Beyond Borne Sulinowo
Jürgen Schneider, 1994
“…sail at last out of the bad dream of your past.”
The Cure at Troy
The German playwright Heiner Müller once remarked: “Gorbachev has ended the Cold War by dissolving the East/West conflict, the rivalry of ideologies in the North/South conflict. It is no longer a question of ideas but of realities. Thus, he has reduced the struggle between capitalism and socialism to the core itself: the antagonism between poor and rich. This antagonism is now getting universal significance, and full force.”(1) Muller also spoke of the rift between East and West Rome, Rome and Byzantium, which is dividing Europe in irregular curves, and which can be seen in a flash, when, after the loss of a binding religion or ideology, the tribal fires are being newly lit. A rift into which, for example, Poland has disappeared time and time again.
Where is Poland now? While, in Germany right-wing ideologists are openly demanding a “Re-Germanisation of East Prussia”, for the return of entrepreneurial capitalism, all over the old communist world Hitler’s motorised combat units, Krupp plants on wheels, are no longer necessary. As Neal Ascherson has observed: “All over East-Central Europe and Russia dashed the young missionaries of an extreme, Thatcherite version of the free-market economy…”(2) The movement of capital is invisible; it does not need a future, but is exploiting it by totally transforming time into the present. Or, in the words of Jean Baudrillard: “Perhaps the thawed freedom is not so much worth seeing. And, if one sees that it could not rest until it had marketed itself (automobiles and household utensils), with psychotropic and pornographic eagerness, i.e. to transform itself immediately in Western forms of liquidity, and thereby proceed from one version of the termination of history (qua freezing), to another (qua extreme fluidity and circulation)?...The energies which had been kept under lock and key in the East for half a century, evaporate in the Western vacuum.”(3)
The first impression of Borne Sulinowo is that of a ‘green’ town; an idyll. But in fact it is not. Like all other places from which the Soviet Forces (or in Germany, the Allied Forces) withdrew, Borne Sulinowo is heavily polluted. Wrecks of military vehicles, military trash (including mines), junk and detritus are everywhere. Although, this is now changing, as scrap-merchants start “to clear up”
Victor Sloan, like the other Irish artists, who went to Borne Sulinowo (Brian Connolly, Sean Taylor), was inspired by his experience there to make a new series of images. On first sight, it is a visual narrative about the after effects of the withdrawal of the Soviet Army from Eastern Europe and Eastern Germany, which was the biggest military operation since World War II.
The Canadian artist Jeff Wall has dealt with the death of the Red Army in his large-scale cibachrome image titled “Dead troops talk”.(6) Jeff Wall reconstructs a subtle counter-tale to the tale that Late-Capitalism wishes to tell, and so stridently asserts. At this point in the historical drama, the Soviet Zombies take up their full phantasmagorical presence, as both spectres and spectators of Late-Capitalism. Wall reinterprets, repositions, the narrative set up by Late-Capitalism that, of its own triumph, as being a rhetoric of bombast.”(7)