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Artist activists provoke at G20

July 5, 2017

The Center for Political Beauty has launched a tongue-in-cheek call to assassinate Presidents Putin or Erdogan at the G20 in Hamburg. The artists say a dictator's presence is more provocative than anything they could do.

Vladimir Putin und Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Moscow
Image: Reuters/A. Zemlianichenko

German political artist collective the Center for Political Beauty (ZPS) has offered the prize of a luxury car to anyone willing to murder a dictator at the upcoming G20 summit in Hamburg - though it was careful to point out that it was a joke.

The car in question, a handsome black Mercedes convertible, was placed on a pedestal outside Angela Merkel's chancellery in Berlin emblazoned with the slogan "Do you want this car? Kill the dictatorship!" next to pictures of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and King Salman of Saudi Arabia - who has already pulled out of attending the upcoming summit.

In a tweet, the ZPS upped the ante by adding, "Let the hunt begin!"

According to Turkish news agency Anadolu, the Turkish embassy responded by sending a note of protest to the German government, calling the ZPS intervention "unacceptable" and "glorifying violence."

An imaginary revolution

Undeterred by Ankara's protest, the ZPS is planning to distribute thousands of stickers and flags at the G20 protests in Hamburg, bearing the more direct messages: "Kill Putin!" "Kill Erdogan!" printed in German, Turkish and Russian. To sidestep any legal trouble, the flags include a small footnote that reads: "On no account take this seriously!"

"There's huge demand," ZPS founder Philipp Ruch told DW. "Obviously there would be criminal charges to have people walk around Hamburg [with flags calling for the assassination of a foreign leader]. We have entire legal practices checking everything we do. There's nothing that can incriminate us in any way."

Ruch says the point of the action is to protest the cooperation between democracies and dictatorships. "We think the German government shouldn't have anything to do with a dictatorship," he said. "We agree with [former British Prime Minister Winston] Churchill: Dictatorship is the natural enemy of democracy. There are renowned historians who say that the Putin regime's great plan is the destruction of Europe."

"One dictator has already canceled," Ruch added, referring to King Salman's withdrawal. "Our aim is for all three dictators not to come. We're going to do everything we can so that they notice they aren't wanted in Germany."

Philipp Ruch of the Center for Political Beauty
ZPS' Philipp Ruch thinks the dictators' presence in Germany is provocation enoughImage: ZPS

To enhance the "Death to Dictatorship" campaign, the ZPS also made aslickly-produced spoof news report imagining the outbreak of a revolution in Germany at the arrival of the Putin, Erdogan and King Salman in Hamburg.

The video depicts the aftermath of a deadly attack on Erdogan's vehicle (a car is seen engulfed in flames), as well as Putin's death in a fiery plane crash in northeastern Belarus. There is a brief glimpse of a "27-year-old airplane mechanic" who is reported to have shouted "For the people of Aleppo!" while he was being arrested. King Salman, meanwhile, is shown as the lucky survivor of an attempted poisoning.

The mock report added that the German Foreign Ministry had issued a travel warning for all autocratic leaders traveling to Germany, because of the dangers presented by a "civil society provoked to its limits, and which wants revenge for the victims of totalitarian dictatorships."

What is provocative?

Founded nine years ago, the ZPS has a core of around a hundred activists and artists, as well as thousands of what Ruch calls "humanists on call" who are ready to take part in any actions. "That means we can be active wherever something happens in Germany," he said, before adding that they currently had 12 major projects running simultaneously.

Last October, the group attracted headlines by threatening to feed refugees to tigers in a purpose-built Roman-style circus in Berlin unless the government allowed the ZPS to bring 100 refugees into the country from Turkey on a specially-chartered plane. Air Berlin eventually backed out of the plan saying it had been deceived.

As part of an ongoing campaign, the ZPS is currently hosting a competition to find young people to travel to a dictatorship of their choosing to distribute their own anti-regime flyers. The project, named "Scholl 2017," after the resistance fighters executed by the Nazi regime in 1943 for distributing flyers at the University of Munich, scored a hit last weekend: With the help of a remote-controlled printer, the ZPS dropped flyers reading "Death to the dictator!" on Gezi Park in Istanbul.

Just to cause a bit of extra trouble, the ZPS added a note to the flyers claiming that the German government had co-financed the project. "That was nonsense of course," Ruch said. "We just want a diplomatic crisis."

"We see humanism as a weapon," the activist added to explain the ZPS method. "Many people think morality and humanity are sort of soft, vague terms, but I think with us it's clear that they are things that need to be taken seriously, that determine the history of humanity, and that deserve to be defended aggressively.

"People think we're provocative, but we're provoked by completely different things - we're provoked by the fact that dictators think they can put their feet on democratic soil and then be protected when they're here. Our aim is for them to feel unsafe."

The ZPS has been successful in the past, winning one of Deutsche Welle's BOBs arts and culture prizes in 2016.

Benjamin Knight Kommentarbild PROVISORISCH
Ben Knight Ben Knight is a journalist in Berlin who mainly writes about German politics.@BenWernerKnight