The Greek prefix mesos, meaning intermediate or position in the middle, is representative of Ukraine today—a situation in flux—and also in line with other post-Soviet or post-socialist countries. It is worthwhile thinking about and responding to the repurposed notion of mesosphere put forward by the editors of the issue. Mesosphere, in a way, likewise articulates the socio-political, economic, and cultural conditions of these countries in transition that, since 1989–1991, have started to re-establish their identity.
“Issue” is a thematic column, appearing four times a year, which is compiled each time by a guest editor. Our guest editors are invited to collaborate with authors from different countries, regions, and backgrounds to discuss issues that are relevant and urgent within the cultural field of Eastern Europe.
In the Earth’s atmosphere, the mesosphere is the layer between the stratosphere, where the airplanes travel, and the thermosphere, where the spaceships fly. It is thus the strata that is the least impacted by human activity, and one which we like to think of as carrying hope. Taking this layer of the Earth’s atmosphere as a metaphorical point of departure, the magazine Mezosfera—with a fictitious “pan-Eastern European spelling”—sets out to look at, connect, and engage initiatives that can be conceived as working in the middle ground, in the mezosfera layer of our contemporary art and cultural world, in-between grassroots and institutionalized practices.
It would be difficult to identify, within the post-1989 Eastern European landscape, another realm that has undergone an equally intense labor of dispossession and resistance, of redefinition and reconceptualization, than the realm of the “public:” the state and state assets, public life, public institutions, and the public space. There is hardly anything, at the same time, that challenged the public heritage of the socialist state more than the neoliberal understanding of the primacy of the “free,” “unconstrained,” private initiative.
Having recently had some time to indulge in guilty pleasures, I watched through four seasons of the Star Trek: Enterprise TV series, originally aired between 2001 and 2005. I enjoyed the show more than one might expect; nevertheless, I could not guarantee the same would hold true for someone who does not have a soft spot for science fiction. What is unquestionably interesting, however, for anyone trying to understand the dominating symbolic order we are all submerged in is an ideological reading of the series. Seen through the lenses of ideology critique, it turns out not to be about the future at all.
My interest in “walking theory” initially came from an education in art and humanities, which taught us that art was an intimate activity of the artist-genius who creates directly from his guts, while theory was an abstract speculation, which, if you let it come closer, can castrate artistic freedom. Paradoxically, all this was promoted in Belgrade in the 1990s, in the context of the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia, the international sanctions, the regime of Slobodan Milošević, and the transition from socialism to capitalism.
It is difficult to imagine unlearning. One thing that stands in our way is our initial understanding of the word. Is it even possible to simply leave dominant knowledge behind? My immediate answer is “no,” for two reasons. First, there is no way back. There is no path that leads us to a time or place before the history of relations of power and violence that are responsible for what we know today. Secondly, unlearning is not an easy task. For these reasons, it is worthwhile to take a closer look at how it is discussed in postcolonial theory.
For East-Central European countries emerging out of the period of state socialism, it was only after 1989 that the civic sphere and civil society could make themselves felt as constructive elements of democracy. An agent of the development of the democratic order, civil society represents a significant force in opposition to political power, for instance in its capacity to thematize sensitive social questions, form public opinion, assert values, and keep the government in check.
The first thematic issue of Mezosfera contributes to the on-going societal debates around migration and migration politics in Europe, introducing and examining related work by artists, activists, and thinkers from diverse cultural and geographical contexts. It addresses overarching key issues, from the crisis of citizenship and the challenges of a post-identity politics to the unequal access to rights and privileges that pervades all phases of the migration experience from the freedom of movement to the right to work.
Nationality is the quality that infuses to a person the fact of belonging to a national community that is organized as a state. The project emerges from my dis-identification with the structure of the nation-state, as well as from my refusal of the construction of the self in relation to national identity, since I consider it fictional and imposed. (Núria Güell on her work “Stateless by Choice. On the Prison of the Possible”)
In 2014 Bogdan Droma worked on the construction of the famous Mall of Berlin. As a result of weeks of work going unpaid, as well as of various forms of abusive treatment, he protested together with other workers on an almost daily basis, turning the popular designation of the mall into the “Mall of Shame”. The case of the Mall of Berlin workers is not an isolated one, therefore we wanted, together with Bogdan, to start a conversation regarding non-declared or off the books work as performed by immigrants in the West. This interview was first published in Gazeta de Artă Politică #12—“In the name of the periphery: decolonial theory and intervention in the Romanian context” in Bucharest and is re-published here with an introduction by Ovidiu Pop, co-editor of G.A.P. #12.
“Russia, The Land of Opportunity” board game is a means of talking about the possible ways that the destinies of those millions of immigrants play out who come annually to the Russian Federation from the former Soviet Central Asian republics to earn money (…). The characters, situations, and monetary amounts (fines, payments, bribes, etc.) are not fictional. Any resemblance to actual events is not coincidental. Each year, thousands of people are victimized by the system outlined here. (The artist Olga Zhitlina on her collaboration with human rights advocate Andrei Yakimov)
The “Refugees’ Library” is an archive of court sketches on the topics of asylum and migration. The artist Marina Naprushkina documents the trials of refugees through illustrations and dialogues between the different actors of the trial: the plaintiff (the refugee), the lawyer, and the judge. The library’s intention is two-fold: on the one hand, it aims to spark debate about German and European asylum and migration policy by making available to a larger public the cases of refugees coming from diverse geographical, political, and social contexts. On the other hand, the project aims to provide the refugees with the information resources in order to prepare for their own cases.
Fluchthilfe & Du / Border Crossing & You addresses the critique of the EU border regime and its migration policies. Formally it echoes PR campaigns by Caritas, an organization that collects donations with an appeal to charity, while distancing itself from those it denounces as human smugglers: people whose assistance to refugees made it possible for them to come to Austria and to apply for asylum in the first place. Fluchthilfe & Du / Border Crossing & You envisions escape aid as a paid service and publicly solicits support for refugees' struggle for freedom of movement.
The Bavarian Refugee Council organized an International Conference on Human Smuggling and Trafficking. The participants disagree with the established image of human smugglers as criminals. According to them, smugglers also carry on the tradition of escape aid at the times of the Third Reich.
During the International Conference on Human Smuggling and Trafficking (ISS 2015) in München, over 800 people were imprisoned in pre-trial custody in Bavaria on charges of human smuggling. Meanwhile in Austria, every 5th person in pre-trial custody was accused of human smuggling. With these terrifying numbers and realities in mind, it is not only necessary to explicitly demand the abolishment of the paragraphs on human smuggling, but also to take a closer look at these trials and follow them. Katarzyna Winiecka critically revisits the ISS conference and analyzes the structural racism and class issues that pervade trials on human smuggling and criminalize solidarity with people on the move.
Vienna International Airport: a hub for people yearning to see distant places and globalized business relationships. But many people get onto a plane, because they are forced to—they are being deported. “I Ain't getting on No Plane! How to Stop a Deportation” shows ‘safety instructions’ for those who would like to prevent a deportation and take action showing solidarity: ‘Don't fasten your seatbelt,’ ‘Stand up and refuse to sit down,’ ‘Talk to the captain’ are some of the recommendations. (Protest Productions Collective)
The scenes shown in the film are a reconstruction of a forced “Level 4” deportation carried out by the Swiss authorities. By conducting numerous interviews with people who have been personally involved in the deportation procedure, and by analyzing the training material used by the Swiss police, it was possible to obtain a clear picture of the procedure. By publicizing this film, augenauf highlights the procedures that Switzerland is implementing behind closed doors.
What will 2016 bring: fences or open borders? On January 8, 2016, tranzit.hu organized a talk and a workshop with the title “I Have A Scream,” as part of the two-day finissage of Babi Badalov’s exhibition “Poetical Activism.” Curator and moderator Katalin Erdődi invited human rights experts, activists, and humanitarian NGOs to participate in a discussion about what the new year will bring in Hungarian migration and asylum politics. This exchange not only served as a starting point for the thematic issue “A Weird Geography,” but also marked a period in which the borders were still partially open (although only for Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghani citizens) and measures to be taken by European policy-makers were still open to debate.