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Cover for: The old

The old "new clothes" of the French Republic

In defence of the "insignificant" rioters

It is possible that the “apolitical” youths of the banlieue have done more to set things in motion in France than thirty years of political posturing. Disregarding the lamentable reaction from the French Right, they have forced a reconsideration of the pitfalls of a universalist Republican ideology that refuses to recognize the existence of ethnic minorities. In doing so, they are the true defenders of society, says the director of the French journal Multitudes.

Cover for: November nights 2005: The geography of violence

Nicolas Sarkozy, with his reference to suburban French youth as “scum”, did more than anyone else to stoke the flames of the 2005 riots. Now, his presidential victory is likely to cause continuing resentment in France’s suburbs. In a discussion published at the time, French urban geographers, sociologists, and political scientists discuss the causes and effects of the rioting and offer solutions to the conditions responsible for it. While the unrest had precedents in the 1980s and 1990s, they argue, this time it involved new actors, new areas, and new targets. Unemployment, ghettoization, unsympathetic policing: the causes are familiar enough. Only this time, young people were unable to find any more political means of expression than violent implosion. What can policy offer? Social mixing looks good on paper but depends on people having control of the process; redistributive taxation can be equally self-defeating. Now that place struggle has replaced class struggle, can the riots be understood as a new attempt to force solidarity from the middle classes?

Literary perspectives: Hungary

Mastering history through narrative?

In the first essay in the Eurozine “Literary perspectives” series, publisher Gábor Csordás introduces five new Hungarian novels. All share a concern with history and narrative, and all but one – György Spiró’s narrrative tour de force set in the Roman empire at the time of Christ – deal with Hungary’s recent past: the post-war period as experienced by the Slovak minority; a child’s-eye view of social changes during the Communist upheaval; a contemporary Jewish-Hungarian son’s struggle with his father and the past that formed him; and a collision of myth and mundanity when the closure of a collective farm causes the past to unravel. Spiró’s novel too, it emerges, sheds light on contemporary issues: the historical setting echoes in the anti-Semitism concerning many in Hungary today.

Must we respect religiosity?

On questions of faith and the pride of the secular society

It is said that Western societies are entering an age of post-secularity, in which there is a need for a truth beyond that offered by conventional science. Fine, say liberals, simply take your pick from the many faiths on offer. But from religion’s standpoint, the idea that “You can believe what you want” seems indifferent and mistaken. Respect between the religious and the non-religious is necessary if this tension is not to become intolerance.

In Belarus, both Russian and Belarusian language groups stake claim to the national language. Supporters of Belarusian argue for the cultural rootedness of the language in the nation; supporters of Russian accuse them of suffering from a national psychosis. The debate is closely bound up with the Belarusian relationship to Russia, according to whether Russian influence in Belarus is considered desirable or not. Here, a Belarusian philosopher considers the possibility of reconciling nationalism with liberalism, and draws up a blueprint for tolerant, multi-lingual policy in Belarus.

Swedish poet Ida Börjel confronts us with our favourite and most insulting national prejudices about ourselves and our European neighbours. But does she confirm them? In a series of insidious linguistic displacements and only seemingly naive phrases, the preconceived notions start to move. Measuring the European waistlines is not a standardizing measure.

Nationhood, modernity, democracy

Manifestations of national identity in modern Europe

The history of modern nation building suggests that the authority of the state must be grounded in the common cultural and ethnic values of its citizens. In the present day, however, state power is eroded by the decline of party politics and effects of globalization. In this context, argues the Hungarian MEP, cultural diversity, articulated as ethnic identity, will find ever stronger expression. Small states are more exposed to external influences and need stronger barriers to protect their cultural norms. It would help, he says, if the larger states practised a measure of self-restraint and tried to understand the needs of smaller communities.

International cooperation became a key feature in politics with the growth of global communication networks and globalization of trade in the 1990s. After 9/11, international cooperation hit a new level, with all the major international bodies supporting cross-border anti-terrorism measures. Agreeing was so easy that governments increasingly have policies that are unpopular on the domestic front ratified at international gatherings, then re-introduce them at home, where they can be justified as fulfilling international standards. Civil society and democratic procedures meanwhile are left out of the picture entirely. The process has become known as “policy laundering” and has made inroads into daily life more than is generally known. An overview of the new political landscape.

The Hungarian Writers’ Union has been informed by a source in Brussels that, after a series of confidential conferences, an agreement is imminent on obligatory literary standards for all EU member states. Our correspondent has been able to obtain this draft copy of the chapter relating to the novel only.

Surrounding the anniversary of the end of WWII were arguments that national experiences are suffocated by the dominant discourse of the West. By implication, the memory of the Holocaust is a hegemonic discourse within the EU, rather than its binding principle. Here, it is not so much that national myths are suppressed, argues Isolde Charim, but that a new myth is in the making: that of victimhood divorced from political context.

ruins Lisbon earthquake

Theology of tidal waves

A post-humanist interpretation

The tsunami disaster in southeast Asia in January 2005 prompted a leading Swedish political scientist to publicly declare his return to the Christian Church. He was by no means alone – a remarkable reversal of the public reaction to the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which for Voltaire and others implied that the Church no longer possessed exclusive insight into the human condition. But the man-made catastrophes of the twentieth century undermined the enlightenment enterprise: for Adorno, “nature” could no longer be banished to the non-human. This undermines the truth claim of the humanities, which in the twenty-first century are stranded between theology and the natural sciences.

Myth, word, and writing

An interview with Jack Goody

The Cambridge anthropologist argues that in seeking to expose the “structures of the mind”, Levi-Strauss and the Structuralists projected the categorized worldview of literate cultures onto simpler societies. In analysing oral cultures, a more flexible approach must be employed to take in the inconsistencies in myth-making, something made apparent by modern recording technology in the 1960s. In the second half of the interview, Goody discusses language development and the pitfalls of the genetic approach; the processes of “naming” and “discovering” in relation to western ideological concepts such as “freedom” and “slavery”; and the reception of western religion in non-western and formerly colonized cultures.

By looking at the construction of modern cities and the “other”, Esra Akcan analyzes the meaning of melancholy: “In a world where modernization is defined as the ‘universal’ processes guided by the ‘West’, in a world where the ‘West’ is perceived as the subject of history, while the ‘non-West’ as its inferior translation, the ‘others’ that are excluded from this definition of ‘universality’ live through a loss or lack of a natural right. This is the natural right of being a part of this history, of belonging to the process of modernization that is conceived as the inevitable ‘universal’ achievement. This is what I would like to call the melancholy of the geographical ‘other’.”

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