"Turning point for the Left"

5 June 2007
Only in en
Merkur sees the Six Day War as turning point for the Left; Reset debates the Böckenförde dictum; Host searches for the traces of the Beat generation in Czech literature; Kulturos barai reads Lithuania's Robin Hood as nation builder; The New Presence finds Prague boring; and du follows the Danube from the Black Forest to the Black Sea.

Merkur 6/2007

Forty years ago to this day, the Left became anti-Israeli, writes Martin Kloke in Merkur. Initially outraged by Arab threats to “drive the Jews into the sea”, the German APO became overwhelmingly critical of Israel after the Six Day War. An increasingly radical Left ranked Israel alongside the US as the enemy of the Third World liberation struggle, and by 1969, militant anti-Zionism prevailed. While the bomb in the Jewish community centre in Berlin that year proved to be its nadir, anti-Israeli sentiment persisted throughout the following decades.

For Kloke, evidence that “the amalgam of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist resentments long ago entered the mainstream” is provided by a EU survey in 2003, which found that 65% of Germans saw Israel as “a threat to world peace”. Kloke, citing Holocaust historian Dan Diner, calls for anti-Semitism to be combated, “as if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict did not exist”, and a solution to the conflict found, “as if anti-Semitism did not exist”. One might add, however: and criticisms of Israel to be heard, as if leftwing anti-Semitism did not exist.

What is betrayal? Bernhard Schlink writes that the era of great loyalties – and thus betrayals – is past. Today, loyalties are looser and betrayal less clear-cut: this goes for the intellectual “betrayal” of former 68ers, who abandoned revolution for the political mainstream. The volte face of an Enzensberger, for example, can be read both as betrayal and as a mark of intellectual independence.

“In the post-pyschoanalytical era,” writes Schlink, “loyalty to oneself is loyalty to ones own damaged nature, […] to one’s own inability to form bonds, in other words, to all that makes one what one is.” The fierce reactions that met revelations of former GDR informants, “are received with a degree of irritation, irritation because they do not fit into our time, and irritation that in our era, depth, strength and conviction are lacking”.

The full table of contents of Merkur 6/2007.

Reset 101 (2007)

Reset devotes a large part of its new issue to a discussion of religion in the public sphere. The point of departure is jurist Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde’s 1976 dictum on the limits of the secular State. Böckenförde questions whether it is possible to maintain the values that form the basis of liberal states without resorting to illiberal, or even totalitarian, means. Is a religious state better able to maintain social cohesion and to fill the ethical gap left by secular states?

Reset takes up Böckenförde’s challenge and responds with the views of a wide range of intellectuals from Italy and abroad. Charles Taylor counters Böckenförde’s pessimism with an image of “a society in which the religious, metaphysical, and moral points of view are inevitably pluralist (this is the situation in which we find ourselves), but in which the promoters of these diverse points of view accept the advancement of the same fundamental political values: liberty, human rights, equality, and democratic government.” Other commentators on the topic include Jean-Louis Schlegel (Paris), George Crowder (Adelaide), and Giuliano Amato (Rome).

Castells and the battle for control of the Internet: Who will gain power in the network era? Will it fall into the hands of a few tycoons or will it be distributed among the vast number of web users? And will printed journals manage to survive? Reset publishes the views of sociologists of communication, mass media experts, political scientists, and journalists.

Also to look out for: Jean-Paul Willaime on “hyper-secularization” and the move towards “ultra-modernity”; Ian Buruma on the enigma of Tariq Ramadan; and Adam Michnik on Pope Benedict XVI’s mistakes.

The full table of contents of Reset 101 (2007).

Host 5/2007

William Burroughs said of Jack Kerouac that he had helped sell millions of Levi’s and open a plethora of literary cafés. This was no different in the Czech Republic than it was in America, claims Josef Rauvolf in Host. In an issue on the Beat Generation and its echo in Czech life and literature, translator and columnist Rauvolf investigates the Beat story in the Czech lands.

As early as 1959, the first study of “American bohemia” was published in the literary magazine Svetova literatura; five years later, a selection of novels was translated into Czech. “Before 1965”, writes Rauvolf, “the beatnik way of life had an impact on basically everybody.” Young people were looking for a culture other than that imposed upon them by Communist party ideologues. Jazz and Rock ‘n’ Roll turned up, followed by rock music, a clear expression for the desire for freedom. Authors did not stick to established topics and small amateur theatres were experimenting with spoken word and music, all much inspired by the American beatniks.

When Allen Ginsberg – having been expelled from Castro’s Cuba – came to Prague in February 1965, the ground had been prepared for him. “In the beginning, he was praised in all newspapers as official guest of the Writer’s Union. But after being elected ‘King of May’, the nerves of the cultural police officials broke and Ginsberg was arrested and expelled.” After that, it was near to impossible to make direct reference to Beat poetry. The Odeon publishing house had to shelve a selection of Ginsberg’s poetry – which did not appear until 1990. Petr Skarlant, in his Age of Indulgence, a poetic rendering of mid-1960s Prague, talked about Ginsberg without ever mentioning his name – to play it safe.

Also to look out for: An interview with poet Inka Machulkova, a representative of the Czech Beat generation and leading figure of the literary scene in the 1960s who emigrated to Germany in 1968; and an interview with Petra Dvoráková, who last year published a book investigating the role of the Catholic church in Czech society.

The full table of contents of Host 5/2007.

Kulturos barai 5/2007

One of the most alarming developments in Lithuania during the second phase of post-communism is the increasing convergence of the media, business, and politics, argues Almantas Samalavicius in Kulturos barai. The mass media is dumbing down to serve the interests of market forces but the fact is not remarked upon. “In Lithuania,” writes Samalavicius, “we witness a lack of media ethics and discussions about the media’s role in society and politics”.

Folk heroes and pagan symbols: Tomas Balkelis analyzes the origins and transformations of the myth of Tadas Blinda – also known as Lithuania’s Robin Hood. Balkelis argues that legends about robbers play a major role in community-building in societies marked by ethnic conflict. And Karolina Buivydaite deciphers the “X”, an archaic symbol in Baltic pagan traditions.

Plus: Rasa Vasinauskaite sees Lithuanian theatre of the 1990s as reflection of the new formation of Lithuanian society. And Abdolkarim Soroush writes that, “The first resource that is squandered in a revolution is rationality and the last thing that returns is rationality. If it ever returns.”

The full table of contents of Kulturos barai 5/2007.

The New Presence 1/2007

Is the Czech Republic the new Belgium, asks Simon Pradek in The New Presence – in other words a dull and boring country? “Though statistics reveal that Prague is still successful in attracting tourists, it is far less successful at getting those who have already visited the country to return.”

“For many Czechs, the country’s capital has become the embodiment of much that is wrong with the country,” writes Pradek. “Whereas once the castle was occupied by a former dissident and poet, today it is occupied by a man who straight-facedly tells the world that NGOs are a danger to democracy and that he will ‘pretend he didn’t hear’ that mankind is damaging the planet. In the evening, Prague’s famous Wenceslaus Square transforms into little more than a magnet for pimps, prostitutes, and drug dealers, with the police looking the other way.”

The post-communist attraction of Prague, says Pradek, was its inherent rawness. Now people in search of this have moved on to the more exciting post-communist countries such as Ukraine.

The heaven beneath central Europe: “I like losers. I am fascinated by the fact that because of their lost and incapable nature, they always seem to find some kind of story. There is a strange kind of energy, which appears when these people try to actually leave the edge that they live on,” says Czech fiction writer Jaroslav Rudis in interview. He became known for his award-winning book Heaven under Berlin about a Czech teacher who starts a new life in Berlin as an underground musician.

Also to look out for: Isabel Hilton’s article “Surfing the dragon”; Jiri Pehe on anti-Americanism; and Adam Blenton on the disappointment surrounding the comeback of “two Czech kings”, the filmmakers Milos Forman and Jiri Menzel.

The full table of contents of The New Presence 1/2007.

du 5-6/2007

“It is the most European of all rivers; it is the most reflective, wisest narrative that our continent’s geography has to offer”, writes Andrzej Stasiuk in du. “As well as its water it carries our thoughts, our hopes, our dreams.” The Danube, Donau in German, Dunaj in Czech, Duna in Hungarian, Dunav in Serbian, Dunaw in Bulgarian, Duna rea in Romanian, and Dunai in Russian and Ukrainian: More than any other river it connects cultures, religions, languages.

The Danube originates in the western hills of the Black Forest from where du follows its course to the estuary in the Danube Delta at the Black Sea. “Whenever I am at the Delta or in the Dobrudsha,” Stasiuk writes, “I think of the source and of its upper course, which carries water from the depth of European history, incessantly mingling with the present and the future. In the Delta and the Dobrudsha, history has not yet begun.”

Editor Andreas Nentwich spends a day with the young Danube, whose starting point is actually the confluence of the Brigach and the Breg at Donau-Eschingen. Zsuzsanna Gahse claims that the Danube is different everywhere, but if you know your part, you will always recognize it. Norbert Niemann visits the Danube in Regensburg; Irene Mettler in Vienna; and Erwin Messmer 65 kilometers downstream in Bratislava, which before communist takeover was connected to Vienna via tramway.

The Danube brought everything to Serbia: baroque, enlightenment, sauerkraut, and psychoanalysis, claims Zlatko Krasni. Eva Demski travels with Mircea Dinescu, the Romanian poet laureate, to his Danube port through a village where Roma live in gold and silver houses. Moldavia, writes Martin Heule, owns 550 meters of Danube embankment, on which the economic hopes of this poorest of European countries are hung. And all is illustrated by Irina Ruppert’s atmospheric photographs from the Danube Delta.

The full table of contents of du 5-6/2007.

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Published 5 June 2007

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