A collective of Berlin artists-activists known as the Center for Political Beauty (CPB) are using the bodies of drowned migrants to shame German leaders into doing more to prevent the deaths of desperate people from the Middle East and North Africa who are seeking refuge in Europe.
On Tuesday, the CPB held funerals and buried Syrian-Palestinian refugees in Berlin after members had dug up and trucked their bodies from grave sites in Greece and Italy, according to The Local. They noted that they had received the required permits to transport corpses across national borders.
"It is the really sad and sinister reality that it is actually easier to reach the heart of Europe dead than it is to reach it alive," CPB spokesman Justus Lenz told VICE News. "We are drawing attention to it to change it."
Practicing what the group calls "aggressive humanism" — a philosophy that blends performance art and politics — the CPB is planning more burials for dead refugees through Sunday, when its members intend to dig graves outside the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
They've invited Merkel and other officials to their funerals, too, but none have attended; chairs reserved for them were left empty.
Southern Europe has been inundated with immigrants in recent years as conflicts grip Libya, Syria, and other countries on the Mediterranean Sea. This year alone, 1,800 people have perished out of the 103,000 who have attempted the crossing, according to estimates. Many are seeking better lives in Germany, the economic powerhouse of Europe.
The artist-activists want to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis that they say Merkel and others are ignoring. Europeans claim to have learned the lessons of the continent's bloody history, yet their leaders allow bodies to pile up in way stations where the dead refugees wash ashore after their often-rickety boats founder, they said.
The CPB's website describes the bodies of deceased migrants being kept for months in cooling chambers for corpses located in Sicily and elsewhere.
"It is simply outrageous and undignified how they are treating these bodies," said Lenz.
For more than a year, European leaders have been debating but failing to agree on how to save migrants on the high seas, where to put them, and how to pay to feed and shelter them.
Syrians in Germany are greeting the artists' "happenings" with mixed emotions.
"The first time I heard about this, I didn't like it," Monis Bukhari, a Syrian refugee in Berlin, told VICE News. "I came out from Syria. I saw the war there and what it's doing to human minds when you deal with dead bodies everyday. We have enough sadness inside our hearts. We don't want to bring it here. We came here to find refuge, not to bring death with us."
Bukhari manages a Facebook page where Syrian refugees hold heated discussions on topics that include the CPB's funerals.
"The Syrians who talk about this, some of them say, 'Let's show the German authorities what they are doing by delaying any solutions for people who come by the sea,' " he said.
Lenz understood Bukhari's perspective. Good art is unsettling, he argued.
"We are the messengers of this morbid, sinister, really terrible reality out there," said Lenz.
Bukhari thought the CPB should draw more attention to the European Union rules that put too much pressure on relatively poor border countries like Italy and Greece to handle migrants rather than letting refugees travel directly to Germany, where they are more likely to find jobs.
Earlier this month, after Germany announced that it had received 800,000 immigrants last year, with most coming from within Europe, Merkel told attendees at a conference that they should be more welcoming to newcomers.
"There is something enriching if someone wants to come to us," the chancellor said, according to Deutsche Welle.
Lenz said those sentiments weren't good enough. Merkel might be open to immigrants who have made it to Germany. But right now she's acting as if migrants drowning in the Mediterranean or freezing in the Balkans isn't her problem.
"That is one of the European dynamics that needs to be pointed out and scandalized," he said.
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