A president without qualities

Aug 7 · 8 min read

Osteuropa analyses the Zelensky phenomenon; il Mulino finds Italy out of step with Europe; Krytyka Polityczna flags up socio-environmental issues in Poland; Springerin develops alternative approaches to African liberation; and Passage reads fictionalized history.

3–4 (2019)

Osteuropa analyses the Zelensky phenomenon

In Osteuropa, Ukraine experts speculate on the success of Volodymyr Zelensky and what it says about Ukrainian politics. All agree that his victory proves that democracy exists in the country: by no means a given, in view of the situation to the east. However, this basic positive comes with some weighty caveats.

Zelensky is the vehicle for the wishes of a politically naive electorate, who more than ever wanted a ‘new face (Yuri Durkot) — and who, as the last thirty years have proved, are quickly disappointed (Andrew Wilson). This year’s campaign was the first to employ ‘disruptive technology’, i.e. social media, ‘in which a party democracy or a competition of organizations is replaced by a democracy of “likes”. The fictive role of an actor becomes a reality’ (Wilson).

But Petro Poroshenko’s failings were also grave — beginning with his exclusory campaign slogan ‘Army! Language! Faith!’ (Gwendolyn Sasse). Having alienated the Russian-speaking vote, Poroshenko also lost support among Ukrainian speakers because of weak media backing (Volodymyr Kulyk). A succession of corruption scandals increased voters’ contempt for the political class, despite important anti-corruption measures being passed under his watch: a paradox (Durkot).

Worst of all, the former president’s increasingly conservative turn had marginalized reformist forces and allowed oligarchic structures to return (Kateryna Mishenko). Independent media were accused of being pro-Russian and ‘anyone who was politically engaged risked falling victim to violence.’ Journalists and activists were murdered and the authorities failed to investigate. ‘That’s the situation.’

Sociology of war: Nikolay Mitrokhin shows how Moscow’s cultivation of Russian nationalist networks in Ukraine since the 2000s enabled the anti-Maidan reaction. Long before 2014, Cossack organizations, army veteran associations and biker clubs were engaged in paramilitary activities. They were particularly numerous in former military regions such as Odessa and Sevastopol, as well as in Donbass.

Soft power: Nina Krienke argues that conspiracy theories deter serious investigation of US involvement in Ukraine. As a result, it is hard to determine how far the extensive reforms carried out in Ukraine in recent years have been the result of western ‘soft-power’. Greater transparency is needed to take the wind out of pro-Russian narratives, she argues.

More articles from Osteuropa in Eurozine; Osteuropa’s website

il Mulino

il Mulino finds Italy out of step with Europe

In il Mulino, Stefano Feltri compares Merkel and Sarkozy’s lack of confidence in Berlusconi’s ability to deliver reforms in 2011 with the spectacle of Salvini rubbing shoulders with Le Pen, Wilders, et al. Both were ‘unequivocally images of Italy’s isolation in Europe. In the past this was hard to bear and always denied, but now it is proclaimed with pride.’

Economy: A major reason for the conflict between Europe and Italy is the argument over Italy’s deficit. As Carlo Mazzaferro writes, the argument revolves around the question as to ‘who will pay the pensions of today’s youth’. Tackling Italy’s tax system is one answer, suggests Vincenzo Visco, but Italian politicians continue to fight shy of the consequences: ‘the tax evaders’ faction has many millions of votes.’

Welfare: The Lega Nord is determined to lower unemployment by reducing the cost of working, for instance through a flat tax. As Matteo Jessoula, Marcello Natili and Emmanuele Pavolini argue, the focus on welfare for Italians only, particularly pensions, together with vague income generation plans, is likely to increase the public debt.

Civic education: Alessandro Cavalli sees German-style civic education as a way of encouraging better engagement with these complex problems. He draws three lessons: that people are not naturally democratic but can be educated to be so; that this can only happen if education faces the hard questions that divide people; and that arguments must be based in fact.

EU: The European project was ‘founded in reason’ and continues to be based on fundamental principles and arguments, writes Roberta De Montecelli. The challenge is to make democracy a virtuous circle in which citizens develop and flourish. ‘No democracy can maintain itself for long when the mechanism that processes the political will of the community is running on empty.’

More articles from il Mulino in Eurozine; il Mulino’s website

Krytyka Polityczna
July 2019

Krytyka Polityczna flags up socio-environmental issues in Poland

As a strong supporter of Euromaidan and closer ties between the EU and Ukraine, Poland has taken in more than a million Ukrainian migrants in recent years. Economically, Ukrainians are also welcome, especially in sectors unattractive to domestic workers. Although, generally speaking, there is little conflict between Poles and Ukrainians, the influx of migrants into the low-pay sector comes with negative side-effects. Commercial interests are prioritized over workers’ rights, with Ukrainian workers in particular exposed to exploitation.

In Krytyka Polityczna, Kamil Fejfer describes the case of Vasyl Chorny, a Ukrainian worker who fell ill while working illicitly at a company in the city of Nowy Tomyśl and who was later found dead in the woods, where his employer had left him to avoid prosecution. This and similar cases show that the Polish state must crack down on employers who take advantage of immigrant workers.

Education: The teachers’ strike in Poland in April, which left schools closed for three weeks, made international news. Krytyka Polityczna talks to Sławomir Broniarz, chair of the Polish Union of Teachers, about the government’s hostile reaction to the strikes. Negative coverage by pro-government public television amplified public opposition, including among many parents. Anna Zalewska, the minister responsible for the education reforms that caused the protests, has since left for Brussels. What will her successor, Dariusz Piontkowski, bring to the table? Why isn’t there more support for the teachers’ claims — which are as much about their working conditions and pay, as they are about the quality of education — among the population, including parents?

Water: Poland is one of the driest places in Europe — only the Czech Republic, Cyprus and Malta have less drinking water — making Poland prone to drought. Piotr Wójcik criticizes current infrastructure projects and warns that unless more effective measures are taken, Polish citizens will have to get used to periods without running water.

More articles from Krytyka Polityczna in Eurozine; Krytyka Polityczna’s website


Springerin develops alternative approaches to African liberation

How to rid prevailing concepts of ‘Africa’ from stereotype? How to overcome the obsessive association of the continent with certain geopolitical markers? How to stop seeing it as an endless reservoir of raw materials and as a market for cheap products? In the new issue of art magazine Springerin, contributors develop alternative approaches to the discourse of liberation.

Borders: Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe explores the conditions that prevent us from imagining a borderless world — in the sense where mobility is no longer regulated by a discriminatory division between the privileged and non-privileged. In such a world ‘there would be no visas, no quotas, and no bizarre category to fill, because you would not even have to apply for a visa. One could just get on a plane, a train, a boat, on the road, or on a bike. Rights of non-discrimination would be extended to all.’

Afro-pessimism: The curator Okwui Enwezor, who died in 2019, dedicated his work to confronting ‘Afro-pessimism’ — and to pushing the geographical borders of art and art history. Springerin pays tribute to Enwezor by republishing his introduction to the catalogue of the exhibition ‘Snap judgments’, featuring works by photographers from across the African continent. ‘I’m particularly interested’, he writes, ‘in how the enigmatic and blasphemous narrative of photography shapes our image of Africa and uses it to send out messages to the rest of the world.’

Ethiopia: Annette Baldauf talks to curator Elizabeth W. Giorgis, director of the Gebre Kristos Desta Centre in Addis Ababa, about the particular challenges confronting her exhibition practice. ‘A lack of academic and artistic engagement has contributed to the fact that, in the last twenty years, artists from Ethiopia, in contrast to those from the rest of Africa and the diaspora, were only marginally represented in international art.’ Giorgis and Baldauf go on to discuss the connection between terms like ‘Ethiopian’, ‘African’, ‘Black’ and ‘African American’. ‘The connection is ambivalent,’ says Giorgis, ‘which is why many Ethiopians struggle with it so much.’

More articles from Springerin in Eurozine; Springerin’s website

81–82 (2019)

Passage reads fictionalized history

In literary theory journal Passage, David Hasberg Zirak-Schmidt examines how theatre shapes public attitudes to historical events, primarily via selective omission. Henry VIII’s manoeuvring to divorce Catherine of Aragon, in the eponymous play by Shakespeare and Fletcher, illustrates how dramatic retelling entails ‘interaction between recall, forgetting and historiography’.

Modernism: Jonas Holst analyses the ‘fictive documentaries’ of Danish modernist Peter Seeberg, in which ‘narrated history comes apart at the joins’. As the American historiographer Hayden White put it: ‘without a narrative there can be no history’. After Seeberg’s first novel, which reflected obliquely on his experiences in wartime Berlin, he excluded major historical events and instead relied on everyday records such as obituaries, which served as ‘ready-mades’ for his short stories.

Murder: Anne Bettina Pedersen places the 1965 case of teenager Sylvia Likens at the centre of her essay on the fictionalization of torture and murder. She argues that the individual stories in this case have not only been retold in many ‘true crime’ narratives, but also have a wider impact in written and filmed fiction. Sylvia is the archetypal ‘beautiful dead girl’, whether as the victim of sadism and embodiment or as object lesson in misogyny, sexual puritanism and the oppression of minorities.

Also: Articles discuss the reimagining of events and characters from the Nordic medieval period, including the age of the Vikings, in historical novels, plays, film, TV series, museum exhibitions and paintings.

More articles from Passage in Eurozine; Passage’s website

Read previous Eurozine Reviews

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade