Mayday, May 9! The art of(fsets) war
What a hodgepodge of symbols and events for May 9, and they all figure in the somewhat confusing and rather misleading collective memorial!
One day with three significations
Europeans believe that on a day like May 9 the European Union was made. In fact, it was on the 9th of May 1950 that the idea was launched, in the form of a public declaration that was assured of its impact. It is the famous “Schuman Declaration”, not after the name of the composer, which is spelt with two “n” at the end, but after the name of the French Foreign Minister of the time, Robert Schuman. It is an emblematic text, clear and quite concise, which rightly underpins everything that has been built along the lines of European unity since then. The French Minister was starting from the much more practical ideas of a specialist in planning – there is such a thing in capitalism and it is very effective. Jean Monnet was working to repair France after the merciless World War II and had the practical idea of calling for the pooling, without secrecy and evil thoughts, of the development of industries which had, until then, led to war: the steel and the coal that power arms industries. A little less than a year after the Declaration, the treaty was signed in Paris, taking the first step towards a common European market, without customs and taxes, all under common coordination, with free competition, and therefore without the opacity to arm regimes like the National Socialist regime. It was the European Coal and Steel Community. So it was not on May 9 that the European Union was created, but the process that led to the level of integration we have today was launched, at a declarative level.
In Moscow, the 9th of May is celebrated as a day of victory. Not because of the Schuman Declaration, of course, but because the Soviets considered the Second World War to be over. It was a great victory for the Soviet Union, paid for with huge losses, in the fight against Nazi Germany, even though at the beginning of the war the Hitlerist Germany and the Stalinist USSR were allies. It was on this basis that Germany entered Poland on September 1, 1939, triggering the reaction of the West, which led to a world war. On the same basis – alliance with Hitler’s Germany, the future enemy – the USSR took Bessarabia from Romania and conquered the three Baltic republics.
The West celebrates the 1945 victory on May 8. The explanation is simple and everyone is right. Because each side got a piece of the right. On May 7, 1945, General Alfred Jodl, head of the German army, surrendered by signature to the Allies at Rheims in France. The next day, on the 8th, Roosevelt, Churchill and De Gaulle announced victory, but Stalin did not, because he wanted a surrender by the book in Berlin. It was done the same day, very late, because in Moscow it was already May 9. Victory Day. Victory against the former ally of 1939, Hitler’s Germany. Although Nazism was liquidated then, with Hitler and his close entourage, a pensionable KGB spook is going around with the (new, yet obsolete) Red Army to his neighbors, scolding and killing them in order to denazify them. Well, how come, after 77 years the fighting continues?! Clever propaganda Moscow has!
And the Romanians had something to celebrate on May 9, something personal, not like the Westerners, not like the Russians. On May 9 we celebrated the proclamation of independence, in 1877, by the then Foreign Minister Mihail Kogălniceanu. In fact, Romania’s independence from the Ottoman Porte was voted by the Parliament and immediately approved by Carol I on the very next day, already a day of great celebration, being the Day of the Monarchy, May 10. The Communists could not accept this overlap and tried to convince us that were it not the King, it would have been Cuza’s reforming politicians who would have done it. On the 9th of May 1877, in fact, Kogălniceanu made a speech in Parliament, because the politicians were not sure what he was doing with the country’s alliances. In fact, Kogălniceanu had put us in a state of war with the High Porte and was letting Russian troops pass through on their way to the Bulgarian front. In this war, we were also sending troops. And the clever politician said: What are we in a state of war with broken ties? We are independent; we are a nation unto ourselves. This was taken from the splendid rhetoric of the times, as a declaration with the force of international law. But no, there is a law of Romanian independence, signed by Carol I on May 10, exactly 11 years after he ascended the throne. On the same day, May 10, 1877, Parliament voted for this law.
The vanguard and the rearguard
Nowadays we talk more about the most recent day, February 24, and its consequences. It is about that February 24, when Putin sent the dogs of war to the Ukrainians. He unleashed them and he drove them away. He said it’s not war – and it’s not war, it’s barbaric carnage, bombs against apartment blocks, people hunted into their homes, raped, murdered, robbed. If they were alive now, the great and introspective Russian writers would have something to write about. And they would dive deep, searching the basements of the Russian man. They would have known what to write, they had shocking realities on their desk, and they had a duty to do so because, instead of caring about the people killed in Ukraine, some intellectuals were sounding the alarm on the non-existent train of banning the Great Russian Culture.
If they weren’t screaming from the snake’s mouth to jump in and save the so-called great culture, perhaps these disturbances would go unnoticed. So, we felt sorry for the poor Russian athletes, including the ones on drugs, for not letting them play with us anymore, but since they started putting the sign of Zorro on their chest we don’t seem to feel so sorry. On the contrary! Sweden and Finland have told their hockey players that they won’t play for the national team if they keep rolling around in the dust of the Russian championship. The news appeared under a photo in which the hockey players of the so-called championship are sitting in Z on the ice space. Nazi image, if Putin sees them, he’ll bomb them on the spot. Or not, it’s a big and murderous confusion!
There are (must be) no laws against real Russian writers and the sanctions are taken against the “leader in Moscow’s” minstrels. Except that people don’t really care about the plight of some long-suffering young Russian, the strife of a sensitive society dragged down by the muzhiks, when they’ve been seeing torture and slaughter every day in Europe for the last three months or so. And they don’t give a damn about Russian culture, big or small.
Virtually no Russian plastic artist shows up at prestigious international auctions. Whether contemporary, modern or even older. Tsarist Russia, which is now being played by Moscow’s “michelinsky chelovek” (the Michelin Man, in Russian) Vladimir P., had painters and even great sculptors before him. A famous Parisian art auction house offered for sale, after the first month of the war in Ukraine, the collection of a Russian avantgarde enthusiast. There were 140 lots of the best quality, related to the rare and brief moments of the Russian avantgarde, quickly liquidated by the Bolshevik regime, of which some 80-90 were sold. Since the beginning of the action, made under the aegis of Kandinsky, there has been some more fine pieces, but the author who saved the sale, just barely, was El Lissitzky. At the Paris auction, he set the highest price, €19,588, for a 1923 poster valued at no more than 10,000. In the most avantgarde, Dadaist even, style, the poster promoted the “Merz-Matinee”, organised by Kurt Schwitters and Raoul Hausmann at the Tivoli Hall in Hanover on 30 December 1923 itself. The organizers announced that only one other such copy of the poster on red paper is known to exist, in a Berlin gallery. The record auction price doesn’t say much. Only six works go for more than €10,000, a few for more than €5,000, most are below that price and even in the €1,000 to €3,000 range.
El Lissitzky has always promoted the most avantgarde visions. Even when he worked for Soviet propaganda. In 1921, he took up a post as cultural representative in Germany and flourished in this setting, brimming with avantgarde spirit. The following year, in 1922, Germany and the new communist state signed the surprising Treaty of Rapallo. The artist died in 1941, at the end of a year in which Nazi Germany attacked its ally, Soviet-Stalinist, future Putinist, Russia. His last words, written on a propaganda poster, are reminiscent of Goethe’s ones (‘Licht, mehr Licht’, meaning ‘Light, more light’), except that the Soviet artist was asking for more tanks.
Photo source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/102989169@N03/9905801595.