The destruction of society
‘In Russia, the authoritarian state is pressing ahead with the destruction of society,’ write the editors of Osteuropa (Germany). ‘Almost 150 clubs, associations, centres, movements and institutes across the country have been hit by the slander campaign intended to silence institutions that have fallen out of favour. They are defamed by the Ministry of Justice as “foreign agents” – in other words spies – and, through fines and threats of imprisonment, are pressured into acknowledging this stigmatization by placing themselves on a register of agents. Now, with the inclusion of the Levada Centre and Memorial International, the repressive state has sent out a new signal: international renown no longer serves to protect. The aim is to spread fear.’
Spiral of repression: As Jens Siegert explains, the economic crisis of the 1990s forced Russian NGOs to seek funding abroad; when the Russian economy began to improve, few Russian foundations were prepared to support NGOs seen as critical of the Kremlin. After NGOs resisted the 2012 law obliging them to declare themselves as foreign agents, the Ministry of Justice began to blacklist them itself. One such group is the Women of the Don Union, which campaigns for human rights and the rights of women in the northern Caucasus, and whose operations have been paralysed since the authorities began a criminal investigation into its director Valentina Cerevatenko in June 2016.
Poland: In an interview on the ‘illiberal spirit’ in Polish politics, Basil Kerski talks about the future of the European Solidarity Centre in Gdansk, of which he is the director. The ESC, Kerski explains, receives a mix of state, regional and city support. Since Poland’s larger cities and the majority of its regions are still governed by the liberal Civic Platform or independent mayors, they enjoy some protection from government interference. Visitor popularity also secures the autonomy of the museum’s curators and shows that ‘one can narrate the recent history of Poland in a multi-perspectival way and thus create broad identification.’ At the same time, the political engagement of the ESC irritates many politicians and makes ‘a conflict over the future of our museum’ inevitable. ‘Despite its success, and above all its broad acceptance by the citizens, our future is open.’
More: Jevhen Fedchenko, founder and editor-in-chief of the Ukrainian portal StopFake.org, describes the site’s evolution from Ukrainian ‘self-defence’ outfit into watchdog organization on Russian disinformation activities worldwide; and Eva Kovacs reconstructs the ‘parallel’ biographies of two women, a Jew and a Roma, subjected to involuntary sterilization – one at the hands of Josef Mengele in Auschwitz, the other by the Hungarian authorities in 1970 – and discusses how these acts of sexual violence prompted processes of ethnic and gender identity-formation.
In Merkur (Germany), Swiss cultural historian and Slavist Felix Philipp Ingold examines the ideology of neo-Eurasianism and its influence on Russian geopolitics. A ‘state ideology’ supported by research institutes, media organs and propaganda centres, neo-Eurasianism advocates military rearmament and nuclear deterrence, support for sympathetic regimes such as Syria and Iran, the formation of alliances against global capitalism, and ideological warfare on ‘totalitarian liberalism’. Russian foreign policy, neo-Eurasian to the core, aims to ‘restore the territorial integrity of the Soviet Union’ and to counter NATO ‘militarism’ with a ‘continental alliance of nations stretching from eastern Europe through Central Asia to the Pacific’ – a concept ‘modelled on the multinational Soviet bloc, but which far exceeds its range’.
Eurasianism emerged in the late Tsarist and early Soviet periods, where it was called ‘Pan-Mongolism’, ‘Scythianism’, and ‘exodus to the East’. Alongside western thinkers Oswald Spengler, Carl Schmitt and C.G. Jung, its preeminent ideologues included the philosophers Konstantin Leontyev and Vladimir Solovyov, the linguist Nikolai Trubetzkoy, the poets Valeri Bryusow and Alexander Blok, and composers Sergei Prokofiev and Igor Stravinsky. From the 1960s, the tradition was continued by cultural historian and ethnologist Lev Gumilyow and, since the late 1990s, by Aleksandr Dugin. The latter’s monumental work The Foundations of Geopolitics has, writes Ingold, ‘has become a textbook for all decision makers in the most important spheres of Russian political life’. In it, Dugin predicts an ‘an incessant duel of the civilizations’, from which Russia will emerge as the new world power.
Dugin’s philosophical lodestar is Martin Heidegger, whom he sees as offering a philosophy perfectly matched to the ‘Russian mentality’. Heideggerian Dasein is, Dugin argues, congruent with a specifically Russian ‘being in the world’. Yet his esoteric rhetoric should not, warns Ingold, ‘distract from the relentless rigour of his thought, which goes beyond everything imagined by Bolshevism’. The geopolitics of the neo-Eurasians is ‘a new militant patriotism that places absolute value on the homeland and lends it global dimensions’. Like the Russian president himself, neo-Eurasianists are far removed from the idea of Russia’s geopolitical role as mediator between East and West, as propounded by philosopher Pyotr Chaadayev in the 1830s.
Vikerkaar (Estonia) focuses on the tension between liberal universalism in international relations and the particularist reaction to it. Rein Müllerson, Professor of Law at the University of Tallinn and former advisor to Mikhail Gorbachev, argues that the universalist moment of the 1990s is over and that a new concert of nations is necessary:
‘Since the Cold War, high – some would say naive – expectations of a world in which law, impartially interpreted and applied, would have primacy over politics have not materialized. Differing visions of desirable and possible world orders are accompanied by propaganda warfare where even international law is used as a tool of hegemonic dominance or, conversely, as an instrument to counter such dominance. … The only realistically possible international system is a multi-polar one. International law, as a normative system based on the balance of interests and compromises and not necessarily on shared ideology (though this may underpin domestic legal systems or EU law), can function relatively well only in a multi-polar, balance of power, concert of powers system which is consciously and conscientiously built and accepted as legitimate.’
Rejoinder: Talk about spheres of influence is the last thing small nations like to hear, however. In a rejoinder to Müllerson, Juri Saar makes the case for fundamental western values such as truth, personality and contract, and argues for their relevance in international affairs. These pillars, Saar claims, have been undermined by postmodernist thought and, more recently, by Russian information war. Inspired by the philosopher Maurizio Ferraris, Saar advocates a new realism, one that returns to universalist Enlightenment values.
Heidegger: A translation of Alexander S. Duff’s widely-noted essay ‘Heidegger’s Ghosts’, first published in The American Interest, in which Duff predicts that the Heideggerian critique of rationalism will have a deep impact on various anti-globalist and anti-liberal movements worldwide.
New Eastern Europe 6/2016
Global interconnectedness means there is no longer a place for the sovereign right of national ‘non-inteference’, argues Ulrike Guérot in New Eastern Europe (Poland). ‘The logical consequence is for Europe to start thinking about a political system which is “flat”, just like the world in which we live. In other words, a sort of “network democracy”, in which national borders are subsequently eliminated and social cohesion is organised beyond borders.’
Proposals that a post-Brexit strategy should entail the creation of a ‘Continental Partnership’, or external circle that would function as single market, and an inner circle that would form a political union, ‘pervert’ the European idea. ‘We need to remind ourselves that the idea of the European project was to go beyond borders and overcome the nation state. At least within Europe we should continue to be the avant-garde of this idea, the real-life laboratory for an ultimately universal goal: a global union of citizens which in 1792 Immanuel Kant already saw as the way to achieve perpetual peace.’
Europe’s fault: A borderless Europe cannot mitigate the uncertainties and fears deriving from the erosion of the nation state, argues Daniel Mikecz. On the contrary, the state remains the ‘key pre-requisite of successful political action’ and ‘easily identifiable target for those who wish to change the system of redistribution.’
For Hungarians, the refugee relocation quota was the first time that an EU decision directly affected their country on such a large scale. ‘This issue revealed the main shortcomings of the EU decision-making system,’ argues Mikecz. ‘The politics of the EU simply lacks space for citizen mobilization.’ Various EU programmes on active citizenship are barely visible and are inaccessible for many small civil organizations and citizen initiatives. ‘Under these circumstances, it is no wonder that the Hungarian government uses the EU as a scapegoat.’
Reporting on the Eurozine conference ‘Mobilizing for the Commons’, which took in November in Gdansk, Ord&Bild (Sweden) editors Ann Ighe and Marit Kapla argue that while Ulrike Guérot‘s call for a European Republic might be too much for some, the challenges she points to are real and urgent: to ensure that the European project is characterized by humanism. Guérot pointed to a recent meeting of representatives of European far-right parties in Linz, Austria, as an example of the opposite. Describing themselves as ‘defenders of Europe’, these parties indicate that they have a clear view of what Europe is and should be. The Left, on the other hand, does not. ‘It’s high time to unite the forces that want to stand up against rightwing extremism in the upcoming European elections in 2019’.
Offshore humanism: Writing exclusively in Ord&Bild, Paul Gilroy takes on the human catastrophe playing out in the Mediterranean, as refugees risk their lives on the way to Europe. As in his book The Black Atlantic (1993), a classic in cultural studies and postcolonial theory, Gilroy describes the sea as a space where crimes of inhuman cruelty can be committed beyond the jurisdiction of any nation-state. But the sea also represents the possibility of borderless solidarity, beyond the nationalism characterizing Europe in the wake of the refugee crisis:
‘We have grown accustomed to monitoring the hostility and xenophobia articulated by resurgent racist and nationalist sentiment across Europe. However, in many places, we discover great compassion being expressed towards the perilous plight of incoming refugees from war, poverty and climate change. Those reactions are fragile and volatile but it is important to appreciate that there are many generous and humane responses to what is often only remote or exotic suffering. The kindly reactions coexist uneasily with complex patterns of nationalist, racist and xenophobic hatred as well as resentments, anxieties and fears rooted in the idea that displaced and unwanted people represent contagion and bring about the contamination or corruption of previously pure and peaceful places.’
Antibiotics: In a themed section on antibiotic resistance, Johan Svensson and Cecilia Verdinelli predict a ‘post-antibiotic era’ characterized by increasing child mortality and decreasing life expectancy.
Il Mulino 6/2016
The problems created by neoliberalism and globalization for the weakest stratum of western society are causing political instability and partisanship, argues Michele Salvati in Il Mulino (Italy). ‘The transformations (social, economic, cultural, technological) that all national democracies have experienced in recent decades affect the form of political representation (parties, in particular), the nature of electoral processes, and the characteristics of government.’ And yet the difficulties facing contemporary democracy, considerable as they are, are no greater than those of the past.
According to Nadia Urbinati, the decline in voter turnout decline, the drop in membership of parties, the loss of trust in politicians and the lack of interest in politics is symptomatic of the end of representative democracy. Focusing on the definition of ‘crisis’, Urbinati asks what we mean when we talk of the ‘crisis of democracy’. ‘The concept of “crisis” conveys two broad notions of politics: a discursive or deliberative one and a technical and operational one.’
Italian electoral law: In a section on Italy’s current political difficulties, Paolo Pombeni considers electoral laws as the hinge between constitutional system and political structure. ‘A serious problem at the moment is the absence of a shared, rational approach to the subject of the organization of electoral mechanisms; everything is seen instrumentally, with politicians focusing on what they stand to gain or lose because this or that gimmick. It thus becomes impossible to propose solutions able to work in a shared scheme.’
Migration: Does Europe need mass immigration? ‘The answer is yes,’ replies Massimo Livi Bacci, ‘if the time scale is that of a generation, and provided long-term policies are put in place that are sufficiently coherent and well-financed to encourage settlement and integration.’
How can liberals and leftists in the US counter Donald Trump and the hotly debated ‘whitelash’? What are the reasons for Hillary Clinton’s dramatic defeat? Blätter (Germany) contributes to this discussion with three essays by leading US intellectuals:
Critique of the Left: Feminist law scholar Joan C. Williams asks why workers shifted from the Democrats to Trump. She provides an in-depth-analysis of contemporary culture and values in US industrial cities and concludes that for the past decade the Democrats neglected working class issues by privileging minority politics.
Arguing from a similar perspective, Mark Lilla blames liberal identity politics for the surprising election result. Only a post-identitarian social liberalism can push forwards the issues relevant to all Americans. Democrats must focus on comprehensive approaches to social, cultural and economic challenges if they aim to address the entire society.
For a new identity politics: In contrast, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie maintains that the US, as a pluralist democracy, cannot neglect its cultural diversity. She vigorously calls for interventions against racist and sexist hatred. Attention should be paid to acting against hate speech and rightwing rhetoric, in order to prevent a further division of society and to defend liberal values.
Mittelweg 36 4-5/2016
Mittelweg 36 (Germany) tunes in to the polyphonic sounds of revolt that echo throughout the latter decades of the twentieth century, in a richly illustrated issue devoted to the history of pop music and protest movements.
A certain intensity: In interview, Wolfgang Kraushaar rejects the notion of any deep-rooted, direct link between pop and rock on the one hand and major political developments on the other. Kraushaar, a leading German chronicler of postwar social movements, considers pivotal moments in pop history such as the first Woodstock festival (1969), or its German equivalent (1970) on the island of Fehmarn in the Baltic Sea, as taking place parallel to conventional forms of political protest, even if there was considerable overlap in terms of the audiences attending both kinds of event.
Nevertheless, the countercultural experimentation with communes, sexuality and new ways of co-habitation would not have had the intensity they did, had pop and rock music not ‘orchestrated erotic experience’, propelling all those ‘good vibrations’ across personal and political spheres alike.
Hence hopes at the time that the commune would gradually take over urban districts and eventually transform whole societies. If these hopes proved transient on both sides of the Atlantic, then the innovative power of pop music also soon fell by the wayside, even as bands like Pink Floyd or Yes got bigger and bigger, founding a new temporary colony with every concert. Kraushaar suggests that there comes a point where the price paid for a perpetual increase in intensity becomes the exhaustion of creativity. ‘It was always a matter of overcoming one’s own hurdles or blockages,’ he concludes. ‘Pop music was part of this process of change or perhaps the central medium, through which the metamorphosis of subjectivity was effected.’
Also: Isabel Richter on the ‘eastward expansion’ of the consciousness through the use of LSD and transcendental meditation during the ‘long 1960s’; plus contributions about the 1970s by Detlev Siegfried, on leftist anthems of class warfare, and Alexander Simmeth, on the Krautrock scene in the Ruhr valley.
Critique & Humanism 46 (2016)
From the fallout of the Arab Spring to the Gezi Park protests, from Euromaidan to the Greek debt crisis and the refugee wave – all have influenced the agency of grassroots civic activists, write the editors of Critique & Humanism (Bulgaria) in an issue on youth, civic action and protest. Moreover, ‘it has become clear that the protest movements have involved a generational factor, highlighting the importance of questions relating to youth in the respective societies and in a broader transnational context.’
’70s and ’80s: ‘Youth subcultures in Bulgaria in the 1970s and 1980s represent a case in which youth subcultures were doubly marginal,’ writes historian Michail Gruev: ‘marginal to an abstract western “high culture” that was mimetically but also creatively copied on the other side of the “Iron Curtain”; and marginal to the official socialist culture.’ The chasm between party propaganda and the spirit of young people in Bulgaria was revealed all too clearly at the Ninth World Festival of Youth and Students, held in Sofia in 1968:
‘Never before had Bulgaria been visited by so many young people from all over the world. Admittedly, at least half of them were from the East European countries; they were well-disciplined and well-instructed representatives of communist youth organizations. Still, there were some 7,000-8,000 young people that were “unstable, susceptible to bourgeois fashion and morality” and difficult to control. Among them were beatniks and hippies, anarchists, drug addicts, wandering fans of nudism and free love, and others of the sort – in short, importers of ‘ideological subversion’ among Bulgarian youth, who had to be countered.’
Ukraine and Bulgaria: Tom Junes reconstructs the protest history of independent Ukraine, underscoring the distinct role of students as manifested during the ‘Revolution of Dignity’ as well as the gradual decline of their vanguard position. Nikolay Nikolov looks at how, during the #DANSwithme protests in 2013, public space of Sofia became the setting for a ‘battle for access to truth’. Milena Iakimova argues that the re-appropriation of urban space by collective causes revives a genuine public square out of a series of transit zones.
Res Publica Nowa 3/2016
In Res Publica Nowa (Poland), Jedrzej Malko analyzes ‘how the concept [of labour] was constructed in different epochs and contexts, and whom and what purpose it served’. The origins of the modern concept of the dignity of labour coincide with the origins of capitalism, generating some esteem for work for the first time since the neolithic revolution. Will the notion of the dignity of labour retain any value after the fourth industrial revolution, led by a robotized workforce and Artificial Intelligence?
Meritocracy: Anna Gromada investigates the discrepancy between an increasingly meritocratic view of success and the belief that personal connections are the key to professional advancement. The creative industries are particularly susceptible to this networking model, because of vague criteria of evaluation, intensive human contact, and a highly saturated labour market. The key to saving the principle of meritocracy, the author concludes, lies in understanding that we are all inclined to prefer our tastes over procedures, and that meritocratic criteria can work only in specific circumstances that are not fit for all types of human activity and hard to obtain.
Bureaucracy: Jedrzej Burszta contrasts the optimistic attitude towards bureaucracy during the positivist wave of nineteenth century with the largely pejorative perception of it nowadays. He considers how far we need professional administrative work in the age of deregulation and hints at bureaucracy’s formative influence on western civilization. Can we even imagine a world without all that paperwork?
The December issue of Varlik (Turkey) takes the publication this year of a study by literary critic Murat Belge on the development of the novel in both Turkish and Russian as the starting point for an examination of the role models for modern Turkish literature.
Political mission: Ali Özgür Özkarci admits to trepidation in approaching two weighty topics simultaneously: the process of Turkish westernization, and the Tanzimat period of nineteenth century Ottoman modernization. Although some intellectuals in the late Ottoman era spoke of achieving a synthesis with the West, Özkarci says the truer motivation was to take from the West, in order ‘to fight again strengthened by what we have taken’. Ottoman-Turkish writers educated in the West faced disdain and isolation when they returned home, sparking a desire among many of them to teach and transform the Turkish masses. This didacticism produced a new novelistic form that, ‘while emulating the West, is actually a definition of literature in terms of “mission”. The first canon of modern Turkish literature can be said to be characterized by the equipping of literature with a political duty.’
Hesitant encounter: An extended interview with Belge explores more of the differences between the development of the novel in Russian and Turkish. Russia, Belge says, has a longer history of westernization; those Russian writers who encountered the West did so with an enthusiasm motivated by a desire ‘not to save the state, but generally to destroy it’. By contrast, the Ottoman encounter with the West was both more recent and more hesitant, plagued by doubts over whether westernization amounted to a betrayal of the empire’s past glory. ‘It is as if every generation starts again from scratch suffering the same problems, each generation inherits a kind of unending state of westernization,’ says Belge. ‘That’s one of the nice things about the word westernization: you are westernizing, but somehow you don’t become western.’