Feasibility of a new UK centre party? And other Brexit-related thoughts

There has been a lot of activity during the last week, mostly on Twitter, but also a few related newspaper articles, emanating from comments by James Chapman, former Daily Mail political editor, who worked for a while for George Osborne as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and then as chief of staff at the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) under Secretary of State David Davis. To cut a long story short, Chapman has been arguing that the Tory Party has been taken over by extremists aiming for a hard Brexit, and saying that Brexit will be a calamity for the country and the party, who may never win power again. He has called for the founding of a new pro-European party to be called The Democrats.

Chapman has claimed that several senior former and two serving Cabinet ministers have contacted him to express interest (though it is important to note his caveat ‘They are not saying they are going to quit their parties’), noting that 60% of the Tory parliamentary party backed Remain. And, significantly, he has given a date of 9th September 2017 to be at Parliament Square, saying ‘I promise some very special guests’. No leading politicians have yet openly declared support, though one might glean sympathies from two articles this morning. Former Labour MP and defeated leadership candidate David Miliband wrote in The Observer today about how Brexit will be an ‘unparalleled act of economic self-harm’ and called for a second referendum (or a vote in Parliament) on the choice between remaining in the EU or the alternative after negotiations, echoing a call made by Tony Blair in October 2016. At the same, Tory MP Anna Soubry, something of a hero of anti-Brexiteers since her endearing appearance and frank statements on the election documentary Brexit Means Brexit, wrote in the Mail on Sunday a quite startling piece attacking the ‘Hard Brexiteers’ (though saying she still respects the referendum result), and saying ‘I would be betraying my principles if I did not make it clear that country must always come before party’. Also this morning, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond have jointly declared, presumably in an attempt to override talk of major cabinet divisions, that the UK will definitely leave the EU, single market and customs union when Article 50 expires in March 2019, while also making clear their support for a transition deal from this point, though stressing that this must not be indefinite, or some ‘back door’ to staying in the EU. Fox has been considered one of the most pro-Leave members of the cabinet, Hammond one of the most pro-Remain, or at least ‘Soft Brexiteers’. Interestingly, Soubry tweeted this morning that the statement by Hammond and Fox ‘shows the need to form #Brexit consensus which Hammond is leading’, perhaps a qualified support for the cabinet member to whom she feels closest, though falling short of unequivocal endorsement.

There had been talk of a new party earlier this year: in May it was claimed that various donors were approaching Tony Blair’s Institute for Global Change with a view to launching a breakaway movement which could attract some non- or anti-Corbynite Labour MPs, with talk of 100 such MPs resigning the whip and joining the new party. That was of course before the general election on 8th June, resulting in a hung parliament and a better-than-expected result for Corbyn’s Labour. Nonetheless, a report in the Sunday Times from the beginning of July (reproduced here) suggested that if Corbynites went ahead with deselection of centrist Labour MPs (with which some have already been threatened), then that could be a trigger for a number to leave to join a new party. This story was based upon sources said to be close to Blair, and hints were given that David Miliband might be a credible figure for a senior role in such a party.

Since Chapman’s first statements and tweets appeared, there have been a variety of left-of-centre voices considering the implications of a new party. Former SDP member and then Blairite advisor and then Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis (and staunch anti-Brexiteer) claimed a new party would indeed be much like the old SDP, and would achieve little more than to split the left and help the Tories, a view also echoed by Owen Jones, on the other wing of the party.  Corbynite journalist and Brexiteer Paul Mason, responding to those who had looked to the success of Emmanuel Macron in France as a model for a new centrist force, said that a new party would be ‘a liberal Tory party. The party of Notting Hill and Canary Wharf; the party of free market economics, globalised finance and social liberalism’ and would likely split the Tories rather than Labour. One might have imagined this to be an outcome Mason would have welcomed, not least in light of his earlier suggestion to the Progress faction that they ‘do a Macron’, but he suggested this would provide little more than ‘an emotional comfort blanket’ as global neo-liberalism withers.

However, political scientist and historian Tim Bale notes various questions relating to a new party, asking what such a new party would which is not already provided by the Liberal Democrats, whether existing anti-Brexit MPs would be better to pursue cross-party strategies, whether it is possible to ‘break the mould’ of British politics as SDP co-founder Roy Jenkins once claimed, in light of the UK electoral system which is unfavourable to third parties. However, he also argues that even if unable to achieve electoral victory, a new party could have an effect upon the policies of others, giving as previous examples of such a phenomenon the SDP pushing Labour towards a more centrist and pro-European stance such as won Blair a massive victory in 1997, or UKIP pushing the Tories towards a more overt and pervasive Euroscepticism.

Various issues occur to me immediately in terms of a new centre party and what it might achieve. The first relates to whether it could actually bring down the Tory/DUP quasi-coalition (for the purposes of confidence and supply issues in Parliament). The June election produced the following results: Tories 317, Labour 262, SNP 35, Liberal Democrats 12, DUP 10, Sinn Féin 7, Plaid Cymru 4, Greens 1, Independent Unionist 1, Speaker 1. So the Tories with the DUP have 327 seats; the others (without Sinn Féin, who will not take up their seats, or the Speaker) have 316. In a vote of confidence, I believe all the others, with the possible exception of the Independent Unionist Sylvia Hermon, would vote against the government. If 6 Tory MPs were to join a new party, or resign the party whip, that could leave the Tories + DUP with 321 votes, the others with 322. If Hermon voted with the government, they would win with 322 to 321; if she abstained, then the Speaker would use his casting vote, and support the government. So the new Democrats would have to capture seven Tory MPs to be sure of being able to bring down the government in a confidence vote, leading to a new general election in which they could fight most seats.

I do not believe this is likely at present. It is possible that Soubry (who in her mid-20s defected from the Conservatives to the SDP) and maybe one or two others (some possible candidates might be Kenneth Clarke, Nicky Morgan or Nicholas Soames, but it would be a huge step for any of these) might be prepared to take the ‘nuclear option’ and leave their party, but to gain a whole seven would require a true sense of a party in crisis.

The situation as regards Tories jumping ship is interesting to compare to that in early 1981, when just one Tory MP, Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler, joined the new Social Democratic Party (like Soubry, though it would be 29 years before she would become an MP), following the Limehouse Declaration of 23rd January 1981 . In 1981 the Tories had a clear majority (which would increase significantly in 1983). Their government’s reputation did look shaky, and Thatcher’s net popularity, pre-Falklands, was low as unemployment rose sharp, so that by the end of the year  she was declared the most unpopular Prime Minister since polling began. Furthermore, Labour remained consistently ahead in the polls right from the time of the 1979 election (peaking, as might surprise some, soon after Michael Foot became leader in November 1980), though this all changed after the Falklands War in 1982, when the Tories’ support soared from the mid-20s to the high 40s. This could not however have been predicted in early 1981. The Conservatives looked weak in the polls, though this was not an uncommon mid-term situation. They did not face something of such shattering impact as Brexit, nor rely upon another party in order to have a majority in the House of Commons. Thus I would argue that the situation was less serious then, and the incentives for Tory MPs to leave the party correspondingly fewer.

How about the situation for the other parties in early 1981? The Liberal Party then had 11 MPs, down from 13 prior to 1979; they would also go on to win Croydon North West from the Conservatives in October 1981, and Bermondsey from Labour in February 1983. The party had recently suffered a terrible blow with the trial in 1979 of their former leader Jeremy Thorpe on charges of having organised the murder of his homosexual lover. Even though he was acquitted, his refusal to give evidence and the general aspects of his lifestyle revealed in the trial meant his reputation was destroyed, with wider harm for the party as a whole, during a period when public opinion was considerably more homophobic than today. David Steel had taken over as leader in 1976 and tried to restore the party’s reputation, in which he was relatively successful, taking it into the Lib-Lab Pact of 1977-78, but the trial itself caused much strain. So the party was not in a strong situation. However, today we have a situation in which just two years ago, in the 2015 General Elections, the Liberal Democrats under Nick Clegg suffered the worst percentage loss of seats of any UK centre party since 1918, down a previous 57 to just 8. They won the seat of Richmond Park in a by-election forced by the sitting Tory MP Zac Goldsmith in December 2016, but Goldsmith won this back in June 2017. Otherwise, under leader (now ex-leader) Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrats went up to 12 seats, a modest gain but still a very long way from the numbers they had under leaders Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy. It is hard to see yet any sign that under Vince Cable – widely remembered as a major figure in the Tory/Lib Dem coalition, and the man who trebled tuition fees – as leader, this situation would change. By contrast, when Steel was leader, it was not since the 1920s that they had experienced huge losses. Also, the Lib-Lab confidence and supply agreement, lasting 18 months, was of a different order to the five-year full Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition of 2010-15, which has left many on the left with a visceral disdain and distrust for the latter party, which will take time to shake, especially as the current leader was at the centre of that coalition.

So, the Liberal Democrats are in a relatively weak position, Somewhat more so than in the early 1980s. This just might be enough to prevent a re-run of the events of the 1980s, in which the SDP and Liberals fought two elections in an alliance, then after the 1987 election the former part split down the middle over the issue of a merger. This merger was supported by Steel and most in the Liberals, and various up-and-coming SDP politicians including Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy, and veterans such as Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins. On the other side was SDP leader David Owen, with a group of acolytes including MPs John Cartwright and Rosie Barnes, who maintained his own separate SDP following the merger in 1988. This led to the two parties running rival candidates in by-elections, most notably in that in Richmond (North Yorkshire) in February 1989, in which the votes of the two rival centre parties together exceeded those for the Tory candidate (future leader William Hague), but the division of the centre let the Tories through. Following disaster in the May 1990 Bootle by-election, the Owenite SDP was wound up. The situation was not plain-sailing for the new Liberal Democrats, though: they first had problems with their name, beginning as the ‘Social and Liberal Democrats’, then adopting ‘Democrats’ as a shorter version (so anticipating the new party, and alluding to the American party), before settling on ‘Liberal Democrats’ in October 1989 after heated debates in which leading figures very publicly disagreed. Prior to this, they had suffered a terrible set of results in the 1989 European Elections, gaining only one-third of the votes of the Green Party. But Ashdown was able to hold the new party together and eventually more than double their representation in the 1997 General Election, helped by a new wave of tactical voting (which held up until 2015, as Nick Clegg discovered to his immense cost).

Could we see a similar course of events, with the new Democrats in the place of the old SDP? The moderately greater weakness of the Liberal Democrats today might result in some differences, but I cannot see why these would be that significant. A small number of Tory MPs might join the party, and a few from Labour, at present. The election result, and the power of party members, has consolidated Corbyn’s position, so that those who leave are unlikely to ever find a way back in, at least for a long time. However, if deselections begin, this situation might change.

I also find it hard to imagine that Labour under Corbyn could win an overall majority (from which they were well-short in June) in a future election, especially now that the triangulation witnessed during the election campaign – managing to convince some Northern Leave voters on one hand, and Southern middle-class Remainers on the other, that Labour was on their side – is unravelling. This has been clear ever since Corbyn sacked three shadow ministers for voting for a Queen’s speech amendment calling for the UK to remain in the customs union and single market. But there is no obvious rival for party leader likely to win enough support in the party as a whole. Because of the membership, even if Corbyn does eventually stand down, perhaps following another election loss, his successor may be another similarly-minded candidate. With this in mind, it would probably make sense for the likes of Liz Kendall, Chuka Umunna, Stephen Kinnock or Hilary Benn to leave for a new party, especially if supported by Blair and Miliband, but I cannot see them doing so without a wave of deselection. Just this weekend, Andrew Grice argued that unless Corbyn opposes Brexit, then he will be unable to retain the support of many who who might shift their allegiance to a new party. This may be true of voters, but Labour party tribalism should not be underestimated.

But there are other factors to consider. It is very far from a foregone conclusion that a transitional agreement will be agreed by the other 27 EU nations (all of whom must agree unanimously for it to be possible). And this will not come without a price, quite literally. A week ago, it was reported that the UK was prepared to pay a £36bn bill for exiting the EU, provided the negotiators would talk about trade (contradicting Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s remark a few weeks previously that the EU leaders could ‘go whistle’ if they expected any such ‘divorce bill’ to be paid). However, immediately following the publicisation of this figure, various Tory Eurosceptics responded angrily and claimed that such an action would be impossible to sell to voters, and Downing Street rejected the claim that they were prepared to pay the £36bn. The Eurosceptics may be right, but I do not believe the EU will take trade, transition, or anything else until the UK government agrees a figure (Michel Barnier made this clear in July). We are informed that the government is about to publish a range of key position papers on various Brexit issues, but it is far from clear if the divorce bill will be included.

One other option has been touted by leading anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller, who has suggested that instead of a transitional agreement, we should be looking for an extension of the timetable for exit, but as one person has pointed out, it is hard to see how this would be possible with EU elections forthcoming in May/June 2019. For the UK to be part of these would be a huge leap that even some ‘soft Brexiteers’ would find difficult to back, at least to their constituents and local parties.

I think the government will realise soon that it has two options: either to agree a figure, at least for negotiations, in advance, or else have to exit the talks without any agreement. This may come as soon as the Tory Conference at the beginning of October, at which we are told today Theresa May will attempt a ‘mea culpa’ about the election result, in an attempt to hold onto her job. But I do not believe this will be any more successful than Ian Duncan Smith’s ‘quiet man turning up the volume’ speech in 2003, soon after which he was deposed. May looks a weak and wounded Prime Minister, lacking authority, only remaining in place because of lack of a clear successor. If she commits to a Brexit divorce bill, I believe there will be moves against her following the conference, as have been predicted by others, and many Eurosceptic Tories in the constituency parties will put their weight behind an alternative candidate. It is not inconceivable that they might support Jacob Rees-Mogg, who today is said to be considering his options, a result which would be as ground-changing for the Tories as Corbyn was for Labour. I cannot imagine Soubry, Clarke and various others being able to remain in a party led by him, even less so than when it was led by Duncan Smith.

So, in conclusion: a new party might attract some small number of defectors, but will probably become embroiled in a competition for the centre with the Liberal Democrats; as anticipated by Bale, it may have an emboldening impact upon anti-Brexiteers in the two main parties; if the Tories elect a highly right-wing leader like Rees-Mogg (or Andrea Leadsom), more MPs might be prepared to defect, as would be the case for Labour if they begin deselections, or back hard Brexit. And above all, the decisive moment in the Brexit negotiations is about to come, I believe. Either a bill will be agreed, or negotiations will come to a halt, and a hard Brexit without a transitional agreement will be a foregone conclusion.

I am unsure if there exists such a thing as a ‘soft Brexit’ other than entering into an EEA agreement in the manner of Norway, thus remaining in the single market, but a hard Brexit would be the worst possible outcome, and fatal for the UK. At present I see no evidence that either Labour or the Tories have any strategy to avoid this. It is time for all right-thinking politicians in all parties to accept that this matters more than party loyalties. I can personally no longer support Labour (or my local MP, Corbyn) while he maintains essentially supporting Brexit, and would welcome the new party. A second referendum is desperately needed, with much more information about what a post-Brexit Britain will actually entail made available to the voting public. I await 9th September with great interest.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Culture in the EU (8): Estonia

 

[Because of other commitments, it has not been possible to post more in this series for a little while, but I am endeavouring to complete as many as possible before the referendum on Thursday. For now, I will mostly give links and text without so much commentary, which may follow later]

As a solid supporter of the Remain campaign, in the 18 days from June 5th until the European Union Referendum on June 23rd, I am posting a selection of links and other information about music, literature, film, visual art, dance, architecture, etc., from each of the EU nations.

I make no claims to be comprehensive in any case, and my choices undoubtedly will reflect my own aesthetic interests – but I believe that may be more interesting than a rather anonymous selection of simply the most prominent artists or art. All work comes from the post-1945 era, the period during which the EU has come to fruition, but may (and often will) include work which dates from before the nations in question joined the EU. As I am writing in English, where translations exist I will use these. Time does not allow for detailed commentaries, I just throw these selections out there in the hope others will be interested in the extraordinary range of culture which has emerged from citizens of the EU.

 

Estonia

[With profound thanks to Helen Harjak for various suggestions of Estonian culture to investigate]

A major figure in the post-war Estonian literary scene was the writer and poet Bernard Kangro (1910-1994), who founded the cultural journal Tulimuld, which ran from 1950 to 1993. A selection of his quasi-surrealist poems is available in English translation, called Earthbound.

Kangro - Earthbound

Here is Kangro’s poem, ‘Late Flowers, Wind, Sea, Sand and Fish’, translated Ivar Ivask.

Wind wilts
late flowers,
tiny blossoms
at edge of bay.

Don’t blame the breeze!
The sea’s there
thundering
upon the sand.

Wave above,
sand blow.
Fish laugh
and skip away.

Another poem can be read here.

Another surrealist Estonian writer was the poet and sound poet Ilmar Laaban (1921-2000), who lived in Sweden from 1944. Here is Laaban’s poem ‘Silence and Violence’, as translated by Richard Adang and Andres Ehin

Silence and Violence

Long ago on a windy hunt
a horrible happiness abruptly bloomed in me
and the landscape congealed only its pungent
blood rustling through my veins the gun smoked
incessantly the hound did not bark
as it gazed at the clouds tightening
into meat and skinning over with fur
streaming tangled by despair

Because on the horizon a stout tower appeared
which swayed slowly between emptiness
and the overflowing clamor of hideous joy
like a gigantic latrine
the sweaty sun mottled Earth and Welkin
until suddenly it was eclipsed by cold
ravens of freedom who carried my eyes
and fresh images like flags in their bills

At twilight which was only flashes
as the sea is but the triumph of the drowned
my hunting jacket was freed of its heavy
web of lust I simply ran forward
along the mute moor coming across
animals with shining coals for hearts
I shot them so many that the road home
was finally choked with grass

Long ago I seized the empty beaker
and faced its inflexible challenge
and ever since this endless draught rinses –
my gun-barrel mouth which sparkles
in the starry sky and when it sees
some too-warm nebula defiling cosmic night
it proclaims ponderously and clearly
I DENY DEATH BUT AFFIRM ICE

Here is Laaban’s sound-text composition Ciel Inamputable (1969)

 

Amongst the most renowned Estonian writers of the post-war era are Jann Kaplinski (b. 1941), who drew widely upon mythology and Asian thought, and Jaan Kross (1920-2007), who spent an eight-year period as a prisoner in Soviet labour camps. Here is an obituary of Kross in The Guardian. Kross’s novels often had historical settings, but served as allegories of the contemporary situation under Soviet communism. His four volume sequence of novels Kolme katku vahel/Between Three Plagues (1970-1976) told the story of the sixteenth-century chronicler Balthasar Russow, who wrote the chronicle of the Livovian War, detailing his experience of the effects upon the peasantry from which he came.

Kross - The Ropewalker

 

A sparse form of poetry, reflecting post-1968 disillusionment and disenchantment, can be found in the work of Paul-Eerik Rummo (b. 1942), who also went on to become an Estonian politician. A selection of his poems can be read in translation here; here is one, ‘Crooning’.

Crooning

I am so fleeting
sighed the girl to the sea
oh, what can I do
you are eternal

I am transparent like you
sighed the girl to the window
oh, what can I do
my heart’s in full view

I open like you
sighed the girl to the door
oh, what can I do
the sun steps in

I am so small
sighed the girl to the sun
oh, what can I do
you are so large

I am so foolish
sighed the girl to the wise man
oh, what can I do
everyone is so wise

More on Rummo can be read here.

Poet and author Tõnu Õnnepalu (b. 1962), who has also published under the names Emil Tode and Anton Nigov. His novel Piiririik/Border State (1993), a short novel about the overwhelming and sometimes destructive effect of Western culture upon a Baltic citizen, comes highly recommended; more can be read about it here.

Onnepalu - Border State

Also, do check out the poet, short story writer and librettist Maarja Kangro (b. 1973). Here is her poem ‘The Butterfly of No Return’, as translated by Ilmar Lehtpere. A further selection of poems, with various translations, can be read here.

THE BUTTERFLY OF NO RETURN

‘again’ is a big word.
slowly and quickly
again

again men rejoice on the radio
that they are on the right road
and talk of the cyclical nature of time

a proper road goes in circles, even I
recognize young skin on the beach and
”et si tu n’existais pas,” is sung loudly

men on the radio speak of the connection
of everything to everything else:  ringingly
one says butterfly effect – I lift my wings

a good sleep gives you cyclical time
for after such a sleep you think you’re revived
and again

I flutter my wing
the good men on the radio start coughing
I flap my wings more amply and a wind comes up

the men cough wheezing, the airwaves revolt
ships sink and swimmers drown, the final sleep
comes stormy and grey

let’s think of a word that never was before
was just now
and now isn’t anymore

***

There’s a whining and ringing in the air.
You talk of a lout.
I’m the very one.  Through me you’ll never
reach the deeper levels or the heights,
the flash of pure being that you believe
you see in the village drunkard
or the poet gone mad.
When he drinks, secrets come to light.
When I get legless, I attack.
Or I drift off, stinking.  My gaze is dark.
I give off my exhaust in your face.
I want lovely meat that won‘t shame me.  I’m afraid of losing.
Words anger me.  I bellow.
I watch the telly, don’t read, can’t write properly.
Rubbish is left behind me.
I am rubbish. I’m the one you’re talking about.
– Ah no, what are you going on about, it’s me.
– Ah no, it’s me.
– No, I’m the one.
– No, I am.  Forgive me.
The whole road is full of us, and our fragile souls
are ringing.  Listen, how quietly, dear girls and boys.

One of the first major groups of Estonian artists to look beyond Soviet orthodoxy was ANK-64, who were responsible for resurrecting cubist and constructivist work from earlier in the century. One of the leading figures in this movement was Jüri Arrak (b. 1936), whose work employs cartoon-like imagery and surrealist ideas; other important artists who were involved with this movement include Kristiina Kaasik (b. 1943) and Marju Musu (1941-1980)

Arrak - Lennuk 6-20

Jüri Arrak, Lennuk 6/20 (1972)

 

Kaasik - Vaade treppu

Kristiina Kaasik, Vaade trepilt (1974)

 

Mutsu - Early in the Morning

Marju Mutsu, Early in the Morning (1970)

In 1967, artist Kaljo Põllu (1934-2010) created another group called the Visarid, which disseminated much information on Western artistic movements and ideas, not least relating to pop art and graphic design.

Pollu - Mangutuba

Kaljo Põllu, Mängutuba (1967)

 

Pollu - Kullatja

Kaljo Põllu, Kuulataja (Vaikus) (1968)

 

Pollu - Keegi

Kaljo Põllu, Keegi (1987)

A starker type of art came from the SOUP-69 group, also inspired by pop art and other movements. Amongst the leading figures here were Leonhard Lapin (b. 1947) and Ando Keskküla (b. 1950).

 

Lapin - Woman Machine

Leonhard Lapin, Woman-Machine X (1974)

 

Keskkula - Finish

Ando Keskküla, Finish (1979).

Also part of this movement was the architect Vilen Künnapu (b. 1948), who would later engage with post-modern architectural ideas.

Künnapu - Office of the State Farm October

 

Kunnapu - Snail tower

Vilen Künnapu, Snail Tower, Tartu (2008)

 

Other notable modern Estonian architects include Raine Karp (b. 1939) and Riina Altmäe (b. 1949), whose best known work is the brutalist Tallinn City Concert Hall (Linnahall) (1976-1980), shown here from various angles.

 

The Estonian painter Raoul Kurvitz (b. 1961) formed a group called Rühm T in 1986, whose work (which included performance art as much as painting) was described by them as ‘Cold Expressionism’. Here is Kurvitz’s painting Chapelle (1999):

Kurvitz - Chapelle

And here is a picture of Kurvitz’s ‘Reconstructed Environment’ Maelstrom (1999/2013):

Kurvitz - Maelstrom

An interview with Kurvitz can be read here, while more information on his work can be read here.

One artist inhabiting the wilder realms of video and performance art is Jaan Toomik (b. 1961), some of whose work was inspired by the Viennese Actionists, and involves various types of degradation to the body, use of bodily fluids, and so on, but also clear political themes, as well as a recurrent concert with the nature of communication. An interview with Toomik can be read here, and here are some videos of his work.

 

 

 

Another is Ene-Liis Semper (b. 1969), whose work focuses on the body, and especially the mouth and tongue. More can be read on her work here, not least her notorious Licked Room (2000), in which she literally licked a room clean with her tongue.

Here are some samples of Semper’s work:

 

 

Semper also formed the theatre group NO99 together with Tiit Ojasoo. Here is a video about their work:

 

This is one of NO99’s best-known works, NO83 How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, inspired by Joseph Beuys.

 

Another important figure in radical contemporary Estonian theatre (about which more can be read here) is writer and director Mati Unt (b. 1944). Here is a video of his production Hot (2002).

 

Best-known of Estonian composers is undoubtedly Arvo Pärt (b. 1935), whose works such as Fratres (1977), Tabula Rasa (1977), Spiegel im Spiegel (1978), and St John Passion (1982) appealed to certain Western ideals of ‘spiritualism’ and won world renown as a result. But not all of Pärt’s work is like this; the cello concerto Pro et contra (1966) is clearly indebted to aspects of a Western avant-garde language, including collage-like techniques, whilst in Credo (1968) for choir, piano and orchestra, Pärt distorts and defamiliarises Bach’s C major Prelude from Das wohltempierte Klavier, Book 1.

 

 

 

 

Here are two examples of Pärt’s later work:

 

 

 

Another composer of the same generation whose work Kuldar Sink (1942-1995), who began engaging with some modernist traditions, including the neo-classicism, the Second Viennese School, aleatoric composition, and even happenings (Sink, like Pärt, and ANK-64, was linked to an Estonian Fluxus movement in the late 1960s).

 

 

In later work, before his death in a house fire, Sink turned to Central Asian folk musics and drastic simplification.

 

 

 

A younger composer who also traversed a path from the avant-garde to modalism and postminimalism (from the early 1980s onwards) was Lepo Sumera (1950-2000)

Lepo Sumera, Pantomiim/Pantomime (1981)

 

Lepo Sumera, Senza metro (1986)

 

Lepo Sumera, Tähed / Stars for soprano and piano (2000)

In the  fascinating work of Jüri Reinvere (b. 1971), however, one finds a particular type of fusion or interplay of modernist, aleatoric, and romantic elements to varying degrees.

 

Jüri Reinvere, t.i.m.e. (2005)

 

Jüri Reinvere, Requiem (2009), excerpt.

Helena Tulve (b. 1972) combines modal elements with a wider musical language influenced in part by musique spectrale, and in some ways reminiscent of the work of Kaija Saariaho.

 

A much more pared-down music can be found in the work of composer and harpist Liis Viira (b. 1983), notorious for her Reverbeebi/Baby Symphony (2015), in which babies’ voices were combined with instruments.

 

The group Ensemble U have garnered attention through their creation of an ‘audience orchestra’ in which the audience members control much of the musical decision making.

 

Estonian cinema is generally thought to have come into its own in the 1960s. One of film which generated a fair degree of international interest was Arvo Kruusement’s Kevade/Spring (1969), based on a popular novel by Oskar Luts, a coming-of-age story set at the end of the 19th century. Here is a section of it, alas without subtitles, but which enables one to sample the visual qualities.

 

 

(the rest of the film can be viewed on the same YouTube channel)

Here is a film from the previous year, Kaljo Kiisk’s Hullumeelsus/Madness (1968)

 

And here is Leida Laius’s Kõrboja peremees (1979)

 

Of post-independence Estonian cinema, required viewing includes Hardi Volmer’s parody of the Russian Revolution, Minu Leninid/All My Lenins (1997), here available with English subtitles.

 

There is also an important tradition of Estonian animated film, in which the leading figure is Priit Pärn (b. 1946). Here is his  Ein murual/Breakfast on the Grass (1983, released 1986)

 

Here is a clip from Pärn’s 1992 film Hotel E:

Many other of Pärn’s animations can be viewed online.

An article on the evolution of Estonian contemporary dance post-independence can be read here. Here is a clip of the work of Fine 5 Dance Theatre, founded in 1992:

 

One can read about the United Dancers of Zuga here (unfortunately I have not found a good clip of their work).

 


Culture in the EU (4): Croatia

As a solid supporter of the Remain campaign, in the 18 days from June 5th until the European Union Referendum on June 23rd, I am posting a selection of links and other information about music, literature, film, visual art, dance, architecture, etc., from each of the EU nations.

I make no claims to be comprehensive in any case, and my choices undoubtedly will reflect my own aesthetic interests – but I believe that may be more interesting than a rather anonymous selection of simply the most prominent artists or art. All work comes from the post-1945 era, the period during which the EU has come to fruition, but may (and often will) include work which dates from before the nations in question joined the EU. As I am writing in English, where translations exist I will use these. Time does not allow for detailed commentaries, I just throw these selections out there in the hope others will be interested in the extraordinary range of culture which has emerged from citizens of the EU.

 

Croatia

First, here is an article on the Grupa šestorice autora/Group of Six Authors who came to prominence in Croatia in the mid-1970s, especially around the journal Maj 75, published 1978-1984.

Maj 75-i-1982

And here is a detailed article on Vlado Martek (b. 1951), Croatian conceptual poet who was part of the Group of Six.

Martek - poemn

 

The following is a documentary film about the Group of Six, though has no subtitles:

http://www.mojnet.com/video-g6-grupa-sestorice-autora-dokumetarni-film-a/8b1625fc9f87e7491ae0

and http://www.mojnet.com/video-g6-grupa-sestorice-autora-dokumetarni-film-b/50704adf139d994d5472

Here is the website for writer Dubravka Ugrešić (b. 1947)

Ugresic - Fording

I greatly enjoyed reading this somewhat existential journey through post-Cold War Eastern Europe by Slavenka Drakulić (b. 1949):

Drakulic - Café Europa

Drakulić is perhaps best known however for her 1999 novel S: A Novel about the Balkans, dealing with the horrors of the Balkan wars and especially atrocities against women (Drakulić had been denounced together with other women by an advisor to Franjo Tudjman for not accepting the nationalistic line on the war, and later received threats, leading her to leave her country).

Drakulic - S

Another response to the Yugoslav war, drawing upon myth and fairytale, is the 2002 novel Smrt djevojčice sa žigicama (Death of the Little Match Girl), by Zoran Ferić (b. 1961).

Feric - Death of the Little Match Girl

On of the most important movements for Croatian poetry was Quorum, the name of a library formed in 1984 and magazine in 1985. A short piece on this movement, with a text which can be purchased, is here.

Here is some music by Milko Kelemen (b. 1924), whose work was known and respected by the Western European avant-garde.

 

And here is some more mainstream (with some audible relation to that of Prokofiev, Shostakovich and others) Eastern European contemporary music by Natko Devc̆ić (1914-1997):

 

But most remarkable of all is Ivo Malec (b. 1925), who spent much of his professional life in France:

 

 

Then, from Marko Ruz̆djak (1946-2012), after the work of Alfred Jarry, a little in the manner of the pitchless music of Carl Orff such as Astutuli:

 

And some very strange music by Igor Kuljerić (1938-2006) making extensive use of quotation:

 

The Croatian film director Nikola Tanhofer (1926-1998) had a major impact with his films from the 1950s onwards, not least with H-8 (1958), based upon a true story of a fatal traffic accident between Zagreb and Belgrade (this version has subtitles):

 

Here are two animated films (of many) from the 1960s: Surogat/Ersatz (1961) by Dusan Vukotic (1927-1998):

 

and Don Kihot (1961) by Vlado Kristl (1923-2004):

 

Here is Zoran Tadić’s 1981 Ritam zločina/Rhythm of a Crime:

 

And Vatroslav Mimica’s 1981 Banović Strahinj/The Falcon:

And here is an interview with director Vinko Brešan (b. 1964) on his 2013 film Svećenikova djeca/The Priest’s Children:

 

Puppet theatre is an important part of the cultural landscape of Zagreb, drawing upon guignol and Javanese stick-puppet traditions, especially through the work of the company Družina mladih/Company of the Young, established soon after World War Two. Here is a video of some work for children from the Zagreb Puppet Theatre:

 

I have not been able to find much in the way of films of contemporary Croatian theatre which would be comprehensible to non-Croat speakers (like myself!), but here is a trailer for a London performance of a modern classic, Glorija (1955), by Ranko Marinković (1913-2001):

 

And here one can read an article on the theatrical work of Ivo Brešan (b. 1936).

A site here gives some detail and examples of the work of painters and architects who were part of the movement EXAT 51/Experimental Studio, active from 1946 to 1968.

Srnec - KA-5 (1956)

Aleksander Srnec, KA-5 (1956)

A slightly later movement was the Gorgona Group, founded in the late 1950s in Zagreb, which can be read about in detail here.

Knifer - Gorgona No. 2 (1961)

Julije Knifer, Gorgona no. 2 (1961).

And here is a website about Croatian painter and graphic artist Miroslav Šutej (1936-2005):

Sutej - Alchetron

The following is a documentary on the painter Edo Murtić (1921-2005):

 

And here is some information on Croatian architect Alfred Albini (1896-1978):

Albini

 

Finally, here is a site about a Croatian Institute for contemporary dance and mine.

 

 


Culture in the EU (3): Bulgaria

As a solid supporter of the Remain campaign, in the 18 days from June 5th until the European Union Referendum on June 23rd, I am posting a selection of links and other information about music, literature, film, visual art, dance, architecture, etc., from each of the EU nations.

I make no claims to be comprehensive in any case, and my choices undoubtedly will reflect my own aesthetic interests – but I believe that may be more interesting than a rather anonymous selection of simply the most prominent artists or art. All work comes from the post-1945 era, the period during which the EU has come to fruition, but may (and often will) include work which dates from before the nations in question joined the EU. As I am writing in English, where translations exist I will use these. Time does not allow for detailed commentaries, I just throw these selections out there in the hope others will be interested in the extraordinary range of culture which has emerged from citizens of the EU.

 

Bulgaria

I will begin with a section from the the 1964 film Крадецът на праскови/The Peach-Garden Trespasser, directed by Vulo Radev (1923-2001):

 

And this is the 1973 film, Преброяване на дивите зайци/The Hare Census, directed by Eduard Zahariev (1938-1996). I can’t find a version with subtitles, but it is interesting to watch visually anyhow.

 

Here is some more information on this film.

And here is one of the many animations on the ‘Three Fools’ by Donyo Donev (1929-2007):

 

The writer Nikolai Rainov (1889-1954) lived into the post-war era, but his work did not receive widespread distribution in Bulgaria until after the fall of communism. Here is an article on his writing.

Rainov - Bulgarian Magical Fairy Tales

 

Here is one set of translations from the Bulgarian poet Atanas Dalchev (1904-1978); another is here.

This article gives plenty of information on a more recent Bulgarian writer, Georgi Gospodinov (b. 1968); I am especially looking forward to reading the following 1999 novel, which has been widely translated:

Gospodinov - Natural Novel

 

Here is the website for Bulgarian sculptor Ivan Minekov (b. 1947).

Minekov

Whilst here is the site for the couple Christo (b. 1935) and Jeanne-Claude Javacheff (1935-2009), installation artists about who there is much information on the web.

Jevacheff

Here is some of the work of painter and sculptor Andrey Lekarski (b. 1940), representing in part an extension of some devices and aesthetics derived from surrealism and pop art.

Lekarski.jpg

 

Here is the website for feminist performance artist Boryana Rossa (b. 1972).

Rossa

And here is an interview with Rossa on art and politics:

 

Here are a selection of diverse works by contemporary Bulgarian composers:

 

 

 

 

And here is the amazing and idiosyncratic Bulgarian-born pianist Alexis Weissenberg (1929-2012):

 

The work of this ensemble, playing a music with roots in traditional Bulgarian folk music, was much admired by Frank Zappa.

 

And for another genre, here is some electronica from Ivan Shopov:

 

One of the most renowned public intellectuals anywhere is the  Bulgarian-born  Julia Kristeva (b. 1941); here is her official site, and here is an extended interview:

 

The following is a film about Bulgarian choreographer Mila Iskenova (b. 1960):

 

 

More on Iskrenova can be seen here.

This volume made a good deal of contemporary Bulgarian theatre available to English speakers for the first time in the 1990s:

Contemporary Bulgarian Theatre

And here is a biography of leading theatre practitioner Yordan Radichkov (1929-2004). Radichkov was notorious for his 1978 drama Opit za letene/Trying to Fly, about which one can read more here.

Finally, here is the website for architect Georgi Stanishev (b. 1952).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Culture in the EU (2): Belgium

As a solid supporter of the Remain campaign, in the 18 days from June 5th until the European Union Referendum on June 23rd, I am posting a selection of links and other information about music, literature, film, visual art, dance, architecture, etc., from each of the EU nations.

I make no claims to be comprehensive in any case, and my choices undoubtedly will reflect my own aesthetic interests – but I believe that may be more interesting than a rather anonymous selection of simply the most prominent artists or art. All work comes from the post-1945 era, the period during which the EU has come to fruition, but may (and often will) include work which dates from before the nations in question joined the EU. As I am writing in English, where translations exist I will use these. Time does not allow for detailed commentaries, I just throw these selections out there in the hope others will be interested in the extraordinary range of culture which has emerged from citizens of the EU.

 

Belgium

I will begin with one of the most important of all artists of the twentieth century, poet, post-Duchamp artist and filmmaker Marcel Broodthaers (1924-1976). Here is a site with lots of information on his work and illustrations.

Citron-Citroen 1974 by Marcel Broodthaers 1924-1976

Citron-Citroen 1974 Marcel Broodthaers 1924-1976 Purchased 1977 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P07211

Marcel Broodthaers, Citron-Citroen, réclame pour la Mer du Nord (Advertisement for the North Sea) (1974).

And here one can listen to his ‘Interview with a Cat’.

Furthermore, here is Broodthaers’ 1968 film Le Corbeau et le Renard.

 

Here is a discussion of his work at the time of a 2016 retrospective at MOMA.

And here is a reading of Broodthaers’ poetry:

 

This site gives information on the experimental Belgian poet Hugo Claus (1929-2008), including some important links. Furthermore, at this site one can read and listen to a variety of Claus’s work.

Amongst other important Belgian writers are Françoise Mallet-Joris (b. 1930), about whom one can watch a feature here (only an excerpt available to those who have not subscribed). A biography and list of works (in French) is here. And some information on translations of highly-regarded writer Monika van Paemel (b. 1945) can be found here. Here are details of a translation of her story ‘The Accursed Fathers’. Some information on writer Kristien Hemmerechts (b. 1955) can be found here.

A useful page on Christian Dotremont (1922-1979), who brought together poetry and painting, is here.

Dotremont - Day of the Artist.jpg

And here is a poem by Jacques Izoard (1936-2008). A wider range can be viewed here.

This site gives much detail on the work of Gent artist Marthe Donas (1887-1967).

Donas - Intution No. 19 (1958)

Marthe Donas, Intuition No. 19 (1958).

 

The website of multi-faceted artist Jan Fabre (b. 1958) is here, whilst that of conceptual artist Arne Quinze (b. 1971) is here.

Quinze Cityscape wooden sculpture

Pictures related to my Brussels Photo Blog dedicated to anyone that wish to know more about the major or less known attractions of the city of Brussels.

Arno Quinze, Cityscape Wooden Sculpture.

 

Here is a site on the fantastic photography of Dirk Braeckman (b. 1958).

Braeckman

And here is the site of  Memymom, mother-daughter partnership Lisa De Boeck (b. 1985) and  Marilène Coolens (b. 1953).

Memymom

 

The senior figures of post-war Belgian music were Henri Pousseur (1929-2009) and Karol Goeyvaerts (1923-1993), both of seminal importance in the history of serial music.

 

 

Another figure who is a prominent and generous presence in Belgian musical life is André Laporte (b. 1931):

 

A very different type of music can be found in the minimalist work of Wim Mertens (b. 1953), known in particular for his music for the film The Belly of an Architect by Peter Greenaway, and for an extremely important book on American minimal music.

 

Amongst numerous younger figures, one should listen to the music of Serge Verstockt (b. 1957):

And also the remarkably fluent and effortless composer Luc Brewaeys (1959-2015), who was tragically lost to cancer last year.

 

 

An important institution for the promotion of new music in Belgium is the Logos Foundation, which is currently threatened with closure.

 

Amongst the numerous early music groups in Belgian, one of the most important is Collegium vocale, under the general direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Here they are singing Jean Langlais:

Here is a range of significant Belgian popular music, ranging from noise music to trip-hop.

 

Here is the 1966 animation Chromophobia by Raoul Servais (b. 1928):

 

A hugely important feminist work is Chantal Akerman’s 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975):

 

Whilst the disturbing 1992 film Man bites Dog, directed by Rémy Belvaux, André Nobzel and Benoît Poelvoorde (the latter in the main role), received some international attention upon release:

 

One of the most significant post-war theatre directors in Belgium is Michel Dezoteux (b. 1949). Here is is Le Revizor (2008), based on the work of Nikolai Gogol:

 

And here is an interview with another hugely important figure in contemporary Belgian theatre, Frédéric Baal (b. 1940):

 

The choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (b. 1960), created the dance company Rosas, who were resident at La Monnaie from 1992 to 2007. Here is a video of their work:

 

Finally, an article on the fashion collective, the Antwerp Six.

Dries van Noten.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Culture in the EU (1): Austria

As a solid supporter of the Remain campaign, in the 18 days from June 5th until the European Union Referendum on June 23rd, I am posting a selection of links and other information about music, literature, film, visual art, dance, architecture, etc., from each of the EU nations (I use the term EU to refer to all stages of the project, from the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952, then the European Economic Community in 1957, through to the European Community in 1993, until final subsumation in the European Union in 2009) . These selections are initially posted on Facebook, then blogged afterwards (including some suggestions from others). The eight nations with the largest populations (in descending order: Germany, France, UK, Italy, Spain, Poland, Rumania, the Netherlands) will get a whole day each, all others will get two days. Otherwise these will be in alphabetical order, as follows:

5/6 Austria, Belgium
6/6 Bulgaria, Croatia
7/6 Cyprus, Czech Republic
8/6 Denmark, Estonia
9/6 Finland, Greece
10/6 France
11/6 Germany
12/6 Hungary, Ireland
13/6 Italy
14/6 Latvia, Lithuania
15/6 Luxembourg, Malta
16/6 Netherlands
17/6 Portugal, Slovakia
18/6 Poland
19/6 Romania
20/6 Slovenia, Sweden
21/6 Spain
22/6 UK

I make no claims to be comprehensive in any case, and my choices undoubtedly will reflect my own aesthetic interests – but I believe that may be more interesting than a rather anonymous selection of simply the most prominent artists or art. All work comes from the post-1945 era, the period during which the EU has come to fruition, but may (and often will) include work which dates from before the nations in question joined the EU. As I am writing in English, where translations exist I will use these. Time does not allow for detailed commentaries, I just throw these selections out there in the hope others will be interested in the extraordinary range of culture which has emerged from citizens of the EU.

 

Austria

I will open with a site devoted to the work of writer Thomas Bernhard (1939-1989).

This novel in particular is a big personal favourite.

Bernhard Woodcutters

Another major Austrian writer (and equally misanthropic!) is the Nobel Prize winning Elfriede Jelinek (b. 1946), a site devoted to whom can be found here. Here is one of her most notorious books.

Jelinek - Wonderful Times

Anyone interested in experimental writing needs to look into the work of the Wiener Gruppe, not least this anthology.

Wiener Gruppe

Here is a short article about the group and in particular leading figure Konrad Bayer (1932-1964). Also, here is an interesting article about Gerhard Rühm (b. 1930), whilst a range of his poetry can be read and listened to here.

Another vital, but distinct, experimental Austrian poet was the Dada-ist Ernst Jandl (1925-2000), a site devoted to whom can be found here.

Here is an informative doctoral dissertation on the Austrian avant-garde in general. And here is an interesting article on concrete poetry in Austria.

A very different type of Austrian writer is Peter Handke (b. 1942), whose more lyrical and expressive, though highly refined, work is known in part after having been filmed by the German director Wim Wenders.

Few movements in the arts can be considered as extreme, violent, and politically motivated as Wiener Aktionismus . A range of films from leading figures in the movement can be found here, and an important article (in German) here. Here are a selection of key videos by leading figures. First by Otto Muehl (1925-2013):

 

Then by Günter Brus:

Then, by the figure arguably with the most lasting impact, feminist performance artist Valie Export (b. 1940) (see her site here):

 

While not directly part of this movement, the work of film-maker Kurt Kren (1929-1998) shares a related sensibility:

 

Many more videos can be located online of these figures, all of which I strongly recommend.

A different type of radical film can be found in the work of Peter Kubelka (b. 1934):

 

Another type of avant-garde cinema can be found here in the work of Peter Tscherkassky (b. 1958):

 

More familiar to international audiences is the director Michael Haneke (b. 1942). Here is his 1992 film Benny’s Video:

And here is his 2001 film La Pianiste/The Piano Teacher based upon Jelinek’s 1983 book Die Klavierspielerin:

 

To my mind, no other film has captured the terrifying potential for harm and abuse in the world of the conservatoire, when inhabited by disturbed people, as this.

I could choose any amount of interesting Austrian new music (and might perhaps have done so on another day); for now, first here is a moderately early work by leading composer Beat Furrer (b. 1954):

 

Somewhat linked to the movement known as ‘new complexity’ is the composer Wolfram Schurig (b. 1967):

 

A wholly different world is found in the work of Klaus Lang (b. 1971):

 

The work of Karlheinz Essl (b. 1960), moves between composition, sound art, performance art, and improvisation.

 

Whilst Wolfgang Mitterer (b. 1958) is involved with both composition and improvisation:

 

And here are the Vienna Improvisers’ Orchestra:

 

Not to mention the Vegetable Orchestra, who play only on fresh vegetables:

Amongst many interesting Austrian contemporary painters, I am drawn to the work of Xenia Hausner (b. 1951) (various of whose work can be seen here) :

Hausner Indigo

Xenia Hausner, Indigo (Yao) (2013)

Here is a short article devoted to the opening of a new Tanzquartier in Vienna for the study of contemporary dance.

Here is an example of the work of writer and theatre practitioner Wolfgang Bauer (1941-2005):

 

Whilst I also find captivating the landscape architecture of Maria Auböck (b. 1951) and János Kárász, the website for whose firm is here.

Auboeck-Karasz

 

Next post will be on Belgium.