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After all, it's just paper?

TRAVEL ESSAY: Since 2017, my partner Edy Poppy and I have developed an art project, The personal encounter with world politics. We have passed a law against structural violence, which criminalizes the maintenance or profiteering of violent structures. We reported ourselves for breaking our own law. Now it was time for vacation and we booked a trip to Bulgaria. But we discovered that one can not take leave from the law

We took the plane to Sofia from Frankfurt. Before the passport control, the boarding passes were checked. When the inspector realized that we were going to Sofia, he waved to us a young man who was waiting a few meters away. The man said he had a brother in Sofia who had to get his German driver's license. Could we bring the pink paper driver card and give it to our brother, who was waiting for us when we landed? We did not have time to hear details, but thought it would be nice to help in a situation that was probably caused by difficult economic, political or family structures.

We asked the inspector if it was okay to bring the driver's license. "Yes," he replied, "it's just paper." We got our driver's license, I glanced at the picture of my brother, the man wrote down our phone number, and we hurried on.


Just before the passport check, I suddenly became anxious. What if something was wrong with the driver's license? The inspector had given us his blessing, but was it to be trusted? I had an intuition that there were unfair structures behind, and that German police would act on these. But I preferred to avoid any risk to us, even though it opened up a great risk to those we were supposed to help.

Blaue & Poppy presents the law against structural violence to the Bulgarian Bar Association.

I informed the police officer about the assignment, and asked if it was okay. It was not. Paper driver's licenses were not produced in Germany in the year specified as the year of issue. The driver's license was fake.

The police officer said: "This is how refugees get into Germany." He wanted us to understand how immoral we had been to act. The information gave me a better understanding of the husband's and brother's situation. The policeman's words made it clear that it was violent structures – an unfair immigration policy – that was the reason why the man had asked us. Maintaining structures that the privileged benefit from and the underprivileged suffer from is the definition of breaking our law. My intuition was right, but now it was too late. Police confiscated the document.

shame Moments

I felt ashamed to have preferred to avoid personal problems rather than following ethical intuition. Shame is a revolutionary feeling, some say. The shame I felt was not revolutionary. It wasn't even engaging, it was just fleeting. On the plane, we began to worry that at the airport, a criminal in the conventional sense was waiting for us who expected to get the driver's license we could not give him. What if he wanted revenge? We figured that the man in Frankfurt had given us a description and that the brother in Sofia would recognize us. With Panama hat and colonial dress, we weren't exactly invisible. As soon as we landed in Sofia, we changed clothes and changed hairstyle.

Who are they really guilty of? The one who fakes to try to have a better life, or we, who have the relatively good life already?

As we left the security area at the airport, I looked straight into the eyes of a man I recognized from my driver's license. The look made me think of the argument that Edy and I have founded the law against structural violence: On both sides of unjust structures, there are people who either suffer under them (for example, do not have the papers and money to flee to rich European countries) or profit from them (for example, have papers and money to vacation in a poor Eastern European country).

The shame did not correspond to an adequate action. Could we have helped our brother in other ways, even if we had ruined the original plan? We hurried off this spring undercoveroutfit. The concern for his own situation overshadowed the concern for his brother's situation, which objectively must have been much worse.

At the hotel, the phone rang, and the unknown number indicated that it was our clients. When the person asked for the driver's license, Edy said that the police had taken it from us. Surprisingly, the accepting response made me feel so ashamed that I realized that I had behaved so badly that I should basically again report myself for violating the law against structural violence. The voice at the other end said "ok" in a disappointed but calm way, thanked and hung up.


Many may think that the matter is clear: Immigrants are forging a driver's license and thus committing an illegal and immoral act. We as naive messengers are co-responsible, but told the police, who are the real heroes, since they prevented a criminal act.

The policeman's words made it clear that it was violent structures – an unfair immigration policy – that was the reason why the man
had asked us.

But since the incident, I have been plagued by guilt over having committed a criminal act, according to the law we ourselves have passed. For the incident can rather be described as follows: The rich Germany has again closed the borders for refugees. We offer to transport the driver's license, but for petty reasons for my own safety, I make everything worse and tell the police. They probably create a case against the husband or brother, which aggravates both their situation.

There are mitigating circumstances. The concern for my own safety is not the worst motive: I have three small children. It was not me who refused, it was the authorities. But still.

When Edy and I reported ourselves last year, we went on an investigative trip to Brazil to find evidence of our guilt. I know the Brazilian society, but not the Bulgarian. Here the Bulgarian authorities must take over. It is possible that the case is being investigated. For the truth to come out, it may be good, my version is after all just a speculation. But a legal verification when the law against structural violence is not (ancestry) known, is like verifying a physical experiment without knowing Newton's law of gravity. For whom are they really guilty? The one who forges to try to have a better life, or we, who have the relatively good life already? Without knowing the law against structural violence, the authorities will not be able to report and find evidence against us.

Paper is not optional paper, is probably another conclusion.

After three days in Sofia, Edy and I wrote the law against structural violence on a large poster and went to the Bar Association to make the Bulgarian public aware of the new legislation. We want it to become a reality there as well. And all over the world. Amen.

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