In the past few months, several writers, artists, academics and collectives decided to refuse invitations from Germany due to the state’s antagonistic stance on Palestine. These include Suchitra Vijayan, Kindness, Zarrar Khuhro and Technomaterialism, who bravely called for others to join them in boycotting German cultural institutions on December 15, 2023. Recently, this momentum to boycott snowballed into a explicit call to go on strike against Germany.
A new call for international cultural workers to strike German cultural institutions came from the group “Strike Germany” on January 8, 2024. As the settler-colonial apartheid state of Israel has continued its genocide on Palestinians and its military occupation in Palestine, the German state has escalated its repression of Palestinians in Germany. This has included the censorship and outright reprisal of artists and cultural institutions in Germany that support the Palestinian people. We wrote about this previously for The Left Berlin. The German state and various cultural institutions in Germany have censored, threatened, or cut funding to people and institutions who have spoken out against Israel’s military campaign responsible for killing over 24,000 Gazans.
Strike Germany is a response to the Berlin Senate’s new anti-discrimination clause, which in a sinister turn for artistic expression, requires applicants for German government culture funding to explicitly support the Israeli state. The Left Berlin previously reported on the clause. This is precisely the time we need to to come together and REFUSE to give in to censorship and repression. The authors and signatories of Strike Germany “refuse German cultural institutions’ use of McCarthyist policies that suppress freedom of expression, specifically expressions of solidarity with Palestine.” As of January 11, there are over 650 signatories to Strike Germany, including Sheikh Jarrah/New York-based Palestinian writer and poet Mohammed El-Kurd, the Nobel Prize-winning author Annie Ernaux, Berlin-based writer Asa Seresin, and Canadian Black Studies scholar Christina Sharpe. Other signatories from the literature world include artist and writer Hannah Black and Léopold Lambert, editor of The Funambulist magazine.
As Fargo Nissim Tbakhi, a queer Palestinian-American performance artist and writer, has written in a critique and essay for Protean Magazine called Notes on Craft: Writing in the Hour of Genocide,
[P]olitical thought is not only an option for artists but a duty, an obligation and a fundamental necessity. That it supersedes the line break, the marginalia, the invocation of the muse. Better to know what we’re saying and why, and to say it with force, like a stone hurled from the river that reaches the sea.
Strike Germany and its impact on the Berlin music scene
Berlin gains much of its cultural cachet (and tourism money) from its music scene, including local music venues, clubs and festivals. So far, few DJs, festivals, or groups from the electronic music scene have signed the call to strike in solidarity with Strike Germany. We want to highlight statements from US-based dweller and Femme Decks. Last year, dweller did a one-night festival at Berghain, but they decided not to do it this year, writing that they, “made this decision a while ago due to the way German institutions were treating those opposing the current genocide in Palestine, it’s now reached an absurd level of control which you can read more on below,” with a link to the Strike Germany website. Femme Decks wrote, “WE STAND WITH STRIKE GERMANY AND WITHDRAW OUR EVENT FROM CTM VORSPIEL. We plan to continue our event at Petersburg Art Space without them.” Both Femme Decks and dweller thus echo the increasing opposition of international cultural workers and artists to German state repression.
CTM Festival due to take place in Berlin
This month, experimental music festival CTM is set to take place in Berlin with the financial support of the Berlin Senate and corporate funding from companies like Ableton and Native Instruments, among others. Many international artists are scheduled to perform. On October 17, 2023, CTM made a post on their Instagram page that vilified the Palestinian resistance movement, bemoaned “polarisation” in society, and wrote about the humanitarian crisis in the passive voice. Taken together, this statement glossed over the military violence of the settler colonial apartheid state of Israel. This from a festival that has “critical reflection” in their bio.
CTM artists heed the call to Strike Germany
However, several courageous artists decided to heed the call to Strike Germany and have withdrawn from CTM Festival. Among them are Jyoty, Manuka Honey, Scratcha DVA, Kampire, and Femme Decks. Femme Decks decided to move their performance to another venue called Petersburg Art Space. Femme Decks’ cancellation is—at the time of writing—the only one that criticized CTM in their statement, writing, “We have not seen that CTM is pro-Palestine or that they are against this genocide. We also don’t know if they will refuse future government funding in solidarity with Strike Germany.” A day after the wave of artist cancellations began, CTM had pinned their both-sides Instagram post from October 17, indicating that this is still their view after more than 100 days of ongoing genocide.
As the horror continues in Gaza, as well as in the occupied West Bank and other territories, CTM still plans to host events at Berghain and Volksbühne, two venues which have canceled invitations to artists and speakers because of their support for Palestine.
Berghain and Volksbühne cancel appearances of pro-Palestine invitees
On January 13, Berghain canceled the appearance of artist Arabian Panther because of his support for the Palestinian people. Arabian Panther bravely made a public statement on Instagram, sharing that Berghain had also attempted to hide the reason for the cancellation. After Arabian Panther made this public, Berghain deleted their old post in support of the Ukrainian struggle with no further comment. But Berghain’s silence is nothing new. It’s no secret that Berghain’s management has been racist for years. We even wrote an open letter in November 2021 about their support for Dominick Fernow (also known as Vatican Shadow and Prurient), who releases white supremacist and fascist musicians on his music label, Hospital Productions. After our open letter was published, Berghain silently deleted Vatican Shadow from their booking agency; another example of their policy of silence, just like their response to Arabian Panther’s posts.
Similarly, the Volksbühne theatre cancelled UK Labour politician Jeremy Corbyn’s appearance a few months ago because of his Palestine solidarity. Shame on them. The Volksbühne also hosted a reading called “Writers and Photographers against Antisemitism” on 30 November 2023 in which they compared October 7 to the Shoah.
With their willingness to censor Palestinians and those who speak in solidarity with them, it looks like Berghain, Volksbühne and other cultural spaces like them are willing and hoping to profit in the Berlin Senate’s McCarthyist era.
What can we do?
Quoting again from Fargo Nissim Tbakhi’s essay Notes on Craft (emphasis ours),
The Freedom Theater in Jenin refugee camp was founded by Juliano Mer Khamis and Zakaria Zubeidi in 2006, out of the rubble of the Stone Theater, which had been founded by Juliano’s mother Arna and was destroyed by Israel. The Freedom Theater’s work is premised in part on the notion that “the third Intifada will be a cultural one.” Yet crucially, Juliano stressed: “What we are doing in the theatre is not trying to be a replacement or an alternative to the resistance of the Palestinians in the struggle for liberation, just the opposite. This must be clear.” Palestine demands that all of us, as writers and artists, consider ourselves in principled solidarity with the long cultural Intifada that is built alongside and in collaboration with the material Intifada. We are writing amidst its long middle; the page is a weapon.
This extends beyond the context of theatre, writers, or artists. As culture workers or even consumers, we should support the Palestinian resistance by honouring the calls to boycott Germany. In addition, we can actively boycott spaces, venues, artists, and others that are pro-Zionist or silent in the face of an ongoing genocide financed and supported by our own governments.
For international cultural workers, striking through a performance cancellation sends a strong message to the Berlin and German government that their support of the genocide in Gaza by the settler colonial apartheid Israeli state is unacceptable.
We call on venues, festivals, nightclubs, collectives and other cultural organizations and those who organize public programming to sign on to the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). The lack of nightlife actors who have committed to PACBI is very concerning. If you are part of nightlife industry, read more about PACBI on the Writers Against the War on Gaza page and please consider committing to PACBI.
And finally, we encourage everyone to join direct actions, join protests, write letters, watch protests, read the works of oppressed peoples, amplify their voices and continue to speak up! To quote Rasha Abdulhadi “Get in the way where you can, in every way you can, with your words and body, and support others who get in the way!'”
2024-01-23: Edit for clarity. The original sentence read, “It looks like Berghain and Volksbühne are set to profit in the Berlin Senate’s McCarthyist era.” Now it reads, “With their willingness to censor Palestinians and those who speak in solidarity with them, it looks like Berghain, Volksbühne and other cultural spaces like them are willing and hoping to profit in the Berlin Senate’s McCarthyist era.”