Ideas that add up #181

Rama, who has opened [Enver Hoxha’s former nuclear bunker] to the public, believes that coming to terms with their past is a more complicated business for Albanians than merely listening to the unsavoury incidents of recent history. “It has been very difficult for us, to deal with the past in a way that is freed from the mechanisms that the past created for us to deal with the past,” he says, smiling at the convolution.

Albania’s Socialist prime minister Edi Rama, interviewed by Peter Aspen, ‘When an artist runs a country’, FT Weekend, July 18th, 2015

The populations of recovering authoritarian states emerge blinking into daylight like the sequestered subjects of a lifetime of domestic abuse, readjusting the certainties of mental life as best they can. It is almost too easy to spot the psychopathology. The symptoms are perhaps less stark among the rest of us but the problem is graver – how do we free ourselves, and each other, from mental shackles that we can’t even acknowledge exist?

In Albania’s case, I guess the inherited mechanisms for understanding the past included propaganda art and a lot of didactic, top-down framing of issues and ideas. Lifeless devices crafted with ulterior motives. Rama, who had a career as an artist in Paris before returning to his homeland and eventually getting elected PM, is countering by encouraging free art, organic and unregulated, to seed the ground with healthy new sources of cultural and political life. A kind of ecosystem of aesthetics – diversity versus monoculture – to yield a higher quality of citizenship. 

It’s hard to imagine a similar endorsement for free art from a political leader of one of our established, liberal-capitalist states. Maybe it would be superfluous – to some degree we’re already culturally and politically diverse. But we do desperately need that challenge – art’s tangential take on the anomalies and phoniness of this unsustainable world we created but lack the mental mechanisms for tackling head-on.

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