A centre receding

29 October 2014
Only in en
Glänta remaps migration; Wespennest heads north; Mittelweg 36 engages in animal politics; in Blätter Marc Engelhardt slams the snail’s pace of the Global North’s response to Ebola; Esprit discerns the rehabilitation of the public sphere in Mediterranean youth uprisings; in Letras Libres Mark Lilla asks if there’s a Plan B for non-democracies; Res Publica Nowa says that what Poland needs now is creativity; and A2 finds the morphing of lit crit into advertising copy distasteful.

Glänta 2/2014


The Italian navy operation Mare Nostrum has rescued an estimated 150,000 people from perilous Mediterranean crossings during the past 12 months. But this week Europe’s political community lurched into a discussion of the unintended “pull factor” in rescuing refugees and migrants at sea, after the UK said it would withdraw from funding future EU rescue operations.
Meanwhile, Glänta (Sweden) widens the scope of the public debate on migration once again, with the second of two issues devoted to the topic in 2014.

Hunger strike: Editors Amelie Björck, Göran Dahlberg and Linn Hansén write of their heightened awareness, as they travel to and from the Glänta office, when passing by hunger-striking Palestinians camped out in Gothenburg. The Palestinians are caught up in the limbo of having been served a deportation order even though it is impossible for them to be sent back to their country of origin. Denied work and welfare, their situation echoes the impasse confronting millions of people in refugee camps around the world.

Mapping migration, war and tourism: Cartographer Philippe Rekacewicz shows in the first of a series of maps how each year hundreds of thousands of migrants from the South travel northwards, while hundreds of thousands of tourists travel in the opposite direction. But, as a rule, their paths never cross; the occasional photojournalist’s shot of holidaymakers and shipwrecked migrants on the same beach in the Canary Islands supplying rare evidence of the exception that proves the rule.

An extract from Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s Counterpoint accompanies Rekacewicz’s map:

Here is a periphery advancing.
Or a centre receding. The East is not completely East
and the West is not completely West.
Because identity is open to plurality,
it isn’t a citadel or a trench.

Diaspora: Does anyone feel genuinely at home in the age of global gentrification? Probably not, writes Agri Ismail, certainly not if the experience of the Kurdish diaspora is anything to go by. But so long as a Swedish song plays in an Irish pub in a chain hotel in Kurdistan, a sense of security remains.

See also: The Eurozine focal point Beyond Fortress Europe.

The full table of contents of Glänta 2/2014

Wespennest 167 (2014)


The latest issue of Wespennest (Austria) shares a focus on the North with this year’s Viennese literary festival “Literatur im Herbst” (7-9 November). Editor Andrea Zederbauer notes in her editorial that the borders demarcating the North continue constantly to shift:

“The Greenlandic ice and the marine territories surrounding Greenland, for instance, will in the foreseeable future release large quantities of mineral resources. For the resident population of almost 60,000 people, the economic exploitation of these resources may mean great wealth linked to substantial ecological and social problems as well as territorial conflict.”

Issues that Zederbauer remarks are tangled up with the planting of the Russian flag on the North Pole seabed in 2007 — a stunt that belies the deep historical roots of shifting geographical, political and ideological standpoints in the region, as Kirill Kobrin reveals in an article on the Russian North.

Accustomed to otherness: In her opening speech at Literatur im Herbst, the text of which appears in this issue, Rosa Liksom paints a portrait of her home country Finland that is at once enchanting and richly informative:

“All over the world, border communities are very special environments. The people who live in them see and experience more than people who live in other places: they are accustomed to otherness, and that can make it easier for them to accept difference. My home community, as a border community, has always been a place of international encounters because the Tornio River, which forms the border between Sweden and Finland, flows into the Gulf of Bothnia, part of the Baltic Sea. Through the ages it has been the all-important passage along which the world’s travellers have arrived to find out about the mystical North.”

Without distance: The German Jewish author Esther Dischereit introduces her latest work, a radio play entitled Blumen für Otello (“Flowers for Othello”), about the acts of the German extreme-right terror cell known as the National Socialist Underground. Dischereit explains how in order to write the work, “I had to emotionally expose myself to an immediacy, without detachment, without distance” from the acts. Extracts taken from the bilingual German-Turkish print edition of Dischereit’s work also appear in this issue.

The full table of contents of Wespennest 167 (2014)

Mittelweg 36 5/2014


In Mittelweg 36 (Germany), Christina Müller contends in her editorial that it is simply impossible to imagine social life in Germany without the 31 million pet animals, 12 million cattle, 28 million pigs and 35 million laying hens. These alone outnumber what is currently thought of as the resident population. From guide dogs to police horses to laboratory animals used in medical research: animals are woven into the fabric of society, notes Müller. So why not give them citizenship?

The moral case: Will Kymlicka and Sue Donaldson argue that citizenship is precisely what “we owe to animals whom we have brought into society as a dominated caste”. The authors of Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights (2011) continue:

“Domesticated animals may not reflect on the norms they follow, or on the reasons for trusting and co-operating with us, but they are not unruly or brutish, and including them in the demos poses no threat of tyranny or chaos. Indeed, there are good reasons to think that including domesticated animals can actually strengthen our civic life. For example, in neighbourhoods where people have dogs and walk them, people tend to have higher levels of trust, are more likely to converse with neighbours, more likely to engage in civic participation, and more likely to have a sense of security. Where humans include domesticated animals in their sense of community, that community is stronger.”

Animals in parliament? Though scenes from the children’s book The Animals’ Conference (1949) by Erich Kästner are unlikely ever to be repeated in reality, Svenja Ahlhaus considers whether the burden of representation isn’t in fact misplaced in animal-human relations:

“It’s not so much that animals must have certain qualities to be capable of being represented as that their representatives must have certain capabilities and insights at their disposal in order to be able to represent animals at all.”

A learning process that Ahlhaus notes is already underway, given that the German Animal Protection Party and the Dutch Party for the Animals now each have a seat in the European Parliament. There remains, however, much ground to cover in reconsidering received notions of equality and belonging.

Also: Jan Philipp Reemtsma explains why animals cannot be liberated in their own name but rather, if at all, only in ours.

The full table of contents of Mittelweg 36 5/2014

Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 10/2014


In Blätter (Germany) Marc Engelhardt slams the snail’s pace of the Global North’s response to the largest ever outbreak of Ebola:

“Europeans seem unable to imagine what Liberians, Sierra Leoneans and Guineans are going through right now. There’s no other way of explaining just why it is that Transalls can fly weapons out to Kurdistan within days while in Brussels airport alone, 50 tons of food and aid must wait until such time as scheduled flights to West Africa resume. Meanwhile, hundreds of people are dying an agonizing death and likely infecting hundreds more thereafter.”

The head of Médecins Sans Frontières has said that only the military can get the epidemic under control. But Engelhardt suspects the deaths will continue to spiral:
“In the end, there’ll be far more than the 20,000 dead that the World Health Organization predict. Unless West Africans are lucky and the virus makes it to Europe or America and the deaths begin here too. Maybe then the planning stage will finally pass and action be taken at last.”

Birth of a degrowth movement? Can critiques of growth trigger a broad debate on “how prosperity and quality of life are to be achieved by all for all, in solidarity and democratically — without seriously jeopardizing the biophysical preconditions for humanity”?

For the political economist Ulrich Brand, this is the central question to ask about the latest discussions of degrowth. The answer will determine whether or not the concept turns into “a radical but politically inconsequential gesture of a younger and not-so-young ecolibertarian middle class with a poor feeling for socio-structural inequality and questions of power, that sometimes even harbours an elite lack of understanding of the masses who continue to be hooked on the needle of consumption and growth.”

The full table of contents of Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 10/2014

Esprit 10/2014


The rebellions in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as in Portugal, Spain and Greece during the spring of 2011 were no coincidence according to sociologist Hugues Lagrange. The enormous divides as concerns standards of life and political orientation in the Mediterranean region, writes Lagrange in Esprit, were neither here nor there:

“Beyond the simultaneity and the use of the same language (mainly via Facebook and Twitter), what unites the revolts on both sides of the Mediterranean is the profile of their actors: mostly young middle class people. This argument may seem trivial — the youth have always been the driving force behind revolutionary processes –, but it’s perhaps less so when one considers that during the last two or three decades, young people educated in northern Europe couldn’t mobilize around their specific problems.”

Though the demand for democracy at the core of the Arab Spring is utterly distinct from European aspirations, the desperately high unemployment rate among highly educated Europeans, and the Indignados in particular, as well as the highly educated protesters of the Arab Spring lies at the root of the protests. And their key achievement, concludes Lagrange, is this:

“From these movements there emerged a mobilization beyond traditional political parties. Here, the common traits of the movements of the Indignados and of the Arab Spring have to be accentuated. Both provided space for emotional encounters (Tahrir/Syntagma squares embraced a single emergent group) and political resymbolization. These epicentral squares didn’t remain anonymous but became new agorae, modern civic spaces. And these movements contributed to the rehabilitation of the public space.”

The full table of contents of Esprit 10/2014

Letras Libres 10/2014


“So the only sensible question to ask when thinking about today’s non-democracies is: what’s Plan B?” writes American political scientist Mark Lilla in Letras Libres (Spain).

The problem is, according to Lilla, that “our libertarian age” is incapable of coming up with alternative ideologies. Afflicted by severe hubris, we believe “that we no longer have to think hard or pay attention or look for connections, that all we have to do is stick to our ‘democratic values’ and economic models and faith in the individual and all will be well. […] Once we had a nostalgia for the future. Today we have an amnesia for the present.”

Moreover, libertarianism not only suffers from amnesia but also from becoming a dogma as a result of losing its ideological character. While an ideology can benefit from tweaking associated theories and rethinking revisions, a dogma does not require a lot of explication and amendments. “Since ideology makes a claim about the way the world actually works, it invites and resists refutation. A dogma, by contrast, does not. That is why our libertarian age is an illegible age.”

Communism and anti-Semitism: Romanian novelist Norman Manea sifts through the biography of the contradictory figure of Ana Pauker, a passionate Romanian Jewish communist leader and foreign minister in the 1940s and 1950s. Manea concentrates on the relation between Stalinism and hatred of Jews, “the specter of which now threatens to return.”

Also: French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut takes issue with Martha Nussbaum‘s excesses of tolerance in a conversation with Jaroslav Kuisz.

The full table of contents of Letras Libres 10/2014

Res Publica Nowa 27 (2014)


Res Publica Nowa (Poland) dedicates its latest issue to what the editors consider a long overdue discussion on the role of creativity and innovation in state entrepreneurship.

Beyond opera: Cultural Scientist Maria Karpinska describes in “DIY Opera”, how three young artists from Warsaw decided to produce an opera independently of established structures and funding systems. “The director aimed not only to go beyond the institutional frameworks of opera, but beyond opera itself, its negative connotations, the unnecessary distance it creates between the stage and the spectator.”

With a very low budget and mainly voluntary cultural workers, Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia was presented in a post-industrial space. “The success of the production lay in its implementation”, states Karpinska. Indeed, this kind of innovative initiative could be the salvation of an art form.

No picnic: Sociologist Helena Chmielewska-Szlajfer rediscovers the writings of Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz, a late-nineteenth century polish sociologist who theorized the social function of art, among other things. Kelles-Krauz considered art per se “free of ideas”, such that it cannot be bound to the social norms that might determine a given work as being either “sick” or “sane”, for example.

Here, a case in point is the controversy in Poland this summer over the staging of Argentinian playwright Rodrigo García’s 2011 play Golgota Picnic. Prominent artists led by film director Agnieszka Holland petitioned the Polish government to intervene and protect freedom of expression against religious radicals staging hostile protests outside theaters where the play was to be performed.

Chmielewska-Szlajfer remarks: “For some, the play conveys well the spirit of the ‘Western world’, for the others it is a calumnious representation of Christian symbols.” Thus different visions of the secularized West and received notions of Christianity continue to compete for hegemony in Poland.

The full table of contents of Res Publica Nowa 27 (2014)

A2 20 (2014)


A2 (Czech Republic) considers today’s mainstream literary criticism to have failed as a discipline once capable of shaping public taste.

Dialogue: Critic Karel Piorecky rails against a boundless collegiality and the lionization of authors. Piorecky argues that writers ought to understand that they are “part of a dialogue which, even if it stirs up controversy, is always more valuable than a cacophonic assemblage of monologues or collective masturbation, which is what hypertrophied authorship is starting to resemble. I am convinced that the cult of the author is not here to stay and that thanks to the discourse of post-digital art and culture, its pedestal has already begun to crumble.”

Slovakia: The situation is quite similar in neighbouring Slovakia where, as poet and literary critic Michal Rehus observes, reviews have become almost indistinguishable from advertisements for specific books rather than subjecting these to critical analysis. Serious reviewing has been driven into the small ghetto of a few specialized journals and is marked by “stagnation, self-satisfaction and a reluctance to confront — indeed a fear of confrontation.”

Commercial criteria: Rather than bemoaning the decline of literary criticism and civilized values, A2‘s literary editor Jan Belicek believes that this development should be seen as part and parcel of a global trend towards infotainment and a consequence of Amazon’s domination of the bookselling and, increasingly, publishing industry.

Whereas major German, French or English-language dailies can still afford to produce quality arts supplements, the tiny Czech market lacks that kind of resilience: “Advertising supplements which — out of habit — we still call arts supplements, have to meet commercial criteria and, most importantly, must not be stylistically provocative, putting off the mass readership, though it is of course okay to put off a few intellectuals.”

The full table of contents of A2 20 (2014)

Published 29 October 2014

Original in English
First published in

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