A heart-lung machine for Europe

24 October 2012
Only in en
Osteuropa positions Russia between upheaval and regression; Blätter takes the threat of a Greek Weimar seriously; Revolver Revue gives the word to two rebels of Czech letters; Nova Istra slams political escapism in Croatia; Fronesis revisits Marx and the coloniality of labour; Studija gets nostalgic about Lithuanian flower power; and Vikerkaar reads Russian-Baltic writing from nowhere.


“The evidence is clear: Russia is divided. The only question is how often”, write the editors of Osteuropa. According to Richard Sakwa, the interaction between the constitutional and patrimonial state is what provides the key to interpreting post-communist developments:

“This dynamic tension precludes assigning Russia simply to the camp of authoritarian states in an essentialist manner, but it also means that Russia’s democracy is flawed, above all because of abuses in the rule of law and the lack of political competition conducted on a level playing field. […] The rule of law in Russia remains fragile and is susceptible to manipulation by the political authorities, but neither has a fully-fledged prerogative state emerged. Thus Russia remains trapped in the grey area between an administrative and a genuine constitutional state. This is what endows Russia with the features of systemic stalemate.”

Change: Russia is a divided and segregated society cursed by its size, writes Lev Gudkov, drawing on Richard Rosen’s typology of a pre-modern, modern und anti-modern nation. While modern, urban Russia is oriented towards western Europe, the anti-modern stratum tends towards orthodox fundamentalism and nationalism. The Putin regime derives its support from anti-modern Russia. Since fair elections are unlikely any time soon, Gudkov’s perspective is long-term; nevertheless, regime-change will depend on the existence of a modern bureaucracy:

“Looking at the generational cycle of transformation, one can infer that in 2024, the hypothetical end of Putin’s time in office, a counter-expertise and corresponding organizational structure will be in place. However, the necessary preparations in this direction need to be begun soon.”

The full table of contents of Osteuropa 6-8/2012


Are we seeing a repeat of Weimar Republic-type politics in Greece? Antonis Samaras’ recent warning to that effect isn’t to be dismissed, argues Michael Oswald in Blätter:

“The fragmentation of the party system has caused a dramatic erosion of the political centre. The government’s acquiescence to the austerity measures of the Troika has divided Greek society. While one part places its hopes for social justice in leftwing politics, the rise of the Right has brought increasing violence towards immigrants. Before the crisis, Racist attacks were one-off incidents; but in the last six months, there have been over 500, according to figures provided by the Greek association of immigrant workers.”

Broken Europe? Peter Bofinger welcomes Mario Draghi’s green light for the ECB to purchase sovereign bonds from crisis-hit euro-zone member states – and criticizes the “Berlin consensus” that lead the eurozone into its current, existence-threatening situation in the first place: “The European Central bank is currently acting as a gigantic heart-lung machine for a completely dysfunctional financial system. Arguing for it to be switched off means to approve risking a chaotic end to the monetary union.”

Judith Butler: In her acceptance speech for this year’s Adorno Prize, Judith Butler addressed Adorno’s famous dictum, “Is there a right life in the wrong one?”. Blätter reprints the speech in full: “The question of the right life in the wrong one implies that we continue to think about what a right life might look like, albeit no longer exclusively in terms of the good life for the individual. When there are two such ‘lives’, my own and the right one, then the one is implied in the other. […] If we admit we need one another, the we acknowledge the basic principles of the social and democratic conditions of what we might call ‘the good life’.”

The full table of contents of Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 10/2012


“It is the duty of the political commentator to be independent of every kind of political pressure and every siren song of power,” writes literary critic and political scientist Bohumil Dolezal in Czech quarterly Revolver Revue. “However, this doesn’t mean it is his duty to be impartial; on the contrary, he must be on the side of what is right against what is wrong, of good against evil, of the civilized against the uncouth.”

Dolezal – the recipient of the 2011 Revolver Revue Prize, “for his unwavering and unbiased criticism, practised for decades across changing regimes, circumstances and genres” – wrote famously uncompromising literary reviews between 1965 and 1969. After being blacklisted, he spent the next 20 years working as a fitter and studying Czech political thought, developing into an equally uncompromising political analyst. Journalist Adam Drda writes in his laudatio that, “in a country where being critical without mincing one’s words is taken as a sign of personal hostility, or indeed as being impelled by ulterior motives, Dolezal’s rigorous independence (and therefore normality) comes across as continual provocation. This is exacerbated by the fact that the author is often witty.”

A final rant: An accompanying DVD features the Last Lecture of another enfant terrible, Egon Bondy (aka Zbynek Fischer, 1930-2007). The poet-cum-novelist-cum-philosopher delivers a 30-minute rant a few months before his death in voluntary exile in Bratislava. Bondy was a seminal figure of the Czech literary underground, whose poetry featured in songs by the dissident punk band The Plastic People of the Universe; he was also an unrepentant Marxist and, as it transpired after 1989, a long-time police informer. Sounding incoherent and lucid by turns, a dishevelled Bondy rehearses arguments from his 1967 book The Consolation of Ontology: “We just have to take the first step today, which is to admit that we basically don’t know what we’re talking about.”

My father, the communist: Tereza Marecková reviews Jan Burian’s book Undesirable Returns, a searingly honest attempt to understand the complex personality of his father, E. F. Burian, who became a staunch Stalinist after WWII. She suggests that what makes the son’s attempt to “reconstruct and interrogate the myth” of this legend of pre-war experimental theatre and anti-Nazi resistance so compelling “is that he doesn’t attempt to hide behind a cloak of objectivity, but rather allows the readers a glimpse of his difficult struggle to respect his own father”.

The full table of contents of Revolver Revue 88 (2012)


In Nova Istra, Fahrudin Novalic locates the impacts of global economic crisis on Croatia outside the purely economic sphere, in a complex of socio-economic and political factors driven by incompetence, criminality, and the failure of democratic systems to confront the problems. “More than three years after the start of the crisis, the government is slow to learn and quick to forget,” he writes. Instead of mobilizing its forces to address the situation it has taken refuge in a kind of “political escapism”. If the crisis is to be overcome, he concludes, there must be recourse to “the universal and cosmopolitan values of democracy, social justice and professional competence”.

Literature and politics: Egyptian poet Rifaat Sallam discusses in interview the problems of the writer in an unfree society. The Egyptian state, fearful of liberal aspirations amongst intellectual and writers, had recourse to “bribery”, he says: “Prizes were instituted, various committees staffed with well-rewarded artists were established, voyages abroad to attend various meetings were funded. In this way, the state succeeded in dissolving and isolating particular literary groups, fragmenting and extinguishing their aspirations towards freedom and democracy.”

Baroque ‘n’ Roll: “Deep Purple weren’t just a band, they were a way of life”, writes Tanja Bakic, who traces the turbulent history of the group and its members from inception to the end of their glory years. Efforts to revive the band have met with limited success. Still, says one member, there are still “fans who tell me, ‘I grew up with your music'”. “Many throughout the world could reply, ‘Weird! Me too'”, writes Bakic.

The full table of contents of Nova Istra 1-2/2012


In Fronesis (Sweden), Manuela Boatca argues that – pace Marx’s post-colonial critics, who found in him the marks of orientalism and eurocentrism – the “coloniality of labour” is the central feature of the “true Marx”. Acknowledging the problematic nature of his certainty about capitalism’s role in hastening proletarian revolution in India and China – widely critiqued as an exculpation of colonialism – Boatca turns instead to Marx’s writings on Ireland and Russia as “explicitly non-evolutionist, anti-colonial and tellingly concerned with class struggles commonly not awarded revolutionary potential within historical materialism”.

“As a framework for studying the continuities between structures of domination, the historicized and encompassing notion of ‘coloniality of labour’ could help analyse the ongoing link between labour forms and specific racial groups after the abolition of slavery in the Americas as well as the pauperization of both freed slaves and freed serfs in the Americas and eastern Europe. At the same time, it allows us to distinguish between the pauperization of agricultural workers in the global periphery as opposed to the proletarianization of agricultural workers in parts of the global core while analyzing both as processes of the capitalist world-economy.”

The dark side of development: Rita Abrahamsen argues that the idea of “partnership” in development is a way of disciplining recipient countries via self-regulation. Partnership shifts attention from international injustices to local weaknesses, she writes, placing the burden of responsibility on the poor countries rather than on their rich counterparts or on international financial institutions. Mark Duffield discusses how the security of the rich world has become the overarching goal not only of trade and migration policy but also of international aid; and Omar Dahi argues that the Arab Spring was not only a protest against the region’s dictators but also against the market oriented paradigm of development that had been imposed by global institutions.

The full table of contents of Fronesis 38-39 (2012)


In Studija (Latvia), Egle Jocevicute draws on the concepts of “restorative and reflective nostalgia” (Svetlana Boym) to analyse the works of Lithuanian multimedia artists Neringa Cernauskaite and Ugnus Gelduga. “Restorative nostalgia takes itself very seriously and is exhibited in the form of national memory, while reflective nostalgia may be ironic, witty, controversial, and may exhibit itself via social and cultural memory.”

In the exhibition Now more than ever, the artists play with the possibilities of “reflective nostalgia” to open up a new perspective on Lithuania’s “spring of ’72”, the date marking the culmination of the countercultural protest movement in Soviet Lithuania in the self-immolation of a man named Romas Kalanta. The artists, writes Jocevicute, deconstruct and re-contextualize those months by means of video installations, “nostalgic” background music and photographs. The events of 1972 “could have become the cornerstone of patriotism” but they failed to do so. Neringa’s and Ugnus’ “reflective nostalgia explains the reason for this failure by demonstrating the casual contradictoriness of the era”.

Charismateria: Egle Jocevicute interviews the curators of the “Mindaugas Triennial”, a performance and film festival that recently took place at the Vilnius Contemporary Art Centre. “Mindaugas” – the most common male name in Lithuania and also the name of Lithuania’s first and only king – “is a person like you and me” and the “channel” of the artistic contributions, say the curators. The concept of “charismateria” that formed a central part of the programme was intended as a way to counter the anti-theatrical tendency in contemporary art, they explain: “concept-driven” performances were contrasted with performances that presented charisma as the prime material for creation.

The full table of contents of Studija 5/2012


In Vikerkaar, Lithuanian literary scholar Taisija Laukkonen discusses Russian-Baltic writing, in particular the novels of Lena Eltang (Lithuania) and Andrei Ivanov (Estonia). “The fact that the word ‘nowhere’ is the best way to describe the inter-cultural situation of Russian-Baltic novelists and their characters is evidence of their attempt to culturally assimilate distant territories, despite their geographical proximity to the Russian border,” Laukkonen writes.

The multiculturalism of the Baltic-Russian novel confers on its authors the title of innovators and guarantees them wider attention in the Russian scene and beyond, writes Laukkonen: “The Baltic-Russian author writes under double set of demands, both from the metropolis and the local public. Authors who gain the greatest success and recognition are those who combine their European identity with an interest in a specific cultural borderline situation. Their novels are more frequently translated into other European languages.”

The unofficial literary culture that thrived in the Baltic states during communism is another factor contributing to the vigour of contemporary Russian-language literature in those countries today, argues Laukkonen. The figurehead of nonconformist Russian culture in Estonia was the semiotician Yuri Lotman. Vikerkaar publishes a letter from Lotman to the Estonian novelist Jaan Kross, dated 1982, about the genre of historical novel, which he treats as a hybrid between two major narrative types: myth and history.

European dis-Union: Too big to fail? Too crisis-hardened to go under? The collapse of the Soviet Union has something to teach Europe’s politicians if another leap from the unthinkable to the inevitable is to be avoided, argues Ivan Krastev.

The full table of contents of Vikerkaar 9/2012

Published 24 October 2012

Original in English
First published in

© Eurozine


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