To skip this introduction and go directly to read Daniel Dayan’s In-Depth Analysis, “Overhearing in the Public Sphere,” click here.
Daniel Dayan in today’s “In-Depth” post considers overhearing on a global scale. He investigates a simple formula: overhearing + global media = public crisis. He starts with a little anecdote, a personal experience at an academic conference in Sweden, and uses the anecdote to open an examination of major challenges of our times: differentiating, maintaining and then connecting public spheres, which resist the twin dangers of fragmentation from within, and global confusion. As usual, his is an elegant and provocative inquiry.
I find particularly illuminating his concise definition of the public sphere: “a conversation between a given nation- state and the corresponding civil society, with central media connecting centers and peripheries,” along with his expansive discussion of how such spheres operate. He analyzes how such spheres are de-stabilized, and how they are interrupted, how overhearing and intruding have become a normal in global public life promising a more universal public, but delivering moral spectacles. Reflecting on the case of Gerard Depardieu and his relationship with Vladimir Putin, and on the WikiLeaks dump, Dayan warns of the dangers of irrational spectacle in the world of normalized overhearing and intrusion, and he notes the illuminating transparency of things near and far lead to unintended tragic effects.
And note how Dayan’s opening story presents a concrete compact rendering of his global diagnosis. I will respond to this in my next post.
To read Daniel Dayan’s In-Depth Analysis, “Overhearing in the Public Sphere,” click here.
The Pussy Riot trial will go down in the history of injustices as the Oscar Wilde trial of the 21st century. Against the evil powers that be, the Moscow artists acknowledged their inspirers, fellow outcasts: Socrates (this connection to the martyr of philosophy has been noticed by David Remnick in The New Yorker), early feminist, transgender George Sand, and banished by Stalin, carnival researcher, Mikhail Bakhtin. Pussy Riot performs human rights. These women artists attack authoritarianism, misogyny, homophobia In their punk prayer, they protested Putin, the system, discrimination against the second sex, and as they sang, “gay pride exiled in chains to Siberia.” And still many hate them — and because of that they hate them. Why? In Eastern Europe the political class is anti-woman, anti-minority, anti-secular, because our countries have transitioned from false Communism to false Christianity: women, minorities, gays, artists to hell!
A formidable oppositionist movement is gaining strength: the supporters of Pussy Riot who don’t want prejudices to rule their life, demonstrations and shows of solidarity in the region and glocally, indignation of PEN Russia, PEN International, rock stars and the media, petitions (spearheaded in Poland’s leading broadsheet Gazeta Wyborcza by art critic Dorota Jarecka and signed by filmmakers Andrzej Wajda and Agnieszka Holland, curator Anda Rottenberg, Ethical Art professor Krzysztof Wodiczko ). Slovenian and cosmopolitan Slavoj Zizek wrote a letter to Pussy Riot with his characteristic wit: “It may sound crazy, but although I am an atheist, you are in my prayers.”
The brutal sentence on Pussy Riot encapsulates — beyond the headlines — the predicament which women face in Eastern Europe. Women curators in Hungary have been fired, and the world-renowned New School philosopher, Agnes Heller, has also been subject to a witch-hunt. Female artists and cultural operators in Poland have been humiliated. These prejudices are a major stumbling block in the democratic transition — in fact, phobias are destroying our societies. In Russia, women rebels are . . .
Read more: Performing Human Rights: Pussy Riot vs. the Pseudo Religious, Homophobic, Misogynists of Eastern Europe
The performance of Pussy Riot and its repression represent the deep political challenge of post communist authoritarianism and its progressive – transgressive alternatives. This is the first of two posts by Kitlinski that have great significance for Eastern Europe and beyond. -Jeff
Don’t let Putin fool you. Banishing Pussy Riot to a penal colony allowed the Russian leader to reassert his rule. Democracy be damned. Civil rights, religious freedom, and gender equality from herein would be subject to his purview. The ex-KGB officer’s message wasn’t just aimed at Russia. It was directed at all of Eastern Europe, too.
For anyone familiar with the history of regional politics, Putin’s positioning was thick with signifiers. Pussy Riot’s sentencing would please fellow reactionaries, obviously, as well as help serve as a salve for social distress. It also confirmed that the post-Communist period was formally over. Authoritarian capitalism is the rule of the day. There’s no alternative.
The political transition in post-Communist countries has turned majoritarian, as ex-Soviet bloc states start to formalize discrimination against pro-democracy forces. Curiously, this reaction, of what can only be described as the ancien regime, both Stalinist, and its antecedents, focuses on sexual dissidence, to broadcast its worldview. In the Ukraine, it’s Femen. In my own home, Poland, it’s Dorota Nieznalska, an artist who was convicted of blasphemy.
It’s a familiar story, one that Pussy Riot’s Nadia Tolokonnikova was quick to point out, when, in her closing statement, she compared her band’s fate to the trial of Socrates, and the kenosis of Christ. Jesus was “raving mad,” she reminded her religiously observant tormentors. “If the authorities, tsars, presidents, prime ministers, the people and judges understood what ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ meant, they would not put the innocent on trial.” Tolokonnikov also cited the prophet Hosea, in the Hebrew Bible: “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice.” Surely, the authorities were not thrilled.
Pussy Riot’s choice of Jewish scripture is of course telling, as well as calculated. The prophets argue for forgiveness (Hosea forgave his unfaithful wife) and . . .
Read more: Pussy Riot vs. The Pseudo Religious of Eastern Europe
An interview recently published in the Polish online journal, Kultura Liberalna, posted here, provides an interesting insider’s view of how the political situation there is understood from the point of view of Putin’s opposition. Lukasz Pawlowski, a Ph.D. Candidate at the Institute of Sociology, University of Warsaw and a contributing editor to Kultura Liberalna, interviews Lilia Shevtsova, a political scientist and expert on Russian politics. She served as director of the Center for Political Studies in Moscow and as deputy director of the Moscow Institute of International Economic and Political Studies. Currently she is a senior associate at the Moscow office of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She is the author of numerous publications including her latest book Change or Decay: Russia’s Dilemma and the West’s Response (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2011).
This interview raises a number of significant issues, concerning the problems of democratization and the problems of Russia. Most fundamental is that the democratization of Russia requires Russian action. Outsiders, “the West,” and specifically the United States, cannot do much about this. This is a theme we have been observing in many parts of the world. Consider, for example, how Elzbieta Matynia reflects on the issue as it applies to Egypt, Poland and South Africa.
And then the interview gets into the particulars: critically appraising the strengths and weaknesses of the democratic opposition Russia, reflecting on the Medvedev – Putin relationship, and how each of these figures challenge the democratic project, judging the short and long term prospects of democratic movement in Russia, and the necessity of change from the bottom up. One of Shevtsova’s more provocative claims is that Russia is better off with Putin than Medvedev as President.
To read the interview of Lilia Shevtsova “Do Not Democratize Russia: We Will Do It Ourselves,” click here.
An Interview from Kultura Liberalna
Lilia Shevtsova, a senior associate at the Moscow Carnegie Center and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, on Russian politics, democratic opposition and on why Putin may be better than Medvedev
Lukasz Pawlowski: Why haven’t the mass protests prevented Mr. Putin from winning the presidential election for the third time?
Lilia Shevtsova: Because the protest tide was weak, it wasn’t a real tsunami. The December movement had no structured leadership and no concrete agenda. It wasn’t strong enough to force political leaders in the Kremlin even to think about some serious change at the moment. Nonetheless, it shocked them and proved the society has awakened although luckily for the Kremlin it is not that frightening yet.
In Russia there are numerous parties and non-governmental organizations working against the regime for democratization. There have been there for many years and now when they got a marvelous opportunity to achieve at least some of their goals they missed it. They have been working long to get Russian society out in the streets and when they finally managed to do that they seemed completely surprised.
Everybody was surprised, maybe with exception of some people, who – just like myself – have been telling themselves every year, every month: “it will come, it will come, the bubble will burst”. But even we were not sure, when it will happen. The number of people that took to the streets was some kind of revelation. Even sociological instruments failed to reveal, what was happening beneath the surface of the society. The most respectable survey institution, Levada Center – the best in Russia, and maybe even in Europe – before the parliamentary elections in December estimated that the Kremlin party, United Russia, will get about 55% of the votes, while in the end it got officially only 45% and in reality less than 35% of the vote. So yes, for many people in the society, even in the opposition the events that followed parliamentary elections were unexpected.
But why has the opposition failed in their hour of trial, despite the fact, that we have so many movements, groups and parties? Why have they failed to get together, . . .
Read more: Do Not Democratize Russia: We Will Do It Ourselves
Yesterday, once again, Vladimir Putin was “elected” President of Russia. Citizens could choose from among Putin, the current premier, and a group of weak opposition candidates, including well known faces such as Gennady Zyuganov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky who always run but never win, along with newer faces such as Mikhail Prokhorov or Putin’s old friend Sergei Mironov, who in addition to their doubtful independence from the Kremlin, did not offer much of a campaign or new political ideas. And while the voting took place, and Putin and his supporters started celebrating right away, social media like Facebook and Twitter bubbled over with photos and accounts of election fraud. The critical social response is every bit as important as the election results.
A couple of days before the election, thousands of independent ballot observers waited in long lines to receive their training and instructions. The observers – unpaid volunteers – had arrived from Moscow, from other cities and from the countryside. Russian newspaper editor Dmitri Surnin wrote that the atmosphere among the waiting crowds resembled the mood during a citizens’ mobilization on the eve of war. “And your political preferences don’t matter, if you’re a leftist, or right, green, liberal, monarchist or communist – when the Fatherland is in danger, everybody needs to stand together.”
The war to which Surnin refers is one between the people who want to play it by the rules and those who want to falsify the elections and obstruct Russia’s democratic course. He cynically observes that the first group will be convinced of their moral victory, with the law and the truth on their side, but the second group will steal the real triumph, with the courts, the police, and Vladimir Putin on theirs.
Indeed, Putin won. Now let’s talk about the moral victors. A number of originally internet-based groups managed to organize a citizens’ army of more than 80,000 volunteers, who enlisted to visit polling stations to be on the lookout for election fraud. As reporter Anna Nemtsova remarked, “They are . . .
Read more: Putin Wins?
The long-anticipated opening of the renovated Bolshoi Theater in Moscow last month was another sign that the country has transitioned from post-socialism to post-post-socialism. As one scholar observed, the post-Soviet Russia of the 1990s (not unlike its Soviet predecessor, I should add) was founded on a metaphor of “historical rupture and social rebirth,” of rejection of the past and construction of the new social, political, and economic realities. However, in the new millennium, which more or less coincided with political ascent of Vladimir Putin, a new metaphor, that of “civilizational continuity,” has emerged and the current Russian “vision of political history and social identity [is] based in continuities, at various historical depths, linking [its] present with the Soviet and pre-Soviet eras.” Such reconceptualizaiton of the distant and more recent pasts is “coupled with the reappearance of particularist ideologies that set Russia in explicit opposition to Western states, social norms, and geopolitical interests,” which no doubt is a reaction to the post-Soviet import of Western “experts” and their economic wisdom and political counsel backed by NATO troops encroaching on the Russian space.
At the theater’s opening ceremony, Russian President Dmitrii Medvedev pronounced the theater to be “one of our grandest national brands” (bolshoi translates as big or great). The six-year-long and nearly 700-million-dollar renovation resulted in extensive upgrades to stage technology (it now has 3D and multimedia capability) and at the same time in the return to the 19th-century look of the theater’s décor. Frescoes, tapestries, chandeliers, mosaic floors were restored, while the Soviet hammer and sickle throughout the theater were replaced with a double-headed eagle, the symbol of both the tsarist and contemporary Russia.
The restoration and the opening performance attest more to Russia’s recent movement toward reconciliation with its various pasts. Guests at the invitation-only gala consisted of Russian beau monde: haute couture designers and television personalities, artists and designers, bankers and industrialists. But it seemed that whoever was issuing invitations wanted or, likely, was instructed to put together a guest list showing that whatever momentary political disagreements Russians might have, they can be . . .
Read more: Big Is Beautiful Again in Russia: The Return of the Bolshoi Theater
Like a whole lot of other people, I am trying to get a handle on Occupy Wall Street. It’s obvious that this is a very special movement, but I am trying to figure out what makes it so special. The one-month-old movement is being accused of being unclear, directionless, fragmented, vague, fuzzy. Indeed, it is not made up of disciplined cadres marching with mass-produced banners. It does not have a Central Committee, and though it is an expression of what one Zuccotti Park woman veteran calls an Economic Civil Rights Movement, it stays away from specific demands. These are there, too, but not easy to list or prioritize. It is not just about jobs, not only about mounting poverty, or student debts that now total more than all our credit-card debts; it is not only about corruptibility of the political system, and not only about accountability of the banks and bankers. It is – not unlike the Civil Rights Movement – about something much more fundamental. And I think it has something to do with the way we are locked in to rigid ways of thinking and talking about democracy.
There is nothing new in the observation that we are often imprisoned by language. Language is a conventional system of signs, and if we want to communicate we have to rely on its conventional usage. But there are dimensions and usages of language that, when tweaked a bit, have the capacity either to keep us captive, or to bring in some fresh air, helping us breathe. That we are captives of language, confined within a language that does not serve us any more, is conveyed vividly by Susan George when she says that “cost recovery” is the polite way of saying “make families pay to educate their children.” Indeed, we hear it all the time: education is a very good investment. On the other hand, a pleasantly surprising example of a more refreshing linguistic game comes from Occupy Wall Street: “Yes we camp!”
Something has happened to our thinking and talking about democracy, and we academics are not without guilt . . .
Read more: OWS and the Recovery of Democracy
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