Published on openDemocracy, by Dessy Gavrilova, Jan. 16, 2009.
… On 15 January 2009 an exhibition opened on the premises of the European Council in Brussels to mark the beginning of the Czech Republic’s six-month presidency of the European Union. The authors were, until the day of the launch, believed to be twenty-seven artists from each of the EU’s member-states, but media attention and political turmoil in Bulgaria forced the true – and single – author to declare his hoax on 13 January. It turned out to be the well known Czech conceptual artist, David Cerny. Dessy Gavrilova is founder-director of The Red House – Center for Culture and Debate in Sofia, Bulgaria. The citizens of Bulgaria have long forgotten that art could be a political force. It used to be under communism, but lost its importance since the change of 1989 and after. Now, at the beginning of 2009, art again matters in this country …
… The “Batak case” demonstrated how traumatised, full of complexes, and trapped in nationalistic and provincial attitudes most Bulgarian institutions are (a condition shared by a big proportion of Bulgarian citizens). Amid the spasm of hysteria, liberal voices were a distinct and weak minority. From the inside – and especially from that liberal corner – all of this made the then-brand-new European Union member-state feel deeply depressing.
In this, the Batak affair of 2007 looks as if it prefigures the Entropa one of 2009. But there are two differences. The first is in the dominant reaction of contributors on Bulgaria’s internet forums. Over Batak, they almost unanimously joined the nationalistic-xenophobic tide; over Entropa they have predominantly laughed at the “Turkish toilet” metaphor (while only wondering why the toilet was depicted as so clean …) and congratulated the non-existent Bulgarian artist Elena Jelebova for her daring work.
The second difference is that since Elena Jelebova is a fiction, the consequences for her and her family are less alarming than they were for Martina Baleva. Bulgarian nationalists have no one to threaten, and the Bulgarian police do not have to waste resources in ensuring anyone’s personal security. The latter point is especially important these days, when the police have been mobilising all their forces to subdue a three-day protest on 14-16 January against government mismanagement by students, eco-activists, doctors, teachers, agricultural workers, and pensioners in front of the parliament building in Sofia.
Gas-less, humourless, cold, chaotic… Bulgaria has definitely stepped into the new year and the Czech Republic’s EU presidency with its wrong foot. Artists alone have some reason to cheer – because art has proved to be still capable of inspiring political action and debate. (full text, 16 – 01 – 2009).