Naive, the hawks would say

8 February 2012
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Ny Tid says that only diplomacy can defuse the Iranian bomb; NAQD warns that the Arab revolutions are not as feminist as the West thinks; Blätter wants an enquiry into institutional racism in Germany; Letras Libres pays its respects to a rare revolutionary; Arena asks the bane of the Norwegian far-Right to explain Breivik; Res Publica Nowa struggles for objectivity amidst the tyranny of opinion; Merkur is still angry with Kohl; Springerin observes how artists lead the market when it comes to precarity; L’homme finds that international development begins in the home; and Vikerkaar reads 150 years of Estonian thanatography.

In a long article in Ny Tid (Helsinki), former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Hans Blix explains why diplomacy is the only feasible way to keep Iran from developing nuclear arms and to secure long-term peace in the region.

“American and Israeli hawks have always regarded negotiations, sanctions and sabotage to be the useless and cowardly means of European softies. They have never considered anything else than armed force or the threat of an attack to be effective, and are prepared to brand everything else as dangerous politics of appeasement.” But an attack against Iran would be illegal, writes Blix, who led the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission that “failed” to find the non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the invasion in 2003. And what would happen after the first bombs have been dropped on Tehran?

“Does anyone seriously believe that Iran would refrain from a counterattack? Does anyone doubt that the regime, hated by many Iranians, would receive the population’s full support for the fight against the violence of the US? Perhaps the uranium enrichment programme would be postponed a couple of years, but it would most certainly be resumed – with a strengthened resolve to protect the country against attacks from the outside, just as in North Korea.”

Blix suggests that Iran will be content with having shown the world that it does not accept being pushed around and that, in a relatively short time, they could build nuclear weapons – like Japan and Brazil, who have developed the capacity to enrich uranium but refrain from taking the step to developing weapons.

“Naive, the hawks would say. Well, let’s see.”

More about Ny Tid 12/2011

Whither democracy as representative governments are marginalized? This is the question at the heart of the current issue of the Algerian journal and Eurozine associate NAQD, marking twenty years of publication. The anniversary is a triumph in itself, given the inhospitable environment for critical thought in which the journal has “managed to survive against all odds”. NAQD launched in a time of turmoil, both globally and in the “global south”, and it celebrates its twentieth anniversary in the wake of the “Arab spring”. Now, as then, the journal’s call for intellectuals and thinkers “to resume critical thought and refuse to live under the stultifying weight of dogmatic ideologies” could hardly be more timely.

Women and the Arab revolutions: Aware of the West’s preoccupation with the situation of women in Muslim countries, the Arab media has been careful to show women playing a prominent role in the uprisings, writes Ibtissam Bouachrine. But this belies the reality. A misogynist demonization of the wives of fallen leaders and a focus among the protesters on rujula (virility) suggest these new revolutions will benefit women no more than previous ones – a thesis borne out by the exclusion of women from the post-revolutionary government in Egypt.

Tunisia: In his discussion of Tunisia’s democratic future, Kmar Bendana also cites the need to embrace greater participation in politics by women: a legacy of Tunisia’s first president, Habib Bourgiba, worth keeping. This should be one strand of the pluralism that will be necessary to stop the country subsiding back into dictatorship, writes Bendana.

Political economy: Hartmut Elsenhans argues that if the Arab revolutions are to succeed, the nations of the Maghreb and Near East must find a way of copying East and Southeast Asia’s economic success: “For those who want to become true citizens through protest and commitment to the political revolution, the central element is access to an economic basis. This would allow them to become true bourgeois individuals committed to democracy.” The stakes are high; failure will result in a repeat of “the Algerian tragedy of the dark years that followed 1988”.

Revolutions worthy of the name: Nahla Chahal highlights the huge challenges now facing the countries where uprisings have taken place or are underway, noting that a revolution is in principle only worthy of the name if it brings about “a complete, global project”, which is not the case. Nevertheless, “it would be completely unjust and wrong to understate what is happening and to deny its revolutionary and popular character, which is original and profound, or to couch it in terms of ‘western plans’, whereby the situation is to be manipulated with a view to installing a different management, a new Sykes-Picot in fact.”

More about NAQD 12/2011

In Blätter, Werner Ruf explains why Algeria’s heritage of colonial repression and political violence continues to hamper democracy in the country. Algeria remains a rentier state dependent on the export of raw materials, at the same time importing around 90 per cent of its consumer goods. Controlling the economy is a small network beholden to the state elite, at whose centre are the security services. Protests in Algeria have been brutally suppressed; toppling Boutefika, a marionette of the army, would do little to alter power structures.

Morocco and Tunisia, on the other hand, enjoy a relative degree of economic self-sufficiency. Yet democratic improvements there are by no means secure, warns Ruf. Paradoxically, the danger comes from an alliance between the moderate Islamists that make up the new governments and the European Union. Unfair trading advantages granted to European companies by the recent Association Agreement have sparked protests from those who “suspect that the decades long control from abroad might continue under the auspices of neoliberalism”. The long-term success of the democratic protests in the Maghreb, writes Ruf, depends to a large extent on EU foreign and trade policy. “Western democracies, particularly, ought to know that ‘dignity’ means a great deal more than the attainment of civil freedoms.”

Institutional racism: The revelation at the end of 2011 that a neo-Nazi group was responsible for a decade-long series of fatal attacks on Turkish traders – the so-called Dönermorde – and not, as presumed, an organized criminal network based abroad, has elicited outrage in Germany. But in directing the bulk of criticism at the failings of undercover police work, attention has been deflected from the existence of institutional racism in police practices more generally, writes Mark Terkessidis.

Institutional racism and its effects on the functioning of organizations in Germany – in this case the police force – is epitomized by the notion of “integration” and the industry that has developed around it, argues Terkessidis. Globalization has undermined the sovereignty of the traditional object of integration – the nation-state – and created a completely altered pattern of mobility that renders the concept of integration meaningless.

“It is no longer a matter of compensatory correction of groups with deficits, but about the ‘barrier-free’ re-equipping of institutions with regard to the ‘diversity’ of society. […] This involves a strategic approach to changing institutions that [aims] at altering the way they operate on an everyday basis. This means putting individuals at the centre, individuals with very different requirements, backgrounds of frames of reference.”

The full table of contents of Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 2/2012

In the Spanish journal Letras Libres, Jordi Pérez Colomé takes stock of the Egyptian revolution, which nobody anticipated nor expected, even hours before it began on 25 January 2011: “What happened so that an unsustainable situation without an exit suddenly breaks loose and makes a regime collapse?”

Tunisia is an immediate answer, and Facebook: “Obviously, social networks were not the reason for the revolution. But they were one more motivation: the problems of Egypt were there, and after looking at Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, one still had to go out onto the street and risk one’s skin. That’s what is important. But the networks allowed the boldest to feel that there were tens of thousands of Egyptians out there, ready to declare in public, using their given names and surnames, that they would take to the streets.”

A rare revolutionary: Adam Michnik remembers his friend and combatant Václav Havel, whom he got to know in the summer of 1978 when Polish and Czechoslovak dissidents started to meet regularly: “Czech normalization was an era of lies, of conformism, of cowardliness and of apathy. Václav Havel was one of the first who spoke with his own voice, and his words were those of someone faithful to truth and liberty.”

Havel was one of the few in democratic opposition, Michnik adds, who remained faithful to their values and ideals also when they gained power: “As president, Havel was a formidable ‘conciliator’, in the tradition of Tomás Masaryk (philosopher, president of the first Czechoslovak Republic), and at the same time a humanist like the Russian Andrei Sakharov, the Pole Jacek Kuron or the Hungarian János Kis. He united the skillfulness of Bronislaw Geremek […] and the passion of Jan Patocka, the great Czech philosopher.”

The full table of contents of Letras Libres 1/2012

In a themed section in (Sweden) on animal rights and nature, Jonathan Metzger suggests that a new type of political ecology may lend the Left a broad political platform that can serve to tackle the climate crisis. However, that requires that we acknowledge wills that are not human.

Metzger uses the term “more-than-humanism” (rather than the more established posthumanism) to describe an approach that no longer searches for what separates humans from other beings on the planet, but instead sees this very division as “one of the most important contributing factors to the threat of impending doom that humankind faces today”.

In order to truly embrace the insights of more-than-humanist thinking, writes Metzger, all political parties on the Left “must rethink their current positions in practically every single political area. It would require a shift in worldview and in the fundamental analytical framework and would affect not only educational politics and its core values, but also consultative procedures and the considerations taken in city planning and infrastructural policy, financial policies over time, and the methods and purposes of long-term investigations. It would also involve an entirely new type of environmental protection policy that focuses not so much on preservation/destruction as on creating conditions for a sustainable co-existence among species.”

Breivik’s bane: Thomas Hylland Eriksen, arguably Norway’s internationally best-known academic, was mentioned several times in Anders Behring Breivik’s infamous “Manifesto”, and on rightwing websites has been branded as one of the leading “cultural Marxists” to have sold out the country to immigrants and Islamists.

In interview, Hylland Eriksen tells Magnus Linton that, today, “everyone can build their own ideological universe in which the government withholds facts about what and who really rule the world. Breivik created his own virtual reality and was, in the end, almost insanely convinced that a large part of the population supported his attack on multiculturalism. […] This cyber-isolationism, combined with a pseudo-scientific setting, is important to bear in mind when one tries to understand how his conviction ultimately grew so strong that it took him to the border of psychosis. Breivik didn’t only do what he had convinced himself was necessary; he did what was scientifically necessary.”

Also: New Arena columnist Claus Leggewie on Vaclav Havel’s “attempt to live in truth”; Helin Sahin on Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the backlash of Turkish democracy; and Eric Sundström on Margaret Thatcher – as the film The Iron Lady hits European cinemas, British unionists continue to drink tea out of cups saying “I still hate Thatcher”.

The full table of contents of Arena 1/2012

Res Publica Nowa asks whether public opinion has lost its power to legitimize democracy in contemporary Poland. If public opinion reflects anything today, it is mutual misunderstanding, Michal Wysocki writes. “The diversity of the public space has collapsed under pressure from a flood of uncertainties. Only feelings seem to have any meaning, debate has given way to a market system in which the main currency is intimacy.”

Traditional formalities, etiquette, the rules of rhetoric or an impersonal posture may seem to create distance, but they also establish a platform where words can have meaning, and judgements are objectivized, proposes Wysocki. Yet in today’s public sphere, debate has been reduced to a play of personalities and affective exhibitionism. The private and public have merged; politicians are elected for their image and the feelings they evoke, not for their political programmes. This has been combined with an explosion of media which offer opportunities for personal self-expression. But “an excess of communication technology creates an imperative to speak out for the sake of doing so”. The public voice has lost the power to verify judgements, and so to create a route for understanding others.

Rule of law: Constitutional courts are no less important to a democracy than elections, writes Krzysztof J. Kaleta, yet they are often treated as a legally sanctioned space for political hostilities. Today, political power is institutionally fragmented and decision-making processes are increasingly complex. The will of the public does not find direct expression in legislation because of the range of institutional participants in political and legal discourse. Yet legitimacy depends on trust in established juridical rules and those who implement them.

A new era: Bernard Kouchner, founder of Médecins sans Frontières, talks to Wojciech Przybylski about the complexities of combining humanitarian engagement with public activism. “It was necessity”, he says. Yet the movement that brought medical aid to the world was ostracized in France, where it began. “We became exiles in our own country, just as we were when we found ourselves hundreds or thousands of miles away from home. There was something universal in this – suffering is a universal thing. It bears no relation to borders. And now the French Left is demanding de-globalization for fear of change. People propose de-globalization not realizing that it’s the beginning of an inflexibility redolent of fascism. Europe is no longer the centre of the world. We are stepping into a new era.”

The full table of contents of Res Publica Nowa 16 (2011)

Franz Josef Strauss and other once controversial political figures of the old Federal Republic of Germany no longer arouse much emotion in erstwhile colleagues and observers. Helmut Kohl is a very different story, writes Berthold Franke in Merkur, and he’s not the only one to think so.

Kohl’s combination of provincialism and power politics infuriated opponents, while his strategy of obliterating discourse simply by sitting it out was a thorn in the side of those who expected politicians to complexly address complex problems. The political donations scandal that blew up in 1999 epitomized these vices, writes Franke: Kohl used the money to bolster the positions of party subordinates, thus securing their loyalty and ultimately his position at the top; having been exposed, his subsequent refusal to name donors has prolonged the rage.

But is resentment reason not to celebrate Kohl’s role in the reunification of Germany and Europe as a whole? “The circle of active Kohl acolytes who continue to call for a Nobel Prize for their hero have, when one consults the balance, unfortunately overseen that the Nobel Prize for overcoming the division of Europe has already been awarded – to Mikhail Gorbachev. If one again passes sober judgement over world politics in the late 1980s, one has to admit that the real historical turning point – which preceded and enabled German reunification – was the historical withdrawal of the Soviet Union […] and the consequent implosion of the Soviet empire. The achievement of Kohl and his government consisted in having recognized this process and in exploiting the opportunities therein through the brilliantly negotiated Two Plus Four Agreement.”

Global history: The rise of “global history” is threatened by “political counter-currents”, according to historian Jürgen Osterhammel. “The more that crisis-stricken societies turn in on themselves, the stronger their need will be for a ‘useful’ history of the tribal collective. In many places, curricula are again becoming narrower, more patriotic, or, where one used to own an empire, more imperially apologetic. The political and educational programme of global history is therefore to open and hold open possibilities of thought and spaces of communication. Its elementary message (some might call it ‘cosmopolitan’) is anti-parochial and also very simple: we (whether westerners, Germans, Chinese or Indians) are, also historically speaking, not the measure of all things.”

The full table of contents of Merkur 2/2012

The growing number of people registered with Germany’s social insurance agency for artists demonstrates the increasing extent to which creative work is characterized by low and unpredictable incomes, reports Pascal Jurt in Springerin (Austria). “On average, a female fine artist earns 11,103 euros, her male colleague 15,165 euros. In other words, the irregular incomes of a significant proportion of artists do not guarantee their existence. As before, only a fraction (around two per cent of graduates from art colleges) manage to live from art.”

The precariousness of arts and culture at an industrial level does not trigger alarm but, on the contrary, seems to be used as a model for other sectors, notes Jurt. The dissolution of the borders between work and leisure is a fact that has been observed in the German language social sciences, above all in labour market sociology. “In some parts of German labour market research, artist markets are seen as a possible model for other part-time labour markets.” The suggestion is that aspects of cultural work such as “high flexibility, mobility and risk-preparedness, as well as artists’ uncompromising connection to their own work, should be transferred to other sectors of work and production”.

Bricks and mortar: Gregory Sholette tackles artistic precarity from a different angle. Construction workers on Abu Dhabi’s new Guggenheim museum have been dragged from low-wage countries to the United Arab Emirates, where working conditions are below any acceptable standards. The Gulf Labour Coalition has protested against the malpractice and, in its first communiqué, stated that “artists should not exhibit in buildings that are erected on the backs of exploited workers. People who work with bricks and mortar deserve the same respect as people who work with cameras and paint brushes.”

The full table of contents of Springerin 1/2012

International development policies in the twentieth-century turned a blind eye to gender bias, argues Corinna R. Unger in L’Homme: “Broadly speaking, three inter-related areas can be identified in the conception of development policy that concern how money is dealt with: household budgeting and home economics, consumer practices, and saving and borrowing.”

Systematic changes initiated by development policies have been borne by women through adjustments in housekeeping, saving and canny consumption. Although women were not explicitly mentioned in West German international development policy in the early 1960s, “the implication was that it was they who were to make the effort to adapt to altered structures, and that the household budget was where the development-political activity was to take place. […] Colonial administrators and developmental planners were aware that the supposedly private realm represented a highly political sphere that had an influence on the economic structures and practices of the respective societies.”

Budgeting for everyday life: Beverly Lemire explains the relevance of thrift “as the foundation of everyday life in countless generations among many social classes”. In nineteenth century Britain, it was women who have been responsible for households and hence for the efficient use of resources. “Women managed household linens and attire: they cleaned, mended and cared for these goods, tasks that represented part of their domestic authority. They also pawned their possessions, out of necessity. Resorting to the pawnbroker was a habitual practice for many working families, as recounted repeatedly in legal records.”

Even today, “development specialists note the importance of educating poor women in the techniques of monetized budgeting. Women’s access to savings banks and education in thrift are critical tools in poverty reduction. […] Giving the working poor access to banks and the skills to use these institutions remains an ongoing endeavour. Such initiatives began in the Victorian Britain and remained a continuing concern into the twentieth century.”

Also: Kirsten Bönker focuses on differences between males and females as economic entities and their handling of savings and expenditures; and Mario Wimmer describes strategies of home economics in inter-war Germany.

The full table of contents of L’Homme 2/2011

“Whose death is important enough to be covered in newspapers – in other words, who has the right to die publicly?” In Vikerkaar (Estonia), Roosmarii Kurvits surveys 150 years of thanatography (writing about a person’s death) to examine how descriptions of death, both of prominent and ordinary people, have changed according to the times.

Newspapers in late nineteenth-century Tsarist Estonia signalled mourning with a black frame around the front page; reports included medical statements taking the reader to the bedside of the dying person. In inter-war Estonia, death was relegated to inside pages of the now more voluminous paper, the front being given over to commercials. Coolly medical descriptions of the process of dying were replaced by equally cool encyclopaedic surveys of the life and achievements of the deceased, the size of notices and their placement varying according to the wealth and ambition of those left behind.

Soviet-era thanatography, on the other hand, was wholly institutionalized, hierarchized and ideologically determined. “The most important deceased were those who had been at the forefront of the war of ideologies – Soviet heads of state and cosmonauts. They had the right to die on the front page. Foreign heads of state were also classified ideologically, depending on whether they had been regarded as allies or enemies of the Soviet Union. Charles de Gaulle (1970) died on the front page, Winston Churchill (1965) on the last.” The death of the common person was insignificant and routine: “People died as a homogeneous gray mass.”

In today’s newspapers, coverage of “big death” is characterized by information explosion, the pictorial turn, fragmentariness, and postmodernism, writes Kurvits. “Death is merely a pretext for writing about the deceased and showing his image.” Coverage of ordinary deaths, however, is similar to that during the Soviet era. Although ordinary deaths are not quite equal (a certain hierarchization is allowed within prescribed limits), “These are the deaths of mass society: numerous, routine, uniform.”

The full table of contents of Vikerkaar 12/2011

Published 8 February 2012

Original in English
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