top of page
  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

New Europeans by Dieter Burkamp

Reflections on the 2004 book 'New Europeans' by Dieter Burkamp featuring cartoons and illustrations by artists from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus.

I found this book in a serendipitous moment, on one of 3 visits to Central Saint Martins this term. There was a temporary book stall outside the art supplies shop which wasn't there either of the other times I went. In truth, I wanted to buy about 10 books, but since I already had a full suitcase, rucksack and guitar to carry, I decided it wasn't wise. Nonetheless, I couldn't let this particular book go. I was particularly drawn by the cover image, the famous painting of the Tower of Babel, rehashed into the letters E and U, representing the new super state dominating the continent. By pure chance, I was performing at the New Europeans UK's (an organisation which campaigns on EU citizens rights) tenth anniversary event that same evening. I told the book seller as I purchased the book and he could barely believe the co-incidence. Having read this book it has become appaent that the "New Europeans" title refers specifically to the new member states which joined the EU in 2004, whereas the New Europeans organisation I have campaigned with many times, represents all EU citizens.

Criticism Through Satire

The first thing I noticed, especially as someone who has created a lot of positive, pro-EU imagery was how sceptical many of the artists were of joining the EU. Gisela Burkamp writes, 'Critical artists listen to the man in the street, they look into his heart and not least - as a very special place of delicateness - into his pockets... The trouble [sic] areas of national condition have always been the object of satirical drawings. Despite all sympathy they are direct, ruthless and without consideration for international embroilments. This has been the privilege of satire for centuries... Caricaturists cultivate a particular art. They lock up fateful questions and complex political problems in a concise main point.' (page 14). In a way, the cartoons are reductive , telling one-side of a story and focusing in on a singular issue - this can be both a weakness and a strength. I have taken this approach for many of my activist artworks, with the intention of simply and concisely making a political point - but for this very reason, this work can also be considered propagandist. Satire is a powerful tool, because it operates as a provocation, questioning power structures and scoring political points - but it also has the potential to be a dangerous tool. One of my main reservations about these sorts of artworks is that they lack nuance and complexity, which are neccessary in order to develop a greater understanding of most political situations.

Rules, Rules, Rules

Erik Oss - Estonia

I particularly enjoyed several of the artworks which made reference to the rules and regulations of the EU and the push to standardise the member states. The above drawing by Oss features a sheep stepping through an "EU portal", a blockish head and square body on the "EU side" and a natural, fluffy fleece on it's backside. Inside the EU, a figure, made up of blockish shapes, measures items with a set square, the trees, bird and hedges are also blocks - contrasting directly with the other side of the portal. Other artworks featured ladybirds being painted to have a standard number of spots and a snowman's nose being measured with a ruler. I think my delight in these images is born of my frustration at the EU bureacracy which I have fallen fowl of myself. As a winner of the Charlemagne Youth Prize, I was invited to undertake a traineeship at the European Parliament - however, this offer was withdrawn when they discovered I didn't have a BA degree, despite the fact that I have years of relevant professional experience. Additionally, post-Brexit I took the decision to close my Etsy shop, since most of my customers were based in the EU and I was now paying absorbitant postage charges and frequently parcels would be returned to me by customs - I decided it was no longer worth the bother. Dieter Burkamp writes in his conclusion, 'what made is sweat and forced up the adrenaline level then and repeatedly many years after was border control... We almost had the feeling that the completely underemployed customs officers had virtually waited for us and especially for my shellac records.. I had paid about five gulden, about a quarter of what I was asked to pay now as customs duty.' (page 116) It still baffles me today that the UK would choose to impose sanctions on itself by leaving the customs union, forcing citizens and businesses to endure the administrative and costly burden of reintroducing customs duties.

Power Dynamics

Pavel Matuska, Czech Republic

Wieslaw Smetek, Poland

There were a few interesting drawings which made an interesting commentary on the power dynamics within the EU with some countries appearing to dominate others. Mutaska's drawing of the "EU mother" pushing a pram and drawing a crowd of childrens representing the member states, clearly places Germany in the dominant position - elevated above all the others, carried on the shoulders of the woman. France appears as the second most dominant riding at the front of the pram and seemingly "leading" the group. In Smetek's artwork of the member states represented by different dog breeds, their fur coats coloured with the national flags, France and Germany seem to be on an even footing, the largest dogs at the centre of the image. A small, terrier in the Spanish colours puls at the tail of the french dog, whilst on the opposite side, another terrier in Polish colours pulls at the leg of the German Shepherd - indicating the complex relationship between these two dominant countries and their direct neighbours. The UK, is of course represented by a seemingly passive looking British bulldog and similarly all the other dogs in the artwork are stationary and non-plussed, perhaps representing the stability of these member states. The smallest dogs in this artwork represent the Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - alluding to their lack of power and political clout within the EU.

Politics is the New Religion

Gergely Bacsa, Hungary

Another frequently recurring element which struck me was the references to religion within the artworks. Coming from the UK, where most of the population are athiest, it has always been interesting for me to travel to countries where religion is still a dominant institution in society. A lot of the smaller member states are very religious, but even in Germany the religious institutions are embedded in the society, such as the Christian Democrat political party - a complete contrast to neighbouring France which prizes secularism. The illustration by Bacsa features the Euro symbol replacing the baby jesus in the manger in the nativity scene - A comment on how money has become the driving value in capitalist societies replacing traditional, Christian morals. In Lichy's drawing, a suited man places an EU halo over the head of a religious statue holding a cross. The bishop stood below looks unconvinced as he holds a typical golden halo in his hand. Again the key message being that EU politics is replacing religion within societies.

The Fall of Communism

Anton Kotreba, Slovakia

Another point interesting reference in Kotreba's cartoon, was the fall of Communism with the break up of the Soviet Union. In his cartoon, a smiling figure holding a spade, appears to be walking towards the EU, whereas a frowning figure behind him, clutches at the sickle and hammer tools which appear on the communist flag along with the star. I found this to be an insightful commentary on this political development and the transition from one union to another with the changing instruments. It also reminded me that I need to learn more about the collapse of the soviet union, which I have been slowly doing as I have visited Eastern block countries and the Western Balkans - but I still have much to learn.

4 views0 comments


bottom of page