Perestroika: An Eye For An Eye, A Tooth For A Tooth, an excerpt by João Cerqueira at
Jan Kosmowski

Perestroika: An Eye For An Eye, A Tooth For A Tooth


An Eye For An Eye, A Tooth For A Tooth

written by: João Cerqueira


It is 1978 in Communist Slavia.
Painter Ludwig Kirchner is in a concentration camp where he meets organized crime boss Ivan Fiorov.

Around noon, Huss, the chief guard, told Kirchner to accompany him again. He crossed the camp and went into an empty barrack. The interior was cleaner than his, and to his surprise, he found that a curtain marked off a private area towards one end of the building. Huss drew it: inside was a bed, a stove, and a table with a cloth and a bottle of wine. A tall, well-built man, bald, with black eyes, held out his hand.
‘Welcome, Kirchner.’
‘Thank you for inviting me, sir…’
‘My name’s Ivan Fiorov, but everyone calls me Koba. They say ugly things about me, but I’m simply a businessman who was born in the wrong country. This country is broke, and the leaders need people like me. I bring in everything they want but don’t dare import through legal channels. Household goods from West Germany, Japanese cameras, American calculators, French wine, Swiss chocolate, Italian shoes, and clothes. I play this dirty role for their satisfaction. As you know, the higher you rise in the Party hierarchy, the more access to consumer goods you have. Until, at a certain point, the communist leader lives like a true capitalist. Do you get it?’
‘I think so.’
‘Now, if the Party officials don’t lead by example, if they don’t believe in the virtues of their ideology, and embrace their enemy’s, how can it have any future? Communism won’t last more than fifteen years, and what’s going to defeat it is not tanks and missiles but human nature because the people want the same as them. They want a high life, a good standard of living, money…’
Kirchner scratched his head. ‘Maybe, but some values you can’t buy.’
Koba let out a belly laugh. ‘Why do you think capitalism is successful? Because of freedom and democracy? No, it’s because of the wealth. Capitalism only guarantees the citizen a bare minimum of freedom but allows him to grow rich. Now our system doesn’t offer one thing or the other. Do you think our kids want to keep living this way? Has it ever occurred to you that the day the Chinese leaders realise they can use their billion inhabitants on low salaries to compete with the capitalist system, they’ll be able to dominate the world?’
‘It’s a complex subject, and I wouldn’t like to risk predicting the future.’
‘Ever tried Coca-Cola, Kirchner?’
‘It’s water with additives of petrol and cocaine that the Americans invented, and the world’s youth is getting addicted to it. Coca-Cola is the face of capitalist success. It’s no good for anything. Good shit, juice from our oranges is much better, but they’ve turned it into a symbol of success and happiness. A bottle of Coca-Cola annihilates all the theories of Marx and Engels. As soon as Coca-Cola and its music enter the country, it will be the beginning of the end for communism. Naturally, I expect to represent the brand here.’
Kirchner pulled a face. ‘That sounds terrible to me. Are you saying that art will become a consumer goods like Coca-Cola? Will paintings leave the museums and go into the homes of millionaire collectors? Will the market decide what’s good painting and what’s bad? Will the artist become a mercenary? Will it reach the point where he paints pictures of Coca-Cola bottles instead of still lives? I don’t want to live in that world.’
‘You prefer to be a prisoner in this camp?’
‘No, but you can’t go from extreme to extreme…’
‘When communism collapses, you can be sure we’ll adopt the opposite system. The change will be brutal, and no one will have the power to stop it. After the earthquake, you’ll have the tsunami.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘Could you drink salt water?’
‘Of course not.’
‘You’re wrong, and if you were a shipwreck survivor and you’d been drifting for days in a boat with no drinking water, you wouldn’t be able to resist drinking seawater.’
‘What point are you making?’
‘As I said, our people have been deprived of so much that when they have the chance to get their hands on the goods, they’ll jump on them with no thought for the consequences. The abundance of capitalism will bring plenty of salt water in its wake, and hardly anyone will discern how to avoid swallowing it.’
‘I’m with you now.’
‘But the problems of some will be opportunities for others.’
‘I suppose you’ll make some great deals then.’
‘Sure I will, but I was thinking of the short-term. Like now.’
‘I don’t get it.’
‘You will. Let’s speak about art again, since that was why I invited you to have lunch with me. As you know, you’re under my protection. The commandant will ensure that the guards don’t mistreat you, but only I can ensure that the other inmates don’t eat you alive. You spent the morning in the kitchen, right?’
‘Yes, with Chef Kristoff.’
‘Chef, my arse! That guy’s a schizophrenic who has no idea what he’s cooking. He was an inmate in an insane asylum and ended up here because he tried to kill the real cook with a rolling pin. He has constant hallucinations, and he’s violent as hell. Would you like to have to work under the orders of a nutcase like that?’
‘No, not at all.’
‘So let’s talk business.’
‘I’m sorry, but I don’t get what you’re saying.’
‘It’s very simple, Kirchner. They tell me your paintings are greatly esteemed in the capitalist market, and collectors are willing to pay fortunes for them. I will need a few of your pictures in return for my protection. My men will drop by your place and pick up two or three paintings. Seems fair. Or do you want to carry on as a kitchen assistant?’
‘All right. Take whatever you want, as long as you don’t hurt my family.’
‘Kirchner, now you’re offending me. For me, the family is sacred. It’s the only thing you can’t buy or sell.’
Koba took the lid off the saucepan and served Kirchner a rabbit stew with potatoes.

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