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23/10/2007

Magazine Roundup

Nepszabadsag | The Spectator| Letras Libres
| L'Espresso| L'Histoire | The New York Review of Books | The Times Literary Supplement | Elet es Irodalom | Le point | Die Weltwoche | Przekroj


Nepszabadsag 21.10.2007 (Hungary)

In the lead up to October 23, the anniversary of the 1956 Uprising in Hungary, complaints are coming in from all sides that the national day cannot be fittingly celebrated and that it means nothing to younger generations. Journalist Petri Lukacs attributes this disconnect to the absence of a culture of remembrance. "To this day, society has never discussed what these days of revolution meant to individual families. And yet we expect our children to understand everything that they are seeing now: crypto-Nazi protesters or national celebration days emptied of their meaning. We first have to inspire them to show an interest and gain familiarity with the history of their parents and grandparents. This means enlisting the help of schools and families to encourage children to discuss issues they learn about in school with their parents at home. This could lead to a much more nuanced picture of 1956 in the minds of the young."


The Spectator
20.10.2007 (UK)

Historian Norman Stone won't tolerate politics interfering with his work. Which is why he believes that the latest effort of the US Congress to "recognise the Armenian genocide" is counter-productive for all sides. "On the whole historians who know the subject and the sources (they are very difficult) do not take the 'genocide' line: the best recent account of it all is Guenther Lewy's 'A Disputed Genocide'. But whether they are right or wrong, it is surely nonsense for Congress to be involved at all, or any other body.(...) None of this is any help to Armenia; she is a poor and landlocked place, dependent for energy on of all places Iran, and without diaspora money she would be in an even worse state. She regularly loses people to emigration - 60,000 of them incidentally to Istanbul - and she badly needs good relations with Turkey. Perhaps such countries, once they are independent, should make a second declaration of independence from their diasporas."


Letras Libres 20.10.2007 (Spain/ Mexico)

Writer Gabriel Zaid lists a number of key misunderstandings about culture. "The belief that we are not animals, or that we are nothing but animals; the belief that everything has been discovered already, or that we could simply ignore all discoveries and 'start from scratch'; the belief that all traditions should be respected, or totally disregarded; the belief that everything was better in the past, or that it will be better in the future; the belief that all experiments are dangerous, or that no experiment is dangerous; the belief that culture should not or could not be commercial, or that it is a business like any other. "


L'Espresso 19.10.2007 (Italy)

"Mammoni" or "bamboccioni" are words used in Italy to describe young people who remain ever longer in the parental nest because of high rents and low wages. The minister of the economy Tommaso Padoa Schioppa has now suggested that these stay-at-homes who among other things are being held responsible for the low birth rate, should be tempted out of their hidey-holes by tax bonuses for living away from home. In his Bustina di Minerva Umberto Eco applauds this suggestion and takes up the fight for the minister and his controversial plan. "These thirty somethings are mostly graduates or doctors (as anyone who completes a three-year degree is absurdly called in Italy), who consider themselves too good to deliver parcels. Almost all American biographies of major writers or politicians show that they polished shoes after university, washed plates or sold newspapers. Why will Americans to do this and not Italians?"


L'Histoire September 2007

The French are fighting over the latest decree by Nicolas Sarkozy, ordering that the farewell letter written by 17-year-old Resistance fighter Guy Moquet to his parents be read out on the radio, TV and in schools. Moquet was a communist Résistant who was shot by the Nazis, along with 26 other hostages, in revenge for the murder of the Field Commander of Nantes, Fritz Hotz. Sarkozy wants the letter to revive the memory of the Resistance. For leading historian Jean-Pierre Azema, it is the job of teachers to plan history lessons. "Many people are opposed to this militarisation of remembrance: a letter which is to be read aloud in all educational establishments, every year at the same time? While the pupils basically stand to attention? We should leave it to the teachers to plan lessons, and if they decide to read out this letter, they should read it when they so choose and with the aid of works which shed light upon it."


More on this subject in Le Figaro: read the letter and its historical background, read the newspaper report. Watch a - somewhat kitschy - video on the subject on Telerama, and listen to sections of the letter read aloud.


The New York Review of Books 08.11.2007 (USA)

Malise Ruthven reviews a series of recent books on Islam, among them John Kelsay's "Arguing the Just War in Islam," Hans Küng's "Islam: Past, Present and Future" and Michael Bonner's "Jihad in Islamic History: Doctrines and Practice." All three deal with the question of whether Islam is actually a peaceful religion as Bush and Blair have insisted, or whether it doesn't sound the battle cry from the start. Ruthven fears the worst: " Like it or not, these terrorist campaigns were inspired by the example of the Prophet's struggle - his 'just war'- against the Quraysh, the pagan tribesmen of Mecca. In the context of the original conflict between the early Muslims and the Meccans, the sources, including the Koran and the narratives of Muhammad's life, suggest that 'fighting is an appropriate means by which Muslims should seek to secure the right to order life according to divine directives.' In militant readings of the Sharia, the historical precedents are not so much interpreted as applied."


The Times Literary Supplement 19.10.2007 (UK)

Philosopher Martha Nussbaum has read the latest book by psychologist Philip Zimbardo, who became famous with his 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment. The book is called "The Lucifer Effect," and investigates what makes people evil. "Zimbardo concludes that situational features, far more than underlying dispositional features of people's characters, explain why people behave cruelly and abusively to others. He then connects these insights to a detailed account of the abuses by United States soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison, where, he argues, the humiliations and torments suffered by the prisoners were produced not by evil character traits but by an evil system that, like the prison system established in the SPE, virtually ensures that people will behave badly. Situations are held in place by systems, he argues, and it is ultimately the system that we must challenge, not the frequently average actors." Nussbaum doesn't buy it: People, she writes, "are not all alike. The research described by Zimbardo shows a surprising level of bad behaviour in the experimental situations, but nothing like uniformly bad behaviour."


Elet es Irodalom 19.10.2007 (Hungary)

Hungary has dropped to 17th place on the new worldwide ranking of press freedom recently published by the organisation "Reporters without Borders." Although this puts Hungary above all of the G8 countries, it nonetheless gives critic Janos Szeky cause for thought. "In 2004, Poland ranked roughly equal to Hungary, it then dropped to 56th place. This began – perhaps – with a steep fine for a journalist said to have made an insulting comment about the Pope. The moral of this and other stories is that one should be more careful with phrases like 'something like that would never happen here' or 'Brussels would never allow it.' Something like that is entirely possible here, and Brussels is no frowning kindergarten teacher, but a self-contented, somewhat cynical and hesitant political veteran with almost no inkling of how to handle the fierce deviance of elites from different schools. The questions must be put the other way around: do the secret services have a stronger hold on society here? Are there politicians here who see the media as a means and critics as an enemy? And if yes, how many? Is there a tendency among the political elite to establish and foster taboos? And how much freer is the press in Hungary than in Poland? The answer is blowing in the east wind."


Le point 18.10.2007 (France)

Anthropologist and philosopher Rene Girard has discovered astonishing parallels between his own ideas and those of Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz. In an interview with Elisabeth Levy he explains the dire image of society painted in his book "Achever Clausewitz": "The world wars marked an important step in the rise of extremes. September 11 2001 was the beginning of a new phase. Today's terrorism still has to be thought through, because we haven't yet grasped that a terrorist is ready to die in order to kill Americans, Israelis or Iraqis. What's new here in relation to Western heroism is that suffering and death are called for, if necessary by experiencing them oneself. The Americans made the mistake of 'declaring war' on Al Qaeda, without knowing whether Al Qaeda exists at all. The era of wars is over: from now on war exists everywhere. Our era is one of universal action. There's no longer any such thing as an intelligent policy. We've almost reached the end."


Die Weltwoche 18.10.2007 (Switzerland)

Die Weltwoche prints a critical commentary by Swiss journalist Roger Schawinsk on Die Weltwoche, its editor in chief Roger Köppel – an admirer of the right-wing populist billionaire politician Christoph Blocher – and other Swiss journalists. Die Weltwoche is "by far the most interesting publication in German-speaking Switzerland," Schawinsky writes, and much of the credit goes to Köppel. "No other major publication has anyone who can even remotely measure up to him. In the publishing houses directed by managers and run-of-the-mill publicists, other qualities are in demand. That's why nowadays – as opposed to in the recent past – no one else rises above tactical mediocrity. This makes it very easy for Köppel to set the tone and select the topics of the day. This is fatal. Because he takes ice-cold advantage of a second asset: by siding with Blocher, he profits from reactions similar to those that made the SVP Switzerland's dominant party."


Przekroj 18.10.2007 (Poland)

Rafal Kostrzynski examines the future of Kosovo, sensing a danger to the cohesion of the EU. "A unilateral declaration of independence would mean a further blow to the common foreign policy of the EU. Romania and Slovakia will have nothing to do with an independent Kosovo, due to their Hungarian minorities. Greece fears Albanian separatism in neighbouring Macedonia. Even Cyprus and Spain fear secession. The opponents of sovereignty for Kosovo, however, can only do one thing: demonstratively refuse diplomatic relations." But the disunity of the EU and the dissatisfaction of Russia and Serbia will not stop the Kosovars, Kostrzynski writes. "According to expert Adam Balcer, the worst-case-scenario after the declaration of independence would be a KFOR intervention to preserve the integrity of Serbia under international law. Or the Serbian army will take care of things, which would be tantamount to a repetition of 1999."

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