"In defence of independent media"

27 February 2007
Only in en
Arche calls for an independent media in Belarus; Osteuropa touches the sore points of the European Neighbourhood Policy; Edinburgh Review connects Calcutta; Mittelweg 36 translates contemporary theories of fascism; Esprit visits an ignored part of la république; Vikerkaar discusses the abuse of history by politics; and Sodobnost International launches an English anthology of Slovenian literature.

Arche 1/2007

Just one month after resuming operations after a three-month suspension at the end of 2006, Belarusian journal Arche has received a second “warning” from the Belarusian authorities. Its offence was to publish, without prior approval, three back issues missed during the suspension. Could this be Arche‘s final issue? “To show our stance and emphasize the barbaric nature of the crackdown on Arche, we will most likely shut down this publication,” editor Valer Bulhakau has warned.

This turn of events only increases the urgency of Ales Ancipienka’s call for an independent media in Belarus in the current issue. Ancipienka opposes the common view that the “alternative media” should have a propagandistic and manipulative role. This attitude, he says, stems from the independent media’s continuing adherence to a post-Soviet concept of a “single information space”.

Media projects based on the idea of “civic journalism” must play a major role in overcoming current social fragmentation, writes Ancipienka. He also stresses the importance of the Internet and particularly of radio stations operating outside Belarus, should the Belarusian authorities attempt to block Internet sites.

Democratic political parties can and do exist in undemocratic regimes, but their status is ambiguous at best. According to Alexei Pikulik, the Belarusian opposition is facing four crises: representation, legitimacy, external influence, and strategy. Pikulik raises some uncomfortable questions: How can the state monopoly over representation of public interest be broken? Are there real democrats among the democratic opposition? And how credible are the EU’s promises to Belarus?

Also to look out for: Hans-Georg Wieck, former head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Belarus, writes that European expressions of solidarity with the Belarusian opposition are not enough: Europe needs to adopt the US strategy of promoting the opposition directly.

The full table of contents of Arche 1/2007.

Osteuropa 2-3/2007

“The idea is ambitious,” write the editors of Osteuropa. “With its European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), the EU wants to form a ring of friendly states and create security and stability on its external borders: from the Barents Sea in the northeast, through the South Caucasus and the Near East, to the Maghreb states in North Africa.”

The ENP was designed as an alternative to enlargement that would allow the expansionary dynamic of the EU to continue without the burden of acquiring new member states. At the centre of the European dynamic, writes sociologist Georg Vobruba, is “the interest of the core of the EU in protecting its politically stable prosperity zone. This dominant interest has led to the core perceiving its periphery in two ways: as the source of various economic and political problems […] but also as an upstream exclusion zone that keeps problems from the more distant periphery out. This ambivalent perception of the periphery as a source of problems and as problem solver leads to the EU’s characteristic combination of exclusion and inclusion policy regarding its periphery.”

But how and under what conditions is the periphery prepared to cooperate with the prosperous core in terms of a policy of conditional inclusion? The drawbacks for the periphery states are numerous: “They receive ever scarcer financial support; access to all EU markets is only a privilege, not a standard; they have no institutionalized say in the EU. Added to all that is the lost prestige of being recognized as a (potential) EU member.” Are the neighbouring states willing to make the same amount of effort as they would in the framework of the enlargement policy for a distinctly lower return from the EU?

Also of interest: Arkadi Moshes on the countries between the EU and Russia, where interests increasingly collide. “The EU has no choice. Without pervasive democratic reforms, there will be no true transformation of the countries in this region. And without their transformation, the EU cannot be sure in the long run that the countries on its borders are strong, stable, reliable partner states.”

The full table of contents of Osteuropa 2-3/2007.

Edinburgh Review 119 (2007)

New Eurozine partner Edinburgh Review continues its international series with an issue devoted to Calcutta – India’s “cultural capital”. The accolade has been gained by making a virtue out of necessity, writes Swapan Chakravorty in the brilliant essay “Imminent ruin and desperate remedy: Calcutta and its fragments”:

The flawed promise of colonial modernity had schooled Calcutta into configuring a nation its people were denied: the city had then learned to invent the nation as a cultural idea. When Calcutta lost its grip on the levers of the national economy, it fell back on this legacy of material self-denial and cultural creativity.

The communist party that rose to power in the city on the back of the social and economic crises of the 1960s and 1970s, and which is still in charge, is routinely blamed for the flight of capital from Calcutta. But, argues Chakravorty, “political and cultural vanguardism were the perverse responses of the city robbed of economic agency. The communists […] consolidated that process into political dividends; they cannot be said to have created it.”

There is a “rare phenomenon of the urban commons” in Calcutta: “Every inch of civic space – roads, parks, gardens – is makeshift space, just as every inch of private space is communal space.” In the past, “the Left could mobilize the displaced […] partly because of this attitude”. Ironically, the communist government increasingly bows to the interests of developers: “The government has tried, with fitful success, to evict squatters and hawkers […] The primary task of civic authorities now seems to be restricting access to public space and carefully licensing its use.”

Also to look out for: Anjanu Basu finds reason to be optimistic about Indo-Anglian writing in Calcutta; Sangeeta Datta surveys Bengali cinema; Hannah Adcock narrates the life of British missionary Isabella Plumb; and Rajorshi Chakraborti writes an excruciating story about… itchy balls.

The full table of contents of Edinburgh Review 119 (2007).

Mittelweg 36 1/2007

The new issue of Mittelweg 36 brings together major contemporary theorists of fascism; among them, Italian historian Emilio Gentile, who provides some marker posts in a field that has lost its way. With the disappearance of taboos following the collapse of the USSR there has been a “tendency to replace the traditional anti-fascist paradigm with a new anti-communist one”, he argues. In turn, this has brought “a newly ideologized equation of fascism and bolshevism”.

This equation has produced interpretations “that would like to understand fascism as a ‘heretic’ form of Marxism, as a defect communism”. However, “Fascists such as Mussolini who came from the revolutionary Left were not heretics but ‘atheists’ who radically and completely denied the entire idea underlying Marxism and egalitarian international socialism.” Such interpretations are part of the inflationary use of a “generic” definition of fascism, which is even applied to those who “never identified themselves as such or objected to such an association”.

Gentile also re-prioritizes fascism’s totalitarian character, an aspect discredited by Hannah Arendt and others when the concept of totalitarianism “became part of the propaganda armoury of the Cold War”. Gentile describes totalitarianism “as a laboratory conducting an experiment in anthropological revolution. […] I define totalitarianism as an experiment and not as a regime in order to […] emphasize its dynamic character – totalitarianism is a perpetual process which cannot at any point in its realization be seen as complete.”

Plus: translations of the opening chapter of Michael Mann’s Fascists (2004) and Robert O. Paxton’s seminal paper “The five stages of fascism”; Sven Reichardt on new directions in comparative research on fascism; and Mark Roseman on socialist resistance to the NS regime in the Ruhr region.

The full table of contents of Mittelweg 36 1/2007.

Esprit 2/2007

Esprit devotes its February issue to an “ignored” part of the French Republic: the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean, whose societies, as the editors note in their introduction, “were carried by history to the outposts of the struggle for republican equality”. “It was the dirty paunch of slavery”, they write, “that for the first time and most radically brought the universalist values of human rights to the fore.”

After WWII the former French colonies of Martinique and Guadeloupe (in the Lesser Antilles), French Guiana, and Réunion became part of France as so-called overseas départements – politically equal to the départements in mainland France. The approximately two million inhabitants are represented in the National Assembly and vote for the president. And, being part of France, they belong to the European Union.

Michel Giraud, sociologist at CNRS who compiled the focus along with Patrick Weil, writes about the relationship between the Antilles-born French people who moved to “mainland” France and those who stayed on the islands: “They first went as migrants, but now they insist that their children be brought into the fabric of French society, as they realize that the French citizenship they inherited does not protect them from various types of discrimination.”

Laurent Dubois, historian at Michigan State University, compares the histories of slavery in France and the United States: “In contrast to what happened in America, France has so far proved unable to bring colonial history and slavery into the shared national narrative.” And Patrick Weil examines recent legislation in France regarding the politics of memory after the declaration that slavery constitutes a crime against humanity caused a major stir among historians.

Also of note: Henri Prévot on the climate disaster and French energy policy; and Jérôme Sgard on the greenhouse effect in Amazonia.

The full table of contents of Esprit 2/2007.

Vikerkaar 1-2/2007

The Estonian literary journal Vikerkaar presents a double issue on the use and abuse of history by politics. Outstanding French and Estonian historians question the relationship between past and present in Estonia and France.

Jacques Revel, former president of the EHESS, discusses “the burden of memory in present-day France”; Gérard Noiriel, author of The French Melting Pot. Immigration, Citizenship and National Identity (1988), and historian of pacifism Nicolas Offenstadt look into public history debates in France by analyzing the principles of the Comité de vigilance fase aux usages publics de l’histoire, established in 2005.

The contributions by Estonians are led by the question of how Estonian history should be explained to foreigners. Toomas Hiio, of the Estonian Foundation for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity and adviser to the president of Estonia, looks into contemporary interpretations and applications of Estonian history. Political scientist Raivo Vetik from Tartu University asks whether Russia should apologize to Estonia. And his colleague Vello Pettai discusses how the notion of the Estonian Republic’s legal continuity and restoration emerged.

French historian Jean-Pierre Minaudier bridges the Estonian and French perspectives by comparing the different ways in which the end of World War II is commemorated in France, Estonia, and Russia.

The full table of contents of Vikerkaar 1-2/2007.

Sodobnost International 1 (December 2006)

In its premier issue, Sodobnost International presents Slovenian authors in English translation. This glimpse into the Slovenian literary landscape is invaluable for anyone interested in Slovenian literature who doesn’t speak the language.

In the opening essay, Ales Debeljak voices the concern of many contemporary authors: “In the world of corporate capitalism and its imperative of profit maximization, all literary works that attempt to reach beyond immediate gratification and instant consumption will sooner or later face a dilemma: who reads me?”

Imaginative literature is a process of translation, says Debeljak. “Images, metaphors, and situations can be and are recognized across the cultural divides, uniting the readers of different languages in keeping with the same set of literary guidelines. And a community of readers is born, whose internal differences play themselves out within the borders of the same text, deepening our sense of belonging and isolation at the same time. […] It is the redeeming potential of imaginative literature to remind us of our commonalities while refusing to overlook the differences that prompt readers to return to the useless works of imaginative literature in order to get their dose of freedom, mystery, and fragments of wisdom.”

Also: Editor-in-chief Evald Flisar asks, “How should the writer write, if his word is to be listened to by a world which is preoccupied with other, seemingly more pressing affairs: with war and peace, with politics, with economics, with transactions in shares, with hunting for riches, with the struggle for survival? A world which would rather seek the truth about itself in newspaper reports and commentaries, in the television news and round-table discussions?”

Don’t miss: The rest of the issue is filled with the poems and short stories of many of Slovenia’s leading contemporary writers, including Tomaz Salamun, Josip Osti, and Novica Novakovic.

The full table of contents of Sodobnost International 1 (December 2006).

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Published 27 February 2007

Original in English
First published in

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