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
I am on the road from Gdansk. It’s been an intense few days. Last Tuesday, I joined the Occupy Wall Street demonstration for a bit. By Wednesday, I was in the Gdansk shipyards, where Solidarity confronted the Party State in 1980, ultimately leading to the collapse of the Soviet Empire. I was interviewed for the Solidarity Video Archive, giving my account of the work I did with Solidarity and my understanding of the great labor movement. Immediately after which, I was taken to Gdansk University, where I gave my talk, this year’s Solidarity Lecture, “Reinventing Democratic Culture.” It opened the All About Freedom Festival. Over the weekend, I visited my family in Paris, and now I am flying over the Atlantic on my delayed flight to Newark, hoping I will get back to New York in time to teach my 4:00 class, The Politics of Everyday Life. It has been a packed week.
Unpacking my thoughts is a challenge. A new social movement is developing in the U.S., with potentially great impact. In Poland, a new generation is confronting the Solidarity legacy, trying to appreciate the accomplishments, while also needing to address new problems. Yesterday’s elections in France and especially in Poland were important. Yet, just as important for what was not on the ballot as for what was. Everywhere, there seems to be a political – society agitation and disconnect, with the politics of small things potentially contributing to a necessary reinvention of democratic culture.
I have many thoughts and will need more time to put them into a clear perspective. Here, just a start. I have a sense that things are connected: not falling apart, rather, coming together.
In the U.S., the central ideal of equality has been compromised in the last thirty years. From being a country with more equal . . .
Read more: Things Come Together: Occupy Wall Street, Solidarity, Elections and Khodorkovsky
A new kind of politics is upon us. Many observers have highlighted the technological characteristics of this politics. Cell phones and Facebook and other social media are the heroes in these accounts of the Arab Spring, the Israeli summer, and now of not only the Tea Party but also Occupy Wall Street. Yet, these accounts are unsatisfying, because they don’t take into account the human agency of the new politics, the specific political struggles. We should clearly recognize the importance of the new media, but it seems to me that what is extraordinary is the way a type of power, political power as Hannah Arendt understood it, is becoming increasingly important. People are meeting each other, now virtually and not only face to face, speaking and acting in each other’s presence, developing a capacity to act in concert.
I analyzed the way this power works in our world in my book, The Politics of Small Things. It points to the way the power of “the politics of small things” was common to both the Solidarity Movement in opposition to the previously existing socialist order in Poland of the 80s and to the anti-war movement and the Dean campaign during the Bush years in America. Recently a Korean translation of the book was published. I wrote a special preface, including some thoughts on how the politics of small things worked in a social movement in South Korea, the Candle Movement. Now, those reflections are helping me understand what I am seeing in lower Manhattan and considering its potential. I think the power of the politics of small things is becoming a significant force throughout the world today in many different contexts, and that it is important to take notice in places far and near.
My general understanding as an outsider and non-expert of the Candle Movement: . . .
Read more: A Specter is Haunting the Powers That Be: Thinking about Korea while Looking at Wall Street
The ambivalence around the WikiLeaks mission and especially its recent disclosures are understandable (see Jeff’s previous post). On the one hand, it does make us feel that we no longer have to live in a fog called the diplomatic game, that we need no longer be treated like children who for their own protection are excluded from family secrets, and that we the citizens of the world deserve not to be patronized and paternalized by our own governments, and need not concede so much discretionary power to our government officials.
On the other hand, as someone who is living at this moment in post-apartheid South Africa, and works in the archives (of which only a small part is available to the broader public), and who has studied the processes that led to the dismantling of Soviet-style autocracy in Central and Eastern Europe, an apparently widespread schadenfreude about exposing everything to everybody brings shivers. Two very different, but in both cases repressive, regimes in Poland and in South Africa, would not have ended peacefully as they did, if not for lengthy and secret conversations that laid the groundwork for the official public negotiations. Imagine that the secret meetings between Church officials, leaders of the outlawed Solidarity movement, and General Jaruzelski’s government in Poland had been exposed in 1987…….Or that the “talks about talks”, and the meetings between exiled leaders of the ANC and certain members of the ruling nationalist party, had been exposed by WikiLeaks.
Nelson Mandela in 1937
In each case, the negotiations that led to fundamental systemic change and the launching of democratic rule were preceded by an overture, made of many secret meetings. The South African overture began roughly with a meeting in Lusaka, Zambia, where most of the ANC leaders lived, and was followed by twelve clandestine gatherings in England, gradually building a fragile trust between the key enlightened Afrikaner intellectuals and ANC . . .
Read more: Privacy and Progress
Elzbieta Matynia is an expert on democratic movements, and here, reflects on the recent Nobel Laureate, Liu Xiabo and the chance for Chinese democracy. -Jeff
The air in Johannesburg (Joburg to the locals) is full of discussions on this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. When I heard about Liu Xiaobo, I thought about events that took place in Poland 30 years ago, and about a message written by workers on strike in the Gdansk Shipyard in August 1980.
One of their most prominent graffiti, written in huge, uneven letters on cardboard and mounted high up on a shipyard crane, was the statement, uncontroversial elsewhere, “A Man is Born and Lives Free.” This year’s Nobel Peace Prize given to a Chinese political prisoner brings the spirit of this graffiti to China, re-inserting it in a landscape “freely” filled with billboards advertising Western luxury brands like Lancôme or Mercedes Benz. Will the Chinese notice the message?
There are those moments in history when the Nobel Prizes turn out to be truly performative.
When Czeslaw Milosz, whose poetry was forbidden in communist Poland, received the Nobel Prize in Literature in October 1980, it seemed to lend further legitimacy to the democratic aspirations of the workers as articulated in the Gdansk shipyard. The poems of Milosz had only been published underground and the workers had come to know them through their strike bulletins. And now the workers, who had demanded a constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech, press, and publication, won their strike, and the poems — arrested till then in the Office of Censorship — became widely available. I have no doubt that the award given to the poet who wrote about freedom and captivity further encouraged the human rights agenda of the Solidarity movement, and contributed – even if only for the 16 months of Solidarity’s legal existence — to the unprecedented sense of emancipation in the country.
Those 16 months of Solidarity were a time when Poles experienced the dignity of personal freedom. They were months of intensive learning that paid off in 1989 when the society launched . . .
Read more: From Liu Xiabo: A Seed of Strength for Chinese Political Protesters