"The return of religion"

9 August 2005
Only in en
Reset comments on the return of religion; Osteuropa debates what Yukos means for Russia; Magyar Lettre Internationale tours European cultural capitals; Sodobnost opens the curtain on Slovenian drama; and The New Presence reveals the Czechs' capacity for political protest.

Reset 90 (2005)


Reset (Rome) tackles the rise of populism, “post-secularism”, and public service television in their latest issue, with articles and interviews by authors prominent in Europe and the rest of the world.

In her editorial, Nadia Urbinati considers recent events, such as the non in France and the election of a new, non-clerical president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in Iran, in an analysis of the growing role of populism in decision-making. Upon closer inspection of the election in Iran, Urbinati asks whether the election of this populist leader can be seen as democratic – the Guardian Council of the Constitution in Iran selected from potential candidates for president, vetoing nearly 700 of them. Urbinati asks what the difference is in cases like this between a representative democracy and an elected oligarchy.

In an interview with sociologist Klaus Eder, editor-in-chief Giancarlo Bosetti asks what Eder understands by “post-secularism” in Europe. Eder holds, “During secularization, religion did not disappear completely. It simply disappeared from the public sphere. […] I define the current return of religion […] as ‘post-secularism.'” He blames this privatization of religion in Europe on the constrictions created by the power of the two dominant Christian religions – Catholicism and Protestantism. Interviews with Zygmunt Bauman and Seyla Benhabib, as well as an article on French laïcité by Esprit editors Olivier Mongin and Jean-Louis Schlegel, round off this analysis of the return of religiosity in Europe.

What are the duties of public service television? And what form does public service television take in different countries around the world? Mauro Buonocore, editor-in-chief of Caffé Europa, argues that its main duty is to increase people’s awareness and understanding of issues important in their lives, making them better able to participate actively in the public sphere. By looking at the results of James Fishkin’s Deliberative Polling – a method used to observe the effects of actively informing people on current issues – Buonocore finds great disparity between the opinions of an informed and an uninformed public. This article is complemented by short descriptions of public service television in Italy and five other countries, giving an overview of how channels such as the BBC and PBS were formed and what services they now provide.

Also to look out for: an ongoing investigation of the new cultural side of the dailies in Italy, with an article by Alessandro Lanni and interviews with vice director of “Corriere della Sera” Pierluigi Battista, cultural editor of “Repubblica” Paolo Mauri, and expert on culture in Italian dailies Bruno Gravagnuolo; a look by Giuseppe Deiana at the possibilities for teaching the younger generations about the EU in school; and a farewell to the recently deceased Paul Ricoeur by philosopher Pier Aldo Rovatti and Elisabetta Ambrosi.

The full table of contents of Reset 90 (2005).

Osteuropa 7/2005


On 31 May, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, former executives of Russian oil company Yukos, received nine-year prison sentences for fraud, embezzlement, tax evasion, and obstruction of the course of justice. Widely seen as a heavy-handed move by the Kremlin to reign in uncompliant entrepreneurs, the verdict immediately sparked off talk of an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. Osteuropa (Berlin) responds with in-depth analyses.

Otto Luchterhandt, professor of law at Hamburg University, gives a step-by-step account of the legal “farce” that led up to the conviction. The court’s decision, he writes, will go down in Russian twenty-first-century history as a “scandal of justice”. As with the “legal nihilism” of the Soviet era, all principles of a fair trial were violated. The “provocation” the verdict represents to the Russian population, he argues, is increased by the fact that the Russian constitution of 1993 marked a clear break from Soviet repression. The favourable reception of the code for criminal proceedings issued by the Duma in 2001 compounds observers’ sense of one step forward, two steps back.

Lev Gudkov and Boris Dubin, sociologists at the Levada Centre in Moscow, argue that by nationalizing the oil industry, the Kremlin has secured a source of funding that bypasses the jurisdiction of the parliament. Gauging the public reaction to the Yukos case, the sociologists recognize a mindset of late- and post-Soviet Russia: Doppik, or “double-think”. People assume that all political statements conceal the true interests of the authorities, and that the law is simply an instrument of private or group interests. Meanwhile, the media peddles a them-and-us logic that pits the oligarchs against a heroic and caring state. Cynicism, argue Gudkov and Dubin, is eroding the foundations of the Putin regime and destabilizing its system of controlled democracy.

Elsewhere in the issue: “Who are the true Europeans?” Reinhold Vetter, Warsaw-based journalist and political scientist, writes that after the rejection of the EU constitution in western Europe, decision-makers in Warsaw, Prague, Bratislava, and Budapest sense the chance to become more active in the discussion of the future of the Union. One of their major criticisms concerns the Union’s failure to respond to the challenges of global economic competition. Vetter argues that western Europe would do well to study eastern Europe’s readiness for reform. “There are true Europeans in the West and the East; but in the East, their number is rapidly increasing.”

In the culture section: Ivo Bock charts the gradual relaxation of literary censorship in the former Czechoslovakia from 1948 to 1968; and Karlheinz Kaspar reviews Russian literature published in German translation in 2004, from Chekhov’s play “Ivanov” to post-millennial crime fiction.

The full table of contents of Osteuropa 7/2005.

Magyar Lettre Internationale 57 (2005)


The latest issue of the quarterly Magyar Lettre Internationale has a major section on European cultural capitals, with literary and fictional texts by international authors in translation. Also in this issue: writing by women, interviews, correspondences, and poems.

In “European Cultural Capitals”, Karl Schlögel, expert on eastern European history, makes a “Journey to Brno”. Schlögel calls the Czech city “the centre of the White Modern”, the utopian style of architecture pioneered by the Bauhaus between the two World Wars. Schlögel’s “archaeology” of Brno begins at the Villa Tugendhat, the residence built for the German industrialist family by Mies van der Rohe in 1930. Awed by the space, Schlögel asks, “How can one get used to a daily spectacle of such perfection and beauty? […] Only people who have known wealth from the beginning can grant themselves such luxury.” After the war, the villa was requisitioned by the state and restored in 1969. In an historical irony, it was the scene of negotiations for the division of Czechoslovakia in 1992. Schlögel’s article is an excerpt from his forthcoming book, “Marjampole oder die Wiederkehr Europas aus dem Geist der Städte”.

Also in this section, an extended literary prose piece by Ildikó Lovas, entitled “Macao on the Adriatic coast (Sarajevo to Dubrovnik)”. Lovas, from Subotica in the Serbian region of Vojvodina, describes a recent car journey through the former Yugoslavia, and the memories it sets off in her: “The last time I travelled through here was in 1992, the bus was full of young men who hardly blinked. Everybody was dreading crossing a bridge that might have been a police control. Nobody knew whether there was a central list of those who hadn’t been called up for military service. Nobody could be sure that the list did not exist.” On that bus, she met the man who was to father her son. An article by Sándor Mészáros, in which he describes Hungary’s ambivalent relationship to Subotica, complements Lovas’ piece.

Also of note in this issue: Neomi Kiss on women writers; Elfriede Jelinek in correspondence with Elke Atzler; and Sergio Benvenuto on “Bad-Tempered Italians”.

The full table of contents of Magyar Lettre Internationale 57 (2005).

Sodobnost 5-6/2005


The new issue of Ljubljana journal Sodobnost is entirely dedicated to contemporary Slovenian drama. In looking at this year’s Festival of Slovenian Drama, organized annually by the Preseren Theatre of Kranj, theatre critic Slavko Pezdir notes the increase in foreign productions of Slovenian plays, two of which were presented at the festival. He also praises the fact that Slovenian theatres are taking less and less time to produce new Slovenian plays than ever before.

In an interview, veteran stage director Dusan Mlakar talks to theatre critic Petra Pogorevc about directing his two favourite playwrights, the Slovene Evald Flisar and the Austrian Thomas Bernhard. Despite their differences in style, namely Flisar’s detached irony and Bernhard’s engaged anger, Mlakar finds certain similarities between the two.

Pogorevc concludes the 350-page double issue with her regular “Theatre diary” (which won her this year’s Best Critic Award in Slovenia), offering sharp insights into current Slovenian theatre productions.

This issue also contains scripts of four contemporary plays that were among the finalists for this year’s Best Play of the Year Award: “Aquarium” by Evald Flisar, “Revelations” by Zanina Mircevska, “Dead Souls” by Vinko Möderndorfer, and “The Cross” by Matjaz Briski (the winner of the award).

The full table of contents of Sodobnost 5-6/2005.

The New Presence 2/2005


“What will you change?” Czechs have, over the centuries, been thinking, resigning themselves to corrupt politics and politicians. Sixteen years after the Velvet Revolution, this same thought still seems to be at the forefront of the Czech psyche. The state of Czech and European democracy is the focus of the newest issue of the The New Presence – the Prague-based quarterly that includes English translations of articles from its Czech mother journal, Pritomnost.

The Czechs’ apparent lack of interest in politics is the concern of the lead article written by students from New York University. The number of people who vote, demonstrate, or write letters to the editor suggests a population that is either extremely apathetic or absurdly satisfied with the status quo. But the tide seems to be turning, the authors write. Surprisingly, there is a wide variety of grassroots organizations in the Czech Republic. And while Czechs are not as desperate for change as they were sixteen years ago, there is growing discontent with mainstream democratic politicians. Czechs are beginning to demonstrate that they possess the capacity for effective protest beyond their private and insular pleasures, such as weekend retreats and mushroom picking.

Further articles in the extended issue: Jiri Pehe, political analyst and former political advisor to Vaclav Havel, asks about the state of Czech journalism; filmmaker Asmara Ghebremichael investigates the changing relationship between Cuba and the Czech Republic; and Project Syndicate reporter Jeremy Hurewitz looks into “Holland’s multicultural drama”, the problem of failed assimilation in the land of tolerance, which virtually all EU members are grappling with.

The full table of contents of The New Presence 2/2005.

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Published 9 August 2005

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