African football's final hurdle

9 June 2010
Only in en
Magyar Lettre writes on and from the borderless city of Pécs; Host munches on the literary Big Apple; A Prior takes a reflective turn; Blätter cheers for Bafana Bafana; Dilema veche sheds no tears for Romanian civil servants; Arena says Swedish foreign policy is a solo show; Reset tells the Lega Nord to get off its patch; Osteuropa looks at images of old age in eastern Europe; NLO deconstructs the open-closed dichotomy; Kulturos barai finds itself in a mock democracy; and Syn og Segn uncovers nationalisms in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Pécs, the university town in south western Hungary with its rich multicultural heritage, is one of the three European Capitals of Culture in 2010. To mark the occasion, Magyar Lettre Internationale publishes an issue dedicated to “The Borderless City” (Pécs’ slogan this year).

Peteris Puritis has been asked to compare Pécs to his own birthplace. Not an easy task, it turns out: he was only there for a day. Feeling like a “charlatan”, Puritis instead gives an unofficial guided tour of the many Soviet-era monuments in the Latvian town of “K”: “I’ve heard from several people that, in 1956, when Khrushchev unmasked the ‘exaggerations’ engendered by Stalin’s cult of personality, the statue of Stalin, erected after the war, was dismantled and transported three kilometres away to Melnezers Lake. The monument was then floated out to the middle of the lake and sunk. It’s not clear how this was possible, because there were neither ships nor rafts in the tiny lake. […] Yet I’ve heard from these same folks that, for a long time after, many people swimming in the lake had supposedly been able to feel Stalin’s head with their feet, and had even succeeded in standing atop the sunken statue.”

Imperial yellow: “The most noticeable similarity between my birthplace and Pécs is the colour: a yellow verging on beige, imperial yellow,” writes Austrian author Andrea Grill. “Both here and there, most of the houses in the pedestrian zone are painted like this, even though they have had plenty of time since the K+K monarchy to peel and be repainted. Admittedly, it’s not an ugly colour. It’s neither pleasant nor unpleasant. Home is where it doesn’t matter whether it’s beautiful or ugly, someone once said.”

Sixteenth century: An excerpt from the novel Turkish Mirror by Hungarian author Viktor Horváth, in which an old Muslim describes everyday life in sixteenth-century Pécs:

The bazaar here was called the piac, and at this piac, the pagan women not only sat around without an izar or some other veil to cover their faces, they were not even loathe to shout and quarrel, what’s more, they even laughed with their mouths open. To be sure, many serving women with covered faces came to this bazaar, but the ladies of Ottoman houses would do so only occasionally, and even then, only in the accompaniment of menservants. But there were plenty of German burgher women in kerchiefs, Hungarian farmers, wives of the Serb and Bulgarian soldiers, and all sorts of womenfolk whose identity at first glance I couldn’t have even guessed – Muslim and pagan, gipsy, all without izars, from the outer district of Siklós, Italians from Mill’s Corner, Jewish and Armenian merchants’ wives from Grand Street.

The full table of contents of Magyar Lettre Internationale 76 (2010)

In a themed section on literary life in New York City, Marek Seckar talks to Rachel Fershleiser, manager of the Housing Works Bookstore Café. Set up in the early 1990s to support poor New Yorkers with HIV, the Housing Works project soon included several second-hand shops selling donated wares of different kinds. One was the bookstore and café on Crosby Street, today one of New York’s liveliest cultural spots.

When Fershleiser explains the bookstore’s economy, it becomes apparent how differently things work in America and Europe. While most cultural activities in Europe can’t survive without external support, the high-brow culture represented by the Housing Works Bookstore not only copes on its own, but also serves as the financial basis for completely different ventures.

The New York attitude: Tough materialism and existential frankness, an awareness of one’s mortality balanced by the refusal to talk bullshit, that’s how George Blecher sums up the New York attitude. Via three works of fiction – Alexander Mackendrick’s movie Sweet Smell of Success, Henry Miller’s Sexus and Herman Melville’s novella “Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street” – he maps a world “where people walk a mile for a chuckle”.

Literární noviny: Jana Soukupová pours scorn on the current editorial policies of Literární noviny, one of the Czech Republic’s most influential cultural journals. After providing a thorough survey of the journal’s turbulent history – banned by both the Nazis and the Communists and in the 1960s a stronghold for the reformists, and counting among its editors household names such as Antonin Liehm, Ludvík Vaculík and Ivan Klíma – Soukupová focuses on the form the journal has taken under the current editor, former communist journalist Zbynek Fiala. Characterized by “overcautious journalism”, the journal’s standpoint is suspiciously close to that of the Social Democratic party, Soukupová objects. “The history of Literární noviny is not yet over. Nevertheless, both the circumstances under which it exists and its content are far from satisfactory.”

In interview, Zbynek Fiala rebuts some of the critique. He puts all doubts to rest concerning his past and speaks about his future plans.

The full table of contents of Host 5/2010

In its eleventh year, A Prior Magazine takes a turn in its publishing policy. In the last decade, writes editor Els Roelandt, “A Prior published arts projects that were thought up and designed especially for the magazine, creations that were also accompanied by reflective texts written by third parties, authoritative authors, friends of the artists”. Then, in 2009, “The New York conversations” (A Prior 18), was put together: “In that issue, the creation literally fell together with the reflection on the creation. In a new, hybrid form of the magazine, artists […] spoke with theorists about their position and creation, and they all resolutely considered this reflection a fundamental part of their artistic production.” Now, A Prior 20 is entirely made up of projects and texts written by visual artists, focusing all attention on research in the arts.

Manifestations of the political: In conversation with Hilde Van Gelder, artist Victor Burgin heavily criticizes contemporary “political art” as “the new orthodoxy”:

What is ‘documented’ in [documentaries in the art world] is not their ostensible contents but rather the mutating world-view of the media, and they remain irrelevant as art if they succeed in doing no more than recycle facts, forms and opinions already familiar from these prior sources. […] I see no point to ‘art’ that calls upon the same general knowledge and interpretative capabilities I deploy when I read a newspaper.

Burgin’s own attempts to understand how art relates to politics, ideology and society are more subtle:

One of the things that interests me is the way ‘the political’ may be manifest as a mutable aspect of our everyday reality, on the same perceptual basis as the changing light, an aching knee or a regret. […] There is no need for the western political artist, too often a disaster tourist, to ‘sail the seven seas’ looking for injustices to denounce. Inequality and exploitation saturate the ground on which we stand, they are in the grain of everyday life. This granular-perceptual manifestation of the political is part of what I try to represent in my works.

The full table of contents of A Prior Magazine 20 (2010)

The fact that South Africa is Hosting the World Cup 2010 might be a novelty but it is no coincidence, writes Dietrich Schulze-Marmeling in Blätter. Football spread faster in Africa, and particularly British Africa, than in any other colonized part of the world. Yet it was French Africans who, thanks to the idea of the Grande Nation, were the first to make it into the mainland leagues and even play for the national team: the legendary Moroccan forward Larbi Ben Barek, whom Pelé called the “God of football”, made 17 appearances for France from 1938 to ’54.

Despite apartheid, the “white man’s game” spread to the South African townships in the mid-twentieth century. Although control of the leagues was in white hands, black footballers were allowed to play professionally to keep the mainly black fans in the stadiums. FIFA expelled South Africa in 1976 after British president Stanley Rous, an apologist for apartheid, was ousted by the Brazilian João Havalenge; since South Africa’s reacceptance in 1992, Bafana Bafana have been on a winning streak. The final hurdle to African football’s emancipation remains however, writes Schulze-Marmeling: a World Cup win against former colonial rulers.

Like now, only better! The electric car incarnates the limited horizon of modern societies, writes Harald Welzer: it is not the means of propulsion that is the problem but mobility itself. Collective forgetfulness that the status quo is man-made means change is equated with sacrifice. “Yet the status quo is purchased with a whole range of sacrifices: the sacrifice of peace and quiet if you live on a busy street or below a flight path; the sacrifice of health if you have to do a health-endangering job; the sacrifice of a family life if your career and mobility pattern allow no reconciliation between your job and having children.”

Tobin Tax: The levy on financial institutes introduced by the German government at the end of March will do nothing to deter dangerous speculative trading, writes Rudolf Hickel. Time for a Tobin Tax that would reconnect markets and the productive economy. Although not a panacea – regulatory mechanisms are also necessary – a Tobin Tax would set clear limits to speculation geared towards short-term profit. “In the current global crisis,” writes Hickel, “everything depends on this if the economy is to be secure in the future “.

The full table of contents of Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 6/2010

In Dilema veche, George D. Ripa accuses the Romanian media of adopting a populist anti-capitalist rhetoric in its reaction to the austerity measures announced by the Romanian government last month (issue 327). Socialist clichés rather than facts dominated the analysis in almost all the big dailies, with two exceptions – Evenimentul Zilei and Romania Libera. “Shedding a tear for civil servants became a national sport while the most important thing, a proper debate on the subject, was absent.”

Public service broadcasting: Romanian national television, built on the foundations of the old communist state channel, has not yet become an independent public service broadcaster along the lines of the BBC, writes Marius Dragomir (issue 325). “Public broadcasters in eastern Europe are weighty beasts […] at the beck and call of political groups; the more money they spend, the worse their reputations get.”

The law governing public broadcasting, which sees management elected via parliamentary vote, “formalizes the total political dependency of national television and radio”, writes journalist Rodica Culcer. “The management is never immune from the political tide, because the president of the public broadcaster is forced to negotiate political support in the parliament, and must subordinate programming decisions to this end.”

Education: Daniel Funeriu, Romanian minister of education, argues that his new legislation would make educational establishments more independent from politics, more efficient and more entrepreneurial (issue 326). Analyst Sever Voinescu applauds the new law’s concern for “ensuring students have the abilities to participate in the labour market of the twenty-first century”. Yet the market-orientation of the legislation is likely to have a major negative impact: marginalizing the humanities, which have no immediate market value. The humanities are crucial to forming “ethical competence” in young people, says Voinescu: a person’s attitude to money, to sexuality and to history are all essential to the good functioning of society.

The full table of contents of Dilema veche 324-327 (2010)

The Swedish general elections in September promise to be exciting. Opinion polls show the opposition red-green coalition, led by Social Democrat Mona Sahlin, to be ahead of the governing centre-right coalition Alliance for Sweden. But the lead is narrow. Slightly worried, leftist Arena asks what four more years of conservative politics would mean.

In a portrait of foreign minister Carl Bildt, entitled “Power games instead of ethics”, Jesper Bengtsson paints the picture of a man playing it solo. “For years, diplomats in the foreign office have been grumbling that their number-one never shows up at work, and that he forms policy in his own head without consulting his subordinates. Even the highest officials sometimes have to read Bildt’s blog to understand how government policies should be interpreted.”

In Bildt’s one-man show, the US has become the main ally, writes Bengtsson. Kissinger-style realpolitik has replaced the idealistic foreign policy that characterized the Olof Palme era.

Another four years of conservative politics would probably mean that Sweden joins the rapid reaction forces of NATO, perhaps even takes the first steps toward NATO membership […] Four more years would mean further marginalization of the UN in Swedish foreign policy. […] Four more years of silent conference room diplomacy? Not a very tempting future.

Polish coffins: In a captivating literary reportage, Stefan Ingvarsson visits the shipyard in Gdansk to find out why Poland has such a hard time uniting around its recent history. “The Solidarity movement brought out the best in millions of Poles. It is more difficult to tell that story than to honour the dead. There is a saying that Poland is run by a long line of symbolically loaded coffins – those who control the memory of the dead can conjure up strong feelings in the present. This saying still applies. Who will control Lech Kaczynski’s coffin and for what will it be used?”

“In a country like Poland, where the last centuries tell a story about war, occupation, repression, deportation, mass executions and censorship, Solidarity is a story about hope,” writes Ingvarsson, whose mother is Polish. It is not a story about coffins and it might not be reproducible in everyday life, but “we need such stories in order to be able to believe in society”.

The full table of contents of Arena 3/2010

“Italy in Bossi’s hand. On the Left, continuing fog”: so reads the title of the latest issue of Reset, following the success of the Lega Nord in the Italian regional elections. According to Aldo Bonomi, the key concepts behind the rise of the Bossi party are “community” and “territory”. Bonomi argues that “the community of resentment”, defined by the exclusion of Others, must be replaced by a “community of care” – the leftovers of what was once the welfare state – and a “community of action” – in the sense of an “economy open to the Other”.

The concept of “territory” is also thinkable in the plural, suggests Bonomi. If the Lega Nord stands for the territory of the self-enclosing community, then there is not only the territory of “scorched earth” left behind by multinationals, but also a positively loaded territorial rootedness that can act as the point of departure for the experience of Others, and as a “competitive factor of globalization”. Wherever politics favours the production of social relations, territory provides the space for an “open society”.

Goodbye to the third way: The third way was just a moderate version of “uniform thinking”, writes Laura Pennachi. Because it glorified competitiveness and opposed state intervention as virulently as neoliberalism, the Left lost its cultural base, creating a vacuum that was filled by the populist Right. “Reconnecting ethics and the economy also means developing the moral foundations of the welfare state.”

Also: Three authors answer the question “What is politics?” with descriptions of concrete experiences. Mario Desiati, for example, travels to Apulia, where the gay communist politician Nichi Vendola was elected governor in the regional elections. Although Vendola represents the younger generation, many youngsters, instead of casting their vote in the election, cast their sms votes all the more passionately for Emma Marrone – the candidate of a talent show in the Berlusconi-owned Chanel 5.

The full table of contents of Reset 119 (2010)

On the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the end of WWII, Osteuropa looks at images of old age in eastern Europe: “Too often it is overlooked that history is not all there is. People who experienced the war are still living,” write the editors.

Because only few survivors of the war are still alive, writes Irina Sherbakova, “what remains as the source of commemoration is family memory”. In Russia, memory often turns into Soviet mythology and war memories are seen through the prism of the Brezhnev era: “The good life in peace, the sudden and cowardly attack of the enemy, the fine young men and women who didn’t die but ‘sacrificed their lives'”.

In a society as divided as Russia’s, memory – even family memory – is inevitably fragmentary and contradictory. Without a shared social and historical context the fragments cannot form an entire picture in the imaginations of members of the older generation, let alone in the minds of the young. The cosmetic image of victory creates an apparent consensus that the memory of the repressions would not be able to provide.

Victims vs. victims: In Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, examination of the past produces conflicts in the present, writes Sabine Erdmann-Kutnevic. Rivalry among “victims” is one such: “The connotation of the concept of victimhood is different to that in Germany. The Soviet tradition emphasizes martyrdom as an heroic and meaningful act for the state and the Soviet people, while the innocent, meaningless and purposeless suffering of the victim does not exist”. As a consequence, the approximately 800 000 Holocaust survivors that are still alive are considerably worse off than war veterans and partisans.

Also: Hildegard Theobald describes the ethnicizing of domestic geriatric care in Italy, Germany and Austria, and how predominantly eastern European women are working under precarious, often illegal conditions in the West.

The full table of contents of Osteuropa 5/2010

Analysing Soviet existence in terms of “closed society” repeats the moralism behind the Popperian notion of the “open society” – with its overtones of “the free world” – that is claimed to have been its antithesis. This is Catriona Kelly‘s thesis in NLO 100 (2009), a jubilee issue that undertakes to shift the analytic focus from the economic and political aspects of “closed society” towards individuals and their individual and corporate resistance.

In place of the open-closed dichotomy, which reinforces the view of Soviet society as monolithic, Kelly applies the “grid-group” analysis. This looks beyond the “power vertical” to horizontal social relations in Soviet society, highlighting the mix of “weak grid/strong group” models (unofficial, impermeable and non-hierarchical enclaves) and “weak group/strong grid” models (official and hierachical groups such as collective farms). Where the “open-closed” polarization suggests that “liberation” may be easily achievable, argues Kelly, the grid-group theory “provides the insight that it is much easier for social groups to aspire to the transformation of society at large than it is for them to envisage their own transformation”.

Modernization: Modernity in eastern Europe tends to be seen either as the partial opening up of a region characterized by traditional forms of societal self-understanding, or as a disfigured and radicalized adaptation of western modernity that prioritizes closure. Paul Blokker, in an article focusing on Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland and Hungary, argues that both readings need to be combined: “Contrary to historical determinist views, central and eastern European traditions of closure in the last two centuries have less to do with the incomplete adaptation to modernity or the incapacity to adopt western modern ideas and structures, but rather with the development of countertrends, distinct elaborations, and reactive forms of modernity.”

Debate: In issue 101, Kevin Platt and Benjamin Nathans join the debate sparked by Alexei Yurchak’s 2006 book Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More. Yurchak dismantles the binarisms of official and unofficial, coercive and resistant, that have dominated studies of Soviet society, arguing that the principle mode of social life of the last Soviet generation can be summed up as “being vne” (“beyond” or “outside”). Platt and Nathans reject Yurchak’s aversion to analysing the historical consequences of this attitude and attempt to historicize “being vne” via an alternative account of the origins and implications of the social and discursive conditions of the late Soviet era.

Privacy: Also in issue 101, Irina Kaspe discusses means of social control in post-totalitarian society, where “protective” forms begin to dominate over the propaganda-based ones peculiar to an “isolationist society”. On the basis of films by the satirist of Soviet life Eldar Ryazanov, Kaspe analyses ways of manifesting and transmitting the concept of the “private” in post-totalitarian Russia.

The full table of contents of New Literary Observer 101 (2010)

Herkus Kuncius, probably the most sarcastic of Lithuanian writers, is not sure if he is cursed or blessed: “I couldn’t say whether to be born a Lithuanian in Vilnius is a stroke of luck, a duty or a punishment.” In a wide-ranging essay on controversial aspects of Lithuanian social and cultural life, Kuncius notes that “in this region, which depends so much on influences from outside and on geopolitical conjuncture, it is popular to change worldviews, to close one’s eyes to the past, to forget promises, to silence one’s consciousness.”

In Vilnius, change is part of everyone’s experience. People change and societies change – not always for the better: “It is hard to believe that those people who once joined hands along the Baltic Way and stood up against Soviet tanks at the television tower and the parliament are the same as the annoying bunch pouring its bile all over the Internet.”

More social critique, more change: Almantas Samalavicius continues his series “Twenty years after…”, focusing on the changes in social behaviour and mentality after Lithuanian independence in 1990 (the first article was published in Kulturos barai 4/2010).

We seem to live in a mock democracy, notes Samalavicius. How else can we explain that “a story of a dog called Pipiras, who was thrown from a bridge by some imbecile, received the attention of the media all over Europe. There were even public demonstrations in front of parliaments and other national institutions organized by people who don’t accept violence against animals. I fully agree with those people who choose to care. However, why are there no demonstrations when old people in the countryside are assaulted and even murdered and the police does nothing to help them? Or why are there no protests against the fact that a large number of people in this country just disappear?”

Also: Vita Gruodyte introduces Georgian philosopher Merab Mamardashvili, for whom the “spirit of measure, harmony and vivacity” characteristic of French culture became “an antidote to the Soviet linguistic paralysis”.

The full table of contents of Kulturos barai 5/2010

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, between 2000 and 2009 a total of seventeen journalists were killed in Russia, notes Ane Tusvik Bonde. “In the neighbouring countries they just get arrested or beaten up.”

Tusvik Bonde, project manager at Human Rights House Foundation in Oslo, has observed the methods used to quell critical voices in Russia and the Caucasus. In a chilling account, she describes how attempts are made to silence opposition in the region, as well as how human rights activists and journalists go about getting their message across:

In the Russian journal Esquire, Andrej Losjak interviewed artists about why they support Putin’s party. It is striking that many of those interviewed have no illusion that they can influence its policies. Rather, they have chosen to give their support because there are so many others whom they respect that support the party. […] Accompanying the article are pictures of the interviewees, which Losjak has manipulated, frame by frame, so that they become ever more like Putin until they are identical. There are people who dare to march out of step with those in power.

Occasionally, persecution goes from the sinister to the downright ridiculous: “After the Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow in 2009, it was noted by the authorities in Azerbaijan that 43 Azerbaijanis had voted for the Armenian song. Several were called in for interrogation and accused of anti-patriotic voting.”

Tusvik Bonde feels there is hope. “As long as there are videos, poems and articles with an ironic twist, fear will not take over. As a journalist said to me: ‘You don’t feel afraid when you laugh.'”

Political singsong: The connection between music and national identity is rarely more visible than during the Eurovision Song Contest, writes Dag Øystein Endsjø. Each year, nearly all European countries turn up with what is meant to represent their nation. The national has regularly been sacrificed for songs with a catchy and meaningless name that sounds good in any language in an effort to appeal internationally.

And yet, in 1968, when Spain’s Joan Manuel Serrat wanted to sing his “La, la, la” in Catalan, he was replaced with an approved Spanish singer, which made the song a symbol of Catalan identity. And in recent years, claims Endsjø, “the repeated Montenegrin attempts to take over the Serbo-Montenegrin participation […] contributed to Serbia being perfectly happy when Montenegro declared its independence.”

The full table of contents of Syn og Segn 2/2010

Published 9 June 2010

Original in English
First published in

© Eurozine


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