Geert Lovink on Fri, 4 Oct 96 22:14 MET

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nettime: Estonian Internet/Poetry Scandal

Date: Fri, 4 Oct 1996 15:25:31 +0000

The Case of Sven Kivisildnik
Or how the conceptual poet of Internet became a scapegoat of Estonia
Lecture at the Media & Ethics Conference, MUU Festilval, Helsinki,
september 1996.

By Heie Treier (Tallinn)

This text consists of the following parts:
1) Introduction
2) Who is Sven Kivisildnik? Background of his poetry and activity,
EK$ or Estonian Kostabi $ociety, newspaper "Kostabi"
3) The Internet scandal in Estonia. Summer, 1996. Facts
See: "The Soviet Estonian Union of Writers - in 1981, of Importance" by
Sven Kivisildnik. Address:
4) Aspects. Interpretation.
Internet address of Kivisildnik: SVENK@POSTIMEES.EE

1. Introduction
While in Western capitalist countries information dominated society has
developed gradually during several decades, people in East Europe
(postcommunist countries) have found themselves overnight lying in the
info society (so-called open society). Computers, faxes, xerox
machines etc. have been available for us since early 1990s only, as
well as respective theoretical literture. While in the beginning people
were afraid of computers, now life is unimaginable without them.
People have learned to use computers technically, but sometimes they
have not learned the new models of behaviour and thinking.
In a way some parts of the society are still "innocent" which is
dangerous. It means that certain groups of people like criminals have
been more successful in learning the lessons of info society. They have
been more fast and had greater motivation than police. Other dangers
stem from corruption, local and Western business sharks whose
refinement is sometimes admirable. Estonian literary theorist Hasso
Krull made a remark: we find ourselves suddenly living in the middle of
Jurassic park.
But even poets of younger generation have been more fast in learning
the lessons of info society than the police. Here is the story about
the conceptual poet Sven Kivisildnik whose poetry has recently caused
the greatest Internet scandal in Estonia. Kivisildnik, like other poets
Andrus Kiviraehk and Peeter Sauter have been most active in testing the
tolerance of the society with the help of media.
They have caught the point of this kind of provocation even better than
visual artists some of whom still follow esthetical ideals.

2. Who is Sven Kivisildnik?
Sven Kivisildnik is a nice person living in Tartu, the well known
university town in central Estonia. He started activities in the late
1980s when things began to happen in the Soviet politics. So it means
that by that time he had experienced the whole package of Soviet
brainwash during his most sensitive formative years as a teenager and
student. That may be considered the starting point of his later
creation and provocation.
For example, his poetry book "Wet, Viktor" (EK$, 1989) refers to the
most well known Estonian communist Viktor Kingissep, fanatic, who died
as a martyr of his ideals in the 1920s. His corpse was drowned in the
Gulf of Finland - he had found a wet grave. "Wet, Viktor" is a playful
game with words. It's monotonous like rave music or a speech at the
communist party congress. All words stem from the early, most "sacred"
poetry classics of Estonia. The book is designed in the manner of a KGB
file where even the stenogram of the poet's heart is preserved. Poetry
has been translated into South Estonian (Voru) dialect.
The latest engenious book by Kivisildnik bears the title: "Like a
Poisonous Red Mushroom for an Ox" (841 pages, EK$, 1996). It is
dedicated to the Chetchen patriot Dzohhar Dudajev (who had served as a
Soviet army military in Tartu during the Soviet time) and the cover is
red all over. The design of the book is "a documentary" again: it
consists of finger prints like in criminal file. The whole poetry has
been created on the bases of Estonian poetry classics that most of
Estonians know by heart since elementary school. For example, a
romantic beautiful poetry:

Sireli, kas mul onne, sireli sireli. Sireli mulle ja sulle, sireli
(Lilac, will I have luck, lilac, lilac. Lilac, luck for me and you).
Lilac has turned into the poetry by Kivisildnik that in Estonian
language also refers to S. Dali:

PiDali oppige! PiDali! paehe! PiDali PiDali
(Please replace here the 'Pi'-sign: Lepracy Study! Lepracy! By heart!
Lepracy Lepracy)

Lepracy was the mediaeval dangerous desease like a computer virus or
aids is nowadays. It's dangerous to be "innocent" living in the middle
of deseases and viruses. The poetry of Kivisildnik has los innocence
and the person who reads it must feel uncomfortable.
The most recent poetry Kivisildnik published in Vikerkaar 7/1996 deals
with another "negative sign", Estonia ferry catastrophy that took place
in 1994. Kivisildnik mixes  cruelly the meanings of the word Estonia:
Miss Estonia and Estonia ferry, so you cannot take either of them
seriously any more. Neither the catastrophy, nor beauty contests. This
is meant to be a psychoterapy, self protection against the two great
aggressive media events.
Actually, EK$ - the publisher of books by Kivisildnik mean Estonian
Kostabi $ociety. In the late 1980s Sven Kivisildnik co-operated with a
group of poets in Tartu who founded the Estonian Kostabi $ociety - it
was meant both ironically and extremely seriously. The name of the
$ociety refers to a provocative artist and media figure living in New
York, Kalev Mark Kostabi (b. 1960). His both parents  are Estonians
living in LA and his first name Kalev is the name of the most mythical
Estonian epic hero ever known (Kalevipoeg / the Son of Kalev). Kostabi
has become known as an owner of the studio Kostabi World in 600
Broadway, NYC, and he is beforehand known as a painter who does not
paint his own works. Kostabi has managed to become rich and famous
(which are main cliches he usually stresses in interviews), especially
in the USA, Japan and Italy. He is beloved in Estonia. His personal
utopy is to be able to make the world a better place to live in. One
model for Sven Kivisildnik's "Mushroom..." book has been Mark
Kostabi's 528 page, several kilograms weighing mega-book "Kostabi: The
Early Years" (1991).
In 1991 poets in Tartu founded an alternative cultural newspaper
"Kostabi" where Kivisildnik worked as an editor and writer. The
newspaper appeared irregulary and was extremely successful in the
beginning. Yet, it was closed in 1993 because of economic troubles,
besides, there had been some conceptual troubles with poets of older

3. Internet scandal in Estonia. Facts
In 1990 Sven Kivisildnik had wrote a poem "The Soviet Estonian Union of
Writers - in 1981, of Importance". He had taken the list of members of
the Union of Writers and made it into a poem. The point is that
although some of the members were internationally very well known like
Juri Lotman, the founder of Tartu school of semiotics, several people
who belonged to the Union had no creation of their own - they must have
been either military journalists or spys of Communist Party who enjoyed
simply the priviledges of membership. This was a typical practice in
the Soviet Union. Now, Kivisildnik decided to make all the members of
the Writers' Union (156 in all) known, so he started to fantasize
information about these people. The poem turned out to be quite a
humorous one, but unfortunately he fantasies were more or less
insulting. The poem is a manuscript, it was never published.
In 1990 the manuscript of the poem received several positive reviews in
Estonian literary magazines. Six years later in 1996 Kivisildnik made
the poem available in Internet -
Here problems began. Two well known older poets from Tartu Hando Runnel
and Aivo Lohmus felt insulted in front of the whole world and accused
Kivisildnik of being not ethical. They sued Kivisildnik. On 6. June
1996 a criminal case was opened by the prosecutor Arvi Kungla, based on 
 129 chpt. 4 (badmouthing). Policemen searched the studio of Sven
Kivisildnik and having found nothing illegal acted quite primitively:
they arrested his computer, printer, modem and manuscripts. The poem
was eliminated from Internet. Policemen started to invest his writing
to find out whether it was poetry or an insulting text, they started to
study literary criticism etc.
This summer every single Estonian newspaper wrote about the case of
Kivisildnik. Obviously, arresting hardware was stupid and somebody
argued that policement should have arrested the head of Kivisildnik,
instead. At the same time Kivisildnik introduced himself as "the
favourite of thousands of people". Yet, he must have had a hard time -
his personal life became public (he discovered that he was secretly
followed by some guys, his telephone was listened to), the family and
kid suffered. He had become an official enemy of the state overnight.
Members of Estonian Pen-club wrote an article to protect him (Postimees
8. July 1996), several poets and journalists discussed Kivisildnik in a
positive way. Finally, there still remained   49 - behaving against
good manners.
Then, folklore was created. Kivisildnik was suddenly guilty of all
devices that are experience in the postcommunist society. Kivisildnik
was blamed to be a satanist, the one who had spread political leaflets
of the Russian extremist Zhirinovski in Tartu etc. In fact Kivisildnik
considers himself "an ethnofuturist", which is a very positive movement
protecting the oldest cultural layers and trying to unite them with the
most contemporary info society (his articles discussing the principles
of writing poerty). Ethnofuturism makes an attempt to purify
contemporary society from the hypocricy of the past.

4. Interpretation. Aspects

- In a relatively "innocent" society Internet is considered a mythical
force that is capable of anything. During 1990-96 the manuscript was
not available in Internet, and everything was OK. Troubles started only
after Internet was involved (1996). Yet the text is in Estonian
language and a limited number of people in the world can read it and
understand the point.
- Do societies need an enemy? NY art critic Kim Levin has analysed the
situation in the USA: before the end of the cold war the enemy had been
the Soviet Union. After the end of the cold war the enenies have become
artists. (Interview given to H. Treier, "Puehapaeevaleht" 22. Oct.
1994.) Examples in the USA are well known: Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres
Serrano, Hans Haacke. Actually, any country a recently its own examples
where artists have been considered "dangerous" and censored or even
- At the same time, usually only a certain type of art is considered
hurting: mainly a photo-based art perhaps because of its documentary
aspect. The scandalous poetry by Sven Kivisildnik was also based on a
document (list of the members of the Writers' Union).
- Argument that is usually used against certain artists is ethics. It's
true that contemporary world and especially media needs a new sense of
ethics. At the same time the code of reading new poerty (and art) has
changed. Things that seem unethical according to previous code may have
a totally different meaning in the new context. Artist should not be a
scapegoat of the society where real corrupt people go free unaccused.
- Poetry must be considered really important when the police pays so
much attention to it. Or has the author been simply a "safe" person to
turn attention to? Much more dangerous would have been to investigate
maffia crimes.
- Scandals feed media. While Sven Kivisildnik has fed journalists and
newspapers with his case, he himself has had troubles and expenses
only, being nailed to the virtual cross like in the painting Goya O
Boya" by Kostabi.
- The Internet scandal has brought healthily into consciousness new
problems related to media. Obviously Estonian police and lawyers act
from time to time according to the model of closed Soviet system (like
they did when arresting a computer), they also lack new legal laws and
models of reacting in certain cases. Hopefully, Sven Kivisildnik has
helped some people to get rid of "innocence" and tart to think about
the problems.

Heie Treier is an art critic in Tallinn, Estonia, editor of "Kunst"
magazine (Fax ++372-6 411 762)

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