No Limits? Utopia or Possibility?

Global Perspectives on Migration and Flight – A Conference of Goethe Institutes in Istanbul, Munich and Mexico City

Last Saturday the Goethe Institute in Cooperation with ARD alpha and Munich Kammerspiele hold a live conference simultaneously happening in Istanbul, Mexico city and Munich with speakers from the field of democracy development, migration and refugee aid as well as people from the artistic field trying to connect the challenge of migration and flight with artistic strategies and its impact in political and social affairs. A dialogue for exchange, offering new visions, finding structures of solidarity or rather persistence?

Conference at Salt Galata

On the same day, some hours before the conference the ‘Syrian Mobile Films Festival’ took also place in SALT Galata. Short Clips from Smartphones played an important role in the Syrian revolution and thousands of people filmed footage to document the demonstrations and happenings at this time. It became an important tool for freedom of expression and creation under suppression, war and dictatorship. The films at the festival show a lot of individual impressions and reflect the variety of Syrians realities. From scenes of war, young revolutionaries preparing themselves for the routine of fight in Syria, a small boy rebuilding his home city in lovely details with paper, the long way of flight or the struggles to integrate in a new society in Europe with all difficulties, the viewer is directly confronted with the individual incredible stories of the filmmakers.

One film starts with the introduction: ‘My story starts on the road and I think it is reflecting something that it will stay on the road.’ Indeed it is reflecting something. And it is even more reflecting something, that on the conference for Migration and Flight neither in Istanbul nor in Munich any of those ‘refugees’ was represented by him or herself. Is this the idea of how to deal with migration topics, not to give a voice to the persons concerned? In cities where plenty of young talented educated Syrians live?

Syrian Mobile Films Festival

But back to the beginning. What do have Istanbul, Munich and Mexico City in common? They are all part of inhuman political deals between unions and countries which are aiming to keep people away regardless of the consequences as long as they stay away from the USA or the EU. And both Mexico and Turkey are doing the dirty work for the prosperous countries.

The speakers in Munich were Ulrike Guérot, founder and director of the European Democracy Lab, and Philipp Ruch, artistic director of the ‘Center for Political Beauty’. In the beginning of this month Guérot published her book ‘Warum Europa eine Republik werden muss! Eine politische Utopie.’(Why Europe must become a republic! A political utopia). She spoke about how we should deconstruct our ideas of nation states. Everything is fluid in the global world: gas, oil, money, internet; but the idea of living together is still very static. Although passports just exist since 1921, their hierarchy is determining plenty of lives. For the first time more than 60 million people around the world are fleeing, but they fail on the borders. Also Philipp Ruch dealt with borders, but in an artistic way. ‘Erster europäischer Mauerfall’ (First fall of the European wall) was an artistic action for the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin wall, where 100 people drove to the European external borders to break it down in a performative act. Just to name one of the many artistic acts to consult the policy with the consequences of their actions.

Mexico City was represented by Fabienne Venet, director of the research institute on migration INEDIM, and the collective Migrantas, who are doing workshops with refugees and immigrants, to give them a voice in urban spaces by transforming their drawings in pictograms that everybody can understand easily. The collective is working in different cities around the world, but although every city, every participant tells its own story, they encounter many universal moments.

In Istanbul Pırıl Erçoban, director of Mültici-Der a NGO dealing with refugee aid and migration, Enis Yücel, photographer, and Eda Elif Tibet, documentary filmmaker, who introduced her film ‘Refugee Here I am’, were guests of the conference. The lack of legal status for refugees and their designation as guests although Turkey is with 3 Million people the country with the most refugees, were very present. Especially facing the deal with European Union and the plans for a ‘Safety Zone’ in Syria makes many hopeless, because then it is just of the will of the government. Also the distribution of money Turkey will get within this deal, is not yet figured out and has to be observed very critically.

But sure is that the governments are miserably failing. The aid for refugees and migrants, and this is also connecting those three countries, is mainly carried by the civil society, who assumes responsibilities the government is in charge of. And in case of Turkey the civil society is even incapacitated by its own government.

So. No Limits? Possibility or Utopia? Facing a new deal between Sudan and the EU it seems to be hopeless in near future, although the comment of Ruch, that it was already possible some years ago, is encouraging. And Limits are not beginning with borders of countries, but also with borders and exclusion in cultural institutions and in the societies. It is important to tell the stories of the people that are suffering displacement, war, poverty and the difficulties of immigration, but they don’t need an unequal empowerment, they should have the place to talk for themselves and become a part.


Thomas Büsch

Filmmaker, Founding Member and Secretary General of diyalog, promotion of cultural exchange with Turkey. Since 2012 he is also project manager of InEnArt.

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