The Unbribables //
Art performances in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade on October 20 2017 led to the arrest of two artists. Vladan Jeremić, who is member of ArtLeaks and one of the organizers of the cultural event Salon of the Unbribables and Uroš Jovanović, an independent artist and performer, were arrested and brought to police station for interrogation. The police officers suspected them for “insulting the president”, which the artists said was not their intention. The state prosecutor decided to let them go after several hours of interrogation.
The performance, part of the program of the Salon of the Unbribables (https://theunbribables.wordpress.com), was staged in front of the museum. Visitors and guests coming to the opening of the museum were invited to wear a paper mask with an image in close resemblance of Serbia’s president Aleksandar Vučić, while handing out leaflets with only an image of a sandwich printed on it. The artistic action was positively received by most of the public that understood it as a visual metaphor of the structural situation most citizens of Serbia are living in.
The Government of Aleksandar Vučić, prime minister of Serbia since 2014 and elected president since April this year, has grounded its power on a system of nepotism, intimidation, “buying” of supporters through giving jobs and privileges to party members, mudslinging against political opponents and control over the media. At the same time, his rule is supported by many right-wing leaders of EU, U.S. and Russia as factor of stability in the Balkans. A system that can be named partocracy has led to an atmosphere, where raising a critical voice can turn your colleagues against you and finally endanger your job.
Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that private security staff controlling visitors at the entrance to the museum immediately reacted, when they detected the image of the president and flyers with sandwiches in some of their bags. Visitors, one of them being a visiting curator from Denmark, were treated very rudely and given over to the police for identity check. Vladan Jeremić, who came to the scene to explain that he was one of the organizers of the artistic performance using these props, was arrested immediately. Although curators of the Museum of Contemporary Art, who witnessed the arrest, tried to intervene and explained that he is a well known artist from Belgrade, Vladan Jeremić was brought to the police station for interrogation.
That in Serbia it’s not a good idea to create the slightest impression of having a critical stance towards the leader of the country, Uroš Jovanović, an independent artist and performer, experienced half an hour later. He was arrested when he tried to enter the museum with a giant golden framed photograph of the Serbian president with the statement: “Vučić – the best artist”. A few months ago, the image of the president indeed was an issue of discussion, when Minister of defense Vulin and Minister of education Šarčević proposed to put up his picture in public institutions and schools. The proposal was welcomed by Serbian Prime Minister Brnabić because, as she said, the cult of national symbols of Serbia should be strengthened.
The Belgrade Museum of Contemporary Art hosts a valuable collection of 20th century art from the region. Due organizational difficulties during the process of reconstruction of the building, it was closed for more than 10 years, a scandalous fact, which for the authorities still owe a comprehensive explanation to the public.
With the re-opening of the museum, this cultural institution has the potential to become one of the platforms for the promotion of the progressive image of Serbia in Europe and the world. Though, the arrest of two artists in the context of it’s opening, even if only for interrogation, casts a shadow on the blank surface of the country’s political system that on paper protects civil rights, minorities and freedom of speech. Silencing critique about the actual effects of their social, economical and cultural policies through the declarative integration of liberal values is a mainstream tactical move of the New Right that establishes it’s strongholds across Europe and the U.S.
In Serbia, the integration of rightwing political goals with liberal values becomes evident for example in the cultural strategy for the country recently proposed by the cultural Ministry. This policy document includes a list of criteria that define what is Serbian culture, in Serbia and beyond. In almost every detail of the program, the integration of liberal values (cultural tolerance, democracy,…) legitimizes the pushing through of a highly problematic understanding of Serbian national culture. The preliminary document contains a catalogue of precise criteria rooted in folklore, national myths and national hardship, that have historically formed Serbian national identity, which needs to be defended from globalization. With such program, the cultural strategy fosters backwardness and re-tradicionalization of the population, while the economic politics of the government support the opening of the market to most primitive global investors looking for cheap manual labor and low taxes.
The Unbribables with this artistic initiative are aiming to break the public silence about the mental, psychologic and economic repression many citizens of Serbia are exposed to in their professional work, especially in the field of culture, media and education.
October 23 2017
For the Unbribables:
Nikola Radivojević, Rena Redle, Vladan Jeremić and Tony Maslić
Nećemo kulturu klonova
Nećemo prodaju ljudi, zemlje, fabrika i kulture
Nećemo etno brendiranje nego kulturu za sve