More information, less sense
Lettera internazionale (Italy) dedicates an issue to “L’Europa fuori d’Europa”, the “other” Europe outside the borders of the EU. This turns out to be — above all — the Balkans.
“Also myths can change, they can be forgotten or rebuilt depending on the times we live in and on the aspirations we have,” writes Fatos Lubonja, Albanian dissident and editor of the journal Përpjekja. Lubonja thereby makes his position clear in the debate on the so-called “demythification” of national hero Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg, which started with the publication of the book Skanderbeg: Der neue Alexander auf dem Balkan (Skanderbeg: The new Alexander in the Balkans) by historian Oliver Schmitt. Well-known Albanian writer Ismail Kadare compared the attempt of demythification to an “attack on the concept of liberty.” Fact is, writes Lubonja, that the role of Albanian national heroes, that took on “unreal dimensions” during the totalitarian regime, need to be reconsidered and “deconstructed in the name of the spirit of the present age”. He concludes: “Today we have the problem of making Albanian citizens become part of the 21st century. They have to get rid of the most dangerous enemy, that is ignorance.”
Reconciliation: Slavenka Drakulic also flips the history book open, thereby unveiling the open questions that still preoccupy former Yugoslavian states: “Why fight for independence? Why wars? Was it a civil war? Was there only one aggressor? How many victims and on which side? Answers to these questions are hard to obtain, finding acceptance for them in any society even harder.”
According to Drakulic, the precondition for any reconciliation process is justice: “Indeed justice is the very fundament upon which reconciliation rests. But there is no justice without truth. Without a legal system for trying one’s own war criminals — and thereby uncovering facts about crimes committed in recent wars — everything else, every other attempt is bound to fail. This is not a simple task.”
Thinking Europe without thinking: Tanja Petrovic, Slovenian linguist and anthropologist, still sees the western Balkans as a region “outside Europe” and analyses the use of mechanisms of supervision and neo-colonial discourse.
The full table of contents of Lettera internazionale 114 (2012)
Contested Duma elections in December 2011 returned Vladimir Putin to the Russian presidency and prompted a surge in street protests. In the interim, the movement lost its momentum. New Eastern Europe (Poland) asks: can Russia really change?
Policy expert Tatiana Stanovaya surveys the opposition, both systemic and non-systemic. The latter now consists of three main groups: one led by the professional milieu that emerged in the 1990s under Yeltsin; the Coordination Council of the Opposition, which includes leaders of recent protests; and finally an “elite opposition”, in which former vice prime minister and former minister of finance Alexei Kudrin, and the billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, are the main players.
Change? Yes! No! Despite the opposition’s fragmented nature, Garry Kasparov (in interview) is adamant that half a million people on the streets of Moscow can change the regime and “open a new chapter in Russian history”. Scholar of international relations Jakub Korejba counters: “Blaming Russia for a lack of democracy is like complaining about not being able to buy alcohol in Saudi Arabia.” Moreover, “trying to boost democracy would mean going against […] elements of the Russian national identity”. Korejba warns that “such a manifestation of civilizational chauvinism may only push Russians away from the West and compromize western values”.
Chinese-Belarusian relations: In search of a metaphor capable of enlightening readers as to the inexplicable “recent boom in Belarus-China relations”, journalist Katerina Barushka turns to potatoes and fortune cookies: “Just as a potato needs sun and rain, Lukashenka needs credits and investments, preferably fast, easy and on an unconditional basis.” As for the fortune cookie: “It is distinct and remains true to its homeland, just like the Chinese officials when doing business in Belarus or elsewhere in the world.” Despite which, Belarus hopes that China’s engagement with the country will be a threat to Russian interests.
Also: Commentary on the costs of inaction, should the European Union continue to lose sight of its role in the security and stability of eastern Europe. And Anne Applebaum speaks to Hayden Berry, following the publication of her new book Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956.
The full table of contents of New Eastern Europe 1/2013
The new issue of Osteuropa is dedicated to the Napoleonic Wars and, in particular, the events of 1812. In an article entitled “1812 in Russia and Europe”, Anna Ananieva and Klaus Gestwa survey the political repercussions and interpretations of the war.
The events have been the subject of constant revision in a range of media, including music and literature, as well as by historians. This is how the Great Patriotic War (which was what the resistance of the French invasion used to be called before this term was reserved for WWII) came to be invented, when farmers and aristocrats stood together against a common enemy. Ignoring the fact that Russia was a multiethnic state and that less than half of the officers in service had Russo-Slavic family names, the idea of the Russian nation was dreamt up. “The memory of the conflict of 1812-14 is peculiarly well-suited to the invention of the nation. Contemporary re-stagings of the invasion of Russia in a range of media prepared the way for a useful narrative of the ‘War of 1812’.”
The most influential piece of literature for this patriotic approach was the novel Vojna i mir (War and Peace) by Leo Tolstoy. Until now the only event that overshadowed the resistance against Napoleon’s troops was Russian engagement in World War II. But “the more distant WWII becomes, the more the continuity between the wars is emphasized in Russia’s official culture of memory — both rhetorically and in the way it is re-staged.”
Pussy Riot and 1812: Elisabeth Cheauré reveals further traces of the 1812 war in current Russian politics and culture. The re-enactment of the battle of Borodino in 2012 was the main event of the commemorative year with more than 2000 actors and over half a million spectators. But “why exactly Borodino? Why a battle that only lasted a day, whose course still has not been conclusively reconstructed and whose outcome lay literally in the fog (of war)?”
A question left unanswered but which enhances the randomness of the myth of the Russian nation. Interestingly, Pussy Riot showed that there is no room for humour when it comes to the year 1812. In 1839 a cathedral was built in memory of the victory of 1812. Completed in the 1880s and used for celebrations until Stalin blew the church up, it was turned into a public swimming pool after his death. Between 1995 and 2000 the cathedral was rebuilt and it was this very church, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, that Pussy Riot chose for their 2012 protest performance. Cheauré is convinced that this choice added to the harsh verdict against the punk group: in a newspaper piece by Specnaz Rossii “under the title ‘Pussy riot. The Battle of Borodino’, one could read of the ‘rats’ who ‘danced upon the bones of the fallen warriors’.”
The full table of contents of Osteuropa 1/2013
In Krytyka (Ukraine), Mykhaylo Minakov reconsiders the causes and results of the “colour revolutions” in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, contrasting these with counter-revolutionary developments in Russia, Armenia and Tajikistan.
Minakov is rather sceptical about the outcomes of the colour revolutions. They failed, he writes, to address “the injustice of post-Soviet societies” and “offer a fundamentally new solution to the political and socio-economic challenges”. They were “an irrational response to a complex socio-political situation”, even “a barbarian response”. However, they were “tantamount to the barbarism of the regimes”, whose “ignominious lie” simply demanded a response. The future struggle for political freedom is inevitable, Minakov concludes. Therefore civil society must learn the lesson of the failed colour revolutions.
Gender politics: Discussing women’s political representation in Ukraine, Tamara Martsenyuk notes that there were positive developments in promotion of gender equality in the 1990s and early 2000s, pointing to particular achievements just after the 2004 Orange Revolution. However, since Viktor Yanukovych took office as president in 2010, the situation has deteriorated, writes Martsenyuk. Sexist statements are legion among top-ranking politicians. “If a woman’s main functions are reduced to the embodiment of beauty, being an object to look at and a mother, then Ukrainian society is unlikely to ever imagine any other roles for women.”
A possible solution to the current situation would be the introduction of gender quota for superior state bodies, suggests Martsenyuk. However, “there have been more than ten attempts to introduce affirmative action into the legal system”, but the parliament has not supported any of them. Instead of waiting for another suggestion, political parties should voluntarily introduce gender quota, Martsenyuk says: “Ukrainian women are not inferior to men in terms of professional education, and it is therefore hard to believe that political parties would not be able to find and train the required number of female politicians.”
The full table of contents of Krytyka 7-8/2012
In Schweizer Monat, historian and political scientist Harold James stresses the need for a workable EU model for federalism and democracy and finds it in the Swiss political, economic and social system. He advocates the Swiss model of consociational democracy, according to which:
“all the major parties are represented in the government, and are consequently obliged to hammer out compromises. Sometimes there are regional loyalties, sometimes ideological ones: they all need to be negotiated in the process of making decisions. But the concordance principle does not just work in the abstract — it requires a notion of solidarity that is built through other institutions. In particular, the systematic compromises that are regularly required can only function if many decisions are made in other settings: in parliament, but also on a regional (cantonal) level. The fundamental working principle for concordance is thus a well-established system of subsidiarity, with decisions being left as far as possible to the smallest territorial units: cities and districts as well as nation-states.”
Capitalism and welfare: A recent public debate on “welfare in capitalism” turned into a controversial and rather emotional discussion between economist Gerhard Schwarz, German philosopher Hermann Lübbe, the business economics lecturer Timo Meynhardt and professor emeritus for public law Philippe Mastronardi. Schweizer Monat publishes the debate, in which Mastronardi advocates the collective stance:
“Of course, it cannot be that we reduce the concept of welfare to the economic level. Welfare has to do with a quality of life, with living together in society. From culture, through love and all of the qualities of our lives right up until death, welfare is something that every single one of us tries to strive for. The economy is an important, but not the greater part in this equation. And therefore, it does not have to be that we find welfare in capitalism. Rather, one has to ask what role capitalism plays in terms of welfare. […] That is, how do we make capitalism dependent on welfare?”
The full table of contents of Schweizer Monat 2/2013
“Only deluded idiots could have believed that Slovenes would become anything other than a source of cheap labour (which in due course became too expensive anyway), and a dumping ground for the surplus products of more successful economies. […] We must therefore ask who has in fact benefited from Slovenian independence. Certainly not the people. Those who certainly did benefit were the few individuals who knew how to exploit privatization for their own ends and, above all of course, those who have screwed us again and placed us in an effectively colonial relationship.”
Urban culture: From theatre to architecture, postwar urban culture provides the focus for at least two of this issue’s pieces. In an interview with Dialogi‘s theatre editor, Zarko Petan looks back on a career that spanned much of Europe as well as the former Yugoslavia, where he staged the first Ionesco plays in Slovenia at the end of the 1950s. Meanwhile, the urban planning and architectural history of Yugoslav cities during the period 1945 to 1990 is the subject of the exhibition Unfinished Modernization: Between Utopia and Pragmatism, on tour in cities throughout former Yugoslavia and reviewed by Andrej Smid.
Also: Beninese artist Gérard Queneum’s latest exhibition at the October Gallery in London, and Matic Majcen’s reflections on post-independence Slovenian cinema.
The full table of contents of Dialogi 10/2012
The February issue of Akadeemia (Estonia) celebrates the ninety-fifth anniversary of the Republic of Estonia by republishing Illmar Tonisson’s reflections on “the nation as the carrier of a unique culture”, which first appeared in 1930. However, the youthful enthusiasm concerning the virtues of “cultural self-realization” in this piece gives way directly to the fears and hopes experienced during the transition to an authoritarian government in Estonia during the latter half of the 1930s, as represented in an article by Indrek Paavle.
Between Europe and other cultural regions: Nonetheless, the theme of cultural self-realization is sustained in Alar Maas’ “European identity from the 1860s to the present”. The period opens with Estonia’s national awakening, which prepared the way for the mingling of both nationalist and social democratic ideologies. At the same time, educational reforms seemed to instrumentalize aspects of Estonian culture perceived to be held in common with Europe, to the disadvantage of “Estonian ethnic culture”. Here Maas sees several hints of an affinity between the European Union and the Soviet Union and locates the problem to the basic concept that “humans have an identical world of thought, therefore their ethnic and cultural originality can be accepted only formally”.
Also: Erki Tammiksaar continues his investigation into how oil shale, despite its drawbacks as a fuel in comparison to coal and petroleum, guaranteed Estonia energy independence.
The full table of contents of Akadeemia 2/2013
Italian media activist Franco Berardi takes the ways in which our lives are speeding up as the point of departure for a theoretical yet programmatic article in Multitudes (France): “Technology and speed are more and more of an influence on social communication, the organization of labour and everyday life. Contemporary individuals perceive the intensification of the life rhythm as the determinant characteristic of post-Fordian society.”
Through the acceleration of information flows and the intensification of stimuli, our attention span is reduced, writes Berardi. This leads to a desensitisation to stimuli, ending in a “general pathology of our sensibility”. The effect on society’s psyche is simply “more information, less sense”.
Berardi’s scenario is one ruled by “semiocapitalism” (capitalism based on the production and circulation of semiotic goods) and time-killing media power. Responding to this development, media activism has “opened new spaces of freedom”. However, its work is far from done, according to Berardi:
“The digital media space, which invades everything, changes the psycho-chemistry of the social brain both with regard to opinion and sensibility. Sensibility is the faculty which makes things intelligible that cannot be put into words, like empathy. The deterioration of the fine layer of sensibility is the source of our contemporary psychopathology and of the disappearance of social solidarity that entails the political weakness of our societies.”
Consequently, media activism should “reinvest the aesthetic dimension; first as art, as a new production of the sensible, then as therapy, with the aim of rebalancing the relationship between info-space and aesthetic perception”.
Music resistance: Under the title “Musique f(r)ictions”, Frédéric Bisson and Pascal Houba introduce “Minority music” as “thinking music”, in a section that also includes portraits of Sun Ra, Antony Braxton, and the New York music bar The Stone — and “the ethics of hardcore”.
The full table of contents of Multitudes 51 (2012)