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Photo: Karam Alhamad

Real Talk
Sanctioning Syria through the "Caesar Act" – why? for whom? against whom?


The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act AKA Caesar Act was adopted by the US-American Congress at the end of 2019 and put into action by mid-2020. It can be seen as a result of advocacy of Syrian NGOs, to exert pressure on the Assad regime, which still holds tens of thousands of political detainees in its power. However, it is compromised by Trump’s unilateral, unreliable, cynical way of doing politics; and one can challenge its effectiveness, as sanctions always tend to mostly hit the population, while the dictatorships manage to maneuver around them. Our panel will host experts, students and alumni from Bard College Berlin, to discuss the arguments for and against the sanctions. The panel does not intend to arrive at conclusive judgements, but seeks a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the dilemmas that we find ourselves in, on political, economic and humanitarian levels.

Program for the 16.11. Zoom/livestream event:

7 - 8 pm: screening of the pre-recorded Volksbühne panel, moderated by Sam Zamrik, with Nawara Alaboud, Karam Alhamad and Sohaib Alzoubi

8 pm: online response by Kristin Helberg

8.10 - 9 pm: online discussion on Zoom with audience that has registered - again moderated by Sam Zamrik


Real Talk is a new series at the Grüner Salon that boosts the visibility of the political discourse among the young, resistance-oriented, democratic and activist Middle-Eastern diaspora in Berlin and provides space for its debates. This series aims to focus on transnational realities and struggles between ‘here’ and ‘there’; ‘then’ and ‘now’, differences that nationalism seeks to deny and erase, and that reveal themselves in the diasporas. The talks serve as a platform to explore the diaspora’s thoughts about and reactions to these realities. Real Talk gives Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi intellectuals and artists, as well as those of other nationalities, a platform to bring political topics to the stage, together with experts, in various discussion and/or artistic formats.

The programme is composed of lectures, short-films and panel discussions, as well as performances and concerts. The diaspora- and globe-spanning topics on its agenda include: civil society’s struggle for survival in the Middle East; re-claiming political agency; the political dimension of the (post-)traumatic; disappeared and missing prisoners; the fate of women in the revolution; and the experience of statelessness.

A cooperation between Bard College Berlin, the Volksbühne Berlin and the German Council on Foreign Relations.

Curator: Elodie Evers

Past Activities

Real Talk: One Day, we will hold them accountable. On the Documentation of Crimes against Humanity in Syria

Documenting violations of human rights and crimes against humanity, in the midst of war, death and destruction, is both an utmost priority and an enormous challenge for those who seek justice. The Syrian conflict ranges among the best-documented conflicts ever. Yet with no end in sight, the civilians and activists who have up to this day collected millions of photos and thousands of videos and casualty lists, are losing faith in international accountability mechanisms, despite the small steps that are being taken.

Exposing perpetrators represents a fight against their impunity, but it is unclear whether evidence obtained through the documentation groups’ creative use of technology will be admissible in court – especially given the risk of doctored digital files.
While Syrian groups can help fill the gaps by collecting evidence, it needs political, legal and juridical efforts to improve and enhance international accountability and to solve the deadlock at present.

In this event, a panel of activists and experts will discuss the following questions: Are there justice measures complementary to the longer-term goal of criminal prosecution that can be implemented today using this data? What is the role of the political players, the local and international forces in Syria? And what role can Syrian survivors/witnesses and civil society play in such initiatives? Special attention will be paid to the gendered aspects of these questions: The majority of the documentation activists are men. Also, the majority of documentation related activities are not able to reach out to women. Why? With what consequences? And how can we support more women-inclusive related work?

Real Talk: The Oblivious Tongue – Diaspora, Poetry, and Transnational Expression

I come from
no mother's womb.
I come from
no motherland.

My tongue knows
no mother language.
Motherless, haven't
a cause for to strive.

I have a thousand worlds
and one. I yearn for yet
one more.
I want the one that lays
between your golden ears.

(Integration by Sam Zamrik)

This is an event focusing on the theme of liminal existence, loss of identity and language, the active pursuits of expression in their spite, and poetry as a facilitator for that.

Alienation, whether social, legal, or literary, is a phenomena that has been prevalent throughout the modern era, and is becoming increasingly visible in a variety of circumstances that have demonstrable effects on the global population. The explosion of revolutions around the world, the modern refugee crises, and the destabilization of global politics all reflect their weight on everyday people. Sociopolitical marginalization and exclusionary politics have, since WWII, increasingly generated new populations for a class of outcasts and social dissidents. Such outcasts want a vessel to express their being at odds with the status quo and society.

The theme was inspired by several interdisciplinary discussions that took place in Bard College Berlin classes which allow its diverse student body to reexamine its place in history and community. A student at Bard College Berlin, Sam Zamrik took to the poetry of Gibran Khalil Gibran, Christina Rossetti, Erich Fried, the German Romantic, and English Decadent movements to isolate a thread of alienation and modes of idealistic strife against it. His upcoming collection of poems, titled "Sophistry of Survival," deals with the same thematic elements in an attempt to reconcile marginalization with the need for identity.

"Sophistry of Survival" (SOS for short) covers a range of topics including religion, social alienation, mental illness, diaspora, and "integration" in the form of limerick-like lyric poetry. Sam's reading will be followed by a panel discussion of Bard College Berlin faculty and students about transnational, transhistorical reading and production of poetry, and "tonguelessness," at the intersection of discipline and experience.

Reading from Sophistry of Survival, Sam Zamrik

Panel Discussion on Poetry in Exile, Writing without "Mother Tongue", and the Condition of the Alienated with Sam Zamrik, Jeffrey Champlin, Francesco Giusti and Ariane Simard. Moderation: Patty Nash

Real Talk: Political Diasporas and German Foreign Cultural Policy. Shouldn't they be Allies?

Panel: Najat Abdulhaq, Sohaib Alzoubi, Alexander Clarkson, Kristin Helberg a.o.
Moderation: Christin Lüttich

It is commonly known that governmental politics and civil society activism work according to differing mechanisms. And yet, in our current moment, when human rights and the rule of law are globally under attack, shouldn’t liberal-democratic governments like Germany’s ally themselves with democratic activists who have fled dictatorship and authoritarianism? In fact, the relationship between political diasporas and the political institutions of their host countries has always been dependent on a wide range of factors, a mutually stated commitment to human rights and liberty being one of them, but not counting for much at all in the political reality.

There are however multiple examples in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany in which exiled political groups worked together with German authorities, parties and unions, in order to achieve common cultural and foreign policy goals. The historian Alexander Clarkson (Kings’ College London) presents some of these cases, and asks from a historical perspective: Which forms did these collaborations take, and what favored or hindered them? What kind of hostilities were there between diasporic groups and German cultural and foreign policy authorities, when and why? And what do these examples imply for the ways in which cooperation is shaped, framed and enacted?

At the conclusion of Clarkson’s lecture, a panel of experts and diaspora artists and activists discuss what may be learned from the historical perspective, and whether political diasporas may be in a better or worse position today to collaborate with German foreign policymakers.

Najat Abdulhaq is a Palestinian scholar based in Berlin. Her book Jewish and Greek Communities in Egypt: Entrepreneurship and Business before Nasser was published in 2016. Besides her academic work, she has worked as a freelance consultant on the Middle East at different media outlets. Since December 2018 she is the Monitoring and Evaluation Officer in the MENA department at the renowned Danish NGO International Media Support.

Sohaib Alzoubi is a second-year student at Bard College Berlin and a civil society activist. He has worked with international NGOs on projects focused on Syria and has contributed to the establishment of a number of Syrian organizations (Olive Branch, Farah) and civil society coalitions (TAMAS, SHAML, Emergency Response Unit). He recently completed a research on governance systems in Syria in cooperation with the London School of Economics.

Alexander Clarkson is professor in the German Department at King’s College in London since 2007 and has a Ukrainian-in-Canada and British-in-Germany diaspora family background. He published a book on the history of political diasporas and German politics with Berghahn Books in 2013: Fragmented Fatherland. Immigration and Cold War Conflict in the Federal Republic of Germany 1945-1980.

Kristin Helberg is a German journalist and expert on Syria, and one of the most prominent analysts and commentators on the conflict in Syria these days. Her most recent, widely acclaimed book is Der Syrien-Krieg: Lösung eines Weltkonflikts, 2018. Right now she investigates the new Syrian diaspora in Germany with a fellowship by the Mercator Foundation.

Christin Lüttich (moderator) studied political science and is also an expert on Syria. She works for “Adopt a Revolution”, an independent initiative that supports civil society structures against dictatorship and religious fanatism in Syria.

Photo credit: Ludwig Binder

Real Talk: Justice for Syria and Universal Jurisdiction in Germany - What Can be Done?

A reality of life in Syria since 2011 is that anyone suspected of opposing the regime is at risk of arrest and arbitrary detention. This, alongside mortal danger from ongoing war, is among the reasons millions of refugees have fled the country. Thousands of people have died in custody in Syria’s torture prisons, and tens of thousands more have experienced torture. Many survivors of torture have sought refuge in Germany, and some are now fighting to achieve a measure of justice for the crimes committed against them, though their road towards accountability is legally and personally complex.

In Germany, cases are now being brought against individuals for crimes committed in Syria through the principle of universal jurisdiction. In March 2017, the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights together with 7 Syrian torture survivors as well as the Syrian lawyers Anwar al-Bunni (Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research) and Mazen Darwish (Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Speech) submitted the first criminal complaint against six high-level officials of the Syrian Military Intelligence Service to the German Federal Prosecutor. The criminal complaint targets six officials known by name and further unknown officials of the Syrian Military Intelligence Service. The claimants were tortured or witnessed torture in the prisons of the intelligence services.

In this event, a panel of activists and experts will discuss the legal and non-legal steps that could be taken in Germany to further advocate for criminal accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity. What are the legal steps and what’s coming next for the perpetrators? The panel and participants will also discuss how other activities, including campaigning, awareness-raising, storytelling and advocacy can contribute to the struggle for justice in Syria.


Franziska Brantner, member of the German Bundestag, spokesperson for European Policy and managing director of the parliamentary group Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen.

Hesham Moadamani, Syrian activist living in Berlin, co-manager of “Campus Conversations” at BARD COLLEGE BERLIN. Hesham offers educational walking tours through Refugee Voices Tours Berlin, which draw parallels between German and Syrian history and explain the so-called refugee crisis through personal experience.

Ameenah A. Sawwan, Syrian campaigner and activist, based in Berlin since 2016. Ameenah is currently working for the advocacy group The Syria Campaign and is a member of the Syrian Women’s Political Movement.

Andreas Schüller, director of the International Crimes and Accountability program at the ECCHR - European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

Moderated by Christin Lüttich, co-manager of Adopt a Revolution.

Photo from a demonstration on the international day of the disappeared organized by The Syria Campaign and Adopt a revolution in front of the Russian Embassy in Berlin on August 31, 2019. Photo: Mohammed Abdullah (Artino

Real Talk: On Changing Gender Relations in Yemen and its European Diaspora

Panel Discussion with Hisham Almahdi, Adeeb Hadi and Altaf Merzah. Moderation: Christin Lüttich

Approaches to gender relations often change dramatically when one leaves their home and lives in the diaspora. The move often means coming to terms with new perspectives in the most private realm – love and sex, reproduction and family, marriage and sexual identity – while at the same time still being affected by traditional society and family values. Individuals have to make choices that are still restrained and conflicted by their family networks. In exposing and discussing these conflicts it is crucial to leave stereotypes behind and create a conversation that is safe from racist and orientalist judgements.

This event aims to look at the case of gender relations in Yemen. The films and guest speakers discuss the strong influence of religion and tradition in the region, which always also depend on the political and economic forces at play. There is a golden rule in Yemen that "Men Should Provide," a rule that shapes a lot of other conventions and concepts, such as "Mahr" - the price of marrying a woman -, marriage, divorce, raising children and women's roles in the society. The organizers aim to address the deeper causes and consequences of Yemen’s conservative society's belief that any contact between the genders outside of marriage is haram (forbidden), and discuss both the changes in the last decades and possible solutions for the future. The event’s goal is not to attack the traditional models but rather to understand the reasons behind their effectiveness.

The event will open with the screening of two short documentary films that offer different interpretations of gender relations in Yemeni society: "Najmia - a Stranger in her Own City" (2015) by Khadijah Al Salami, and "The Voice of the Rainbow" (2018) by Tameem Amer. Then Christin Lüttich will have an in-depth conversation with three intellectuals, artists and students, two from Yemen and one from Iraq, about the films and their own journeys and experiences, navigating the conflicts and trying to live up to one's responsibilities. Adeeb Hadi, an Iraqi filmmaker and student at Bard College Berlin, will join their conversation and frame the two films in the discussion.


"حول تغيير العلاقات بين الجنسين في اليمن ومهجرها في أوروبا"



١٩:٠٠ تقديم وعرض لفلمين وثائقيين قصيرين:



"نجمية - غريبة في موطنها"(٢٠٠٥) إخراج خديجة السلامي.



"صوت قزح" (٢٠١٨) إخراج تميم عامر.



٢٠:٠٠ حوار تديره كريستين لوتيج مع كل من ألطاف مرزاح، هشام المهدي وأديب هادي.



يتبعه نقاش مفتوح وإجابات لأسئلة الجمهور.



غالبا ما تتغير مقاربات العلاقات بين الجنسين بشكل دراماتيكي عند العيش في المهجر. يتعين على المرء فهم وجهات نظر جديدة حول القضايا الأكثر خصوصية -الحب والجنس، النسل والعائلة، الزواج والهوية الجنسية- بينما لا تزال المجتمعات التقليدية والقيم الأسرية مؤثرة في حياته.



يتعين على الأفراد -أحياناً- اتخاذ قرارات صعبة ومتضاربة، وعند تناول هذه النزاعات والتعقيدات و مناقشتها فإنه من الضروري ترك التصورات النمطية وخلق حوار مجردٍ من الأحكام العنصرية والاستشراقية.



تهدف هذه الفعالية إلى النظر في حالة العلاقات بين الجنسين في اليمن، وتأثرها بكل من التقاليد والدين ودور القوى السياسية والاقتصادية في تشكيلها.



هناك قاعدة ذهبية في اليمن تنص على أن "على الرجل أن يُعيل"، وهذه القاعدة تقوم بتشكيل الكثير من المفاهيم والأعراف المجتمعية؛ كالمهر، الزواج، الطلاق، تربية الأطفال، وحتى دور المرأة في المجتمع.



نحن نسعى إلى النظر بعمق في الأسباب والعواقب المترتبة على إيمان المجتمع المحافظ بحرمة أي تواصل بين الجنسين خارج منظومة الزواج، ومناقشة التغيرات التي حصلت خلال العقود الماضية و الحلول الممكنة مستقبلاً. ليس هدفنا مهاجمة المبادئ المجتمعية أو إطلاق التهم عليها بل النظر الى الأسباب الكامنة وراء فاعليتها.



أولاً ، سنقوم بعرض فلمين وثائقيين قصيرين يتناولان العلاقات بين الجنسين في اليمن من منظورين مختلفين، بعد ذلك ستقوم كريستن لوتيج بإدارة حوارعميق مع ثلاثة مثقفين، فنانين وطلاب، يمنيان وعراقي، حول الفلمين رحلاتهم وتجاربهم الشخصية، استكشافهم للنزاعات و محاولاتهم في التعامل معها بمسؤولية. وأخيراً، سيتم فتح باب النقاش مع الجمهور.


Real Talk: On New Beginnings: Berlin's Arab Exile Body

Perhaps it takes an outside perspective, one familiar with the language born of the 2011 Arab uprisings and with the experience of so-called 'failed' revolutions to indicate new ways out of an impasse. Egyptian sociologist Amro Ali offers such a perspective: he recently penned an essay characterizing Berlin as an exile capital with enormous potential to be a meaningful political laboratory. The networks of exile have the potential to release immense intellectual and artistic energy into the city, yet the urge for fundamental political change that could emanate from it tends to fizzle out. The fragmentation and lack of political efficacy, which prohibit any capacity for action, raises the question: how could these Arab diasporic spaces overcome their paralyzing political despair and inactivity? Arab Berlin, after all, echoes what New York was for Jewish exiles fleeing Europe in the 1930s and 1940s or Latin American exiles making a home in Paris in the 1970s and 1980s.

In the first part of the evening, Amro Ali will present his ideas on the challenges facing the burgeoning of this political body, and propose a new type of beginning. A beginning for a political discourse in a new, revolutionary, but non-violent "language of consciousness" that respects the dignity of fellow human beings and seeks to enlarge their common space. A beginning through "poiesis" and “praxis” beyond the diaspora, to reach a place where an Arab exile body can enter a shared conversation with other communities.

For the audience, we will specifically invite people from very different political contexts familiar with practices of fundamental change.

In the second part, three young Syrian filmmakers and students from Bard College Berlin, Wafa Mustafa and Rafat Alkotaini, will respond by showing short films that shed light on the experiences of exile in Berlin – namely, political experiences with an existential dimension in which every human being that prizes thought can access. These artistic contributions might serve as examples of the despair that foments political stalemate and inactivity. They also might be seen as a counter-argument to Amro Ali’s ideas of agency, or even furnish what Amro Ali is asking for, a new beginning that is urgent yet cautious and aware of its vulnerability.

Real Talk: Accommodating the Devil. The Syrian Civil Society’s Struggle for Survival

19:00 Welcome: Marion Detjen
Introduction: Kristin Helberg

19:15 Panel Discussion with Christin Lüttich (Moderation), Karam Alhamad, Kristin Helberg, Zeidoun Alzoubi and Ameenah Sawwan
followed by responses and discussion with the audience

The revolution in Syria did not only try to get rid of Assad's regime. It also created a diverse landscape of civil society structures that allowed the population to sustain itself: schools, health centers, infrastructure projects, journalistic initiatives, and more. These grassroot structures survived the war and the sieges. But now they are facing annihilation: ever since the USA and other Western powers signaled their withdrawing from Syria, the grassroot organizations and NGOs have been threatened to remain without any means, and the volunteers find themselves squeezed between the terror of the regime and the terror of the Islamist groups.

How should we, how should free societies in the West act in this situation? A lively civil society here cannot be impervious to a dying civil society there. What is the current situation in the different regions of Syria? Can we even imagine an arrangement with Assad? Can Russia be moved to force Assad to secure at least a minimum of protection for the people in those areas? The evening will be framed by photos and posters from the revolution.

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