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05/02/2008

Magazine Roundup

Merkur | Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik | Nepszabadsag | Prospect | Causeur | Outlook India | Gazeta Wyborcza | The New Statesman | openDemocracy | L'Espresso | The New Yorker

Merkur 01.02.2008 (Germany)

Art historian Wolfgang Ullrich is disappointed that Gerhard Richter's stained glass window in Cologne Cathedral has not provoked a decent debate about art. He would have like to have talked about the new fashion for pushing art into the realms of religion and transcendental experience. "What's the difference between a colourful glass window that supposedly 'contains everything' and a crystal which, when light falls on it, reflects every colour there is and can also be sold as a place of transcendental experience? Doesn't the jeweller Swarovski have as much right as Gerhard Richter to claim that his products transcend the planes of concrete and individual meaning to deliver 'parables of genesis'? You don't have to look far to find PR blurb that sounds exactly like pronouncements of art enthusiasts."


Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 01.02.2008 (Germany)

Daniel Leisegang casts a wary eye at the Google empire which unchallenged and uncontrolled is cashing in on its data-collection frenzy. Alongside its search engine the company has all number of other snooping services including WebAccelerator, Google Desktop and Gmail to gather more information "than any other institution in the history of humankind." And how generous Google is with this information! "Not only in China but in a several other states, the search provider has long been cooperating with law enforcement agencies. As a result the secret services in the USA have direct access to the growing data mountains of internet and telecommunications companies."

Literary Nobel Prize laureate Wole Soyinka complains about the "shameful inaction" of the global community towards the genocide in Darfur. And African Negritude is also a chimera in his eyes. "The African Union has practically abandoned the people of Darfur to their destiny, delivered them up to the caprices of the murdering, raping, pillaging preachers of a racist doctrine."


Nepszabadsag 02.02.2008 (Hungary)

A Hungarian-Slovakian school history book, conceived along the lines of the German-French model, has been long in the planning but the book has yet to be published. This is not down to differences of opinion between historians, explains Slovakian historian Dusan Kovac in an interview. "As regards reconciliation between countries, the German-French project is exemplary, but let's not forget that that process was initiated by the two leading statesmen at the time, and the intellectuals and citizens only joined in later in the game. In our region, on the other hand, this approach is being taken only by certain intellectuals who have committed themselves to European values – but not by politicians, on either the Slovakian or the Hungarian side. Which is why I believe that there is still a lot of ground to cover between the desired and the actual reconciliation of Hungary and Slovakia."


Prospect 01.02.2008 (UK)

William Skidelsky inquires about the health of traditional book reviewing which is under pressure from all sides. It's not looking too good he concludes, thanks to chain-store and supermarket book sales, TV shows promoting books, the declining authority of academic criticism and in particular the internet: "The obvious rejoinder to bloggers - an opinion's being 'out there' doesn't mean that anyone is paying it attention - increasingly looks threadbare, because the fact is that many blogs are very popular and influential. ... A battle for authority is being waged between the printed and the digital word, and this explains both the chippy, combative tone of many bloggers, with their talk of 'people power' and it being 'our turn now,' and the defensiveness of many print journalists."


Causeur 31.01.2008 (France)

Rue89, Mediapart and Causeur (manifesto). France is witnessing the birth of a batch of new online media sites outside established institutions, and where journalists are dreaming of finally being able to tell the truth. In Causeur, the renowned journalist Elisabeth Levy asks why on the private TV channel Direct 8, which belongs to Sarkozy's pal Vincent Bollore and is run by his son Yannick, a harmless talk show about Sarkozy and the ladies can just be whisked off the air. "The media bosses think that their companies are like any other companies. They think they can slash a programme just as they can decide not to sell some product to their factories. The idea that the products they are selling are something special, because they contribute to the education or mis-education of public opinion is something they do not seem to have considered."

Outlook India 18.02.2008 (India)

Books sales are soaring in India, Sheela Reddy reports. Indian publishers are getting richer and Indian writers more confident. "With six or seven big publishers here all fishing in the one small pond of Indians writing in English, book auctions are now very much a part of the publishing trade here. Till a year ago, publishers in Delhi usually waited for their annual forays to the Frankfurt or London book fairs, hoping to catch the eye of a literary agent or publisher who would be generous—or stupid—enough to part with Indian rights for next to nothing. As beggars, they didn't count for much. "They wouldn't even give us the time of day when we approached them," recalls a publisher in Delhi ruefully. But now, it's their day in the sun. "All of us get at least four or five queries a month from agents and publishers abroad who think a manuscript might be of interest to Indian readers."

In other articles Reddy prophesies that local writers will start to get the attention from Indian readers that until now has been enjoyed only by exiled writers. And she gives the lowdown on the Jaipur Literature Festival which was obviously farcical. There is also an excerpt from Nayantara Sahgal's speech about the flattening of the literary world.


Gazeta Wyborcza 02.02.2008 (Poland)

"It's hard to believe that Siemion Mogilewitsch, the post-Soviet mafia boss, has actually been jailed for tax evasion," writes Marcin Wojciechowski about the Ukrainian Al-Capone who until now has eluded all international arrest warrants. "It may be a matter of eliminating what was once a practical mediator in gas deals with Ukraine. But it could also be a matter of helping Putin's successor Medvedev to silence shady business partners from his time as chairman of Gazprom."

The New Statesman 04.02.2008 (UK)

This special edition looks to God. TV journalist Andrew Marr blames the ever emptier British houses of prayer on what, compared with the Muslims and Catholics, is the mildness of the Anglican Church. "This is a watery, temperate country with a long and soundly based suspicion of intensity. Apart from Northern Ireland, the last time the British were really intense about religion was in the 17th century." Marr charts the retreat of religion from public culture. "Think of Britain in the 1940s and 1950s. Think of the influence of religious poets (T S Eliot, the later Auden), of religious art and architecture (the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral), of religious music (Britten's hymns, Missa Brevis and carols) and of religious writers such as C S Lewis, and it's clear that Christianity at least has moved from a powerful cultural position to a marginal one."

Sholto Byrnes explains the religious roots of secular freedoms. And Jeremy Rosen, William Dalrymple and Ziauddin Sardar shed light on the many and varied faces of God in human history.


openDemocracy 04.02.2008 (UK)

Neal Ascherson looks back at the first student demonstrations of 1968 – in Warsaw. "Like many great European stories, the spark was a theatre performance. Just forty years ago, on 30 January 1968, the Teatr Narodowy (National Theatre) opened its final performance of the classic verse drama Forefathers' Eve, by the national poet Adam Mickiewicz. The director, Kazimierz Dejmek, had been told by the Communist Party culture bosses that the production must close, whatever the demand for tickets. Behind those bosses, pretty certainly, was the Soviet ambassador. ... Written in the 1830s, it has been beloved by generations of Poles as an accurate account of their own suffering and humiliation under war, foreign domination and domestic tyrannies. It is devastating about Russians, about police states and about censorship. How Dejmek thought he could get away with it is a mystery. But he did, with Polish audiences frantically cheering the anti-Russian lines, until the authorities - and the ambassador - woke up." Hundreds of students were thrown into jail, many of them thrown out of university, among them Adam Michnik, Jacek Kuron, Leszek Kolakowski und Zygmunt Bauman.


L' Espresso 31.01.2008 (Italy)

Roberto Saviano
, author of "Gomorrah" a book about the Camorra, meet his idol. Joe Pistone was an FBI agent working undercover with the New York mafia and was the inspiration for the film "Donnie Brasco." Saviano, who also carried out undercover research in Naples is as excited as a child. "While I'm speaking, I forget that I'm sitting in front of Donnie Brasco. We get into a conversation about major criminal systems. Then I say to him, "You know Joe, where I come from you're a legend and I mean on both sides, with the Caribinieri and with the Camorra boys. Donnie Brasco is Donnie Brasco because he's got balls. That's what counts with these people.' Joe laughs and says, 'Forget about it!', the classic line in the film which every gangster loves to use and which all the kids where I come from repeat while imitating Al Pacino or Johnny Depp. In Italy they translated it as 'che te lo dico a fare.'"

The New Yorker, 18.20.2008 (USA)

What exactly did Israel bomb in Syria on September 6th, 2007? A nuclear reactor construction project as the Times, the Washington Post and a string of other papers maintained? Or a chemical warfare facility as one Syrian officer would have it? Or a strategic weapons installation as another Syrian officer seems convinced? What exactly did the American and Israelis think it was? Nuclear weapons? Really? Seymour Hersh describes in often spine-chilling detail how the various stories emerged and then cites a long-serving former CIA agent who names a fundamental weakness of the secret service: 'People think they know the ending and then they go back and find the evidence that fits their story,' he said. 'And then you get groupthink - and people reinforce each other.'"
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