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19/01/2010

Magazine Roundup

openDemocracy | Tygodnik Powszechny | Prospect | Gazeta Wyborcza | Le Monde diplomatique | Nepszabadsag | Le point | El Pais Semanal | Elet es Irodalom | The Nation


openDemocracy 15.01.2010 (UK)

Two days after Victor Martinovich's novel "Paranoia" was delivered to Belarussian bookshops, it disappeared without a trace, Natalia Leshchenko reports. And she thinks she knows why: "The novel articulates in a convincing and gripping way an argument rarely seen even in 'political-regime' literature - that dictatorships are sustained not just by secret police and oppressive state apparatuses, but by people themselves. It demonstrates how real and perceived fears mix in ways that undermine individual autonomy and stifle liberty. It implies that regime-change begins not at the ballot-box but within a person's own mind. This is a rare insight that Belarusians, based on their own experience, can contribute to the world." (The novel can be found online here)

Further articles: Masjaliza Hamzah and Norami Othamn present a study in Malaysia, which shows that polygamy benefits no man, no, nor woman neither.


Tygodnik Powszechny 17.01.2010 (Poland)

Anita Piotrowska breathes a sigh of relief. After "Dom zly" (The Dark House) and "Rewers" (The Reverse), now a third film, "Wszystko, co kocham" (All That I love), has come out about the People's Republic which is not a realistic film about freedom fighters. "The days of patriotic lectures are over. It's up to the historians to fight over facts and interpretations. And old masters should process the gaps left over from the days of communist censorship. At last Polish history can be told from other, subjective perspectives, which are not concerned with facts but which create a concentrated atmosphere of the past that has been chased through a private filter."

The children's film director Andrzej Maleszka believes in the power of magic: "In my films, magic powers represent the potential inside us, waiting for us to tap it. Our future is decided in childhood - either we will go off into the adult world with the ability to make decisions about our own lives, or we become will-less robots, who are controlled by managers, politicians and advertising. Good fairytales allow children to believe in their own powers."


Prospect 18.01.2010 (UK)

Britain has banned the Islamic group Islam4UK. A bad idea, says Shiv Malik, and not just because Islam4UK has almost no influence in the country: "Through its Prevent strategy, the government has decided to promote one set of ideas over another: moderate Islam over radical Islam. With vast financial grants, they have empowered groups such as the Quilliam and Lokahi foundations to fight 'our' corner. However, the ban on Islam4UK sends out a worrying message about the rules: in this battle of ideas we will help our friends but we will also lock up our enemies for espousing ideas we don't like. (The punishment for membership of a proscribed organisation is ten years.) This sounds like dictatorship. Should the British government continue down this path ... it would represent a huge erosion of freedom and democracy. The rules of the game really will have changed."


Gazeta Wyborcza 17.01.2010 (Poland)

The newspaper compiles a dossier on the treatment of minorities in Poland. The sociologist Antoni Sulek outlines the results of a longitudinal study on Polish-Jewish relations, and comments: "The reconstruction of memory will come when the Poles modernise their country, when they find their place among nations, and when they recognise this achievement as a success, as grounds for pride and as the foundation of a new identity. As soon as they no longer need history as compensation, they will view it more critically. This will also effect their historical relations with the Jews. If we are lucky, though, we won't have to wait that long for a historical narrative to describe the Polish experience of the war more comprehensively. It will include the underground state, organised resistance, individual collaboration, heroes, the ordinary majority, those who rescued Jews, those who sold Jews. The Poles will have to learn to accept this sort of portrayal of their history, withought seeing it as a loss of face."

Of course Poland is interested in the Ukrainian elections. The Orange Revolution enjoyed strong support from its western neighbours. Five years down the line and disillusionment is also widespread among the Poles, states Marcin Wojciechowski: "This time around, not everything is at stake. In those days, the choice was between democracy and authoritarianism. Young people were saying in all seriousness: 'This is worth dying for.' Today, whoever wins, Ukraine will remain an flawed democracy. The question of direction - Russia or Europe - remains open. If the future president manages to stabilise politics to some extent, restoring control to the state, or is even able to push reforms forward a bit, we will be talking about a huge success. Whether this is Yanukovich or Tymoshenko, is less important - both are flawed. But there is still one problem: while Ukraine is thinking about itself, the world is not standing still. Standstill means regression, but the Ukrainian elite have failed to grasp this."


Le Monde diplomatique 15.01.2010 (Germany/France)

"Africa is being carved up again," writes Joan Baxter in an article on how big business and state-investment funds are buying up agriculturally reclaimable land: "International banks and investment funds, industrial nations, agricultural companies and wealthy businessmen want to build giant industrial farms on vast areas of land and grow food and biofuels." But its not only Western companies that are involved in this new round of the 'Great Game': "In the neighbouring state of Mali, where desertification is spreading like wildfire, Libya has snapped up 100,000 hectars of valuable farmland on the banks of the Niger. And Beijing is in it too. Apparently China has leased 2.8 million hectares from the Republic of Congo to build the world's largest oil palm plantation. And Philippe Heilberg, who runs the New York investment fund Jarch Capital, has signed a lease contract with the son of the warlord Paulino Matip for over 400,000 hectares of land in southern Sudan."

The paper also prints an excerpt from Fabrizio Gatti's forthcoming book "Bilal", about the passage of an illegal immigrant to Europe. "The pick up point is Autogar. 'Eight o'clock start' it says at the ticket counter."


Nepszabadsag 16.01.2010 (Hungary)

After the collapse of first the religious and then the moral firmament in the 20th century, now the astronomical firmament faces a similar fate," declares poet and critic Akos Szilagyi. Since it is almost impossible to see the stars in most cities, star reserves have started springing up in recent years, which are degrading views of the "unspoilt firmament" in "its original condition" to a sort of service event, a fairground spectacle: "The reserve's star herds drive the stars out of their stalls at night, leaving them to graze on the sky, and the event tourists gasp and cannot believe their eyes. But this is surely only the beginning. The future belongs to the projected firmament and the artificial starry sky, which will be more beautiful, more imposing and more convincing that the original sky ever was, and cheaper too! There will be more stars in this sky than humans ever dreamed of! Whether these stars are real or fake is irrelevant."


Le point 14.01.2010 (France)

The Darfur conflict continues, but the world is lost interest. For Bernard-Henri Levy, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) under Abdul Wahid el Nur is a representative of moderate Islam who has been abandoned by the world's media. "Here we had an example of Islam without burqa, without sharia, where boys and girls went to school together - and I can prove it. And this miracle was right in front of our eyes. It was the answer to our dreams, it was living proof that a non-fundamentalist Muslim society is possible and that a party like el Nur's can unite Islam and civil society - and we have allowed it to die."


El Pais Semanal 10.01.2010 (Spain)

"Mathematics is the purest drug," insists Oxford maths Professor Marcus du Sautoy in an interview with Julia Luzan: "When you make a mathematical discovery, it gives you an adrenalin kick that is like taking drugs. It's better than sex. When you've tried it, you will want it again and again. That's why sudokus are so popular. Maths is a giant sudoku. But it is difficult for someone who is not involved to keep abreast of everything that is happening in the world of mathematics. Which is why I write books and make TV programmes. I want to show that there are geniuses at work here, changing the world. Otherwise probably no more than ten people would hear about these great discoveries. That's a shame. Because the more people who hear and learn about a scientific discovery, the more it can grow."


Elet es Irodalom 08.01.2010 (Hungary)

In an article slating the Hungarian casting show "A Star is Born", the author Krisztian Grecso asks why intellectuals so rarely appear in front of TV cameras. There have been a number of attempts to put established critics onto the juries of TV casting shows, but it has never really worked because these intellectuals rarely "perform" as the programme's makers want them to. "The problem with the intellectual is that he does not believe that what he does on TV has any meaning. Because it's all a game, a theatre piece, a role, and he, a real person in all his credibility, with all his past and all his writing behind him, has to bring this other person to life. He is not some other person that is earning some money at last, he is himself. (...) The intellectual sits just there pretending he isn't there. But he is not some crooked doorman, he is the king of Denmark. But Claudius cannot loathe himself, however much the actor playing him knows that he is a conniving scumbag."


The Nation 01.02.2010 (USA)

Barry Schwabsky had zero expectations for the Gerhard Richter show at the Marian Goodman show in NY - only going out of a sense of duty, as if visiting an old uncle whose stories he had heard too often. But, as so often happens when expectations are lowered, he had his socks knocked off. "The most powerful works in the Goodman show were several very large paintings whose surfaces were nearly white, though of a quasi-white highly variegated, with a great deal of color within or beneath it, surfacing in ghostly demarcations.(...) In these paintings, Richter achieved, as he has rarely if ever done before, an effect of sublimity such as commentators on the Abstract Expressionists often speak of, though the painters achieved it but rarely. Read Richter's notes again with this in mind and you'll realize that he sounds like a painter of the 1940s more often than you'd imagine. When he speaks of painting as 'an almost blind, desperate effort, like that of a person abandoned, helpless, in totally incomprehensible surrounding,' it might as well be Willem de Kooning talking. Richter's best works might surpass any but the greatest of the Abstract Expressionists, but that's not because his project is radically different from theirs. It's because his is theirs in extremis."
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