Festival of truth

How nice it is to be invited to the ‘Festival of Truth’, the annual event of the newspaper of the Dutch Communist Party, De Waarheid (‘The Truth’). Behind the microphones, we see a handsome young man with a chinstrap beard and a mysterious tattoo peeking through his half-unbuttoned shirt. He is the announcer for the festival. The word ‘Vrede’ (‘Peace’) is partly hidden by his head and by two flags the red communist flag and the Dutch tricolour—flapping on either side. In those days, the Festival of Truth not only promised to be a lot of fun for the public, but it also offered inspiring performances and a mass sing-along of the Internationale. It was also an occasion for discussing political matters and promoting the Party’s ideas. In that respect it was a party and congress combined.

Van Genk’s fascination with anything to do with communism is evident from the many works featuring Dutch party bosses and their activities, as well as Russian Zeppelins and Soviet-made locomotives and aircraft. Even before Van Genk ever visited Moscow, he created splendid panoramas of the intriguing city. He also painted pictures of Prague and of the impressive First of May Parade on Moscow’s Red Square. Lenin is one of his favourite historical figures, and the letters CCCP and USSR seem to be tucked away in every little corner of the complex painting.

The question of what it was about communism that so fascinated him remains unanswered, however. This work is predominantly about the festival and the fame of Soviet Russia, but he accompanies these aspects with sketches of all kinds of historical atrocities that he associates in some way or other with the Soviet system. He lists a long series of concentration camp names as well as the Czech town of Lidice, where the Nazis assassinated the entire population in reprisal for the failed attack on SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich in Prague. Another place mentioned is ‘Yekaterinenburg’ (‘Yekaterinburg’), where the last Tzar and his family were executed. These many references are combined with the Bastille and with Joan of Arc, whom Van Genk portrays burning at the stake, surrounded by priests.

It could be that, in Van Genk’s view, torture, murder and crime are integral to every political system, including that of the Catholic Church, and that all he can do is to inventory all the atrocities as best he can. His purpose is not to tackle the problems or even to take a standpoint, but to document everything for his own benefit.

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