Monday, December 19, 2016

Speaking in Stockholm

Stockholm is a very beautiful city: even in December, when it's dark almost all the time.  I was lucky enough to be asked to speak at a conference there by Chris Torch of Intercult.  Once again, Rosanna Lewis and I were presenting the Voices of Culture report on the role of the arts in the refugee crisis.  It's starting to feel a bit like a Farewell Tour of European Capitals in the run-up to Brexit...

Anyway - here's a brief extract from what I had to say - which I suppose is also a bit of a Christmas 2016 message.

"It’s December.  I am so happy that this appalling, terrifying year is coming to an end - let’s just have a new one, shall we?  Not that 2017 is exactly looking full of promise……   January will see the unthinkable happen, when a President endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan enters the White House.  In March, Article 50 will, it seems, be triggered - with the agenda of what Teresa May has called “a red, white and blue Brexit”  - whatever that’s supposed to mean….     And everyone who might physically have some tiny chance of getting out of Aleppo will carry on trying to get out of the bloodbath that is Aleppo.  The flow of refugees is not going to be stemmed.

And what is the West doing?  It’s putting up walls.  Some of these walls are absolutely literal - the UK government built a huge wall in Calais as yet another barrier to the movement of refugees.  Donald Trump says he’s going to build a wall right along the US-Mexico border and get the Mexicans to pay for it…  (hello..)…  And some of them are more metaphorical - like the deal the EU did with the Turkish autocrat to prevent Syrian refugees crossing into Europe.  Or the Swedish government’s sudden decision last January to impose border controls on the bridge from Denmark. This continent defined itself, declared itself in a moment of hope in Berlin in 1989, when a wall came down.  And today - we see the exact opposite.  It’s a very strange time to be running a theatre company called Border Crossings - just as it’s probably a very strange time to be running an organisation in Sweden called Intercult - and it’s a very strange time to be working with communities of refugees.

And yet it is in these refugees themselves that our most precious resource is to be found - and that is something called Hope.  Hope, which in turn leads to creativity and transformation.   Hope is that treasured vision in the deepest part of the human soul that people locate and draw off in the darkest of times, in the most pitiful of conditions.  Hope is what enables a human being to commit their body to a massively overcrowded, makeshift craft adrift on an open sea - that will take them to an alien land where they know they will not be made welcome.  And hope - for us - for artists and cultural workers - hope is the choice we make deliberately to follow the most difficult path in our own lives because of something that we believe in.  Justice."