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The swastika in the heart of Europe?

(B2) It is an artistic work, supposed to represent the stereotypes of each European country and created by a Czech artist.

It was installed in the reception patio of the Council of the European Union. As tradition dictates, it welcomes artistic works from the country which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

Commendable initiative, on an artistic level. intended to provoke and make people think. More delicate when it is hoisted on the pediment of a European building, is intended to remain there for six months and symbolizes a European presidency. Especially when countries are treated very differently. If football for Italy is quite light, the word “strike” which crosses the map of France is a little less so. But it's all a question of point of view. On the other hand, the design of German highways, in the shape of a swastika, (no need to play with words) is much less so.

Only this country sees its tragic history recalled (1). We do not mention the Italian or Spanish fascist state, the French or… Czech collaborationist state. This leaves a bitter impression that the artist, as well as the presidency which commissioned this work, received it and hoisted it (it cannot deny not being aware of it, therefore) do not deny... Here we find a unpleasant impression left by several Czech initiatives that there is the need to assert oneself at all costs, to the defiance of others, at the risk of shocking or even dividing. Clearly, that’s not the role.
of a European presidency.

We cannot reduce Nazi barbarism, and what followed (war, holocaust, etc.) to the level of the box of dark chocolate (Belgian), the mountains (Latvian) or football (Italian). It's insulting to history, to the victims. Nazism is not a stereotype or a prejudice. This has been a reality, a reality shared by a number of European countries, moreover, to varying degrees.

Nb: the Czech Minister of European Affairs, Alexander Vondra, promises a press conference on the 15th toexplain, with a preposterous explanation (he didn't know about it). Do we believe it?…

(updated January 13, 0 a.m.) In terms of artist, in fact, there is only one, David Cerny, who admitted to having mystified… especially the Czech officials inventing the CVs of the 26 other artists who collaborated on the work. He explains : “Grotesque exaggeration and mystification are one of the characteristics of Czech culture, and creating a false identity is one of the strategies of contemporary art”. In short, Cerny is a born provocateur. At the school of several other artists in Eastern European countries who have always known how to play with words, and have a sense of provocation, he succeeded in his bet – to make people talk about him, make people think is not easy ... This does not take away anything from my remarks. This type of clash has nothing to do with official symbolism. Bulgaria, also affected (Turkish WC which is a furious reminder of the Turkish occupation) has also summoned the Czech ambassador to Sofia.

The pink tank

In April 1991, Cerny painted a Soviet T23 tank pink symbolizing the liberation of Prague by the Red Army. USSR protest. The artist is sent to a prison for a few days to meditate. And the government quickly painted it green (for May 1st). But members of the Federal Parliament took up the cause of... pink and, taking advantage of their parliamentary immunity, repainted the object in the artist's color. The tank is now on display at target=”_blank”>museum… of military history in Lesany.

Personally, even if it means provoking, what I prefer about this artist is the do it yourself, lighter, more fun, hung for a moment in front of the National Theater in Prague. As a frontispiece to the Council, as a replica of Manneken pis, it would have been excellent! And there were a lot of puns to be made about the enclosure he was in.

When an alternative culture becomes official, it dies...

(1) With Portugal – and three pieces of meat reminiscent of its colonies –; Bulgaria – and its Turkish toilets; Estonia and the sickle and hammer, which I saw on the second pass. My attention having been focused more on Germany. Memories of Franco-German friendship no doubt…

(updated January 15) Minister Vondra has indeed explained himself. But very quickly. Without really convincing. Spending his time apologizing and hiding behind the freedom of art. Barely answering three questions from journalists, before giving way to the artist. He was obviously not as good-natured as his work proclaims. When I met him, a few minutes later, alone, I asked him: you have still done things better than that, right? He replied “it was a job”…

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

(Photo: (top) © Thierry Monasse – (bottom) David Cerny)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).