A uniquely soporific streak

18 July 2012
Only in en
Sarajevo Notebook remembers the siege obliquely; Merkur plumbs the depths of tedium; Dublin Review of Books re-assesses the right to know; Free Speech Debate defends the losers of Olympic IP law; Roots returns to a perennial question; Polar syllogizes cities; Osteuropa looks warily at the cultural messianism of Russkiy Mir; Blätter rises to the global-social challenge; Krytyka Polityczna talks to artists with crazy ideas that might just work.


In Sarejevo Notebook, Bosnian novelist Alma Lazarevska remembers the siege of Sarajevo obliquely, as the background to a personal loss unconnected to the plight of the city. Lazarevska thereby implicitly critiques the politicization of the siege, which marks its twentieth anniversary this year.

Lazarevska’s account begins with the memory of an everyday scene – her young son and his friend playfully counting their teeth (counting figures strongly in the story) – that takes place on a “relatively calm day” during the siege. Only later, when the siege is over, does it emerge that the friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Her own son, later still, is mysteriously affected: during a fit, he emits a sounds that reminds her of “the way one rips up a newspaper or a book. I used to hear that sound in the siege. We burned books then, to heat our flats. Ripping apart their stiff spines.”

The fate of the boy and that of the city are thus unconnected but also, through association, somehow connected. “I’m not certain whether what I want to say is a part of what I am writing about,” writes Lazarevska. Indeed, this is no conventional dramatization. Elsewhere, the author has said that she avoids the name “Sarajevo” because she feels that the name has been emptied of significance, preferring instead “the city under siege”. In the story, her alienation from the depiction of the siege is finally made explicit:

“11,541 is the official number of the citizens of the city under siege who were killed. Those who did not survive the siege. Today it shimmers on the screen, on almost every channel. 11,541. When they ask you, that’s what you can tell them. Eleven thousand five hundred and forty-one. But while I look at the number, I keep thinking of the day when one boy came through the courtyard to see another, and when I almost said, “But your tooth is all…”

The neighbourhood of words: Authors discuss issues around the reading, translation and perception of south-Slavic classics outside their national canons. How are Andric, Kis, Selimovic, Krleza, Presern and others interpreted and labelled in not-their-own literatures?

The full table of contents of Sarajevo Notebook 37-38 (2012)


German politics has been and continues to be defined by a uniquely – and uniquely conservative – soporific streak, writes Zeit correspondent Thomas E. Schmidt in Merkur. Angela Merkel embodies this aspect of German political culture better than anyone else, disproving Joseph Schumpeter’s prediction that future democracies would be marked by charismatic leaders.

“Merkel demonstrates that, for now, the future belongs to the inconspicuous and that, in Germany, charisma emerges as anti-charisma; or at any rate, that its expression need not conform to the familiar semantics of European power. At the same time, Schumpeter’s prognosis has been borne out, insofar as Merkel’s chancellorship in many respects resembles a presidency. The atrophy of democratic participation, the partial default of institutions in the course of European integration – all that needs to be compensated for with the continual extension of responsibilities, not to say phantasm of complete authority. The physicist wants power, but couldn’t care less about its symbols.”

Despite the reassuring tedium, however, there’s a storm brewing in German politics. After all, there’s a lot at stake: “Europe, the future of the sovereign nation, our money, both the currency as well as our savings, in the long term even whether we remain a western oriented parliamentary democracy and market economy.” Avoiding unsavoury things like rioting (Athens), technocratic government (Rome), social romanticism (Paris) and financial excesses (London) “is the basic demand placed on German politics, and this politics would essentially a different one if it were no longer to succeed in transforming uncertainties into manageable risks”. But is it the Germans who are living in dreamworld? Schmidt is undecided.

The full table of contents of Merkur 7/2012


As the Leveson Enquiry into the UK phone hacking scandal draws to a close, the future of a new regulatory body remains controversial. In a review of a book about the scandal co-written by British Labour MP Tom Watson, Dublin Review of Books editor Enda O’Doherty looks at the historical development of the popular and quality press in Britain and the recent blurring of the boundaries between them. Responding to the argument that both tabloids and qualities are in the business of revealing secrets, O’Doherty writes:

“The fact is that in the Murdoch/hacking affair, it was to a large degree the persistent digging of journalists like The Guardian‘s Nick Davies which revealed the true extent of the abuses and ensured that the story did not go away, as so many powerful people wished it to. Both the News of the World and the Guardian may be in the business of revealing, of telling people something they do not know and which some would prefer if they never knew, but their activities, certainly in this case if not in every one, cannot be viewed in the same moral light. Revealing is not always morally an identical act: it depends on what is being revealed and what purpose and what benefit to society the revelation has.”

Obscenity and literature: Joseph M. Hassett returns to the obscenity trials of the US publishers of Joyce’s Ulysses: the first in 1920, when the publishers were found guilty, the second over a decade later, when they were vindicated. The opinion of John Butler Yeats (the father of William), who acted as a defence witness in the first trial, still rings true in the face of renewed calls for obscenity legislation (witness Rick Santorum’s promise to clamp down on pornography): “The whole movement against Joyce and his terrible veracity, naked and unashamed, has its origin in the desire of people to live comfortably, and, that they may live comfortably, to live superficially.”

Irish history: As the Republic of Ireland enters a commemorative decade, DRB contributes to the wave of historical re-assessment with three articles with a centennial theme: Frank Callanan on the Third Home Rule bill of 1912; John Borgonovo on the Black and Tans, the British auxiliary police during the war of independence from 1919 to 1921; and John M. Regan on terror in Ireland from the Easer Uprising of 1919 to the Civil War in 1922.

More about Dublin Review of Books


In Free Speech Debate, Teresa Scassa reports that IP legislation allowing the Olympic organizers to control the “association” of the games with approved products is now required by the IOC as a condition of a successful bid – and is increasingly common in other sporting events as well.

Organizers’ argument that they must protect sponsors’ exclusive right to advertise might not seem unreasonable. Yet while major corporations will find ways around legislation, it is the small and local businesses that lose out, argues Scassa. “Major events are multi-stakeholder public spectacles. There is something fundamentally important about the ability of these stakeholders – governments, community members, local businesses, taxpayers, citizens, athletes and amateur sporting organizations – to make reference to a public event that involves and impacts them in various ways.”

The downside of open access: The impact of open access publishing models on the developing world is uncertain, writes Jorge L. Contreras. So-called “information philanthropy” that makes scientific content freely available to the South may be ineffectual – the relevance to research and practice in these countries is often minimal – and even detrimental, hindering the development of local knowledge. Similarly, northern journals operating the so-called “gold system” that offer discounts to developing world academics puts southern journals at a competitive disadvantage.

“Until information philanthropy is supplanted by self-sufficient, south-focused open access journals,” writes Contreras, “the potential of developing world scientists will not be fully realized.”

Also: David Kirkpatrick, the author of The Facebook Effect, talks about privacy, anonymity and whether the social network plans to go into China.

More about Free Speech Debate


In its tenth anniversary issue, Macedonian journal Roots re-states its liberal-minded and not in the least bit demagogic conviction that Macedonia has been maltreated by Greece in the notorious naming conflict. (To remind readers of Europe’s most intractable dispute: since 1991 Greece has vetoed the use of the name “Macedonia” by the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, couching its fear of Slav-Macedonian irredentism in cultural-historical ownership claims and systematically blocking FYROM’s entry into the EU.)

Denko Maleski observes ruefully that, at the moment of the nation’s greatest victory, independence, “the name issue became the new symbol of our defeat”. Predictably enough, those in Macedonia to benefit were the nationalist Right, who now had “a real case”; what followed was “a nationalistic revision of Macedonian history, with an accent on the previously neglected period of Ancient Macedonia, and a loss of interest for objective historical truth.”

In a dialectical twist, then, Greek claims are reasonable: that Macedonians abandon notions of a Greater Macedonia and accept the borders of the modern nation-state as created by the communists. “The hardest part of the bargain,” adds Maleski, “is that we have to renounce our mythology in order to allow Greek nationalism to incorporate the newly created Greek-Macedonian identity into Ancient Greek mythology.”

Paradoxes: Greek claims to the cultural legacy of Macedonia are, at heart, paradoxical, argues Valentina Mironska-Hristovska. Historical linguistic and cultural differences, along with ancient Hellenic disdain at the Macedonian “barbarians” (Demosthenes), are ignored; so too are the roots of Greek claims for cultural hegemony in the patronage given to Greece by the Great Powers in the eighteenth century.

Yet “the paradox in today’s Greek politics is even greater,” writes Mironska-Hristovska. Greece’s artificially constructed national identity “allows its citizens to be Greeks, Hellenics, Byzantines and Macedonians, which is in contrast with the Greek national stance that only Greeks live in the country of Greece, whereas other people and ethnic groups are nowhere to be found!”

The full table of contents of Roots 39-40 (2012)


Cities are defined not by numbers of inhabitants, square footage or population density, but by tensions, possibilities and controversies: writing in Polar, Ludger Schwarte calls the city an “assembly of the people”. Citing the historical-revolutionary role played by squares and boulevards, he observes the massive influence exerted by city architecture on how politics is played out:

Cities are not “gigantically inflated houses, they aren’t functional systems or built structures of command. The laws of the economy can never capture the city entirely. The architecture of a city not only creates the conditions for survival, for activity and for creation, but also provides a basis for confrontations, for spontaneous associations, for free action.”

Urban logic: The essence of a city lies in its “individual logic”, argues Martina Löw. “Formulated as a thesis, this means that, in cities, there form specific and distinguishable constellations of connected stocks of knowledge and modes of expression. Cities thus coalesce into relations of meaning that impact in various ways on people’s practices, in other words on their identity, their feelings, their attitudes and their thinking. Simultaneously and conversely, people reproduce through their practices the particular logic of the respective city.”

The ghetto: Although used extensively in the social sciences, the term “ghetto” lacks a precise definition. Loïc Wacquant explores the word’s implications of exclusion and inclusion, of being locked out yet safe, the combination in the ghetto of isolation from external influences and the intensity of cultural exchange within the community. The ghetto, writes Wacquant, figures both as shield and as sword:

“Ghettoes are the product of a mobile and tense dialectic between external enmity and internal proximity, one that expresses itself in ambiguity at the level of collective consciousness. For example, although European Jews protested strongly against being forced to settle in districts reserved for outcasts, they nevertheless felt a deep sense of community and appreciated the relative security that these districts provided, as well as the forms of co-habitation whose basis they represented.”

Coherent fragmentation: Its identity located somewhere between nostalgia and commerce, the dilapidated and the gentrified, the central European city mixes languages, words and signs to form a style best described as radical eclecticism, writes Levente Polyák.

The full table of contents of Polar 12 (2012)


In Osteuropa, Alan Renwick makes a minute analysis of Hungary’s new electoral system, which passed through parliament in December 2011 with a two-thirds majority. The previous, highly complex “mixed” system, for a long time considered the most stable electoral law in eastern central Europe, has been substituted by one that underpins majotarianism and reduces the power of the parliament. “This is a clear case of electoral reform by elite majority imposition,” writes Renwick. “The changes are designed to serve the interests of the leading politicians in power, not the wider public.”

The fact is that, by manipulating the electoral law, Fidesz has cemented its position and in doing so endangered democratic values in the country, in which voter opinion is anyway highly polarized. More troubling still is that “in Hungary today, more than half of poll respondents profess no party preference at all”.

Russkiy Mir: Zaur Gasimov looks at the “cultural mission” of the Russkiy Mir Foundation, the organization formed by Vladimir Putin in 2007 to reconnect the Russian diaspora with its homeland. In 2010, the organization announced its purchase of a 4000 square metre piece of land in the centre of Paris, not far from the Eifel Tower, where it intends to build a Russian Orthodox Church complete with seminary. Gasimov examines connections between the conceptual roots of Russkiy Mir, which hark back to the ideas of the nineteenth-century slavophiles and the Eurasia movement, lumped together after communism with intellectual anti-westernism, and the “messianist cultural policy” that drives the foundation today.

Expressing a sense of community in language, culture and religion, Russkiy Mir “can be described as a top-down cultural-political project of the Russian elite,” writes Gasimov; the danger that the foundation might be abused to exercise poltical influence in Russia’s immediate neighbourhood is obvious.

The full table of contents of Osteuropa 5/2012


In the early 1970s, Niklas Luhman predicted that capitalism would become a self-referential system and that “global law would undergo a ‘regime change’ from normative expectation-types (politics, morality, law) to cognitive expectation-types (economics, science, technology)”, write Andreas Fischer-Lescano and Kolja Möller in Blätter. This process “would take place in the course of the transformation from the nation-state to the world society”.

Now that the transformation has taken place, global civil society must “overcome transnationalization blockades” and devote itself to establishing a “global-social law” based on alternative institutions and structures. The almost impossible challenge, as Adorno put it, “is not to let oneself be stultified either by the power of the others or by one’s own impotence”.

Green economy: While the political focus on environmental issues is positive, the weapon of choice is arbitrary, argue Barbara Unmüßig, Wolfgang Sachs and Thomas Fatheuer. Employing economic tools to slow down or even halt the exploitation of natural resources might help meet efficiency goals but won’t do anything to reduce inequality.

“Certainly, technological innovations and efficiency can point the way towards a more resource efficient, ecological economy. However none of the concepts of the green economy have yet to address the crucial questions of power and the distribution of wealth.” Since the economy won’t do the trick, the state needs more than ever to regulate industrial policies and stimulate research on environmental and sustainability issues.

Fragmented identity: Tension between the principles of human dignity and the sovereignty claims of nations is one of the fundamental conflicts of modernity, writes Seyla Benhabib. Numerous Jewish thinkers, from Hannah Arendt to Hans Kelsen, have been among those to have addressed this paradox. Benhabib examines the contradiction between equality and difference with reference to her own European-Jewish identity.

The full table of contents of Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 7/2012


Can art ever liberate itself from political influence? What kind of role should artists aspire to play in the socio-political context? Is genuine transformation in life, or its symbolic artistic representation, even possible? Big questions – posed by curators Artur Zmijewski and Joanna Warsza – that set the tone for an issue of Krytyka Polityczna drawing on interviews with artists exhibiting at the 7th Berlin Biennale (first published as “Forget Fear”, February 2012).

Recycling Sarrazin: Czech artist Martin Zet’s contribution to the Biennale is 60,000 unwanted copies of Thilo Sarrazin’s manifesto against multiculturalism, Deutschland schafft sich ab, which after the Biennale he intends to recycle (regardless of book-burning comparisons). The installation, writes Igor Stokfiszewki, has highlighted to what degree the exhibition now initiates political intervention with a view to radical change. “We no longer want to exhibit politics, we want to engage in it,” writes Igor Stokfiszewki. “That is why the key question of the Biennale is not ‘what kind of art do we need?’ but ‘what kind of politics do we want?'”

Agit-prop: Srdja Popovic, founder of the Serbian non-violent resistance movement OTPOR, gives an account of the formation of the group by eleven Belgrade students who resisted Slobodan Milosevic’s regime initially with graffiti, and subsequently on a far larger scale through political satire, performance art and street games. In 2000, OTPOR staged an event flagged as a rock concert, at which the names of all those killed under the Milosevic regime were displayed on a large screen to an astonished and instantly subdued mass audience.

Inverted Zionism: Israeli video artist Yael Bartana outlines her ideas for re-establishing direct, personal links between Israelis and Poles, to help overcome existing prejudices on both sides. Her Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland aspires to encourage an “inverted Zionism, something that it might have been and never was”. In extended interviews, Slawomir Sierakowski, Gideon Levy and Jan Tomasz Gross respond to Bartana’s proposal that 3 million Jews should return to Poland to restore a pre-World War II ethnic balance in what Sierakowski calls “the only country in the world where Adolf Hitler’s dream of a single race, a single culture and a single language has been realized.”

Artists for peace: Pawel Althamer argues for sending artists to the world’s conflict zones to “create a stir, energy, inspiration and creative ideas” and disrupt rituals of murderous conflict. “Artists engage in internal conflict constantly. An external presence can defuse a violent situation and initiate an exchange of information.”

The full table of contents of Krytyka Polityczna 30 (2012)

Published 18 July 2012

Original in English
First published in

© Eurozine


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