Tuesday, 2 December 2014

14. 2014: Walls, World Cups, Integration and the lightness of being

Don't worry, this article is not about football. It's about integration, so even if I start with the World Cup... bear with me. 

I have to think twice to remember that 2014 was a World Cup year. An event that seemed to be omnipresent a few months ago, now it is a thing of the past. 

Sometimes it is interesting to see how the World Cup -and the emotions it generates- sit against the social context of the countries that win it and the countries that host it. World Cups, as many big events and rituals, can feed and synchronise the collective unconscious.  The most remarkable of all, probably was the Germany win in 1990 in Italy, as it was soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the reunification of Germany. This win became a celebration of having their country back to life, after fascism had killed it, the occupation had torn it apart and had built a wall to keep it that way. 

Germany is for some the corpus callosum of the world's brain. It is the place where connections between the two hemispheres happen (West and East). It is the country where strangely the sun is female and the moon is male. Where things flip. With a strong masculine personality, analytical, focused in planning and order but still connected with instinct, nature, a country that gave birth to some of the greatest philosophers. It is also the place where the conflicts and tensions were expressed in the point of history when the world was at its maximum polarity and, probably where many of those tensions should be resolved. 

As most of the world, Germany is too looking for its own identity. Not without problems. Not without fear. 
Fear of finding their Ego again instead of the self. In this fear, Germany used to hide behind the EU (up to recently many Germans were more comfortable saying they were Europeans rather than Germans). In this confusion, it constantly needs to negotiate very fine lines between helping to build a union of nations -respected on the grounds of their own power and individuality- and creating another big devouring Mother called Europe that in the name of integration, swallows. The fact that we should be all connected does not mean that we should be or act all the same. Recognition of individuality and difference is a step that cannot be jumped. For Germany to understand the difference, it is important that they find their own individuality, remember it and celebrate it. Funny enough, a string of Wold Cup wins helped them to do just that: right after the World Cup semi-final, Der Spiegel published an article called "The bearable lightness of being: the Germans are learning to like themselves", describing the evolution of Germany from its unification onward. 

Integration is a big word for Germany in this journey: integration of former West and East Germany, integration of the high number of immigrants, integration in the context of the European Union, and probably playing an important role in the resolving (integrating) the world biggest polarity: the tensions between US and Russia (Spiegel's article Germany's choice: will it be America or Russia?). Integration is not only a big word for Germany, it is THE word. Now, from the streets of Dresden, led by Pegida, we are hearing the old story against "others" again: "they are not integrating" and "what should we do with this hordes that milk welfare here and bleed our social state dry?".  This "they" is Islam this time and even if it will never be minor when Germany finds yet another religious group to call "they", the problem is less about religious intolerance that it may seem. Firstly: seeing the problem outside and not recognising it inside. Dresden, as the whole of East Germany is also in the process of integrating with former West Germany, which also at times talks about East Germany as "milking" the mother-nation (which in Germany is rather the Father nation). Secondly, speaking about integration without understanding what's about: integration IS acceptance. 
We cannot integrate what we don't accept. Moreover, integration is not something "the other" does. Integration is a work for all, and that's why it is a challenge, that's why sometimes it feels uncomfortable. 
Something similar occurs in the new battle against Greece. Germany is projecting the failings of the Union project on the weak nations, without recognizing that they were competitive all those years thanks to a group of weak nations, without acknowledging that fixing the interest rates the same for economies that were in structural terms  radically different was also a mistake. And it was not done by the Greeks, or the PIGS. Projecting the union failings onto others is denial. So if Germany wants to lead Europe, it will also have to own part of its failings.

Integration is also a big word for the world and for all of us. In the way of resolving our own internal conflicts, we need to integrate them: find what's stored in our shadow, accept it, own it, assume responsibility for it, find the potentiality in it, and use it to help us do what we want to do, become what we can be. We need to knock down our own internal walls, the ones that separate us from our shadow and the walls that separate us from the other. Haruki Murakami wrote about walls for the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall
"In some cases a wall may protect us. But in order to protect us, it has to exclude others - that's the logic of walls. A wall eventually becomes a fixed system, one that rejects the logic of any other system. Sometimes violently". 

Marina Abramović, the famous Serbian performance artist, spoke (somehow) about the integration process when she was preparing to perform The life and death of Marina Abramović, a theatrical piece. As a performance artist, she hated theatre "Theatre is fake... The knife is not real, the blood is not real, and the emotions are not real. Performance is just the opposite: the knife is real, the blood is real, and the emotions are real". But then she realised that Performance was just a tool to express herself "When you really found your own language and you become secure of what you are doing, then you can accept anything else." Somehow in being able to detach herself from her love of Performance and the hate of theatre, she felt secure she could also use theatre and experience it. "I've learned patience". 

Apart from knocking down the wall, and integrating the other side, Germany is still working on integrating its past. With my former job, we had a lot of internal training, one of which was on leadership, which involved exercises questioning who you are as a leader, why people should follow you, etc. A colleague from India once commented: "It's definitely a challenging exercise...making yourself those questions, but I'm surprised how much the Germans in the course were struggling with it". "Well, it is clear, isn't it?" I said. "Why?" She asked. "if they translate Leader to German is Führer, a heavy word for them" I explained. Confronting the past takes time, and Germany needed many years to make its first mayor film on Hitler, Der Untergang (Downfall, Oliver Hischbiegel, 2004). Not only that, they wanted to portray him as a human being (see Demonising and Idolising), which is not easy and became big topic of discussion (New Yorker.The Guardian) as some people would consider this dangerous and would rather see the demonic narrative, which leaves you in no doubt that it was his fault alone. It is by no means a closed chapter, Oskar Groening was convicted only recently: one of the few 50 SS officials out of 6500 at Auschwitz convicted.  

Banksy - West Bank
Spain is taking a different road regarding its past: the civil war and the Franco years. The judge Baltazar Garzón was deemed wrong in investigating deaths during Franco's dictatorship according the the Amnesty laws, and the team looking for the grave of Federico García Lorca, killed by Franco's nationalist forces, faced many obstacles with the loss of public funding related to the Memory law. Of course, avoiding to look at the past is nothing new. Moving forward without looking back is a known coping strategy for severe trauma. We build a wall, "a wall may protect us", we fragment ourselves and give power to what we consider our strong side, hiding the weak, the ashamed, the bad, the not worthy behind the wall. In this article of The Guardian, Kate Connolly speaks about Dresden being at war with itself in this regard.

We fragment society and the world, separating too the weak, the ashamed, the bad, the not worthy, the sick, the poor, the immigrants, the old, the african americans, the PIGS, the third world....
However, walls can stand for a long time, but not forever. Hating and segregating the weak is hating our own weaknesses instead of accepting them.

There is a moment when a new generation comes that is able to detach themselves from the love and hate that built those walls, and just sees them as oppressive. The emotions sustaining walls are always dense and heavy. A new generation that can make questions, that want to see what's behind, that want to knock it down, challenge the beliefs, unveil the secrets, with the hope that through that density and armed with the ability to step to the other side, there might come a break to the wheel of eternal recurrence, and find a lightness of being.


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