Intro

Theme

Even decades after the official end of the Cold War, “the East” remains the Other. Only because of this reinforced Othering of what Western media now designates “post-communist” space can it so comfortably function as a black box of the West’s ethical imperialism: the much-invoked opacity of “the East” can be presented as a lack of transparency and hence a legitimation for the West’s ostensibly “civilizing” therapies and impositions; meanwhile, that very opacity can be used to veil privatization processes of state-owned enterprises, for instance, in obscurantism, that is, beyond the light of rational comprehension and democratic accountability. Black-boxing “the East” in this way makes it possible to conceal abuses of power, wide-ranging mechanisms of exploitation, and privatization-related aggravation of structural problems. Moreover, it provides the perfect conditions for the misuse of subsidies, white-collar crime, and organized crime.

Scrutinizing the double standards underlying capitalism’s post-1989 expansion, the Berliner Gazette (BG) project BLACK BOX EAST takes Germany as a starting point: a nation-state whose entrepreneurial agenda (“first we take East Germany, then we take eastern Europe and beyond”) has reached a critical limit. The most obvious signs of this would be the increasing precariousness and radicalization in “the new states,” as BG founding editors Magdalena Taube and Krystian Woznicki show in their introductory essay. Read it in English (EN) or in German (GER).

Exploration

Taking East Germany as a starting point for a critical inquiry of processes of globalization makes it possible to look at it from different international perspectives, rethinking “the East” from within, against, and beyond national borders. Participants from more than 30 countries will be invited to embark upon an analogous exploration. Ultimately, points of intersection can emerge, thus generating common paths of discourse not limited to a specific nation-state. In other words, rather than narrowing the project’s horizon to Eastern Germany, its intervention is set on an international stage.

In the course of this, three dimensions of the BLACK BOX EAST will be explored: First, the project will investigate how the black box in question is constructed and whose geopolitical and economic interests it serves. Second, the project will examine what economic and political realities the black box conceals and favors. Third, the project intends to create a common – and above all, decolonial – discourse about and from within “the East” and thus, not least, shape strategies to unlock the black box and recode it into a common space of transnational struggles.

Milestones

Conceived as a year-long project, the Berliner Gazette will initiate diverse activities, most importantly a series of texts and a conference. The BG has created a space for the project within its online newspaper. Here, around 40 essays, reports, and interviews will be published in the course of 2021. The text series is loosely partitioned into three sections that consist of a selected number of invited contributions (see Texts section below) and additional texts coming in via a call for papers. The call targets researchers, activists, artists, journalists, and other producers of subjugated knowledge to submit by July 14 a text of approximately 1,500 words that responds to the issues and questions raised by the BLACK BOX EAST project. While the texts will appear in German in the BG, a selection will be published in English in cooperation with the BG’s international media partners. Submissions that reach us in the form of audio and video pieces, will be selectively published in the Works section (see below). Meanwhile, the BG plans to hold a number of partner events, including gatherings with the initiators of the activist network E.A.S.T. (Essential Autonomous Struggles Transnational) and the editors of the book “Eastern Europe After 30 Years of Transition: New Left Perspectives from the Region” (2021).

The BLACK BOX EAST project will culminate in the international Berliner Gazette conference, which is scheduled to take place on September 23, 24 and 25, 2021 (tbc).

Texts

I

How is the BLACK BOX EAST constructed? Whose geopolitical and economic interests does it serve?

With invited contributions by historian Ilko-Sascha Kowalczuk about the (un)friendly take over of East-Germany (GER); researcher and writer Katharina Warda about ex-GDR as a black box; historian Claudia Weber about “backwardness” and the “democratic deficit” in “the East”; political theorist Stefan Kausch and discourse analyst Jürgen Link about East German normality between deviance and avant-garde; historian George Bodie about decolonisation and the German Democratic Republic (1960-1989); culture theoretician Marco Abel about the role of “the East” for the birth of Germany as a neoliberal nation-state (GER); activist and researcher Christoph Marischka about the making of the digital revolution in Eastern Germany; culture theoretician Neda Genova about knowledge production and the politics of transparency/opacity; curator Aleksei Borisionok and artist Olia Sosnovskaya about the concept of “the New East” as a paradigm of reinforced Othering; researcher and activist Inga Lindarenka about representations of post-Soviet space in UK media; media researcher Greg McLaughlin about the New Cold War; social anthropologist Florin Poenaru about blackboxing Romania; investigative journalist Stefan Candea about the politics of cross-border journalism in “the East”; digital thinker and artist Darija Medic about the construction of the computer user in Yugoslavia; researcher Ana Vilenica about historical revisionism in urban transformations in Belgrade and London and how to read Western urbanism with the vocabulary of “the East”; sociologist Sanja Milivojevic about the black-boxed mobility infrastructure in the Western Balkans (GER | EN).

II

What economic and political realities does the BLACK BOX EAST conceal and favor?

With invited contributions by scholar-activist Sabrina Apicella about how Amazon’s logistical network connects “the East” with Europe at large; urban researcher Jochen Becker about Amazon’s logistical chains between Berlin and Poznań; researcher Mira Wallis about Germany’s digital ghost workers in Romania (GER); digital media researcher Miglè Bareikytè about the incommensurability of labor politics and AI strategies in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia; geographers Lela Rekhviashvili and Wladimir Sgibnev about struggles over infrastructure that holds post-Soviet space together (GER | EN); political geographer Evelina Gambino about how the logistical arteries of the former Eastern Bloc are repurposed in today’s logistical networks; anthropologist Sabina Stan about outsourcing healthcare labor in Romania within the EU’s new economic governance regime; scholar-activist Christine Braunersreuther about global care chains and Balkanism as a special form of racism; sociologist and activist Polina Manolova about postsocialist hope, migration, and “the West” as an ideology that sustains and propels exploitative East-West dependencies; anthropologist Dace Dzenovska about emptiness as a novel spatial coordinate of post-migration realities in “the East;” anthropologist Tanja Petrović and journalist Maja Ava Žiberna about undocumented workers from the Balkans as drivers of “Europeanization” and neoliberal globalization of Eastern Europe; scholar-activist Rutvica Andrijasevic about worker struggles within and against China’s electronics industry in Eastern Europe; researcher and writer Lesia Prokopenko about how China’s shanzhai goods are consumed and appropriated in Eastern Europe as a phantom of “Westerness;” decolonial researchers Kasia Narkowicz and Zoltán Ginelli about global historical roots of colonial discourse, including the decolonial capture by the Right, in Poland and Hungary.

III

What is the potential of the BLACK BOX EAST as a common space of transnational struggles?

With invited contributions by dramaturge Johanna-Yasirra Kluhs and director and performer Tanja Krone about social practice theater with networks of ‘real people’ in East and West Germany; researcher and artist Anna Stiede about deindustrialization in Apolda and TreuhandTechno (GER); theater-maker Kevin Rittberger and artist Nicolas Mortimer about cybernetic futurism in the GDR (GER | EN); artist and activist Rena Raedle about the avantgarde and “the East” (GER); theater director and poet Thomas Martin about the quest for real-existing (post)communist laboratories of globalization; artist and author Elske Rosenfeld about the legacies of GDR dissidence; decolonial theorist Madina Tlostanova about what it means to decolonize (post)socialism; social thinker Max Haiven and historian Vijay Prashad about the role of “the East” in the Western radical imagination; scholar-activist Kalina Dresnka about unboxing “the East” from within transnational activist networks; literary scholar Karolina Golimowska about social struggles in Poland during the COVID-19 pandemic philosopher, theoretician, and artist Marina Gržinić about the politics of Post-Yugoslavia; researcher and curator Doreen Mende about decolonial imaginaries of (post-)socialism; political theorist Gal Kirn about the partisan counter-archive; sociologist Paul Stubbs about the legacies of the Non-Aligned Movement for today’s activism (GER | EN); activist hvale about intersectional struggles in Bosnia and Herzegovina; journalist Mihajlo Vujasin about food sovereignty in neoliberal Serbia; scholar-activist Sara Nikolić about urban commons in New Belgrade.

Works

Workers’ Museum Trudbenik

The Workers’ Museum Trudbenik was established at the workers’ colony of “KMG Trudbenik,” one of the biggest construction companies in socialist Yugoslavia. As depicted in the video produced by Radnički muzej Trudbenik Collective, the museum documents the tradition of workers’ self-management and represents the struggle against the cruel and cynical relation towards the lifework of the workers, who built thousands of housing complexes and institutions serving the society and who – since privatization has been advanced – are living in constant threat of being evicted from their own homes. (Click at the CC button in the play bar of the video and chose the language of the subtitles you’d like to see.)

Safe Distance

Eagerly supported by ‘united’ Germany, the 1999 NATO campaign against FR Yugoslavia was the first in history exclusively using air strikes. Accordingly, it was based on the ehical premise that this was a clean humanitarian intervention without any collateral damage – and certainly not a war. Found inside a plane that was shot during the air strikes, the video was processed by the art-activism collective Kuda for public access. It documents the plane’s cockpit electronics: the basic graphical interface and the voice communication between pilots. After every impact, the pilot is calm, and the only thing that indicates his personal drama is his breathing – a sign of the mission’s false ethical premise.

Thoreau Walking

This sound piece is based on a rereading of classics of anarchist and ecological literature, by authors such as Thoreau, Goldman, and others. Many of the lyrics, even though they are over 100 years old, take listeners to still emergent grey undercurrents in the BLACK BOX EAST. Under the collective name Looking For, Gosia M. Jagiello, Agata Chwola, and Jarek Wasilewski, who are all from Poland but are nowadays living abroad, meditate the problems in their home country since they have a huge impact on their lives. The artists state: “Creating our identities especially online gives us a false sense of control over ourselves. […] We forget to recognize the dissonance that our disconnection from the environment creates within and beyond us. The choice of music is based on a disagreement with capitalism that asks us for more and makes us want more.”

Info

The organization behind the BLACK BOX EAST project is Berliner Gazette (BG) – a nonprofit and nonpartisan team of journalists, researchers, artists and coders. We experiment with and analyze emerging cultural as well as political practices. Since 1999 we have been publishing berlinergazette.de under a Creative Commons License – with more than 1,000 contributors from all over the world – as well as organizing conferences and editing books. Latest BG projects include 2020: Silent Works – BG Winter School | 2019: More World – BG con | 2018: Ambient Revolts – BG con | 2017: Signals – Exhibition | A Field Guide to the Snowden Files – Book | Friendly Fire – BG con | 2016: Tacit Futures – BG con | 2015: UN|COMMONS – BG con | 2012: BQV. Büro für Qualifikation und Vermögen – Documentary | 2006: McDeutsch – Book.

Organizer

The curators of the BLACK BOX EAST project are Magdalena Taube and Krystian Woznicki. Magdalena is editor-in-chief of the internet newspaper Berliner Gazette and professor of Digital Media and Journalism at the Macromedia University of Applied Sciences in Berlin. She is the author of “Disruption des Journalismus” (2018) published by Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam and co-editor of numerous readers, including “Invisible Hand(s)” (2020) published by Multimedijalni institut, Zagreb. Krystian is a critic, photographer, and the co-founder of Berliner Gazette. Blending writing and photography, he has created books such as “After the Planes” (2017), co-authored with Brian Massumi, “Fugitive Belonging” (2018), and his most recent work “Undeclared Movements” – published by b_books in 2020.

Curators

If you wish to be updated via email, you are very welcome to join our mailing lists. On our English language mailing list we share updates on BG projects as well as initiatives from our network associates and neighbors. You can subscribe here. On our German language mailing list we provide updates on what we publish in the online newspaper berlinergazette.de as well as selected info on events in Berlin. Please find more information and a subscription option here.

Mailinglists

If you want to get updates on the SILENT WORKS project, please follow BG. For instance, you can keep in touch on twitter or on facebook. Please use the Hashtag #BLACKBOXEAST when posting messages on social networks.

Follow us