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The destruction of society

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A protest of Scrooges

Kulturos barai talks to Daniel Chirot about modernity, crisis and ideology; NZ plots the new Russian class-consciousness; Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) asks which way the middle class will swing; Wespennest explains what anarchism can do for you; Dilema Veche recalls better days for Romanian journalism; Reset abandons print for web; Letras Libres reveals the political Borges; dérive rescues the bungalow from historical oblivion; and Vikerkaar profiles Estonian situationist duo Johnson & Johnson.

Kulturos barai 5/2012

Eastern Europe as such was never "backward" and marginality is the least of the region's problems, sociologist Daniel Chirot tells Kulturos barai editor Almantas Samalavicius: "The question as to why the region was behind western Europe is the wrong one. Instead, we need to ask what made a small part of the West different. Once the West began to grow economically and to industrialize, the parts of eastern Europe that interacted most with the advanced parts of Europe did not go backward. They became, instead, the most advanced parts of eastern Europe. So the whole theory of peripheralization is wrong."

While the "post-communist" tag no longer applies to some countries, in others it remains apt, Chirot argues: "I agree with those who think that it's time to stop thinking in terms of post-communism for those countries that are now part of the European Union. If, however, we look at Belarus, at Russia, at Ukraine, and at most of Central Asia, that is not the case. [...] The socialism part of communism is gone, but the corruption, autocracy and inept state control of key parts of the economy remain."

With economic disparities growing, it is schisms within societies rather than clashes between cultures that are the more likely scenario, Chirot predicts: meanwhile, a leftwing revival among younger eastern Europeans shows pronouncements of the end of ideology to have been rash: "Let us not forget that what almost brought Europe to ruin in the first half of the twentieth century was not so much an original cultural clash, but the stupidity of its ruling elites. [...] In Europe, both the Right and the Left, particularly in southern Europe, are going to get much stronger."

Nostalgia and negativity: In Lithuania, belief that that someone will appear out of the blue and sort things out is as alive as it was a hundred years ago, writes Rita Repsiene: nostalgia for mythical heroes and the constant search for new saviours is an outcome of emotional and intellectual paralysis. And in Zibartas Jackunas' opinion, journalists and politicians have poisoned the Lithuanian public sphere with negative emotions. Thankfully, there are still independent thinkers immune to the spirit of negativity.

The full table of contents of Kulturos barai 5/2012

Neprikosnovennij Zapas 82 (2012)

In NZ, Leonid Fishman looks back at Russia's winter of discontent, focusing on the emergence of a new class consciousness. Following a period of postmodern politics, characterized by "an appeal to pragmatism, a struggle for 'everything that's good against everything that's bad', and a manipulation of symbols divorced from any real referents", Fishman detects the first signs of a new era. He identifies two emerging classes that have so far resisted manipulation by opposition leaders – both the so-called Liberals and the Left.

First, there is the affluent middle class, the entrepreneurs and celebrities, who took to the streets because widespread corruption has become a direct threat to their way of life. Not pretending that their protest is anything but a "protest of Scrooges who have been short-changed'", these "bourgeois" protesters have displayed a greater degree of political consistency than the second class of protesters, whom Fishman refers to as the "creative class".

The Left has failed to harness the protest of the creative class because it has appealed only to their minds, Fishman argues. It will remain a mere "population group", unless left-leaning intellectuals "focus on educating their feelings rather than on attempts to subject it to direct and hackneyed indoctrination, which will bomb just as similar attempts by Liberals from Bolotnaya Square have bombed".

Situationism: Situationism's journey from its Parisian origins into Anglo-Saxon culture has been littered with feuds, schisms and excommunications. Writer and conceptual artist Stewart Home recalls the history and politics of Situationism and its British pendant, psychogeography – and explains why he likes to give readings doing a headstand: "The thing is, when you read standing on your head it gives you a completely new feeling, different from what you experience when reading in a normal way. It's a much more physical, bodily sensation than what we are used to."

Also: Irina Sandomirskaya traces the history of a now canonical text written in the 1970s by an uneducated Ukrainian pensioner named Yevgeniya Kiseleva – an unadorned picture of life in the provinces that has been "filed, numbered, pigeon-holed and archived but also studied: it has been edited, excerpted and shifted around; re-written and re-edited".

The full table of contents of Neprikosnovennij Zapas 82 (2012)

Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) 5/2012

"All over Europe, with the notable exception of Norway, austerity is about to erase the middle class," writes Remi Nilsen in the Norwegian edition of Le Monde diplomatique.

"It was precisely the middle class who was able to take out loans to finance homes and education, who had supposedly secure jobs in the public sector and other institutions. And as austerity measures hit, it's the middle class who lose their foundations and are declassed to become part of an ever-growing 'underclass' of people with insecure jobs and income. When what once created the middle class disappears – cheap or free education and economic security that makes it possible to take risks and strive for more freedom – then the social class structure will also change radically."

It is this change we are now witnessing in Greece, Nilsen concludes.

Quo vadis, middle class? The new global social movements – from the indignados in Spain to the massive student protests in Chile and the Occupy movement in the US – not only show how precarious the situation of the middle class really is, but also suggest that the social mainstream can form alliances with other precarious groups to achieve social and political change.

In a very readable themed section entitled "Quo vadis, middle class?", historian Dominique Pinsolle shows how the middle class has played an important but far from consistent role in power politics since the French Revolution. Oscillating between support for the upper class and the working class, it is still the unknown factor in narratives of political change.

"Regardless of the complexity of the situation, the obstacles for an alliance between the working class and the middle class remain the same. The latter's fear of any radical project – measures that threaten private property or the value of their savings – seems to be an eternal fact. Yet the fear of a declassing that the current system seems unable to prevent (or has even caused) will certainly favour alliances that aim to 'save society'," writes Pinsolle.

Also: Truls Lie talks to French journalist and director Sofia Amara, whose film Syria: Inside the Repression was recently screened in Norway. One of the first to have been able to film inside Syria, Amara describes the situation there as the worst she has experienced during 22 years of war reporting.

The full table of contents of Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) 5/2012

Wespennest 162 (2012)

"Anarchism is a project which, on the basis of radical democratic principles, aims to create a social space that enables the maximum degree of individual freedom while guaranteeing maximum equality and justice." Sounds good? Then you may be an anarchist, suggests editor Ilija Trojanow, introducing an issue of Wespennest (Austria) on "Anarchist worlds".

"People who don't know about anarchism come up with solutions such as horizontal structures, collective decision making, self-organization, defence of the common good or basic services. They will come across numerous thought provoking ideas within the amazing diversity of anarchist thought."

A democratic economy: Citing political scientist and author Raul Zelik ("capital is primarily a social relation of power"), Thomas Wagner proposes looking at the economy from a democratic angle:

"The first step in overcoming this fatal blind spot in the way democracy is understood today," he continues, "is to prove that the de-politicization of the economy does not belong to the natural order of co-existence, but that it is a man-made, historical fact that can be overturned through human action. Only when the economy is looked at as a field of action that falls within democracy's sphere of influence does the call for the full participation of citizens gain material substance."

All work and no play: "The question is how to break the assumption that engaging in hard work – and, by extension, dutifully obeying orders – is somehow an intrinsically moral enterprise." In an article first published in English in Shift Magazine, anarchist anthropologist David Graeber argues that the equation of hard work and entitlement to gratification is at the heart of neoliberalism and central to the perpetuation of the capitalist system:

"There's no better way to ensure people are not thinking about alternative ways to organize society, or fighting to bring them about, than to keep them working all the time. As a result, we are left in the bizarre situation where almost no one believes that capitalism is really a viable system any more, but neither can they even begin to imagine a different one. The war against the imagination is the only one the capitalists seem to have definitively won."

Also: Primate researcher Frans de Waal on the morality of man and chimpanzee; Vandana Shiva on sustainable forms of growth and development; and Osvaldo Bayer on anarchist organization in Argentina.

The full table of contents of Wespennest 162 (2012)

Dilema Veche 425-428 (2012)

In Dilema Veche (issue 426), Tia Serbanescu, Petre Mihai Bacanu and Mircea Vasilescu recall the intense and euphoric revival of the free press directly after the Romanian revolution of December 1989 and express their frustration at today's consumer-oriented media landscape, in which serious journalism seems no longer to play a role.

"I didn't feel tired, there was all that adrenalin, it was fantastic, for me the most beautiful period", says Serbanescu on working at Romania Libera in 1990, when the paper's circulation briefly rose to 1.5 million. "I felt that that was where I should be and that I was doing exactly what I wanted to do." During and immediately after the revolution, Romanian journalism abruptly changed tempo from adagio to vivacissimo, she says, as once indifferent journalists became opinion-formers and disseminators of information in the new democracy. Dilema editor Vasilescu concurs: "In the initial years after '89, the press was a mix between ideology, the impulse to 'educate the people' and primitive capitalism." And Bacanu, the first director of Romania Libera after '89, misses the long queues at the newspaper kiosks but hasn't given up on a quality press that values free commentary.

The communist everyday: A visit to Budapest's House of Terror prompts Vintila Mihailescu (426) to wonder how he can convey to his students communism as "lived experience" as opposed to a litany of cruelties. He encounters students who listen avidly to his stories about adventures in food queues and suchlike: "I explain to them that [the free radio channel] Europa Libera was a kind of Internet, but that if we'd been caught googling then exmatriculation wouldn't have been far off. I tell them that the research institute where I worked wanted us to produce a certain number of pages per year but that nobody ever read them. That we didn't dream of personal publications and for that reason developed a veritable affection for the art of 'losing time' without 'wasting' it – something that I cannot permit nowadays when time is money."

Hunger: Empty supermarkets and the tragicomedy of people playing backgammon during the soul-destroying wait in food queues are the subjects of photographer Andrei Pandele, who talks in interview about his forbidden documentation of the communist everyday (427). In the same issue, Bogdan Murgescu sketches the history of hunger in Romania and Nicolae Purcarea and Mihai Chrilov talk about their personal experiences of hunger in labour camps and the Danube delta.

The full table of contents of Dilema Veche 425-428 (2012)

Reset 129 (2012)

This issue of Reset will be the Italian magazine's last in print, announces editor Giancarlo Bosetti: from now on Reset will appear in digital form only and – for the time being – be free of charge. The journal's website,, will also be receiving a makeover, introducing a press review, blogs and neswletters, and stands to benefit from Reset's move from print to web.

Journal history: Bosetti recounts the history of the journal, which was founded in 1993 at the time of the Mani pulite campaign and the collapse of the old party system: "Never a political project, Reset was more the mouthpiece for reformist ideas that engaged critically with the monstrous conflict of interests between Berlusconi and commercial television – which was, as Norberto Bobbio put it, instinctively rightwing." The new-look Reset will continue in this vein, Bosetti assures us, with articles on Italian politics, Europe and the world, changes in the Mediterranean region and the Middle East, cultural pluralism...

Counterfactuals: Giovanni Sabbatucci asks what the historical consequences would have been had the Italian King declared a state of emergency on 22 October 1922: "The state would very likely have been able to resist the fascist threat [...] to the benefit of future generations." The reason the King appointed Mussolini head of government was the ruling class' ignorance about fascism, argues Sabbatucci – which is by no means to discharge it of responsibility.

The future of democracy: Democracy makes a "major mistake" if it prioritizes the present over the future, writes the French historian Pierre Rosanvallon. "While short time-spans reflect the ephemeral nature of particular interests, the long time-span tends naturally towards the general interest," he argues, going on to suggest how the representation of future interests can be institutionalized in modern democracies.

Also: Stefano Allievi looks at the dramatic drops in membership of political parties in Italy and recommends that the Democratic Party design its "pre-election" system in a more open and gender-equal way.

The full table of contents of Reset 129 (2012)

Letras Libres 5/2012

A series of myths have arisen around the great Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, writes his biographer Edwin Williamson in Letras Libres. The most common is that of him as "a gentle writer who lived almost outside of time in a kind of literary utopia", ignorant of politics but occasionally supportive of reactionary dictators. Borges' writings of the 1920s, however, reveal intense involvement in the life of his homeland.

Modernization and massive international immigration into Buenos Aires had produced deep insecurity among Argentinians of long-established Spanish criollo stock – like Borges himself – and the country's establishment took refuge in exalting the gauchos or cowboys of the pampas, symbols of a conservative rural culture. Borges originally shared these attitudes, but from 1924 his views changed profoundly and he set out in poems and a projected novel to develop a new vision of Argentinian national identity focusing on the multi-varied modern city as well as the rural pampas, and with a new mythology based on the life of the ragged suburbs.

At the end of the 1920s, however, events led to a pessimistic turn in his outlook, notes Williamson; his relationship with the Norwegian-Irish emigré Norah Lange ended and a military coup overthrew President Hipólito Yrigoyen, in whom Borges had placed his hopes of political change. He stopped writing poetry, gave up his planned national epic and began to write the apparently abstract stories for which he is best known. Nevertheless, Williamson writes, he remained "a public intellectual for the rest of his life". He sought to "combat authoritarianism and [...] defend freedom of expression" and in his stories subtly evoked the image of gaucho individualism as a source of authoritarian politics.

Interview: "I thought: I'm politically active now in order to get people into power who deserve to be there, so as not to have to worry about politics ever again." In interview with Daniel Gascón, Ukrainian writer Yuri Andrukhovych recalls the Orange Revolution of 2004. Many thought the same, but it was an error to leave things in the hands of politicians who "immediately ruined everything, with a ferocious struggle for power", says Andrukhovych. This has culminated in the current regime of President Viktor Yanukovych, and restrictions on freedoms that "produce a continual sensation of being on the verge of a dictatorship".

One thing that still holds back the regime, Andrukhovych points out, is the European Football Championship in June. "Until that is over, they cannot go too far in their system of repression".

The full table of contents of Letras Libres 5/2012

dérive 47 (2012)

The new issue of dérive (Austria) visits the spaces where the city has almost ended and asks: Is the notion of the centre a twentieth-century anachronism?

Single storey history: Carola Ebert writes on "architects bungalows" in West Germany, a symbol of modernity in increasingly individualistic societies, tracing the history of single-storey architecture from prefabricated boxes and closely packed bungalow estates to the most famous example in West Germany – the so-called "chancellor bungalow", built in 1963-64. Yet, despite its ubiquity, the bungalow phenomenon has been neglected. "While the specialist discourse of the 1960s focused on public buildings and large-scale housing estates, bungalow existence with its affinity to nature brought forth almost unnoticed a new city form of a non-urban kind."

Architecture off the rack: "What happened to the dream of the factory-made house?" asks Julia Gill, who is also interested in suburban architecture, but not of the tailor-made variety. Le Corbusier, dreaming of a perfectly functional house, developed "types" that would be as efficient and utilitarian as cars, Gill explains. But times have changed: car manufacturers now offer an endless variety of colours, technical details and extra fittings. "The tranposition of this principle to the building of houses means that, thanks to the latest technology, cheap production based on industrialized and rationalized planning and construction processes need no longer be incompatible with the realization of the apparently individual wishes of contractors."

The full table of contents of dérive 47 (2012)

Vikerkaar 4-5/2012

In Vikerkaar, Hanno Soans discusses the work of Estonian concept artists "Johnson & Johnson", who have adopted the situationist method of détournement (textual and semiotic "hijacking") to provoke Estonia's political and media establishment. Their oeuvre includes the 2005 installation "You need it every day" – consisting of white badges bearing headlines and text fragments from a tabloid – and the performance "Boredom and Violence", in which they placed an essay by Hakim Bey within the format of the same tabloid (the paper was unamused). The trilogy was completed by a short film reconstructing in tragicomic key a news story about a snake that got killed during a strip tease.

Other works created by the Johnsons have focused on political pledges, writes Soans: "The Johnsons seem to have been motivated by the gap between formal professional politics and the non-existent political activity of the people in whom the 'supreme power of state is vested'", he observes (quoting the Estonian constitution). A textbook case of relational aesthetics, however, is their ongoing project in which, under aesthetic pretexts, they have penetrated the atmosphere of the small town of Paldiski. Their aim, writes Soans, is to find a common cultural denominator that would unite the Estonian and the Russian communities and launch grassroots discussions about Paldiski's developmental perspectives.

Also: Maarja Kangro on Jacques Rancière's defence of art's political relevance against the hedonist retreat of art; and Mele Pesti on the complex path of Caliban from slave to Latin American hero.

The full table of contents of Vikerkaar 4-5/2012


Published 2012-05-23

Original in English
© Eurozine

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