The violent closet?
Public debate about sexual violence does not guarantee that society confronts what is done to those who experience it and who have little opportunity to speak about it themselves, writes Gaby Zipfel in L’Homme (Austria). In order to understand how public debate corresponds to the phenomenon as such, we need to analyse who speaks about sexual violence and what is and isn’t spoken about. In the last two decades, debates on domestic violence have receded behind the issue of sexual violence in war, which tends to be seen as exceptional. However, closer analysis of ‘practices of sexual violence in civilian life can show how threateningly close these are to one’s own experience, how they determine behaviour in war, and how sexual violence in war is dealt with socially and subjectively after war.’
The violent sexual assault on a female – and also male – body is a social act based as much on gendered scripts about bodies and psychological constitutions as on cultural norms of sexuality and aggression, writes Zipfel. The opportunity for victims of sexual violence to speak about their experiences, for example in international criminal courts, has made sexual violence increasingly visible. At the same time, heightened public awareness does not lead directly to an understanding of the problem, and must be critically interpreted. ‘The assumptions of those asking the questions in international courts and truth commissions have an influence on what victims have the opportunity to speak about, and how what is said is interpreted and made legally relevant.’
Piketty’s Capital: Unlike its namesake, Piketty’s Capital only scratches at the surface of economic inequality, writes Gabriele Michalitsch. ‘Relations of production – and thus all questions concerning the expropriation of the product of labour – lie beyond his scope entirely.’ Wealth tax, Piketty’s solution, relies on the same nation-states whose taxation policies create social polarization in the first place, argues Michalitsch. Women are particularly affected by the inequality caused by most states’ preference for income tax over wealth tax. Yet Piketty fails to mention that ‘the split between work and capital is also connected to gender, that it is men who primarily dispose over capital, and that work is also split along gender lines’.
Speculations about the closet homosexuality of the perpetrator of the Orlando massacre, Omar Mateen, were themselves driven by homophobia, writes Alex Macpherson in New Humanist (UK). ‘If the homophobe is perceived as seeking to impose patriarchal control, flinging gayness back at him is a means of weakening him; if it derives from an attempt to bolster his manliness, the words “You’re gay!” imply a diminution of masculinity.’ Equally, argues Macpherson, fear and self-loathing are not confined to the ‘violent closet’, but are ‘integral to the lives of LGBT people’ as the consequence of mainstream homophobia.
The assumption that self-loathing is the root of homophobia ignores the fact that heterosexuals are more than capable of anti-gay damage, and is a ‘convenient absolution for straight people’, writes Macpherson. ‘Is forensically trawling through Mateen’s psyche to determine his precise motivation really a necessity in preventing another Mateen emerging – or is the desire to apportion blame just a means for heterosexual society to absolve itself once again, to avoid thinking too hard about the homophobia so deeply entrenched within it?’
Abortion: ‘Pro-life’ campaigners are becoming a common sight outside abortion clinics in the UK, yet public opinion continues to support a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy. According to Rosa Ellis, the change is due to an Americanization of anti-abortion tactics and organizations in the UK. In the US, there is big money to be made in anti-abortion campaigning; researchers believe UK groups work as franchises of their US counterparts. UK abortion groups have begun campaigning for laws that make abortion provision difficult, rather than illegal as such. Such laws have had a ‘profound effect’ in the US. Recent developments in Scotland and Northern Ireland make it more important than ever to take the UK off the US path, and to ‘send a clear message that Britain is pro-choice’.
Sarajevo Notebook (BiH) focuses on the body and its interpretation in art and society. Aida Gavric argues that a mechanistic view of the pregnant female body has led to it being regarded as a self-replicating, self-repairing hormonal machine for producing a workforce. As a result, pain and distress suffered during pregnancy are interpreted as a sign of being ‘inadequate, or a bad future mother’. Women therefore keep silent about the distress they may feel. Gavric describes how her own complaints during pregnancy were recorded by medical staff to frame her as a ‘disobedient woman’, whose subjective feelings were irreconcilable with their understanding of and demands on her body. But what if women want to break the taboo? What else can they do but write an essay, and risk it being labelled as the ‘hormone-induced irrationality of a pregnant woman’?
Self-optimization: Isodora Stanic traces the history of physical modification in the pursuit of the ideal body. The combination of body modification technologies and digital manipulation have rendered the image of the ‘perfect body’ ubiquitous. Social media such as Instagram allow celebrities in particular to project their own idealized appearance as they wish. ‘The perfect body is no longer a mystery and a temptation in the erotic sense; its attraction is that of an ideal to which everyone can aspire’, writes Stanic. Applying the theory of parasocial interaction, in which the illusion of intimacy is created through one-way communication within a network, and wondering whether the physical aspects of Caitlyn Jenner’s transition to a female can erase the previous ontology of her life, she concludes that ‘Instagram […] offers the public the fastest route to celebrity, the simplest method by which parasocial interaction can develop’.
Also: In addition to new poetry and prose, literary reportage, interviews and criticism, a wry consideration by Alma Lazarevska of the squeamishness of translators regarding Tolstoy’s unflinching portrayal of the dead body in ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich’.
Osteuropa (Germany) recalls the history of terrorism in the former Russian Empire from the end of the nineteenth century to the present day. The editors, Felicitas Fischer von Weikersthal and Anke Hilbrenner, examine the discourses between the periphery and the imperial metropole that give rise to terrorism. Self-images of powerlessness and subjugation provoke subalterns to commit symbolic acts of violence, in response to which the state develops stereotypes of whole regions as backward, uncivilized and dangerous. The imperial metropole responds with repression, in turn strengthening the subalterns’ consciousness of victimhood.
Finland: Mats Fridlund and Denial Sallamaa describe the ‘radical means [but] moderate goals’ of Finnish revolutionaries at the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1899, the tsarist regime began a campaign of Russification in Finland, which until then had enjoyed autonomous self-rule within the Russian Empire. This provoked a campaign of passive resistance. However, the Tsar’s repressive measures, including the use of troops against protestors, turned a small group of young Finns to violence. Even then, they only called for the restoration of Finland’s autonomy inside the Russian Empire, not an independent state. It was first with the outbreak of the WWI that a separatist movement emerged.
Chechnya: Moritz Florin discusses how the experience of the two Chechen Wars in the 1990s have given Chechens an almost unique reputation for violence. While Chechen leaders at times distanced themselves from terrorism, they often did so ambiguously. The radicalization of Chechen opposition to Russia was accompanied by an Islamization of the separatist movement. ‘Perhaps this offers a chance’, writes Florin, ‘not necessarily to heal the open wounds between Chechnya and Russia, but to overcome the (perceived) connection between the Chechen nation and terrorism.’
Also: Andreas Oberender notes that the violence experienced by Armenians during the First World War followed a long history of Armenian terrorism, in which radicals attacked representatives of both the sultans and the tsars. Beyond the Russian Empire, Edda Binder-Iijima recounts the personal and political frustrations that caused Bosnian youths to perpetrate the most fateful of twentieth century assassinations, the killing of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
In Blätter (Germany), Janne Mende distinguishes the various forms of labour exploitation covered by the politicized though imprecise concept of ‘modern slavery’. They include debt bondage and indentured labour, which involve the consent of those exploited, as well as chattel slavery, which comes closest to the pre-modern understanding of slavery as non-consensual. ‘Modern slavery’ also includes forced labour and human trafficking, concepts that are often falsely equated. The former encompasses domestic labour under violent working conditions, primarily affecting migrant women, as well as exploitation by the state and by corporations, and prostitution. Human trafficking, on the other hand, refers to the transportation of persons against their will to a place where they are exploited, and is the most widespread form of modern slavery.
Anti-slavery policy is hindered by a traditional insistence on defining slavery as non-consensual, argues Mende. Classical anti-slavery measures aimed at ‘liberating’ the victims – prohibition and policing – worsen their situation though marginalization, stigmatization and illegalization. This becomes clear in the refugee debate, in which human trafficking (non-consensual) and people smuggling (consensual) are often equated. The criminalization of people smuggling diverts attention from the migrant’s reasons for paying to be smuggled. Indeed, the discourse on modern slavery as such can be criticized for side-lining factors such as the absence of state structures, extreme social inequality and discrimination. Mende’s conclusion: practices and processes of slavery must be seen in their specific social, political and economic contexts; ‘only then will it be possible to develop an emancipatory policy able to counter the numerous forms of exploitation and inequality’.
Syriza in free-fall: The continued intransigence of Greece’s European creditors has forced Syriza to renege on many of its election promises, above all on pensions and privatization, writes Nils Kadritze. Some predict the collapse of the government in Autumn, when labour law reforms curtailing workers’ protections are due in return for the next tranche of funding. However, the pressures facing Syriza are not just external: ‘It must also demonstrate the will and the ability to bring forward a domestic political reform that no government before it has attempted.’
In an issue of dérive (Austria) on the ‘urban life-worlds of Roma’, Rosalina Babourkova examines how access to electricity has impacted on Roma identity and citizenship status in post-socialist Bulgaria. The blanket provision of electricity during Socialism – an ideologically motivated policy – was followed after 1990 by the toleration of defaults on energy bills by the state-owned companies as a form of unofficial public subsidy, writes Babourkova. However, with the neoliberal reforms of the energy market and the privatization of the energy grid in 2000, Roma were targeted as ‘energy thieves’ and electricity metres removed from homes and placed in boxes attached to high poles. Visible from afar, these marked districts as Roma and ‘symbolized the split between state and citizens’.
Infrastructural discrimination extends to Roma accommodation, explains Babourkova. Socialist policy was to concentrate Roma in special-purpose residential complexes close to industrial plants and farms, and to turn a blind eye to the supply of electricity to unauthorized buildings. Forced into large urban areas by the economic transformations after 1990, Roma were forced to exercise their right to property and energy provision illegally. Protesters against the demolition of Roma buildings in 2014 seized on energy bills as proof of the legality of their residence. ‘Legal access to basic infrastructure services emerged as a key means through which residents of Roma settlements tried to prove the legitimacy of their self-built houses (and thus themselves as citizens).’
Roma in Germany: The number of Bulgarian and Romanian Roma migrating to big German cities has increased in the last five years and anti-Roma clichés now apply to all migrants from Romania and Bulgaria, write Diana Botescu and Anna Kokalanova. The fact that Roma are EU citizens who have the right to reside in Germany is ignored. Forced to seek private accommodation, their mere nationality disadvantages them in an already crowded housing market. Roma are being forced into low-grade – in German ‘rubbish’ – accommodation, deepening the spiral of exclusion and discrimination.
Glänta (Sweden) puts the Eurozine network to good use. The bulk of the new issue is made up of articles published by Eurozine and its partner journals, featuring, among others, Ivaylo Ditchev on the end of democracy, Tatiana Zhurzhenko on different versions of the Russian man (Putin and Khodorkovsky), Tatiana Riabova and Oleg Riabov on Gayropa, Slavenka Drakulic on (post-)communist (anti-)feminism, and Tanja Petrovic on old colonialism in new Europe.
The ambition, write the editors, is to ‘reflect and be part of a European conversation that isn’t dead at all. And which is about so much more than just continuous disintegration.’
European media: In an article grappling with ‘the challenges of a European public sphere’, Eurozine’s former editor-in-chief Carl Henrik Fredriksson picks up a question from a recent meeting of the journals network:
‘How much in common must a community have? we asked at a recent Eurozine conference. As it turns out: quite a lot. At least a common public sphere – even if this is just a series of nationally based but interconnected media spaces. Because without it, Europe’s publics will be easy prey for those who know how to play the strings of history to further polarize European societies. In Vienna and Istanbul, in Paris and Budapest there are plenty of those, and they claim that they are playing the tune of the future.’
Art and politics: The cover shows a picture from the series ‘#onvacation’ by the Kyiv-based art collective IZOLYATSIA. Referring to the ‘green men’ – Russian soldiers in unmarked uniforms – who occupied Crimea in 2014, claiming that they were ‘on vacation’, this guerrilla art initiative has taking place in many places around Europe, including the 56th Venice Biennnale.
In an accompanying conversation on ‘intellectual resistance’, originally published in pARTisan, Anna Medvedeva from IZOLYATSIA notes that the objects of resistance are legion: ‘resistance to the social situation, to digitalization, to the rules of the world of contemporary art, resistance to bureaucracy and even the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine, resistance to so many things that are not necessarily associated with politics.’
Novelist and Eurozine contributor Asli Erdogan is one of many Turkish journalists, writers and intellectuals to have been arrested in the wake of the failed coup of 15 July. International PEN is watching her case closely, expressing deep concerns not only about the blatant restrictions on freedom of expression and human rights in Turkey, but also about the medical condition of Erdogan, who suffers from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes.
Of course, writes editor Janne Wass in Ny Tid (Finland), the attempted coup must be sharply condemned. But it is totally unacceptable to curry favour with Turkey in the way that EU has done. ‘The peremptory closing down of media outlets and the firing of almost 2000 judges just days after the coup suggest that the aim has been less about punishing those involved than getting rid of political opponents.’
Who was behind the coup in Turkey? Inside Turkey there is almost complete consensus that it was Fethullah Gülen and his sympathizers who were to blame for the coup. But this is highly unlikely, writes Peter Lodenius. Taking a closer look at the facts, Lodenius comes to the conclusion that,
‘The attempted coup in July should be seen as one of many actions taken by the military to get the country back on the right track, that is the track laid out by Atatürk. Certainly, we also saw the participation of some young, Gülenist officers, who only lately have been able to enter the military. Their view on secularism might be very different from that of the Kemalists, but the toppling of Erdogan’s regime is part of their objectives as well. However, they have not yet reached the powerful positions within the military that would make it possible for them to pull the strings.’