Issue 2/2001 - Du bist die Welt

Europe's Dream

A documentary film project

Hito Steyerl

Europe dreams: Two continents in the shape of women - Asia and the one opposite it - are standing in their room fighting about their possessions. One of the women has the appearance of a stranger, the other - and that is Asia - looks like her. She defends her daughter. But the strange woman snatches her as if she were loot and drags her away.

Behind all images of Europe is the legend of a woman from Asia Minor. She is abducted, raped, and abandoned. This continent is named after her. Even today, there are many women living in Europe who have much in common with Europa. They come from all over. Wherever they live, they are part of a minority group. They are here because they thought western Europe was rich, secure and peaceful, while it creates war, poverty, and destabilization all over the world. Many of them followed the dream Europe dreamed about itself: the dream of enlightenment, democracy, and equality.

»Europe's dream« remains important in two senses: on the one hand as a democratic, unversalistic utopia, on the other as a Eurocentric nightmare of imperial demands with a long tradition of colonialism and racism. The antinomies of the European idea continue: oppression and liberation, nationalism and cosmopolitanism, enlightenment and regression, universal demands and specific reality go on coexisting. This indissoluble connection between the European ideal of equality and the simultaneous reality of unequality is the dream Europe dreams about itself, and one that can turn into a nightmare at any time.

The film »Europe's Dream« takes stories from many protagonists and puts them together to form a contemporary picture of a divided and segregated Europe - from the point of view of many different Europes.


This is the third city
I have come to this year
with my body skin teeth nails
my black suitcase
a homeland in pieces.
Along an unfamiliar pavement
I hurry to the underground.
And then -
the tide of the escalator
takes over my body and
through the dazzling clouds of neon
I descend
light and transparent
into the underworld.
My golden bough
a crumpled morning paper
smells of lead.

Aleksandra Djajic Horvath

The fundamental principles of Europe's political theory were created on the run. Many major works of political philosophy and large parts of the European idea were thought up by refugees. Ovid, for instance, who wrote the legend of Europa: he was exiled to Dacia, the furthest corner of the empire, for political reasons. Marsilius of Padua, a proponent of popular rule, found asylum in Bavaria. Thomas Hobbes: he wrote his famous »Leviathan« while a refugee from the civil war, a book that was a conceptual basis for the civil nation-state. Karl Marx: Paris, Brussels, London. While Rosa Luxembourg, born in Poland, was criticizing the vicious imperialsm of European nation-states, Hannah Arendt, having fled from Nazi Germany, described the way colonial and imperialistic race ideology had turned into fascist terror.

[b]A carpet of voices[/b]

In the greenhouse in Leiden, the Netherlands, Itandehui Jansen is standing near a splashing fountain amid flowers, palms, and butterflies. Leiden University is not only one of the places where European Humanism was born and the concept of enlightenment and education was developed. It was also the place where Dutch colonial officials received their training before they swarmed out to rule the world. The thousands of flowers and plants that are arranged here in elaborate and lifeless scenes come from all over the world, particularly from former colonies. The historical background to these blooming arrangements is one of plunder, slavery, and bloody rule by force.

Jansen says:

[i] »After Theseus had raped Philomena, he cut out her tongue. This made it impossible for her to accuse him of the crime committed against her. But Philomena found a way to express her pain and the injustice. She learnt to weave a tapestry in which she not only told of everything that had happened to her, but also illustrated the story of her sisters.[/i]

[i]Columbus and his men thought they had reached India. Since then, there have been many illusions about the 'new found land.' One of the first of these was that it was a 'New World.' It may have been new for the Europeans, but the continent had always been there. It is not the case, as paternalistic anthropologists assume, that Native Americans never had a voice, let alone that they were a people without history. For, even in cases where their tongues were 'cut out' by assimilation policies, they managed to express themselves.«[/i]

Jansen's mother, Aurora Perez, is an active member of indigenous human rights movements. She is a Mixtec. She financed her studies by working as a maid in Mexico City. Now, she fights for the rights of America's native peoples at an international level. She teaches her mother tongue at Leiden University, an indigenous language that is as good as banned in Mexico. There are Mixtecs who come from Mexico to Leiden to learn this language, which multiple colonialisms and assimilation policies prevented from spreading by force.

[b]Can the subaltern speak?[/b]

The Native American voice is there crying out injustice, pain and grief but also hope. The Native American voice has always been there, though nobody ever bothered to listen. Arachne, too, wove stories of rapes, the story of subjugation and oppression into her tapestries. Including the story of Europa.

In the rooms of the »Maiz« group in Linz, a huge, blood-red heart hangs resplendent on the wall. It has been torn into two parts that just suggest the outlines of Europe and Latin America. »Europe has eaten us,« says Rubia Salgado. »But now we're eating Europe. We have come to finally eat it all up.« Luzenir Caixeta and Salgado write:

[i]»We've been eating you for a very long time already. Now it's your turn. My Indian ancestors already ate you, not many of you, but some: those of you who were brave, good at fighting, admirable. Anthropophagy. Yes, eating people. Because of their admirable qualities. To acquire these oneself. Now the legs are missing, but first swallow the sun in my vagina, it's burning. Swallow the sperm of those like you. The pain, the rapes, the pretended orgasms, the scars. And then my indefatigable legs, my feet, the feet of my people, dirty, torn, hard. And the ground under my feet, all the ground my feet have already touched, all the paths and falls, bends and mountains. Come, drink from the rivers that they have already crossed, and of the salty water that burns and cures. And stand up. I have already finished. You ask what you should do? Take what you want, like, need, admire. Or call the aliens branch.«[/i]

[b]The labour of love[/b]

Women migrants, sex workers, black women, cleaning ladies, babysitters, wives, women asylum seekers, mothers, female academics, daughters. »It is the women migrants who do the labour of love,« Maiz say. »They look after the old people and the children. They offer sex. They do the work that no other women want to do. The labour of love is badly paid.«

This is not the case in Austria alone. However, the policies of the new right-wing government have again reinforced this consequence of the international division of labour. Grace Marta Latigo has this to say about the mutual dependence of neoliberal inclusion, and racist, sexist exclusion:

[i]»Racism is not the main problem at present; neoliberalisation, cuts in social services, and 'a-woman's-place-is-in-the home' policies are. We now also have a problem with violence. Once we used to be exposed more to verbal racism. Now, there's a form of radical, brutal racism - we're already being hunted. One very big problem is also institutional racism.«[/i]

In 2000, three »wise men« visited Austria. The country was being internationally shunned for having chosen a government other countries felt was unbearable. A female worker from Maiz was there when these EU envoys asked local NGOs about the situation. She says the gentlemen were polite, obliging, and interested. The fact that the European Union also implements massive measures to shut out and exlude migrants, that it itself causes people to flee and migrate through its neocolonial exploitation, was not discussed.

A demonstration in Linz: the Maiz Samba School marches against the Austrian government, drumming and dancing. The women are wearing grotesque pink hearts on their chests. On these is written:

[i]Austria, we love you! And on the back: And we will never leave you![/i]

[b]3 October 2000[/b]

Joy, you divine and lovely spark,
Daughter of Elysium,
In fervent rapture we enter,
O heavenly one, your shrine.
Your enchantment joins
what strict custom has divided.
All people become brothers
Where your gentle wings rest.

Beethoven, op. 125/4

Ten years of German unity, ten years since the Wall came down. People are singing - Beethoven's Ninth, a piece that is not only the official European anthem, but also became the inofficial anthem for the radical changes taking place in eastern Europe. While 500,000 German Berliners streamed across the newly opened borders between the East and the West, Leonard Bernstein replaced the word »joy« with »freedom« in a New Year's concert broadcast all over the world. Bernstein put together an international orchestra to proclaim the new era via satellite transmission in East and West Berlin - with the Ninth Symphony. While the Germans busily cross borders, migrants are excluded from this freedom to travel. The tenth anniversary of German reunification was celebrated by German Chancellor Schroeder in Hanover - at the Expo 2000, that monumental exhibition in the service of technology, nation and capital, which took place at the same time as the worst racist and anti-Semitic excesses in years.

Christopher Nsoh, from the asylum seeker's initiative in Branbdenburg, says:

[i]»We see our situation as a sort of apartheid. A form of absolutely legal racism has made us second-class citizens who are constantly in danger of being attacked on the street. But we should like to emphasize that there is also institutional racism - within law and within authorities.«[/i]

The Expo had been postponed for two years so that it could be transformed into a gigantic spectacle celebrating the arrival of a supposedly post-ideological and post-political era. Meanwhile, refugee organisations demonstrated in front of the gates against the racist violence that has become normal over the past ten years.

Agnes Khoo:

[i] »Although Germany presents itself as a liberal-minded country, it is clear that foreigners are excluded. Europe is building a fortress around itself. Europe defines itself as white Europe. There is no room for colored or black people. We organised this demonstration to show our dissatisfaction with racist acts of violence all over Europe and especially in Germany.[/i]

[i]European capital moves over the entire world, it is invested in extremely damaging industries and technologies that uproot people of colour all over the world, drive them out of their countries and force them to flee.«[/i]

[b]Expo 2000[/b]

The Bosnian pavilion at the Expo displays wall-to-wall photos of the Jajce waterfalls, where Yugoslavia was once founded. This arrangement shows no traces at all of recent history; it even seems like a demonstration of pure amnesia. I ask Aleksandra Djajic about the European reaction to the war. She in her turn asks: What reaction?

The Expo is a conglomerate of nationalism and technology euphoria. What is shown here is the New World Order en miniature. Corporations are just as important as nations, confederations, or large NGOs. Political expression is strongly restricted. We were thrown out of »Bosnia and Hercegovina« while filming. In front of Shanghai's skyline, Aleksandra talks about the next stage of her flight from the war in Sarajevo to Novi Sad.

Why in Shanghai? Yugoslavia is not represented at the Expo. In Novi Sad, however, there was a district called Shanghai. There were mostly Romany living there. It lies right between the refinery and the thermal power station. The refinery was bombed every night during the Nato air raids in 1999. Now Shanghai is damaged and totally contaminated. The residents were to have been evacuated months ago, but nothing happens. There is plastic in the window frames of some houses even a year after the air raids. The new way of fighting wars has chemical, economic and psychological effects. It undermines people, year upon year.

Children from Shanghai report:

[i]»This settlement was founded by a Chinese man who came here and opened up the 'Buffet Shanghai.' But he left long ago. During the war, we spent every night in the woods. We were terribly frightened. They kept missing. They bombed the blackberries next to the refinery. Several bombs landed on Shanghai as well. One man died, and a boy was badly injured. The sky was black, and at night the fires burnt as bright as day.« [/i]

[b]Europe's post-war order[/b]

Joyously, as his suns fly
Through Heaven's glorious demesne,
Hasten, Brothers, on your way,
Jubilant like a warrior going to victory.

Beethoven op. 125/4

The third part of Beethoven's setting of the »Ode to Joy« has the marking »alla turca.« This part of the piece imitates a Turkish military march. In Beethoven's day, Turks were in. The text reminds one of the description of an air raid.

Ludwig van Beethoven conceived the idea of setting Schiller's ode at the age of nineteen, as an enthousiastic supporter of the democratic ideals of the French Revolution. The direct influence of politics and war on his works began when he moved to the imperial city of Vienna. His work »Fidelio« entertained the tens of thousands of aristocrats, diplomats, generals, bankers, translators, and the rest of the royal household, who all flocked together at the Congress of Vienna to shape the new order in Europe.

But Europe's post-war order turned out to be extremely reactionary. Vienna was full of secret police, full of informants, spies, scandals, and resentful officials. This was the atmosphere in which the Ninth Symphony was created; as the expression of a dream that has not been fulfilled, but is still alive.

The lesser-known 1st and 3rd movements of the Ninth Symphony deal with the utopian, terrifying theme of freedom, including all its blackest depths: doubt and hope, euphoria and pure horror alternate. According to Hegel, abstract freedom and terror interpenetrate one another in a ceaseless embrace. The labour movement was not alone in claiming the Ninth Symphony as its anthem: it was also played on Adolf Hitler's birthday.

150 years after his death, Ludwig van Beethoven was discovered by the black civil rights movement. Rumours about his illegitimate birth and possibly African origin led to his being celebrated as a great black personality in black diasporic historiography, like Haile Selassie and Cleopatra. The Ninth was interpreted as a triumphal chorus of equal rights.

[b]All people become brothers[/b]

»Repatriation« is a concept that could only come from the twentieth century, the century of ethnic cleansing and expulsion. Repatriation - to places one has never seen, being forced to fit into the patrilinear genealogy of fathers, brothers, neighbours, and murderers.

On the day we filmed in Shanghai, memorial ceremonies for 150 partisans, Serbs, Jews, and Romany killed by the German army during the Second World War were being prepared. At the Expo in Hanover, a fantasy Shanghai was constructed in a state of futuristic intoxication, Shanghai as it could look in 2020, with German company signs hanging on every second building. Siemens - Deutsche Bank - VW.

A few days after the first Nato air attacks, Aleksandra Djajic flees from Novi Sad to Budapest.

On the bridge over the Danube, which was destroyed by Nato bombs, a piece of graffitti remains: From Serbia to Tokyo.


Translated by Tim Jones