To skip this introduction and go directly to read Jeff Weintraub’s In-Depth Analysis “Some Partial, Preliminary & Unfashionable Thoughts Toward Reassessing the 2003 Iraq War – Did Anything Go Right and What Were The Alternatives?” click here.
I was sure in the lead up to the Iraq War that it wouldn’t happen. It seemed obvious to me that it made no sense, and I couldn’t believe that the U.S. would embark on such foolishness. One of my big mistakes, obviously. While Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with Osama bin Laden and American capacity to wage two wars, one clearly by choice, seemed to be a huge strategic mistake, the war proceeded and escalated, and we have paid.
Nonetheless, I did understand why deposing Saddam was desirable. His regime was reprehensible. I respected those who called for opposition to its totalitarianism, from the informed Kanan Makiya to my Central European friends, Adam Michnik, Vaclav Havel, et al. I even said so at an anti-war rally.
Yet, connecting the means at our disposal with the desirable end of a free and democratic Iraq seemed to me to be an extraordinarily difficult project, and I had absolutely no confidence that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Company could pull it off. How could my intelligent friends who supported the war not see that? I actually had a number of heated public discussions with Michnik about that.
Once begun, I hoped that the intervention would be short and sweet, and hoped that a democratic transition could be managed, but as we now know these hopes were frustrated. From every point of view, the war was a disaster: for the Iraq, the region, the U.S., and the project of democracy, and the way the war was fought, as it was part of a purported global war against . . .
Read more: Some Partial, Preliminary & Unfashionable Thoughts Toward Reassessing the 2003 Iraq War: Introduction
Last week, Adam Michnik returned to The New School and gave a provocative lecture, “After the Election of Pope Francis: What Paths for the Catholic Church?” In his talk, more about the Church and democracy in Poland than about events in Rome and the Catholic Church as a whole, the renowned Polish intellectual highlighted the two different paths taken by the Church in current public debates: the increasingly popular fundamentalist approach, termed “Integralism,” resistant to the recommendations of openness formulated at the Second Vatican Council, and the marginalized liberal approach, termed “Progressivist,” adopted by the liberal-oriented Catholics. Michnik worried that Pope Francis would be on the wrong side of this debate, or on the sidelines, given his ambiguous at best relationship with dictatorship in Argentina. The talk addressed pressing issues in Poland. Michnik, as usual, was bold in his presentation. It has broad implications beyond Polish borders, which I appreciate. Yet, I also have a question. For, I think Michnik misses a crucial point, concerning Poland, and also concerning the Pope and the Catholic Church and the need to address religious fundamentalism.
Michnik pointed out that the integralist and the progressivist paths emerged as part of the Catholic Church’s struggle for power to shape public debate in post-1989 democratic Poland. To his great dismay, instead of strengthening the Church’s liberal voice, open to the new issues that the newly democratic country had to face as it opened to the outside world, the Church has become dominated by simplistic conservative and nationalistic arguments, which reinforce hostile attitudes toward all that is unfamiliar or strange. As a consequence, the church has fostered a destructive divide between “us” and “them,” which cuts across Polish society. According to Michnik, a significant role in disseminating the fundamentalist message is played by “Radio Maryja” and “TV Trwam.” These media outlets, owned by Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, a controversial Catholic priest often accused of promoting xenophobia and anti-Semitism, are widely popular in small towns in Poland.
Michnik did not have a simple answer to his question, “What Paths for the Catholic Church?“ . . .
Read more: Adam Michnik on The Church: The Opening of a Polish Dialogue
Late Saturday night, I received an urgent email from Tomek Kitlinski “Bad, disturbing, but important news again,” followed by a brief description of a recent event in Poland and his extended thoughts about its meaning. Here, his report and reflections. -Jeff
February 23, 2013, a lecture by Adam Michnik, the foremost dissident against Communism, author, editor-in-chief of Poland’s leading broadsheet Gazeta Wyborcza and regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, was disrupted by a group of Polish ultranationalists. Michnik is Eastern Europe’s most outstanding public intellectual whose books, articles, and, before 1989, writings from prison have shaped the thinking and acting for freedom in our region. Esprit, erudition and engagement in pro-democracy struggle make him an exceptional social philosopher and activist. As Gazeta reported, on Saturday in the city of Radom a group of young people in balaclavas and masks attempted to disrupt Michnik’s talk and chanted “National Radom! National Radom!” A scuffle erupted. The far-right All Polish Youth militiamen were shouting during the lecture.
The disruption of the Michnik lecture follows a pattern of aggression in Poland and among its neighbors. Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Russia are gripped by culture wars, as I have explored here. The Polish cultural war is ongoing.
Recently at the University of Warsaw, neo-Nazis threatened a lecture by the feminist philosopher Magdalena Sroda. Ten years ago in Lublin, while Professor Maria Szyszkowska and I were giving speeches about the lesbian and gay visibility campaign Let Us Be Seen, a pack of skinheads marched in and out of the hall, stamping their boots loudly in an effort to distract us. This pattern of disturbing university events could not be more dangerous. Michnik this week is, once again, a focal point of repressive anger.
While ultranationalists hate Adam Michnik for his message of inclusive democracy and they also loathe feminists, LGBT and poetry, Michnik often goes back to his inspiration and friend, the Nobel Prize winning poet, Czeslaw Milosz, who was the object of nationalist outrage over the years, in fact an antagonism that dates back . . .
Read more: Michnik Attacked: The Polish Culture War Escalates
To skip this introduction and go directly to the In-Depth Analysis, “Reinventing Democratic Culture: Then and Now,” click here.
It is odd in the extreme to read about a devastating storm in New York, listen to my local public radio station, WNYC, from Paris and Rome. It took a while to find out how my son in Washington D.C. and his wife, Lili, in Long Island City were doing. I also have been worried about my mother and sister and sisters-in-law, and their families, in their homes in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx. All seems to be OK, with very significant inconvenience. My friends and neighbors, my house and my community center, these I don’t know about and am concerned. The Theodore Young Community Center, where I swim and where I have many dear friends, in fact, is still without its basketball court after the devastation of tropical storm Irene. All this while I have been enjoying my family just outside Paris, taking a beautiful stroll in Paris on Monday and having a nice first day in Rome. I hurt for my friends and family as I am enjoying European pleasures topped off yesterday with a wonderful dinner with my dear colleague, Professor Anna Lisa Tota of the University of Rome.
And I push on, talking about my work with colleagues and students first here in Italy and next week in Poland. This morning, I am off to give a lecture at the University of Rome to a group of film and media Ph.D. students, on media, the politics of small things and the reinvention of political culture. I decided to post today a lecture I gave in Gdansk last year which was a variation on the same theme: the project of reinventing democratic culture. The lecture highlights the links between my political engagements of the past and how they relate to the political challenges now. I will return to Warsaw and Gdansk with a follow up next week. In all the meetings and in the “in-depth post” . . .
Read more: Thinking About the Storm and Political Culture: An Introduction to my Solidarity Lecture
A Paper Prepared for Presentation for The European Solidarity Center, Gdansk University, Gdansk, Poland, October 6, 2011
It’s good to be back in Gdansk. It is especially good to be invited by The European Solidarity Center to give this lecture at the All About Freedom Festival. It’s a visit I’ve long wanted to make, and an occasion that seems to be particularly appropriate.
The last time I was here was in 1985. I was on a mission in support of Solidarity, to observe the trial of Adam Michnik, Bogdan Lis and Wladyslaw Frasyniuk. Adam had written an open letter to “people of good will” in the West to come to the trial, published in The New York Times. He also earlier through The Times Warsaw correspondent, our mutual friend, the late Michael Kaufman, asked me personally to come. It was a request I couldn’t refuse.
When I arrived I was under constant surveillance. I was denounced by Trybuna Ludu [the Communist Party official organ] for not understanding the nature of socialist justice, when I tried but was refused entry into the courtroom. It wasn’t a leisurely visit. I communicated with Adam through his lawyers. We planned together a strategy to keep going an international seminar on democracy we had been working on before his arrest. He asked for books. I did not have the occasion to go sightseeing. And the sights to be seen weren’t as beautiful as they are today.
That was one of the most dramatic times of my life. Not frightening for me personally (I knew that the worst that was likely to happen to me was that I would be expelled from the country), but very frightening for those on trial, and for the mostly unrecognized heroes of the Solidarity movement, the workers, the union leaders, the intellectuals and lawyers who during my visit helped me move through the city and make my appearance, and who risked imprisonment for their everyday actions in making Solidarity. While I then met Lech Walesa, as well as Father Jankowski [a Priest associated with Lech Walesa, who after the changes became infamous for his anti-Semitism], I was most impressed by those who acted off the center stage. They were . . .
Read more: Reinventing Democratic Culture: Then and Now
In this post Malgorzata Bakalarz deliberately responds to my posts on Polish Jewish relations from the point of view of a young Polish scholar studying in New York. I deeply appreciate her update. Jeff
At the end of his text “Why Poland?” Jeff recalls the exchange between Adam Michnik and Leon Wieseltier about Polish-Jewish relations and the public discussion about Jedwabne pogrom. He makes a statement that could become a title of a new book on Polish-Jewish relations (or, perhaps, on Polish-Polish relations). He summarizes the exchange, acknowledging the importance of the Jedwabne discussion and concludes: “but something is missing.”
Something, indeed, was missing, and that was patience and sympathy.
The debate around Jedwabne, although groundbreaking and influential, was still in most cases elitist and center-oriented. Observing it, I was under the impression that default ways of framing the Jedwabne discussion were established very early on, and it was somehow impossible to contribute outside of them. And the situation was extremely sensitive: content-wise, it was urging Poles to embrace their difficult past, to admit it’s not exclusively heroic character, when there was still a largely unsatisfied need for the public acknowledgment of the Polish suffering: from the Soviet system, from the WWII, from the 19-century partitions.
“Formally,” the official narratives about Jedwabne ignored familiar Roman Catholic rhetoric, known and trusted as the “language of truth.” Dry, factual descriptions of the event, and the discussions about it, left no room for dramatic, stilted (but familiar), ceremonial, timeless narrative, which had been framing anti-communist discourse for so many years.
The legacy of Communist “parallel realities,” with corrupted and not trusted public discourse confronted with the private, (mainly) Roman-Catholic, reliable one, made this “linguistic estrangement” of Jedwabne debate an important issue. It contributed to the fact that many dismissed the debate altogether: unacceptable content confirmed by unacceptable “official” (read: not ours) language.
Not enough time was spent to translate and make available the discourse about complex Polish-Jewish past, and, in particular, about complex Polish war history. Not enough time was spent to listen to the voice of people from the . . .
Read more: Why Poland? 3.5, Confronting a Difficult Past
To skip this introduction and go directly to the full In-Depth Analysis of “For and Against Memory” click here.
A few years ago, I had a couple of opportunities to present publicly my thoughts on collective memory: at the annual memory conference at The New School and at an interdisciplinary conference on resistance and creativity in Cerisy, France. Collective memory was then an emergent major concern internationally, and it has been a long term interest of mine, starting with my analysis of the way collective memory served as a base for independent public expression and action in Communist societies (published in my one and only piece in the premier sociology journal, The American Journal of Sociology). There was a kind of vindication for me in these developments.
While collective memory is now hot, I have long been interested in a topic (by the way informed by the work I did with Edward Shils, which indicates how I have learned from a conservative thinker as I have suggested in earlier posts). Yet, I am ambivalent about this development. I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the memory’s emergent academic and public popularity, concerning two problems. I see a disturbing trend, people turning to memory as they lose political imagination (this shows that I am not a conservative). Also, a too simple identification of memory with enlightenment concerns me (a conservative concern perhaps). By underscoring the importance not only of memory, but also of forgetting, I wanted to highlight these issues in my talks in 2008. And I am posting a version of the talks here today because I think the problems remain, though many academics including some of my students and colleagues are now addressing them. In a couple of weeks, I am off to Berlin to take part in a discussion on the topic of memory and civil society, where I hope these issues will be discussed.
I should add that at that time I was composing my presentation on memory, I was . . .
Read more: For and Against Memory: Poland, Israel-Palestine and the United States (Introduction)