Maria Leskova on On the difficulty of telling the truth, May 18 2024

Truth as a weapon
Maria Leskova, May 18th 2024

Contribution created as part of the workshop OBSERVING THE CATASTROPHE, led by Tom Mustroph during POLIS 2024, thanks to the collaboration with Dipartimento di Beni Culturali dell’Università di Bologna and in particular with the Master’s program in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage.

“Coincidence of chance and luck brought me to POLIS Teatro Festival in Ravenna on Friday night (10/05/2024). Just another proof that coincidences do not exist as what I saw captured my mind and spirit.

ErosAntEros’ 45-minute performance is based on an essay by Bertolt Brecht written back in 1934. Almost a century had passed, however its meanings are still worth revisiting. History repeats itself, or as one famous historian put it “history is not a teacher but a supervisor – it does not teach, but does punish severely for not learning the lessons”. [история не учительница, а надзирательница, она ничему не учит, но строго наказывает за невыученные уроки]

It was a one actress performance, where Agata Tomsic seemed like as if she was leading the audience to the truth by hand, but at the same time staying a mere narrator. Her deep voice went into extremes from being nice & soft to almost singing & screaming with a Joker-like smile. Her background, lights and music at times felt irritating or disturbing, giving an uncomfortable vibe of a dark techno rave. It made me note that, if ‘comfort zone’ or ‘daily life’ inside propaganda and capitalism shall sound like a fake harmony, then the search and battle for the truth ‘against the system’ shall definitely sound and feel as scary and unpleasant as the scenery was at some points.

Coming from a foreign theatre culture, I appreciated this performance for the taste of completeness – the actress, the music, the background, the darkness, the lights – all of its elements acted as one to my eye. As one famous director might have said, I believed it.

Photos by Michele Lapini projected on the background resonated with the performed essay, in a way persuading the audience to think critically of the ‘paradise’ within ‘democratic–capitalistic’ world. Truth-seeking process described in the text can not only be attributed to Germany in late 1930s, but shall be continued today and tomorrow. Therefore, images were transmitting their own silent message, opening the dirty ‘other side’ of Italian dolce vita. While someone peacefully drinks their espresso, someone has to fight for their truth on the same streets.

Watching the performance, I was fascinated by all the levels of meanings it has to offer. I found myself crying several times and I was grateful to this performance for leading me to reflect on what I am currently going through [as someone who seeks the truth and ways to tell it] and what my country is going through [as a place of thriving propaganda and oppression].

Before certain events, when civil society still had its quiet voice and could have still been seen in action on the streets, people used to call protests “walks” and used to invite each other “for a walk” on specific squares of their cities on certain days. It was always inspiring and painful to see thousands of people gathering to silently walk down the same streets in small groups – visually divided, but connected by common political dreams. Everyone knew why they came to those places while faking that it was not a conscious choice as they were “just walking”. Silence and peacefulness of this action was always surrounded by troops of “cosmonauts” and metal fences. Once in a while chant could have been heard somewhere in the crowd, which only attracted “cosmonauts” making people wonder if the voice will be arrested or not.

One of the messages of the performed old writing was that knowledge is power and truth is a weapon that needs courage and intelligence to be told. Year by year there are more and more legal constrains making citizens of my country to plunge into silence faking that they are “not interested in politics” while propaganda is brainwashing. A great deal of precedents has occurred with people being prosecuted for exercising arts, doing science, journalism, activism, humor or ‘vandalizing’ walls with street art. None is safe until silent, when even a reposted meme can be used against you.

If knowledge is power, I egoistically consider myself overeducated and I cannot erase my memory or unsee things that I see at home. Sometimes I cry reading about certain events from the history of my country. What frightens me the most is her present. This fear and all of my knowledge are what makes me move forward in search for the truth and channels to communicate it.

When I was a kid, they used to make a joke saying “if you’ll know too much, you’ll be upset”. [будешь много знать, расстроишься]

I am already upset and I have no way back.”