Unshakeable knowledge of what is good

19 June 2013
Only in en
Free Speech Debate hears the call from Istanbul loud and clear: “participatory democracy or bust!”; Schweizer Monat demands an end to quibbling over the future of Europe; L’Espill ponders the crisis of television; Esprit notes that Marseille Capital of Culture 2013 is struggling to shake off its shabby image; Gegenworte sees science get a bad press in the media’s handling of prominent plagiarizers; Glänta celebrates twenty years of publishing, or not…; Dilema veche appeals for the kind of basic trust that allows society to advance; Akadeemia contemplates life with neither nation nor home; and Revolver Revue advises the Czech president to read something lighter than Karel Capek’s Apocryphal Tales.


Reporting from a volatile situation in Istanbul, Ayse Kadioglu writes in “Participatory democracy or bust!”:

“As the smoke from tear gas disappears from the skies around Gezi Park, in Istanbul’s Taksim square, one demand becomes more and more visible: the demand to voice opinions and participate in decisions.”

Kadioglu remains hopeful that this “rehearsal for a new citizenship” (Nilüfer Göle) can create change, with the caveat that “Turkey can only internalize democracy if and when its citizens remember and come to terms with its past involving especially its Armenian and Kurdish citizens”. But further:

“The generation that experienced military coups and was forced into submission and passivity have raised their children as active citizens. Lucky are these young ones who are courageous, and have a sense of humour in their resistance. This is the time to be on their side in an attempt to spare this resistance from the shadow of nationalism, militarism and looting.”

More about Free Speech Debate


Schweizer Monat demands an end to quibbling over the future of Europe and, instead, constructive suggestions and concepts that safeguard the continent’s prosperity.

Tasting: In sampling Europe’s culinary diversity, Hans Magnus Enzensberger hops from Helsinki to Palermo and from Lisbon to Berlin.

Brussels also features, where the question of what exactly holds the nation of Belgium together arises. The Flemish minister president Yves Leterme, writes Enzensberger, has suggested “the king, the football team and a couple of beers”. Enzensberger counters:

“But is it not in fact a much more powerful authority – namely, the stomach and its unshakeable knowledge of what is good? The Belgian stomach has digested the products from the kitchens of neighbours, occupiers, migrants, Jews, Africans – and still remained true to itself. This the countless guests value highly who, year in, year out feast tax-free in Brussels: commissioners, presidents, vice presidents, general directors, directors, speakers, lobbyists, weapons dealers, opinion leaders and agents. It would be a mistake, if we handed over our place at the European table to them.”

Russia and Europe: In interview, Russian philosopher Michail Ryklin firmly rejects the “EUSSR” polemic and wholeheartedly endorses “Europe’s culture, diversity and philosophical tradition”. On incursions into the private sphere too, Ryklin is characteristically upbeat:
“Whosoever objects to these must state his or her opinion loud and clear, as long as it remains possible to do so. Fortunately there are movements in the United States and in Europe, and even in Russia, that campaign for the right to a private sphere. This right can be exercised in America and Europe without censure – with regard to Russia I can say: there the train has departed. Now it’s up to Russian citizens to force the train to return. That requires courage. And time. The Russians have both.”

(Obviously the interview with Ryklin was conducted before revelations of the Prism programme. For more on privacy issues in the Prism controversy, see here.)

The full table of contents of Schweizer Monat 6/2013


The editors of Valencia-based L’Espill are not wholly phased by Europe’s “dark reality”, a combination of “economic and social crisis” and one “of politics and institutions”. The “absolute priority” given inter alia in Spain to debt reduction and “obligatory, imperative and accelerated austerity” has caused endless social ills and played havoc with voting intentions. In fact, “there is the sensation that the political system derived from the transition (from the Franco dictatorship) is exhausted, but that there is no obvious replacement.”

The present and future of Europe demand “profound reflection, an examination of consciences”, the editors write. They oppose drastically reducing the powers of autonomous regions like Valencia – an idea popular with the Right – in order to swiftly cut public spending. Their recommendation, in deference to Willy Brandt, is “to take a chance on more democracy”. The focus on Europe also includes Claus Offe‘s “Europe in the trap”.

Public vs private TV: In the dossier “Crisis and the future of television”, Josep-Lluís Gómez Mompart shows why, despite younger generations watching less than their parents, television remains a crucial medium. Witness the allocation of many of Spain’s local digital TV licenses to companies with (in some cases extreme) rightwing connections.

Yet, throughout Europe, an array of new media outlets have combined with neoliberal “free market” measures in relentlessly undermining public television. This, despite Mompart’s insistence that public television guaranteed basic levels of quality and access to a common democratic culture. In its absence, we can expect media options and more fragmented audiences aplenty, all at the cost of effective pluralism.

Also: Enrique Bustamante’s analysis of the treatment of Spain’s public broadcaster (RTVE) at the hands of Mariano Rajoy’s government suggests the “conclusion on the Spanish right that its economic and social measures are compatible only with degrading the democratic public sphere in Spain”.

The full table of contents of L’Espill 43 (2013)


“Allons enfants de la Patrie, le jour de gloire est arrivé!” Thus commences “La Marseillaise”, composed 1792 and still sung on occasions of national importance today. Cut to “Marseille Capital of Culture 2013”, and sociologist Jean Viard, who is closely involved with the enterprise, explains the difficulties the city has experienced in reinvigorating ties to its former “days of glory”. Shaking off the image of a “delayed, violent and impoverished city” has not proven easy.

In his support for the controversial redevelopment of the old harbour area, Viard adheres to the importance of creating urban communicative spaces for the inhabitants of a “métis, memorial and playful port city”. For the life of a city begins and ends with “the possibilities for chance encounters”. Under the pressure of global tendencies of “littoralization” (the concentration of economic activity in coastal areas), the old port has been turned into a central meeting point.

Containerization: “Just-in-time flow, zero storage” – these are the watchwords of mega-ports like Singapore or Tanger Med, stresses Olivier Mongin in the French version of his article published in Eurozine’s focus on European harbour cities, Arrivals/Departures. The continual flow of goods and minimal need for storage “makes maritime speed the most efficient of all”. And the growing global maritime system (95 per cent of global commercial exchanges involve transportation by sea), has a strong impact on the social geography of harbour cities, breaking with historical harbour culture and triggering the process of “exo-urbanism” on the coast:

“The impact of maritime speed, bound up as it is with port connection hubs and containerization, pushes this decontextualization to a new extreme, such that we now dream of turning our urban and maritime memories into a world heritage theatre.”

The key protagonist of the process is the container, a symbol of globalization caught between two poles: “it oscillates between offering apparent luxury and being a hide-out; it can just as easily function as a habitable box (luxurious or not) and as a secret place of refuge.”

The full table of contents of Esprit 6/2013


Science has lost its unassailable status in society, according to Peter Weingart in Gegenworte, with the increasingly frequent use of techniques for detecting forged data, plagiarism and the appropriation (without acknowledgement) of results or ideas. Not that these methods are new or exclusive to the Internet era. What is new is the sensationalism that accompanies associated cases in the media – especially where prominent plagiarizers are concerned:

“Once made public, the ‘rules of good scientific practice’ take on a discursive dynamic of their own, between the actions of those subject to the rules and their observers. […] Should the rules be breached, the observers publicly denounce the breach. [Such cases] are considered – by all actors involved in integrity assurance – an individual and therefore moral breach that must be punished accordingly.”

However, it is far from evident that the handling of notorious cases will change much when it comes to structures and actual conduct, notes Weingart:

“The media maintains the idealistic image of science as neutral, dutifully objective and oriented toward truth in all of its procedures. Any deviation from the script is therefore all the more rigorously denounced. Insofar as creating a public scandal equates to the production of the public sphere, it also amounts to a variety of democratic control. That said, the process is far from finely tuned and in fact rather clumsy, with something of the plebiscite or the tabloid about it. Therefore, at the end of the cycle of public scandals, all that usually remains is the destruction of the reputations of individuals and institutions.”

Mesmer, Cagliostro and Swedenborg: Angela Spahr revisits the early stages of the Enlightenment, when the borders between science and humbug were especially fluid, and “animal magnetism” and “mesmerism” were commonly associated with “scientific methods” – along with freemasonic seances and the dictates of angelic creatures.

The full table of contents of Gegenworte 29 (2013)


Gothenburg-based Glänta published its first issue in May 1993. It was a small-scale, independent initiative by three students, who thought that some of the ideas born at the university were “too important to go straight into the archives, unread”. Twenty years later, Glänta is one of the leading intellectual hubs in Sweden, publishing books, organizing cultural events and initiating international co-operations.

Introducing the anniversary issue, founder and long-time Glänta editor Göran Dahlberg quotes the mythical publisher of the journal Transition (in turn quoted by Gertrud Stein in The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas): “If ever there are more than two thousand subscribers, I quit.” Whatever the number of subscribers (the journal is still around!), the influence of Glänta on Swedish art and literature, on the intellectual climate in general, in the last two decades is hard to overestimate.

In lieu of a celebration: However, instead of celebrating its own success, Glänta follows the recipe that made it possible: an unorthodox but always productive approach to a given topic; this time they focus on different ways to commemorate “that a certain time has passed since a certain event took place”.

So, instead of articles on the history of Glänta, there are essays, poems and art projects that congratulate the universe upon its 13.8 billionth anniversary; or tracks the “genealogy of the jubilee”; or celebrates the fact that 2013 is the year when “pre-history” turns 179 (the concept was introduced by Danish historian Christian Molbech in 1834 and not, as many believe, by the Scot David Wilson in 1851).

The geopolitics of memory: The issue also features an extended and updated version of Tatiana Zhurzhenko‘s 2007 article “The geopolitics of memory”, where she argues that memory politics is less about the communist past than about future political and economic hegemony on the European continent.

“With the enlargement of the European Union to the East on the one hand, and Russia’s growing power and ambitions on the other, tensions are growing and new dividing lines are emerging in eastern Europe. […] It has fuelled populist nationalism across the Union, while at the periphery, it has raised hopes of one day joining the club. In the new member states, populists use the communist past as a political weapon against their opponents; in the post-Soviet neighbour countries, meanwhile, history is used to lay claim to European identity and as a means of emancipation from Moscow.”

In the update for Glänta she shows that the latter might be more difficult than expected: Ukraine’s attempts in the last years have failed miserably and in 2010, the European Parliament even passed a resolution condemning former president Viktor Yushchenko for awarding nationalist Stepan Bandera the title “Hero of Ukraine”.

The full table of contents of Glänta 1/2013


After a break of seven years, George Soros revisits Romania and, in interview with Dilema veche (483), not only critiques the European Monetary Union but also underlines the urgent need for action on discrimination against Roma people:

“We are confronted with the worst case of discrimination and exclusion based on ethnicity. It’s a violation of what I consider human rights. With the European crisis the problem has become more complicated because of the economic hardship it has brought, the recession has effected the general population. Therefore, we can’t work only on the Roma problem; we also have to be concerned about the declining living standards of many of those who are not Roma but Romanian.”

Democracy of mistrust: Today’s citizen, armed with a smartphone, frantically seeking to unveil and document abuses of power: this is what now passes for typical democratic behaviour, writes Ivan Krastev. However, the reverse side of the popular obsession with transparency (482) quickly becomes apparent:

“Contrary to the expectations of the transparency movement that full disclosure of government information will make public discourse more rational and less paranoid, my argument is that a focus on transparency will only fuel conspiracy theories. There is nothing more suspicious than the claim of absolute transparency.”

Krastev appeals to the democratic citizen not simply to monitor and leave. To be able to change society means to be able to stay and to trust:

“It is this basic trust that allows society to advance. This is why democracy cannot exist without trust and why politics as the management of mistrust will stand as the bitter end of democratic reform.”

Also: French novelist Pascal Bruckner admits in interview (486), that he still believes in the title of his 2000 essay, “On the duty to be happy”.

The full table of contents of Dilema veche 480-487 (2013)


Estonia’s 2011 census indicated the country’s population to have decreased 5.5 per cent since 2001 – sinking below the 1.3 million mark. This prompts a range of reflections on population related issues in Akadeemia, from pro-natalist policies to the near electoral majority of pensioners.

Voting rights for children? Andrei Hvostov reviews the pros and cons of giving children voting rights. However, a model that would provide families with children “a greater share in decision making, i.e., give parents more votes according to the number of children”, would raise all manner of legal and constitutional issues, to say nothing of “society’s disappointment with parliamentary democracy” in the first place. And if prominent commentators are right in estimating that the idea may take thirty years to implement then, asks Hvostov, “wouldn’t it be too late?”

Homelessness: As “mental homelessness” looks set to become “the normal state in Western civilization”, Leo Luks reviews the approach of modern thinkers to the theme. He links “influential theories about the essential negativity and homelessness of the subject” to nihilism having become the concept that “best describes the so-called zeitgeist“. This in turn can be attributed to “atomization of values, speed, information explosion, urbanization and general uncertainty about the future”.

Indeed, the choice of strategy for coping with this form of homelessness is left to the reader, whether it be a change of approach to identity, a total mental turnaround or the “dispersion of the problem into enjoyment of everyday pleasures”.

The full table of contents of Akadeemia 6/2013


In his inauguration speech on 8 March, Czech President Milos Zeman launched a scathing attack on the media: “Loud-mouthed commentators who write about everything and understand nothing remind me of Capek’s definition of a literary critic as someone who tells the writer how he would write a book if he was able to write.” Karel Capek (1890-1938) must be turning in his grave, says literary critic and translator Petr Onufer, in taking the president to task:

“Perhaps our president ought to start with less complex texts instead of ones that cannot be reduced to bon mots. For starters, he ought to re-read or, as the case may be, properly read [Capek’s] Apocryphal Tales, only this time making sure he commits them to memory. For the sentence immediately after the one Milos Zeman quotes so fondly and manipulatively runs: ‘One of the greatest disasters of our civilization: an erudite fool.'”

Believing: Writer and documentary filmmaker Adam Drda continues his series on Czech “troublemakers” with the remarkable story of Anna Magdalena Schwarzova. Born in Prague in 1921 into an assimilated Jewish family but drawn to Catholicism from an early age, Sister Magdalena was only able to take her vows in 1948, having survived Theresienstadt. Forced to leave her convent after the communist takeover, she was rewarded for her religious activities with a prison sentence in 1953 and not much better treated upon release. In 1985, Sister Magdalena emigrated to Poland and finally entered the Carmelite convent.

Noting that “Sarah”, the code name of her 1980s secret police file, alludes to her Jewish background, Drda wonders if this indicated “a Catholic-Jew – someone doubly untrustworthy by birth and faith, someone who, for the secret police, was linked to ‘Zionist centres and the Vatican’? In any case, it does suggest an ideological affinity between communist and Nazi officials – the Germans had issued a decree requiring all Jews to enter a second name in their documents: Israel for men, Sarah for women”.

The full table of contents of Revolver Revue 91 (2013)

Published 19 June 2013

Original in English
First published in

© Eurozine


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