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Forget marrying a rich American: for the Russian middle-class woman, a better life means aerobics and Benetton. Foreigners may bewail the power of international capital, but elegance and the money with which to purchase it were precisely what was not available under dull utilitarian communism.

Eastern European feminist discourse is confronted with a dual exclusion: from the Western feminist discourse from which it borrows its terms, and from its own societies, where its foreignness is distrusted. Here, one eastern European feminist describes how her discourse becomes a parody of Western feminism, and how the alienation this produces is compounded by a perceived lack of societal normalcy. In this respect, parody becomes a subversive response to a reality felt to be absurd. But whose interests does this subversion serve?

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?

Tim Wilkinson, the English translator of Imre Kertsz, talks about the lack of literary translations in the UK and US, and assesses past, present, and forthcoming efforts to bring Hungarian literary fiction to the English-speaking market.

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.

The Belarusian opposition

Preparation for the presidential campaign of 2006

On 16 October 2005, the Belarusian democratic opposition, the Congress of the Democratic Forces, launched its 2006 election campaign with the “Day of Solidarity”. The protest action involved lighting candles in darkened rooms in order to demonstrate support for “disappeared” opposition members. But despite its good intentions, is this kind of protest the best way to go about gaining support from floating voters? The election manifesto also contains some ill-judged rhetoric, including unlikely promises and revolutionary fervour. An outside observer offers constructive criticism of the Belarusian opposition.

The "Siedlung" and the "Mahalle"

The intertwined history of the modern residential neighbourhood in Europe and Turkey

The intertwined history of the modern residential neighbourhood in Turkey and Germany serves to point out the shortcomings of a polarized discussion of Turkey and Europe, and more broadly, shows how histories restricted to single nation-states do not help understand processes that occur at a trans-national level. Esra Akcan describes how the egalitarian architecture of prewar Germany was interpreted for the Turkish Republic, where it became a status symbol for a new class of bureaucrats. Migration and cultural exchange in directions opposite to those commonly known are shown to undermine reified concepts of “East” and “West”.

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.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was founded on the basis of the Helsinki Act of 1975, the first international agreement on human rights. Today, a major part of the OSCE’s work is in ensuring the independence of democratic institutions, including monitoring election processes and the press. As an inter-governmental organization, anti-terrrorism is inevitably included among its activities, above dealing with internet hate-speech. Here, opinion is divided within the organization about the appropriateness of filtering systems. A recent publication by the OSCE Representative of the Freedom of the Media proposes avoiding intervention.

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.

Lithuanian novelist and playwright Marius Ivaskevicius is highly rated in the Baltic States, Poland, and Hungary for his humorous observations of contemporary life. Now Eurozine publishes, in English translation, his seven-part Scandinavian travelogue. Here, he journeys to the north of Finland, stopping off at Kajaani, where a play reminds him of his father’s childhood in Lithuania. Pressing on, he reaches Rovaniemi on the edge of the Arctic Circle. But Lapland is showing signs of the times: climate change and fresh-air tourism.

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