Wanting to remain an observer I ended up being involved

Why are you here?

I am here thanks to @MariaAlinaAsavei – she told me last spring about the application for the project and I work as her research assistant. Once the project was approved, she invited me to join in. We also have a lot of things in common – arts and so on – which helps us to work together: I also work on Romanian topics, which is also why we met with Maria, and there are two or three core lines of my interest; contemporary history and the transition between systems, combining political and historical studies; identity studies in Transylvania, which I am researching, and I want to understand how it is used in the political context; Jewish history in central and South-East Europe, the Holocaust and post-Holocaust. I teach courses on regions and minorities in central and Eastern Europe; contemporary Balkan affairs; Jewish history.

I am on the platform because I have experience with coding, we use a lot of digital approaches in research at the Malach Centre, and work with living people as source providers – I am interested in the whole ecosystem of data, the people who generate, collect and analyse them, to make better sense out of it. I am interested in the permeation of political topics into artistic and cultural expressions.

What do you struggle with?

I am in the 7th year of my PhD and I am trying to finish my dissertation. For a period of time, I lost control of my work management because of all the projects I take part in. I used to be stressed about my efficiency and that I am not writing my thesis, but it was counterproductive, I am quite pragmatic now. I actually struggle with doing things for myself – I would rather work on something for other people. I actually procrastinate my own work with the work I do with and for others.

What interests you?

I am very much interested in music and I’ve been doing music my whole life, still being an active musician at the moment. I can feel that political division emerges in the sphere of underground music as well… however, I still haven’t stabilized my position – on one hand, I am an observer, on the other hand, I am personally involved. Mine/our understanding of rebellion is different, stemming from the anti-totalitarian tradition constituted during the communist period, rather than the emerging “populist” one.

Do you also feel the POPREBEL-lion challenging values and norms in your everyday life, the fields of your hobbies and interests?


That might be something we have in common, @Jirka_Kocian. I am a founding member of Modena City Ramblers, which, for a time in the 1990s, was perhaps the most influential lefty band in Italy (the band still exists, I am no longer involved).

There is some resonance with some of the POPREBEL themes in that story. We attempted to deploy musical tradition (made urgent and lively with a robust injection of punk) in order to buttress progressive politics, specifically anti-fascism. Our reasoning was:

  • At least in the north, Italian folk music is full of rebel songs. The partisan epics during WW2 yielded some material there, but also there are songs about strikes etc. There seems to be an aspiration to social justice weaved in the culture.
  • If this is here we come from, we must be striving for social justice too, or else be inconsistent with our own roots.

This logic, underpinned by some scholarly work (for example ethnomusicologist Alessandro Portelli), did not stop the right wing separatists of Lega Nord play our music on their pet radio stations. The point they were trying to make is that Northern music sounds Celtic, which is why we could blend it so well with Irish materials. That “proved” that the north was different and needed to pull itself apart from the lazy south yada yada. We were fascinated: every time those guys played our records, two stories were competing. Which one would win out? (Eventually, we ended up in the leftist bubble).

There is a story here, of how culture and “roots” myths get pressed into service of political agendas, and how ambiguous the whole thing is. Is this something you are seeing in contemporary Eastern Europe?

To answer your question - yes.

On one hand, this nurturing of (often presumed) cultural roots constructs is nowadays very much a money generating model. Putting aside a certain musical-anthropoligical quality that this kind of rock/punk music fusion can have (and I personally liked it and still like it), was taken up by the major record companies around the turn of the millenium and successfully implanted into the mainstream.

In parallel politicization, in this context ethnonationlisitc appropriation, has been happening in the post-communist Europe the whole time, provided with a strong disseminative platform for this conglomerate of heterogenous symbolisms and musical reflection on folklore. Technícally, this is the same old story of mainstreamization, but in the current context, it also unfortunately often reflects some kind of an (extreme) right turn we are experincing.

What I was referring to was the fact that in communist Czechoslovakia, musical underground of all kinds played a paramount role in creating and maintaing a counterculture that in a way tried to be apolitical, but was forced by the regime’s oppression to become a political environment. When I was a young kid going to gigs, it was still a very neutral and welcoming environment along the line of this tradition.

Especially since the refugees and migration became a dominant issue in the public discourse, seems like everyone feels they need to make a “political” statement and rebel against the status quo - which unfortuantely seems to be represented in the eyes of many by the humanistic values, tolerance, plurality etc. to the extent it becomes a norm… Or is this is just an optical illusion co-created by the silent majority? Nevertheless the extreme feels very much empowered and the boundaries of what is an acceptable expression of oneself have shifted…

And thanks for a great tip for a work-soundtrack;)

1 Like

… do I remember that in The unbearable lightness of being there are references to Slowakian folk music and its political implications?

Oh yes the folklore…interestingly not as much relevant in the western part of the Czech republic where I am from, but still a matter in the southeast, do not know exactly what did Kundera have in his mind

If memory serves, it was viewed as mildly subversive. This is because it pointed to a national Slowakian identity, and that was seen as being in competition with a communist identity. A folk musician, or music fan was under suspicion of competing loyalties.