So Close and Yet So Far
Belgium, and especially Brussels, is the strategic place where contemporary Europe was built and organized. Its choice as the capital of the European Union took place in several stages. In 1947, Churchill spoke for the first time of the "United States of Europe" and, a few years later, the idea took shape: Great Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg formed the Western European Union. The Belgian capital was chosen as the center where the United Europe would germinate, and it was there that the European Economic Community was founded in 1958. In 1966, the NATO headquarters also settled there and, when the EEC became the European Union, the administrative apparatus of Brussels was already so vast that it was not profitable to move it to another city. In 1992, Brussels became the seat of the European Union.
That same year, according to the World Bank, there were 25,911 refugees or people seeking political asylum in Belgium. In 2016, the figure reached 42,128. Data, data and more data, which gives a glimpse of the convoluted bureaucracy of the institutions, and which, at the same time, makes the raw reality invisible to us. It is not always easy to see what someone, for reasons of strategy or power, prevents us from seeing. Since the 1990s, dozens of conflicts and wars around the Mediterranean have followed one after the other. Unfortunately, and this is not new, every year thousands of people lose their lives at sea because they are forced to flee the abuses, conflicts and wars that have been caused in their home countries.
Via NATO, the European institutions welcome the people fleeing permanent conflicts in their countries. This reception nevertheless operates in a framework of dehumanized bureaucracy and administrative requirements. Those who, by sea or land, reach the desired and utopian Europe often get lost in the labyrinth of the Institution. This labyrinth consists of filling in dozens of documents and answering questions, questions, and even more questions. Submerged, the Other is held in a state of waiting before receiving a positive or negative response (you can stay or you are to be deported).
Thousands of people are now "waiting" in state-run asylum-seeker centers, and find relays in many of the N.G.O.s dedicated to mental health, education and other urgent issues. There are also personal initiatives that do not rely on large organizational structures, but that are able to create new spaces of relationships and expression between those who wait. Here, Waiting is the work presented by Maroussia Prignot and Valerio Álvarez, who used photography as a means of access, didactics and communication at the Fedasil Center in Jodoigne, Belgium.
In 2015, the lonstanding image of Maximilien Park in the center of Brussels changed radically. The park became a refugee camp. Once the camp was dismantled, the municipality decided to cut down all the trees in the park to prevent the situation from getting out of hand again. Valerio was there, listening, watching, photographing the situation, taking a stance and turning his images into pure oxygen. In association with his colleague Maroussia, they organized a series of workshops that they conducted in collaboration with the children of the asylum center. All the experiences of visual didactics seen in this volume were told by refugees from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Albania, Romania, Syria, Equatorial Guinea, Somalia, Eritrea, Algeria, and Congo as they awaited an answer from the Belgian state. Here, Waiting helps to open our eyes and to look where people do not want us to look, to listen to what the Other has to tell us.
Here, Waiting is a book that advances each time we look at it. It is to be listened to, touched, because in essence it is not a book, but an experience of waking dreams. Photography and collaboration. Openness and freedom. Policy and results. Imagination and words. An unstoppable movement that opens us to other relations and other points of view, compared to the image production-distribution of our times. A constant exercise to strengthen empathy and learn from those who lives with us, in a state of waiting ... so close and yet so far.