May 28, 2017 Sermon

The 57th International Art Exhibition, featuring 85 national pavilions, is on full display in
Venice, Italy, until November 26. With the refuge crisis in places such as Syria, and many
leaders advocating nationalism, many of the art exhibits have focused on universal
themes. One such entry is of a group called Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK). Normally, one
would assume that only established sovereign nation-states are allowed to have their own
booth. But, that NSK has a booth of its own suggests that they are a viable entity. In any
case, the organizers of the event have approved their entry. I looked at the NSK website,
and the following is what they claim:

The NSK State was created in 1992 by the groups comprising the Slovene
arts collective Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK). Amongst others these included
the groups Laibach, IRWIN, Noordung, New Collectivism and the Department
of Pure and Applied Philosophy. Neue Slowenische Kunst was founded in
Ljubljana in 1984 as socialist Yugoslavia began to fracture. By the end of that
decade the NSK groups had gained a reputation across Western Europe,
America and Japan. NSK works and actions have commented on many of the
political events of the last two decades and NSK is now widely acknowledged
to have played a key role in the political and cultural history of Slovenia and
former Yugoslavia, even being credited with playing a role in the pluralisation
of society and culture in 1980s Slovenia.

The NSK State was created in the aftermath of Slovene independence. It
has carried out a series of temporary ‘Embassy’ and ‘Consulate’ events in
locations including Moscow, Ghent, Berlin and Sarajevo plus other collective
actions. The State is conceived as a utopian formation which has no physical
territory and is not identified with any existing national state. It is inherently
transnational and describes itself as ‘the first global state of the universe.’ It
issues passports to anyone who is prepared to identify with its founding
principles and citizenship is open to all regardless of national, sexual, religious
or other status. It now has several thousand citizens across numerous
countries and all continents, including a large number in Nigeria. The NSK
State itself is a collective cultural work, formed by both the iconography and
statements of its founders and its citizens’ responses to these and to the
existence of the state. It is also part of the wider ‘Micronations’ movement
which has grown increasingly visible and received growing critical and
theoretical attention in recent years. (
As you can see, they mention that they are a utopian state with no borders. Its citizens are
members of the world, so to speak.

The ambition of the NSK reminds one of Lenin's experiment, which for all practical
purposes, has been proven to be too pure for the selfish tendencies of humans.
Nevertheless, it is interesting if only to imagine whether such a state is possible. The NSK
wants us to jettison our ethnic identities. We can all try, but this is not so easy. First of all,
what language would we speak? Is there a certain kind of food that we should all like?
Which customs should we follow? Their intentions are noble, but would losing one's
ethnicity alone deter racial prejudice and war between nations?

I wish that it would. A world without borders would be ideal. It would simplify all our
problems, would it not? A perfect world where there is no cause for animosity or
aggression sounds like a perfect Buddha World, does it not?

What the NSK proposes, however, does not ascribe much confidence in what humans
are capable of. It says, let us not even allow a situation in which people are different, so
that we can avoid any perception of inequality. The problem is that if even one person in
this world refuses to envision or embrace this utopia, then this utopia would not be
achievable. How would the Buddha see this?

The Buddha begins with the premise that this world and the people in it are less than
perfect. People cannot be expected to think alike or want the same thing. Rather, the
Buddha embraces the fact that each individual has unique qualities to offer our society.
Different abilities and different personalities are necessary for a well-rounded society. The
issue here is not to compel people to live in a borderless world, but to explore the wisdom
of living cooperatively in a messy world with borders. The Buddha would say that our
world is better because we have challenges. That is, solutions can only be had with
conflict. The idea of the NSK is provocative, but it places a mental burden on people to
erase physical borders that will never disappear. Even if all physical borders can be torn
down, leave it to people to find a reason to constantly create new barriers. What the NSK
fails to realize is that the barriers to peace and harmony lie within ourselves. Unless we
begin by tearing down the barriers within ourselves, there can be no utopia.
(Eisei Ikenaga)