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"The fig leaves of ignorance"

Merkur contours the "Berlin Republic"; Transit tracks the emergence of the radical Right in Poland; Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) defies the state of emergency; Revolver Revue remembers hippies in the East; Ord&Bild debates the pros and cons of a national literary canon; Akadeemia digs up the past; Kulturos barai discusses matters (almost) serious; and Wespennest discovers India.

Merkur 9-10/2006

What has changed since reunification? In a wonderful special issue entitled "A new Germany?", Merkur traces what has become of Berlin and Germany in the fifteen years since the "Berlin Republic" was "but a mere wish, a hope, a bęte-noir". Now, the editors write, "the Berlin Republic has taken shape, whether this shape is appealing or not."

Gustav Seibt, columnist of the Süddeutsche Zeitung,adopts the guise of a journalist from the Northern Mariana Islands, which lie somewhere in the Pacific Ocean and officially belong to the United States, even though its population is not allowed to vote for its "man in Washington". With a group of other journalists from the Pacific, he visits Berlin during the summer of the World Cup. In this extremely funny outsider's view, he depicts the absurdities, both big and small, of the official Berlin: beginning with a visit to Angela Merkel, who had exactly eight minutes time for the foreign journalists, half of which was spent with interpretation, and ending with a trip to the Brandenburg Gate, which was invisible because of a huge football blocking the view.

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The hot football summer in Berlin was also the motive for Jörg Lau, Berlin editor at Die Zeit, to discuss Germany's new patriotism. So visible during the world championships, it was surprising to almost everybody, for some a cause for fear, for others joy. Surprising, but not new, writes Lau, since it has been emerging for quite some time. Following Richard Rorty's argument for progressive patriotism written long before 9/11, Lau, for many surely provocatively, sees also in Germany the need for "self-esteem and self-improvement".

Among many others much worth reading: Winfried Roth coins a term for those parts of Berlin that harbour the poor, excluded, and underprivileged: "Berlin slums". These areas, often in the centre of Berlin, are of course in no way comparable to the slums of the greater cities of South America or the US, he writes, and do not even have the potential for violence as in London or Paris. Nonetheless, the future of these "problem districts", as they are officially called, is desolate in the face of the bad economic prospects and official belt-tightening. And Rainer Hank, economics editor at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, writes about the new managers in Germany, a Germany which cannot duck away from globalization anymore.

The full table of contents of Merkur 9-10 /2006.

Transit 31 (2006)

"Today, Poland appears to be gambling all its hard-won achievements on a dangerous political adventure", writes Aleksander Smolar, former advisor to Poland's first non-Communist prime minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki. Since the Kaczynski brothers' political ascendancy at the head of the Law and Justice Party (PiS), there has been a string of developments that have alarmed Poland's EU fellow-members: the election of a civil rights spokesperson who openly advocates the death penalty; plans to close down the body that monitors the independence of the media; a law drafted that would abolish the autonomy of the civil service, to name but a few.

To understand how this situation arose, writes Smolar, one needs to look more closely at the period of change in Poland since 1989. The "radical" government stems from that section of the Solidarity movement opposed to the route transformation took; for the radicals, the reckoning with the ancien régime has been insufficient, leading to a system they view as a pathological symbiosis of communism and capitalism, democracy and a post-communist mafia. The cultural traditionalism of the PiS, writes Smolar, has landed on fertile ground in a contemporary Poland suffering from social alienation, distrust in democratic institutions, high unemployment, and growing income discrepancies.

In a focus on "Religion and political culture", Allessandro Ferrara of the University of Rome argues for a "post-secular" form of public rationality that demands from non-religious members of society more hermeneutic effort towards their religious fellow-citizens; Abdessalam Cheddadi of the University of Rabat and the Sorbonne calls for a return to Islamic culture's traditional virtue of tolerance; Andrea Roedig, former Freitag editor, discovers concealed affinities between Catholicism and postmodernism; and Esprit editors Olivier Mongin and Jean-Louis Schlegel explain why French laicité is in acute need of reform. The texts are supplemented by photographs by Houston-based photographer Soody Sharifi of teenaged Muslim girls poised between Islam and the West.

The full table of contents of Transit 31(2006).

Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) 9/2006

Do we have to give up civil rights and freedoms for a secure life under the "new" circumstances of terrorism? The image of a constant global threat can serve as legitimation for the state executive's unilateralist policies in liberal democracies: in a national state of emergency, a head of state can turn into "a kind of Caesar".

In Le Monde diplomatique's dossier on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, Philip S. Golub writes about "The permanent state of emergency". Having first been created to maintain the balance of power between the three pillars of democracy (executive, legislative, and jurisdictional), the state of emergency is used by today's state executive to systematically undermine this balance – thus becoming a threat to the protection of civil rights.

In Carl Schmitt's theory (1922-1932), the state of emergency allows the state to perfectly transcend society by defining a threatening foe and enabling an autonomous dictatorship: "war as the ontological foundation of the state". Golub finds that today the state of emergency is being turned into a "new condition of life", an abstract war without borders in time and space. The rise of fear and national, and religious prejudice, turn the proclaimed clash of civilizations into a self fulfilling prophecy.

Europe: "Why would the civil giant want to become a military dwarf?", asks Timothy Evers in his article "Obstructed peacecorps", in which he criticizes the EU's military policiy as counterproductive to its inner coherence as well as global reputation. In trying to become America's competitor as a world police force, the EU has started to get involved in global conflicts. Since the Union has no realistic military power, this is not only useless but also dangerous: EU military policiy is not subject to any parliamentary control, a shortcoming that weakens civil support for the Union even further.

The full table of contents of Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) 9/2006.

Revolver Revue 64 (2006)

Mary de Rachewiltz is best known for her memoir, Ezra Pound, Father and Teacher: Discretions, an autobiographical evocation and literary tribute to Pound's life and works, especially during the years in Fascist Italy. Her book, the title of which refers to Pound's experimental autobiography Indiscretions, caused a serious conflict between father and daughter.

The difficult relationship is at the centre of a focus on Ezra Pound in Czech journal Revolver Revue. Alongside extracts from both books, the section includes excerpts from Pound's correspondence; a selection of poems by Mary de Rachewiltz; and Alan Levy's memories of meetings and discussions with Olga Rudge, long-term lover of Pound and Mary's mother.

Hippies in the East: Despite repression, a hippie movement also developed behind the Iron Curtain. The bestseller Mystics and Junkies, first published in Krakow in 1992, soon became popular with the Polish youth; excerpts are presented together with a number of texts and documents from that period in Czech in Revolver Revue; a German translation is currently being prepared for publication.

Author Wojtek Michalewski (b. 1953), better known as "Tarzan", describes his life among Polish hippies in the 1970s and 1980s, featuring the usual: communes, gatherings, mountain trips as well as drug addiction and police interrogations. But he also portrays the excited atmosphere of the first weeks and months of the Solidarity Revolution, a period full of hope, and the oppressive atmosphere when martial law was imposed in December 1981.

Also of note: Graphic designer Karel Haloun, in an interview, believes that "character and morality are unquestionably a burden on the way to success"; and Viktor Kolár presents his student Simon Chang with pictures from the Pavilion for the Depressed at Bohnice Mental Hospital.

The full table of contents of Revolver Revue 64 (2006).

Ord&Bild 3-4/2006

As strange as it may sound, literature has been at the centre of political debate in Sweden in the months leading up to last Sunday's election. Inspired by a Danish experiment, representatives of the liberal Folkpartiet recently called for the creation of a Swedish canon, an officially sanctioned list of literary works that every Swede should have read.

The public discussion that followed has been harsh and different ideologies and approaches to integration policy have clashed. These strongly formulated positions are clearly present in Ord&Bild's take on the matter. In a long essay covering 500 years of the history of education in Denmark, historian Ove Korsgaard argues for the need for a clear but always provisional "core" that clarifies the values upon which a society rests and acts as a reference for cultural debate and exchange.

No fewer than eight authors – intellectuals, teachers, academics, and politicians – were asked by Ord&Bild to comment on Korsgaard's article. Most are highly critical. For example, Johan Öberg, former Ord&Bild editor and cultural attaché to Moscow, sees Korsgaard as a product of a Danish "social climate that prefers to discuss titles and the contents of l'Album de la Comtesse" to confronting real challenges such as globalization. The canon debate is part of a bulging section on schooling that will be a valuable reference for discussions of Swedish education policy.

The full table of contents of Ord&Bild 3-4/2006.

Akadeemia 9/2006

In April 1945, at least twelve Red Army soldiers allegedly killed during the "liberation" of Tallinn were buried in a mass grave. However, it was a reburial of corpses that were exhumed from individual graves in Tallinn or its vicinity. Until today, as historian Peeter Kaasik shows, it is unclear who the buried soldiers were and under what circumstances they died – since Tallinn was seized by the Red Army in September 1944 without resistance. Rumour even has it that these soldiers were marauding in Tallinn in September 1944 and shot by their own troops.

In any case, the capitals of the Soviet Republic had to have a liberator's monument with a mass grave next to it. In Tallinn, the memorial to the "great victory" – the "Monument to the Liberators" – was created under dubious circumstances in the city centre, next to Charles IX church for propagandist reasons.

Winter Academy: Akadeemia, since 2003, has been organizing an interdisciplinary Winter Academy for students in Tallinn and Tartu. Four papers from the last Academy on "Energy injection into the future" are presented: Kadri Loorman writes on soil protection in Estonia; Ene Kont conducted a study with autistic children, examining the effects of horseback riding on their communicative development; and Kati Kangur investigated the involvement of local interest groups in environmental questions concerning the river Emajogi.

The full table of contents of Akadeemia 9/2006.

Kulturos Barai 8/2006

In Vilnius-based journal Kulturos barai, Tomas Kavaliauskas writes that purely capitalist systems rarely exist but instead are mixed with socialist elements in areas such as healthcare and education. But even the most social forms of capitalism, such as exist in Scandinavian countries, cannot escape the ideology of consumption, opines the philosopher.

Virginijus Savukynas despairs of Lithuania – a "political community of those without honour nor shame". There is a national consensus that Lithuanian politics is facing a moral crisis: that public servants are more interested in holding on to their posts than in serving the country. A tragedy, according to Savukynas.

Also: publisher Antanas Kniuksta recalls that between 1940 and 1950, a period spanning both Nazi and Soviet occupations, more books were burned in Lithuania than in the preceding 400 years. And an almost serious essay on unserious things: Ramunas Trimakis writes on Winnie-the-Pooh's reception in the Soviet Union during the 1980s and 1990s.

The full table of contents of Kulturos Barai 8-9/2006.

Wespennest 144 (2006)

"The seven attacks on Bombay in the middle of this year's monsoon season not only struck the seven first class carriages of the regional service of the Western line [...] They were an attack on hybridity, on the reality of endless nuance, that, while particularly present in Bombay, is a feature of India as a whole." Thus writes guest-editor Ilija Trojanow in an introductory comment to the latest Wespennest – focal point India.

The opening sentences of Trojanow's philosophical, theological, and political commentary on India set the tone: "Given that we have India to thank for the word 'mantra', it's only right that India has become the victim of countless mantras. Because mantras serve as the fig leaves of ignorance." The ensuing selection includes fourteenth-century mystic Lal Ded, nineteenth-century novelist Fakir Mohan Senapati, a handful of contemporary poets, and an interview with Indian author and psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar.

Talking about the Ayurveda wellness trend, Kakar says: "I welcome all these things that have come to the West through globalization. The fact that most people can't penetrate the essence because they consume it like anything else need not matter. However, there are always individuals for whom the door is opened, and who want to go deeper [...] I'm not one of those who say that everything always has to be authentic."

Austria: as the country prepares to go to the polls on 1 October, the debate on immigration is becoming increasingly shrill. While the two far-right parties compete with blatantly xenophobic slogans and media provocations, the centrist parties look on passively, afraid to turn off floating voters. "In Austria, the rightwing margins occupy the centre far too often," writes author and journalist Andreas Fanizadeh in an article comparing immigration policy in Austria and Germany.

The full table of contents of Wespennest 144 (2006).

This is just a selection of the more than 50 Eurozine partners published in 32 countries. For current tables of contents, self-descriptions, and subscription and contact details of all Eurozine partners, please see the partner section.


Published 2006-09-19

Original in English
© Eurozine

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