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
Accused of being an optimist once again last year, I was sure that Barack Obama would be re-elected and that this potentially had great importance. As the election contest unfolded, it seemed to me that Romney and the other Republican candidates made little sense and that a broad part of the American electorate understood this. A major societal transformation was ongoing and Obama gave it political voice: on the role of government, American identity, immigration, social justice and a broad array of human rights issues. Thus, I think the re-election has broad and deep significance, and I conclude the year, therefore, thinking that we are seeing the end of the Reagan Revolution and the continuation of Obama’s.
But, of course, I realize that my reading is a specific one, and partisan at that. My friends on the left are not as sure as I am that Obama really presents an alternative. From their point of view, he just puts a pretty face on the domination of global capitalism and American hegemonic military power. I have to admit that I view such criticism with amusement. It takes two forms. The criticism is either so far a field, so marginal, that it is irrelevant, leftist sectarianism, which is cut off from the population at large, confined to small enclaves in lower Manhattan (where I work and have most of my intellectual discussions) and the upper west side, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Austin, Texas, Berkley, California, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Brooklyn and the like. Or there is the happy possibility that the critiques of Obama and the Democrats engage popular concerns and push responsible political leaders to be true to their professed ideals. I have seen signs of both of these tendencies, significantly in the Occupy movement. I hope the leftist critics of Obama pressure him to do the right thing. Marriage equality is an important case study.
I think the criticism of Obama from the right is much more threatening. If conservative critics of Obama don’t take seriously the significance of the election results, they are not only . . .
Read more: Happy New Year: Hope Against Hopelessness for the New Year 2013
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
Milan Petrusek, a pillar of integrity and a major figure in Czech social science, died last week. In this post, Hana Cervinkova pays tribute to him and to Alena Miltová, his wife. Together, they have been quiet heroes of Czech social science, culture and public life. I have long appreciated their work and benefited from it. It has been a privilege to know them personally. I publish this remembrance with sadness and appreciation. -Jeff
The world of Czech social science is a rather small community concentrated in several academic and research institutions in this country of ten million people. Today’s quality institutions in Prague and Brno are results of the complex process of the post-1989 (re)construction of various disciplines (including sociology, political science, anthropology, philosophy and economics), following their almost total destruction during the Communist rule. While in Poland, for example, a distinct tradition of critical social thought developed despite official restrictions prior to 1989, Czechoslovak social science was subject to all-encompassing censorship that concerned not only indigenous production, but also the prohibition on translations of Western theoretical texts. Leading Czech and Slovak scholars who dared to express critical and independent views were quickly removed from academic and research positions. As a result, the struggle for the (re)construction of the Czech and Slovak social science that began in 1989 was a difficult and somewhat solitary task wrought with many predicaments that characterized academic and scholarly work in this small post-traumatic professional community. Once the borders opened, some (including me) decided to temporarily or permanently emigrate to countries with larger and better established professional milieus. The task of shaping the local tradition was taken up by a few exceptional personalities who dedicated their professional lives to the building of institutions that allowed for the Czech social sciences to grow.
The professional wisdom, patience and resoluteness . . .
Read more: Miloslav (Milan) Petrusek (1936 – 2012)
To skip this introduction and go directly to the full In-Depth Analysis of “Fake vs. Fox News: OWS and Beyond,” click here.
In December of 2011, I took part in a very interesting conference in Sofia, Bulgaria. The conference participants were asked to respond to the work of the media theorist, Daniel Dayan (my dear friend and colleague and Deliberately Considered contributor) and to answer a straightforward question – “Is democracy sick of its own media?”
I presented a mixed answer: yes, when in comes to troubling developments in television news; no, when it comes to the effervescence of television satire and the social media. I closed with a proposal to Daniel to co-author a book, linking his ideas about “monstration” with mine about the politics of small things. While a book may or may not be forthcoming, a dialogue here at Deliberately Considered will appear in the near future.
In my paper, which I present here as an “in-depth” post, focused on the American case, I argued that we live in both the best of times and the worst of times concerning the relationship between media and democracy. Fox Cable News is relentlessly confusing fact with fiction with partisan intention, and serves as a model of media success, both financial and political, while responses to Fox including by the TV satirists, the famous “fake news” journalists, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, on Comedy Central, who also have interesting imitators around the world, present important challenges to Fox and its influence on common sense.
These media developments, I sought to demonstrate, are connected to significant new American social movements: the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. In the case of OWS, and other new “new social movements,” social media is of crucial importance. They are providing new health to democracy globally in many different political contexts.
I maintained in my Sofia paper, that the relationship between social media and OWS is a significant manifestation of the way the politics of small things have become large in our world. I see in this . . .
Read more: Fake vs. Fox News: OWS and Beyond (Introduction)
Martin Butora co-founded Public Against Violence, the major democratic movement in Communist Slovakia, in November 1989, and served as Human Rights Advisor to Czechoslovak President Václav Havel (1990–1992). Between 1999 and 2003, he was Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to the US. He is the honorary president of the Institute for Public Affairs, a public policy think-tank in Bratislava. His most recent books are Druhý dych (Second Wind), 2010, and Skok a kuk (Jump and Look), 2011.
Everyone knew it would happen one day and many sensed it was going to be soon – and yet, speaking about it, every word weighs a ton. The fact that he stayed with us this long was a miracle. Right until the very last moment, with extreme effort, he made sure his voice was heard wherever human dignity was at stake, wherever hope needed to be instilled. He did so with his characteristic sense of duty and responsibility.
As someone born into a wealthy family, he was ashamed of his position and privileged upbringing and longed to be like other children: he felt “an invisible wall” between himself and the others. His family background heightened his sensitivity to inequality, his distaste for undeserved advantages.
Hope as an orientation of the heart:
Vaclav Havel understood hope as an anthropological quality that pertained not only to politics. Hope is a state of mind, not a state of the world, he used to say. Either we have hope within us or we don’t: “It is a dimension of the soul. It’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation.” Hope is not prognostication, he emphasized, “it is an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.”
In this sense, hope for him was not synonymous with optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of the outcome. This is an extraordinarily strong message in a world that found hope yet . . .
Read more: Vaclav Havel: The End of an Era
He never was a politician. He never wanted to be one. In this, he embodied the post-communist dream of an anti-political politics. Many, very many Czechs could not forgive him just that. When they put him at the Prague Castle, when they saw him in the legendary president T.G. Masaryk’s seat – they wanted him to play a statesman. And play he did, throughout his life he was a man of the theater. But he was a playwright, not an actor. As time went by, voices were heard that he is not fit for the position he holds. When people now say “he was an intellectual, a playwright, and a politician – in that order” it sounds more like a judgment than a description. Yet, little of that domestic criticism seemed to trickle through the borders of the Republic, and so the discrepancy between the international appreciation and the domestic disenchantment grew. Disenchantment is a good word. It was not Havel that changed. It was the Czechs who changed their expectations. He enchanted them with his charisma, his life-story and charm. And they (many of them) later did everything, to escape and deny that enchantment, as if they were ashamed of it. Inarguably, they owe him a lot. And so do the other nations in the region, because to our luck it was him and not any other former oppositionist that became the face of Central Europe in the early 1990s.
Havel appeared in Czechoslovakia’s public life in the 1960s as a writer – a young, avant-garde playwright. He was a declassed bourgeois, a descendant of a great Prague family. His grandfather – Vácslav Havel – was an architect, a leading representative of Czech modernism. His uncle Miloš established the famous film studios on the Barrandov hills. The father, Václav M. Havel, a friend of Masaryk’s, apart from building houses was also building institutions – the Czech Rotary and YMCA. If for the Czechoslovak Communist Party there ever was . . .
Read more: Citizen Havel Leaves
While I cannot claim the privilege to have been one of Václav Havel’s friends, he loomed large in my life, first in my teenage years when I was coming of age in Communist Czechoslovakia and later through my extended sojourns abroad – in the United States and now in Poland. Václav Havel is profoundly irreplaceable. Together with millions of other Czechs, I owe him my freedom.
The season’s first snow was falling heavily last Sunday afternoon when I was making my way to Wrocław along winding, mountainous roads returning from my family house on the Czech side of the border. The going was very slow as the line of cars, mostly with Polish tags, headed back toward Poland after spending a weekend in the Czech mountains. My small son was sleeping in the back seat. In the quiet of the ride, I listened to Václav Havel’s voice recorded five years prior when he spoke on Czech National Radio about the place theater held in his life. Czech radio stations were responding to the news of the former President’s death with rebroadcasts of past interviews, as if they wanted to extend his presence among us.
In this moment of deep sadness when time seemed to have stopped altogether, my thoughts turned back to an important moment in my childhood. I must have been eleven when I decided to take part in a school recitation competition. To help me prepare, my mother taught me a poem by the Czech Nobel Prize laureate, Jaroslav Seifert. In the poem, Seifert commemorated the day when the first Czechoslovak President Tomáš Garyk Masaryk died. Masaryk, like Havel, died in early hours of the morning. The poem, which I still remember, is entitled, To kalné ráno – The Grey Morning. My mother read the poem out loud to me repeatedly until I knew the words by heart, stopping to take breaths before each softly sounding refrain: “Remember my child, that grey morning.” Thanks to Havel, I realize today that my mother’s choice of Seifert, . . .
Read more: What Václav Havel Meant to Me
President Barack Obama gave a powerful speech today, one of his best. The president was again eloquent, but there is concern here in the U.S. and also abroad in the Arab world, that eloquence is not enough, that it may in fact be more of the problem than the solution. The fine words don’t seem to have substance in Egypt, according to a report in The Washington Post. There appears to be a global concern that Obama’s talk is cheap. Obama’s “Cairo Speech” all over again, one Egyptian declared. Now is the time for decisive action. Now is the time for the President of the United States to put up or shut up. (Of course, what exactly is to be put up is another matter.)
This reminds me of another powerful writer-speaker, President Vaclav Havel. Havel is the other president in my lifetime that I have deeply admired. Both he and Obama are wonderful writers and principled politicians, both have been criticized for the distance between their rhetorical talents and their effectiveness in realizing their principles.
Agreeing with the criticisms of Havel, I sometimes joke about my developing assessment of him. I first knew about Vaclav Havel as a bohemian, as a very interesting absurdist playwright. I wrote my dissertation about Polish theater when this was still his primary occupation, and I avidly read his work then as I tried to understand why theater played such an important role in the opposition to Communism in Central Europe.
I then came to know him as one of the greatest political essayists and dissidents of the twentieth century. At the theoretical core of two of my books, Beyond Glasnost: The Post Totalitarian Mind and The Politics of Small Things: The Power of the Powerless in Dark Times are the ideas to be found in Havel’s greatest essay, “The Power of the Powerless.”
However, as president, Havel was not so accomplished. He presided over the breakup of Czechoslovakia, a development he opposed passionately, but ineffectually. He sometimes seemed to think that he could right a political problem by writing a . . .
Read more: Reflections on President Obama’s Speech on the Middle East and North Africa