"Revolutionary demons"

11 October 2005
Only in en
Roots sets out on the road to freedom; du traces sympathy for the devil; Arche discusses the Belarusian cultural divide; Osteuropa defines challenges to political education after the Cold War; Semicerchio lends Czech poets an ear.

Roots 15 (2005)

The latest issue of Macedonian journal Roots is dedicated to the late editor Igor Masevski. Of special interest is a speech made by intellectual Denko Maleski on receiving an award from the Borjan Tanevski Memorial Foundation for his political journalism. Entitled “Our road to freedom”, the speech addresses errors committed during the conflict-ridden years after Macedonia’s independence, and the forces in contemporary Macedonia obstructing the development of a multi-ethnic democracy:

What little political will we have left is constantly exposed to attacks by a bunch of charlatans and nationalists nested firmly in politics, the media, and the universities. It is their misfortune that Europe is uniting itself on different principles than theirs. And it is our good fortune that the Europeans are allies of the moderate forces at work on the integration of multi-ethnic Macedonian society.

Towards the end of his speech, Maleski talks about the Roma, the most disadvantaged sector of Macedonian society. Seeing deprived Roma children on a recent visit to a school in Skopje convinced him of the duty of Macedonian intellectuals to speak up about the plight of these people. The donation of his award to the school represents one step along “the road to freedom”.

Elsewhere, the essay “The reason of borders or a border reason?” – a discussion of the impact of translation upon the concept of multi-culturalism and identity by António Sousa Ribeiro, editor of Portuguese journal “Revista Crítica de Ciências Socias”. Ribeiro draws on the existing debate to oppose the “Clash of civilizations” theory – the view that languages and cultures are essentially untranslatable:

If we share the assumption that every culture is necessarily incomplete in itself, and that there is no such thing as a self-contained, homogeneous culture, then the very definition of a given culture has to include what I would call inter-translatability. In other words, being-in-translation is an essential defining feature of the concept of culture itself.

Also in this issue: a magazine within a magazine – a retrospective of authors published by Croatian journal “Varazdinski Knjizevni Zbornik”.

The full table of contents of Roots 15 (2005).

du 9/2005

A painting by Arnulf Rainer depicting the devil adorns the cover of the October issue of du, entitled “The devil. Countenance of evil”.

The authors of this packed issue agree that evil today is no longer a question of single men or women, although its executors might be called Hitler or Stalin. Evil has evaporated into the structural: “In the past, in times of brute wars, sultry harassments, and simple baseness, the devil personally attended to each soul. Since the invention of social sciences, he pockets them collectively and soundlessly,” writes editor Andreas Nentwich. The conscience replaced the devil shortly before the century of organized mass destruction began.

Hans Richard Brittnacher, literary theorist in Berlin, traces sympathy for the devil in European literature through the centuries, from John Milton, Jeremias Gotthelf, de Sade, and Baudelaire to Giosué Carducci, Thomas Mann, and Anatol France. Theologian Rudi Thiessen (Berlin) shows that evil had no place in the Old Testament. It was a snake, not a devil, that seduced Eve to seduce Adam. The snake, symbol of eroticism and seduction, does not belong to the powers of darkness. It was only after St John’s Apocalypse was widely received in the 2nd century AD that images of heaven and hell, of God and the devil entered European consciousness.

Andrea Böhm, foreign correspondent for several German papers in the US, finds the headquarters of the evangelical war against a world full of devils in Colorado Springs, where “prayer warriors” position forces outside abortion clinics and striptease bars, and most recently placed a “prayer shield” over America and its president. To fight against evil, they believe, is America’s calling.

Swiss author Christoph Simon has collected little prayers to the devil. They decorate, as vignettes, the margins of the issue: “Dear Satan. Please make my sister prettier so that she finds a husband and moves out. Thank you. Markus.”

Elsewhere in the issue, Zeit journalist Christian Schüle spends a hot night in Tokyo’s bars and night clubs and discovers that even though it is 30°C and men emerge from the depths as women and women as men, the metropolis is aseptic. “The largest city in the world does not smell. It does not ferment. Rarely does a car honk. Pedestrians always have right of way. Nobody pushes, nobody jostles. The permanent respect for the other’s sphere maintains a decidedly comfortable social peace.”

The full table of contents of du 9/2005.

Arche 5/2005

The tension in Belarus between Russian and Belarusian cultural and political movements, and the pressure exerted on the cultural sphere by the notoriously illiberal regime, lend the articles in the latest issue of Belarusian journal Arche particular urgency. However, under the strong hand of dictatorship, a more or less free space of discussion can be found. Another Belarus is nascent in the pain and suffering, say the editors: a society that is free and open.

In “Revolution and counter-revolution”, Yury Chavusua analyzes methods used in the post-Soviet space to suppress peaceful revolution. In the past, the Russian government has used technology and the media to manipulate public opinion, while in Belarus the regime has resorted more readily to violent means. Now, both methods are being employed in both countries. With hopes for electoral change having been exhausted, Chavusua reports, the political opposition in Belarus has begun using exclusively revolutionary language. Alarmingly, he rates the chances of a violent response from the government to be high.

In the cultural sphere: campaigners for the Belarusian language were incensed recently by the decision of Deutsche Welle to broadcast its programmes in Russian. The “Liberal dogfight” over the national lingua franca has been raging since the early 1990s, writes Piotr Rudkouski, with intellectuals on both sides seeking the liberal high ground. Proponents of the Russian language accuse the Belarusian camp of being nationalists, arguing that liberalism and nationalism are incompatible. Rudkouski says this need not be the case, proposing a liberalism that includes “national feeling”.

Elsewhere, Mikola Kacuk exposes “The myths of Belarusian sociology”. In Belarus, sociology becomes “small change” in the confrontation between power and opposition: political efficacy is prioritized over analysis. Kacuk shows that research commissioned both by the state and by the NGO sector plays a role in the reproduction of political myths, for example, that women vote for Lukashenko. That this is to the detriment of sociology as a discipline goes without saying.

Also in the issue: poet and former UN ambassador Hienadz Buraukin explains in interview why he can’t help being in opposition; Andranik Antanian on Belarusian books in Poland between the two World Wars; and Ceslav Ciobanu on Gorbachev and the decay of socialism.

The full table of contents of Arche 5/2005.

Osteuropa 8/2005

Fifteen years after the end of the Cold War, eastern Europe’s political landscape is varied: the EU countries in the region have managed to establish firm democracies; in Russia and its neighbouring countries, democracy and authoritarianism coexist; while in central Asia, dictatorships retain their grip.

Confronted by the complexity of the eastern European political landscape today, even experts on Europe retreat from the bigger picture into specialisms. How, then, are students to develop the ability to make the political judgements about Europe required of them? Entitled “Forming Europe: Political education between East and West”, this issue of Osteuropa addresses questions faced by educators on eastern Europe.

Sociologist Fritz Erich Anhelm argues that while initiatives concerning eastern Europe from civil society have increased in response to events in recent history – Chernobyl, the exodus of Romanian Germans, the refugee movements from the Balkans – a coordinated programme for political education prioritizing the development of democratic culture is still missing. In order to avoid the bipolar representations of the past, Anhelm writes, political educators in Germany need to forge links with politics, business, and civil society.

Elsewhere, historian Jan Plamper writes about “Aktion Sühnezeichen”, a cultural exchange programme that since 1958 has arranged for young volunteers from Germany to work on charitable projects in countries that suffered under National Socialism. At the beginning of the 1990s, Plamper worked in St Petersburg as a carer for the elderly. What the people he met there told him about Stalinism and National Socialism is today at the centre of the debate on national memory.

The encounter with the “Memorial” dissidents permanently shifted my political coordination system. I should not deny that when I arrived in Russia, I placed redemptive hopes on Russian history and asked myself in all seriousness whether it had gone off course in 1918, 1921, or 1928. […] Getting to know the victims and also the descendants of the first repression under Lenin, as well as listening to dissidents’ accounts of history, cured me of this.

The full table of contents of Osteuropa 8/2005.

Semicerchio 32-33 (2005)

“Retracing the evolutionary lines and the dominant tendencies of Czech poetry in the 1990s is an arduous task,” writes Annalisa Cosentino, professor of Czech literature at the University of Udine, “complicated even further by political events and their impact on the cultural system: the various forms of censorship beginning with the Nazi occupation determined the evolution of art and therefore the literary dynamic.” The latest issue of the journal of comparative poetry Semicerchio looks at Czech poetry published after 1989, introducing the work of seven poets.

Poems by Viola Fischerová (b.1935 in Brno) – active in the literary scene since the 1950s, but whose first collection of poetry was published in 1993 – are pervaded by the themes of absence, mourning, and loss. She explores the effects of these psychological and physical conditions on everyday life:

The door to the house
entry into an open wound
The stairs shine
Neither a drop of blood
nor a little feather
Our entire life
lasted 16 years
and took place in three rooms

Although it is hard to define or categorize the complex panorama of works published in the Czech Republic after 1989, it is possible to trace certain continuities. This small anthology of works from the period is a fine example of that. The unification of experimentalism and the poetry of the everyday found in works by Ivan Wernisch (b.1942) is also present in the work of Petr Hruska (b.1964). And works by poets like Milos Dolezal (b.1970) and Petr Borkovec (b.1970) hold up the tradition of spiritual poetry. As Cosentino describes it:

In the Czech poetry of the last decade, it does not seem possible to detect either particularly innovative tendencies or the desire to break with the traditions of the twentieth century. But it is not poetry of epigones.

A look at poetry in the US: Semicerchio publishes for the first time in this sequence both the Italian and English versions of Gwendolyn Brooks’ sonnets “Gay Chaps at the Bar”, inspired by letters sent to her by soldiers during World War II.

The full table of contents of Semicerchio 32-33 (2005).

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Published 11 October 2005

Original in English
First published in

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