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02/01/2008

Magazine Roundup

Il Foglio | Prospect | ADN cultura | Elet es Irodalom | L'Espresso | Literaturen | Le point | ResetDoc | Al Ahram Weekly | Gazeta Wyborcza | London Review of Books

Il Foglio 22.12.2007 (Italy)

Piero Vietti tells a story of Catholic heroism in Siberia, where Italian missionary Ubaldo Orlandelli re-established a congregation after the collapse of the Soviet Union. "For years he crossed the endless expanses of Siberia by aeroplane or ship, landing on gravel runways and navigating foaming rivers. At the start he had five employees and five volunteers. Everywhere he came he sought out the Catholics, spoke with them, read the mass and put someone in charge. He exhumed Jesus. Soon he had 200 employees and 600 volunteers. In 1995 he organised the first public procession in the streets of Novosibirsk on Corpus Christi. Roughly ten people took part, perhaps fewer. But these were ten exceptional Russians."


Prospect 01.01.2008 (UK)

In the title story, John Murray Brown portrays the Ireland's new rich and describes the huge changes wrought by the country's unprecedented economic growth: "One consequence of all this is that the Irish are now looking at themselves differently. The image of humble but poetic Catholics living in the shadow of the stiff and snobbish Protestant English is no longer meaningful on either side, even as caricature. The nation of 'saints and scholars' has shown over the past decade that it has a genius for business too. Garret FitzGerald believes that the rapidity and scale of the economic change has no parallel elsewhere in Europe. Among some citizens there is, inevitably, a feeling of disorientation at the social changes - including the arrival of mass immigration (10 per cent of the population is now foreign-born). Moreover, the one institution that has consistently distanced itself from Ireland's embrace of hypercapitalism - the Catholic church - is weaker and more marginalised than ever before, thanks in part to the scandals of clerical child abuse."

In a long list, Prospect authors list their most over and underrated cultural events in 2007. Author Julian Gough is the only one who declines to give an answer: "One of the nice things about living in a perfect free market with a perfect free press, where impartial critics guide informed and educated consumers toward the very things that they need, is that no cultural item is ever underrated or overrated."

Further articles: Raymond Tallis describes the revolution in thinking set off by the idea of the Ancient philosopher Parmenides that "'what-is-not' does not exist." Tallis goes on to demand a "return to the Parmenidean moment." Historian Bernard Wasserstein looks back on the year 1968, when as a student at Oxford he proposed Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko as poetry professor. In the vote that ensued, Yevtushenko came a mere – or a respectable – third.


ADN cultura 22.12.2007 (Argentina)

Blogs, or "the art of explaining life": Susana Reinoso presents several Argentinean blog writers and journalists whose Internet productions have had a second life as books. Particularly successful is Hernan Zin. After creating successful blogs and books about child abuse and sex tourism in Cambodia and the catastrophic living conditions in the Gaza Strip, he is now working on a project about the new walls going up all over the world. "The remarkable thing about this book is its free use of blog comments. This way of gathering data on the disgraceful walls of the 21st century – between Mexico and the USA, India and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen – is entirely new. Communication today is an impressive movement in two directions, which meet at the moment it becomes imperative to relate life experiences."


Elet es Irodalom 21.12.2007 (Hungary)

Several articles analyse the "life and death" fight of the two major Hungarian political parties. Non-Hungarian readers will scratch their heads and wonder how a country with such an ability for self-criticism can be caught up in a crisis like this.

There is no consensus in Hungary on the rules of democracy, writes philosopher Janos Kis, who attributes this to the rapid transition from one system to another: "Hungarian society was unprepared for a change, and both right and left entered the fresh democracy as prisoners of their own contradictory history, their anachronistic views and their ideas about the other. And since then both have both wasted far too much time. These anachronistic ideologies have only been able to survive because they continually justify each other." However the responsibility does not lie solely with the politicians, Kis writes, suggesting that society should be rethought from square one: "The intellectuals are also responsible."

And so are the journalists! exclaims journalist Janos Szeky. "Twenty-five years ago in Hungary there were many good journalists and several readable newspapers. People bought the others merely out of habit. The party was convinced journalists were there to serve its political interests, and if they didn't they should shut their mouths. A broad current of smug cosiness ran through much of the press. Today there are many good journalists and several readable newspapers. People buy the others merely out of habit. The parties are convinced journalists are there to serve their political interests, and if they don't they should shut their mouths. A broad current of smug cynicism runs through much of the press. In the interim, the political press in Hungary missed out on the historic chance of finally reaching maturity. But this moment passed and the poor little grub was unable to grow. … From day one, the overwhelming majority of our politicians couldn't imagine there could be such a thing as competent individuals in the media, capable of writing or talking without central briefing. And they saw to it whenever possible that such journalism should not develop. The result is that Hungarian journalists are incapable of exercising a democratic control function. There is no fourth power, no watchdog."

L'Espresso 21.12.2007 (Italy)

Polish writer Andrzej Stasiuk tells the story of his uncle, who died shortly before Christmas, and who had lived in a village on the western shores of the Western Bug River. At the start of World War II the river formed the border between the Soviet and German occupation zones. "My uncle was part of a smuggling ring. At night they crossed the river over to the Soviet zone in boats filled with industrially produced consumer goods, and returned with pure alcohol. Germans were stationed on my uncle's farmyard, where they hid their weapons under huge camouflaged nets. The family legend has it that they behaved very respectably, exchanging their rations for fresh milk and eggs. They disappeared on the morning of June 22, 1941, and not a few in the region regretted their departure."


Literaturen 01.01.2008 (Germany)

The main focus of the January edition is making a living from writing and in particular writing books that never get anywhere near a bestseller list. In a lengthy discussion Ulrike Draesner, Dietmar Dath and John von Düffel make a surprisingly optimistic impression. Dath for example says: "Of course one can go on about rationalisation processes and all the rest of it, and indeed this is widespread, dreadful and disastrous. But as Ulrike Draesner said earlier, these are basically just changes. And the end-is-nigh perspective has never been productive. These are all typical procedures - excuse me, but the word here is capitalism. When an abstract criterium, namely profit, is more important than everything else, then you reach the point when every lowly worm is just looking out for himself. Every person points to the next department, everyone says: I had to, because... And at the root of this is nothing but madness. Someone has to break through it at some point."


Le point 20.12.2007 (France)

Bernard-Henri Levy clings doggedly to an issue which – like every other genocidal action in the last hundred years – is having difficulties getting into the public consciousness: Darfur. The news item of the week for Levy is that Abdul Wahid al-Nour has been warned that he will be expelled from France if he continues to refuse to participate in peace talks in Libya. Al-Nour represents the Sudanese liberation army. Levy refrains from commenting on the legitimacy of al-Nour's stand. "Much more importantly we should remember that here is someone who holds up moderate, enlightened, laicist Islam against the Jihad and Sharia supporters in power in Khartoum. And it would only be too paradoxical, too scandalous if this liberal-minded advocate of the meagre internationale of anti-Islamicist Islam were to be held responsible for the crisis and chased out of the 'fatherland of human rights.'"


ResetDoc 19.12.2007 (Italy)

ResetDoc.org is organising a major debate about Islam and the western left. Italian philosopher Nadia Urbinati speaks out against western Manichaeism, and advocates multiculturalism and dialogue instead. Her argument, among other things, draws on the policy of detente versus communism, a policy which was also used by Italian domestic policy against the partito comunista. "Tolerance and dialogue were the sole strategies capable of effecting a shift in communist ideology and at the same time they prevented the 'correct thinkers' (in other words the liberals and the democrats) from becoming fanatics themselves. The politics of dialogue was never just the cautious way. It was normative and principle-driven. Dialogue and tolerance were therefore not only essential because they held the communists within the constitutional system, but also because they helped strengthen Italian democracy."

Michael Walzer of Dissent magazine however argues that "left-wing intellectuals should set limits on whom they talk to. I am certain that Nadia would agree with me here as regards Nazis. And the same goes for Stalinists and Islamic extremists. How should the western left behave towards Islam? We should defend left-wing principles of democracy at every opportunity. I do not see this political position as either intolerant or Manichaeist. " Read the debate in full here.


Al Ahram Weekly 27.12.2007 (Egypt)

The year 2008 promises to be just as controversial in Egypt as 2007, writes Assem El-Kersh. "The government and the opposition; the regime and the press; the press and the press; a new justice minister and judges contesting his commands; the luxury of Cairo and the deprivation of Upper Egypt; the conflict between overabundance and neediness with which society is increasingly infused, recurring in the contrast between empty private North Coast resorts and overcrowded shanty towns. Duality re-emerged in numerous contexts, literal and metaphorical: protests in factories, universities and downtown streets on the one hand, and ever more vigorous Central Security Forces on the other; the nine o'clock news on the state TV and the independent newspapers' headlines; official statements and talk-show hosts; skimpy outfits and hijab; bloggers and censors... "


Gazeta Wyborcza 24.12.2007 (Poland)

Polish historian Janusz Tazbir talks about Polish complexes and the fear of disappearing in Europe. "The more rationally we approach our past, the better we will understand our civilising contribution to European culture, and the tighter hold we will have on our identity. This is far more preferable than cooking up Polish roots for great historical figures such as Nietzsche. We are continually caught between the Scylla of megalomania and the Charybdis of inferiority complexes."


London Review of Books 27.12.2007 (UK)

John Lanchester takes on the heroic task of explaining the background to the international credit crunch as well as giving a lowdown on various components of the financial system such as futures, options and derivatives. And his account is not only comprehensible, it is also gripping. Here is a quote from the introduction to the article in which he introduces his banker friend Tony: "He happened once to mention what he (as a head of department) pays new recruits, straight out of university: '45k a year, with a bonus of between ten and twelve grand guaranteed. ' I pointed out that in many cases that would mean these 22-year-olds would be earning more than the heads of department in the universities they'd just graduated from. He shrugged and laughed. 'It is what it is,' he said. Also, the bottom-performing 10 per cent of people in every department at his firm are sacked every year. He expressed surprise at my surprise. 'That's standard,' he said. 'I thought everyone did that.'"
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