"Sinister forces at work"

22 May 2007
Only in en
Index on Censorship sees the State and not the government run Turkey; Arche explains paradoxical Belarus; Osteuropa traces Western pop icons back to eastern Europe; Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) puts the mop in cosmopolitan; Mute blames capital for climate change; Ord&Bild plunges into the world of water; Gegenworte goes in search of excellence; Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) watches the murder of the Danish prime minister; Springerin maps the boundaries of bare life; and Wespennest lists the critic's privileges.

Index on Censorship 2/2007

Ultra-nationalism is on the rise in Turkey. But following the wave of protest at the murder of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, foreign observers hoped prime minister Tayyip Erdogan would be forced to take action. Instead, nothing.

That should be no surprise, writes Maureen Freely in Index on Censorship. With an election this year, political parties can’t afford to sideline nationalists. But more important to remember is that it’s the State and not the government that runs Turkey. And as the military’s recent intervention to prevent Abdullah Gül’s presidential candidacy made abundantly clear: what the State wants, the State gets.

Inside the State, writes Freely, there are many who suspect the government of aspiring to an Islamist revolution. They fear that the EU will curb military powers and render it too weak to resist such an event. Enter the “deep State”, embedded in the Turkish military, intelligence service, and mafia, whose existence looks increasingly likely to be more than just a rumour.

Russia: The media can criticize the Kremlin until it’s blue in the face but fail to gain a response, writes Roman Shleinov, editor of opposition paper Novaya Gazeta. Only when journalists threaten the entrenched system of relationships, above all in the regions, are the consequences felt. Shleinov’s colleague Anna Politkovskaya wasn’t the first to prove this.

Also to look out for: Commentators including A.L. Kennedy, A.C. Grayling, Julian Petley, and Kenan Malik are none too impressed by “What New Labour did for free speech”.

The full table of contents of Index on Censorship 2/2007.

Arche 4/2007

“To say that ‘Belarus is Europe’s last dictatorship’ and then repeat it a thousand times results in a false sense of clarity – a cognitive obstacle that can be cleared only through a comprehensive understanding of that country. Such understanding, though, is only possible on Belarus’ own terms, not on the basis of clichés rehashed by the international media.”

Thus writes US-based Russian geographer Grigory Ioffe in Arche, and sympathetic Westerners would do well to take note. But how should the country’s problems be understood when so much is apparently paradoxical? A popular tyrant versus a squabbling opposition; consensual colonialism versus elitist nationalism…

Ioffe clarifies: In Belarus there are three strands of national project: the Nativists (the Belarusian-speaking democratic opposition), the Muscovite Liberals (Russian-speaking Westernizers), and the Creoles (Lukashenko’s Belarusian-Russian-speaking isolationists). Both the Nativists and the Muscovite Liberals suspect one another of collaborating with the Creoles, while the Creoles suspect both of collaborating with foreign powers.

Each national project has its own strengths and weaknesses, argues Ioffe. While the Nativists are dedicated, they are also intransigent; while the Muscovites can communicate broadly, they lack vision; and while the Creoles are the most numerous, they are geopolitical pariahs. Encouraging indications that the deadlock will be broken, however, have been coming from the Nativists, with Andrej Dynko’s recent injunction: “Economics matter!” (see the last Eurozine Review)

Also to look out for: Vital Silicki, “A farewell to Milinkievich”; Ales Ancipienka, “Structural displacements in the media field”; and Pavel Usau, “What do the Belarusians need from the EU?”

The full table of contents of Arche 4/2007.

Osteuropa 5/2007

Many products of Western popular culture are imports from eastern Europe – a fact that is often overlooked, given the common lament about the “McDonaldization” of culture, write Birgit Menzel and Ulrich Schmid in Osteuropa. Since Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer rejected the mass cultural industries in their Dialectic of Enlightenment, this discourse has dominated the debate. With an abundance of surprising examples, Osteuropa shows the rich eastern European heritage that lies at the origin of many an icon of Western popular culture.

Hollywood’s film music, writes Dorothea Redepenning, is a melting pot of popular songs and jazz, of European symphony, opera, ballet, and Broadway. Many eastern European émigrés created music that now belongs to American cultural identity: the music to High Noon was written by Russian-born Dimitri Tiomkin, and Irving Berlin, born as Israel Balin in eastern Poland, composed the all-time favourite “White Christmas”.

From Andy Warhol, child of Slovak parents and the icon of American popular culture, to Michael Marks, Russian émigré in London, who for lack of knowledge of the English language invented the supermarket where all wares are on display at a marked price – now well-known as “Marks & Spencer”; from the Moscow mathematician and inventor of Tetris to the Russian singer Ruslana, who won the 2004 Eurovision song contest by serving to Western clichés of the “wild East”. The imports from East to West seem endless, culminating in the parody of eastern European stereotypes in the successful film Borat.

The ways in which Eastern artefacts have entered Western pop culture are very different, the authors point out: either camouflaged and assimilated, or transformed to appeal to the taste of the masses. Or, as is the case of Ruslana and Gary Shteyngart (“immigrant chic”), Eastern heritage is presented as strikingly exotic.

The full table of contents of Osteuropa 5/2007.

Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) 5/2007

“These days global players aren’t only in top management,” writes sociologist Maria S. Rerrich in the German edition of Le Monde diplomatique. “Domestic workers have also become globally networked and are in transit worldwide.”

Rerrich calls these women “cosmobile”. “Cleaning is seen by them as a comparably good occupation which is reasonably well paid. […] For an unskilled occupation, women cannot earn the same pay in any other field of work, with the exception of prostitution. Added to that is the fact that this kind of illegal employment is well protected from official inspection.”

But how should we feel about these growing numbers of workers who live without legal status and work for substandard wages? Put more simply, “Should we have a guilty conscience if we employ a cleaning lady?”

This feeling of personal guilt, although a common reaction, is not the point, says Rerrich, taking Germany as an example. “When several million households in Germany regularly or occasionally employ domestic workers, only a minute fraction of which are officially registered, it is not just an individual mistake. Rather it is a sign of a massive structural societal problem in acute need of political action.” [italics added]

Also in this issue: Sophie Boukhari speaks with Africans waiting on the shores of Morocco to gain access to European opportunities; Sonia Shah reports on the practice among big pharma companies of testing new products in slums; and Jean Louis Rocca writes on China’s attempts to catch up with the Industrial Revolution.

For more on China, see the first Edition LMD, a new biannual, thematic series of anthologies, which will be followed in September by an issue on “global players”, such as Ikea, Wal-Mart, and Delphi.

The full table of contents of Le Monde diplomatique Berlin 5/2007.

Mute 5 (2007)

In Mute, a London-based journal of art and new technologies and new Eurozine partner, editor Josephine Berry Slater doesn’t doubt that climate change is a reality. What she questions is the cause behind global warming: “Global warming is not an inevitable consequence of human behaviour but rather the result of capital’s inhuman drive to accumulate at any cost. In short, global warming is not made by man but by the capitalist mode of production.”

In his article “Capital Climes”, activist Will Barnes backs this up with a brief overview of the destruction caused by raw capitalism (or, more precisely, capitalists and the states that support them) and the process of climate change over the past few million years: “The pursuit of exploitable ‘natural resources’ for capitalist production on a world-scale has created a geological regression reversing thousands and millions of years of natural evolution.”

In response to climate change, James Woudhuysen recommends transformative technological and social innovation instead of meddling “micro-action” – rather than “walk everywhere, consume less, don’t overpopulate the land, reduce your footprint, bend over and grow your own food” (“minimal impact and maximum regulation”), he recommends finding strategies for dealing with nuclear waste and mechanizing agriculture in starving countries.

Also to look out for: Tim Forsyth and Zoe Young look at “COlonialism”, especially the practice of carbon forestry. “Rather than devising ‘solutions’ to climate change that work only inside the very same market system that got us into this hole, a better approach may be to stop digging altogether. As a species we certainly have the ingenuity to make our governments adopt responses that do not impose new problems on poorer, less adaptable countries while maintaining big business’ record profits.”

The full table of contents of Mute (5) 2007.

Ord & Bild 2/2007

It was just a matter of time before Ord&Bild, whose editorial office is located on the waterfront in harbour and shipbuilding city Gothenburg, would dedicate an issue to “water”. The editors’ take on the subject ranges from politics to poetry.

While Indian nuclear physicist and political activist Vandana Shiva’s “Principles of water” can be read as poetry (“Water is nature’s gift”), the hard core of her nine theses is decidedly political: “Water is not a human invention. It cannot be bound and has no boundaries. It is by nature a commons. It cannot be owned as private property and sold as a commodity.” Canadian activist Maude Barlow implicitly agrees as she suggests a first important step towards a global solution to providing access to this most basic of all natural resources: a United Nations Convention that acknowledges water as a human right.

Different, but no less interesting, is economist Karl Palmås’s short essay on the “Torrents of the harbour town”. With the help of hydrodynamics and Lucretius’s theory about “clinamen” (the spontaneous microscopic swerving of atoms that forms the basis of all creation), Palmås shows how the local cultural and economic circulation that characterizes landlocked urban centres tends to standardize norms and traditions. Harbour cities, on the other hand, are constantly revitalized by alien ideas and new perspectives.

At least this used to be the case. Taking Gothenburg as an example, Palmås claims that recent industrial and political changes have cut off the heterogenic currents and limited the creative and critical potential of the city.

Newspapers vs journals: In the review section, newspaperman Mikael van Reis confesses that he is envious of the big daily papers’ smaller siblings. In journals and magazines, contributors are allowed to develop an idea – or even two or three – instead of having to replace reasoning and reflection with shallow opinions for lack of space. One does not have to read between the lines to recognize that van Reis’s lament is a harsh critique of the ongoing trend towards shorter and shorter texts that have made the traditionally strong cultural sections of Swedish newspapers lose much of their impact.

Also: The innovative series on textual economy continues, this time with a Swedish translation of Geert Lovink’s widely discussed “Blogging, the nihilist impulse”.

The full table of contents of Ord & Bild 2/2007.

Gegenwort 17 (2007)

Excellent or elitist? Egalitarian or avant-garde? Excellence has become a central term in the German academic hubbub. There are hardly any universities that cannot boast at least one centre of excellence; numerous initiatives and prizes are popping up with the aim of generating and furthering excellence, such as the Marie Curie chair of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Max-Planck-Prize, and, not least, the governmental “excellence initiative”, with its dramatic consequences for Germany’s academic landscape.

Gegenworte, the journal of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, presents a proliferative issue devoted to the debate around excellence in science and research going on in Germany.

“What is that: higher education and culture (Bildung)?” ask Carsten Hucho and Ferdinand Hucho in an article on the topicality of the ideas of Wilhelm von Humboldt, who founded Berlin University in 1810. Humboldt’s work still represents the alliance of research and teaching (Forschung und Lehre) that is so important for Bildung. “Culture is that which remains when you have forgotten everything”, they write, quoting former cultural minister Julian Nida-Rümelin. Culture is the surplus value of education.

However, culture is not attained via spearhead research done with money-heavy support of large research projects, mainly in the natural sciences. Humboldt, they say, speaks remarkably little about money and we should follow him in this. Who said it is possible to buy excellence in research as it is in football?

The full table of contents of Gegenwort 17 (2007).

Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) 5/2007

The Norwegian edition of Le Monde diplomatique is one of very few publications that regularly covers the neglected film genre of documentary. “Sometimes the best form of criticism is the documentary film”, writes editor Truls Lie as he criticizes a new government white paper on the future of Norwegian state funding of film. “Today it is the private Freedom of Expression Foundation that has, to a large extent, ensured that many a Norwegian and international documentary saw the light of day”, he says and goes on to call for an ambitious funding programme that could support filmmakers who would “venture boldly into international conflict zones at short notice”.

Mockumentary: Denmark’s prime minister is assasinated by a young male political activist who is also his lover. That is the plot of a film that has recently caused a heated debate in Denmark about artistic freedom and freedom of speech. The title of the film – “AFR” – is made up by the initials of the current Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and of course alludes to “another” murdered politician and film protagonist, JFK. Clearly and totally fictional, but made up of clippings from television archives mixed with scenes in which actors play “real” persons, Morten Hartz Kapler’s “mockumentary” has obviously hit a sore spot. It has even made Pia Kjersgaard, leader of the xenophobic Dansk Folkeparti and a fierce defender of the notorious Mohammed cartoons, talk in terms of censorship: “Such trash should not be made.”

“It’s far, far out to make a film about the murder of a current, living prime minister!” said Kjersgaard in her weekly newsletter. “In my eyes utterly tasteless and indecent. I mean, this is not a satirical cartoon of some old desert warrior with a bomb in his hat. This is twaddle about the murder of a serving prime minister.”

Fogh Rasmussen himself has refused to comment on the film.

Film critic Steffen Moestrup, who reports from the Danish debate, tries to see behind the political commotion and finds a film showing that even under an extreme surface – a cynical politician or a fanatical activist – one can find a good man who is doubtful and diffident, “just like all of us”.

The full table of contents of Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) 5/2007.

Springerin 2/2007

“A friend of mine has had a war dream since she was a child. In her dream, bombs are falling everywhere, but she cannot hear them. For a moment the bombs stop, she looks under her bed, and BOOM! a bomb blows up in her face.” In a haunting issue on the documenta 12 topic “bare life”, Austrian art journal Springerin publishes a letter by Beirut artist Tony Chakar, written during the Israeli bombardment.

“I’ve got my own little Hiroshima right here in my pocket. Sometimes I take it out, I put it on the table, and ponder. It will take us countless years and several generations to grasp the immensity of the catastrophe that has struck us (and continues to strike us), and these women who now wear black and who become more and more numerous with each passing day – these women are not only mourning their loved ones, but hope itself.”

“Stranded”, a sculpture by Christoph Draeger in reference to voyage, migration, flight, places a broken boat in the middle of a field, as if stranded. It is one of the many confiscated and later destroyed boats in which illegal migrants have tried to reach Europe. “It is not clear where the boat comes from and where it once was headed for. For sure is only that it has reached the end of its trip.”

Also in the focus: Rosi Braidotti, in an article on “Bio-power and necro-politics”, contributes to the debate on the politics of life and the shifting boundaries between life and death; Tom Holert on the representation of refugees and migrants in documentary films; and Peter Weibel, on the representation of the suppressed, asks whether art could be the mirror of the social unconscious.

The full table of contents of Springerin 2/2007.

Wespennest 147 (2007)

“I could complain about the dominance of the market, or worry that not enough is read these days,” writes Jörg Magenau in Wespennest. “That literature, and with it literary criticism, is losing its meaning. […] But my feeling tells me something quite different. It tells me: ‘The literary critic is a privileged person, and you can be glad to have such a great job.'”

What are the privileges, then (apart from the literary lunches)? According to Magenau, it’s about accumulating others’ experiences, about “being in the world”, about dodging the media’s barrage of facts. And also, about having lots of books… “In a suspension of the laws of physics, the amount unread, or the amount one wishes still to read, grows with the amount read. With every new book, this cosmos expands.”

If only Lothar Baier had been so happy. In an essay on Baier’s “Journey to the end of the night”, Jörg Auberg defends a legacy that, as the editors note, retains the utmost relevance today. The German essayist and occasional Wespennest contributor committed suicide in 2004 at the end of a gradual, career-long process of disillusionment. Critical of a self-promoting Left in 1968, he was disgusted to see how former revolutionaries ingratiated themselves with the establishment in the 1980s. And as a frustrated Francophile, he deplored the political meddling of French intellectuals, writing shortly before his death:

“Just as the cow has, for the time being, survived Mad Cow Disease, so French intellectuals will probably survive into the twenty-first century, regardless of what they eat, regurgitate, and excrete.”

Also to look out for: In a section on “Walking”, Peter Strasser contemplates the absurdity of Nordic Walking; Lukas Hammerstein asks why politicians walk so little; and Ralph Fischer looks at walking in performance art.

The full table of contents of Wespennest 147 (2007).

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Published 22 May 2007

Original in English
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