Steppenwolf – Anarchische Abendunterhaltung

Sonntag war Steppenwolf-Tag im Grand théâtre de la ville de Luxembourg. Eindrücke von einem meiner seltenen Theaterbesuche.

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Hat’s mir gefallen? Ja. War’s richtig gut? Nicht wirklich. Das Problem: Unterhaltsam ist die Aufführung für all jene, die das Buch – vor nicht allzu langer Zeit – gelesen haben. Wer aber einfach mal via Theaterabend den Steppenwolf beschnuppern will, ist verloren. So ist der Clash über das Goethe-Bild zwar sehr lustig (und mit Goethe-Statue) in Szene gesetzt, dürfte aber für Nicht-Leserinnen und -Leser unverständlich bleiben.

Nur für Verlesene

Als Nacherzählung funktioniert das Stück nicht – dass es besser geht, zeigt die gelungene Hörspielumsetzung aus den 1970ern (die allerdings drei statt anderthalb Stunden dauert). Im Stück werden dem Publikum Textfragmente, oft ohne narrativen Zusammenhang, um die Ohren gehauen. Schon die Einführung des Hauptcharakters ist wenig hilfreich – kaum mehr als ein vorgetragener Buchtext, über mehrere Stimmen verteilt. Das mag weniger langweilig sein als nur einen Erzähler zu haben, wirkt aber vor allem verwirrend.

Staubsauger statt Foxtrott

Bedauerlich auch, dass Harry Hallers innere Entwicklung vom Mozart-Verehrer zum Foxtrott-Tänzer kaum thematisiert und dargestellt wird. Da hätte man lieber auf die amüsante aber konfuse Slapstick-Einlage mit “DDR-Staubsauger” verzichtet. Auch Hermines Rolle fällt im Stück etwas ab gegenüber dem Buch, sowohl aufgrund der szenischen Umsetzung als auch der Besetzung. Hermine als engelhafte Botin der “Unsterblichen”, diese mögliche Deutung der Romanhandlung funktioniert jedenfalls nicht mehr. Überhaupt ist die schauspielerische Leistung eher Mittelmaß – richtig überzeugen können nur Catherine Elsen als Maria und Barbara Ullmann als Tierbändigerin.

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“Der Weg in die Unschuld, ins Unerschaffene, zu Gott führt nicht zurück, sondern vorwärts, nicht zum Wolf oder Kind, sondern immer weiter in die Schuld, immer tiefer in die Menschwerdung hinein.” (Traktat vom Steppenwolf)

An Ideen mangelt es der Inszenierung dagegen nicht. Die junge Regisseurin Anna-Elisabeth Frick stellt die gespaltene Persönlichkeit Harry Hallers dar, indem sie ihn von einem Schauspieler und einem Mimen parallel spielen lässt. Die Pantomime- und Tanzeinlagen bieten dem Publikum über den Unterhaltungswert hinaus Zeit zum Atemholen und Nachdenken. Auch die Auftritte des leibhaftigen Goethe haben Drive. Die größte Herausforderung an eine szenische Umsetzung der Romanvorlage – das magische Theater – wird ebenfalls auf sinnvolle Weise angegangen.

Lebensweisheit über Weltweisheit

Alles in allem lohnt es sich, sich das Stück anzusehen (das in Trier nochmal am 15. April aufgeführt wird) – vorausgesetzt, man kennt das Buch.  Gemessen an der Schwierigkeit der Aufgabe, diesen trockenen und zugleich verrückten Roman auf die Bühne zu bringen, ist das Ergebnis korrekt. Die darin enthaltene Lebensweisheit wird stärker gewichtet als die “Weltweisheit” – was meinem derzeitigen Geschmack entgegenkommt. Immerhin finden sich über das Stück verstreut zahlreiche Anspielungen auf tiefere Gedankengänge und Gefühle – aber eben nur Anspielungen.

Für mich liegt in der Inszenierung Potenzial für etwas Schlüssigeres: Hätte sich die Regisseurin konsequenter für eine von der Erzählung losgelöste Umsetzung entschieden – so eine Art “Szenen aus dem Leben des Steppenwolfs” -, das Ergebnis wäre überzeugender ausgefallen.

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1989 Project – Preliminary remarks

Robin Okey: The Demise of Communist East Europe: 1989 in Context  http://www.amazon.com/The-Demise-Communist-East-Europe/dp/0340740574/

Robin Okey: The Demise of Communist East Europe: 1989 in Context
http://www.amazon.com/The-Demise-Communist-East-Europe/dp/0340740574/

This book I got for my project after doing some online research. I got it as – hopefully – the best available analysis that puts the events of 1989 in a context. Context of time, reaching from the nationalist movements of the 19th century through the hopes and failures of the interwar period and the communist period, right into the present. Context of space, insofar that the story of 1989 can be told as “poor eastern Europeans against the communist beast”, but can also be seen as differing national societies with differing histories, differing structures and differing internal regime crisises.

This isn’t meant to deny that the external context of crisis of the “Warsaw pact”’s foundations played a decisive role. I believe however that, in order to understand the events of 1989, one has to look at them in their national context, as they were perceived by most of the actors at that time – rather than only analyzing them with hindsight as if they were meant to necessarily lead to the known end (of “communism”). An additional benefit of that approach will be to understand the present of eastern european countries not so much as a parallel “post-communist” evolution starting from the year 1989, but to stress the continuities of economical, social and ethnic matters that have shaped politics in that region long before 1945, and seemingly are there to stay.

Looking back at 1989 to assess the present situation in Eastern Europe: Victor Orbán was a Hungarian student leader 25 years ago.

Looking back at 1989 to assess the present situation in Eastern Europe: Victor Orbán was a Hungarian student leader 25 years ago.

A book and a game

I plan to read the book, play the historical simulation game named “1989: Dawn of Freedom” and get a feeling for the things that happened in those days. I will then write an account mixing game elements and historical account – something I did some years ago for the anniversary of the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War (“Jouer les rouges”, 23.12.2011, in French). Clearly, a game cannot be as reliable a source as an academic study. However, it helps familiarizing with the events and the forces in play. Also, by raising questions about how the game designer translates (or leaves out) factors, circumstances and events found in the book and other sources, one gets a feeling for the possible divergencies in interpreting the events of 1989. Anniversaries are often an opportunity to celebrate the mainstream view of historical events – this will be no different. That alone would justify me spending time and energy on the subject.

An additional, although less important, incentive will be the ways the events of 1989 are related to China. Obviously, there are the protests of Tiananmen, brutally ended in June of that year. This was followed by a stabilization of the “Communist” regime that has lasted until now. The game is focussed on eastern Europe and includes a “Tiananmen track” only as a “gamey” feature, that is not part of the competitive reenactement that gives it a pedagocical value.

From Miss Liberty to the Tank Man: During the demise of European Communism, Tiananmen was only a sideshow. But comparing change and immobility here and there is instructive.

From Miss Liberty to the Tank Man: During the demise of European Communism, Tiananmen was only a sideshow. But comparing change and immobility here and there is instructive.

Anyway, the most interesting relationship is not the coincidence in time, but the fact that China started in a state that might be seen as less ripe for a reform than eastern Europe. Since Tiananmen however, Chinese “Communism” has walked on a path that might have been taken by eastern European and Soviet reform communists. Surprisingly, the combination of economical reforms and political immobility (see for example my review of the Deng Xiaoping biography by Felix Lee, in German) has evolved much beyond what had been done in Europe in the years preceding 1989. Comparing the challenges here and there, then and now, promises to be gratifying: Why did the economical reforms give consistent results in China but not in the Soviet area? What can be learnt from the events of 1989 – either from the perspective of those who want to preserve the dominance of the Communist party or the perspective of those who dream of its demise? In the book as well as in the minds of the game designers and, no doubt, in those of the Chinese leaders of today, there’s a recurring quote from Alexis de Tocqueville (relating to Ancien Régime France):

“… the most critical moment for bad governments is the one which witnesses their first steps toward reform.”

Finally there’s another personal reason to be attracted towards the subject of 1989: Being born in the 1960s, I have witnessed the era before and the one after that fateful year for an approximately equal amount of time. Unlike many younger friends, I remember clearly how it felt to be a progressive or even a Socialist and to have an assertive Communist movement as your competitor and partner. Those first 25 years of my life shape the way I look towards the actions of Western countries today, be it invading foreign countries, spying on and harassing their own citizens and building walls against people fleeing from their countries.

My generation – half cold, half free?

The walls, then and now - justified as a way to protect us!?

The walls, then and now – justified as a way to protect us!?

During the cold war, those who didn’t wanna choose between freedom and social justice opposed the cynism of the Communists arguing that Western freedom was just a fake. We felt that we were right to criticize the Soviet interventions from Hungary to Afghanistan, the suppression of opponents by the KGB and the Stasi and, as a symbol of the inhumanity of the eastern European Communism, the Berlin Wall and the people shot while passing the frontier.

We were right to criticize. We were wrong to hopes that the end of Communism and of the Cold War would bring along a better world. Clearly, I do not regret the presence of Communism, which in part can be seen as a perversion of socialist ideas. But I may have been over optimistic regarding the possibilities of a “free world”. Or maybe, there was a potential for a better world that has not – not yet? – been realized. The question then would be: What went wrong in 1989?

Working in the lobby of the Hotel Rosatsch, view on the garden with squirrels and redstarts.

Working in the lobby of the Hotel Rosatsch, view on the garden with squirrels and redstarts.

To love or not to love pussy … riot

Knowing that Luc would write an editorial about the Pussy Riot case (see below, in French), I did some “surfin’ research” – which explains why this post is a bit link-heavy.

“Amnesty International said it believed that the trial of the Pussy Riot defendants – Maria Alekhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova – was politically motivated, and that they were wrongfully prosecuted for what was a legitimate – if potentially offensive – protest action. The organization considers all three activists to be prisoners of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful expression of their beliefs.”

Is there something to add? Yes. You may or may not enjoy their music, you may or may not find offensive that their radical political action took place in a church, and you might think that although their cause is just, they tend to show off a bit too much… Just take a look (and an hear) at their latest video, provided by The Guardian:

The topic is disputed, Luc being quite critical while the Guardian journalist Laura Snapes, although aware of the problems Luc raises, collected a lot of positive reactions when asking musicians about the Pussy Riot cause: “Have Pussy Riot sparked a new wave of grrl power?”

On the other hand, several reactions on German sites were rather negative. “Sunshinedaughter” thinks that two years of imprisonment may be a bit too much, but then again “they won’t have to work”, and what is left as a “redemption” may be justified by the “offensive” character of their action. Meanwhile the online music magazine “intro” calls them “Putin’s hidden helpers” – at least they put a question mark behind this title.

On a sidenote: of course there is always a Western propaganda bias in this kind of story. Interestingly, the Taliban massacre, mentioned by Luc as an example of other “martyrs”, might be just that kind of thing. Not that there wasn’t a slaughter of civilians, but the reason may have been different from the cliché-esque Taliban hate of freedom. This you’ll only know when reading one of the rare newspapers who is serious about information instead of just writing what people are supposed to wanna hear.

When Luc chose his subject, I kidded saying he should write about t.A.T.u. if he didn’t like the Pussy Riots. I’m not the only one to make the connection. “I think we need t.A.T.u. to do a benefit concert for them”, says Melanie on her blog. On Collegefotball.rivals.com (sic), they too care about Russian political activists, especially when young and female: “… probably following in the footsteps of ‘Tatu’, which featured two 17 year old Russian girls that posed as lesbian lovers… it worked…”, writes “thehellyousay”. Unclear what he means by his last two words.

But not all Russian musicians are Lesbians or rioters. Valery Gergiev, director of the St Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre and conductor at the LSO is someone whom I like as an artist, having even seen him at the Phil’ conducting Tchaikovsky’s Sixth – making me discover new aspects of that well-known symphony. His political opinions are less to my taste (see this article, where he explains his support to Putin). Well, as far as I know, he remained silent on the Pussy Riot issue … until this happened: “Gergiev is victim of Pussy Riot hoax“. Bad joke, claiming you’re the good guy when you really don’t wanna be.

Personally, I still feel a bit like “Ginger Beer”, who summed it up in an elegant way: “If they got 2 years in Russian jail for this little protest, they were right to protest.”

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RÉVOLTE

Deux poids, deux mesures

Luc Caregari

La mobilisation en faveur des punk-rockeuses et activistes russes de Pussy Riot est certainement louable, mais elle démontre aussi que l’engagement est une dynamique aux vecteurs très variables.

Il l’a fait. Vladimir Poutine, ou le système de justice russe qui est à ses ordres, vient de faire envoyer en Sibérie pour deux ans Nadejda Tolokonnikova, Ekaterina Samoutsevitch et Maria Alekhina – les trois membres du groupe Pussy Riot qui ont été arrêtés lors de leur action coup de poing dans la cathédrale moscovite du Christ-Sauveur le 21 février 2012, deux autres membres ayant pu échapper aux policiers. Le président russe s’inscrit donc dans la meilleure tradition du stalinisme et du tsarisme, qui aimaient bien exiler les opposants politiques dans le froid éternel.

Mais Poutine ne serait pas lui-même s’il n’avait pas d’autres desseins cachés derrière cette condamnation plus que ridicule. En laissant l’église orthodoxe au premier plan des accusateurs, il s’est habilement tiré de la ligne de mire, même si personne n’est dupe de la justice politisée instaurée sous son règne. Et puis, il a misé avant tout sur la division des forces oppositionnelles, dont beaucoup sont des chrétiens orthodoxes pratiquants et donc particulièrement choqués par cette action « blasphémique ». Même si les trois inculpées n’ont cessé de répéter qu’elles ne voulaient en aucun cas blesser les sentiments religieux de leurs compatriotes, mais au contraire mettre en évidence la mainmise du Kremlin sur l’église orthodoxe, leur message n’est pas passé.

Ce qui est passé par contre, c’est la « causa Pussy Riot » en Occident. Trois jeunes et belles femmes face à une machine de justice implacable, cela suscite l’empathie, et puis c’est sexy de s’engager pour elles. Tellement, que même les jeunes Verts luxembourgeois sont tombés dans le panneau et ont monté une action devant l’ambassade russe, déguisés en Pussy Riot. Cela promet pour les costumes d’Halloween. Et puis, cela ne changera rien, car le système Poutine a bien sûr incorporé cet effet dans ses calculs : cela lui permet d’encore mieux se démarquer d’un Occident incompréhensif par rapport à la Russie, comme il est montré dans les médias sous contrôle étatique, et de s’enfoncer encore davantage dans l’autisme autocratique.

Mais surtout, en donnant une telle exposition aux trois activistes russes, leurs ardents défenseurs font de l’ombre à tous les autres opposants politiques qui croupissent dans des geôles partout dans le monde. Et même à celles et ceux qui ne sont pas vraiment politiques. Par exemple en Afghanistan, la semaine dernière, dans la province de Helmand, les talibans ont décapité 17 personnes, dont deux femmes, tout simplement parce que ces personnes avaient osé écouter de la musique et de danser. Où sont les cris scandalisés de l’opinion publique occidentale face à ce crime qui dépasse l’entendement et par rapport auquel deux ans en Sibérie ne pèsent pas vraiment ?

C’est la face cynique de l’engouement pour les Pussy Riot. Les talibans ne sont pas tellement pop, ni vraiment sexy. Mais leurs victimes ne sont pas les seules à être oubliées par le public. Qui parle encore d’un Bradley Manning qui croupit dans une cellule isolée aux Etats-Unis, parce qu’il est suspecté d’avoir livré des informations à Wikileaks ? Qui parle des autres opposants politiques enfermés en Russie, en Chine, en Arabie Saoudite et dans des tas d’autres régimes autocratiques ou pseudo-démocratiques ? Ces gens là doivent attendre leur tour pour être illuminés du projecteur de l’opinion publique, et puis ils retomberont dans l’oubli dès que le prochain martyr se présente. Et il y en aura toujours.