While various Occupy movements around the world are conducting events on the streets in front of financial and political institutions, in the Czech Republic preferred sites for activism have come to include parliament house and various infamous villas implicated in corruption cases. Artists recently organized the first ever performance in the local parliament house via a hacked mobile phone SMS gate, blurring the distinction between real time TV coverage, theater and political performance. The performance was orchestrated by a famous Czech guerrilla art movement, Ztohoven.com. On June 5 between 2pm and 7pm, 585 SMS messages were sent to different politicians during the 40th meeting of the Czech parliament. The politicians from various political parties were unknowingly “sending” SMS messages to one another about the need for a mysterious “Moral Reform” and apologizing to each other. The messages called for better behavior, political decency and negotiation with less emphasis on grudges and prejudice. The TV coverage of the meeting showed the confused and surprised politicians checking their mobile phones and later statements expressed their real shock over what happened.
The action involved politicians basically functioning as puppets for the artists and the timing of these messages was brilliant, happening during a public appearance of a known corrupt politician, David Rath, who was giving his “last speech” in parliament before being sent to prison in connection with a serious case in which he was caught taking a bribe and was secretly recorded saying how much he loves the sound of money. He offered a ridiculous explanation, suggesting that the sentences recorded were an attempt to impersonate Gollum from the “Lord of the Ring” series.
The Czech MPs were not really paying much attention to this, however, due to being inundated with a mysterious call for “moral reform” and were only able to look around the parliament in shock at each other. The messages were full of pathos yet ironic and sincere at the same time. In some sense, they express a sort of national unconscious fantasy that maybe one day a miracle can happen and we can turn good.
Typical messages, which can be found on the Ztohoven pages, went something like this: President of Republic, Prof. Ing. Vaclav Klaus, CSc., is sending an SMS to JUDr. Vojtûch Filip, head of the Communist party of Czech and Moravia: “Your history, as well as mine, is full of acts of shame. Please, accept my invitation to today’s urgent meeting on Moral Reform.” The messages were later visualised in terms of who sent what to whom.
Prague’s creative bus tours have also become very popular in recent times. Here visitors have been offered the opportunity to explore the local architectural oddities of crony capitalism, stopping at villas of politicians implicated in well-known corruption cases. While the viewers of the parliamentary TV coverage became inadvertent witnesses of a mobile phone drama, these bus tours take unaware tourists to “protest” in front of the villas of the corrupt, where they simply observe what can be built for their money.
The CorruptTour.com project, with its motto “Enjoy the Best of the Worst”, uses a legitimate model of a tourist agency business that offers unique insight into the “nesting” sites of Czech cronies described as predatory birds, whose “social” skills they are asked to observe. This political fable and satire spawned from a business plan that aimed to merge corruption and tourism.
The “Occupy Villas tourists” are creating a significant nervousness in the local political scene, partly because they are not typical activists but rather curious citizens, going on tours to have fun and satisfy their curiosity.
The unique connection between politics and theatre performance in the Czech Republic has a long history that starts with the country’s rather strange national anthem, which evolved from the question – “Where is my home?” – appropriated from a 19th Century musical comedy. It continued with Vaclav Havel’s famous and subversive plays in the 20th Century and has found its most recent manifestation in these bus and parliament performances.
While the CorruptTour allows us to experience the ugly side of the “business as usual” of corruption and nepotism (with its attendant networks, lack of taste, and blunt arrogance) in the tourist mecca of Prague, revealing a parallel universe that people are unaware of, the Ztohoven Parliament puppet show explored the notion of alternative futures being influenced by some unknown moral force.
Both of these cases, however, reveal a new form of activist and “revolutionary” art, which is subversively opportunistic rather than openly confrontational. It uses business plans and extreme moral and religious discourse rather than critique, reflection or visions. It “reforms” reality by generating unexpected events that are closer to quantum physics and chaos theory experiments with butterfly wings than just simple provocations.
The impressive effects of such actions can be partly attributed to the fact that they often leave a lot of room for individual interpretation and turn passive citizens into active actors by just physically witnessing and visiting certain sites. Art is turning politics into a type of liminal experience with parallel and alternative universes and futures, almost extra-terrestrial interventions that resemble a TV show like Fringe.
The CorruptTour and its political tourism helped us experience the “beauty” of our country from a new perspective, and the recent SMS novel turned real time performance in the Czech parliament could potentially be the start of a genuine moral reform. After all, we are a country of the Good soldier Svejk, of the Velvet revolution – and our modern nationhood was formed in a theatre, so the hope is that our political future will perhaps always be part of some performance that mixes irony with eagerness, kitsch with cynicism. The works are, however, without catharsis – leaving the future open and leaving the political scene uncertain about what will come next.
Maybe it is time for an original Czech version of Anonymous?