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07/12/2010

Magazine Roundup

Eurozine | The Economist | Elet es Irodalom | The Guardian | Polityka | Le point | HVG | openDemocracy


Eurozine 29.11.2010 (Austria in English)

The Lithuanian writer Tomas Kavaliauskas and his Bulgarian colleague Ivaylo Ditchev discuss what is still a burning issue in East Europe: identity. Or more precisely, they talk instructively at one another about it. Ditchev focusses on neoliberalism which East Europeans increasingly like to blame for all their problems of the past 20 years: "It is the rich who wanted to get rid of the poor in Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, now this is happening with Belgium. The tensions between the rich municipality of Sofia and the rest of the country are telling. The disappearance of solidarity within the national territory is screened off by nationalist, even quasi-fascist discourses: this seems to me to be a general trend of neoliberalism."

Kavaliauskas on the other hand is more interested in the national-romantic construction of identity: "Czeslaw Milosz referred to Lithuanian statehood as 'a philological project'. In the nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries, Lithuanian intellectuals purified the Lithuanian language from slavisms and worked on the creation of new and modern vocabulary. This project has not ended: Lithuanian national identity is still maintained through the language. The language issue is even more important in the other two Baltic States, Latvia and Estonia, where almost half the population is Russian-speaking."

For Mute magazine (and put online by Eurozine) which Felix Stalder reads what Julian Assange had to say about the the Wikileaks mission. In a nutshell: it is there to put the squeeze on institutions who rule through their control over secret information. Stalder is sceptical: "The more an organisation has to protect against leaks, the more the internal contradiction between the requirement to share information (to operate efficiently) and that of controlling information (to keep it secret) will become prevalent and negatively affect its capacity to carry out its mission. Assange's objectives are likely to be realised in this more narrow respect, but it is unclear whether the 'tax' will be high enough to limit the power of organisations such as the US military, or whether it will simply need to invest more resources to carry on doing the same thing as before."


The Economist 04.12.2010 (UK)

Theoretical physicist Roger Penrose believes that our universe is the umpteenth incarnation in a series of universes which go from one Big Bang to the next. His theory implies that each universe eventually reaches a point when matter becomes weightless and time stops moving. The Economist explains: "It is well known that fundamental physics is full of ideas that defy what humans are pleased to call common sense. Even by those standards, however, Dr Penrose's ideas are regarded as a little eccentric by his fellow cosmologists. But they do have one virtue that gives them scientific credibility: they make a prediction. Collisions between black holes produce spherical ripples in the fabric of spacetime, in the form of gravitational waves. In the Penrose model of reality these ripples are not abolished by a new Big Bang. Images of black-hole collisions that happened before the new Bang may thus imprint themselves as concentric circular marks in the emerging cosmic microwave background." Apparently, though, the latest measurements indicate that these sort of marks could indeed exist.

A further articles sums up the situation at Google - in a not exactly exciting but nonetheless comprehensive and fair survey, which takes in the present and looks at future opportunites and risks for the company in the social network era.


Elet es Irodalom 03.12.2010 (Hungary)

Last week the Hungarian weekly papers Magyar Narancs and Elet es Irodalom as well as (on Friday) the Budapest Daily Nepszava, printed empty front pages in protest against the planned media law reforms. Viktor Orban's government wants to submit the printed press and Internet portals to the control of the NMHH, the powerful media regulatory board. The newly formed authority is staffed by Fidesz party cadres and will be allowed to pin fines of up to 90.000 euro on the press. This will hinder public debate, according to the editor-in-chief Zoltan Kovacs: "Former fierce defenders of press freedom are now sitting in party offices keeping a tight hold on the press; there is no way of saying any longer whether their beady eyes are clouded by political firewalls or the sheer arrogance of power [...] Of course it is possible to appeal a fine from the media regulators in court. But if you take into account the general financial situation of the Hungarian press, the mere inclusion of this legal process in the wording of the law is pure legislative cynicism. For the few newspapers that are particularly unpopular with the government and who have no solid cash reserves, even a minimal fine can mean bankruptcy, particularly because the fine has to be paid immediately."

Fidesz politicians defended the new law in parliament last week and talked about a "healthy balance" between freedom of the press and "public interests". Istvan Vancsa remembers this phrase from the old days when freedom of the press was guaranteed by the constitution in the People's Republic of Hungary but was required to orient itself to "the interests of the working class": "In those days the party state dictated to the papers what they were allowed to write. It could order little songs from anyone it had paid. And that was everyone. An editor-in-chief neither didn't have to worry about printers' bills, edition numbers, unsold copies or the like, all he had to deal with were ideological orders from above – and everything else was taken care of by the assignor of the media regulatory body. Wages were good and there was an anticipated bonus once a year. Of course this was all quite expensive but a dictatorship is a costly undertaking. It's actually a shame that the state today doesn't want to establish a dictatorship but is concentrating its efforts on securing freedom of the press instead. In the draft law it says, for example, that the regulatory media body 'will control and guarantee freedom of the press'. This is as if the defence of the accused were to be taken on by the most competent authority, namely the state prosecutor. The result will surely be the same."


The Guardian 04.12.2010 (UK)

"The End" is "an outstanding work in all the right ways". Annie Proulx gives a resounding stamp of approval to Salvatore Scibona's literary debut about Sicilian immigrants making lives in America. "This is not another dysfunctional-contemporary-American-family novel. It is instead a jackstraw tangle of dysfunctional not-yet-American families. The characters are mostly Sicilian immigrants living in Ohio in the early 20th century, their lives caught in the fly-paper of their pasts, their language a combination of the private dialects of their native villages, a laboriously correct Italian and unsure English. There is a foreign feel to the book, as though it is a not quite fluent translation - crabbed, refolded, flecked with archaic phrases and beliefs, shot through with Joycean obscurities, all of which give the reader a strong sense of standing just inside the door of the characters' shifting worlds."

There is also a review of Robert Darton's book "Poetry and the Police" about singing and sedition in the streets of 18th century Paris and, particularly, the "Affair of the Fourteen" that led to the exile of the Comte de Maurepas. "Fortunately, the Departement de musique of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France contains keys to the titles, which give the musical annotation. Helene Delavault, a cabaret artist in Paris, kindly agreed to record a dozen of the most popular songs connected with the affair of the Fourteen." They can be heard online here.


Polityka 03.12.2010 (Poland)

As Russia's President Dmitri Medvedev pays his first state visit to Poland, Marek Ostrowski calls for more (here in German) Polish-Russian dialogue. Indeed he is as sceptical about the situation with the gas pipelines and Nato accession as he is about coming to terms with the massacre in Katyn. "In this matter which is holy to the Poles – the memory of the crimes of Katyn – Russia talks with many voices. Yeltsin said one thing when he asked for forgiveness a and shed a tear before the monument in the Povaki cemetery. Medevev said something else, openly condemning the Stalinist crimes. Wajda's film 'Katyn' was even shown on prime time Russian TV, and the Duma has drafted a resolution on Katyn. But at the court in Strasbourg (more here), the Russian Chief Military Prosecutor's Office refused to rehabilitate the murder victims, acting as if they had no idea what had happened to the Polish POWs, as if they saw no reason to pay the matter any particular attention. How do you explain this?"


Le point 02.12.2010 (France)

Will there ever be an end to the demonisation of Israel?" asks Bernard-Henri Levy in his Bloc notes, and lists two current examples: the Israel boycott in France and the success of the documentary film "Tears of Gaza", by Norwegian filmmaker Vibeke Lokkeberg, which shows the Israeli bombardment of the territory in 2008 to 2009. Levy accuses her of not sticking to the most basic rules of the difficult genre of the war documentary and of taking images out of context. But worst of all, that "the film team never even set foot in Gaza and contented themselves with the film footage shown to them under strict supervision by Hamas militias. A film like this which unfortunately is about to do the rounds at festivals across the world – is not a documentary, but a propaganda film. A film, which by demonising Israel, promises war not peace."


HVG 27.11.2010 (Hungary)

The exchange programme for children from Hungary and its neighbours which was passed at the end of October in the Hungarian parliament, bears only a superficial resemblance to similar programmes started by Germany and France and Poland, writes Ivan Bedö. Whereas those programmes were intended to create friendships that would reconcile the nations, the Hungarian programme is all about visiting Hungarian minorities: "The idea behind it is different from the one set up by the Germans, Poles and French - all countries which have been through their fair share of historical trauma. The Hungarian schoolchildren are not being sent abroad to get to know their neighbours. One – if not the central - objective behind the state-funded friendship programme which is underpinned by the Trianon Memorial Days in schools, is the preservation of a 90-year old trauma. Instead of bringing Hungarians closer to Romanians, Slovaks, Serbs and Ukrainians it will probably only cement the conflict."

openDemocracy 01.12.2010 (UK)

This story barely got a mention in the German press last year. Historian Michail Suprun and police colonel Alexandr Dudarev were arrested for printing a book charting the fate of Russian-Germans and Russian-Poles in the Gulag, on charges of violating the victims' rights, under Article 137 of the Russian Criminal Code, for "exposing the personal or family secrets" of victims without their consent. Catriona Bass looks more closely at this case which continues to drag on. Memorial researchers "had faced increasingly restrictive access to information on Soviet repression. Indeed, in Magadan, in the far east of Russia where many of the Gulags were situated, Article 137 has also for the first time been cited as a reason for refusing access material on Soviet deportees. "

Further articles: Grigorii Golosov tells a terrifying crime story from the Krasnodar region in southern Russian which is controlled by big land owners – it is here that the Olympic winter games in Sochi are due to take place. And Bill Thompson responds to an article by the editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, on the future of journalism.
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