What are you doing here?

6 August 2014
Only in en
In Kultura Liberalna, star economist Tomás Sedlácek tells us not to trust economists; Glänta asks questions about migration; Osteuropa expresses concern over parallels between Ukraine and Bosnia; Merkur reveals the true significance of the oligarch’s yacht; openDemocracy assesses the impact of the longest anti-government protest in Bulgarian history; Il Mulino reflects upon Isaiah Berlin’s Zionism; in Blätter Heribert Prantl argues for a democracy without barriers; La Revue nouvelle revisits the effects of the Schlieffen-Moltke plan; L’Homme considers the role of women activists in fighting for human rights; Res Publica Nowa explores the politics of place, from Pomerania to Istanbul; and GAM talks to Edith Ackermann about talent, intuition, creativity.

Tomás Sedlácek may be an international star economist, but he remains thoroughly down-to-earth. And nowhere more so than in an interview with Kultura Liberalna (Poland) entitled “Do not trust economists!”, in which he suggests that economists should be treated like any religious minority.

“For example”, says Sedlácek, “we believed that markets are self-regulating, but very often they are not. To me the invisible hand of the market is just wishful thinking, like a prayer. It is very ironic that in economics we are so fascinated with our models that we believe they actually describe reality. In every school, children are taught that a model has nothing to do with the reality, it’s just a fictional space.” It is therefore not so much a matter of asking “if models are true or untrue but whether they are useful or not”.

Firm answers, however, may prove difficult to come by, not least because:

“The major problem of economics is that we generally do not know what to expect from it. The role of economics is not anywhere defined. In my view we should assume that the goal of economics, or the economic system, is to allow the majority of the people not to worry about food, shelter, about sending their kids to school and being able to lead a decent life. In that case – in many countries the mission has been accomplished! And don’t expect anything more. Don’t expect justice or equality from economics, because we have never promised it.”

The full table of contents of Kultura Liberalna 286-290 (2014)

This year, all issues of Swedish journal Glänta will be dedicated to migration (which is also the theme of Eurozine’s 2014 conference). The first instalment is an inspiring mix of classical essays, cartography, activism and poetry.

In a deceivingly simple prose poem, Gothenburg-based poet Lina Ekdahl manages to capture the characteristic mix of genuine curiosity and interrogative hostility with which newcomers have been met throughout history and which is no less pertinent in the era of Dublin regulations. The absence of question marks makes the eternal questions – what do you really want, why are you here – even more unheimlich:

Why did you come here. Why are you here. What are you doing. What are you doing here. Who are you. What’s your name. What do you want. What are you thinking about. What do you wish for. What do you want. Why are you standing here. What are you waiting for. What’s your name. Where is your mum. Where is your dad. What’s his job. What’s your job. What do you want. What do you eat. Do you eat meat. Do you eat fish. Do you like spicy food. Do you like mild food. Are you in good health […]”

Begging and giving in free movement Europe: The informal politics of distribution on the streets – begging, giving – makes visible the faults inherent to the European welfare system, writes Cecilia Parsberg.

“Free movement is intended to open up national borders, but when poor EU citizens make use of this freedom to travel and do what they can to make money within the framework of the law, they are met by rules and statutes that aim to prevent them from enjoying this possibility.”

Parsberg’s text is accompanied by a series of photographs of places were beggars usually sit: street corners, subway stations, department store entrances. But what is left is only a trace: a piece of cardboard, an empty cup, a pile of warm clothes. The effect is at least as unheimlich as Lina Ekdahl’s poem.

(Don’t miss Cecilia Parsberg’s 2006 exhibition in the Eurozine Gallery, which deals with the wall between Israel and Palestine!)

Also: Eve Geddie explains why it’s time to change the European discourse on undocumented migrants; and Claus Leggewie asks why Europe is so reluctant to remember its migration history.

The full table of contents of Glänta 1/2014

As Hannah Arendt once remarked, “violence appears when power is in jeopardy.” And, as the conflict intensifies around Donetsk, Ukraine, and Russia double the number of troops stationed on the border with its neighbour, this is a sentiment that pervades many of the three-hundred plus pages of the latest issue of Osteuropa (Germany), which is devoted to the Ukraine crisis.

In their editorial, Manfred Sapper and Volker Weichsel see little cause for comfort. On the contrary. They disclose their concerns over how the transnational escalation of the conflict is reminiscent of the early phases of the Bosnian war.

Against federalization: “A spectre is haunting Ukraine – the spectre of federalism,” observes Mykola Riabchuk in an article on Russian interference in Ukraine. In 20 years of independence, the country has come no closer to reconciling its different political, cultural and religious traditions than it did under enforced Sovietization.

Meanwhile, Riabchuk finds it understandable that Kyiv should resist entering into negotiations with Russia and the separatists occupying government buildings in southeastern Ukraine, even if this is precisely what Moscow desires – as a means of forcing its federalization agenda that enhances centrifugal forces and jeopardizes Ukraine’s unity:

“The Kremlin is aware that any kind of normal election process in Ukraine would result in the defeat of pro-Russian forces, and therefore does what it can to sabotage any process of normalization”, continues Riabchuk. “In fact, Putin’s main problem is not an independent Ukraine per se but a successfully modernized, democratic and independent Ukraine, where millions of Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians (‘essentially Russians’ in Putin’s parlance) enjoy many more freedoms and civil rights than their brothers in Russia.”

Riabchuk himself favours decentralization in accordance with the European principle of subsidiarity.

Also: Volodymyr Kulyk on the urgent need to take measures to protect the Ukrainian language, such as introducing quotas for Ukrainian-language film and television productions.

The full table of contents of Osteuropa 5-6/2014

Wolfgang Kemp delivers in Merkur (Germany) the latest attempt to grasp the rise (and fall) of Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs. His analysis expands on that of Sergii Leshchenko‘s typology of Ukrainian oligarchs published in Eurozine earlier this year.

The floating fortresses that pass for oligarchs’ yachts particularly capture Kemp’s imagination. The yacht doubles up with the dacha as a site for contemplating “solitary decisions, clandestine operations, manipulating straw men, opaque company structures”.

Such reflections preface Kemp’s voyage into what he describes as the “offshore jungle”, where oligarchs circulate their ill-gotten gains in abstruse, untraceable transactions tailored to their own, further advantage. In response to which, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists established an Offshore Leaks Database in 2013 but, judging by the suspicious silence surrounding the project today, Kemp suspects it to have gone under in the sea of data.

“The only thing of real worth that remains” after the loans for shares, mergers, litigation and an unhealthy dependency on natural resources “will likely be the yacht in the harbour.”

Repeat offenders? If the offshore financial services sector doesn’t bring the world economy to its knees as Kemp reckons it threatens to do, then the financial services sector per se surely will. At least that’s what Rainer Hank thinks. Hank warns of the likelihood of the banks becoming repeat offenders if no one stops them. Their behaviour is “an affront to both classical liberalism’s principle of private property and neoliberalism’s principle of liability”.

France: Wolfgang Matz discerns in the Front national’s unprecedented success at the European elections in May a French crisis that Europe “must treat as its own, immediately”. “Even if today, a majority for Marine Le Pen is very unlikely”, continues Matz, “who’s willing to rule it out for sure? For tomorrow, for 2017, for 2022? And who’s willing to say what will become of the EU if the executive of one of its central members falls into the hands of the radical Right?”

Also: Adrian Lobe on the legacy of Charles Péguy, editor of the journal Cahiers de la Quinzane, a century after he was killed in action during World War I.

The full table of contents of Merkur 8/2014

Today, 6 August, Bulgarian president Rosen Plevneliev dissolves the country’s parliament ahead of elections on 5 October. This follows the resignation of Plamen Oresharski’s cabinet in July, in the wake of the longest anti-government protest in Bulgarian history. But the banking system is in a perilously fragile state and the country finds itself subject to various destabilizing forces, not least those relating to the South Stream pipeline project, which may one day transport Russian gas directly to Europe. Bulgaria as “the Kremlin’s ‘Trojan horse’ in the EU”?

So where does the political process go from here? Nikolay Nikolov remains cautiously optimistic about the ultimate outcome of the country’s tormented transition to democracy:

“The protests successfully restored the citizen as the core political subject in Bulgaria – it is their vote, their voice that can force change, regardless of the elite decision-making process that occurs. […] The hardest part of cleansing the public institutions of former cadres and restarting the democratic process with fresh elections now awaits us.” Nikolov envisages proceeding “one step at a time. Let us begin by removing the barricades around the National Assembly.”

Taking expulsion off the table: In interview with Ray Filar, Judith Butler discusses the Israel-Palestine conflict:

“I’m trying to think of what happens if we take expulsion off the table for everyone”, says Butler, “and instead think about the rights of those who have been expelled already, which would include the various rights of refugees who came to Israel in the aftermath of World War II, but also those from other countries, and what rights the Palestinians have who have been dispossessed of their lands and homes.”

Butler continues:

“We need a legal and political understanding of the right of the refugee, whereby no solution for one group produces a new class of refugees – you can’t solve a refugee problem by producing a new, potentially greater refugee problem. As long as that is understood as a basic rule, which strikes me as logical and clear, then that would be a starting point for thinking about cohabitation.”

More on openDemocracy

In Il Mulino (Italy), Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit analyses Isaiah Berlin’s understanding of the nation-state, in particular of Zionism, with the help of two pictures: “first, the nation as an extended family; and second, its territory as home.” Zooming in on Berlin’s “core idea of psychological freedom”, which is clearly separate from “political liberty”, Margalit notes how its intrinsically connected to this idea of the homeland as home:

“Jews suffer from the lack of a sense of home and of the freedom that one feels by being at home. The cure is a national home. The national home should be the Land of Israel, since this is the only place to which Jews are attached in such a way that the ‘return to home’ makes almost literal sense. After all, when Jews in the long exilic centuries prayed for rain, they did not mean rain in Spain, Smolensk or San’a, but rain in the Land of Israel.”

Beppe Grillo’s five-star catch-all movement: That 21.2 per cent of Italian votes were for Beppe Grillo’s Five Stars Movement at the European elections is not something that can be ignored, write Pasquale Colloca and Piergiorgio Corbetta. Grillo’s well-staged populism attracted a “chaotic conglomerate of persons united by protest against the political class (or at most by a confused wish for change)”.

But do all these voters really share the same values? Colloca and Corbetta’s research based on interviews with members of the electorate shows that Grillo’s party is a “catch all” movement, proving populism to have no need in this case of adopting a certain political colour.

The full table of contents of Il Mulino 3/2014

In Blätter (Germany), Heribert Prantl looks forward to the forth instance of German unity:

“The first instance of German unity took effect in 1949 with the integration of refugees and forced migrants after World War II. The second began in 1989 with the Berlin Wall fell, and the third began in April 2010 in Hannover when, for the first time in Germany, a woman of Turkish descent became a government minister.”

Against this backdrop, Prantl argues for a genuinely inclusive society, in which people are conceived of such that “being human is not simply measured on the basis of economics and competitiveness.” Whether one is disabled or non-disabled or becomes incapacitated in old age, it is “up to the community to ensure that what it has to offer is accessible to all. That is inclusion, that is democracy.”

Alternative modernities: The outbreak of World War I may have stopped Kaiser Wilhelm II attending, but the opening of Goethe University Frankfurt in October 1914 went ahead regardless. Seyla Benhabib delivered a speech to mark the centenary in June, the text of which is published in Blätter.

Benhabib outlines how during the 1930s, the university became the birthplace of critical theory, a tradition of thinking that must face the substantial challenges of the current “post-national constellation” without any illusions, if it is to continue to thrive for another eight decades:

“Although contributions from Shmuel Eisenstadt, Charles Taylor, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Nilufer Göle, José Casanova and many more have familiarized us with ‘alternative modernities’, we are still not in a position to understand the way in which global modernity and alternative modernities exist side-by-side and interact. Benjamin Barber captured with his handy concept of ‘Jihad vs McWorld’ the mixture of religious and ethnic irredentism that has accompanied the expansion of the world economy. But we still don’t have a precise idea of why these dynamics exist simultaneously.”

Also: Stephan Schulmeister argues for a New Deal for Europe that takes a leaf out of FDR’s book.

The full table of contents of Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 8/2014

La Revue nouvelle (Belgium) deals with the events of July and August 1914 in the journal’s home country. Geneviève Warland traces the effects of the Schlieffen-Moltke plan to eliminate resistance in the Meuse fortresses, capture Liège, Brussels, Charleroi and Namur and win the “race to the Channel”. Not until mid-November 1914 did this mobile onslaught settle into the horror of a “war of position” and four years of trench warfare.

German atrocities in Belgium during the early days of the war come to the fore, including as an important factor in recruitment propaganda for the Allies. Warland continues:

“This violence had its origin in the fear among German troops, both instinctive and deliberately cultivated, that went back to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71: the fear of being a target for irregulars (francs-tireurs). […] From the beginning of the war, the matter of atrocities became a strategic issue. Allies and Germans took radically opposing views of what had really happened. For a long time the Germans upheld the francs-tireurs justification, which was a figment of their imagination.”

Considered to be Italian: Daniele Comberati looks at the long and curious history of Italian emigration to Congo. Of particular interest is the ambiguous attitude to nationality manifested in the 1936 declaration by Italian emigrant Sephardic Jews in Congo of a Fascist association (“Fascio”). The association was swiftly closed down by the Italian consul in Léopoldville but then reinstated by the Italian government, which took the view that “In foreign countries, Jews originating from Italian territories must be considered to be Italian”.

Comberiati concludes that, between waves of emigration and immigration, Italy is still struggling to establish its true identity and that the history of Italians in Congo throws some of the paradoxes underlying this struggle into sharp relief.

The full table of contents of La Revue nouvelle 8/2014

In L’Homme (Austria), Carola Sachse draws attention to the role of women activists in fighting for human rights. Sachse argues that historians of human rights have largely ignored the advances made by a range of actors, from the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo in Argentina to the initiators of the first World Conference on Women in Mexico City and the subsequent UN Decade for Women (1976-1985).

The Mexico City conference in particular featured ground-breaking debate of women’s experience of the North-South conflict that would take centre stage at the end of the Cold War. But the question of how to reconcile the rights of women, families, individuals and cultural collectives remains as controversial now, concludes Sachse, as it was then.

Migration and marriage: Suzanne Sinke maps out the interplay between migration and marriage from the origins of the United States onward, chronicling shifts in women’s rights along the way.

From the first settlers who were expected to increase the populace of European descent, to the marital situation of “labour migrants”, slaves or expelled Cherokee, Sinke arrives at the point where migration meets homosexual marriages:

“Policies and practices coalesced to support a particular set of gender relations – a gender order – in each era. This not only reinforced heterosexual relationships as the norm, it also helped reinforce the institution of marriage and particular versions of migration. […] Changes also allow same-sex marriage, but heterosexual couples more often get the Green Card. More broadly, state and federal laws still conflict at times. While women have much stronger individual rights in twenty-first century jurisprudence than in the early republic, the gender gradient remains in immigration policy. Marriage markets reflect that reality.”

The full table of contents of L’Homme 1/2014

For its summer issue, Res Publica Nowa (Poland) focuses on the politics of place and of tourism, both at home and abroad.

Slavist Karolina Cwiek-Rogalska critiques Polish tourist guidebooks. Nearly 70 years after the so-called “regained territories” – Lower Silesia, Pomerania, Warmia and Masuria – became part of Poland, post-war historiography of the Polish People’s Republic still skews the perception of a whole region. While barely visible ancient Slavic castles and monuments featuring the swords of Polish crusaders continue to be highlighted, guidebook users are unlikely to discover anything of the region’s German past.

Anti-tourism: Reporter Daniel Kalder, known for his reflections on “anti-tourism”, describes his experiences in Istanbul in 2012, when he went to explore the city in order to to develop in essay form a “fantastic, arbitrary model of Istanbul” composed of places tourists wouldn’t usually visit. He found strange exhibits in museums, an erotic world of mannequins and dummies reminiscent of the literary works of Bruno Schulz, compared the architecture of shopping centres for the best opportunities to commit suicide and experienced the nightlife of transsexuals on the “Street of Wrecks”.

Later, news about the Gezi Park protests changed the story completely: “It was not about me not seeing Gezi Park. I was there. But as a stranger I wasn’t able to see that this humble area of lawn and trees […] was of any interest. […] My task was to discover the unknown Istanbul, so I pointed out the nihilistic freedom of the Street of Wrecks, while ignoring the less dramatic freedom offered by everyday life, which Gezi Park came to represent for the protesters.”

The full table of contents of Res Publica Nowa 26 (2014)

As part of an issue devoted to “intuition and the machine”, GAM (Austria) talks to Edith Ackermann, who defines intuition as “an unfortunate term for an otherwise deep idea: the human ability to understand something without thinking it through, and to unknowingly mobilize unexpected inner (and outer) resources, when needed in-situ”.

Ackermann, a developmental psychologist and visiting scientist at MIT, is convinced of the benefits of intuition where innovation is concerned: “Imagining and bringing forth novel ideas engages aspects of the mind, the body, and the self that we barely control. Learning, like the art of living itself, is about navigating uncertainties rather than ruling over what we cannot predict.”

However, things get complicated once digital technologies begin to act on our behalf. More intriguing still, says Ackermann, “is whether we will still even notice, let alone challenge, the technologies’ impact on how we think, learn and live our lives, as their own ‘machine-ness’ (or claimed ‘human-like-ness’) increasingly dissolves into the fabric of the time-spaces we inhabit.”

We’re all nonlinear now: Historian of architecture Mario Carpo reflects upon the digital turn in architecture against the background of the “unmaking of traditional, humanistic and modern authorship in design” more generally, a process that has continued apace since the turn of the millennium.

Carpo associates the effects of digital tools that allow designers “to delegate some design decisions to others, to many, to the crowds or to random chance” with far-reaching techno-social change that is now chipping away at the foundations of western science.

Not only is Google “training us to leave documents unsorted, because digital searches are so fast that there is no need to manually pre-sort documents” but: “in many fields of predictive science, from weather forecasting to material sciences, information retrieval and digital simulation have already replaced the traditional, analytic, cause-to-effect approach of modern science.”

The full table of contents of GAM 10 (2014)


Published 6 August 2014

Original in English
First published in

© Eurozine


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