POLITICS & SOCIET Y|ARTS & CULTURE
ISSUE 1|DECEMBER 2009
Britain and the Union / Chris Hall / Too Much Emotion / Quirin Maderspacher / America and the NHS / Antoine de Saint Phalle / Poland in the Year of Anniversaries / Marta Zieba / Manifesto / Perplex
THE OTHER EUROPE:
“I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.” Lady Margaret Thatcher
Debate is the essence of our community; EUREKA exists for this very purpose. It offers students a platform for expressing their reflections, their emotions, their visions and their artistry. In an attempt to make this edition, and hopefully each consecutive one, unique, we introduced a focus. In this edition our focus has been Britain, as ‘the other Europe’. Since it came into being, EUREKA, as UCL’s European magazine, has traditionally looked outwards, whereas in this term’s edition a couple of lines have been dedicated to 2
the country we all study and live in. The reader will find a discussion on British identity, alongside a criticism of this country’s mass media culture. Our Politics and Society section covers topics ranging from the American health care debate to this year’s commemoration of the Fall of the Iron Curtain. In Arts and Culture our authors have not only reflected on existing art, but also created their own: a German and a Polish poem, as well as a short story, have found their way into the magazine. What you will read is not necessarily meant to be unbiased; most of the work expresses a particular point of view. It is meant to encourage
debate and inspire reflection. Any comments or thoughts on what we have written are welcome and appreciated. After all, exchanging opinions is what it is all about. Your editors, Maria Holmblad and Quirin Maderspacher email@example.com
Britain In Defence of European Federalism / Michal Zdzbieborski / The Rise of the Far Right / Frances Perraudin / A Small Guide to EU Blogs / Emily Katzenstein
CONTENTS FOCUS: BrITAIN
Politics & SOCIETY
6 Britain and the union: An outsider within Chris Hall 10 In defence of european federalism Michal Zdzieborski 12 The rise of the Far Right Frances Perraudin 13 UCl 4th best Quirin Maderspacher 14 An american in the UK Shiva Riahi 17 Too much emotion Quirin Maderspacher 20 A small guide to eu blogs Emily Katzenstein
22 26 28 30
America and the nhs: Oceans apart? Antoine de Saint Phalle thilo sarrazin and integration: A Viewpoint Omar El-Nahry Bosnia-herzegovina: A Discovery Tobias Lingemann Out of breath Denis Dobrovoda
ARTS & CULTURE 34 37
Poland in the year of 40 anniversaries Marta Zieba Gender inequality ... Et Alors? 44 Maria Holmblad 45 46 48
Why does the perception of art differ around the world? Aleksandra Zajac Poems Manifesto Perplex Tom Matthew Bremner Reflections on post- modernism Denis Dobrovoda
Britain and the union: An outsider within
What does it mean to be European? Is there anything like a European identity which could be compared to those of national states? By Chris Hall With the French in the midst of the ‘Grand Debate’ – a quest for the soul of the Gallic nation; the Germans celebrating the twentyyear anniversary of their iconic moment of freedom and inclusion; Britain has been keeping a morethan-curious eye on the rise in popularity of its nationalist groups, particularly the British Nationalist Party, who for the first time won seats at the European elections earlier this year. A reaction to the mistrust of MPs after the expenses scandal or a fear that the immigration system is stunting the opportunities of 6 ★
native workers and smothering the national identity? Generally, there is a reserved rhetoric in British politics when it comes to immigration; it is a dirty word. But just last month Prime Minister Gordon Brown conceded a tougher policy on immigration rules and migrant workers, highlighting the 30,000 occupations that had been removed from a list of in-demand skills that the UK needs, and promising thousands of more to be deleted in the coming months. He asserted that: “Immigration is not an issue for fringe parties nor a taboo subject – it is a question at
the heart of our politics, a question about what it means to be British.” But what does it mean to be British? In a recent EUREKA survey, we asked British people what they felt to be the most significant part of their national identity; what made them British. Around half of all that answered thought that it was culture. Culture? Ignoring some of your sceptical expressions, I suspect that the British public were alluding to Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, tea, the BBC, real ale, yorkshire puddings, toffs, chavs,
Blackadder, the Beatles, fish and In contrast, almost 40% of their chips, Damien Hirst, Russell parents’ generation would call Brand... er, meat pie? themselves English and virtually none would describe their identity What’s stark is the contrast as European. Perhaps this can be between the municipalities. attributed to a growing impression Britain to a Londoner may be the of inclusion. Some of those from Tate, the boat race, double-decker the older generation who thought buses, the Proms or Fabric, but for they were English, contrastively a Geordie it may be the toon, the from the younger generation now Great North Run, the Angel of the believe themselves to be British. North, getting a bit pelatick on the Whilst some of those from the ol’ peev (I promise those weren’t older generation who considered vulgar). For the country folk: themselves British, the younger agriculture, markets, livestock, generation now believe they are village fêtes. And so on. The point European. This swing of inclusion is that it’s hard to pin down a may reflect the political effort Briton. The Scottish have their own to invoke citizenship in recent parliament, the Northern Irish their years. Following other European own assembly, the Welsh their own nations, Citizenship as an assembly and their own language. obligatory academic subject was The British identity is a clambake introduced to British schools in of its smaller constituents. I don’t 2002. Preceding that, the Labour mean to say that Britain is at all Party also introduced ‘Community remarkable in this trait; Nicholas Chests’ that helped fund local Sarkozy’s creation of the Ministry communities to encourage active of Immigration and National membership of their community Identity two years ago was and to stimulate a belonging to inaugurated to unite the country, their nation state. Gordon Brown, and perhaps to toughen border Chancellor at the time stated that controls, but nevertheless it is an is was “the start of a new era of indication of what many European active citizenship”. nations face in our multicultural climate. The transformation from Briton to European seems a more ambitious We also asked Britons whether task. As trivial as my attempts at they felt their identities to be stereotyping British culture were, English, British or European. A most Britons will feel an affinity notable difference is apparent in with a few or even several of those generations. 68% of 18-35 year representations. Could we do the olds would describe themselves as same with a European? Efficiency, British, while a further 11% would romance, arrogance, sleazy men, say their identity was European. hairy women, frog’s legs, incessant
techno, the Mafia, strikes, Ikea, windmills, nudist beaches, sportobsessed hooligans, drunks, bull fighters, pasta, the fetish and burlesque. Europeans do not have a collective identity; they do not have a shared history or a common heritage. With the European Union now comprising 27 member states, it is becoming increasingly difficult to reach unanimous decisions on policy that affect all Europeans. The ex-German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, described the European Union as a “faceless, soulless Eurocracy”. Perhaps the appointment of the EU President will go some way to rectifying this and unifying its nations, but there is a further distinction that should be recognised. An Englishman is English; he is British; he is European; and, he is a member of the Union. This could be increased to the cliché of being a ‘citizen of the world’, but the European / Union distinction is an important one. If we do accept the stereotypical European: the drunk, pastaeating, romantic Mafioso who lives in a windmill that I outlined earlier, then this individual would not have a political character. A Union identity is more solid; it reflects an individual’s rights, their capital, their freedom to roam the European Community. Despite the cries of Europeanists (those who believe that Europe is acquiring a cultural and political identity that overcomes borders), European citizenship is not equal to European identity.
Entertaining the Europeanism utopia for a second, the attitude is certainly derivable from aspects of Europe – traversing Europe’s highways it becomes noticeable that passing through a border from one country to the next is commensurate to going through a motorway toll. This has given the impression that the European Community is a world of fuzzy boundaries. “United in diversity” the European Union motto reads, and probably the most celebrated principle of the EU is the right of freedom of movement, or as it is more affectionately known: ‘Directive 2004/38/EC – the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States’. Poetic. But before too much fondness for Euro-optimism creeps into your heart, the negatives are also evident. The freedom of movement can equally be seen as a weakening of individual national sovereignty because the member states are impotent in excluding foreigners from their nation. If we are to accredit the Europeanism ideal, I would stop short of saying that the European citizen free of boundaries has a collective identity. It is far more plausible to posit that the traditional notion of citizenship has evolved in Europe; it is no longer attached to nationality. The UK Foreign Secretary, David Milliband, wrote in a paper in 2002 that “Europe is a political 8
response to globalisation, not another layer of government trying to solve local problems”. For Britons, Milliband’s statement is a tentative effort to allay the fears of a centralised power in Europe. For the average Brit this automatically equates to reduced power and influence at a national level. Milliband goes on to write that “Europe is seen as being run by other people, for their benefits”. However, is this fear an aversion to European politics or simply a sceptical outlook on politics as a concept? The EUREKA survey found that very few British people deemed the politics of their nation as being the most significant part of their national identity, and this is unquestionably reflected in voter turnout in the UK. According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 61% of the population voted in 2005’s general election. Comparatively, in each of their last general elections, in France the voter turnout was 84%; in Germany 78%; in Spain 74%; in Italy 84%; in Sweden 82%. The levels of the public registering to vote in the UK, amongst Europe’s most developed nations is unprecedented. Meanwhile, the European elections earlier this year saw saw a voter turnout of just 34%. As Britain prepares to usher in a Conservative government, Conservative leader David Cameron is already making
his plans for Europe clear. He wishes to repatriate social and employment laws to Britain; a plan that would require rewriting the Union’s treaties. This has instantly been met with derision by mainland Europe; the French Europe Minister implicated the Conservatives in “castrating” Britain’s relationship with the EU, while the Dutch Europe Minister claimed that the plan would have a “paralysing effect on Europe”. In the face of deep-set immigration concerns, the French attempt to restore national identity with a public forum; a liberal attitude to an unprogressive subject. Britain, despite its baby steps towards national and European integration, is stoically lifting its anchor and its drawbridges. Preferring individualism over collectivism, it seems that the culture of a Briton is a cautious, resolute renegade, terrified of everyone else; Europe’s political male skunk: hibernating alone, and letting off a highly offensive odour when frightened or cornered. Fewer than 10% of skunks live longer than three years, would an ostracised Britain live much longer?
Survey: Attitudes towards europe British 0-35 Years Old
Would you like Britain to leave the European Union?
Do you speak any foreign languages?
How many member states are there in the European Union?
What do you think is the most significant part of your national identity?
Would you consider Britain as part of Europe?
If you could choose one, would you consider yourself:
In Defence of European Federalism The idea of a Federation of Europe keeps on spinning in people’s heads. Does it have any real value or is it an unattainable ideal? By Michal Zdzieborski I am very fond of our editors for having come up with the topic ‘Britain – the other Europe’. It is an issue which should receive far more attention than it currently does. I don’t need to persuade anyone to acknowledge that the British approach towards European integration is, let’s put it gently, cool-minded. Because of their interests in the Commonwealth, the ‘special relationship’ with the US and the general ‘island mentality’, the British governments were always ambivalent towards the European Community. British Euroscepticism peaks at its finest level when one starts to talk about the European 10
Federation, sometimes mistakenly called The United States of Europe. It is in fact a controversial topic in all of the EU member states. In what follows I would like to argue that it might not be such a bad idea. Let us consider the arguments the opponents of European Federalism present. The most popular one is that of the suppression of national cultures by ‘the European Superstate’. This claim always makes me smile in a nasty, sarcastic way. Those who talk of ‘national’ cultures often forget that they have not been around for too long. Ironically, it was the creation of nation-states
in the 19th century that led to the suppression of regional cultures and local traditions, as well as ethnic and religious minorities. Let us not forget, that nation-states, so fiercely defended by the conservative guardians of order and tradition, are a relatively new invention. The symbolic date for their birth can be the same as for modernity in general – 1789: the beginning of the French Revolution. Most of the ‘national’ cultures some people claim to defend were all created during the spring of nations and are in fact ambiguous concepts. ‘National cultures’ are regional cultures mixed together and topped with an official flag, anthem
and national mythology. I’m not claiming that nation-states were a negative development in human history. They played a role of paramount importance in e.g. the development of infrastructure, civil society, public services etc. However, I think it’s naïve to make the assumption, that they are the final organisational stage of human societies. They should rather be treated as just another period of the constant search for the best way to organise the way people live together. How can we decide the national identity of regions such as Lorraine, Tirol, Silesia, Crimea or Catalonia? It is clear that the national boundaries along those regions are artificial and harmful. I recommend an excellent book by Anne Applebaum called ‘Between East and West’, where she explains the meaninglessness of ‘national divisions’ in central and eastern Europe. In the 20th ‘century of borders’, boundaries were used to divide people, who had lived together for centuries. The consequences include two world wars, mass deportations of civilian populations, the Cold War, and most recently the massacre of Balkans and the Russian intervention in Georgia (2008!). The solution to ethnic, national and religious tensions which aroused by dividing people among superficial boundaries lies in the opposite: opening them up. That is precisely the aim of European Federalism. It would not be a centralized superstate. The whole point of a federation is to create a union of semi-independent regional units. The opponents of a European Federation also claim that it would
be inefficient. However, in such an entity the policy focus would shift from ambiguous ‘national interests’, which reflect the needs of politicians and military strategists, rather than those of the population, to regional and local needs. Wouldn’t it be more efficient if the West Midlands and Wales had a chance to realize their interests independently from Number 10? I’m pretty sure Catalonia, Transylvania, Scotland and Western Pomerania know much better what they need than the central governments in Madrid, Bucharest, London and Warsaw. Federalism allows the regional and local communities to have a say – it is the highest form of democracy. It is no wonder the EU is criticized so much when it makes most of its policy, affecting 500 million citizens, in a single city populated by 1 million people. In the case of high politics, I cannot see a reason why the European Federation should be less efficient than the German Federation or the US. It’s all a matter of adapting federalist governance procedures on a larger scale. One could finally argue that the European Federation is something the people of Europe do not want. I would reply by saying that they might not want it precisely for the same reason we need it so much – that the Europeans have been indoctrinated with egocentric, nationalist ideology for far too long. When Poland was voting on whether to join the EU in a national referendum, the Eurosceptics put forward an argument that once the boarders are opened, the Germans will rush in to seize the Polish land.
Well, we have been in the EU for five years now and I’ve never seen any Germans running around with shovels and buckets full of soil. Such absurd apprehensions are nonetheless pretty popular in many European states. It is the direct consequence of the fact that people who are neighbours, and should live next to each other in harmony, were superficially divided along abstract national boundaries. One could criticize the above opinion for being unrealistic and speculative. It does not, however, attempt to be of academic value, nor to design a new European order – it is a defense of an idea, which has wandered around this continent for centuries. The European Federation is in my view the natural next step of the historic process of societal organisation. After the concept of a strong state saw its apogee in the first half of the 20th century, we are getting closer and closer to dividing up again into more rational units. It’s not that Brussels should have decision power on all of the regions of Europe, it’s that all of the regions of Europe should have decision power in Brussels. It is of course a matter of decades before we arrive at such a solution. I am nonetheless confident that one day the people of Europe will realise that they know best what’s good for them and request to have a greater say on how they should be governed. The sooner it happens, the better.
The Rise of the Far Right Should we be concerned about the new rise of extreme right-wing parties? By Frances Perraudin
June’s European Parliament elections were always going to be interesting, held, as they were, in the shadow of complicated negotiations surrounding the Lisbon Treaty and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Many commentators expected the economic downturn to produce a surge in votes for the left as, for many, the recent financial crisis was evidence that capitalism wasn’t working. In February, Oliver Besançenot formed the French New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) and in Germany Die Linke, the amalgam of the breakaway left-wingers of the SPD and the former East German communist party, were expected to triumph. In the end the left were very much the losers. Here in Britain, the Labour Party saw its worst election result since 1918. The French Socialists lost half their seats and the NPA won just under 5% of the votes. In Germany, the Social Democrat Party won only 20.8% of the vote, an historic low, and Die Linke’s percentage only rose slightly, from 6.1% to 7.5%. Instead the elections were marked by the success of far right parties. The British National Party (BNP) won two seats in the 12 ★
European Parliament. In Hungary, a neo-fascist group with its own military wing, Jobbik, won three out of 22 seats and Italy’s Northern League made gains, reaching 10% of the vote. In Austria, the Freedom Party, set up by the late Jörg Haider, doubled its vote to 13%, and in Holland, the Freedom Party, led by Geert Wilders, won 17% of the vote, giving it four seats. In Britain, the blame for this rise in votes for the fascist BNP was immediately dumped on the Labour Party and their supposed failure to curb immigration and manage the economic crisis. Disillusionment with the mainstream parties after the MP’s expenses scandal was also cited as a major cause. However, the fact that the increased vote for the far right was not confined to Britain means that domestic factors alone cannot explain the results. One explanation would be the record low voter turnout, with only 43 % of Europeans casting a vote. 34 % of people in Britain voted; a figure shamefully far below the Europewide average. Voter participation in European elections has continuously declined since the first was held in 1979, suggesting that many voters don’t feel it important and have
difficulties identifying themselves as ‘European.’ Many of the successful far right parties are sure to have benefited from their euro-sceptic positions. Whatever the reasons for rising Europe-wide support for fascist and far right parties, their influence must not be underestimated. In Britain, increasing support for the BNP is unlike that of any other party as it invariably means an increase in racist attacks. When people vote for the Green Party, for example, (who, like the BNP, have two seats in the European Parliament) nobody gets hurt. It is very easy for people to be complacent about the rising popularity of the far right as they see no strong likelihood of them ever forming governments. But every small gain for a fascist party means more people getting beaten up or killed because of the colour of their skin or religious beliefs. Political climates all over Europe are tense and unstable but we must stay vigilant and refuse to allow political parties founded on the hatred of others from gaining force. Visit ‘Unite Against Fascism’ - www. uaf.org.uk
UCL 4th Best
University ranking all over the world are given increasing importance. But is their significance justified? By Quirin Maderspacher “No student should choose his or her university according to the rankings.” Thank you, Professor Malcolm Grant (Provost of UCL) for this enlightening statement. It seems like this undeniable truth has not been taken in by everyone yet. UCL’s fourth place in the Times Higher Education Ranking and the successive euphoria seem to have blinded some people’s perception of the reality. I don’t want to deny that UCL is a good university and that it has improved substantially in the last years. But to pride oneself on beating Oxford is not the right way to react. According to the Shanghai Ranking which ranks UCL in 28th place we haven’t beaten them anyway…
The Shanghai Ranking, as well as the Times Higher Education Ranking, are probably the most well-known university rankings in the world. The European Union is dissatisfied with its universities’ scores in these rankings and has thus pushed, under the French presidency in 2008, some institutes to develop a European ranking system which would be more fair and transparent. The rankings have been rightly criticised for favouring American and British universities. The rankings are mainly based on reputation amongst scientists and companies, and on quotes in scientific magazines. They also take the number of foreign students into account. The core critique which many academics and
commentators have brought forward points out that universities focusing on sciences and internationally oriented universities have a far better chance to score high. Quotes are only counted if they appear in magazines in English and the American and British universities obviously profit from a high popularity amongst foreign students due to the worldwide importance of the English language and the resulting popularity of English-speaking universities. The continental European universities are thus certainly disadvantaged. However, criticism arises not only from the Continent. Alan Gilbert, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester stated that “all current university rankings are flawed to some extent”. In an ever closer world, university rankings can certainly be a good point of reference and can provide some basic orientation. They can also give universities incentives to improve. But the great importance they are given in media and amongst students is definitely not justified. The above mentioned cooperation of several European institutes (The Cherpa and the CHE) to develop a much more precise and differentiated ranking system seems promising. On the CHE’s website there is not one single ranking for all universities; rather, the prospective student is required to state his or her preferences before a ranking-like score is given. This approach highlights and gets rid of the fundamental flaw of oversimplified rankings: each student is individual. The ultimately perfect university doesn’t exist.
An American in the UK Is the UK the bridge between Europe and the United States? By Shiva Riahi
It is often said that the United Kingdom is the ‘bridge’ between the United States and Continental Europe, the cultural halfway point between these continents. I came to the United Kingdom expecting there to be similarities with the US, but I still hoped at its heart the UK was fundamentally a European country. So far, in my time here I have seen 14
that in many ways, some more subtle than others, the UK isn’t so different from the US after all. At first glance it would seem that the United Kingdom and the United States are completely different. To the British, Americans have funny accents and spell words wrong. Americans say ‘trunk’ instead of ‘boot’, ‘sweater’ instead of ‘jumper’,
and ‘bathroom’ instead of ‘toilet’. More substantially, in many ways the political system is much different. My American brain often has a hard time handling the parliamentary system with the monarch as head of state and a second chamber that is entirely unelected. And yet, my time thus far in London has led me to believe they are not so different after all.
I’ve gotten used to seeing McDonald’s and Starbucks in different parts of the world. What I was surprised by was just how many American companies have found their way into the UK. Brands like Nine West and Aldo can be found on the main shopping streets. A Cinnabon managed to sneak its way into Piccadilly Circus and there seems to be more Subways here than in most American cities. The strangest sighting I have seen so far was on my walk in the Holborn area when I stumbled upon a Krispy Kreme shop. I couldn’t believe I was seeing such an American institution in the middle of London. They don’t even have Krispy Kreme stores in Boston! It wasn’t as if I wasn’t expecting to see American brands or companies in Europe, I just was surprised by the prevalence of them here. But going further
than the shops and fast food restaurants, there seems to be a deeper connection in attitudes between British people and Americans. I helped with doing the surveys for EUREKA asking people their attitudes towards Europe, among other things. It seemed that most of the British people interviewed could not speak any foreign languages, whereas most of the continental Europeans did. When I’ve talked to British people about their lack of foreign language skills, the response I’ve got has always been seemingly an echo of American sentiments. “Oh, we don’t speak any foreign languages because we don’t have to. Everyone speaks English”. Now it can be said that I could have this same conversation in Canada or Australia, yet in having this conversation here, I couldn’t help but think back to the countless conversations I had
with Americans who didn’t see the point in learning another language. Even more disappointing for me was, while attending a debate hosted by the Law Society, watching four lawyers argue for and against the abolishment of the 1998 Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Act was essentially created to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. What I found most interesting was the line of arguments set forth by the side calling for the abolition of the Human Rights Act. Their arguments were based mainly on the fact that something created by a “bloated European bureaucracy” shouldn’t have a place in UK law. I seemed to get the sense that their feelings were based on this inherent dislike of something that wasn’t created solely by the British. As I was listening
to them, their sentiments reminded me of American attitudes toward international organisations and treaties. Americans also seem to have an inherent dislike of international bodies imposing any sorts of rules or regulations on them. The unwillingness of the US to become a true member of the ICC is only one example of that. Also while listening to them, I found myself asking, “What is so wrong with the ideas of Europe as a whole forming the basis of something that is UK law?” It would seem as though both the Americans and British have a harder time accepting things that come out of other countries than their own. I’m not saying Europeans are all completely willing to give their national sovereignty completely over to bodies like the EU or the ECHR, but the willingness to be part and to recognise the benefits of it seem more 16
prevalent. Part of the reason I came to do my law degree in London was because I didn’t like the working attitude in the United States. Americans seemed to be so focused on their jobs or making money, they didn’t seem to have any time to enjoy it. Just the thought of working at a big American law firm seemed to crush my soul a little bit. Well, sadly it seems that the big British law firms have much of the same work ethic and hours, though perhaps slightly better. Where most European countries have over 30 days of paid vacations, the UK is at 28…only three days more than the US, at 25 days. Unlike Europe, Britain doesn’t seem to place as high a value on vacation times. Granted, one can argue that the UK is still closer to its social-democratic neighbours because it still has a nationalised health care
system as well as a stronger welfare state, something that the United States cannot say. In response I simply say what I mentioned before; the UK is a bridge. It is simply in my view that the bridge seems to have stronger foundations on the American side than on the European. Perhaps these are rather narrow aspects to focus on. It could be entirely possible that the UK and the US are completely different in most ways. However, for someone who has spent a good deal of time focusing on the American attitude towards the rest of the world, and disliking it, I can’t help but find the UK to be entirely too similar. That, coupled with the Subway on every corner and the British work ethic, sometimes makes me feel like I never left the United States…if people in the United States spoke with British accents.
even Princess Diana are subjects of the same phenomenon.
Too Much Emotion
The British society leads the field once more in Western Europe: nowhere else in Europe is ‘mass media democracy‘ as established as in the UK. What is the right degree of emotion? By Quirin Maderspacher ‘Pig’, that’s what people used to call her. Jade Goody is to me the most elaborated example of British mass media culture. Starting off as a ‘Big Brother’ star in 2002, Jade went bravely through periods of public indignation over her vulgar language, which found its apogee in her racist insults, and outrageous behaviour. She managed to escape the distress of the anonymous masses, and once it was clear that she would die of cervical cancer the British public couldn’t stop following Jade’s every step. Public pressure went as far as moving the Minister of Justice to
have her partner Jack Tweed, who had been convicted for beating up an adolescent with a golf club, released from prison for their wedding. What led the public to such a reaction? How could it happen that a woman like Jade Goody, who most of the British people would disregard as a hedonistic ‘chav’ if they met her on the street, managed to evoke so much public pity? Jade Goody is a creature of mass media democracy. But she is certainly not the only one: Baby P, Madeline McCann, Michael Jackson, and
But what is mass media democracy? The media is surely one of the most important features of a functioning democratic society. As an institution of civil society, the media provides independent reports and analyses which help people form opinions. A wide range of TV channels, radio stations, newspapers and, more recently, blogs, ensures the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. The media’s diversity provides different points of view and enables citizens to choose the point of view which seems most reasonable to him or her. This diversity is essential to the proper functioning of a media system. If diversity is not ensured and is instead replaced by uniformity, the media loses its main task. In countries such as China where the media is mostly controlled by the state, it loses its importance, although even there change is on the way. Uniformity is typical for mass media. Instead of providing orientation and neutral coverage as well as opinionated articles which are crucial for public discourse, the
mass media channels the opinion of the masses, it picks up the prevailing emotional status of the public and ‘screams it out’. Tabloids such as ‘The Sun’ are good examples of mass media. An important consequence is the so-called ‘emotionalisation’ of the society. The mass media produces powerful statements which even politicians are afraid to attack. Even the Queen had to bow to this phenomenon when she was criticized for not having Buckingham Palace’s flag on halfmast following the death of Princess Diana. Keeping to the royal protocol (which is what the Queen did) was not welcomed in this period of collectivised expression of emotion. Indeed, it was the death of Lady Di that for the first time showed the power of staged public grievance in modern times. Elisabeth II was pushed to speak to the public and 18
explain her behaviour which was in principle perfectly correct. Also Gordon Brown used the power of such statements recently when he cancelled Question Time because of the death of David Cameron’s son. Instead of answering difficult questions on bankers’ bonuses, he manifested his condolence publicly. Ancient philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle already talked about the division of the soul into emotions and desires on the one hand, and reason on the other. For all of them, the rule of reason was the only way to coordinate the soul in order to achieve happiness. But in this world of emotions there is less and less space for rationality. The public soul seems to have been taken over by collective emotions. History teaches us that the public can easily be misled by such powerful
statements, as Goebbels can tell you. The Bible has been misused for all sorts of crimes, be it the exclusion of blacks, women and homosexuals; in short, people who are different from the ruling masses. ‘Common knowledge’ is a dangerous concept. Half-truths can be misused and transferred into publicly accepted lies. It is obvious that Jade Goody and the extinction of the Jews are different things. But the principle remains the same. As long as an opinion finds sufficient support amongst the majority of the people, it can be misused. The mass media creates this support by addressing the emotions of people. Of course it is sad when a woman dies from cervical cancer, but what about the other 210,000 people that die from cancer every day?
The British public seems particularly sensitive to such emotional statements. Nowhere in Europe is the public so susceptible to these collective outbreaks at the moment. The Sun is rightly known as the queen of the European tabloids. The British media is famous for its harsh (and irrational) judgement. The expenses scandal once more showed that the British public can easily be misled by emotion. Why the British public differs quite substantially from its neighbours is hard to say. Britain is often seen as a precursor for Western Europe. Trends and developments are said to be observed first of all in Britain, before they spill over to the Continent. It is true that other European countries such as Germany (‘Bruno, der Bär’ is a great example) have seen similar cases. So might it just be that the rest of Europe will become just like Britain in the future in terms of mass media? I am not altogether sure. I my view it is Britain’s extensive consumerist culture that largely contributes to the success of such mass media campaigns. Information is not exempt from consumption. Quantity prevails over quality. It seems as though some people prefer
‘light’ entertainment over proper journalism. Another point might be the different emphasis in the general education in Britain. Specialised knowledge is already early in the educational curriculum given preference over general knowledge. The common ground of knowledge shared by everyone in Britain is consequently relatively small; however, the mass media draws from this common ground, because it can not otherwise address everyone at the same time. So in my view, continental European countries seem more resistant when it comes to such emotional outbreaks. Mass media democracy can to a certain extent then be seen as the most extreme form of democracy. The view of the majority is all that counts. Isn’t that exactly what democracy is all about? This is where we come to an old problem of democracy. The Athenians failed with their direct democracy and nowadays only some Swiss towns still apply direct democratic procedures. When we talk about democracy, we seem to assume that the public will is inherently good. But is this true? As we have seen, the public will can easily be misled. As paradox as it sounds, democracy
needs some undemocratic elements. Representative democracy as most Western countries apply it nowadays is probably the best way of governing a country. Professionalism conditions reasonable moderation, which is an essential feature of good government. This professionalism should equally be applied when it comes to the media. Mass media seems to be the opposite of professional journalism. It does not look for the truth; instead it looks at emotions and momentary moods. It can only be hoped for that people rediscover rationality when it comes to public discourse, and will soon have had enough of light entertainment. Apply reason and educate yourself! A good sign has been sent out by some of the most popular mass media institutions: both the London Lite and the London Paper closed down this year.
A Small Guide To EU Blogs By Emily Katzenstein Nosemonkey’s EUtopia Probably one of the best blogs about everything related to the EU (focuses on politics and IR) from what the author calls an ‘Anglo-European’ perspective. Written by former Parliamentary Assistant to Sir Patrick Cormack, J. Clive Matthews. Very interesting articles about identity (both national and supranational), as well as an excellent overview of other EU-related blogs. http://www.jcm.org.uk/blog/ Julien Fritsch The EU from the perspective of a young, euro-phile German. http://julienfrisch.blogspot.com/ 20
Blogginportal A constantly updated portal which brings together high-quality articles from various sources such as the Marshall fund as well as personal blogs. Focuses on Central/Eastern Europe. http://www.bloggingportal.eu/ Charlemagne’s notebook The Economist’s European blog. Provides sound analysis for a range of EU-related topics, covering everything from Anti-Americanism to the Czech EU Presidency. http://www.economist.com/blogs/charlemagne/
POLITiCs Thilo Sarrazin and Integration: A Viewpoint / Omar El-Nahry / Bosnia-Herzegovina: A Discovery / Tobias Lingemann / Out of Breath / Denis Dobrovoda / Gender Inequality ... et alors? / Maria Holmblad
America and the NHS: Oceans Apart?
Why American commentators, proponents and critics of healthcare reform alike, constantly use the NHS as a measuring stick. by Antoine de Saint Phalle
One point six trillion dollars. This cataclysmic figure is none other than the estimated US budget deficit for the current year. In times of recession, a costly reform that would provide government-funded healthcare is a hot button issue. In early November, Congress decided to ratify President Obama’s healthcare plan after never-ending debates and some last minute compromises. The Senate followed suit last month. However, how the two bills passed by both houses of Parliament will be harmonised, which is the standard procedure for legislation in the United States, remains to be seen. However, the fact remains that the US has the most privatised healthcare system in the Western world, and arguably one of the most inefficient. This may be due in part to what the American public ingests. The increased consumption of processed and fast food has led to an increase in the obesity rate, which now stands at a whopping 30.6 %. This has in turn caused a surge in the number of heart attacks, which is the leading cause of death among American adults. However, other Western 22 ★
nations are confronted with similar problems, and the fact remains that they spend less on healthcare per capita and have a better life expectancy than the United States. Therefore, the overarching consensus is that the system itself must be reformed, mainly that a system that only offers privatised healthcare and no ‘public option’ and where insurance companies have the right to deny coverage is inherently ‘un-American’. But if this is the path that the Obama administration has decided to pursue, where should we look for guidance, to determine the ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ of healthcare reform, if you will? Other countries which have a national healthcare system have provided a good basis for inspiration in the past, despite inherent political and cultural differences. Select states, like Massachusetts in this case, have also long been known as a good proving ground for legislation. Many of these healthcare models have been heavily scrutinised by the American media. After all, 24-hour news networks have a lot of time on their hands, and every blogger or budding
journalist (including yours truly) is eager to offer their take on the matter. But no model has received as much press as the NHS. The first potential source of inspiration is the ‘Scandinavian’ model, a system of social insurance which exists in Northern Europe. Scandinavian countries are ranked among the highest in quality of care and customer satisfaction and offer healthcare provisions that other countries could only dream of. However, this system comes at a price. Mainly, that it has to be sustained by very high tax rates. To a majority of Americans, a significant tax hike would be unacceptable, federal taxation and the size of the federal government being a very controversial subject in the US, especially after a large scale bailout of the banks. Not to mention that Scandinavian healthcare systems operate on a much smaller scale and that the public debt of Sweden and Finland only represents roughly 30% of their annual GDP, while it represents over 60% in the United States. All in all, American legislators have deemed this model too progressive and in-
applicable to the current economic situation in the United States. Another existing model is the healthcare system that was created in the state of Massachusetts by the Medical Healthcare Reform Act in 2006. This system requires Massachusetts residents to purchase healthcare insurance and provides direct or indirect government assistance for those who cannot. As shown by a recent poll in the Boston Globe, support for the new healthcare system is waning due to increased public spending. A growing number of people feel that the plan should be reformed. However, only a small minority of respondents want the plan to disappear entirely. This raises an important point about universal healthcare, mainly that people who have grown accustomed to it cannot imagine being deprived of it once more. The Massachusetts Act was a step forward but it can hardly be a barometer for the nation. Not simply because New Englanders are more liberal and therefore more willing to embrace the concept of universal healthcare, but because this system is a very recent creation. Other US states have examined the Massachusetts Act and similar legislation is going to be developed in California later this year. Time will tell if these new healthcare provisions are effective but if the federal government is to ensure universal healthcare, as Barack Obama has suggested, it must look at a more established healthcare system. Covering some 500 000 Massachusetts uninsured residents is not the same as providing government-funded healthcare to 300 million people. Looking at a sy-
stem like the NHS provides a larger scale overview of what governmentfunded healthcare would look like in very different parts of the country. With more layers of government to cope with, would the new system really be a bureaucratic maze? A third potential model is Medicare, a government programme which covers people over 65 in the USA. In August, protesters marching upon Washington brandished signs that read “Get the Government‘s hands off my Medicare”. A very bewildering request, considering that Medicare is none other than a government-run programme. While such a statement sums up the confusion that the healthcare debate has triggered, it also highlights the popularity of Medicare, even among those staunchly opposed to government intervention. As opposed to the newly created system in Massachusetts, Medicare has been established for a
long time and is widely regarded as a success. Studies suggest that whilst Americans under 65 are drastically under-covered, Americans over 65 are better covered than senior citizens in most European countries. ‘Medicare for all’ seems therefore to be the way forward. However, it remains a rudimentary system (there are strict limits on the number of times that a doctor can come and visit you at the hospital, for instance). Its scope is also quite limited: it doesn’t deal with people with long-lasting health problems whose treatments are often the most expensive and who more often than not do not reach the age of 65. It can therefore not be the only answer to the healthcare debate. As a result, the NHS has become an example of what the American healthcare system could potentially look like when a healthcare reform bill is passed. US commentators operate under the assumption that
Britain’s healthcare system is a compromise between the social insurance model of Northern and Western Europe and the privatised system in their own country. After all, Britain and America do share a certain number of cultural and political ties (just ask Tony Blair!). As such, the NHS is perceived as the least of all evils by some, and the adequate solution by others. Both Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman tried to create a single-payer healthcare system during and after the Second World War. This system would have mirrored the NHS to a certain extent, which was itself created in 1948 but on proposals that were made in 1942 in the Beveridge Report. There are undeniably a few similarities between American healthcare as it currently stands and the NHS. British doctors, like most American doctors, earn much more than doctors in Western Europe. In addition, the NHS has been increasingly privatised in recent years. Some hospitals have private wards which feature side rooms that are fitted more comfortably, and where, for a fee, more amenities are provided. These are often referred to as ‘Amenity beds’. Some people are calling for the privatisation of some of the more expensive and infrequently used treatments provided by the NHS. In addition, many services previously provided by the NHS have been subcontracted to private companies, such as DHL for instance. As a result, British healthcare might be the best example of a two tier system where private and public healthcare exist alongside each other;
a goal that the United States is also trying to achieve. However, despite the existence of private healthcare in Britain, as well as the privatisation of some of its services, the NHS remains a true institution. Under 8 percent of the population uses private health care, and oftentimes it is used on top of treatments provided by the NHS. Furthermore, criticism of the existence of the NHS can amount to political suicide; David Cameron had to rebuke recent comments made by Daniel Hannan, a Conservative Member of the European Parliament, who criticised the NHS in a Fox News interview. The fact that the Conservative Party had to hurriedly step in to distance itself from what it thought were politically damaging comments speak volumes about the popularity of the NHS. Why then shouldn’t the US take advantages of the ties that it has with Britain and adopt an NHS style system? Three main criticisms are raised: the importance of individual freedom, excessive bureaucracy, and excessive cost. Individual choice is a legitimate concern, even though it is often brought up in ridiculous circumstances. One such circumstance came after the death of Senator Edward Kennedy. In a shameful display of indecency, Sean Hanity, a Fox News analyst, claimed that Senator Kennedy would not have been treated by the NHS as he was 77 and had a brain tumour. He explained that as an old man with a condition that is expensive to treat and offers very little hope of recovery, the Senator would have been put at the bottom of the list of priorities
and not treated. This is an unfair criticism of universal healthcare in several respects. Firstly, the NHS does not deny care to senior citizens, the so called ‘death panels’ that were cited by the Republican Party are a myth. Secondly, if Senator Kennedy were British he could have done exactly what he did in the United States and entered a clinic and received private treatment, being a very wealthy man. The NHS is by no means ‘socialist’ in a literal sense: it does allow people to choose among public and private care options and simply gives everybody the right to access a minimum level of care. As much as Americans value individual choice, around 45 million of them are uninsured, limiting their choice to well, nothing. According to the World Health Organization, the United States is in last place when it comes to healthcare equity, meaning that the gap between the quality of care provided to high and low income citizens is the largest in the world. Lastly, the creation of a public option would not lead to the disappearance of Medicare or any other pension systems which exist for low income families (Medicaid) and war veterans. It would simply mean that basic treatment is accessible to all, regardless of age and financial disposition. Another criticism of the NHS and of most universal healthcare systems is that they are too bureaucratic. According to a recent Rasmussen poll conducted in the United States, 51% of respondents said that they feared government more than they feared insurance companies. However, insurance companies are effectively huge conglomerates, whose bureaucratic
inner workings can be just as confusing, the difference being that the government can be held accountable by the people. Excessive bureaucracy is an inevitable flaw in every system and that’s why efficiency must constantly be improved, but it must not deter governments from granting healthcare for all. The last point of contention rests in the fact that a bureaucratic system is inevitably perceived as a
money pit. However, even though it does not have a system of universal coverage, the US government still spent more money per capita in 2006 on healthcare ($3,076) than the British government ($2,457). According to the same study, on average, American households spent $6,719 per head while the British spent a mere $2,815. If we had a universal healthcare system, perhaps we would
be able to curb public spending by making government and insurance companies more accountable while also reducing the amount of money that the average American has to spend on healthcare. I don’t know about you but for the first time in 14 years, I’m writing a letter to Santa. I’d really like to see this one wrapped up before Christmas.
Thilo Sarrazin and Integration: A Viewpoint
Brave comments by politicians can lead to open debates. Have Thilo Sarrazin’s comments on Muslim immigrants in Germany helped trigger such a debate? By Omar El-Nahry “I am not obliged to accept anybody who does not do anything, who lives off welfare, rejects this state, is not concerned with his or her children’s education, and constantly produces new little headscarf-girls.” (Thilo Sarazin) When Thilo Sarrazin, exFinance Minister of Berlin and now board member of the German Central Bank, used this sentence to characterize Turkish and Arab migrants in Germany in October, his 26
words were officially met with indignation and harsh criticism. Party representatives, trade unions, the Central Council of Turks and Sarrazin’s boss, Axel Weber, rejected his choice of words as well as his view on Muslim immigrants in Germany. The German public, however, showed a very different response to Mr. Sarrazin’s words. In a poll taken shortly after his remarks, a majority of 51% agreed with his comments in principle. ‘Support Sarrazin’
banners appeared on the website of the (in)famous blog PI-News that considers itself ‘critical of Islam’ and is visited by about 20.000 people a day. Even commentators who rejected Mr. Sarrazin’s choice of words credited him for casting light on an issue that should already have been a part of political dialogue. Since the first Turkish ‘guestworkers’ arrived in Germany in the 1960s and it became clear that they would not be ‘guests’,
but permanent residents, discussions on integration and a multicultural German society have been ongoing. As the Turkish population in Germany keeps growing, the mood in Germany has changed from indifference to a more and more critical, even depreciative, attitude towards foreigners. Primarily based on economic issues, the debate has lately been amplified by the ongoing discussions about culture and religion, and especially the positions of Muslims in Europe. Any discussion about Muslim foreigners in Germany nowadays quickly changes into a debate about cultural values, often leading to severe and polemic disputes. The spectrum of opinions has always been very wide-ranging, from the complete rejection of immigration to the affirmation of a multicultural Germany. These opinions have always clashed in heated discussions. There is no way to deny that there are problems among Turkish and Arab communities in Germany, from the low quota of graduations, to unemployment, to criminality;
especially in bigger cities like Berlin. It is obvious that there are potentially grave problems between the German society and immigrant communities within it. Unquestionably, a discussion about immigration and its effects is necessary. It is of no use to remain silent about conflicts and problems; they can only be solved through an open societal dialogue. But will Thilo Sarrazin’s comments really lead to this necessary debate about immigrants in Germany and their integration, when he claims that a big part of the immigrant community is neither willing nor able to integrate? It is not very probable, to say the least. Rather than stimulating a debate, Mr. Sarrazin’s remarks seem to corroborate the negative perception of foreigners in Germany and reinforce stereotypes, whilst also alienating foreign communities in Germany. How can a statement that accuses a group lead to a vital debate, especially when the attacked group starts to defend itself and ignores even reasonable criticism in the process? His statement
points out a culprit, but fails to propose a way to improve the existing grievances; therefore, it cannot lead to a positive debate, but to a spiralling series of accusations. Instead of deepening the already existing rifts between foreigners and Germans, a true effort from both sides is required. Whilst the immigrant population has to show that it is willing to integrate into society – learning German and being an active part of society – the latter has to show that it is willing to give them a fair chance. Furthermore, all parties have to admit that they have had their share in what has caused today’s often problematic situation – from immigrants not embracing or even rejecting the culture of their new home country, to the failure of German society with respect to the integration and acceptance of foreigners. That is what has truly been missing in the past and it can only happen if the debate is finally freed of prejudice, intolerance and blatant racism on both sides.
Bosnia-Herzegovina: A Discovery
Our writer embarks on a journey to the unknown land of Bosnia and Herzegovina and stumbles upon unexpected beauty. By Tobias Lingemann What? Bosnia and Herzegovina? What, then, should a visit be like? When telling friends, quite enthusiastically, that I was Admittedly, the first hours after about to travel around Bosnia arrival in Sarajevo were, well, a and Herzegovina, I was met bit different. with a mixture of scepticism Driving down Sniper Alley in and ridicule. Summer, the misty early hours of the vacation, free will and that morning made you feel queasy. country – these elements didn’t Less than 15 years ago, refugees tried to make it to seem to match at all. Up to then, I hadn’t considered the UN airport via that alley myself to be particularly and thousands were shot by adventurous. It’s not Costa del snipers. Improvised cemeteries Sol, but it’s certainly not North border the main roads and are silent witnesses of what Korea either. happened there. A glance at However, the prevalent the innumerable gravestones scepticism is not unfounded. tells you that all of them must If anything, Bosnia and have been set up between 1992 Herzegovina is, presumably, and 1995, the period of the commonly connoted with war war. Having been under siege and Srebrenica. More recently, by Serb irregulars from the it featured in the media in very beginning of the fighting, connection with the Karadzic the capital suffered a lot. Albeit trial in The Hague and the an alleged substantial recovery announcement that the in terms of restored and EUFOR mission is going to reoccupied buildings, damaged stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina buildings still dominate many areas, not only in Sarajevo but for at least another year. also in other places like Mostar, Not the best press. which suffered greatly. Bullet holes and shelling damage are 28
visible all over. However, Sarajevo is a particularly unique place, a living museum of history. It is home to Latin Bridge where Habsburg heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated on 28 June 1914. The consequences are well-known. The city has also been a witness to the country’s multi-ethnic history; onion-shaped domes alternate with campaniles and minarets. This is probably one of the few places in the world where you take a picture and have various sanctums of all major world religions in it. While western European politicians, scientists, and self-proclaimed experts debate about the rise of our multicultural, -religious and -ethnical societies, its values, benefits and inherent dangers, people in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been living in such a society for centuries. People from all over Europe, Africa, Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt and Palestine populate
the area of today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina and have made this place one of incredible vitality. The city centre reflects these influences: traces of the Ottomans, ancient trading places with artisan workshops, coffee drinking dens alongside Austro-Hungarian colonial buildings and the old tram network. Leaving the city, more and more of the country’s richness and variety is revealed. On board the train, rushing through the Bosnian mountains, you cannot stop window gazing. Viaducts follow tunnels, and more viaducts follow switchbacks. At risk of being too cheesy, the scenery is simply amazing. Again, the war has left its traces. Land mines still make for danger and continuing programmes to clear them away are in place. However, the safer
the countryside becomes, the more you realise: the hinterland has long concealed its richness. This is surely about to change as Bosnia and Herzegovina’s recovery goes hand in hand with its entering of the tourist market and travellers starting to recognise its potential, which includes rafting on the Una or Tara river, hiking in the Dinaric Alps, cliff- jumping in the Kravice waterfalls or skiing around Sarajevo. Alternatively, for the more cultured, ancient towns like Tešanj with its old castle, Mostar with its famous bridge, the Stari Most, 16th century monasteries, the historical town of Blagaj... Filling brochures would be an easy job. But not only tourists are increasingly attracted. More and more refugees have come back to the country they fled
from 15 years ago. There is the sense of a new start calling them home. True, the country remains divided along ethnic lines for large parts, but tensions have ebbed and optimism prevails. Once renown for tragic reasons, Bosnia and Herzegovina is trying to restore normality to life. Gradually revealing its richness, it is not surprising that the World Tourism Organisation estimates that Bosnia and Herzegovina will have the third highest tourism growth rate in the world between 1995 and 2020.The image of Bosnia and Herzegovina I gained has not much in common with the stereotypical view. It might be worthwhile going there before budget airlines start flights to Sarajevo or Mostar, and before fast-food chains open their first branches.
Out of Breath
After the Fall of the Iron Curtain many Central and Eastern Europeans believed in the ideals the quick collapse of the communist regimes promised. Reality did not follow these ideals. Twenty years later people are still asking questions. By Denis Dobrovoda On the 17th of November 1989 the students of Prague took to the streets to protest against the Czechoslovak communist government. The police was ready and easily handled about two thousand peaceful students. The students were brutally assaulted, but their demonstration sparked a chain of events which the government and the police were unable to respond to. The spontaneous nation-wide reaction to the demonstration on Narodni trida (the street in Prague where 30
the clash between the students and the police took place) resulted in the formation of the first big civil opposition groups, which later were transformed into the first democratic parties. These groups organised the first strike after forty years of communism. The massive demonstrations, which later took place in all major Czechoslovak cities broke the neck of the communist government. In the span of a couple of months the constitution changed. Vaclav Havel, a leading dissident, became
the new president, and the first democratic elections in forty years were held. This is a short overview of the Czechoslovak Gentle (or Velvet) Revolution. This year marks the 20th anniversary of these events, and the whole society, particularly the intellectual elite, is trying to reflect on the twenty democratic years. Even though the days of the revolution seem like they are taken from an American film, the days and the years that followed led to the end of many
people’s ideals and dreams. They are asking questions, and some are trying to come up with answers. Why were so many mistakes made? Why do many of the communists still have major functions? Did we want things to go this way? The most important ones, however, are Was the revolution successful? and What have we learnt from it? In this article I want to address some of these questions, and explain the revolution and its results so that people who have little or no knowledge of it will understand this historical period better. Also, I hope to give rise to questions. Because I believe that many of the things my society has encountered are universal and apply to the whole of the Western world, I want to encourage anyone who would like to find out more about the revolution to contact me. Moreover, anyone who disagrees with anything I say or wants to start a polemic with me is welcome to respond to this article in any way he or she considers appropriate. The roots of the Czechoslovak revolution can be traced back to 1968 and the events of the Prague Spring. In that year the government of Alexander Dubcek started a series of reforms which abolished censorship and encouraged freedom of speech and art. Some people even speculated about the possibility of free elections. The society was excited about the new direction of the party, which was perhaps closer to social democracy than communism. However, on the night of the 21st of August the Warsaw Pact armies surprisingly
entered Czechoslovakia. Dubcek and his government were kidnapped and taken to Moscow, and any hopes for further reforms vanished in the face of the tanks shooting people in the squares of Prague and Bratislava. The Russians simply could not risk any unrest in ‘their’ sphere of influence and the Czechoslovak reforms were making Brezhnev nervous; what if other countries took inspiration from the development in Czechoslovakia? Therefore, the reformist movement had to be crushed. After 1968, Dubcek had to resign, and a hard-line Soviet backed government followed. The new era, which lasted for the rest of Czechoslovakia’s existence started, the era of the so-called ‘normalisation’. The communists declared that the state of the society in 1968 was abnormal, and that the society had to be ‘normalised’ again. In fact, this meant that the people who openly criticised the government were kicked out of their jobs, could not travel anywhere and their children could not study. The problem was that the whole nation was frustrated with the regime, the invasion and the party. People just could not see how they could change anything, so a vast majority of them remained silent and officially agreed with the new development, because they were afraid of the consequences of protesting. This explains why the support for the revolution was so thorough and the revolution itself so unexpected. Most of the people gave up any
hope that there would be any change in their lifetime, so when an opportunity for democracy (and this time it was real) appeared, people were consumed by happiness and excitement. The size of the revolutionary crowds speaks for itself - in Prague there were a million people, in Bratislava, about four hundred thousand. This accounts for basically the whole population of these cities. The role of the dissidents (who can be regarded as the intellectual elite) in the revolution was major: they were the ones who organised the civil movement. In the Czech Republic this was the group of people around Vaclav Havel’s Charta 77 movement, many of whom were philosophers, writers, lawyers or artists. In Slovakia the dissidents came mainly from the religious environment, but also a number of these participated in Charta 77. The dissidents were the ones who created the ideas and programmes of the future development; they were the faces of the revolution, speaking on television, radio or newspapers. The majority of them were people of very high moral standards, who were prepared to risk their freedom and safety for democracy. The stories of the dissidents after the revolution are very interesting and depict the social development of that era very well; I shall come back to them later. The leaders of the revolution could clearly distinguish between good and evil. They imagined an almost ideal society, and many of them believed that the new consciousness of the people
promised a victory of truth, love and understanding over the demons of the past. The people listening to them in the squares also believed in the bright future. All the people who participated in the protest often remember the beautiful atmosphere in the air. People were so nice to each other after all those miserable years that it must have seemed as if the ideals were attainable. My father often says he will never forget the feelings of friendship and understanding that existed between people. A good example of this is when one particular aggressive revolutionary took the microphone and said that all people should take shovels and punish the communists for the past crimes. He was very surprised when people spontaneously started shouting “We don’t want violence! We don’t want violence!” One of the dissidents in a recent interview said that he does not expect to feel so much positive energy and optimism ever again. The people I know all agree with this. The ideals seemed real and the near future seemed to hold a promise 32
of material wealth and newly acquired optimism. However, the years that came were nowhere near this ideal. The feelings I described lasted only for a couple of days or weeks. The ‘atmosphere of the squares’ never came about again, and the promises of understanding, love and reconciliation were never fulfilled. The positive sentiments went away and slowly everyone was ‘sober’ again. Why are people asking questions twenty years after the revolution? Why is the success of the revolution even being questioned? Because everyone’s expectations were ridiculously high, and the higher the expectations, the bigger the disappointment of reality becomes. The revolution was like when a runner starts a 100-meter race, and then finds out he is actually running a marathon. People believed their ideals were very close, but in fact both material and philosophical wealth was much further away. Not many people were ready for the misery of the economic transformation, nor for
the difficulties of the change from a totalitarian to a free society. The communists were giving evil, which was present in the society, a face; all that was wrong was their fault. This made fighting the evil easier, because it was personified in the party; defeating it seemed possible. With visible and personified goals life is a lot easier. Paradoxically, defeating the communists created a wave of disillusion amongst the people. When the party was in power it seemed that evil was someone else’s fault, and that there could be a definitive date when it would, more or less, cease to exist. However, when the dictatorship was defeated, evil did not die with it. Evil stayed in the society in different forms (corruption, Mafia, general negative attitudes), and especially the first decade after the revolution in Slovakia was full of it. The revolution made people realise that evil does not really have a face and that it is impossible to fight it, because (and I cannot formulate this without sounding pathetic) it, in fact, is in ourselves.
This is one reason why cynicism and pessimism are so deeply rooted in society nowadays. Saying anything idealistic is met with laughter and disrespect. Vaclav Havel’s motto that “truth and love will prevail over lies and hate” was taken seriously in November 1989. Years after, it is often ridiculed by the Czechs. As I said before, the story of the dissidents is very important. The old saying that “the revolution eats its children” was more or less right in their case. It is important to bear in mind that the dissidents (and here I mean the real ones, who participated in the destruction of the communist regime years before the revolution started) were all very moral people. They strongly believed in the ideals they fought for, and the world shaped by realpolitik, which was born after the revolution, was a completely hostile place for them. Many of them, such as the musician Michal Kocab, the priest Michal Maly and the journalist Ivan Hoffman went back to their original jobs after the main goal (the free elections) had been achieved. Another group of dissidents, such as Ivan Ruml, Jan Langos and Frantisek Miklosko, tried to make their way into politics. Some of them have more or less been there until now, but the climate of realpolitik prevented them from fulfilling their political and philosophical ideas. People such as Jan Budaj, who was the face of Slovak revolution, could not even go into politics because he had signed a paper about cooperation with the secret police in
1988, which discredited him. I believe that the fact that the dissidents, who were the intellectual elite of the nation, did not want, or were unable, to lead the state after the revolution explains the political misery which is present in our society today. The people who fought the communists were unable to make a significant contribution to the new realpolitik establishment. Their reluctance created space for people like Vladimir Meciar who had no moral standards whatsoever. The incompetence of such people affected the lives of Slovaks and Czechs in a very negative way. More and more citizens have given up voting. They are trying to show their disillusionment with our political life, the fact that there is no real conflict any more. All that is left is the parties’ struggle for influence and money. This is also something worth thinking about. So, was the revolution successful? An answer to this question is very subjective. Fedor Gal, one of the Slovak dissidents says the revolution was successful because it managed to fulfil all the goals that the leaders of the revolution put on paper short after the 17th of November: a new constitution, freedom of speech, free elections, independence of judiciary, free press etc. However, when asked, Ivan Jirous, a Czech dissident who was imprisoned by the communists, said he was very sad about the outcome of the revolution, because his expectations were much higher. This is a very important
element. People who believed the ridiculously optimistic prediction that after three years the country would be on the same level as Switzerland were obviously left disappointed. That did not happen, and could not have happened. However, those who knew the transformation would be difficult are not unhappy now. I personally believe that the destruction of evil unfortunately did not take place. What happened is the runner effect I described before: on the 17th of November 1989 people believed that the positive change would come in a very short time, and that it would be for good. They were ready for a short, 100-meter run. In reality, the struggle, the revolution, did not end on the day of the free elections; it went on. There were still so many things to be done; in fact, they are still being worked on, twenty years afterwards. People did not expect such a marathon and now our society, all the individual people, are out of breath. Everyone is tired of running, tired of the continuous transformation. The ideals everyone believed in did not come true. The biggest problem is that communism stayed in the minds of some people, and these minds could not have been changed in a day or a year. However, I think the path we have chosen is the right one: people are just too disillusioned to see it. This year’s anniversary is a good time to finally realise we are running a marathon, and should behave accordingly.
Poland in the Year of Anniversaries: Where is it all Going? Freedom and the end of the Cold War - what most people associate with the Fall of the Iron Curtain. The example of Poland shows that the recent anniversaries don’t evoke only good memories. By Marta Zieba With 2009 drawing to a close, now is possibly the best moment to reflect on this year of anniversaries from a Polish perspective. This is particularly valid as Poland has diplomatically been the focus of interest on numerous occasions; most notably when commemorating the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II and the 20th year of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Much attention has been paid to the latter issue; but to understand Poland’s present position in Europe fully it is also crucial to consider where it stands 70 years after one of the bloodiest wars in history began at 34
its borders. The beginnings of the War are widely known; on September 1st, Nazis struck Poland. At 4:45 the German battleship Schleswig Holstein, allegedly anchored in a channel near Westerplatte for a friendly visit, opened fire at Polish garrisons stationed in the area, beginning the first battle of the war. It is here that each year commemorations of the event gather Poland’s political elites; this year, however, with European Heads of States and high officials being invited, the ceremony was just as prestigious as it was problematic. In face of the growing interest in
using historical revisionism as a political weapon in relations between Poland and Russia, attention was focused on Russian Prime Minister Putin; whether he would arrive at all and how he would handle Russia’s stance on our common history. The dispute and increasing tension between the two countries began as early as August 23rd, (the anniversary of the signing of the non-aggression pact between the USSR and Germany) when Russian foreign intelligence premiered Wadim Gasanow’s highly controversial film, ‘The Secrets of the Secret Protocols’. The official production asserted
that the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, containing a secret clause dividing Europe into German and Russian spheres of influence, was necessary in light of Polish policies. Poland was portrayed as having negotiated with Nazis since mid-1933, in discussions where the main focus was supposed to have been fighting communism. The 1934 NaziPolish non-aggression pact was said to have been the epitomy of this conspiracy, forcing Russia to defend itself against aggressive Polish moves in international politics. A press conference was to be called allegedly showing intelligence documents certifying that Józef Beck, the pre-war head of Polish diplomacy, was in fact a German agent. With Putin’s attendance at Westerplatte confirmed, these revelations were rightly perceived in Poland as political agitation, aimed at receiving aggressive response from Poland, which could serve as a pretext for withdrawing the Russian Prime Minister from the commemorations. The attempt failed miserably, with Polish officials remaining silent on the issue, and it became apparent that Westerplatte on September 1st would become the arena for ultimate resolve. It could be the decisive moment in shaping current Polish-Russian relations,
which surpass just the issue of history and are increasingly relevant for Europe’s energy security, with Russia dealing the cards over gas delivery, as demonstrated last year. Despite sounding surprisingly conciliatory, Putin maintained Russia’s hard line in dealing with Poland. Once again condemning the RibbentropMolotov settlement, he referred to all pacts with Nazi Germany as “unacceptable from the moral point of view” and as having “no chance of being realised”. Clearly aimed at stigmatizing Poland for its participation in the territorial disembodiment of Czechoslovakia alongside Germany, which was condemned by President Kaczyński, the statement shows Putin still fails to, and does not want to, detach himself fully from the hardline historical politics that have been raging in Russia in the past months. Despite voicing that Russians recognise „all too well the acute emotions of Poles in connection with Katyń”, Putin assured Russian archives dealing with the matter would be declassified once Poland opens its archives too. The documents on the 1940 massacre, where the Soviet secret police executed twenty-one thousand Polish military officers on Stalin’s direct orders, in an attempt to eliminate
Polish intelligentsia, thus disabling rebuilding of the postWar nation, are, however, fully declassified and open for view to historians via the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) in Poland. It is difficult not to think that the Russian side continues to see Katyń as ’revenge for 1920’, when, during the war between Polish and Bolshevik forces, Russian captives were said to have been executed by the Polish army. It is also difficult to overlook the fact that the majority of Russian captives most probably died as a result of the 1920 typhus epidemics, and no documents confirming the alleged executions have ever been presented. Voices in Poland have been raised saying that it is difficult to believe that in a situation where the Russian Prime Minister has a history of KGB and FSB membership, high Russian officials are in no way affiliated with the accusations. Under the circumstances of Angela Merkel’s full and repeated recognition of Nazi Germany’s fault and a letter from German intellectuals apologising – yet again – for the outbreak of World War II and its violence, Russia’s moves – although much warmer than before – still leave much room for improvement. It does seem as if either side is willing to back down yet. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s
call for ”building trust based on a conscience of the past” has been echoed by Putin. It is apparent though that Russia is not willing to take blame for Soviet actions, which culminated in its invasion of Poland from the East on September 17th 1939. Tusk’s point that ”Soviets liberated us, but could not give us freedom, for they never experienced freedom themselves” seems valid. After all, the memory of Soviet supremacy still echoes strongly within Russian political spheres, infiltrating common Russian conscience through the media, textbooks and political agitation. Russian historian Giennadij Bordiugow notices how today the events of 1920 and 1939 are in no way spoken of as open to criticism and revision, making people hold views passed down by Soviet propaganda because they have no other source of information. ”Indoctrination and censorship”, Bordiugow asserts in Polish television, ”are still present in Russia”. After all, according to research of the Jurij Lewada Institute, only 16% of Russians know that in 1939 the USSR entered Poland, which at the time was fighting against Nazis, and took its territory. Many, as were heard on Polish television during Westerplatte broadcasts, still think that Poland conspired against the Soviet nation, firstly 36
by invading it in 1920 and supposedly killing captives, and secondly by negotiating with the Germans in 1934 against communist expansion. Soviet propaganda is all too alive in the minds of many who have spoken. Westerplatte commemorations, referred to as a moderate success for Polish diplomacy, nonetheless gave no answers to the most pressing problems facing Poland, and, due to the country’s growing importance, Europe in general. There have not been any de facto guarantees on the security of the gas deal. The plans for the Northern Pipeline, directing Russian gas along the bottom of the Baltic Sea to Germany with the ommission of Poland are still valid, and no further talks have been held. There seems to be no change in what Russia is saying; only the official style is less confrontational. Despite the relative diplomatic success, Poland still has every reason to be apprehensive about Russia’s actions and policies in the nearest future. With Poland being the arena where the two most significant processes of the twentieth century began – the outbreak of the Second World War and the fall of Communism – it is difficult to overlook its current position in the European
system and the importance of its relations with global superpowers. This is, sadly, still often the case; many international observers, for example, continue to see the end of the communist era in the Fall of the Berlin Wall. But would that have ever been possible if workers’ strikes in the Gdańsk shipyard in 1981 hadn’t forced the ruling Communist Party to agree to workers’ demands for the first independent trade union in a Warsaw Pact country, Solidarność, led by Lech Wałęsa. Many textbooks continue to mark the beginning of the Second World War by their country’s entry, but wasn’t the invasion of Poland, first Nazi, and then Soviet, the decisive factor, marking the future of Europe for the next 50 years? Poland’s past, and it’s probable future as an increasingly significant economical and strategic partner, bluntly visible in the controversies over the positioning of the US anti-missile shield, mark it as a coutry of growing importance. Along with many equally strong countries of the region, it often refuses to be referred to as ‘Eastern Europe’, demanding a more representative, ‘Central European’ status. Polish mentality on the matter seems to be ready; when will Europe be?
Gender Inequality ... et alors?
A revival of the inequality debate is needed. By Maria Holmblad Many seem unconvinced by the pink-vs-blue debate, i.e. the idea that the stereotypical categories boys and girls are placed in at birth have any effect on gender equality. Whereas admittedly the debate is easily and often taken to the extreme, claiming that “ironing makes me happy, and my husband is a lot better at changing tyres than I am” isn’t at all satisfactory in silencing it. Women who wrinkle their nose at the word ‘feminist’ and fail to see the underlying reasoning of the inequality debate are clearly missing the point. There is nothing wrong with girls wanting to wear pink; it is just unreasonable to assume that this will doesn’t arise from forms of social stereotyping. The social and cultural constructions of masculinities and
femininities lies at the very core of the inequality problem. Psychologists claim that stereotyping is inevitable; they have existed since the dawn of time, and are unconsciously created by the human mind. However, this realisation does not mean there is no hope of ridding ourselves of clichés of what constitute men and women. Rather, it presents us with a different angle on the issue of gender stereotypes. Whereas we cannot – and perhaps need not – extinguish them, we can render them unimportant by not allowing them to be value-laden, and by not reinforcing them. Stereotypical beliefs that men and women tend to have certain characteristics according
to their gender surely serve to create men and women with precisely these characteristics. The danger of culturally constructed ideas of what men and women are is this; they have the tendency of producing selffulfilling prophecies, and creating gender roles that women and men both find themselves confined to. The mere recognition that our gender roles are largely stereotypical is a constructive psychological step towards realising their arbitrariness. While it would never cross my mind that my male colleagues, brother or boyfriend belong to a superior part of society, that is undoubtedly still the way our society at present is organised. Saying that it is not about superiority, but that men and women are different, and good at different things, is irrelevant, and doesn’t correspond to the consequences gender disparities have in reality: the framework of our society is built up on basic assumptions that persistently value characteristics traditionally associated with men higher than those associated with women, and reward men over women. Thus, to claim that men and women are just different, without admitting the value inherently attributed to it, is nonsense. Desirable characteristics don’t innately belong to men or women; they are socially constructed, and while real, essentially arbitrary.
This realisation brings light to the question of self-perception, or even self-deception, if you may; just because many young women of my generation do not feel they are inferior to the male sex or ever come across gender discrimination in their daily lives does not mean that gender inequality isn’t still largely prominent and problematic. This non-negotiable mindset is of course crucial for the development of gender equality in our society, but not sufficient. It is easier to gaze far abroad and express horror over the treatment of women in certain foreign cultures, but a lot more difficult to realise that a battle that has been fought for a very long time by our very own ancestors is not even close to being over. Assuredly, the debate is not new, and attempts to force society into a different direction exist on a wide scale. In Norway for example, the gender representation laws introduced to private sector boardrooms in 2006 have been very successful; in demanding 40% women on governing boards, the traditional ‘male bastion’ that has long been the case in the private sector is being eradicated. Norwegian attempts to boost women’s labour market participation and thereby their economic independence rest on the ethos that “it is important to make use of all the human resources in our country, not just half of them.”
tackle gender inequality through the (questionably successful) imposition of quotas, and, more recently, by assuring the quantitatively equal access to elective positions, a concept known as parité. Women and men are politically equal according to the republic trilogy, but the yet problematic notion of parité is going to take time; big parties pitifully choose to accept financial penalties rather than present more female candidates on their electoral lists. Whereas it is inevitably essential to ensure women equal access to the political scene, what has to be acknowledged is that to some extent only the passage of time will be able to insert into the public mind, of men and of women, the blatant truth that women and men are equally capable of being politicians. Persisting inequalities in politics has to do with the fact that it still hasn’t been particularly long since women were actually welcomed as equal actors into political life. Claiming that men are generally more active in politics than women isn’t tantamount to implying that this has anything to do with male and female characteristics; it is the same thing as saying that women are more present than men in nursery schools, pointing only to the fact that tradition dies slowly.
Despite gender equality being considered a human right, it is one that is consistently breached Likewise, the French have and too often in the public eye been proactive in attempting to brushed of as being the political 38
aspirations of angry women who do not shave. The words ‘empowerment of women’ leaves a bad taste in many mouths. A misogynistic attitude is not the appropriate response to the gender equality debate, but rather a misunderstanding of it. Feminism doesn’t seek to do away with men, but to undermine patriarchy. The debate must however remain situational, and apply equally in domains where men are underrepresented due to the domination of women; men being granted equal rights to parental leave is a good example of the duality of the debate, and highlights that it is in fact about equality. Some find the philosophical grounding on why we insist on the uncompromising equality between men and women difficult to stomach, because inequality unfortunately exists between so many other groups. However, I find it difficult to avoid the reality that women are not a social category; we constitute 50% of society. This division is as fundamental as it gets. Whereas we unquestionably must remove all discrimination based on arbitrary grounds, if we cannot first assure the equal rights and opportunities for men and women, I doubt that we in the long run will be successful in assuring any kind of non-discriminatory society.
aRTS Why does the Perception of Art differ Around the World? / Aleksandra Zajac / Tom / Matthew Bremner / Reflections on Post-modernism / Denis Dobrovoda
Why does the Perception of Art Differ Around the World ?
A visit to the exhibiton “How it Is” by the Polish artist Miroslaw Baika By Aleksandra Zajac
It was a big day for me as a Polish person: Miroslaw Balka and his art in the Tate Modern - the gallery dictating the canons of modern visual art! I left my tiny room in one of London’s many student halls and went to this perfectly located gallery. Why? The 15 min walk along South Bank from Waterloo tube station to the Tate triggered an avalanche of thoughts in my head, but at the same time it cleared my mind. I really didn’t know what to expect. Most of the biggest British newspapers and magazines had mentioned the presence of Balka’s artwork in London: the Independent, the Guardian, the Times, the Daily Telegraph, even TimeOut! - it had to be something extraordinary! I entered the Turbine Hall, as always impressed by its height and space, and walked down to check where the exhibition was. On the wall I found a sign saying something about Miroslaw Balka and his installation, but I was so excited to finally get to see the exhibition that I didn’t read the text. But where was it? I couldn’t find any piece of art, no sculptures, no installations; just a huge container-like box made of old steel in the middle of the hall. Disappointed that the exhibition was over, I decided to silently follow the people that were heading towards the end of this box. “Now that I am here I can at least check what that is,” I thought. I figured it was probably a new idea on how to use the space in Turbine Hall. The container was open from one side. Stunned by its size and the darkness inside, I entered the box without thinking, and with my eyes and mind widely opened. I entered complete darkness. Scary and fascinating - this had to be Balka!
To był dla mnie Polki, wielki dzień: Mirosław Bałka i jego sztuka w Tate Modern - galerii dyktującej kanony sztuki współczesnej! Wyszłam z mojego ciasnego pokoju w College Hall i udałam się do tej doskonale zlokalizowanej galerii. Dlaczego? Piętnasto minutowy spacer wzdłóż South Bank od stacji Waterloo do Tate zapoczątkował lawinę myśli w mojej głowie, ale jednocześnie wyciszył mnie i skupił. Naprawdę nie wiedziałam czego się spodziewać. Największe brytyjskie gazety, takie jak the Independent, Guardian, the Times, Daily Telegraph, czy TimeOut! pisały o tym wydarzeniu - to rzeczywiście musi być coś ponadprzeciętnego. Weszłam do Hali Turbin, jak zwykle oczarowana jej wysokością i przestrzenią, i od razu skierowałam się w dół, żeby sprawdzić gdzie dokładnie mieści się wystawa. Na ścianie po prawej stronie znalazłam tekst mówiący coś o Mirosławie Bałka i jego instalacji, ale byłam zbyt zniecierpliwiona, żeby wreszcie ją zobaczyć, więc pominęłam napis. Ale zaraz. Gdzie ona jest? Nie mogłam zlokalizować niczego co wyglądałoby na rzeźbę czy instalację, tylko gigantyczne, przypominające stary kontener blaszane pudło na środku hali. Zawiedziona, że wystawa najwyraźniej dobiegła końca, postanowiłam po prostu w kompletnej ciszy podążyć za zwiedzającymi w kieunku drugiego końca kontenera. Jeśli już tu jestem, mogę przynajmniej zobaczyć co to jest. Myślałam, że to pewnie nowy pomysł galerii na zagospodarowanie przestrzeni w Hali Turbin. Stalowe pudło okazało się być otware z jego najbardziej oddalonej od wejścia strony. Nieco oszołomiona jego wielkością i nieznaną ciemnością, która się przede mną rozpościerała weszłam niewiele myśląc do środka z oczami i umysłem szeroko otwartymi. Wkroczyłam w Why did I step into the unknown ‘black hole’? What kompletną ciemność. Straszną i fascynującą zarazem. To was I thinking? What is so amazing in a completely dark, musi być Bałka! huge container? All I could see inside were dimmed faces of people going out, bumping into me, with facial Dlaczego weszłam do tej nieznanej “czarnej dziury”? O expressions I couldn’t read. In a time where art probably czym myślałam? Co jest tak niesamowitego w całkowicie has achieved almost every possible visual effect, when it ciemnym, wielkim kontenerze? Jedyne co mogłam gets really hard to stun or surprise demanding spectators, dostrzec w środku to twarze ludzi wychodzących z pudła, Balka remains a master in his profession. By minimal wpadających na mnie. Twarze, których wyrazu nie mogłam odczytać. W czasach, gdy sztuka osiągnęła już wizualnie means he manages to achieve maximal emotions. prawdopodobnie wszystko,a artystom staje się coraz trudniej Why is he and his work not fully recognized, and so zadziwić i zaskoczyć wymagających odbiorców, Mirosław 40 ★
often underestimated or misinterpreted in Poland, Balka’s home country? During his 24 year career, Balka has changed as an artist; his ideas have evolved and undergone transformations. Starting with the fascination of the human body, the memory, the passage, the graduation and the creation of private mythology, the artist moved to forms that accompany human life and the marks the human body leaves. After this period he created projects about death and the Holocaust. This seemed to leave the biggest impression on art critics in Poland; to such an extent that they did not manage to see Balka’s next stage of creativity. He moved to the sphere of minimalism on purpose, to avoid unnecessary references to previous works, and not to provoke false associations. However, Polish critics failed to move forward with his art. They are still stuck in the previous painful stage of his art that refers to the Holocaust, and therefore they misinterpret and do not understand Balka’s new works. This is probably why one of the best, if not the best, artist in Poland is more appreciated abroad: he has had his exhibitions in New York, Chicago, Osaka, Stockholm, Berlin, Amsterdam and London, where the British press even called it the best installation in the Turbine Hall, so far.
Bałka jest wciąż mistrzem w swojej profesji. Poprzez minimalne środki osiąga maksymalne emocje. Dlaczego zatem jego prace wciąż nie są w pełni rozpoznawalne i często niedoceniane, czy nadinterpretowane w Polsce, rodzimym kraju artysty? Podczas swojej 24-letniej kariery Bałka zmieniał się jako artysta, jego pomysły ewoluowały i przechodziły transformacje. Zaczynając od fascynacji ludzkim ciałem, pamięcią, przemijaniem i tworzeniem prywatnej mitologii, artysta przeszedł do form, które towarzyszą ludzkiemu życiu i śladom, które ciało zostawia. Po tym okresie Bałka tworzył projekty o śmierci i holokauście. Ten właśnie okres wydaje mi się mieć na polskich krytyków i obiorców największy wpływ, do tego stopnia, że teraz nie są oni do końca w stanie dostrzec jego następnego etapu twórczości. Mam wrażenie, że artysta otworzył nowy rozdział minimalizmu specjalnie, by niejako odciąć się od poprzedniego okresu twórczości, uniknąć nie potrzebnych odniesień do holokaustu i nie prowokować błędnych skojarzeń. Polscy krytycy zdają się nie nadążać krok w krok za Jego sztuką. Utknęli w bolesnej tematyce śmierci i prześladowań i wydają się nie w pełni doceniać nowe dzieła Bałki. To pewnie dlatego jeden z najlepszych jeśli nie najlepszy polski artysta swojego pokolenia jest bardziej doceniany za granicą. Artysta miał swoje wystawy w Nowym Jorku,Chicago, Osace, Sztokholmie, Berlinie, Does this mean the perception of art differs around the Amsterdamie i Londynie, gdzie Jego wystawa “How It world? It is obvious that art is perceived by every person Is” została okrzyknięta przez brytyjską prasę jak dotąd differently, individually. But why is Miroslaw Balka not najlepszą instalacją w Hali Turbin. as praised at home as he is in London or New York? This might be a matter of mentality, historical background Czy to oznacza, że rozumienie sztuki różni się na świecie?
To oczywiste, że sztuka odbierana jest przez każdego indywidualnie. Ale dlaczego w Polsce Mirosław Bałka jest ceniony inaczej niż w Nowym Yorku, czy Londynie? Może to być kwestia mentalności, tła historycznego, czy innych przekonań. Holokaus, który odcisnął w naszej historii znaczący ślad ma inną wagę w kraju, który go nigdy nie doświadczył. Dlatego uważam propagowanie i rozpostrzenianie sztuki poza granice rodzimych krajów jest świetnym krokiem w kierunku lepszego i szerszego zrozumienia sztuki z wielu perspektyw i w nowych, zaskakujących kontekstach. Skoro sztuka wizualnie osiągnęła prawie wszystko, to może przyszedł czas na jej ponowną analizę w bardziej globalnym, międzynarodowym kontekście, odkryć jej nowe znaczenia? Właśnie dlatego tak bardzo doceniam projekt ‘Polska!Year” w Londynie, który daje polskiej sztuce i kulturze szansę być ocenionej i podziwianej przez szerszą publiczność obserwującą ją przez oczy innej narodowości. “Polska!Year” jest wydarzeniem, na który składają się setki koncertów, wystaw i innych projektów prezentujących to co najlepsze w polskiej kulturze As many questions, some of them without an answer, i sztuce. Rok Polski koordynowany jest przez Królową are found in this article, I decided to ask Miroslaw Wielkiej Brytanii i Prezydenta Rzeczpospolitej Polskiej. Balka what he thinks about the individual or national perception of art. I also tried to get some information Jako iż mój artykuł pozostawił bez odpowiedzi wiele about the artist’s sources of inspirations, and his pytań, postanowiłam zapytać Mirosława Bałkę co on myśli o indywidualnym i narodowym postrzeganiu experience as an artist here in London. sztuki. Próbowałąm także odkryć jego źródła inspiracji i Me: A question that you have probably heard many doświadczenia jako artyty tu, w Londynie. times - what is the source of inspiration for the ‘How it is’ exhibition? What is darkness for you? What meaning Ja: Pytanie, które pewnie słyszał Pan już wiele razy, ale skąd pochodzi inspiracja dla wystawy “How it is”, czym jest does it have nowadays? dla Pana ciemność, jakie ma ona dziś znaczenie? Miroslaw Balka: It is really hard to say what it was, as there is no single source of inspiration. The darkness is Mirosław Bałka: Naprawdę ciężko jest powiedzieć co było źródłem inspiracji, jako, że było ich wiele. Ciemność for me a reversed light, it is questioning the sense. jest dla mnie odwrotnością światła, pytaniem o sens... Me: Why did you choose certain materials, and not others, to make the installation? Was it put together for Ja: Skąd taki, a nie inny wybór materiałów, z których powstała instalacja? Czy została ona złożona po raz the first time in the Tate Modern? pierwszy właśnie w Tate Modern? and contrasting beliefs. The Holocaust, which left a significant mark on our history, has a different weight in a country that never experienced such a thing. That is why I believe spreading art across countries’ boarders is a great step towards a better and wider understanding of art, perceiving it from various perspectives and in new contexts. Maybe, if it can be argued that spectators have seen almost everything now, this is the time to analyse it in a more global context to discover its new meanings? In this light, I really appreciate the idea of ‘Polska! Year’ in London which gives Polish art the opportunity to be judged and admired by a wider range of spectators, observing it through foreign eyes. ‘Polska! Year‘ is an event comprising hundreds of projects, including concerts, art exhibitions and other events held to present Polish culture and art. It is coordinated by The Adam Mickiewicz Institute and takes place under the patronage of HM The Queen and HE The President of the Republic of Poland.
Miroslaw Balka: I have used steel and flocks as a means Mirosław Bałka: Użyłem stali i flocku jako kontrastu to show a hard-soft contrast. Yes, it was put together for twardy-miękki. Tak, istalacja została złożona i bedzie rozłożona po raz pierwszy i ostatni w Tate Modern. the first and last time in the Tate Modern. Me: What kind of reception of your art have you Ja: Z jakim odbiorem swojej sztuki spotyka się Pan w experienced in Poland? Does it differ from the reception Polsce? Czy różni się on od tego poza granicami kraju, na przykład w Anglii? of your art abroad, for example in England? Miroslaw Balka: It is hard to asses and say what the reception of my art in Poland is. I am not complaining about it currently. I have to admit that it differs between countries because of the view’s insight. I am still an ‘exotic animal’.
Mirosław Bałka: Trudno jest określić z jakim odbiorem spotyka się moja sztuka w Polsce. Aktualnie nie narzekam. Jednak muszę przyznać, że różnica tkwi we wnikliwości spojrzenia. Jakby nie było ciagle jest sie zwierzeciem egzotycznym.
Me: A majority of your exhibitions have taken place outside Poland. Why?
Ja: Duża część Pańskich wystaw miała chyba jednak miejsce poza Polską, jaka jest tego przyczyna?
Miroslaw Balka: That is just because of the greater number of contemporary art institutions.
Miroslaw Balka: To tylko dlatego, że tam znajduje sie wieksza ilosc instytucji zajmujacych sie sztuka wspolczesna.
The interview made me think about another feature of the reception of art; reception from the point of view of an artist. Miroslaw Balka doesn’t complain about any misunderstandings or misinterpretations of his art. He seems to just take critique as it is. This raises another question: should we in general complain about critiques? No, because they are individual opinions; everyone has the right to express freely what he or she thinks, and we can either agree or disagree with him or her. However, I think there is something wrong when common opinions start to shape individual ones. Again, the solution to such a problem would be understanding and commenting on art in broader, multiple contexts and from various perspectives, at the same time being faithful to one’s own beliefs. Leaving the problem of miscellaneous art assessments, I would like to recommend the exhibition ‘How It Is’; it is a great opportunity to see complete darkness in a city that never sleeps and is always full of lights. It is a chance to think for a while about the sense, about life; to reflect for a bit longer than usual in a life full of rush and competition.
Wywiad wniósł do moich rozważań kolejne koncepcje dotyczące postrzegania sztuki. Postrzegania jej z punktu widzenia artysty. Mirosław Bałka nie narzeka ani na niezrozumienie, ani na nadinterpretację Jego sztuki. Wydaje się przyjmować ktytykę taką, jaka jest. Pojawia się więc kolejne pytanie: czy powinniśmy w ogóle narzekać na krytyke? Są to przecież indywidualne opinie, do których każdy ma prawo, a my możemy albo się z nimi zgadzać, albo nie zgadzać. Jakkolwiek, myślę że zła jest sytuacja, w której powszechne opinie krytyków zaczynają kształtować indywidualne spostrzeżenia. Ponownie, uważam, że kluczem do rozwiązania tego problemu jest rozumienie i komentowanie sztuki w znacznie szerszym kontekście i z wielu perspektyw, będąc jednoczesnie wiernym własnym przekonaniom. Pozostawiając problem rozbieżnego odbioru sztuki, chciałabym polecić wystawę “How It Is”, jako iż jest to doskonała okazja do ujrzenia kompletnej ciemności w mieście, które nigdy nie śpi i zawsze jest pełne światła. Wystawa jest szansą na pomyślenie chwilę o sensie, życiu, na poddanie się refleksjom na nieco dlużej niż jak to zwykle bywa w życiu pełnym pośpiechu i rywalizacji.
Insomnia By David Vajda
Zeitens mag ich es, wenn die Nacht ihre Schärfe verliert, so ziert im Angesicht erregter Augen ein schwammiger Schleier ihr Haupt, wie ein Super 8 Film ist sie voll körnig-warmer Zeitlosigkeit. Sie, die Nacht spitzt ihre Ohren horcht auf deine ohrentäubenden Gedanken, ein wohlwollender Zuhörer deines ungewollten Wahnsinns und wie die Lust ihre Ewigkeit so ersehnt sie toxische Flüsse von Schnapsideen. Ich will nicht ihre hörige Präsenz, dieser Konsens verschafft mir blutige Augen resigniert auf zwei rote Mauern blickend. Lieder der Dunkelheit spielen auf meiner Pupille Klavier, wie nervöse Tangotänzer bewegen sich meine Glieder zu falschem Takt. Zeitens mag ich es, wenn die Nacht hell aufscheint.
czerwony dywan By Dawid Kotur
czerwony dywan sam się rozwinął I nikogo nie pominął Wszystko teraz za blaszaną kurtyną będzie się działo Nikt się nie dowie jak to się stało Zdradzeni przez przybranych braci Zachowali się jak tchórzliwi kaci Maski poubierane na twarze zdradliwe Widzą co chcą bo prawdy wydają się niemożliwe Ktoś spojrzał pod czerwony dywan, spostrzegł najbrudniejszy z brudów I wiedział ze nie wydostanie się spoza tych murów Chciał czy nie chciał… Rację miał
The Idea (Perplex) A
word of shaped associations
Perplex is not an idea, rather nothingness which sprang from the hearts of two pathetics from Munich in December 2008. Nothingness, because mingled words have vanished from day to day public life. Nothingness, because poetry, demoted to the margins of literature, has become a foreign word. Nothingness, because nimble provocation has taken precedence over soulful word combinations. It is imperative to seat poetry on the throne that befits it. That is nothing new, just pure nostalgia, desire for
distant times, when poetry was the toast as the highest literary form. With all due respect to its writers, poetry shouldn’t mould on blogs, but needs to be printed, heard, scribbled, spoken, it needs a piece of paper, vocal chords to live and it shouldn’t lose itself in the banality of a hastily woven web (Abide to this imperative, we won’t publish poems on our website). Nostalgic modernity, classical and not, interlocking words, musically perpetuated: a poetry-label that offers lyricists a platform, on which the verse itself, in its content and expression, isn’t forgotten behind a poetry slam-performance. Whereas society is increasingly logic-driven and cerebral, for us it’s all about emotions, the aesthetics of words,
which fill the foreground with feelings in order to inspire what’s underneath. Perplex is a platform for word artists who would like to present their poems at readings and want the prospect of touching them in a magazine (first issue planned for January). Send us your army of poems in the battle against the satellite state and its offsprings so that Perplex can soon emerge from nothingness. ‘How can anything sprout out of dark nothingness?’, they will shout, those ignorant bantlings. Let’s attempt to show them. David Vajda Tobias Heitzer
Perplex organised two readings in Munich, on one of which an article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung was published, followed by an interview and a reading live on Bayerischer Rundfunk. Now London has to be conquered. Send poems to: firstname.lastname@example.org (www.perplex-poesie. com)
By Matthew Bremner
Tom hated himself and he knew why. Tom had problems. His problems were not unique, nor where they deeply complex, they were simply problems that Tom had. His dislike of himself arose, primarily, in his perception of these problems. He held them to be far worse than they actually were, and as such his mind became a fertiliser to doubt and fear. It was Tom who was the problem. He could cut himself down the middle; he saw the way he was with other people - his friends - and the way he was with himself. Generally he was a good human being when with friends; happy and gregarious. Tom was intelligent and able in life and he was liked for it. But, early on, Tom would often find himself alone and this was when the dislike for who he actually was began to intensify. When Tom had only himself to offer perspective on the state of his life, he would feel uncomfortable, agitated and insecure. Yet this was who Tom really was and he had decided to be this way of his own accord. He had thrown himself so far away from who he had wanted 46 â˜…
to be in the first place, who he neded to be for his own sake, that he became lost. He of course knew this, yet he ventured beyond the point of no return, he pushed himself further until there was not even a trace of himself in the distance. So Tom carried on being the person that people wanted him to be, he did things that he told himself he was interested in. Unfortunately Tom received great respect from his friends for his pseudo-existence; he was perhaps even adored by them for it. What the people around him saw was a person with the ability to live life beyond their own capabilities. As such, Tom responded to them in the only way that he could and that was to continue; to act out his life with increasing extravagance. Undoubtedly he sought the approval of his friends, but more fundamentally he revelled in the distraction it afforded - a shield of time, deflecting attacks from his overbearing self. He was living for the people, or so he would romanticise the message in his mind. What Tom yearned for was an easy
way out and he looked for it in his friends. He searched for himself inside them, striving to find a glimmer of himself, of the real life that was rotting away his mind. He needed an exclusive empathy, a personified catharsis, a mobile confessional. He showed a blithe disregard towards the danger in presuming to see himself in other people. Unsurprisingly he was often left disappointed and hurt. Yet he would persist in these futile pursuits of finding others like him, of finding peace in his hypothetical twin. And he never did find them. In frustration he crammed his life full of things that he told himself were important, that he was resolute could save him. His life became faster and he met more and more people. The things he did were invariably exciting and the people he met were often interesting. Perhaps here, in the initial moments of his plunge into decadence, Tom could truly say that he felt better about himself - he was free from his aches and irrational irks. Naturally, he embraced this as his panacea; an acceleration of life, a lot of things and a lot of
people all at once. As such he built his life around the notion of quantity. Tom believed that if he remained true to this philosophy life would be better, perhaps it would even end a little quicker. Yet his life of excess became repetitive and his happiness didnâ€™t last; in reality he was naive to think it could. Tom became exhausted, tired of people and fatigued from things. He became sad. But Tom couldnâ€™t be sad. After all, people knew and expected him to be happy, organised and socially correct - they needed this most of all for themselves. If he broke down, then what would they do? In retaliation to his questioning mind he sped up, he saw the needs of his friends and felt an obligation to become the fluid around them, keeping them safe. Indeed, in his ignorance he believed that they were never capable of helping him, and as a consequence - as a better person - he would always be there to help them. In his blind arrogance and ironic self-worth he had convinced himself that his problems were completely unique, and neither he nor any other had the capability of solving them. He was tortured and that is how he really wanted it to be. In his mind he had unconsciously become irrelevant and obsolete to himself. Tom would now live through others and for others, because what else was really left for him? Yet what of this existence, did he actually think he could begin to become other people and understand their needs? His metamorphosis into this Messiah-like state was a deep
and final act of cowardice. Tom became blind to the fact the he could never really change anything because he had lost sight of himself. He had lost all of his humanity when he made the decision to live through other people and abdicate his own responsibilities. How could he even begin to contemplate saving anyone else when, for so long, he had been incapable of thinking on his own problems? Tom could no longer help humanity because he was unable to embrace the idea that he needed to exist as himself, in a human way. He had given up his existence and despite his assumptions he had lost hold of the other people he was
striving to protect - the other people that believed he was living his life better than they ever could. Tom had made life senseless. He had made his own life difficult and painful. His own story was depressing simply because he chose to tell it that way. He had failed to invest in himself and it was all at his own expense. Tom had fallen out of love with his mind and consequently lost his sense of meaning in the world. He had missed out through choice. Tom had forgotten to realise who he was and in doing so was never able understand how beautiful his life could have been.
Reflections on Post-modernism Does it make any sense at all? Denis Dobrovoda reflects on nihilism as expressed by post-modern artists. By Denis Dobrovoda
At a recent visit to the Tate Britain my friend exclaimed: “Why does all the modern art make you feel so sad?” I thought about this almost childish observation for a while and I have to admit that my friend was indeed right. Comparisons between the ‘Turner and the Masters’ and the recent British art exhibitions show that either the life quality in Britain has become significantly worse during the last two centuries or something important has changed in the minds of artists. Turner and his contemporaries commonly portrayed themes that showed the beauty of life and things around us. Much of their work makes you feel rather happy, you can enjoy the brilliance of its creators. On the other hand almost all the work I encountered in the exhibitions of the 48
contemporary artists indulges in a feeling of hopelessness, self-pity and a negative attitude towards the world surrounding them. Life is definitely not a happy thing. People die, the number of Swedish blondes at UCL is very limited and the Russian ice hockey team might win the next Olympics. I am certainly not a fan of the excessively optimistic view of human existence which is so typical for the Americans. Moreover, I often feel that all my earthly struggles are in vain. Otherwise, I wouldn’t spend my free time reading Albert Camus, Friedrich Nietzsche or Jean-Paul Sartre. If I didn’t have the feeling that something is wrong in our world, I wouldn’t bother thinking about things. When you are happy, you are just happy. No need to reflect on your happiness or existence.
Unfortunately, I often analyse my life, because at times it appears to be quite unfulfilling. So I do really understand the negative attitudes of postmodern artists. However, I cannot, and I hope I will never be able to, support their art. Not because it lacks quality or good ideas, but because of the message it bares. It is indeed very healthy to criticise your environment, because that is the only way improvement can be achieved. For example, the artistic reflection of the post-war writers and film-makers helped to prevent more large scale conflicts in Europe. However, the artworks in the Tate Britain didn’t give me the feeling that any positive contribution to our society can be made. They were not constructive, because post-modernism loves dismantling. It indulges in the
idea of absolute relativism. It is about nothingness, because that is often what it is trying to reflect upon. How is a tied up maquete of a woman, showing her genitals to the general public supposed to enrich anyone? A post-modern artist would probably dismiss my criticism, stating that in todayâ€™s western world, where all standards and gods are dead, nothing has sense any more and therefore the modernist concepts of yesterday are ridiculous. However, I believe this argument is somehow lame. I do not really see the point of bothering about creating art in such a world in the first place. Why would you put it into galleries for other people to see? How can you relativise some things and others just not? You cannot be a nihilist only a couple of days a week. I find the fact that many postmodern artists support the left-wing especially startling. First of all, by having political views you prove that society matters to you. Secondly, you choose to support a political force for which the well-being of the highest possible number
of individuals is the main goal. I know that life can sometimes appear unbearable. Some people even choose to end it. However, I think that when you choose to live, you should try to do it in a constructive way. By living you show you care about the world (or at least some parts of it, e.g. your family or friends). Why waste so much energy on proving that existence is senseless? This question has a particular
importance to me, because some time ago I wanted to write books which would probably be quite similar to the artworks I saw in the Tate Britain. Depressive, postmodern and nihilistic. But then I realised: this is nothing new, and in fact it is just the easy way out. Proving that things are wrong is much easier than creating them or working on their improvement.
Antoine de Saint-Phalle
Aleksandra Zajac Denis Dobrovoda
Riahi Frances Perraudin
Michal Zdzieborski Marta Zieba
Eureka Magazine UCLU European Society email@example.com The magazine is available online: http://eurosoc.co.uk/ Design & Photography / Konrad Laker Cover & Photography / Lucile Bornot Photography / Sanne Schim van der Loeff / Dawid Kotur Proof-Reading / Chris Hall / Frances Perraudin Editors / Maria Holmblad / Quirin Maderspacher / Konrad Laker