Friday 11 December 2015

What if...?

[expanded from this report on]

What if one of Europe’s leading theatre directors turns out to measure about 99.9/100 on the Trump Scale?

Latvian director Alvis Hermanis has terminated his contract with the Thalia Theatre in Hamburg because he doesn’t like the theatre’s pro-refugee stance.

Let’s just take a minute to absorb that.

He is not in favour of a theatre being pro-entry for refugees.

In the original statement from the Thalia, he is quoted as having said: “The German enthusiasm to open the borders for refugees would be extremely dangerous for the whole of Europe, because among them are terrorists.

“Simultaneous support of terrorists and the Parisian victims is not possible. While not all refugees are terrorists, all terrorists are refugees or their children. The attacks in Paris show that we are in the middle of a war. In any war we must choose a side, the Thalia Theater and I are on opposite sides. The days of political correctness are over.”

In a subsequent clarification, he issued his own statement:

“I asked to cancel my production in Hamburg Because of the very private reasons. I am currently working in Paris and living in exactly the same part of the city where the massacre happened. Everyday life here feels like in Israel. Permanent paranoia. Even worse because the Paris Jewish community are the first who are abandoning this city. Everywhere we are surrounded with a threat and fear. We all are traumatized here after what happened two weeks ago.

“I am a father of seven children and I am not ready to work in another potentially dangerous town. As we know, the people who participated in 9/11 came from Hamburg. We know that even the German government changed the refugee politics after Paris tragedy. So the price paid to finally admit the connection between emigration policy and terrorism was the death of 132 young people in Paris.

“Is the silent taboo in Germany to connect emigration policy and terrorism?

“After speaking with a people from Thalia Theater I understood that they are not open to different opinions. They are identifying themselves with a refugee-welcome centre. No, I do not want to participate in this. Can I afford to have my own choice and my own opinions? What about democracy?

“I do not think did my political opinions are more radical then Those which are shared by a majority of Europeans. We do not support this enthusiasm to open the EU borders for uncontrolled emigration. Especially in Eastern Europe we do not understand this euphoria. Do you really think that 40 million citizens of Poland, For Example, are neo-Nazis and racists?*”

It’s so startlingly stupid and wrong, that it’s almost impossible to know where to begin.

Of course, that faint plea to the principles of democracy and free speech – that he should also be allowed to have his views (despite it being him who has walked out on the Thalia because of theirs) – does briefly sound worrying. Like, maybe theatre’s should also be putting on anti-refugee screeds in order to better represent the interests of ignorant fascists. (5 million Poles can’t be wrong!)

It is a welcome wake-up call, though, to those within theatre (particularly here) who believe that theatre, simply by virtue of it being theatre, is an ineffable good in and of itself. Or that a *particular style of theatre* will be beyond reproach. Hermanis’s work is reputedly excellent. The one piece I’ve seen (Sonja in Riga, 2008 – no review, annoyingly) was indeed beautifully made (even if I do remember having vague reservations about a possible overly cruel, bullying sense of humour that seemed to lurk at the outermost margins). And his work spans a range from detailed theatrical naturalism (cf. Sonja) to full-on postmodern regietheater. So there’s no hiding in any of that for anyone.

It’s fascinating to see the Thalia at the centre of this storm. I saw the theatre’s most famous, direct, successful engagement with Europe’s refugee crisis, Die Schutzbefohlenen, at Theatertreffen this year, and, discussing it with Annegret Maerten, Meg Vaughan and Theresa Gindlstrasser for the Theatertreffen podcast, I remember us worrying that the production might still come across as *a bit racist* (even if impeccably well-intentioned). Hermanis level of ignorance and prejudice absolutely blows that kind of fretting out of the water (wrongly. We should still think about the micro-level, even while some dick reminds us of what the macro-level looks like).

I don’t really know what sort of conclusion one can hope for in a piece like this. I like to hope that a vast majority of people understand and subscribe to the You ain’t no Muslim, Bruv school of thinking – that you can’t associate the actions of a few violent psychopaths with whatever school of thought to which they happen to ascribe their actions. I would have liked to have hoped that this was a minimum understanding of humanity for a theatre director. But apparently not. Bleak.

*In fact, the population of Poland is 38.3million, of whom only 5,711,687 voted for the amusingly acronymed Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice) party. Sadly, this did consitute 37.58% of the vote, and gained PiS an overall majority in Poland’s recent general election. Are their voters neo-Nazis and racists? Possibly not *all* of them, there are further-right parties/gangs for the *really* hardcore fascists, but they’re pretty right-wing: imagine UKIP underpinned not by a buffoon in the pub, but by hardline Catholic views on LGBT issues, abortion, etc. All my Polish friends without exception (all of them theatremakers) are appalled beyond words by the result. (See also: far-right Hungary, which has just deteriorated further and further since I wrote that report in 2011.)

[cover photo, Hermanis’s previous Thalia production, Late Neighbours. From stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer. The irony.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Regarding PiS I can say that my Polish relatives - builders, taxi drivers, retired shopkeepers ie as far from theatre people as one can get - are also appalled at the result. The contempt for PiS runs deep and not just in the cities. This election has been a baffling mystery to most of us.