On Wednesday morning, the message appeared that artist Tinkebell had been arrested. I know her, we have become friends over time, I once made her a cat out of a bag (as an animal-friendly alternative to that scary cat handbag). In the years that I have followed her, she repeatedly showed double standards in factory farming, demonstrated during the Houseplant Tour how tax evasion works in business and she also had herself sterilized as a protest against the imminent phosphate shortages. And then there was the powerful Flora Tata Metallica series, in which she tried to address the pollution of the steel giant with the help of the toxic metal dust from the environment of Tata Steel.
You never know what the next project of such a mildly maniacal world savior is. Last week she announced via her social media that she would travel to Lesvos to bring things to the people in the Moria camp. And that’s where it went wrong. She was arrested by the local authorities for giving food and drink to some newly arrived boat refugees.
My family, who also know her by now, called incessantly yesterday. Is she okay? Is she intimidated? Fortunately, halfway through the afternoon, the redeeming message came. She was released. Didn’t sleep at night, didn’t get any food or drink. For a moment I felt relieved, but that was soon over. Because there was still a country where giving water and bread to exhausted people was fined five thousand euros. You can still get 25 years in prison somewhere in the European Union if you try to save refugees from drowning.
The more I thought about it, the worse it got. I already knew the fork was crooked, but Tinkebell’s arrest shook me awake. And she was still lucky. Because she happened to be born in a country where, when a citizen (preferably white) gets into trouble abroad, the entire embassy is immediately sent there. No idea what happened to the people she gave them some food and drink.
Sometimes my heart gets cold. That it is apparently policy again in 21st-century Europe to leave people to their own devices. That we are on a continent where in certain areas humanity is punishable, and mercy is considered criminal behavior. That you face a punishment if you do something for people who are at the bottom of existence. Well, apparently we live in such a time.
Ellen Deckwitz writes an exchange column with Marcel van Roosmalen here.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of October 14, 2021