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03/02/2009

Magazine Roundup

Le point | HVG | The New Statesman |
Open Democracy
| Elet es Irodalom | NZZ Folio | Le Nouvel Observateur | L'Espresso | Al Ahram Weekly | The Guardian | Outlook India | Polityka | Observator Cultural | Prospect |


Le point 29.01.2009 (France)

Bernard-Henri Levy writes about the film "Operation Valkyrie" which is now showing in France. He finds it problematic that one heroes of the resistance to Hitler is played by one of the most prominent members of a totalitarian sect. And he is deeply disturbed by something else: The remaining forest of the German resistance is hidden behind the single Stauffenberg tree. And Stauffenberg, unlike the other civilian resistance members such as Georg Elser, Sophie Scholl and Willy Brandt was a man who, at least in the beginning, shared Hitler's totalitarian ideals. "The danger lies in blurring the difference. We have to make a point of accentuating the difference and to continue to see the war culture of the Nazis and some of their opponents on one side and the radical anti-Nazism of Willy Brandt's heirs on the other. This is the task we face, one that got obscured in this film. It is a task for Germany and a obligation for Europe."


HVG 31.01.2009 (Hungary)

The Berlin correspondent for the weekly paper HVG, Bela Weyer, was not expecting "historical accuracy" from "Operation Valkyrie" but he does think the film has its uses: "Of course 200 or so people taking part in a conspiracy, from a Wehrmacht of 9 million, is not a large number. But at least it's more than cinema audiences have ever seen before. And it's more that those cliches which slot the German military into the role of the bad guys, all Nazis without exception. But there were exceptions, people who dared to oppose Hitler, even if they were few."

Open Democracy 28.01.2009 (UK)

Open Democracy has translated a mammoth and excoriating essay by historian Yuri Afanasiev from the Novaya Gazeta entitled: "The End of Russia". In it he challenges his fellow Russians to face the truth about their history, which he breaks down into four chapters: "Take a look at what is happening before our very eyes. Take a good, hard look at it - realistically, rationally, in its historical context. If you do that, you start thinking you've gone mad, or at least that you're well on the way to it. If these thoughts seem altogether too terrifying or strange, if you're so confident of your mental state that you can dismiss them, then what you what you are feeling will be no less terrible. For you will be feeling the void enveloping you."


The New Statesman 29.01.2009 (UK)

Brian Cathcart warmly welcomes a new biography, "The Strangest Man: the Hidden Life Of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius." Graham Farmelo, once a theoretical physicist himself and now a specialist in science communication, has produced a "marvellously rich and intimate study" of a man who was held in awe by his peers (Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Bohr) but has been largely forgotten by the world. We learn about Dirac's idiosyncratic lectures, his hatred of his brutal Swiss father. "We also come to understand Dirac's superficially improbable 45-year marriage to the bubbly, tempestuous Margit 'Manci' Wigner - and we gain along the way two lovely new anecdotes. First, when he suspected he might be falling in love, Dirac did what academics are supposed to do: he read a book on the subject: George Bernard Shaw's 'Getting Married'. And second, when Manci complained that he dodged her questions about feelings in their love letters, he methodically broke the questions down into numbered grids (reproduced in the text) and answered them one by one. All this and mind-blowing science too, equally fluently delivered."

Further articles: Robbie Graham and Matthew Alford follow the money to find out why Hollywood is so pro-establishment, and Harry Mount mourns for British bohemians whose "habitats have been smothered, either by concrete or by retail outlets".

Elet es Irodalom 23.01.2009 (Hungary)

Hungarian literature is quite popular in the Netherlands: since the war around 100 books have been translated - a relatively high number compared with other "minor" languages like Czech or Polish. But the Dutch have their preferences: Sandor Marais is hugely popular, Peter Esterhazy less so. Agnes Kerekjarto, a lecturer in Hungarian literature at Groningen University explains why in an interview. "The linguistic virtuosity that Esterhazy practises has no tradition in the Netherlands, it is foreign to the puritanical Dutch language, and this means that Esterhazy's writing remains Hungarian, even in translation. He is, so to say, a Catholic in a Protestant world. His style is too baroque, too ornate for Dutch tastes; they are used to clear lines, direct rationality and morality, and this is what they prefer. Dutch culture is not a playful culture which means, too, that Esterhazy's irony is lost on them. Irony is essentially a fruit of powerlessness, and it blooms in countries where people have no control over their own history, but are forced to endure it. To the Dutch, however, problems are there to be solved. They don't understand why someone would sit around being ironic when they could get up and do something."

Istvan Vancsa comments on the enthusiasm of the Americans at Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony. "They (the Americans) have something that we (Central Europeans) are lacking, something we have always lacked and which we are unlikely to have in the foreseeable future. They implicitly trust the society in which they live, they trust its founding principles, its institutions and its legal system. They believe that their country, with all its flaws, is better than any other country in today's world, that the structure of their federation is based on wise ideas, that their laws serve justice and their institutions the common good. To us, this sort of civic feeling seems borderline pathological, even though all functioning cultures are based upon it, on the belief in law, order, morality, in the fundamental ideals of a society, as well as – in principle at least – the integrity of power. If all this exists, then even the most stylish ladies and gents might be encouraged to start lugging stones to build the Chatres cathedral."

NZZ Folio 02.02.2009 (Switzerland)

The theme of this week's magazine, against the backdrop of the global finance fiasco, is parallel worlds. Author Misha Glenny, whose book "McMafia" delves into the world of organised crime, shines his light or the curious case of the Brazilian banker Nelson Sakaguchi. Apparently unawares – Sakaguchi got involved in a number of shady Nigerian business deals, signed up to a dubious sect and embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars. And Western banks didn't bat an eyelid: "'There is no question that first Lloyds then Citibank ignored all existing regulations on opening bank accounts and letting money flow through them,' explains Domingos Refinetti, the lawyer hired by the Noroeste bank where Sakaguchi works in Sao Paulo, to reclaim the missing cash. 'When someone does business with Nigeria at this level, it's imperative to question whethre the money is clean. Seventy million dollars flowed though Lloyds in just one year, and 50 million through Citibank in a matter of months. ... The banks just closed both eyes and waved it on through."


Le Nouvel Observateur 29.01.2009 (France)

The Nouvel Obs prints excerpts from Roland Barthes's diary, which he kept for two years following the death of his mother in 1977. The "Journal de deuil" has just been published by Seuil. On November 5th, for example, two months after her death he writes: "Sad afternoon. Short walk. At the bakers (futility) I buy a financier. The little salesgirl serves a customer and says voila. This was the word I would would say to Mama whenever I brought her something, while I was caring for her. Once, when she was nearing her end, she repeated the word in her semi-conscious state: Voila (I'm here, je suis la, a word we said to each other throughout our lives). When the salesgirl said the word tears filled my eyes. I weep for hours (back in the soundproof apartment)." And on November 30th he notes: "Don't use the word mourning. It is too psychoanalytical. I am not in mourning. I'm in despair."

(These, according to French Wikipedia, are 2 financiers.)







L'Espresso 29.01.2009 (Italy)

The poverty-stricken Institut Francais in Berlin has issued a cry for help, and its outposts in Naples and Sarajevo are on the brink of closure. France is cost-cutting the lifeblood out of its culture, fears Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun, who advises the penny-pinching Sarkozy to think twice about this policy. You only need to look at who won the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Renaudot, the country's top literary prizes, to see that French culture is elsewhere. "France has been slow to grasp that its language is used much more extensively beyond its borders than within them. It is outside France that writers are using French to describe their very different visions and worlds. This goes for all number of countries in Africa, the Arab world and Magreb in particular, this applies to Canada, Belgium and Switzerland, not forgetting the Antilles. All together they form a vast wealth, which is feeding and fostering a language and a civilisation. The Francophone concept, like the Negritudine one, is flowering particularly vibrantly in the fields of culture and politics and it represents a way for France to re-enter the interests and worlds of its former colonies and keep relations with them alive."

Luca Turin dedicates his column (in English) to stomach-churning celebrity perfumes.


Al Ahram Weekly 29.01.2009 (Egypt)

During his visit to the Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF) the president of the International Publishers Association (IPA) Dutch writer, Herman P. Spruijt, was determined to impress upon the Egyptians the importance of introducing proper copyright laws. At a press conference, as Nevine el-Aref reports, he asked angrily: "Why is Egypt introduced in the international market with a tiny quota of writers and books despite its long history in publishing and its great cultural wealth in the field? How can the number of CIBF visitors reach two million and the number of international publishers and professionals attending remain modest? Why has Scotland some 14,000 books available on the Internet while the Arab world goes unnoticed? Why is the number of layout professionals of international publishing standard in the Arab world, Africa and Latin America less than five per cent of the norm elsewhere?" His answer: "If we are serious about promoting publishing in the Arab world it is very important to be more serious in promoting intellectual property rights and highlighting their significance and value for the different communities of the Arab world."

And Nehad Selaiha dutifully sat through some stodgy "reheated snacks" at the French Cultural Centre's 7th Festival des Jeunes Createurs in Cairo.


The Guardian 31.01.2009 (UK)

Paul Laity portrays British historian Blair Worden who has taken it upon himself to revise what he sees as the romanticised versions of the revolution and regicide in 17th century England – particularly those put about by his Marxist colleagues such as Christopher Hill. "I can't understand how an episode which failed so disastrously and which produced such a fierce reaction against it can be viewed positively. The civil wars were a very horrible experience for most people; they caused tremendous destruction and carnage. And I don't see why people who are repelled by the death penalty rejoice in the beheading of a king. If it had done some good, well then perhaps ... But I can't see, even by their lights, what good it did. The only lessons to be drawn from it are to do with the consequences of destructive enthusiasm."

Moira Weigel springs to the defence of Elizabeth Alexander and her Obamapoetics. In preparation for an upcoming exhibition about the Persian ruler and founder of Shiite Iran, Shah Abbas I, Madeleine Bunting visits the former capital of his empire, Isfahan.


Outlook India 09.02.2009 (India)

Of all places, the IT state Karnataka with its capital Bangalore - home to software giant Infosys - looks set to become a centre of Hindu communalism – with the approbal of the regional government. Outlook India addresses the recent attacks carried out by Hindus on Christians and Muslims in its cover story "The Talibanisation of Karnataka". "The most common reason by far for a communal flare-up relates to the 'mingling' of youngsters from different communities. G. Rajashekar, co-author of 'The Dark Faces of Communalism', a book on communalism in Karnataka, says that according to data he has collected between May 2008 and now, there have been '14 recorded incidents of violence against Hindu girls for having been seen with either a Muslim or a Christian boy'."


Polityka 30.01.2009 (Poland)

In an interview with Polityka (here in German) Leszek Balcerowicz, the first non-communist vice president under Tadeusz Mazowiecki and Jan Krzysztof in the years 1989 to 1991, confirms his reputation as a liberal. He was not plagued by fears when he was pushing through his radical reforms. "I remember huge tension. It helped me to know that I was not acting on blind faith, but having played out the our options in my head. I was utterly convinced that another strategy would be doomed to fail and that ours was only risky. That reduced the stress."

Observator Cultural 02.02.2009 (Romania)

The latest update of The Observer Translation Project at Observator Cultural introduces the writer Gabriela Adamesteanu and two of her books, "Wasted Morning" and "The Encounter". There is an excerpt from "Wasted Morning" in English which begins:
"In the old days, if she stayed cooped up so for days on end she'd feel like the house would just fall down on her head. She'd do whatever it took and beat it out of there. The whole idea was to visit by turns: here today, there tomorrow. She never left empty handed neither. It was a chance to yak, find out a thing or two because, really, sticking around with that mute of a man was enough to make you flip your lid. Personally, she never had a thing to discuss with him anyhow. What can you talk about with a man in the end?
'A husband should know you from the waist down.' That's what she'd said, remembering as if it were yesterday.
'Damn it, Vica, shut up,' her sister-in-law had broken out in a token frown. The kid can hear you …You're an old lady by now, and you haven't washed your mouth out yet.'"


Prospect 01.02.2009 (UK)

In an article about what Barack Obama can do for the Middle East, Bernard Avishai points out that it's time he was told that both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides are made up of contradictory ideological blocks. "Most people know, roughly, that Palestine is two entities: a West Bank majority, nominally led by the Palestinian Authority - but really by a secular business and professional class in Ramallah - and an Islamist minority, centred in Gaza, run by an arguably pragmatic but unarguably totalitarian Hamas. What we have yet to learn, however, is that Israel is two entities also. There is a slim secular majority, a Hebrew-speaking republic centred in Tel Aviv that profits increasingly from links with the outside world. ... Then, set against this, you have Israel's second state. This is not the one-fifth Arab minority who might never accept a Jewish state. Instead, since 1967 Israel's Zionist settlement policies and laws privileging orthodoxy have engendered a huge Judean state-within-a-state: anchored in Jerusalem, largely theocratic, and deeply implicated in the ongoing West Bank settlements."

Further articles: Phillip Blond tracks the rise of the "Red Tory" (see cover). The reviews cover Roberto Bolano's novel "2666" and "The Man Who Owns the News" a biography of Rupert Murdoch which, despite having been written in close cooperation with its subject, is refreshingly disrespectful, apparently
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