You studied design in the USA…
Well, “studied design” sounds so important, and it was the Rhode Island School of Design, but I was barely there a year because in America a school like that is very, very expensive and most of the people at that school were from rich families, or a lot of them, which was not my case at the time.
But basically my introduction to film was there. In fact, it sounds like one of these legendary stories, but it’s really true, the person who showed me for the first time how to put film in a Steenbeck editing machine was Gus van Sant because he had just finished god, this really shows how old I am he had just finished art school. He went to Rhode Island School of Design. There was a teacher named Peter O’Neil who was the head of the film department. And there was this guy there when I was trying to push this film into the thing. I couldn’t figure out this German editing machine, and he showed me. And then, of course, years later the guy becomes one of the more interesting directors to come out of that country. It was also the time at Rhode Island School of Design when the Talking Heads, David Byrne and that group, were not quite even famous yet. This was the beginning of stopping being a bum and trying to learn something, or to figure out something to do with one’s life at an early age of eighteen or something.
Did you think at that time about being a director?
No. It generally had more to do with childhood in the 70s. Money wasn’t important, which was why I ended up doing something stupid like learning film, instead of something you could actually live off of. I don’t think film was actually the most important. I was actually doing more graphic work, print-making and also silk-screening, partly because then you could do these great political t-shirts, because I was left-wing, and so I did all these Impeach Reagan t-shirts and stuff from silk-screening and that kind of thing.
So I started at Rhode Island School of Design, not specifically for film but I ended up seeing Dusan Makavejev’s films: he was at Harvard at that time and came down. Rhode Island School of Design is in Providence, Rhode Island, which is less than an hour from Boston where there are around 200 universities in the city. Providence is a tiny little town with not much there except Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design. And so, being close to Boston there were some very interesting people who came down to visit us. Amongst them was Dusan Makavejev, who I remember especially well .WR: Mysteries of the Organism and Sweet Movie. And the guy himself was Wow! Amazing! In fact, that was one of the reasons that made me want to go to Europe. I had actually been to Europe before playing ice hockey in my youth but when I saw this guy Dusan Makavejev I thought: This is another world. This is something I want to check out. His films and his whole attitude and his background, coming from a socialist country, Yugoslavia, and being more left than left-wing, which was what I basically identified with entirely, and the films that this guy made.
Are your parents Americans?
I don’t know. I think they’re from Mars, actually. My mother’s Czech, or Slovak actually. Back then it was Czechoslovakia. And my father is American but he has a Polish background. His father’s from Poland, which is why the name Ralske sounds almost German to the Germans because it is one of these areas where it was once German, then it was Polish, then it was Russian, then it was German, then it was Polish again. But I don’t have any real connections to my family. I mean I haven’t seen my father since I was around sixteen.
And after a year of being at the university you decided to leave America.
I had no money and then I met an East German professor. And I wanted to go to Europe and this guy offered me the possibility to learn German at Wilhelm Pieck University in Rostock, and not only did he offer me this, it wasn’t going to cost me anything, which was important to me at the time because I had no money. So it was an ideal situation for me, or at least I thought it was, because looking back now, that was the beginning of all the problems that came. No, anyway, I met this professor and he was a guest professor from the GDR and he basically organized the possibility for me to go study at Wilhelm Pieck in the early 80s.
Early 80s. So that was GDR…
It was GDR pure. It was great.
Well, for me it was great because it was like another world, and it was an important experience for me. It was also very interesting. It had a big impact on everything that I did afterwards in a certain way, a strange way.
So you admired this situation or this time, or?
Well, it was a really big break for me. Ronald Reagan had just got elected president for a second time, and this GDR professor offered me the chance to leave this place which I considered a horrible, imperialistic, aggressive county, which it still is. And it was brilliant to me, this was the perfect escape. Great! Someone is taking care of all the organization and I’ll get out of here. I was also interested in Dusan Makavejev... but his films are made in Yugoslavia, you know, his best films.
And like it was for a lot of people from the West at that time, you’d go to places in the East and it’d be like travelling in time. And I’ll never forget how I flew to Amsterdam and then with a train from Amsterdam through Hamburg further east, and there were less and less people on the train. And in Hamburg almost everyone got out, and then it would go further and then there was like me and two other people in the whole train. And when I then got to Rostock there were still these steam locomotives that were going to Warnemünde.. It was like being in a spy film anyway, even if you were only going to West Berlin, you know, with this whole situation with the East and West back then. It was really exciting. You thought you were an important person because everyone was checking you out, even the officials.
Because you had to be suspicious.
Well, it made you feel important. But I wasn’t suspicious. I was an enemy of Ronald Reagan, but I guess that made me suspicious, too. But this time in Germany, I wasn’t there that long really. It was just a semester. But it was great because I was the only American and everyone was curious to meet me and wanted to argue with me but then they realised that I was probably not what they suspected, … or maybe yes. It was a really interesting time. And there were good things and there were things of course that were not so good. But it’s not up to me to judge the GDR. I was only there for a certain time and I don’t really want to go into all that stuff.
But everyone knows that history is always written by the victors and so there is just so much that is so untrue about the situation, about why the situation was the way it was and who is to blame that… I just think that the general opinion or view of that time period, of that system is very skewed, especially of course in some places like America and Western Europe, and even West Germany it’s no better. But this is a whole other theme and I’m not going to be so naïve to … but I just know from personal experience. I mean, okay, I didn’t have some of the problems some other people had.
It was a really important time and it was because I was so young and all that, that it has a different value for me than for a lot of people that don’t know the way that place was or what it represented or how people lived. But those are generalities that you can say about any country or government anyway. There are little pockets of ways of living that are good even in bad situations.
To me it was really important because it was the first time I got to learn German, because up until that time I could speak Czech, not through my mother but because I worked in a Czech-American theatre and had a Czech girlfriend in America. This is one of the reasons why after Wilhelm-Pieck I wanted to go to Belgrade, because Serbo-Croatian is very close to Czech and you can really almost understand everything when they speak slowly. And so my idea was, because of my big hero Dusan Makavejev I was going to learn some German and then I wanted to go to Belgrade.
To do what? To study there?
To study film there and see what’s going on.
But why Belgrade?
Because of Dusan Makavejev I mean, I had talked to him and knew there was this film school in Belgrade.
You stayed in Rostock eventually?
No. I didn’t stay in Rostock because, well, there were a few reasons why. Probably the biggest reason was that I was just a restless person. I mean I was 18 or19 and there were so many more things to see. And so I remember I hitchhiked from Rostock to Dresden and there were also some funny kinds of things that happened on the trip. In Rostock I had also met some Yugoslavians who were from Dubrovnik and visited them. And through some Yugoslavians I met in Dubrovnik, I met someone new in Berlin, but this time in the West. I hadn’t been to the West. I didn’t know West Germany at all. I didn’t know West Berlin. I knew East Berlin but I didn’t know West, so I thought I’d go back and see what the other side looked like.
Later I had money problems as usual and I ended up pretty much like a lot of people at that time I think in West Berlin. West Berlin was like a transit zone. You met all these people who were either escaping the military service or who were in transit and just ended up staying …because in order to get out you had to have a plan or you had to have money or you had to have some goal. As long as you didn’t have those, West Berlin was exactly the right place to be. Because West Berlin at that time was a kind of fantasy island, so for people who were either suicidal or confused it was the perfect place, which was pretty much my situation.
So I stayed in West Berlin and just went to film school here after trying for six months to get into film school in Prague. Prague was much closer than Belgrade and I could speak the language. And through this theatre I had connections to all these people who I didn’t know personally, but I knew them really well because I’d heard all these stories from these Czech immigrants in America about this person and that person, and there was this really big underground scene, much more extensive than in East Germany. The scene in Prague before 1989 was incredible as far as the unofficial art and music. So I really, really wanted to go to school in Prague, but then Ronald Reagan was elected the second time and this was a year later and he got this great idea to station these new missiles (Pershing 2) in Europe to show who’s got the bigger dick. That was probably the pinnacle of the Cold War when that happened, and there were huge demonstrations also in West Germany about this whole thing. So that was probably the absolutely worst time for a person from the West to try and study in the East because it was, excepting perhaps the Cuban missile crisis, the worst time in the entire Cold War. So people in Prague were even scared to answer my letters or talk to me for fear of being connected with anyone who came from this country that was threatening the entire world with nuclear destruction. So it was just impossible, and at some point I got so far that they maybe would have put me in this class they had for foreigners in the film school, but it was basically just a way for them of getting hard currency, and there were just rich fucking Italians and Spaniards there who had their little club outside of the film school and every now and then they’d get a camera from the normal film class. But I wasn’t interested in that. They were the kind of people I was trying to escape from and I wasn’t interested in hanging out with a bunch of rich Europeans and making believe I was a filmmaker in Prague.
The film school in West Berlin had at that time and for a few years afterwards, a very strong reputation as a very political, anarchic, and active place, a place where Harun Farocki,d Bitomsky and these people got thrown out, and Holger Meins from RAF (the Red Army Fraction) had studied. The West Berlin DFFB had quite a reputation. You wouldn’t recognise the school now. I mean it’s kind of tragic, really tragic... The DFFB was the first film school in West Germany. It was founded right after this Oberhausener Manifest that they made in ’65 or ’66 where a bunch of young West German film-makers had this protest against the mainstream Heimatsfilm film, against “Opa’s kino”, and they wrote this manifesto, saying: “We’re going to make other films.” And there were very good people who came out of that whole thing Alexander Kluge and this group with Edgar Reitz.
Of course, in the East there was Babelsberg. In Munich, the film school came later, and now almost every village has its own film school it seems. Because everyone thinks that media is the only place where money is invested, or people now have so much free time that they’re just going to be watching TV all the time, and we have to have someone who makes the TV shows.
And this was how my personal history took its course. This was the third variation on “how do I become a filmmaker”, and so I decided to try to get into the West Berlin film school.
Did you finish film school in West Berlin?
Yes. I did do one thing from beginning to end. I started in ’88 or ’89.
It was just the time when the Wall came down.
Yeah, just the timing of the whole thing was perfect. Partly because I’d gone to the East to support the Communist revolution, and just when I was becoming a normal citizen, going to study for a certain period of time, learning a trade, becoming a normal person, the Communist revolution had a bit of a setback.
And the first film, the first long film you made was “Not a love song”.
It was my Abschlussfilm, my diploma film in ’95 or something. Yeah, I studied at the DFFB for six years.
And the idea for the film, where did it come from?
Well, actually, I had this really great project that I wanted to do about this guy Dean Reed who was an American who was very politically active. He became what they called the “Johnny Cash of Communism” . He was this big music and film star in the East but was unknown to the West. So I thought his life would be a good film topic in the early 90s , after everything had pretty much collapsed, I thought it was an interesting situation how someone who really devoted his life to a different way of running things, would see history suddenly heading the other direction. The wrong direction. However , he was very naïve. Anyway, he was a very interesting character for me and so I had this really brilliant fiction version of what he would have done if he had lived.
He died in East Germany in ’86 before the shit hit the fan as they say in English, and it’s a really good expression for what happened, when everything fell apart. And so before the shit hit the fan he died so he never had to deal with everything that happened after ’89. And so that was the premise for that project and I set it all in Prague because I still was totally in love with Prague and the people there. And I had some people from television who were interested and everything was going great and this was supposed to be my diploma film, this project in ’93 ‘94. But it didn’t happen.
The only reason I tell that story is because now everyone has been reading in the last year or two that Tom Hanks is doing this story: Comrade Rock Star the Story of Dean Reed. I just find it so ironic because back then, twelve years ago, here I was with this story that is for sure a different film than one that Tom Hanks will or will not do. You never know if these Hollywood productions ever do get off the ground. But that was supposed to be my original diploma film.
When that didn’t go through… You know these film projects are so horrible because what people don’t know is that you really invest, in the best-case scenario, two years of your life looking for money, for financing for the project and you have to be, even after one and a half years, totally enthusiastic as if it’s the greatest newest thing when after one and half years, even if it’s your own screenplay, you just can’t see it anymore. It’s just disgusting, but you still have to be enthusiastic.
So that fell through in ’94, and in film school you have four or five years to finish your film, I had to come up with something new. And through my own experience I still had this need to reflect on the whole socialist system, and what was going to happen or what had happened. The situation in the mid-90s after ’89 in the East was that people who had been taught their whole life that capitalism is evil, they are the bad guys, had to overnight do a total reverse. Capitalism is great. Capitalism is fantastic. It’s the only way things work. So I thought that was kind of an interesting premise for a film.
Harun Farocki was interested in this theme too, and I had worked for him a few times.He had done a film about these seminars that they would have, to try to teach people that capitalism is great and you can be a good capitalist too and how to do it: which basically made a lot of money for a lot of people who teach the seminars. But for the people who were taking these seminars, well, you can see where it goes, right?
So this was one of the starting points for that story, these people who are thinking, very naively, okay they’re our big brothers and look how rich and good they’re doing, and so we’ll do what they say, try to create a profit from whatever we have around us. But sometimes creating profit is not the most important thing. And that was the premise for the story, a non-existent love story in a village where no one wants to stay. Everyone wants to leave but no one really makes it out of there. And the one person who wants to stay kind of ends up ruining the situation.
It was kind of a strange film to do, first of all, because it was for TV[?] and I had to go to four different places to get the money for it.You know, you’re always trying to please these different parties. It’s bad enough when you only have to convince one important person that your idea is good. And it’s always difficult when you are dealing with different people and each one of their opinions you have to take seriously, or deal with. And especially in German TV they want socially-relevant kinds of things, when, to me, one of the easiest ways to ruin the film. In a way it is a kind of funny, actually the perverted Western version of “social realism” where you’re trying to explain your entire society on the basis of some personal story, which is kind of absurd. So it was really a difficult film for me in that sense because it’s really not what I wanted to do in a way.
And the other thing that made it difficult was that at that time, in 1996, it was also one of the worst times, when people in the East and especially the younger people were really having a hard time with all these places closing, and feeling the sqeeze. So there were all these skinheads, lots of skinheads, because where we shot was near Schwerin which is near the Polish border, which at that time was really one of the Hochburg for the skinheads. But I have to say that the head capo of the faschos (fascists) was a policeman from West Berlin. He would come there on weekends and visit a Kampfgruppe and teach these kids there, and he was from West Berlin.
But for us it was a problem because the guy who was doing the Ausstattung, the set-design, was this gay Polish sweet person, but totally fucking gay, and a very nice friend of his who was also in charge of the set-design with him was a really nice West German guy, Peter Weber. And that was the other thing, on my team, for whatever reason there were, which is really unusual for film, there were about 70% women on top of it. So I came there with this harem, these gay guys and me : I had long hair like this still. And so it was a little tough in the beginning, especially when I wasn’t there, there were one or two incidents.
Did you have professional actors, the main actors?
Well, the male lead, Lars Rudolph, actually won a prize for that film. He was more of a friend. I met him through his band. He had a band called Stan Red Fox and they were brilliant. He had a number of music projects but that was the one that he had at that time, and I saw him on stage and I thought he was just so brilliant; his stage presence and this guy has got to be put in a film. And the very first time he ever actually acted was not in this film, it was in a short film. I made a short film. I made a socialist trilogy of short films. There were three short films dealing with socialism. He acted then for the first time in one of these shorts, and he didn’t like it actually until the film showed at the Berlinale in ”Panorama”, and then all of a sudden he was interested in becoming an actor. And he’s now very successful, big in a lot of films. He was in “Lola Rennt”, and in this other one from Tom Tykwer, and in a couple of French films, British films. So he’s done very well. But the team was basically all film students, because we had such a low budget for the entire film, when you think about it nowadays what these dudes have for their diploma films. I mean we had Marks not Euros, around a hundred and twenty. No, that’s not true. We had eighty thousand Marks. And then we shot 35mm.
And how long did you shoot?
We didn’t have much time. I think around about four weeks. And we were in this place where it wasn’t so easy to shoot. But that film, like I said, was my first long film, which is really important because, you know, when you come from film school you’ve usually just done shorts. Well, maybe nowadays it’s different. You do a short and you immediately get a job with… An advertising firm will pick you up. So it was important for me to do the film. And in the end it did run at around fifty festivals internationally, won some prizes because Goethe Institute picked it up for their worldwide series about East Germany today. It even showed in America at a few festivals and then also in Los Angeles. So I’m happy with the film. As always with these films, afterward you see all these things that you know so much better now; about how not to film, about why the film is the way it is. It’s very painful on the one hand. On the other hand I can say that even though it was a diploma film, it had a cinematic release and distributor here in Germany. And you go to all these festivals where people are nice to you, and they’re happy to see you, and they look at your film. It was very rewarding in that sense.
Did this film get good reviews?
Yeah. I’ll never forget that in BZ Newspaper, when I got ”Bester Spielfilm” prize from the film critics [Preis der deutschen Filmkritik] as the best film of the year, there was this short list and on this short list are “Rossini” from Dietl, Tom Tykwer’s Winter Schläfer and all these big names, and then my little film, and I thought: “Wow!” I made the mistake though of thinking that now it was going to be easy.
And was it easy?
No. No. You’ve seen the film, right? It is exactly what nobody wants, basically. Nothing happens. It is, as I said, a Becket play for me. It’s stillstand. The people aren’t really acting normally because the situation isn’t normal. It was the stylistic idea I had to see how you can create a theme or an atmosphere without simply re-creating reality, which to me is just so boring because you see that in the subway everyday. You don’t have to stage a film to see people being nasty or brutal …In order to create what really causes the problem you have to find a different way. Otherwise, you can’t reflect. I like films that make you think, not films that just shove it down your throat. And so in this film I was trying to think of how to make something so strange but yet that makes you reflect on certain things.
But to answer your question, it was not easy at all because in this film no one is naked. There’s no car chase. The actors aren’t really acting. It’s in black and white. It’s not dolby-stereo. No one’s really nice, although no one’s really not nice. So there are all these things that if you are a producer or a distributor you would just think… oh no.
It means that only nice films get the public, but if they are really sad or tragic films then…
I’m not being cynical. It’s just that either you are in the situation where you don’t really need to make money and you can have this kind of elite hobby like Mr. Chabrol who comes from a really rich family and makes the films he wants to make, though of course that was a different era. But nowadays, what interests me in film is that you sometimes feel like a dinosaur. You’re just so on the outside. But it’s a decision you make.
But to get to specifics, it’s just that the industry is much, much worse than it ever was. You just have to look at the distribution politics in Germany, which are just terrible. I’m not just talking about for me personally. For European cinema in general, Germany has one of the worst. It has the largest public. There are more tickets sold for the cinema in Germany than anywhere in Europe. Yet these people are not willing to take a chance at all. Whereas in France or even Ljubljana, you have much more of a chance of seeing diverse films than in Germany. The films that do come here have already been shown in France or Ljubljana a year or two before. So the distribution politics are really bad here, and the market, of course, is totally controlled by the Americans. And what’s really annoying is that the governmental support for films, the Film-Förderung, even goes to the Americans. Why MGM has to have its copies subsidised by the Babelsberg film fund is a mystery to me. Of course, the justification is that the American films are the ones that sell the most tickets, and that the money comes from those tickets. But the reason why they sell the most is that they use the mechanisms that are there to push everyone else out. It’s like a catch-22. It’s very bitter. You can get very bitter.
But to get back to the original question, after this film I made a mistake. First of all, I spent a year just going from festival to festival to festival because there were around four festivals a month and they would pay your travel. When you are doing that, you don’t have time to start work on other projects, like I should have. And then the film was interesting to people who are interested in film, but for people who are interested in the business of film, it just wasn’t … And the only people who approached me from the business end were the French, strangely enough, because the film showed at Angers, the Premiers Plans festival, and there were some actually important film producers who contacted me there. But I’m not a really ambitious person and I kind of missed out on that chance. Basically I made the mistake of thinking that it would be easier and after that, well… It was the last fiction film I made and that’s now six or seven years ago. Since then I have made other films, but they’ve been shorts or documentaries. I haven’t made a long fiction film since then, which is a sad situation.
Would you say that it’s a hopeless situation for filmmakers who want to make their own films, or critical films?
It’s pretty insane. I think some people are pretty clever. There are a couple of people who have carved out niches for themselves, like Christian Petzold who was in my DFFB class. And he was clever enough to see that here’s a certain thing that interests him on one hand, but at the same time calls his film Beischlafdiebin and somehow figures out a way to appease a certain need for commerciality and still finds a way to make films that are personally interesting and important to him and hopefully to other people. So if you’re really clever...
But with people from this other era, it’s really hard to compare with our situation now because it was just so different. I mean, Harun Farocki says: “Why do you complain so much? You know when I was making films there were only three TV stations and now you have sixty.” And I say: “Okay, we have sixty stations but only half the types of programs.” The formats are so strict now. When he was making films, it’s amazing to see that some of the films he made that were paid for by WDR are so radical, and technically with such minimal production values, and yet still they were shown and appreciated, and he was able to build a career around this very, very special niche…, which is, of course, his accomplishment. But what I want to say is that the situation today is very dismal and you can only hope that something strange happens very quickly. I think it’s possible to see good films but it’s very difficult, and it’s even harder to get them made. It’s hard enough even seeing them. Forget about even making them.
I know a lot of people who I consider comrades-in-film who have adopted an attitude and say that for a while film was important, but now it’s not that important anymore. But that would be kind of sad. Okay. People change. Things change. But it gets kind of exhausting having to re-invent yourself every week.
And what about your second film, Badolato?
It wasn’t really my second film. There were things in between. But it was the second long film. Because I did a lot of video work, especially with a person who is totally famous now, Monica Bonvicini and she won the Golden Lion in Venice at the Art Biennale and is one of the top international artists in the world today.
Was it your idea to make the film there to tell this story?
No. It was Monica, actually, because she’s Italian. The film is a documentary about a small ghost town in Calabria where a ship landed on the coast with 600 Kurdish refugees. And since this town was empty and was dying out, the mayor of the town who was a communist decided that the refugees should come live here because we have space and we need people to revitalize the city, and we’re going to get money from the government for the refugees. And so the Kurds came there and overnight there were more Kurds that Italians, and it was this great fairy tale about how this poor village was going to be saved by the refugees, which, unfortunately, didn’t happen. But that was the beginning of the story. And Monica was in that part of the world when this whole thing started and told me about it, said it’s crazy and you should check it out, and I did, and immediately proposed to various people to make a film.
I did make one, for me, very bad mistake because I wanted to shoot on film and not on video. Because I had people who said: “Great idea! And here’s some money and go!” And I said: “Okay, but I want to shoot on film.” And they said: “Oh no….” because film is more expensive. And then I found someone who thought she could get the money very quickly, but it didn’t turn out that way. Instead it took over a year. And in that year, basically the whole development of the story went on. They weren’t waiting for me. Reality doesn’t wait for the documentary. So by the time I got to the film, most of the 600 Kurds had left. But I attempted to tell the story in reverse a little bit and also looked at the more general theme of immigration and what makes a home a home, and dealing with cultural identity and where you belong and the nomadic lifestyle. And these are what became the themes of the film, which upset some people at ARTE. Though in the end I think they were happy. But they were kind of expecting this other story, which wasn’t there anymore. But I’m to blame. It’s my fault. So I had to deal with that.
But also the film, strangely enough, when it was first finished, got some mixed reactions, because they were expecting this more dramatic, clear story about a small village, foreigners and there were more foreigners than original inhabitants and what happens. But that wasn’t possible anymore. It was a more like an essay film. But now, three years after the film, well, with every year that passes, the film gets shown more than it was when it was first finished. It’s also more difficult with documentary films, I’ve discovered. There are fewer festivals for documentary films, and Michael Moore hadn’t appeared on the scene yet with his 9/11 film. So there wasn’t this attitude that maybe we can show this in the theatre. But as I said, with every year the film is being shown pretty much all around the world. So I’m getting a bit more reward for the film now.
One of the questions that is, I think, very important in both films is the idea that: Where you come from doesn’t exist anymore. What do you say? Where is your home?
Well, of course for me personally this is also a theme, which is why it’s in the film. It’s kind of interesting, because it’s becoming more and more of a thing here in Europe. The more they try to push a European identity, the more they’re confronted with cultural identities. Suddenly there are all these workshops and groups dealing with this issue of integration, and what is integration anyway? Should we let these people wear their scarves or not? And if they wear scarves, can the nuns wear their scarves? And why are nuns wearing scarves?
Now there’s a fixation trying to find the surface of things, which is maybe one of the reasons why this film is now of more interest to people. It was a little ahead of its time maybe, dealing with this question of what happens when national identity suddenly disappears because multi-national corporations don’t give a fuck anymore about national boundaries. That is kind of the problem, because this idea that national identity is disappearing is not something that’s come from the culture. It’s not as if the French revolutionary peoples have suddenly become brothers, and that’s why we’re not worried anymore about our national identity or our cultural identity.
We’re not worried about our national or cultural identity because people have been forced to give their identities up, because either one country wants the oil from another country and there’s suddenly a war and a lot of people have to leave, or people are leaving because of economic reasons, because there’s no work. And so people are forced to abandon their cultural identity because of these types of motivation, which is then held against them. Not only are they not to blame for it, but then they go somewhere else and it’s their fault that they’re trying to hold on to their cultural identity. And this is such a bizarre paradox. The logic behind it, to me, seems very strange. There’s such a whole philosophical and political context that it’s difficult to say something about it in two or three minutes. But I do think
there’s a basic psychological problem that happens when you leave your home.
A really good example of this is Milan Kundera, the Czech writer, who always kind of has this as a theme in his work and in his personal history. He’s almost considered a kind of traitor in Prague because he just continues to live in France. He could go back. Why didn’t he? And his last books have been in French and have to be translated back into Czech. And so people are really upset with him in a way. But he has, probably, a pretty healthy attitude to the whole thing, which people misinterpret as being cynical. He says that by giving up your country, by leaving it, it’s actually a declaration of love because you are actually that much more confronted with being Czech or being American or being Turkish or Kurdish in the moment when you leave these places, because then that is how you are identified. Like, Jan Ralske, he’s that American guy. I’ve lived in Berlin now almost longer now than I ever lived in America, but I’m still that American guy. And with Kundera, they ask: Why isn’t he back in Prague? Is he a French writer or a Czech writer?
So strangely enough, the paradoxes that happen by doing this, by leaving the place where you were born and grew up, are really complex and can be really interesting or very problematic, or can also be very misunderstood / admissioning??? if you look at someone like Kundera. I would hope from my own experience that I can see maybe more subtext in things German or things American than someone who doesn’t have the experience or the history I’ve wiggled my way through. So I can only consider it something positive. But other people would look at it very negatively. Someone like Kundera who has this problem, or me who hates America. I do hate America but then hate and love are very close, although let’s keep away from that one.
I mean, it’s an interesting situation and it’s getting to be more and more of a theme in Europe now because of this great desire to create a European identity. But one element that everybody on the left stressed, when talking about this European idea: Okay, fine. You want this European identity. Well, first talk about European social values, and then talk about how capital can move jobs and factories wherever they want. But they did it the other way around. They said no borders at all for these fucking multi-national corporations who can put 20,000 people out of work with one sweep of the hand. They said; who has the lowest taxes? They said: who can fuck their own populations the best and keep them down? They are the people who have the most potential to get a piece of the pie. This is the way their laws work and this is what the left has always said. My favourite is Bertinotti … You hear what this guy has to say, and he’s right on line. Unfortunately, they didn’t listen to him four years ago. And the SPD, well, what can you say?
But, maybe things will change. They can only change for the better.
Thank you very much.