Entropa or Europe's Black Stain Part II: Plovdiv

Editorial |Author: Maria Guineva | October 8, 2009, Thursday // 20:32|  views

Remember Entropa, the squat toilet and David Cerny? They are back haunting Bulgaria full force.

For those, who don't - in the beginning of the year, "Entropa," an artwork marking the Czech European Union Presidency, created by "l'enfant terrible" of Czech art, David Cerny, was installed at the European Council building in Brussels. It depicted stereotypes linked to EU countries such as Sweden looking like an IKEA box, the Netherlands as series of minarets submerged by water, Germany as a network of motorways, resembling a swastika, Spain buried under concrete, and, among others, Bulgaria as a squat toilet.

The last image drew loud protests from Bulgaria and had to be covered with black cloth, only to be displayed later in Prague uncensored. No other country complained then and if the perception of Bulgaria as a toilet, nevertheless a sparkling clean one, was not embarrassing enough, the local reaction triggered Bulgarian and international discussion about censorship thriving in our post-communist land.

As we were breathing a sigh of relief, hoping the shame was for ever forgotten, the ugly creatures began crawling out of the toilet hole once again. Something unimaginable happened. This same David Cerny got invited to Bulgaria and is scheduled to arrive on October 10 to take part in the project of Plovdiv curator, Emil Marazchiev, titled “European Art 20 years after the Iron Curtain.”

What better reason for Bulgaria's so-called patriots, aka extreme nationalists, to enter the spotlight again? They have been amazingly quiet in the aftermath of the appointment of the new cabinet of the Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party and Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov. With his strong hand steering the country in the “right direction” and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms going into opposition, the leader of the far-right “Ataka” party, Volen Siderov, and his followers hardly ever utter a single word of criticism and their infamous, screeching street protests and marches seem a thing of the past.

Luckily, they managed to rediscover the enemy. The Plovdiv municipal councilors from Ataka, upon hearing the news Cerny was invited to their city, issued a declaration saying it is unacceptable for the man who depicted Bulgaria as a Turkish toilet to be welcomed in the country. Plovdiv Mayor, Slavcho Atanasov, who is a member of VMRO, another political party running on a patriotic platform, and who harbors hopes of becoming its new leader, was quick to follow and state he is banning Cerny's visit and to announce the municipal police is going to guard round the clock the building where the exhibit will be on display.

"I ban this man from setting foot in any municipal property in Plovdiv because I cannot reconcile with the mockery of Bulgaria. He is not wanted in Plovdiv. Bulgaria is a country with ancient history and culture and his interpretation is ignorant and absurd. Marazchiev can meet Cerny at a coffee shop or some other private establishment," Atanasov is quoted saying, with his Deputy, Petyia Gogova, echoing she was inviting Cerny to visit the Plovdiv public WC.

One must wonder how much does a politician want to become the leader of a party that would not even make the threshold in the July general elections and win a single parliamentary seat, in order to take the nationalist card out of his sleeve?

As desperate and ridiculous this attempt for basking in patriotic popularity might seem, Atanasov could be just facing his latest humiliation.

Earlier in the year, the Mayor became the laughing stock when he proudly announced his city was going to not only host the famous Energy Forum under the patronage of President Parvanov, but also Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, and US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton. No one ever really learned who cooked this grand idea, but when it turned out to be a flop, Atanasov quietly took the blame.

In the latest case, Czech Ambassador to Sofia, Martin Klepetko, called the Mayor's reaction "hysterical," representatives of other Bulgarian parties, namely the rightist Union of Democratic Forces and Democrats for Strong Bulgaria, intellectuals in internet forums and blogs are all defending Cerny's right of artistic expression.

The country's new rulers did not spare Atanasov either. He got blasted by the Governor of the Plovdiv Region, Ivan Totev, who said he supported Cerny's visit and had to “laugh” at the reaction of the City Hall. If this was not enough, the almighty Boyko Borisov, stated his predecessors did more than enough to contribute to Bulgaria's image of a squat toilet. (It is worth noticing that in "Entropa" the toilet pipes bear the colors of the parties of the then ruling three-party coalition.)

"Artists have the right of free expression," Borisov says while confirming officially what the curator, Emil Marzchiev, told the TV channel Nova Televizia – the Prime Minister is personally inviting Cerny to Sofia for lunch just a day after the exhibit's opening.

I am not a particular fan of Borisov and he is yet to convince me change is in place in Bulgaria, but I have to admit that he keeps demonstrating good common sense. And someone finally offered an official political stand in the case, other than slamming Cerny - a small, flickering light in the dark tunnel of the ersatz democracy we have been living in for many years now. Well, the new UNESCO Director General, Bulgarian Irina Bokova, whose appointment was met by the sound of fanfares, is yet to say something, after being so quick, right or wrong, to oppose the arrest of movie director, Roman Polanski, over rape charges. But this is another story...

The truth is David Cerny is David Cerny and Slavcho Atanasov will always be Slavcho Atanasov. But for me, the Mayor's presumed humiliation does not offer enough consolation. Because in the 21 century, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, in a country proudly boasting its EU membership, the "Iron Curtain" is still a state of mind of many, including some of our top officials. And I happen to live here...

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Tags: David Cerny, Slavcho Atanasov, Ataka, Entropa, Brussels, European Presidency, Czech, Boyko Borisov


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