Since the Kaczynski brothers’ political ascendancy at the head of the Law and Justice Party (PiS), there has been a string of developments that have alarmed Poland’s EU fellow-members: the election of a civil rights spokesperson who openly advocates the death penalty; plans to close down the body that monitors the independence of the media; a law drafted that would abolish the autonomy of the civil service, to name but a few. To understand how this situation arose, one needs to look more closely at the period of change in Poland since 1989. The “radical” government stems from that section of the Solidarity movement opposed to the route transformation took; for the radicals, the reckoning with the ancien regime has been insufficient, leading to a system they view as a pathological symbiosis of communism and capitalism, democracy and a post-communist mafia. The cultural traditionalism of the PiS, writes Smolar, has landed on fertile ground in a contemporary Poland suffering from social alienation, distrust in democratic institutions, high unemployment, and growing income discrepancies.
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Adolf Holl in conversation with Sudhir Kakar
Austrian theorist of religion Adolf Holl talks to Indian psychoanalyst and author Sudhir Kakar on the publication of Kakar’s latest book, “The Indians. Portrait of a Society”. Their conversation covers a range of topics from the boundaries of the ego in Western and Indian culture, the male and female principles in Christianity and Hinduism, globalization and religious fundamentalism in contemporary India, and the role of the psychoanalyst-astrologer in the two cultures.
The power of images and the danger of pity
In the common Western imagination, the image of the veiled Muslim woman stands for oppression in the Muslim world. This makes it hard to think about the Muslim world without thinking about women, sets up an “us” and “them” relationship with Muslim women, and ignores the variety of ways of life practiced by women in different parts of the Muslim world. Anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod emphasizes that veiling should not be confused with a lack of agency or even traditionalism. Western feminists who take it upon themselves to speak on behalf of oppressed Muslim women assume that individual desire and social convention are inherently at odds: something not borne out by the experience of Islamic society.
In a globalized world, global cooperation and international law are becoming increasingly important, writes William A. Cohn of the University of New York in Prague. But many argue that the “war on terror” and the current Israel-Lebanon conflict are international humanitarian law’s newest tests of resolve.
Erzwungene Wege [“Forced journeys”] is the title of the newly opened exhibition at the German Historical Museum in Berlin on the history of forced migration in Europe. It has been organized by the German League of Expellees, which represents Germans forced to migrate after WWII, and is a step towards the League’s goal to set up a permanent exhibition in the German capital. The exhibition has been the source of ongoing diplomatic conflict between Germany and its eastern neighbours – above all Poland – since the League called on Poland to pay compensation to former German owners of Polish property and even opposed Poland’s accession to the EU. Philipp Ther outlines the background of the historical conflict between Germany and Poland, the reasons behind the paradigm shift from culprit to victim in the German view of its history, and the enduring and very different memory in Poland of the German occupation.
Nostalgic references to a religious past will not help solve the question of a “European soul”. Yes, this past is both glorious and painful, but it no longer exists, writes Danièle Hervieu-Léger. Instead, the weakening of the foundations of religion could prove to be a good starting point for a more specific reconsideration of European religious heritage.
Creationism is enjoying a new lease of life. Sanctioned by the slogan “teach the controversy”, the theory of intelligent design is gaining a foothold in educational establishments in the US and worldwide. Biochemist Juli Peretó delivers a rebuke to the fallacies and dishonesties of the theory of intelligent design and examines the ambiguous attitude of the Catholic Church towards creationism.
Israel’s incursion into Gaza, the arrest of Hamas ministers and legislators, and the financial embargo on the Palestinians show that Israel, with the United States, mean to provoke the collapse of the Hamas-led government. This activity comes just as Hamas and Fatah seemed set to agree on national unity. From the West Bank and Gaza, Wendy Kristianasen traces the background to the current crisis.
Spatial practices as a blueprint for human rights violations
The US Supreme Court’s ruling that the military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay violate both American military law and the Geneva Conventions confirms what international human rights campaigners have been arguing for years. Some of the severest criticism has been directed at the spatial conditions in the camp – spaces that might be too hot, too cold, or too small induce in prisoners severe depression, anxiety, hallucinations, and loss of motor skills. Markus Miessen describes the increasing tendency for governments to create a legal “meta-level” where spatial and physical humiliation becomes everyday practice.
Some lessons from postwar Germany
The postwar “democratization” of Iraq has often been justified by a comparison to the de-Nazification of Germany after the Second World War. However, the Allied postwar operation cannot be called an unqualified success, writes Heinrich August Winkler: the division of the country was the ultimate result of the Allied powers’ very different ideas of democracy. In West Germany, at least, the successful transition from liberation to freedom rested on the democratic traditions of the Weimar Republic. If the postwar developments are instructive at all, they are in showing that those who want to help other countries can at most help them to help themselves, writes Winkler.
How modern urban planning was exported as an instrument in the battle for the developing world
Constantinos Doxiadis, the architect who during the 1950s and 1960s built new towns throughout the Middle East and Africa, was a leading figure in US Cold War policy. While hoping to inculcate democratic and free-market values in the developing world, the New Towns failed to take into account indigenous traditions. Today, Doxiadis’s urban neighbourhoods have become something quite different to what he anticipated: Sadr city, Baghdad’s giant slum, for example, where typhoid and hepatitis epidemics rage and which is now the backdrop for a new type of urban warfare. The most that can be said for Doxiadis’s New Towns, says Michelle Provoost, was that they had in mind an ideal – precisely what the US programme to restore democracy in contemporary Iraq lacks.
On the structure of mass insult
Historically, the rationalist critique of religion needed the means of mockery if it was not to become toothless, writes Christoph Türcke. But mockery was and is only rational when used as a weapon against power and oppression. It was the perception of the Mohammed cartoons as the West’s victorious mockery that so incensed the Islamic world. “It makes a crucial difference who caricatures the prophet – whether it is a Muslim or a non-Muslim Westerner. That is not to employ double standards […] Rationalism that wants more than simply to be right must learn to judge where its mockery begins to take on a triumphalist tone, one that insults the humiliated rather than unmasks pretensions.”
“Sport’s primitive allure provides a rare and necessary outlet for people desperate to rally behind a cause other than the national economy and making a living”, writes Tim Ochser, left cold by the spectacle of the Ice Hockey World Championships in Riga.
How the Federal Republic of Germany learned to take sport seriously
During the 1950s, policy makers in the Federal Republic of Germany, haunted by memories of the 1936 Olympics, endeavoured to keep politics out of sport. However, this position became untenable as the German Democratic Republic increasingly used sport for ideological capital. Under pressure from both the West German public and national and international politics, the Federal German government increasingly rose to the East German challenge. This culminated in the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972, where the “modern Germany” was presented as a peace-loving, democratic, and European nation.
Totalitarian experience and European memory
Instead of dwelling upon the catastrophes of the twentieth century, many Europeans ask if we should not thoughtfully “forget” them. However, the endurance of historical memory in the united Europe is demonstrated by contemporary political differences between European member states, which can be dealt with only if a European memory is developed. The difficulty here lies in paying due respect to the memory of the crimes both of National Socialism and of Soviet totalitarianism while avoiding a hierarchy of competing victim groups.
“For seventy years in succession, the Communists accused Western leaders of being Don Quixote. The latter did the same, accusing the Stalinists of being Don Quixote […] As you see, Don Quixote is always the loser, because the politicians who use his name are not on his level and have not a bit of his nobility.” Ismail Kadare on why Don Quixote belongs to Balkan folklore, how Cervantes first came to be translated into Albanian, and why today’s politicians should be banned from using the knight errant’s name as a term of abuse.