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In which there will be ques­tion of lit­tle pow­ers, of tiny stamped papers and of our friend Zehra Doğan, a nomad in Europe.

It is the mark of a mon­strous regime such as Nazism to offer small mon­sters jobs cov­er­ing an entire continent.”

This is how his­to­ri­an Leon Poli­akov ana­lyzed how a chain of bureau­crats and imple­menters, steeped in a dom­i­nant ide­ol­o­gy and a sense of impuni­ty obtained through a del­e­ga­tion of pow­er, could, each at his own lev­el, car­ry out absolute horror.

Of course, he was speak­ing then of one of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry geno­cides. But as Han­nah Arendt does also when she writes about “pow­er”, he described how it can play out on the scale of dai­ly life, once human­ism is absent from polit­i­cal deci­sions, when lives and human des­tinies are at stake.

With­out mean­ing to plas­ter these analy­ses on today’s real­i­ty, the ques­tion of pow­er and of who exer­cis­es it in the name of the State at his or her own lev­el, remains cur­rent in the same way, when free will no longer reacts to inhu­man­i­ty but to a col­lec­tive ideology.

So, pre­cise­ly: let’s talk about dai­ly life, and of today.

And let’s unroll a casu­al con­ver­sa­tion held with Zehra Doğan, which I sum­ma­rize, con­cern­ing her forced nomadism in Europe and the bor­ders she cross­es. Of course, these com­ments are trans­lat­ed and pulled togeth­er from mem­o­ry, but I’ve retained the essen­tial part.

Zehra may be in a poor posi­tion to talk about Europe, and even more so about the Euro­pean Union. And yet, dri­ven out from the lands where she was born by Turci­ty and its accom­pa­ny­ing sys­tem­at­ic repres­sion, she is now a nomad on this con­ti­nent. She is forced to go through the labyrinth of tem­po­rary and res­i­den­cy visa requests, and because she trav­els, she must show the right door open­er each time, drawn from the stack of papers.

Since leav­ing prison on Feb­ru­ary 24 2019, con­trary to many migrants and thanks to the sol­i­dar­i­ty that grew up around her, she ben­e­fits from an “offi­cial” point of land­ing from which she can trav­el in response to invi­ta­tions extend­ed to her as an artist, a fem­i­nist and author tes­ti­fy­ing on the his­to­ry of her peo­ple. But this point of land­ing remains a paper.

In 2019, the Unit­ed States refused to give her a visa because her Mid­dle East­ern roots and her prison sen­tence for “ter­ror­ist pro­pa­gan­da” were con­sid­ered major imped­i­ments. Spot the mis­take. Or rather: dig deep­er on that spot.

Because of the sol­i­dar­i­ty sur­round­ing her, she has met through­out Europe con­sular staff to which she is grate­ful for their facil­it­ing her nomadism. They sim­ply upheld the law with­out bend­ing it to any ide­ol­o­gy cur­rent­ly favor­ing nation­al­is­tic retrench­ment. But through this expe­ri­ence she has also dis­cov­ered the num­ber of bor­ders set up between humans, even with­in the Euro­pean Union and, recent­ly, because she was con­fined in one of these con­ti­nen­tal coun­tries by the pan­dem­ic, how tight­ly they could with­draw with­in them­selves at such times, thus reveal­ing in the naked­ness of this incred­i­ble bureau­cra­cy, a ver­i­ta­ble paper factory.

The pan­dem­ic has also offered an oppor­tu­ni­ty to fur­ther con­trol, push back, pro­hib­it migra­tions and exiles. It has also served as a good excuse in order to legit­imize a num­ber of ille­gal acts con­trary to the right of asy­lum, a num­ber of refusals to wel­come. In the begin­ning of this year, the Turk­ish regime that signed an agree­ment con­cern­ing migrants depen­dent on the exchange of euros, attempt­ed a black­mail while the pan­dem­ic threat­ened. This agree­ment, trans­formed into a means of exert­ing pres­sure, increased the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of migrants and jus­ti­fied every form of refusal to greet them, such as “penal­iz­ing” sea res­cues. Did not Greece mas­sive­ly turn back asy­lum seek­ers in the Aegean Sea?

Friends who, like her, are unwill­ing­ly feel­ing polit­i­cal per­se­cu­tion in Turkey because of the threats against their dai­ly lives, impris­on­ment or worse still, keep pro­vid­ing her with proof the times are to closed bor­ders to any new migra­tion into the Euro­pean con­ti­nent, at a time when the entire geopo­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in the Mid­dle East serves as their source.

This is why I will talk about what hap­pened to her in the begin­ning of this month, not because her per­son­al case is of inter­est but because, pre­cise­ly, she was sub­ject­ed in Sep­tem­ber to what is the fate of thou­sands of peo­ple attempt­ing to cross bor­ders when they are not expected.

In doing so, I spec­i­fy that this is of my own doing since Zehra would nev­er talk about it, and would nev­er lament over her own fate. For those who do not under­stand this, I refer them back to her prison let­ters.

Dur­ing her incar­cer­a­tion in Turkey, a sol­i­dar­i­ty cam­paign slow­ly built up, both to get her out of prison and to avoid that her anonymi­ty allow the regime to exert against her the worst of which it is capa­ble. Nom­i­na­tive sol­i­dar­i­ty to pris­on­ers allows the cre­ation of a “mon­i­tored impris­on­ment” around them and the main­te­nance of an out­side con­tact. And even when cen­sor­ship is exer­cised, it can be ver­i­fied. Recent­ly a pris­on­er in Sau­di Ara­bia made it known that “I know when sol­i­dar­i­ty is expressed, because the whip­ping ses­sions become almost sym­bol­ic”. This type of sol­i­dar­i­ty also played in Zehra’s favor, and that of her co-detainees, along with inter­nal sol­i­dar­i­ty with­in the prison.

Zehra is an artist, a jour­nal­ist, an author. What could be more obvi­ous than to build up sol­i­dar­i­ty around these real­i­ties. Mak­ing her writ­ing known, exhibit­ing her works, help­ing those works to escape. Three years of sol­i­dar­i­ty that car­ried her strug­gle out beyond the walls. So much so that, just as Aslı Erdoğan became a fig­ure of anti-regime fem­i­nist oppo­si­tion, so did Zehra with the added ele­ment of her strug­gle in favor of Kur­dish women. But through her artis­tic tal­ent, her cre­ative force also stood out. The sol­i­dar­i­ty around those prison years brought her into the light, made her work known and acknowl­edged by activist artists of renown, and beyond, into what is known as the “artis­tic milieu.” A num­ber of papers are now devot­ed to her.

This is how Zehra kept this sol­i­dar­i­ty as an inher­i­tance when she left prison. And this gives her a voice she ded­i­cates to her fem­i­nist strug­gle – in par­tic­u­lar as a Kur­dish woman involved in Kur­dish his­to­ry, and its cre­ative and polit­i­cal utopias.

So, does this mean Zehra has become a VIP for all that?

Who­ev­er might imag­ine that this is the case and that she is now man­ag­ing a “career” would be heav­i­ly mis­tak­en. The woman who entered prison in 2016 has remained the same, save for the fact those years, para­dox­i­cal­ly, served as an apprenticeship.

So Zehra was not hurt this past month because she was not treat­ed with con­sid­er­a­tion by police rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Euro­pean Union, when she encoun­tered among them, the mark and behav­ior of small imple­menters of a pow­er of which they are a link in the chain : the chain of dehu­man­iza­tion, so close to the anti-Kur­dish racism she has known so well since childhood.

For the first time, she attempt­ed to go on “hol­i­day”. Don’t ask me why, she chose Rhodes. Holidays…Zehra, a tourist in a land of “ene­mies of Turkey” as Erdoğan would say. A few days of rest, is that too much to ask? And as she was then expect­ed at the Berlin Bien­ni­al, she flew off on a plane. As any oth­er tourist, she pro­ceed­ed to the cus­tom­ary “reg­is­tra­tion”. This is when a mem­ber of the staff at the air­port began, to her great aston­ish­ment, to inter­ro­gate her con­cern­ing her pres­ence in Greece, the pur­pose of her trip, her Turk­ish “nation­al­i­ty” – adding insult to injury for Zehra, who is a Kurd, and forced to deal with this whiff of Greek nation­al­ism fac­ing the Turk­ish one oppress­ing her.

See­ing how the reg­is­tra­tion of her lug­gage was start­ing to turn into a police inter­ro­ga­tion about her per­son on the part of an air­line employ­ee, annoyed her some­what, espe­cial­ly since she had start­ed by answer­ing most polite­ly. I spare you the details. Pri­or to board­ing, two char­ac­ters pur­port­ing to be police­men (with­out pro­vid­ing any evi­dence for this) asked her to fol­low them in a firm man­ner, shall we say, a firm­ness she has seen before in many a low-grade rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the police. She protest­ed in front of the oth­er tourists, men­tion­ing her rights in mat­ters of inter­ro­ga­tion. As a result, she found her­self prac­ti­cal­ly under cus­tody. No one react­ed around her.

A bit lat­er, with much pos­tur­ing and threats, there fol­lowed a kind of inter­ro­ga­tion where her Turk­ish “nation­al­i­ty”, her unwant­ed pres­ence in Greece, her “arro­gant” answers lead up to “We can send you back to Turkey”, “We have that pow­er”. Who were real­ly these peo­ple? No one knows. Why, while she pro­vid­ed them with every writ­ten and log­i­cal rea­son for his trip, when all the pos­si­ble stamps and visas appeared on her pass­port, on her papers, did they per­sist, while she insist­ed on her Kur­dish iden­ti­ty, to spit in her face her “Turk­ish” pres­ence, unde­sir­able in Greece? And Zehra also clear­ly felt the vio­lence in the ges­tures and the atti­tudes of these two men, proud in their pants, who could not accept that a woman not low­er her eyes in front of them. But that is rou­tine for a woman, yes?

Zehra is aware of the dis­pute between Greece and Turkey, stronger than ever over the ques­tion of gas. But, pre­cise­ly, she want­ed to leave their coun­try, Greece, because her hol­i­days were over.

They end­ed up by let­ting her take the plane, not before push­ing her toward it like an ani­mal being led to the slaugh­ter­house. End of the Greek sequence, go show your­self elsewhere.

There is no need to revis­it the con­text of qua­si-con­fronta­tion between Turkey and Greece. Just as it is use­less to remind of the exis­tence of ultra-nation­al­is­tic forces on both sides. The dom­i­nant ide­ol­o­gy and the vin­di­ca­tion imple­menters find in it rea­sons that feed behav­iors car­ried out from the desk clerk to the air and bor­der police…A good num­ber of arti­cles make men­tion of it, and this sum­mer, the Euro­pean Union also gave strict instruc­tions to its anti-migrant belt, bet­ter known as “FRONTEX”. And that is how one must under­stand what followed.

Dur­ing her trip back, she had time to think about how these peo­ple had just destroyed what a few days of hol­i­days in Rhodes had achieved. In Turkey, where she was a pris­on­er for close to three years, she under­stood full well how, in a basic police regime, all the links from prison guard to pros­e­cu­tors, form but one chain of com­mand for the State. In this case, who holds the pow­er? Which author­i­ty con­dones these attitudes?

The trip was spent in ques­tion­ing her­self under the dis­ap­prov­ing eyes of oth­er pas­sen­gers. In their eyes, the bor­der agents had labelled her as a poten­tial delin­quent, ter­ror­ist, or, because she is a women, why not a pros­ti­tute? …She was sen­tenced for a draw­ing. This time, she felt judged by tourists for her refusal to bend before injus­tice. She felt like ask­ing them: “Do you want my pic­ture?” Among them, per­haps, there were those who might have stu­pid­ly asked for a self­ie, had they known why she was trav­el­ling. This meant that those two char­ac­ters also had the pow­er to stig­ma­tize her and have oth­ers share their view.

Bare­ly land­ed in Berlin, their Ger­man clones showed up, warned of course by their “col­leagues” and the same bat­tery of ques­tions was repeat­ed con­cern­ing her trip to Berlin. And, most of all, the inter­ro­ga­tion start­ed up again over her famous Turk­ish pass­port. Same lack of cour­tesy, to put it mild­ly, same obsti­na­cy in reject­ing out of hand every jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and doc­u­ment she could present. And yet, they were “offi­cial” doc­u­ments, stamped, authentic…Had she trav­elled with the Greek police­men, the inter­ro­ga­tion in Berlin would have been car­ried out in the same way. There­fore, it is tru­ly a Euro­pean migra­to­ry pol­i­cy based on sus­pi­cion that was at play, even though she had fought for months in order to obtain the pre­cious papers she was show­ing them. As for her Kur­dish iden­ti­ty, the very con­flict that forced her to leave Turkey, that only makes mat­ters worse for her. After leav­ing her to moul­der in a closed room, they changed their mind and, with­out the slight­est apol­o­gy, they let her go on her way. She does not even dare imag­ine what would have hap­pened, had she not been expect­ed at the Biennial.

She could always have board­ed the “boat of friends.

When Banksy finances a boat for res­cues at sea, he does not do so for his fame. He does it because, pre­cise­ly, human faces must replace the fig­ures of the so-called migra­to­ry wave and of the drowned in the Mediter­ranean. Because a migrant is a vic­tim of active nation­alisms does not mean he or she los­es his or her qual­i­ty as a human for all that.

These xeno­pho­bic migra­to­ry poli­cies rest on a dehu­man­iza­tion of the same type as that in we see in racism. An ide­ol­o­gy of nation­al­is­tic retrench­ment finds itself graft­ed onto this ordi­nary racism and, from there, it “trick­les down” to the small­est imple­nen­ter, to that tini­est del­e­ga­tion of pow­er, in all impuni­ty, to act as a bar­ri­er. When­ev­er this is revealed, there is a talk of a “blun­der”. This being the case, behind its emp­ty speech­es, old Europe has been blun­der­ing on a per­ma­nent basis for decades.

When a deten­tion camp for migrants burns on Les­bos, emo­tion is expressed on faces wear­ing masks, just as when a child’s corpse, face in the sand, spread all over the media. Then, quick­ly, there is talk of fig­ures, of rein­forc­ing mea­sures, of con­trol­ling those emo­tions that are such bad coun­sel­lors. Those who still dare demon­strate for “open­ness” are point­ed out.

One does not talk too loud­ly in order not to desta­bi­lize the work of the tiny imple­menters with­out whom, who knows, human­ism might make a come-back.

There is always some­one avail­able to shut the doors on the train wagons.

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges 
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Daniel Fleury
Let­tres mod­ernes à l’Université de Tours. Gros mots poli­tiques… Coups d’oeil politiques…