Protesters occupy legendary Berlin theater

Berlin's Volksbuehne theatre. (AFP)
Updated 24 September 2017
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Protesters occupy legendary Berlin theater

BERLIN: Berlin’s legendary Volksbuehne theater has been occupied by a group of protesters objecting to a new director who they fear will push the famously radical venue into a more commercial direction.
The protest began on Friday and swelled over the weekend after fruitless negotiations between activists, city authorities and new artistic director Chris Dercon, the former head of London’s Tate Modern.
“The talks have ended for now without results,” the Volksbuehne theater said on its Facebook page.
“It remains to be seen whether rehearsals will resume on Monday.”
The protesters, who have formed an artists’ collective called “From dust to glitter,” plan to occupy the building in east Berlin for three months while staging performances free of charge.
They held their first “assembly” on Saturday evening, urging theater lovers to show up in force and bring supplies such as toilet paper, printers and food and drink.
The appeal was so successful that police said no more supporters could be allowed in after the building reached its maximum capacity of 500 people.
With their protest action, the collective said it wants to “send a message against the current politics” and the creep of “gentrification” in Germany’s capital.
Volksbuehne artists have been strongly critical of the theater’s new director Dercon, who replaced the renowned Frank Castorf who led the avant garde theater for almost a quarter of a century.
Rebuilt after World War II in an imposing Stalinist style using remnants of Hitler’s destroyed chancellery, the Volksbuehne prides itself on caustic commentary on political and capitalist hypocrisy.
A prominent theater director as well as artistic director, Castorf was credited with turning the Volksbuehne into one of Europe’s leading venues with his bold, controversial and often lengthy productions.
Dercon, whose nomination has been controversial ever since it was first announced in 2015, will be the first non-artist to take the helm of the fabled theater.
Critics fear his tenure will herald a shift to less provocative and more commercial productions at the heavily subsidised Volksbuehne.
They have also questioned whether Belgium-born Dercon can bring the radical sensibility and awareness of Berlin’s tumultuous history that is woven into the fabric of the theater.


Former guerilla set to be sworn in as East Timor leader

Updated 22 June 2018
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Former guerilla set to be sworn in as East Timor leader

DILI, East Timor: East Timor will swear in a new government led by former guerilla fighter Taur Matan Ruak Friday following a protracted political crisis that has paralyzed the tiny Southeast Asian nation.
Ruak will head the second government in less than a year in the impoverished half-island nation that won independence in 2002 after a brutal 24-year occupation by neighboring Indonesia.
Born Jose Maria Vasconcelos but universally known by his nom de guerre Taur Matan Ruak — which means “Two sharp eyes” — was a commander in the East Timorese resistance before becoming chief of the newly independent nation’s army.
He also served in the largely ceremonial role of president between 2012 and 2017.
Parliament was dissolved in January amid tensions between former prime minister Mari Alkatiri’s minority government and an opposition centered around independence hero Xanana Gusmao.
An alliance led by Gusmao clinched an absolute majority in elections held in May.
Ruak’s new government includes members of Gusmao’s National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction, the People’s Liberation Party and the youth-based Khunto.
The incoming administration will face big challenges, especially as the clock is ticking fast on East Timor’s disappearing oil and gas reserves.
The resources pay for the bulk of government spending but oil revenues are in steep decline and the country has few other productive economic sectors.
About 60 percent of East Timor’s population is under 25, according to the World Bank, while some 40 percent of its people live in poverty.
Providing jobs for young people and reining in public spending — especially on large infrastructure projects — will be key tasks for the new government, analysts say.