"Bitter oranges"

21 March 2006
Only in en
Ji sucks on a bitter orange; Osteuropa follows the trail of missing art; Index on Censorship delivers a reminder on small wars; Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) sees no laughs in religion; Esprit praises Paul Ricoeur's philosophical stubbornness; and Varlik gets jealous.

Ji 40 (2005)

One year after the Orange Revolution, Ji assesses the situation in Ukraine – and can’t hide its disappointment. The Orange coalition, at odds with itself, failed to implement urgent reforms: corruption still flourishes and nepotism rules official appointments. However, it can’t be denied that Ukrainian society has changed and that the Kuchma era is a closed chapter in Ukrainian history.

Ji looks back at the burning issues of the past year: the renewed hopes of Ukraine for EU membership, the gas conflict with Russia, the contradictory economic policy of the Timoshenko government. Editor Taras Wozniak analyzes the gas conflict in connection with the political evolution of post-Soviet Russia. According to Wozniak, behind Russia’s aggressive gas-supply policy that caused last winter’s crisis in Ukraine is the wish to sour its neighbour’s relations with the EU and keep Ukraine out of Nato.

Broadening the discussion, Genadij Druzenko argues that 2005 was a year of lost opportunities in EU-Ukrainian relations; Andriy Kyrchiv focuses on the role and responsibility of the EU in the democratization of Ukraine; and political scientist Yuriy Maciyevsky tries to categorize the Orange Revolution according to the classical paradigm of “transition to democracy”. And for those whose hearts (and votes) still belong to the Orange princess Yulia Timoshenko, Victor Shevchuk offers convincing arguments to prove that her government was not responsible for the economic decline in 2005.

Wrapping up the issue: in a section compiled with the Ostrog Academy, participants of the demonstrations on Kiev’s Maidan Square share their personal experiences of and reflections about that breathtaking moment in Ukrainian history.

The full table of contents of Ji 40 (2005).

Osteuropa 1-2/2006

Pillaging of art and cultural artefacts is a phenomenon that often goes unnoticed during wartime. Even 50 years after the end of World War II, many artworks stolen during the war have not been returned to their rightful owners. To this day, Russia refuses to return 200 000 artworks and 2 million books to Germany. While Germany uses international law to argue for the restitution of these works, Russia sees them as compensation for the damages wrought by German soldiers during WWII. “It should not be forgotten that the dispute over books, paintings, artworks, and archives is not just about art,” write Osteuropa editors Manfred Sapper, Claudia von Selle, and Volker Weichsel, “but also always about national identity and the control over interpretation of memory of a country’s own history.”

Art historian Regine Dehnel brings up a side of National Socialism that is not usually at the centre of attention: “The pillaging by the Nazis, which, at first in Germany, then from 1939 in all of Europe, aimed at the unscrupulous appropriation of cultural goods. The robbery of cultural goods did not – especially because of the huge number of human victims – become a major issue when confronting the heritage of National Socialism.” Dehnel looks at the victims of pillaging – including political opponents such as freemasons, priests, socialists, and union officials, but especially Jews – as well as the institutions formed for the purpose of stealing art.

A suggestion for a solution to the current tensions comes from curator and art historian Kristiane Janeke: “Cyberspace offers a possibility. In the virtual realm, everything seems possible: the spatial dissolution of borders opens up new perspectives for a solution to the conflict.”

The benefits of such a virtual museum are the unending possibilities for expansion and the infinite ways of linking art with information; the inclusion of media experts, computer specialists, and web designers in what was before a closed circle of actors, namely politicians, lawyers, and museologists; and the immense possibilities that websites offer for visitors by removing financial and physical barriers. “‘Looted art’ is neither just Russian nor just German, but is also European. Whoever has this insight into the fundamentals of the issue also sees the legal requirements in a different light.” Rather than focusing on the possession of art, the virtual museum focuses on the relations between countries.

Also to look out for: Waltraud Bayer on legitimized pillage in the Soviet Union after the October Revolution; Eva Blimlinger on new laws that have improved the restitution of art in Austria; and Serhij Kot on the complicated relations between Ukraine, Germany, Russia, and Poland, where it’s impossible to see who takes whose side in the debate over pillaged artworks.

The full table of contents of Osteuropa 1-2/2006.

Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) 3/2006

In the German edition of Le Monde diplomatique, author Tahar Ben Jelloun writes about the controversy over the Mohammed cartoons and the incompatibility between religion and humour. Visiting Morocco, his country of birth, Ben Jelloun has a hard time making the people he talks to understand that journalists in the West can actually write what they want and that not even the president has the right to interfere with their work.

“The cartoon controversy shows how deep the rift is that separates the Islamic world from the West, and how vast the lack of knowledge, the fears, misunderstandings and resentments are on both sides”, writes Ben Jelloun, who sees a major problem “in the identity of a people which has merged into its religion, into Islam. The result is schizophrenia, the fusion of two opposing worldviews in one and the same person.”

He also reminds us how Umberto Eco, in his book The Name of the Rose, clearly shows that Christianity’s relation to laughter and humour is far from unproblematic. Religions lack a sense of humour. However, even though laughter can sometimes be a weapon against fanaticism, it can also provoke more of the same. “Symbols are something holy. Laicité makes sense only if it respects and protects religions.”

In Europe, the split between Church and State was the result of a long and violent struggle, concludes Ben Jelloun. The West must finally stop looking down on people in the Arab world. “It is only through the efforts of the Arabs and Muslims themselves that these countries might arrive at a split between Church and State.”

Islam and fashion: in an article taken from the English edition of Le Monde diplomatique, journalist Ethel King provides fascinating insights into the multi-faceted development of a fashion compatible with the Koran. There is no “fit-all”. And there never was. Throughout history, the Islamic dress code has varied between regions and social classes, and the variation is no less today.

Also of interest: Lebanon’s former Finance Minister Georges Corm on how the failure of the Oslo agreement and the concession politics of the PLO have paved the way for Hamas; William Dalrymple’s ground-breaking reportage from the Koran schools in Pakistan (previously published in the New York Review of Books); and Alexandre Billette and Jean-Arnault Derens on the precarious situation in Belarus – important reading also after last Sunday’s elections.

The full table of contents of Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) 3/2006.

Index on Censorship 1/2006

Afghanistan, Bosnia, El Salvador, Nepal, Sierra Leone… In an issue entitled “Small wars you may have forgotten”, Index on Censorship asks what happens to wars when the media moves on. “We like wars we can understand and explain, preferably between ethnic groups and countries, but increasingly today’s conflicts will not fit our template,” writes Lindsey Hulsum, international editor at Channel 4 News UK. “Crime, not ideology, has become the wellspring of violence, an extension of war by similar means but for different reasons. […] With no frontiers or rules of engagement, such warfare is immensely dangerous to report and, because it does not fit into a political mould we can comprehend, it is often conveniently ignored.”

But instead of hand-wringing over the failure to report every conflict in the world, says Hulsum, who has reported from Chechnya, the Congo, and Iraq, the Western media must support and take advantage of the skills of local journalists. In Iraq, for example, “The news Western audiences see and read comes courtesy of Iraqi camera-operators and reporters, many of whom do not want their bylines made public. They run extraordinary risks, but they can, on the whole, get the story, which we cannot.”

Take Afghanistan. In 2003 there were grounds for optimism about the country: billions of dollars of international aid promised for reconstruction, one of the largest returnee movements in history, and a democratically elected government. Today, writes Caroline Moorehead, the dream has soured: “In Kabul, people talk endlessly about broken promises, about the way that the world’s attention has moved on, to Iraq, taking with it news coverage, money, investment.”

Or Bosnia-Herzegovina. Ten years after the Dayton Accords, the country is still riven by religious and ethnic divides. Srdjan Dizdarevic, president of the Helsinki Committee for Bosnia-Herzegovina, describes how nationalist political parties, advocating the narrow interests of their own ethnic groups and backed by their respective religious communities, hold sway over the political scene. Economic underdevelopment, unemployment, poverty, and brain drain compound a dire situation. And then there’s the question of war crimes. “The only chance seems to lie in an awakening civil society in Bosnia Herzegovina and its more active involvement in major political, social, and economic developments”, writes Dizdarevic.

Elsewhere: in a section also published in Eurozine, Tom Stoppard, Kenan Malik, Ian Jack, Richard Sambrook, and Ronald Dworkin, among others, join the freedom of speech debate.

The full table of contents of Index on Censorship 1/2006.

Esprit 3-4/2006

Esprit has devoted a weighty double issue to the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005). Situated at the meeting point of at least three European philosophical traditions – Husserl’s phenomenology, the reflexive philosophy of Jean Nabert, and Gadamer’s hermeneutics – Ricoeur’s thinking could be perceived as being less original in the land of Deleuze, Foucault, and Derrida. Yet, as the editors Michael Foessel and Olivier Mongin point out in their introduction, entitled “The philosophical stubbornness of Paul Ricoeur”, “The singularity of his enterprise is rather in taking up the provocations that come from outside and extracting from them a benefit for his thinking.” His originality lies in having dissociated philosophy’s claim to autonomy from the classical project of the last grounds.

The issue includes published and unpublished articles by Ricoeur himself. For instance, a paper he gave in Budapest in 2003, a critical rereading of his major work La Mémoire, l’Histoire, l’Oubli; and a text from 1958, “The technical adventure and its planetary horizon”, evaluating the impact of technical progress on mankind’s relationship with the world and with itself. A typical text of the time, Ricoeur asks how far mankind will change itself in its growing dominance over things. He analyzes the effects of the technical revolution on work and on the understanding of the self.

Articles on Ricoeur include Fabien Lamouche on the philosopher’s reading of Freud, which constituted a “considerable shake-up” for his thinking, however, as Lamouche points out, finally helped Ricoeur to think a cogito brisé.

Anne Simon, in “Proust and Ricoeur: The impossible hermeneutics”, writes on the relationship between philosophy and literature that Ricoeur addresses in La Métaphore vive [The Rule of Metaphor] and in Temps et récit [Time and Narrative]. And Jean-Louis Schlegel reveals the weaknesses of the recurring critique that Ricoeur elaborated a “Christian thinking” – although there is a firm distinction between his work on exegesis and his philosophy.

The dense and rich issue concludes with a selective bibliography of Ricoeur’s works.

The full table of contents of Esprit 3-4/2006.

Varlik 3/2006

“It’s a hallucinatory obsession, a pathological malady. Worse, an incurable sickness which turns one on others, causing murders, massacres, self-destruction.” Nine Turkish novelists and story-writers comment in Varlik‘s March issue on the passionate feelings of jealousy. “Actual jealousy is an existential problem”, writes Pinar Kür. “To fall into a state where your existence in the eye of someone you cherish is replaced by somebody else’s. That eye could be a friend’s, a lover’s, or a boss’s.”

For Nazli Eray, “Jealousy is a remote feeling”, whereas Orhan Duru states that “I am severely jealous. I wish to distance myself from that feeling. But lo and behold, I again find myself in a sea of jealousy.” Ibrahim Yildirim finds an analogy of jealousy in the scorpion: the scorpion, when cornered, stings itself. And in Mürat Gülsoy’s short story The jealous lover, the question is who should be jealous: “She didn’t accept being my mistress. Whatever I do, however cool-headed I try to act, she finds a way to wreak havoc with my psychological stability. It doesn’t even cross my mind to leave her or the others. This, precisely, is my drama.”

A second focus is devoted to Yasar Nabi, the founder of Varlik, the 25th anniversary of whose death is commemorated with this issue. The journal was launched in 1933, just five years after the replacement of the Arabic script – in use since the eighth century AD – with the Latin alphabet by the Turkish Republic (which itself had been founded only a decade before, atop the ruins of the Ottoman Empire). Translator, essayist, and poet Yasar Nabi Nayir (1908-1981), whose parents had immigrated to the Turkish Republic from Skopje, Macedonia, established the monthly review of literature and art at a time when 90 per cent of the 13.5 million citizens of the Republic were estimated to be “literally” illiterate.

The full table of contents of Varlik 3/2006.

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Published 21 March 2006

Original in English
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