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Performing Anti-nationalism: Solidarity, Glitter and No-Borders Politics with the Europa Europa Cabaret

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 June 2018


The Europa Europa anti-nationalist cabaret was created in the run-up to the 2014 Swedish elections by the Ful collective in collaboration with ‘house band’ the Knife. Part rally and part concert, Europa Europa responds to the Sweden Democrats party's anti-immigrant propaganda specifically and the migration policies of the European Union more generally, by enacting a kind of ‘no-borders’ politics in a moment of rising nationalisms. The cabaret aims to build a temporary coalition between different but like-minded audiences as an aim distinct from changing minds. This solidarity is also practised by the performers onstage, who use the ambiguous theatrical positioning of migration stories to challenge conventional imaginaries of heroes and criminals. Through Europa Europa and its inheritances, from historical agitprop to the Macarena, this essay extends performance's repertoire as a form in which to practise strategic anti-nationalism, and to engage with friction in the process.

Copyright © International Federation for Theatre Research 2018 

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1 Ful began in the early 2000s as an award-winning magazine that brought together artists under queer-feminist and postcolonial perspectives, and later transitioned into making stage work as a ‘live’ version of that print publication. On both ‘queer-feminism’ in a Swedish context and the Knife see Widegren, Kasja, ‘The Politics of the Mask: The Knife as Queer-Feminists’, in Björnberg, Alf and Bossius, Thomas, eds., Made in Sweden: Studies in Popular Music (London: Routledge, 2017), pp. 199208Google Scholar.

2 Nasim Aghili, ‘Hey You Amazing People in Europa Europa: An (Antinationalistic) Cabaret about European Migration Policies!’ (Hej bästa henniskor i Europa Europa: en (antinationalistisk) kabaré om europeisk migrationspolitik!), in the programme booklet for Europa Europa (2014), pp. 6–11, here p. 10. Available in print and pdf in Swedish. English translations of selected passages are online at

3 Since it first began to be developed in 2014, I have spoken intermittently with Ful members involved with this show, in particular Rani Nair and also Aghili. Because I did not initially plan to write about Europa Europa, some conversations are better documented than others; however, everyone quoted has read this essay. I also organized a round table at Performance Studies International in 2017 together with Aghili, Nair and Azadeh Sharifi, which publicly reconstructed key discussions around the performance, and I reference this wherever possible.

4 Anderson, Bridget, Nandita Sharma and Cynthia Wright, ‘Editorial: Why No Borders?’, Refuge, 26, 2 (2009), pp. 518Google Scholar, here p. 11, emphasis in the original.

5 Anderson, Sharma and Wright, ‘Editorial’, p. 12.

6 King, Natasha, No Borders: The Politics of Immigration Control and Resistance (London: Zed Books, 2016), p. 8Google Scholar.

7 See Dolan, Jill, Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theater (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. This is also the basis for historical arguments including Elswit, Kate, Watching Weimar Dance (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 Hurley, Erin, National Performance: Representing Quebec from Expo 67 to Céline Dion (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), p. 30Google Scholar. See also Holdsworth, Nadine, ed., Theatre and National Identity: Re-imagining Conceptions of Nation (New York: Routledge, 2014)Google Scholar; and Harvie, Jen, Staging the UK (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005)Google Scholar.

9 I take this as a starting point for building a transnational history based on person-to-person encounters in Elswit, Kate, ‘The Micropolitics of Exchange: Exile and Otherness after the Nation’, in Martin, Randy, Kowal, Rebekah and Siegmund, Gerald, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Politics (New York: Oxford, 2017), pp. 417–38Google Scholar.

10 Bharucha, Rustom, The Politics of Cultural Practice: Thinking through Theatre in an Age of Globalization (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2000), pp. 27–8Google Scholar. From the perspective of practice, an interesting comparison is La Pocha Nostra, one of the few companies that explicitly cites anti-nationalism as a goal. However, whereas this earlier generation of self-described ‘border artists’ equate anti-nationalism with an anti-essentialism that resists the monoculturalism of the United States of America as a First World ‘host’ country, the no-border politics of Europa Europa belong to a category of post-migrant practices that resist the binary reduction to host/migrant, even as a point of departure. Cf. Guillermo Gómez-Peña with Rogers, Rachel, Hensley, Kari, Peña, Elaine, Sifuentes, Roberto and Ceballos, Michelle, ‘Crosscontamination: The Performance Activism and Oppositional Art of La Pocha Nostra (Manifesto 2004)’, in Gómez-Peña, Guillermo, ed., Ethno-Techno: Writings on Performance, Activism and Pedagogy (New York: Routledge, 2013), pp. 7793Google Scholar.

11 See the concerns raised in Parliament by a representative from the Liberal Party, Anne-Marie Ekström: Sveriges Riksdag, ‘Förhållanden på Migrationsverket’, at, accessed 10 November 2017. Most recently, in 2017, a similar case involved Denmark's migration minister: Jonas Ohlin, ‘Skärpt migrationspolitik firades med tårta’, SVT Nyheter, 16 March 2017, at, accessed 10 November 2017.

12 Linde's cake consisted of a stereotypical caricature of the artist's head in blackface together with a sculpted chocolate torso. It was presented under the auspices of an installation that was advertised to protest against female genital mutilation, but put the well-meaning museum crowd into a dilemma by asking them to serve themselves. On the one hand, to refuse would be to suggest they did not care about ‘saving’ African women, but on the other hand, to follow the directions, as many including Swedish minister of culture Lena Adelsohn-Liljeroth did, involved directly engaging both with the racist imagery and with a certain re-enactment of violence, by cutting into the brown torso cake while the face screamed ‘No!’ See Hrag Vartanian, ‘Swedish Minister Caught in “Racist” Food Art Performance’, Hyperallergic, 17 April 2012, at, accessed 15 November 2017.

13 Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), pp. 123–51Google Scholar.

14 King, No Borders, p. 7.

15 See Sharifi, Azadeh, ‘Moments of Significance: Artists of Colour in European Theatre’, in Moslund, Sten Pultz, Petersen, Annie Ring and Schramm, Moritz, eds., The Culture of Migration: Politics, Aesthetics, and Histories (London: I. B. Tauris, 2015), pp. 243–56Google Scholar.

16 For a round-up of recent comparisons to the Weimar Republic since the 2016 US election see Weimar Studies Network, ‘Trump and Weimar Germany’, at, accessed 4 December 2016.

17 See Boran, Erol, ‘Faces of Contemporary Turkish-German Kabarett’, in Constantinidis, Stratos E., ed., Text & Presentation, 2004 (Ashland: McFarland Press, 2005), pp. 172–86Google Scholar.

18 Nasim Aghili, Kate Elswit, Rani Nair and Azadeh Sharifi, ‘Performing European Others: Postmigrant Theatre, Europa Europa, and Love’, Performance Studies International round table, Hamburg, 10 June 2017.

19 Jelavich, Peter, Berlin Cabaret (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), pp. 4Google Scholar, 34.

20 Dudow, Slatan, dir., Kuhle Wampe, oder: Wem gehört die Welt? (Berlin: Prometheus-Film-Verleih und Vertriebs-GmbH, 1932)Google Scholar.

21 Brady, P. V., ‘Playing to the Audience: Agitprop Theatricals 1926–1933’, in Bance, A. F., ed., Weimar Germany: Writers and Politics (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1982), pp. 110–20Google Scholar, here p. 110.

22 See Palladini, Giulia, ‘The Weimar Republic and Its Return: Unemployment, Revolution, or Europe in a State of Schuld, in Zaroulia, Marilena and Hager, Philip, eds., Performances of Capitalism, Crises, and Resistance: Inside/Outside Europe (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), pp. 1736Google Scholar.

23 This appeared on the main Almedalsveckan program website at, accessed 10 June 2016. See also the Almedalsguiden 2014, p. 215.

24 Aghili, ‘Hey You Amazing People’.

25 Mohanty, Chandra Talpade, Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), p. 18CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

26 Ibid., p. 7.

27 Sharifi, Azadeh and Wilmer, Steve, ‘Reflections on Theatre and Statelessness’, Critical Stages/Scènes Critiques, The IATC journal/Revue de I'AICT, 14 (2016)Google Scholar, at

28 Abdollahi, Sara, ‘Något annat än röstfiske: [KABARÉ] Europa Europa’, Arbetaren, 19 July 2014Google Scholar, at, accessed 10 June 2016.

29 In conversations with the author. See note 3.

30 Brady, ‘Playing to the Audience’, p. 110.

31 Nasim Aghili, interview with the author (2017).

32 Zaroulia and Hager, Performances of Capitalism, p. 1.

33 Tayeb, Fatima El, European Others: Queering Ethnicity in Postnational Europe (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), p. xxxiiCrossRefGoogle Scholar.

34 Zaroulia and Hager, Performances of Capitalism, p. 10.

35 El Tayeb, European Others, pp. xxiii, xxx, xxxvi.

36 Ibid., p. xix.

37 Rani Nair, interview with the author (2016).

38 Axelsson, Malin, ‘Migration as Cabaret: Political Cabaret and the Politics of Cabaret’ (Migration som kabaré), in the programme booklet for Europa Europa (2014), pp. 54–8Google Scholar, here p. 55.

39 Aghili, ‘Hey You Amazing People’, p. 9.

40 Anderson, Bridget, Us and Them? The Dangerous Politics of Immigration Control (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 5CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

42 Ibid., p. 6.

43 Aghili, ‘Hey You Amazing People’.

44 Fraser, Nancy, ‘Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy’, Social Text, 25–6 (1990), pp. 5680CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

45 Europa Europa and the Knife, ‘För alla namn vi inte får använda’, music video, 2014, at, accessed 9 June 2014.

46 Loza, Susana, ‘Samples of the Past: Performative Nostalgia, Illicit Sounds, and Cultural Transformation in Latin House Music’, in M'Baye, Babacar and Oliver Hall, Alexander Charles, eds., Crossing Traditions: American Popular Music in Local and Global Contexts (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2013), pp. 139–56Google Scholar, here p. 141.

47 Russell, Melinda, ‘Give Your Body Joy, Macarena: Aspects of U.S. Participation in the Dance Craze of the 1990s’, in Clark, Walter, ed., From Tejano to Tango: Essays on Latin American Popular Music (New York: Routledge, 2002), pp. 172–94Google Scholar, here p. 180.

48 Ibid., p. 186.

49 See 1:23–2:08 of ‘För Alla Namn’.

50 Los Del Rio featuring the Bayside Boys, ‘Macarena’, music video, 1996.

51 Zaroulia, Marilena, ‘“Sharing the Moment”: Europe, Affect, and Utopian Performatives in the Eurovision Song Contest’, in Fricker, Karen and Gluhovic, Milija, eds., Performing the ‘New’ Europe: Identities, Feelings and Politics in the Eurovision Song Contest (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), pp. 3152CrossRefGoogle Scholar, here p. 40.

52 Ibid., p. 44.

53 Ibid., p. 46.

54 Marcos Hassan, interview with Moisés Horta and Paulina Lasa, ‘Los Macuanos’ Moisés Horta & Paulina Lasa on the Utopian, Post-border Future of “Europa Europa” Play’, Remezcla (2016), at, accessed 15 July 2017.

55 Aghili, ‘Hey You Amazing People’, p. 10.

56 Mohanty, Feminism without Borders, p. 2.

58 One example is Thomas Nail's theorization of the ‘figure of the migrant’ as the paradigmatic subject of the twenty-first century, which offers a corrective that asserts the primacy of migration through a perspective of motion. Nail, Thomas, The Figure of the Migrant (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015)Google Scholar.

59 Anderson, Sharma and Wright, ‘Editorial’, p. 9.

60 Urry, John, Mobilities (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007)Google Scholar.