Situation After the Arrival of Warning Patrol
site specific installation,objects, paintings, photography
photo: Ondrej Rychnavský
“An enemy is someone whose story you have not heard.”
Situation After the Arrival of Warning Patrol is a visual essay, an artistic impersonation of the topography of violence on the Czechoslovak border, experienced by both the doers and the victims. But even more importantly, it is a reflection on the politics of fear, on the ambivalence of human conduct, conformism and life in anaesthesia.
Up to this day, there are more than 320 documented cases of people’s deaths in the area of the Czechoslovak border in the period from 1948 to 1989. On 13th March 2017, Slovak court rehabilitated the first victim – East German student Hartmut Tautz, who died in Petržalka during his attempt to cross the border to Austria. During the period of communism, the country’s “iron curtain” border was patrolled by armed soldiers, specially trained dogs and secured by an electric fence. Despite numerous cases of death at the iron curtain during the communist regime, the families of murdered people have never been compensated and the victims have not been rehabilitated.
Not long ago, I caught myself experiencing a most incredible sensation. Leafing through a book on Hitler, I was touched by some of his portraits: they reminded me of my childhood. I grew up during the war; several members of my family perished in Hitler's concentration camps; but what were their deaths compared with the memories of a lost period in my life, a period that would never return? This reconciliation with Hitler reveals the profound moral perversity of a world that rests essentially on the nonexistence of return, for in this world everything is pardoned in advance and therefore everything cynically permitted.
An extract from Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness Of Being opens my reflection on the ambivalence of attitude towards the present and past events; on my indirect presence in these events; on the compulsory, forced, voluntary or unconscious participation in crimes; on the righteousness of an undenounced idea to prove and declare someone “guilty”; on establishing the border between accepting the command and willingly executing its message; on establishing the border between loyalty and desertion.
On 4th August 1973 at 8.15pm, two GDR citizens, Roland Kremer a Konrad Groth, were detained in the section of the 2nd border guard platoon in Pastviny in the district of Cheb, 200 metres from the signal fence. The two young Germans were spotted during a night patrol by the soldier Julius Šarkány and his service dog. Šarkány asked the men to stop. The dog blocked their moves. One of the men started to run towards Šarkány, who fired off three shots from a submachine gun and shot Roland Kremer. Both men were detained and investigated. Two weeks later, Roland Kremer died of the wounds in the hospital in Aš. Before his death, he gave a testimony. Together with his accomplice, Konrad Groth, they pretended to pick mushrooms, but in fact they had plotted to cross the border to Germany, which offered better life conditions. The family of Roland Kremer has received only a manipulated account of his death, leaving out the actual events.
On 23rd May 1974 at 8.45am, a member of the border guard, the lance corporal Ladislav Szabo, noticed an unknown person near the signal fence of the 6th border guard platoon of the Bratislava border squadron. The person was Rudolf Erwin Buss, who climbed over the wall, approached the Morava river and attempted to ford the river to get to Austria. About ten metres from the bank, he was shot by the repetitive shooting of the lance corporal Ladislav Szabo, who had used 57 bullets to shoot the runaway. The stream of the river carried Erwin Buss’ body for another 500 metres. After retrieving the body from the river, the guards discovered a slip of paper with a mysterious message which has never been deciphered: KURT GROB, FACTORY, VEĽKÉ LEVÁRE, ZÁHORSKÁ NOVÁ VES.
Around the time of the incidents mentioned above, I was carrying out the compulsory military service in the 8th border guard platoon in Bernstein. During my night walks through the dark forest, I often imagined the situation of running into a border violator. In my mind, I constantly repeated all orders and instructions that provided me with verbal weaponry. As a soldier and protector of the country’s border, I had every right and also duty to protect the country’s interests and act in self-defence. I did not question the moral disposition of this conduct. I was covered by the neutrality of my position of a soldier.
According to Hegel’s speculative account on identity and difference, some of the attitudes, norms and characteristics of life seem to be neutral, based on the plain “horse sense” (a soldier finds it natural and non-ideological to protect the border from violators). Under the term ‘ideology' we usually understand the notions such as devotion to political orientation, which contrast the fundamental neutrality. Hegel might argue that the neutralisation of specific features to spontaneously accepted background determines ideology in its pure and most powerful form. It is the dialectic of the “merging of differences”: actualisation of ideology in its pure form, its merging with the opposition. Or to put it more accurately, the ideology features as its opposite – non-ideology.
While leafing through books, I nostalgically examine the old photographs and read the declassified stories of people, who lost their lives on the border. I am grateful for the fact that during my night patrols I did not meet any violator. All of my military manoeuvres remained mere hypothetical projections of a young ignorant soldier who was put to a seemingly neutral situation, or more precisely to a situation of merged oppositions by the ideological doctrine. I was a soldier in a state of hibernation; innocent, vulnerable and armed with a gun.
According to Hannah Arendt, there is a great rift between intimate experiences and the dread of a deed. The experience gained from our own lives and the story that we tell about ourselves to justify our deeds can actually be considered a lie – truth lies only in our deeds.
For a naïve moral conscience, it is still a surprising fact that the people who commit horrid violent deeds against their enemies can show affection and kindness towards members of their own group.
Is it not strange that a soldier who kills innocent civilians is willing to sacrifice his life for his unit? That a commander who commands to shoot the hostages is able to write a loving letter to his family in the same evening? Is it not strange and morally perverse that people condemn “the manhunt for violators” in one context but approve of the practice in another context? And all this only because they have not heard their stories yet.