Emir Kusturica: Notre Dame fire is a symbol of our collapsing values (Part one)
We are on the verge of a very tangible time change between the old times and the new technological era. We talk to Emir Kusturica, film director, musician and thinker, about what kind of humanity we are likely to be in the near future.
Watch the second part of the interview here.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Emir Kusturica, it’s so good to see you. We've missed you on RT. I’ve missed you. It's been such a long time since you were on my show.
Emir Kusturica: I think we made one at the same hotel or some other...
SS: It was somewhere close, but it looks the same.
EK: I love mixing hotels.
SS: So in case my viewers don't know who you are - this is my friend, amazing director, legend, musician and for me first and foremost a big thinker. And that's why today I don't want to talk to you about cinema in particular. I don't want to talk about politics because I know it's your passion and you're very outspoken about it. I want to talk to you about the very tangible verge of change that we're facing in the world. Because it’s always like future is unknown because you don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. But it's more or less predictable because these new technologies weren't surrounding us. Right now we don't know what our future is like literally, like, we literally don't understand what's it going to be in one year or two years. All we know is that it's going to be completely different and we're in it.
EK: I think the future is on at the moment because when you have the two symbols of… one kind of declining the great civilization by burning up the roof of Notre Dame in Paris and at the same time you have something that is socially... it's necessary to be accepted like a problem which is you getting one billion euros in seven days and at the same time you have still two billion people who have no access to potable water and you have people dying there being very hungry.
SS: That is partially what I mean by change but also if we talk about the example of Notre Dame...
EK: I'm just putting the bottom marks of disbalance. So what I think today... because on one side you have a society that is removed from reality into the fiction and there is a beautiful book by Chris Hedges which says “Triumph of Spectacle, The End of Literacy” in which there are also borderlines of where we are, because today we have a digital revolution that is on, in which all of the media and the way we see the world is being changed. And it teaches people to be immoral. It gives the most awful people around the world the ingredients of villains, of those who... When I was growing up on cowboy movies we could always easily separate and compare to the life. Today most of the cases in the life are not compatible with something that we understand is a fiction in which the perfection of the video and the perfection of this camera gives us the other way that we have going today from the past. This perfection gives us the chance to be not moving towards the Holy Trinity. We move towards us, and as much as this movement is the other way around we are ending up, like, in any kind of ideolatry and any kind of propaganda.
SS: What we're talking about right now, when I listen to you is a very deep identity crisis that anyone who lives on planet Earth right now is experiencing and there are a couple of reasons for that. First of all the cognitive dissonance between this mind-boggling technical evolution and the fact that human nature doesn't really change. I mean, no iPhone 1500 will ever change the fact that people still kill each other for a piece of land, for a piece of bread like they did two thousand years ago. We had an illusion that maybe with the evolution and, you know, new technologies humans are going to be better and perfected as well but that's just an illusion. So that makes a very dangerous collusion, and I think Notre Dame is like a perfect example. I mean, isn't it crazy that we're talking about singularity, like, an upgrade of human race, colonization of Mars and we can't put out a simple fire. So it's almost like an illustration of where we are right now - we can't deal with the past, we haven't managed to be better at it, and then we don't really understand what's waiting for us. And there is no way, there's no turning back...
EK: I have a feeling that in fact the civilization is coming to its point in which those who are going to go first to Mars are going to bring you the new idea of the new values because the values on the Earth are just toppling. You have, as we said, you have the whole construction, I'm saying, moral construction and identity construction. What is Europe constructed from is just under the fire...
SS: Is it just Europe or everywhere in the world?
EK: I think Europe mainly because Europe has generated the new world. You had before Genghis Khan and Alexander of Macedon, you had Spanish colonialism, you had Portuguese colonialism, you had the Brits who were the biggest in the world ever. And then you have a transfer that is being made after World War II after the Americans came to help Western Europe, they became in fact those who were first. In the meantime we have another power that is so powerful on the basis of this kind of decline and the falling apart of the system of values which is happening in the United States. And now we are just in the middle of Europe trying to fight to extinguish the fire with the knowledge of Greek mythology upon which we have the whole Christian culture. I'm not speaking about just religion but the culture, which was in fact declining long time ago when Constantinople was falling apart.
SS: I feel like it has been really acute with these new technologies when they came into our lives because they're completely changing our values, like you said, and the paradigm in which we’ll be existing in 5-10 years...
EK: You have to understand we were coming from Genghis Khan who discovered a catapult. He was a very serious soldier. He was not just what we believed, a simple kind of horse riding m*********r, as they say. He discovered catapult and he was putting a corpse that was infected by pests and catapulting it into the place where Europeans lived, into castles. Today we have not just biological means, something that could destroy the planet, we have so much... And now the biggest question is how we can believe that from the time of Genghis Khan up till today we achieved more than … To protect women and nature - at least a little bit - and to create the consciousness that we have achieved this. Did we? Watching most of the gadgets, most of the movies you could get through many small windows you could find that in fact this evolution, you mentioned before, was quite poor. We had alienated the best parts of ourselves and we believe we stayed with this strand of values, morality being challenged by many things and we were just like getting... Look at corruption - it's not just the question of the countries that were affected by the East, corruption is all over the world. Corruption is in the United States. Corruption is in Europe. So putting all this social, I would say, symptoms together we could say that we are living exactly what I told you before. We have a perfection of the image that is just you cannot move forward with how much it shows who we are. But this image is used to move towards us. And when you submerge further into yourself, and you don't have any beliefs or a global idea of what you share with the rest of humanity, then you're going to end up going towards yourself, not the Holy Trinity, as it used to be, to yourself and to the individuals who are just discovering that individualism went too far. We forgot about common sense. Therefore we cannot speak about morality as one of the symptoms of the time that we live.
SS: Emir, I have a couple of questions regarding what you've just said. Let's deconstruct it a little bit. First of all, like, morality is also a very broad notion. You know, you can say that there were no morals in the Roman Empire as well, you know what I mean? But I want to talk...
EK: But you had the laws that were widely accepted.
SS: Maybe. But I feel like, I think an even bigger problem is the problem of values, and who we are. Because you keep talking about Europe, so, obviously, you're very into what's going to happen in Europe, because you are a European. I am a European.
EK: White European.
SS: Yes. So, for instance, politically, I said we're not going to talk politics, but it's just a very interesting phenomenon that's going on, that people aren't satisfied anymore with the left, with the right, with the very conventional forces that were ruling them for centuries. They're looking for something new. In many cases, it's extreme right, or extreme left, or something completely new. So I wonder if it's just the fact that the old political system, European values political system, has become obsolete, or it's just us in search of identity, because we've lost our self so much?
EK: It's been overtaken from us to the world of all what we produce. So as much as they produce better, we lose more and more of ourselves. But the main point, when I say morality, is... You know, Immanuel Kant, who defined morality as something metaphysical, that we are equal, not just concretely, but look at how morality gives back to issues, to football and to engineering. The best cars are still coming from Germany, the most disciplined football players are coming from this country. Why? Because I think it's why Brexit today, because Germans are becoming again very dangerous, and I cannot imagine that the English Queen could get what to do from European Union, or from from Germany. I think when we’re speaking Europe, we're mostly speaking Germany, because that's the center of the power of those who put together a BMW and the question of morality. And I think these are the two things that go together, they are just... At least if they're inside their own system of production and social organization. Now you have Europe that is developed like the Soviet Union. There are commissars, there are commissariats, there are people who are just not being voted, except for the Parliament, who are just running this economic entity.
SS: It’s pretty much like the federal country you grew up with, like Yugoslavia, very much like that, and we all know what happened to that. We all know what happened to the Soviet Union.
EK: And that’s what scares me. That's what scares me, because it's not like in the United States of America, where, if you have a flood in Louisiana, you will get help from from Massachusetts, by the law and by definition of the law, they will help you out of solidarity. In Europe, if in Romania something is destroyed in a natural disaster, you don't have an instant idea that you will be helped. I think all these entities are economically very much as they used to be, because comparing East and West, comparing the Dutch people and the Romanian people, and productivity, and all the parameters of the society, it's incomparable. Plus, there is no European culture! No system in the world has survived with no culture. European culture, we don't know what it is, except what they say in New York 20 years ago, scientific culture. If you sit into BMW, it’s like you might as well be driving a spaceship. You have lights that are incredible, you have monitors, you have all this world that I was telling you, in which we go towards ourselves, towards our ego that used to be very productive in the history.
SS: I still want to ask you about the Western set of ideas and liberalism. As of today, it was accepted as the only good one to follow, the only paradigm in which people should exist, because liberalism, Western liberalism, means being tolerant, being tolerant to other people. But I feel like this tolerance has gotten a little out of hand. I mean, it's like, unless you accept everyone else's ideas… It's like a dictatorship of intolerance, it's almost like this tolerance has become the new intolerance, and that's the set of values that we're supposed to follow today. And if you do otherwise, like the Brexiteers or Trump, or, you know, I'm not saying it's good or it's bad, but if you try to deviate from these normally-accepted tolerant values, then you are an outcast, and everyone is against you.
EK: Marx was right. If you look at America 10 years ago and today, you will see that the muscles of China were built by just the weak point of any society, cheap labor. Cheap labor, which was agreed by Nixon and Mao Zedong - China would get the money to greatly capitalise on what it could offer, which is a lot of people and extremely cheap labor. So what capitalism used to be, and what was the old-fashioned capitalist who is having a medium-sized company and paying taxes, and bringing with this consciousness, and with this Immanuel Kant’s idea of being moral and being honest, it doesn't exist today. Once they recognize that Massachusetts is dried out because production has been relocated to China instead... Trump's appearance in America was, I think, a consequence of something that must have happened, and he is a symbol of crisis. Trump is not a symbol of…
SS: ...of a nation in crisis? A world in crisis?
EK: A world in crisis! Because now you are coming to the fact that you have to face new strengths of the East, including from China, the Russian territory, and even Vietnam and all the East. And it's like what De Crescenzo, a philosopher from Italy, said: the civilizations go one after the other following the path of sun. And it's exactly the turning point to come back to the East, and when you see how Trump brings the GDP up for three and a half percent after the President who was before, Barack Obama, it's made because he wants to keep this investment back. By keeping investments back and doing all what he does, sometimes you know if he is absolutely OK or not, but he does it, and apparently, this economy slightly grows, not spectacular way. So all I'm saying here is that we have a situation that is very new, and that's why… I feel like before the World War II, when people were dying from pneumonia because antibiotics hadn’t been discovered yet, but the discovery of penicillin has opened many new possibilities, and so pneumonia became curable. Today, we are in many diseases because of what you call liberal capitalism. Liberal capitalism never existed.
SS: The liberal capitalism, but also the Western liberal tolerance.What I'm saying... But do you agree that this Western liberal tolerance is the new intolerance?
EK: I agree.
SS: You talk about Trump, and I'm not a Trump defender, but yeah, he does bring up the economy, and he is creating new jobs in America, millions of new jobs. But at what expense? I mean, he has the whole world against him, he has the whole country against him in a sense, because it is so against this Western liberal tolerance paradigm that we have to sort of match, do you know what I mean?
EK: You know what happens? In fact, those nations who are ready to keep order... During the Stalinism, this country was in order. The other way, the Western man or woman was developed throughout centuries with the idea of order, keeping order and obeying law. But there is a beautiful small philosophical book by Emil Cioran, which is speaking about the fantasy of Ivan Grozny and saying: we all hate him, but we all adore him, because he could have done what we couldn't. He could kill and redeem himself for this.
SS: Also, because you just brought up Russia, Ivan Grozny and this illusion that he did what we couldn't do, like, he killed and then redeemed himself. I think when it comes to Russians, the most definite difference with the Western liberal values of tolerance is the fact that yeah, in Christianity, Russians are sort of like, and not only, like, in this multiculturalism, are taught to love, but to hate someone is not forbidden in Russia, as long as it doesn't turn into crime. You can't really hate anyone in Europe,do you know what I mean? You can't hate anyone in America. So in a sense, we may be number 7 economy, not number 1, but a much healthier society in terms that you don't tolerate someone that you hate, and you can say that you hate him, and it's OK to say that.
EK: You cannot hate anybody, except when the time comes, and I think we are very close to, again, to the same story, when Hitler imagined Crimea as the most beautiful place where the Germans after 1939 will come and walk, and make their own Riviera. It's true, but I think being able to control yourself in order to not to infringe on someone else’s freedom is mostly a matter of discipline. We, Slavs, very often interfere into somebody else's field without question, and that's the difference. We are, because of this common sense, we believe that we could always open the door to our friend’s place and come and see him in his trunks, or doing whatever he has to do privately. It's like something that is even subconscious reaction to the social world, and there are a number of things that are making us different. But I think it's also because of the difference between the Catholic and Orthodox Christian Church, and the discipline that was throughout the centuries given by them. Today, we cannot speak about the massive presence of the Catholic Church in the life of Europeans, but we could still believe, and we could still see there is a certain common sense and the kind of connection with people that is made, what I call a God as a culture. God you could find in culture. Because many aspects of what we believe the God is can be found in their many interpretations in dramas, novels, in objects of art we study our past and future through, so God could be a work of art if you don't go just for what in the history and the perception of the church who God is.