US and THEM

Comments on Andrzej Stasiuk

Björn Jungius, Berlin

I can’t hear it anymore: This whining about the loss of identity – whatever this might be. Andrzej Stasiuk, well known Polish author of many novels, has also joined the strange choir of identity obsessed mysticists. In a recent article that reads pretty much like his personal comment on the EU-enlargement, Stasiuk, marvelling about its consequences, mourns an Eastern Europe facing the dire perspective of a “gentle, painless extermination”. The argument in a nutshell: US (the East) is forced to become THEM (the West).

A simple change of labels

First of all: I can’t stand this talk operating in terms of a collective WE. Mr. Stasiuk has become a state-of-the-art master of precisely that. This time it’s not US POLES or US SLAVS but for a change US, THE EAST. Mr. Stasiuk, I thought You claimed to be a punk rocker and individualist, what has happened to You?

Here is what I think has happened. The once sort of rebellious outsider, obviously believes that he has finally become an insider – an insider among outsiders, of course. It’s hard to get his whishy-whashy talk together, but it seems to me that Mr. Stasiuk’s East mostly consists of two ingredients: First, his nostalgic memories of the loopholes and time-warps that a rotten and decaying communism created. Second, the idealised world of the Eastern village – a world which is always attractive unless you are born into it, with no money, no education and no choice of leaving.


Photo: Nadina Wójcik

These two things mixed together create his specific Eastern Lebensgefühl, again and again illustrated by evoking an idyllic world of idlers, dreamers, fantasy, sweet disorder. A lyrical world in which all the people and every single one of them don’t really believe in themselves and in the future. All this now falling victim to wealthy Western middle class boredom.

Yet did Stasiuk’s East ever exist?

I guess not outside his mind, the mind of the poetic aesthetic who replaces boredom by “the secrets of time”, dumb and dangerous alcoholism by praises of the poetry of decay and poverty. So, in a bewildering fashion Mr. Stasiuk bemoans the supposed extermination of atmosphere and feelings. He whines about the loss of other “Eastern traits” such as the “animalic, that so deeply penetrates our lives” and marvels about “What will happen to the cattle living side by side with the humans?”

One really wonders here what kind of collective WE he has declared himself to be the spokesperson of. And one cannot help but wonder what kind of political consequences this folkloristic celebration of the secrets of life in the East is meant to imply. Admittedly, in some cases romanticism may produce good literature but it’s usually stinking reaction in politics.

Romanticising the Gypsy life

Mr. Stasiuk’s urge to celebrate a life-style in which he claims to be a part of, becomes most revealing when he describes his impressions from a trip to Slovakia. Only in a side remark he mentions the recent Roma riots that shook the country. Then he goes on for paragraphs, lyrically describing a rotten gypsy shantytown, as “a triumph of the gypsies over the laws of gravity” and the wonders gypsy kids at play. Poverty, unemployment, hunger, racist discrimination: a fantastic façade for Mr. Stasiuk’s mystifications.


Photo: Nadina Wójcik

More than that: He also wonders why the gypsies apparently seem to “have no admiration” for the achievements of the European civilization and how they “supposedly never wanted to be part of the European cultural heritage.” Well, it’s an interesting question. I wonder what kind of answer an inhabitant of the described shanty-town would provide to that.

Yet Mr. Stasiuk does not wonder about that. Instead, he goes on to recognize similarities between “us in the East” and the gypsies. He concludes: “Anyways, it is hard for us to recognize the whole of Europe as our property, as our home, as our heritage. We are alien to it, we come from the outside, from areas … that Europe sees rather as threat, than as part of herself.” He goes on to accuse the West, as the “living image our future” to rob “our lives the secret and excitement”.

In whose name?

From that, he deduces the “continental mission” of US (= EAST): to deform and subvert the achievements of THEM (= WEST). Well, go ahead, I won’t mind. Though again, I wonder in whose name Mr. Stasiuk is speaking here. And what he actually means by that. All in all Stasuik’s comments these days look to me much like attempts to revitalize the old rebellious outsider theme again, thereby abusing the truly marginalized and real outsiders (the peasants and gypsies) to make his point.

Stasiuk’s text can be found in: Süddeutsche Zeitung, 30.04.2004

This article was posted in Best of Plotki, EU Enlargement and tagged .

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