The artist and activist Tania Bruguera’s non-stop reading of Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism at Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin was halted on Saturday (10 February) after pro-Palestine protestors disrupted the event. Bruguera’s 100-hour reading of Arendt’s analysis of the conditions that led to the Nazi and Soviet totalitarian regimes, began on 7 February and was due to end on 11 February. She invited artists, activists, members of the public and more to take part in the reading, which took place around the clock.
A statement posted on Instagram by Hamburger Bahnhof says: “On 10 February, Hamburger Bahnhof was attacked twice by members of a political activist group who disrupted [Bruguera’s] performance [entitled Where Your Ideas Become Civic Actions—100 Hours Reading The Origins of Totalitarianism].”
The statement adds: “The first incident occurred between 2pm and 3pm, when the group who had registered to be part of the reading, took advantage of the performance to use #HateSpeech. The second incident happened between 8pm and 9pm, when members of the same group returned and used violent hate speech towards one of the readers and one of the museum directors.
“In these circumstances, the open dialogue that is the intent of this performance is no longer possible. This morning, the artist decided to close the performance in standing up against hate speech and any form of #violence.”
The journalist Mirna Funk said in an Instagram story that “Hamburger Bahnhof was completely unable for 12 minutes to get rid of a group who openly screamed the prohibited phrase, ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’… Bruguera tried to tell them how much she has done for Palestinians.”
In Berlin, the use of the controversial slogan “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” has been criminalised because it is seen as a form of incitement to hate.
An account known as Thawra, meanwhile, posted a film. In the film the protestors can be seen shouting “no more normalisation of Zionism” in front of people attending the reading. Bruguera is seen remonstrating with the demonstrators, and is asked, “why do you give a platform to Zionists?”
The encounter becomes increasingly heated as the demonstrators ask: “Where are the Palestinian voices?”, adding that “over 30,000 people are being murdered”. We contacted the group asking them to respond to the accusation that they used “hate speech”.
Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, the directors of Hamburger Bahnof, added in a statement: “We respect and fully stand by the decision of the artist and refuse categorically any form of hate speech and violence. It is to our deep regret that we have to proceed this way in order to protect the safety of the participants of the performance. We invite people to reflect upon the consequences of not respecting the #TheFreedomofArt.”
In last week’s episode of The Art Newspaper’s The Week in Art podcast, Bruguera discussed her Hamburger Bahnhof show before it was shut down.