No more exotic exhibitions: the Migrant Advisory Board has revised its zoo application – news from Leipzig

When a year ago in Leipzig, the Migrant Advisory Council launched a proposal to ban “all colonial and racist stereotypes” at the Leipzig Zoo, a long-overdue debate began. How much belated this was made clear in a statement from the Department of Culture, a department where things now seem to be going crazy.

Recently, it was more than a stormy announcement about the cancellation of the book fair, followed by a tender for the purchase of books for the Leipzig City Library, for which no one was really responsible.

But from the very first sentences of the cultural department’s statement on the request of the migrants’ advisory board, it was clear that the official simply did not want to take the issue seriously at all.

“The City Council notes that Zoo Leipzig and its staff are distancing themselves from all forms of racism and exclusion. There are no events taking place at the Leipzig Zoo that reproduce colonial and racist stereotypes. “

Statements that simply show that the Leipzig administration is not even the slightest reflection of Leipzig’s urban society and that there are many people in office who cannot even imagine how the events of “Hakuna Matata” affect people with migratory experiences, and thus the ancient colonials themselves. Stereotypes are communicated in a downright funny way.

Which has nothing to do with the fact that the music bands themselves are made up of people who professionally present the culture of their countries of origin. But often the frame makes history.

And given the ancient history of zoo ethnology shows, today’s “exotic festivals” also have a completely different overtone.

Version # 3

That is why the Migrants Advisory Council has tightened its application three times. Recast # 3 of the proposal can now be found in the Council Information System and is likely to be discussed at the next Council meeting.

Because the culture department’s response to the second point of the application was also sour. The department simply said: “Following the call made in point 2 to” begin to reconcile the zoo’s colonial past and make it visible on the website and in publications, “it says that the zoo has changed for over 20 years is critically addressing and working on the subject over it with the help of scientists within the available resources.

Which just wasn’t true. Mustafa Haikal has already referred to this chapter in the context of the history of the zoo. But he hadn’t really been able to work it out in depth before. Even The History of the City of Leipzig, which has been published since 2015, largely ignored the topic of colonialism.

Until now, this has been a distinctly niche topic for urban research. And from the perspective of people from countries once affected by colonialism, the Leipzig study certainly did not prove it.

Late processing

Which applies not only to Leipzig. Throughout Germany, too, German colonial history has vanished for decades behind much more significant themes of the First and Second World Wars.

In the last few months, Mustafa Haikal has for the first time dealt in more detail with the ethnological demonstrations at the Leipzig Zoo. In the interview, he makes it quite clear what the current state of research is. Only after analyzing all available sources do you have a basis for critical analysis at all – and then you can quite clearly see how blind you can become even in the present if you ignore the context.

The result is clear: the development of this chapter in the history of Leipzig has only just begun. This was also the topic of Wednesday, May 11, organized by the umbrella organization of Saxon migration organizations, incl. V. held a digital panel discussion on “Reassessing the Colonial Legacy in Leipzig”.

The discussion partners that evening were people from politics, administration and civil society who at least agreed that the city of Leipzig has done a lot in recent years to deal with its colonial history. Most of all, it was criticized that although the past was taken into account, no appropriate conclusions were drawn for today and tomorrow.

One of the specific topics of the evening was the proposal of the Leipzig Migrant Advisory Council, which now calls on the mayor to work to prevent colonial events that reproduce racist stereotypes. Not only should a zoo’s colonial past be processed, but the processing should be visible in-house, in the zoo’s publications and activities.

“Dear elected councilors, you have been elected to represent all the people of Leipzig. I urge you to empathize with the perspectives and interests of those people in your city who must experience racism daily while colonial-racist narratives are spreading in such an important institution in Leipzig, says Pedro Montero Perez. , Chairman of the Migration Advisory Council in Chemnitz, to the City Council of Leipzig. “You have to understand that these evening events offend, belittle and harm a lot of people in your city. Support your Migrant Advisory Board in its concerns. Put an end to this exotic and stereotypical event and start a conversation with those affected. They want to be seen as they are – in all their diversity. “

Exotic constructs of former colonial powers

In its revised proposal, the Leipzig Migration Advisory Council is very clear, especially with regard to the ‘Hakuna Matata’ evenings:

“Even today, such narratives support the acceptance of the present neo-colonial conditions of exploitation to an extent that should not be underestimated. – Moreover, such constructed performances and open displays of non-white and / or non-European people and cultures in a zoological (animal!) Facility show a disturbing parallel to ethnological exhibitions from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Leipzig Zoo formally recognized its colonial past in 2003 with the publication of On the Trail of the Lion – The 125-Year-Old Leipzig Zoo. However, an extensive publication is devoted to Leipzig’s ethnological exhibitions on just a few pages and recreates uncommented and uncritically exotic images and content.

In addition, the book is not available to everyone for free, but you have to buy it for 33 euros. As much of the population is denied access to their information due to economic scarcity, we see it as poor positioning with low publicity. “

The zoo could therefore do more to come to terms with its colonial past.

And it needs to make fundamental changes to its event formats as stated in the first point of the conclusion:

The mayor, as shareholder representative of Zoo Leipzig GmbH, is committed to ensuring that events such as Hakuna Matata, Asian Summer Nights and El Dorado are replaced with event formats that do not reproduce stereotypes or clichés by the end of Q4 2022.

They are intended to provide a varied and reflected insight into the historical, social and cultural structures and contexts in different countries and continents in order to provide information. In developing the event formats, relevant actors such as the Migrant Advisory Council, Leipzig University, Leipzig Ethnological Museum and Postcolonial Leipzig e. V. “

It could even make these events very exciting, more realistic and surprising if they had not already recreated the view of the only seemingly “exotic” countries on earth that often shape Hollywood movies.


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