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16/02/2010

Magazine Roundup

La regle du jeu | The New Republic | Tygodnik Powszechny | The Atlantic | Elet es Irodalom | The New Statesman | Magyar Narancs | The Guardian | El Pais Semanal | The New York Times


La regle du jeu 06.02.2010 (France)

As Cambodia's war crimes tribunal prepares to pass sentence on Kaing Guek Eav aka Comrade Duch, the former commander of the Khmer Rouge's most notorious prison, Gilles Hertzog talks to the Catholic priest Francois Ponchaud, one of the first people to expose the genocide in Cambodia. Ponchaud has his doubts that the past will ever be genuinely worked through, because in his experience which tarries with psychological research, many Cambodians believe that evil as such does not exist, and that what they suffered can be explained with Karma. But the country is undoubtedly traumatised: "The current levels of violence in families today stems partly from the tyranny of the Khmer Rouge. All the people who were children then and have families today are violent, men and women alike. They were not raised by their parents, they were separated from them and are now repeating the patterns of violence. The newspapers are overflowing with reports of brutality – frequent cases of men throwing acid at their wives, for example. But this latent violence has roots that reach far back into the past. Angkor was built by millions of slaves, prisoners of war from Laos and the former Siam."

There is also an essay by Gilles Hertzog about the Duch trial and the Khmer Rouge thirty years on.

The New Republic 09.02.2010 (USA)

The British journalist Hans Kundnani has written a book about the German '68er generation and the Nazi era – a combination that only two years ago sparked a major controversy in Germany with the publication of Götz Aly's book "User Kampf" or "our struggle" (more articles here). Reading Peter E. Gordon's review in the New Republic, it is certain that Kundnani would have sided with Aly: "Kundnani is admirably restrained in his verdicts and he prefers to let the facts speak for themselves. But it is clear he believes that, as a premise for political action, the 'continuity thesis' proved disastrous: It blinded an entire generation on the German left from seeing any distinction between present-day democracy and the fascist past, and it encouraged them to conceive of political struggle in absolutist terms, condemning their enemies as latter-day Nazis even to the point of imagining themselves as Jewish victims." Kundnani also writes an interesting blog which often deals with German issues.

A bitter controversy is rumbling away in The New Republic online and other media, centring round the famous blogger Andrew Sullivan, who also used to write for TNR, and whether his arguments are anti-Zionist or even anti-Semitic. The debate was opened by Leon Wieseltier. Here is Sullivan's answer. Here Wieseltier's counter-response. The debate spills over onto salon.com (here) and The Nation (here).


Tygodnik Powszechny 14.02.2010 (Poland)

The focus of this week's magazine is taboo. Artist Artur Zmijewski, the recent winner of the prestigious Ordway Prize, had the following to say about the subject: "Even if we have something that people call politically-engaged art, there is a taboo on all things political in our culture. I am not just talking about the ban on making political statements which artists have to obey, I mean an effective language to talk politically and talk about politics. Added to this is the fact that culture is always one step behind – before we get round to reflecting on events, political debate has moved on. Art should at least be keeping up, if it can't be one step ahead of this process. But more problematic than this race is the lack of language for addressing current questions." Zmijewski, who is actively involved in politics himself – among other things he is the artistic editor for the magazine Krytyka Polityczna – sees a huge difference compared with the 90s, where everything was still in flux. "Today the boundaries are fixed, allegiances more pronounced. Where things were blurred in the past, there is taboo today. That artists toe the line also has to do with the interests of those artists."

The film currently on everyone's lips in Poland is called "Tlen" (oxygen) by Russian director Ivan Vyrypaev (here the official Russian site). He has taken it upon himself to make a "total film" which addresses the existential angsts of our time, according to Anita Piotrowska. "You can't argue with 'Tlen'. Either you agree to total immersion in this artificial hybrid world or you despise it as a pointless collection of biblical quotes, TV news, adverts and photogenic images which have been forced into a pop-video aesthetic."


The Atlantic 01.03.2010 (USA)

James Fallows met with a series of secret service experts to learn more about the threat posed by China in cyberspace. The picture of the world that he now has looks like this: "'The Chinese would be in the top three, maybe the top two, leading problems in cyberspace,' James Lewis, a former diplomat who worked on security and intelligence issues and is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington, told me. 'They're not close to being the primary problem, and there is debate about whether they're even number two.' Number one in his analysis is Russia, through a combination of state, organized-criminal, and unorganized-individual activity. Number two is Israel—and there are more on the list. 'The French are notorious for looking for economic advantage through their intelligence system,' I was told by Ed Giorgio, who has served as the chief code maker and chief code breaker for the National Security Agency. 'The Israelis are notorious for looking for political advantage. We have seen Brazil emerge as a source of financial crime, to join Russia, which is guilty of all of the above.'"


Elet es Irodalom 15.02.2010 (Hungary)

In Hungary – unlike other former socialist countries – no one seems remotely interested in the publication of "informer lists" (lists of people who worked for the secret police). In other countries journalists stole these lists from state security long ago – at least was the picture painted by historian Stefano Bottoni at a Budapest conference in November 2008. The journalist Janos Szekynow goes one step further and says that the Hungarian media is ignoring the issue all together: "With its silence and spinelessness over anything to do with the secret police it has successfully formed a grand coalition. Our last hope, as in Iran, is with the so-called social media, partisan-friendly journalists and a handful of committed politicians. It is largely thanks to the perseverance of a Facebook group called 'I want to know what's on the tapes' that the 'Open Society Archives' and the 'Institute 1965' were able to stage a second conference on the subject, after the one in 2008. The audience there learned about the situation in Slovakia, Poland and Romania, and could think about about what a dead and dishonest land they were living in themselves."


The New Statesman 12.02.2010 (UK)

With a cover that reads "Everything you know about Islam is wrong", the liberal magazine sets out to erase popular fears about Islam. One of the contributors is the reform preacher Tariq Ramadan, who asks what, exactly, a "moderate Muslim" is supposed to be, and concludes that that term is "misleading". One of his arguments: "I believe the question of political moderation is often a subjective one. Afghanistan provides a rather obvious example: the same people who, two decades ago, were hailed as 'freedom fighters' against Soviet invaders are today described as 'terrorists' when they resist the Anglo-American occupation of their land. And everyone can agree to condemn terrorist acts against civilians in New York, Rabat, Bali, Amman, Madrid and London, but how are we to describe the resistance movements in Iraq, Afghanistan or Palestine, fighting against foreign occupations that they consider illegal and illegitimate? Are Muslim members of the resistance to be deemed 'extremists', while 'moderates' become those who accept the occupying presence of American and British forces?"


Magyar Narancs
11.02.2010 (Hungary)

The foreign affairs analyst (Pact Inc., FRIDE) Balazs Jarabik does not believe that Viktor Yanukovych's re-election means the end of the Orange Revolution. The alleged pro-Kremlin stance of the new president is just as ambiguous as the "European guise" of his opponent Julia Timoshenko. Both want into the EU, because this has the support of the majority of the Ukrainian population, and both are ready to cooperate with Moscow, also with the backing of the majority of the population. But most of all they are both interested – as, of course, are their sponsors – in keeping the shadowy economy in place and using it to their advantage, according to Jarabik. "Once you put stereotypes and geopolitics aside, there is very little of any interest or magnitude left – except for Ukraine's domestic problems, the lack of structural reform, the state deficit, the debt... What Ukraine really needs is the attention of the world, and aid which is bound to strict conditions. It has to adopt European standards in parliament. And since Central Europe plays a key role in the EU's policy on Ukraine, the Visegrad countries cannot just sit back and watch."


The Guardian
13.02.2010 (UK)

"The time has come to dispel the myth of a quaint and helpless creature, disappointed in love, who gave up on life," proclaims Lyndall Gordon, who has just published a new biography of Emily Dickinson. He points to a fiercely passionate nature and a closely guarded secret which she only alluded to in her work. "'I felt a Funeral, in my Brain', she says, and 'I dropped down, and down'. Allowing for the poet's resolve to tell it 'slant', through metaphor, are we not looking at epilepsy? In its full-blown form, known as grand mal, a slight swerve in a pathway of the brain prompts a seizure. As Dickinson puts it, 'The Brain within its Groove / Runs evenly', but then a 'Splinter swerve' makes it hard to put the current back. Such force has this altered current that it would be easier to divert the course of a flood, when 'Floods have slit the Hills / And scooped a Turnpike for Themselves'. Since the falling sickness, as epilepsy used to be known, had shaming associations with 'hysteria', masturbation, syphilis and impairment of the intellect leading to 'epileptic insanity', it was unnameable, particularly when it struck a woman. ... If this guess is right, it's remarkable that Dickinson developed a voice from within that silence, one with a volcanic power to bide its time."

El Pais Semanal 14.02.2010 (Spain)

Spain is about to extend its anti-smoking laws to all public bars and restaurants. An angry Javier Marias demands equality: "Wine, whiskey and gin bottles should also have to feature disgusting images of drunks, of cirrhosis-riddled livers, of the rats and spiders that drunks see in their delirium tremens; there should be huge images on country roads and car doors of victims mangled in car accidents, people in wheelchairs, headless motorcyclists, crushed pedestrians, amputated arms and legs; all beaches should have to display pictures of drowning victims, body parts swollen from contact with jellyfish, or people with skin cancer; aeroplanes should be decorated with photos of crashes, disembowelled corpses, terrorists with bombs and desperate passengers swimming in icy seas; and town halls should have to hang up images of landscapes destroyed by real estate speculators."


The New York Times 14.02.2010 (USA)

David Dow, lawyer and death penalty abolitionist in the US has written an "Autobiography of an Execution" (audio excerpt). Dahlia Lithwick is deeply impressed by his tireless struggle on behalf of clients he doesn't even like. Luckily there is some good news too: "Statistics from the Death Penalty Information Center show that the death penalty in America is dying. In 2009, the number of death sentences dropped for the seventh consecutive year; it's now the lowest since the Supreme Court re­instated the death penalty in 1976. Eleven states considered abolishing the death penalty last year, citing high costs and lack of measurable benefits. New Mexico just became the 15th state to abolish it. "

Further articles: Geoffrey Wheatcroft writes an essay about the relevance of George Orwell today. And in the Sunday Magazine, Russell Shorto (author of a wonderful book about early New York), asks to what extent America's founding fathers regarded themselves as Christians.
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