A giant piece of art is managing to shock and amuse the normally staid corridors of power in Brussels by playing on the national stereotypes that still exist throughout the 27-nation bloc.
The piece, unveiled Tuesday morning (13 January), has instantly become the star attraction in the council of ministers building – arguably the drabbest and least lively of the EU’s three main institutions.
Gaggles of EU officials, diplomats and journalists were to be found standing under the construction throughout the day trying to puzzle out where their country could be found.
Spain is depicted as slab of concrete in reference to its over-active construction industry. Lithuania has three statues peeing on Russia while Belgium is shown as a box of chocolates.
Meanwhile, tiny but rich Luxembourg is depicted as a gold nugget entirely covered by a “for sale,” sign while Denmark takes the form of a lego piece.
Sailing closer to the wind are the representations for Poland (showing priests holding the gay pride flag apparently poking fun at the Catholic Church), the Netherlands (entirely under water with only the minarets of five mosques visible) and Italy (with its “auto-erotic” love of football).
But at least these countries were shown in the sculpture, which was commissioned by the Czech Republic to herald the start of its six-month presidency of the EU.
The UK is nowhere to be found, a play on the country’s supposed detached relationship with the rest of the EU.
“We’re Ikea …of course,” said one grinning Swedish official, referring to the representation of his country as a giant flatpack of the kind often found at the Nordic country’s retail giant. “Who are you?” he asked. But his colleague was unsure. She thought she was the “one with meat on it.”
This “one with the meat” turns out to be Portugal, representing colonisation.
Germany is shown as a series of motorways while France has “greve” slapped across it – the French word for strike.
In the accompanying text, the apparent creators of the French piece, the Groupe de Recherche d’Art Audiovisuel (GRAA), note: “As a result of the global and local political, economic and cultural situation, the GRAA group has gone on strike indefinitely.”
Called “Entropa,” the artwork is the brainchild of Czech artist David Cerny and supposedly contains a contribution from an artist from each member state. It cost €373,000 ($500,000) to make and was transported in three trucks from Prague to Brussels.
Speaking about the work, the Czech Presidency stressed the importance of the freedom of art as an extension of the freedom of speech.
“I am confident in Europe’s open mind and capacity to appreciate such a project,” said deputy prime minister Alexandr Vondra, perhaps nervously.
As for the Czechs themselves, they are represented by an LED screen featuring quotes by their president, Vaclav Klaus, a long-time critic of the European Union.
But not all are amused. Bulgaria – depicted as a “Turkish toilet” (it used to be part of the Ottoman empire) – is furious.
“It [the work] is preposterous, a disgrace,” Betina Joteva, spokesperson of the Bulgarian permanent representation to the EU told the EUobserver. “It is a humiliation for the Bulgarian nation and an offence to [our] national dignity.”
But the joke may yet be on the Czech Presidency, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph’s Brussels blog which notes that the various artists appear not to exist and it was the sole work of Mr Cerny.
“David Cerny bears the full responsibility for not fulfilling his assignment and promise,” said a miffed statement by Mr Vondra late on Tuesday afternoon.
With additional reporting by Elitsa Vucheva