. The rest of the star-studded cast was also of a consistently high standard.

But, of course, the evening really belonged to Peymann, the grand signeur. The piece is not overtly provocative for a modern audience and Peymann has eschewed superficial point scoring or cheap shots at contemporary politics. Instead, the production is tightly directed with a lean but not minimalist stage design. The text is allowed to speak for itself. Richard II is one of Peymann's favourite Shakspeares and the production does not get in the way of the play's clear and elemental drama.

Richard II is not a fashionable play. It is hard-core political theatre and an ideal vehicle for a director of Peymann's caliber. The only thing left to wish for is more directors of Klaus Peymann' ilk and fewer bland managers at our theatre companies.