Time will tell
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Time will tell
Czas Kultury critiques discourses on disability; Esprit explores the limits of universalism; Culture & Démocratie enters the world of camps; New Eastern Europe considers the pitfalls of rapprochement; Arche documents nationalist antisemitism; and Host lets posterity be the judge of Handke.
Czas Kultury critiques discourses on disability
After World War Two, about ten million people returned to their homes in the Soviet Union with newly acquired disabilities. Of these, 90,000 had lost both arms and legs. Artist Gennady Dobrov’s haunting work ‘The Unknown Soldier’ — an image of an amputee with blazing eyes, wrapped in a sheet — appears in Czas Kultury, whose new issue explores how the arts can help reframe public perception of physical difference. Dobrov worked on his painting at a home for disabled war veterans on Valaam Island in Karelia, where — Piotr Krupiński writes — inmates were kept from the public eye in conditions comparable to those of the Gulag.
Identity: In English language discourse, feminism has helped activate disabled identity by drawing attention to the experience that shapes it, notes Monika Świerkosz. Just as, in Simone de Beauvoir’s words, ‘one is not born but rather becomes a woman’ so, for a disabled person, socialization implies growing consciousness of a ‘difference’ that must, where possible, be neutralized or corrected. The dominant social impulse is still to rescue people with disabilities from their ‘discredited identity’, the American disability studies scholar Rosemary Garland-Thomson has remarked.
In the Polish context, however, commentators have ignored the social pressures that shape disabled identity. People with direct knowledge of disability remain broadly silent and out of the public eye. Literature presents disabled protagonists mainly as symbols of innocence, suffering or exclusion. Little has been done in the Polish arts to creatively capture representations of self and body, or to question and invert them. It is a feature of laissez-faire capitalism in Poland, but more generally worldwide, that ‘denying disability, shaking it off and minimising it, is the most socially rewarded way of dealing with the disabled body.’
Difference: In an environment that ‘promotes and rewards self-help and selfhood’, a physically disabled male who has seemingly triumphed over his disability merges comfortably with heroic convention, Maciej Duda observes. ‘Growing into the community is associated with overcoming or denying one’s disabled condition, measuring up, and displaying characteristics that stereotypically awaken heterosexual admiration and desire … Marks of difference that have been overcome assume the significance of wounds or scars. They can be presented with pride — yet any sign of psychological difference, depression or failing mental health must be wholly erased.
Art: The late Rafał Urbacki’s dance show ‘Protected Species’ (Bytom, 2014) brought physically disabled performers to the Polish stage along with their personal stories of life in a society that delineates what is desirable, permissible or good. As Alicja Müller describes, the performers took control, introduced their own gaze, and unmasked ‘the discriminatory character of supposedly empathetic, ableist narratives’, exposing political correctness and normative thinking as ‘a coherent, closed and therefore non-negotiable, oppressive and exclusive vision of the world’.
Esprit explores the limits of universalism
Esprit asks how the idea of universalism fares in a globalized society attuned to difference, diversity and inequality. While recent statements by Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed the traditional French defence of political universalism against particularism and fragmentation, in a world where rhetoric often trumps reality the meanings of the universal are shifting.
Even in a postcolonial age, writes Nadia Yala Kisukidi, the universal remains the preserve of particular agents, and ‘contemporary usages of the term “universalism” are sometimes twisted and distorted’. Returning to key moments in the contestation of the universal reminds us that ‘beneath the question of the universal there always lurks that of identity — of the identification of the subject who is speaking’.
Archaeology: Interviewed about joint research projects between universities in the global North and in former colonies, archaeologists Karima Dirèche, Clémentine Gutron and Emmanuelle Sibeud discuss whether, even today, ‘equal collaboration’ is possible. The postcolonial era saw a delicate balance struck between loosening control over local universities and sustaining international cooperation. Today, uneven access to international networks, and disparities in funding and education, are compounded by governments’ use of archaeological work as political capital.
To really understand how the independence of former colonies has and has not impacted on collaborative research, Sibeud suggests that we must ‘trace the complex transformation of the frameworks of the production and hierarchization of knowledge over the long and often contradictory process of epistemological decolonization’.
Ecology: Lucile Schmid takes a critical look at the moral and political universality of ecology as extolled in Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Laudato si’. A platitude echoed by governments around the world, the ambition tends to falter when it comes to implementing concrete measures against climate change. According to Schmid, the challenges of the Anthropocene call for a rethinking of the guiding principles of modern globalized societies, including the attitude of industrialized countries towards developing nations. Pursuit of ‘an ecology for all’ requires confronting difference: ‘in order for the universality of ecology to be implemented, it is crucial to recognize the diversity of actors, approaches, and ways of getting things done.’
Also: An interview with philosopher of technology Andrew Feenberg; and articles on European citizenship, the Hong Kong protests and the situation of social workers.
Culture & Démocratie
Special issue 2019
Culture & Démocratie enters the world of the camp
Culture & Démocratie devotes a special issue to the camp and its broad range of meanings, including refugee camps, detention centres and concentration camps.
The inherent paradox of refugee camps lies in their double role as places of sanctuary and confinement, writes Clara Lecadet. Considering the UNHCR’s idea of preventative protection, she argues that humanitarian aid, while ‘presented as a model example of virtuous help and refuge, is in fact a very powerful political tool for controlling movement’. The populations of camps see the institutions or states that run them as a form of power, as shown by the election of representatives to negotiate rights or demands. Humanitarian marketing and the use of celebrity endorsements conceal this hidden reality of inequality.
Control: Nimetulla Parlaku discusses the relationship between camps, power and cities, asking, ‘is a camp not the beginning of a city?’ He describes the control and power relations that distinguish camps from the early stages of cities, showing that rules applicable to French communes do not apply to camps – a testimony to the fact that these zones are not subject to the same legislation and rights as the rest of a country. ‘Camps are no longer the organic catalyst of a city, but instead, as in our detention centres, spaces of controlled immobilization for migrants.’
Virtual camps: Roland de Bodt reflects on his teenage realization, reading Peter Weiss’s play The Investigation, that Nazi concentration camps ‘were not a “blunder” or a “mistake” of modern history: they were the prototype (while very imperfect) of the industrial society that would be established, on a global scale, after the Second World War.’ Far from having disappeared after 1945, camps still exist today, albeit in subtler ways. In social media, he argues, we are denied freedoms by a system that monitors our every movement, and crucially, that seduces us into voluntary participation.
More articles from Le Journal de Culture & Démocratie in Eurozine; Le Journal de Culture & Démocratie’s website
New Eastern Europe
New Eastern Europe considers the pitfalls of rapprochement
Political polarization, populism, conflicting narratives, economic and generational changes: New Eastern Europe assesses the challenges of the new decade from the perspective of the West’s relations with Russia.
Franco-Russian axis: With his uncoordinated call for a rapprochement with Russia, Macron has become ‘the proverbial fox in the henhouse’, especially for the central and eastern European states, writes Liana Fix. In a geopolitical scenario dominated by the US–Chinese competition, the Élysée’s Gaullist overtures to the Kremlin are not completely misguided. ‘However, lowering European preconditions for strategic dialogue with Russia risks not a European-Russian win-win, but rather a double win for Russia.’ Abandoning Europe’s founding principles in the name of geopolitical realism and ‘accepting Russia’s sphere of influence in central and eastern Europe’ in the name of good relations with its neighbour ‘would set a dangerous precedent’.
Georgia: Progressive de-russification at the start of the new millennium paved the way for Georgia’s access to the western orbit. Now, three decades after gaining independence, Georgians ‘find themselves drifting back towards the cultural, informational and economic space of Russia’, writes Beka Chedia. To avoid a return to the past, strengthening democratic institutions is paramount.
Sovereign media: ‘Informational sovereignty’ is invoked by autocrats in central Europe to justify media control. However, this should not obscure the concept’s democratic origins, argues Wojciech Przybylski. In view of Russian info-war, information sovereignty needs to be understood as being synonymous with a strong and independent media.
Hybrid war: Information aggressors, especially the Russian Federation, are not ‘reinventing the wheel’ but using existing mechanisms. Journalists and the media have a choice, argues Adam Lelonek: ignore this fact or accept their role as a key element in the security and information space.
More articles from New Eastern Europe in Eurozine; New Eastern Europe’s website
Arche documents nationalist antisemitism
Belarusian history journal Arche returns to the turbulent period between 1918 and 1921, when the territories of Belarus were fought over bitterly by the reborn Second Polish Republic and the new-born Soviet Union. It was also a time that brought forth daring adventurers and talented warriors: for example, Stanislav Bulak-Balakhovich (1883–1940), an aristocrat with Belarusian, Polish and Tartar roots, who was later demonized by Soviet historians and to this day is revered by Belarusian nationalists.
Military history: Based on material from an archive in Moscow, Uladzmir Lyachouski presents the memoirs of two officers who served in Balakhovich’s unit on the side of Poland during its war with the Soviet Union. After peace talks began in August 1920, the army moved to southern Belarus, where it pushed back the Bolsheviks. From there Balakhovich attempted to bring the Polesia region, including the towns of Turau and Mozyr, under its control and to resurrect the Belarusian Republic that had collapsed in 1918.
Antisemitism: The memoirs are valuable not just because of their descriptions of everyday life and the role of the ‘Belarusian idea’, but also for their description of the antisemitic violence that Balakhovich’s men incited against the Jewish population. ‘The systematic pogroms turned the army into a band of outlaws’, writes Pavel Aleinikau. ‘The majority of officers and soldiers were against violence, but for the Synki (Balakhovich’s loyal followers) the pogroms were the real goal of the war.’ The memoirs allow for the controversial and mythical figure of Balakhovich to be clearly understood for the first time.
Propaganda: German historian Babette Quinkert writes on German propaganda and psychological warfare in Belarus between 1941 and 1944. A central role is taken by festivities such as Mayday, which the Nazis orchestrated in order to impose their political goals on the Belarusian population. This only deepened nationalist yearning for an independent Belarus, something clearly illustrated in the accompanying images of posters bearing slogans such as Zhyvie Belarus! (Long live Belarus!)
More articles from Arche in Eurozine; Arche’s website
Host lets posterity be the judge of Handke
In Host, dramaturg and translator Viktorie Knotková traces Peter Handke’s reputation as an enfant terrible back to his 1966 speech in Princeton, when he denounced contemporary German literature as ‘completely inane and idiotic’, and literary criticism as ‘just as inane as this inane literature’. Handke became a role model for the 1968 generation because he questioned received wisdom but, says Knotková, went too far with his texts on Serbia. Even in his Nobel acceptance speech, ‘instead of the “Mothers of Srebrenica”, who staged a protest outside the Swedish Academy, he paid tribute to Selma Lagerlöf’s wild geese and the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields.’
In an essay published in his school magazine in 1956, the young Handke posited an opposition between the poet and the writer: ‘the poet endures, while the writer is forgotten’. ‘Handke’s radical subjectivity will continue to divide his critics and readers’, writes Knotková. ‘Only time will tell which of Handke’s works were a poet’s and which a writer’s. His new drama, entitled Zdeněk Adamec after the 18-year-old who set himself alight in Prague in March 2003 in protest against the state of the world, is scheduled to open at the Salzburger Festspiele in July.
Theatre: German-Turkish playwright and documentary filmmaker Akın Emanuel Şipal talks about being captivated as a youth by Handke’s Wunschloses Unglück (A Sorrow Beyond Dreams) and, later, by a production of Immer noch Sturm (Storm Still) in Hamburg’s influential Thalia Theatre. ‘Without intending to be moving, he moves us, without wanting to be political, he is political. Quite simply: this is literature.’ Şipal is baffled that Handke, the quintessential outlaw, didn’t turn down the Nobel. ‘After all, any lover of literature knows that the truly great authors never got it. If I were Handke, I would toss it out of the window and ask: why are you insulting me yet again?’