Revolution of stupidity

Salzburger Nachrichten 28. April 2018 | Text: Bernhard Flieher | Photo: Wolfgang Lienbacher

Über homeland
Something's burning. And it's burning well, at least for those who are fumbling around on many of the foundations of democracy. But Konstantin Wecker and Hubert von Goisern have no time for them at all.

Hubert von Goisern and Konstantin Wecker have often played music together. About 30 years ago, the Goiserer played his first concert in Munich at Café Giesing, which at the time belonged to Wecker. The two know and appreciate each other, not just as artists, but also as watchful observers of the present - and so they are connected in a critical view of the politics of exclusion and desolidarisation.

Both of you have ventured far into the world, working with artists from other cultures. How does that change your view of the world?

Hubert von GoisernHubert von Goisern: I'm just curious. I have to satisfy that. And I have learned that no matter where autochthonous cultures have evolved and survived, be it the Tuaregs in Mali, the Sami in Lapland or the people of the Salzkammergut, there are many chauvinists. It's probably the case that such culture would otherwise not have been able to be formed and preserved. But it annoys me too. On the other hand, these experiences make it easier for me to deal with people who retreat behind traditions, and who look on askance at anyone who does not do the same. I regard my compatriots with more ease than I did 30 years ago.

Konstantin Wecker: It is exciting for the world view when you realize that there is not just one homeland. Everyone has one. Those who have looked beyond it have the chance to break out of a dangerous, narrow-minded homeland-centric way of thinking. I feel at home where I find myself.

Goisern: Homeland is not a geographical place, it's nothing that can be defined by borders. Homeland is not a synonym for well-being. Home is where I get involved. When I am somewhere where I join in the conversation, get involved and help shape things, then that's homeland. If I'm just watching, then it's not.

Wecker: Then, no matter where you are, you're only a tourist.

Has this getting involved, speaking out, fallen out of fashion?

Wecker: I think that we must rediscover and see ourselves more as a community and not as mean creatures. It is about meeting and exchange. Retreat is not an alternative.

Goisern: But you do find "counter" in "encounter". It is exciting to allow this "counter", to get involved. And if you do not understand it, then to accept it. This is true for both the left and right.

Is that hard to do?

Goisern: Yes, I admit it is. Sometimes I struggle because there are attitudes that I can not accept from a humanistic point of view. Racism, intolerance, any form of cruelty. That cannot stand. Then there's going to be a fight. Fighting is a form of encounter too.

Wecker: I once had a show in a neo-Nazi bar with a choir from Cameroon. Then I asked a member of the audience if he would hug one of the singers. Then someone said, if I hugged the neo-Nazi, then they would. So I hugged him - the man later left the scene. If that were to work with one or other of the so-called "Freedom" politicians, I'd embrace him.

Goisern: People from a nationalistic, chauvinist corner do not regard community as something that works best when there is cohesion, but rather as something that is best achieved by means of images of the enemy.

Wecker: For me, taxes are a good example. The word "tax" only has a negative connotation: tax evasion, tax haven. So if I pay no taxes, I'm in a haven, a paradise. That's wrong with respect to community. I'm happy to pay taxes, even though I know that a lot of money goes to the military and other madness, but I know that schools are being financed too, kindergartens and the care professions - albeit poorly paid.

Goisern: I am not a pessimist, but it is clear: "de-solidifying" people is working more and more. Politicians like Kaczyriski, Erdogan, Orbän, Trump, the Brexiteers
the list is long, they are all agitating people and successfully going with desolidifying.

Wecker: The only possibility we should pursue is a rule-free society, anarchy. Many things no longer work in the current power structures. And the essence of power is only that it wants to preserve itself. Of course, one can feel looked after in the present kind of rule. It's comfortable when someone says: That's good, that's not good. It's certainly easier than if I had to decide that for myself. At the same time, scientists make us believe that man is essentially nothing but a wolf among wolves. Regardless of the fact that to say so is to insult wolves - we are constantly being persuaded that we must always be better and faster and more efficient than others. This promotes this desolidification.

Goisern: What's amazing is that those who are doing the persuading are but a small section of humanity. But this section, both in politics and in business, is simply well-organised and powerful. The other, larger part is not organised and is at the mercy of the others. So I have a problem with anarchy. If it means the absence of a repressive rule, I am okay with it. If it means the absence of any order, then I am against it.

Konstantin WeckerWecker: Anarchy is order without authority. But one thing must be made clear: we are surrounded by a financial capitalism which has gone completely mad, which confuses everything and transforms it all into a form of injustice that is almost unbearable.

Goisern: And it surrounds us with scare tactics. Fear is fuelled by alienation, because we have to tighten the belt a bit tighter. But the paunch of our society is so chubby that the belt won't do up. Every generation has to face new challenges. For us it's migration. This does not affect Austria or Europe alone, it is a worldwide movement. It exists and it comes from a necessity of the people who are travelling. Be it wars or unacceptable economic conditions that they are seeking to escape. We like being on the road, travelling. But it's different if it's something you have to do. Escape is not romantic.

Wecker: I read an interesting sentence from the Italian philosopher Franco Bernardi: "We are faced with an identitarian aggression - I do not want to call it fascism, but it is something similar." I think that's incredibly well-observed: the longing for identity. But many are not looking for this identity within themselves, they are looking for something dangerous, namely "völkisch", nationalistic.

Goisern: I am astonished that most people who vote for Erdogan, Putin, Trump or others with an autocratic and dictatorial inclination, are never those whose lives improve as a result. It is mainly those whose already low social benefits are still being slashed. It seems to me like a revolution of stupidity.

Wecker: That also applies to parties such as the AfD (Alternative for Germany) or your FPÖ (Freedom Party) - they are just as much a part of capitalism and yet sell themselves as a party for the man on the street. The difference between Germany and Austria is simply probably no other nation has worked through their terrible past as well as Germany. You guys have more of a problem, right?

Goisern: When I look at Germany, I certainly wish that we had such a culture of discussion. If a debate on fraternities were to break out in Germany as it did at home, the discussion would be different. We did not process the swamps of the past as consistently. For a long time there was a culture of looking away and marking time and of trivialisation too. We had to wait for Waldheim, for something to happen - I agree with you completely. But you do have unresolved problems and urgent need for action, especially in the East.

Wecker: At the same time there are the forgotten and the left behind. Social democrats took care of them before they cosied up to neoliberalism.

Goisern: Possibly people have not been forgotten, but rather deliberately hidden for the sake of simplicity. There is not a single party that wants to close the gap between rich and poor. There is no one who offers more than placebos. Thus, the idea of ​​anarchy becomes more attractive.

Wecker: And in addition, the world has become too complex for the individual. And out of fear of this complexity people want to cling to something - and end up choosing what is simplest.

Goisern: I do not think people have grown more stupid. They have only become more interlinked. Stupidity has networked. Ferdinand von Schirach said at the Salzburg Festival that there isn't just swarm intelligence, there's also swarm stupidity. Clinging to the simplest thing is comparable to believing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

Do you, as an artist, have to face such simplification?

Wecker: Well, it's significant that the first thing any budding dictatorship does is to destroy art, burn books, kill or expel artists. The poet Said from Iran, told me that a poet had been sentenced to sixteen years in prison for sixteen poems. Poetry is resistance. It is the exact opposite of the slogans that are bellowed. A slogan is ready-interpreted word. A ruling structure has decided: That's how it is now! You cannot concretely interpret anything in poetry. If you read a Rilke poem 30 years later, they are still the same words - but they reach you in a different way. The tenderness of poetry is something that rulers do not understand. They understand war, violence, command. I also have this feeling that we are living in a pre-war period. There is talk of needing smaller atomic bombs, because the big ones are only for the sake of deterrence, and because they might want to drop some. Anyone who says that has to be thrown in jail. It scares me.

Goisern: The barking of war cannot be denied. But I don't think that people's basic feelings have grown more aggressive. We were able to emancipate ourselves from the church and, on the whole, from politics. Now that politics has lost the power of action on the economy, it is time to emancipate ourselves from the dictates of consumption and economic growth.

Let me once again come to the role as an artist.

Goisern: When art fails, it hits the margins of society, the outsiders, the dejected. Art has to draw attention to them. The harder it gets - and we are experiencing it now - the more the weak fall through the cracks and lose their advocates.

But what did singing ever do?

Wecker: I'm in agreement with my friend and songwriter Hannes Wader. He once said that you have to ask this question the other way around. What if there hadn't been these many mosaic stones that have been laid by artists or upstanding journalists? Things would look a lot crappier.

Both of you often deal with traditions, including the concept of homeland. Do you feel misunderstood - for example, when the FPÖ plays a song by Hubert von Goisern during their election campaign?

Wecker: They did that? What did you do?

Goisern: I said they should leave it alone, and took the opportunity to point out what my music stands for. For cosmopolitanism and against borders. That is, the opposite of the FPÖ. I do not feel misunderstood in principle. A few people interpret the music in such a way that it may well even suit their completely contrary image. However, I think that through my music and the way I position myself, I have always made it clear what I stand for. I do not want to tell anyone how things should be done, but rather open hearts.

Why do politicians so rarely express their views on art?

Wecker: They are afraid of really free opinion, of intelligence, of tenderness - and above all of social utopias. I do not understand why one person should have the right to command another. We can talk to each other, we can set boundaries and responsibilities, but it doesn't work for us to be ordering each other about. We can carry on something as an artist. And Hubert said something nice: about opening hearts and how it can't be the job of a singer to tell you what to do. I never wanted that either. I do not want mute obedience. Neither do I want that people to find me in my poems. Instead, they should find themselves. Gottfried Benn once wrote: "To meet yourself in the poem." From reactions at recent concerts, I've noticed like never before that it is the nature of art to encourage.

Over the years, SN editor Bernhard Flieher has been met Hubert von Goisern and Konstantin Wecker on many occasions for interviews and writes about their concerts and travels. A concert by Wecker in Oberalm offered the opportunity to set up a meeting. Both agreed "with great, great pleasure".