How Laibach and Muslimgauze Made the Last Communist Leader a Music Icon
It’s 1984. Austrian reporter Martin Pollack is on the hunt for a specific issue of the independent Slovenia magazine Nova revija. The editors ran an extensive article about a young band called Laibach (the German name for Ljubljana). It featured poems written by band members and a review of their work.
The first print sold out immediately, adding to Pollack’s challenge, but he finds it. While purchasing the much wanted magazine, he meets Mr Tone – a former Tito partisan and elegant shopkeeper, who upon discovery of Pollack's Viennese provenance swiftly shifts into fluent, slightly harsh German. Over coffee, the Slovenian openly discusses his unfavourable views of Laibach’s music. ''Provocative songs, as if written in the spirit of Nazism and Stalinism." He's particularly outraged by one song about General Jaruzelski.
The lyrics of the offending song:
General Jaruzelski declared the 31st of August a day of work and peace /
He announced: Authority doesn't win the people's sympathy /
but it's the sole and immortal bearer /
bearer of peace and stability
Isn't that a call for a Yugoslavian Jaruzelski to take over power and implement order? Mr Tone is furious, angrily pressing down a notebook against the oak counter. ''We don't need no Jaruzelski'' – chips in a thickset construction worker in blue overalls.
General Jaruzelski's, leader of communist Poland during the eighties, had met his biggest failure on August 31st 1980 – the anniversary of the Gdańsk agreement, which led to a series of strikes that led in turn to the creation of Solidarność and to the fall of communism.
Laibach was born in 1980, in the small working-class town of Trblovlje. 1980 represents a turning point in the history of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia - the death of Marshall Josip Broz Tito marked the beginning of the trials which led to the fall of Yugoslavia and to the bloody conflicts of the Yugoslav Wars. Tito's death also brought on an intellectual thaw and a relaxing of censorship. In this looser atmosphere rose the Yugoslav novi val – a new rock wave which spread all over the country in large cities and small villages alike. Laibach was one of its most provocative representatives, seen as belonging to the punk subculture ('pankovci'). In retrospect, the band is a perfect example of the second wave of industrial music.
They create music with the use of old phonographs, modulators, oscillators, keyboards, buzzing guitars and other handmade electronic instruments. The drums give a steady beat reminiscent of factory machines, while all around a commotion, a seemingly spasmodic buzz fills the air. Everything happens at once: old wartime melodies intertwine with the clatter of home-made instruments, gongs, the roar of bad quality tape and the band members’ speech. Such is Laibach’s early sound, including the song Jaruzelski from the album Rekapitulacija 1980 – 1984, whose text troubled Martin Pollack's new acquaintance.
They recall the aesthetics of totalitarian regimes: Hitler's totalitarianism first foremost (they speak German and create symbols modeled on Nazi runes), but also Stalinism and Italian fascism. Furthermore, their work is abundant in Yugoslav iconography: the cult of pioneers and youth marches resembling human pyramids for example. They built their identity around the fictional New Slovenian Art State (Neue Slowenische Kunst State, Država NSK).
That's an odd misunderstanding – Dejan Knez, leader of the band says with apparent irritation – when you call Laibach a protest group. Nothing is more foreign to them. Their concerts are one big apologiaof the regime whose language they use [...] What they are criticizing is the sluggishness of the Yugoslav regime, they reproach it with being not totalitarian enough and not destroying individual freedomwith all their might.
Knez's words can be interpreted as Laibach's contribution to the critique of totalitarianism. The strategy is to imitate rather than to criticize. The performance, grotesque and devoid of irony, terrifies the authorities. What turns out to be mightier than the sword is their attitude of seriousness and diligence, which also infiltrates the audience. Every Slovenian concert leads to a group of followers who are more radical than the artists and openly reach for historcial symbols. Slavoj Žižek wrote ten years later that Laibach:
"frustrates" the system (the ruling ideology) precisely insofar as it is not its ironic imitation, but over-identification with it - by bringing to light the obscene superego underside of the system, over-identification suspends its efficiency.
1984, this time in Manchester. Bryn Jones, an English musician known as Muslimgauze says:
Ideas for the future are political: freedom to Afghanistan from Soviet oppression, unity of the two German lands, the destruction of the Berlin wall, freedom to Poland and all occupied lands by Russia, a total return to democracy, the Gulf war to end.
Muslimgauze's every song is a political treaty. Since the beginning of his career in 1982 (his first recording was a reaction to Israel's attack of Lebanon), till 1999, when he passed away, his discography is a timeline of political events. He had two missions: fighting with communism and supporting Arab liberation movements, especially the Palestinian and Iranian causes, but among his recordings are also voices of support for the Muslim minorities in China. The only voices in his songs are radio and television news broadcasters, political speeches; samples of explosions, screams, steps, crying. Jones' commentary are his titles: often very radical (''Fatwa (Religious Decree Giving Recourse To Terrorism''), at other times a call for action (''Vote Hezbollah''), or descriptive (''Under The Hand Of Jaruzelski'').
In the above-mentioned song, a British voice-over describes the situation in Poland and blends in with the offbeat, musical rhythm of the drums. No agressive sounds can be heard, unlike in many other recordings of Muslimgauze, especially those that deal with Palestine and Afghanistan. After all, the democratic transformation in Poland was exceptionally peaceful, sometimes even carnival-like, although a ghostly carnival at times, especially under Martial Law.
Wojciech Jaruzelski was born in 1923 near Puławy, a city in southeastern Poland. He was raised in a patriotic home of landowners (from the Ślepowron coat of arms). He went to school in Warsaw where he was taught by priests from the Congregation of Marian Fathers. The war interrupted his education. In 1941, he and his family were deported by the Soviets to Siberia: his father was sent to a camp, where he died; the rest of the family were forced to settle in Altai Krai, on the Kazakhstani border. Two years later, he was drafted into 1st Tadeusz Kościuszko Infantry Division within an army faction controlled by Polish communists and Soviets. By the end of the war he was a lieutenant. Despite being affected by Soviet repression, the 22-year-old decided to continue his military and political career. After the war he joined the Polish People's Army and the Polish Workers Party in 1947. At that time he fought against the anticommunist underground army and cooperated with Military Intelligence. For 10 years he worked in military command centres, organized seminars and lectures.
He rose through the ranks quickly, becoming the youngest Polish Brigadier general in 1956. In 1961, he won a seat in Parliament (he was an MP till 1989), and a year later he became Deputy Minister of National Defence. In 1967, he supported antisemitic purges in the army, he didn't belong to the so called partisans of Moczar but he had personal connections with the man serving as Minister of Interior at the time [editor's note: Mieczysław Moczar was an important communist figure known for his ultranationalist, xenophobic and antisemitic attitude] .
In December 1970, the leader of what was then the People’s Republic of Poland Władysław Gomułka ordered the Polish People's Army and the Citizen's Militia to repress strikes in a shipyard in Gdańsk, on the Baltic Coast. As a result, 41 people were killed, 1000 wounded and 3000 detained. Jaruzelski, serving as a minister at that time did not oppose Gomułka's brutal decision. The events forced the latter's resignation and retirement and Jaruzelski contributed to his removal from power.
1980 saw a wave of strikes all throughout Poland which shook the socialist camp. The Politburo (including General Jaruzelski) met almost daily. In February, the Parliament of the People's Republic named Jaruzelski Prime Minister. The move was meant to mitigate the Soviet Union's worries about the situation in Poland. The most memorable date of Jaruzelski’s entire career came on the 12th of December 1981 when, after a phone call from Moscow, Wojciech Jaruzelski introduced the Martial Law (1981-1983). Many historians nowadays equate the gesture to a coup. Approximately 10 thousand trade unionists, opposition activists and their supporters were detained without charge, and several thousand people were sent to prison.
Jaruzelski was one of the most important figures behind the organization of the Round Table talks which led to the first partially free elections. He was the first President of the III Republic of Poland and supported democratic reforms. He passed away on the 25th of May 2014. His funeral was attended by three Presidents of Poland (Lech Wałęsa, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, Bronisław Komorowski-currently in office), Ambassadors of Russia and the United States, representatives of the church, journalists and artists. The burial was not peaceful: demonstrations took place, protesting against state funeral on the grounds of the lost lives of the December riots and of the Martial Law.
Filip Lech, June 2014.
Translator: Mai Jones Jeromski 06/06/2014
Sources: M. Pollack, ''Why Did They Shoot the Stanislavs?'', 2009; A. Paczkowski, ''Ostatni dyktator Peerelu'' [w:] Tygodnik Powszechny, 1.VI.2014; W. Roszkowski ''Historia Polski 1914-2005'', Warszawa 2007; S. Alexander Reed ''Assimilate. A Critical Histor of Industrial Music'', New York 2013; S. Žižek, ''Why are Laibach and NSK not Fascists?'', krytykapolityczna.pl