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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Two New Items Out

Two new encyclopedia entries, co-authored with Mahua Sarkar, are out. They are in the Sage Encyclopedia of Global Studies, and you can read them as follows: Colonialism, and Empires.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

new review of the book

A new review of the book is out. It is the featured essay in the latest issue of International Sociology, an extremely perceptive and deeply ambitious piece by Attila Melegh. I am very grateful to Attila for this work. You can read it at https://sakai.rutgers.edu/access/content/user/jborocz/Provincial%20Europe.pdf.

Friday, March 9, 2012

European Values in Action

On my way to a small gathering last night, I saw this fine example of openness as a "European Value". (Sorry about the dark tones; it was way past sunset, and Stadt Berlin is rather parsimonious with street lights around here.)


The sticker is posted at the stop of bus M29 toward Hermannplatz, on the corner of Glogauer Str and Reichenberger Str. The "U" in this context (whom "Berlin" doesn't "'love'") are the mothers, mainly from somewhere between the Bosphorus and former-Soviet-Chinese border, who will be getting on the bus with their baby carts. And/or any and all flaneurs of the neighborhood. Understand this well: someone has designed and printed these stickers, paid for them, and distributes them in Kreuzberg--a part of Berlin that is really, really difficult to see as anything but a multicultural haven and a global artists' settlement. That takes thought, focus, preparation, time, effort, and a great deal of ill will. Bravo.

Then, at the party (in Schöneberg) the host relates the following story from yesterday morning. A neighbor--a Japanese woman with a Spanish husband and a small baby--goes downstairs to the ground floor hallway of the mid-bourgeois building she lives in, only to find the cart of their baby filled with--bouquets of flowers for International Women's Day?

No, not really. What then?

Garbage.

Yup.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

EU "Reaching Target Audience" with Racist Geopolitical Video

Sometimes reality is almost too obvious.

Recently the EU Commission released (and later withdrew, I understand) a one-and-a-half-minute-long video clip. The video is a textbook example of racist geopolitical propaganda: Three non-European males displaying violent, threatening behavior toward a single, un-armed woman who "pacifies" them by suddenly multiplying herself and transmogrifying into the 12 stars symbolizing the European Union. The message conveyed here is age-old, that of European moral superiority in a global context depicted as irrational, violent and essentially dangerous.

Let's consider an experiment. Watch the video and ask yourself the following question: Would your least favorite racist ideologue (they are too many to list, so just choose one) have any problem with its "European goodness" message, its mixed dance-and-martial-arts visual language or the overtly racist taxonomy of characters?

When a friend forwarded the link to the video to me, at first I had some questions regarding the genuineness of this material, it being so obvious. As it turns out, at least a recent article in Der Spiegel suggests this visual text was indeed produced (I assume under contract) for the EU Commission. (The EU Commission is the only credit that appears in the video, at the very end.) The goal was "reaching young people," and the commission think that "they have reached their target audience." The essence of racism is an ontological claim: the attribution of moral superiority to humans delineated from the rest of humanity by surface appearances. This video is a well-produced--and because of the quality of its production, spectacularly glaring--illustration of racist discourse.

Furthermore, one wonders, if the Commission still thinks it has reached their target audience," then why is the video not marketed widely? Also, why is there no artist attribution? No director, no producer, no music, costume, etc. credits. Interesting.

As I said it many times: In a truly striking fashion, the European mainstream (and that includes the liberal and the so-called "left" as well as the right) is almost completely "open" toward racist taxonomies, cultural discourses of superiority and inferiority, and identity claims based on cultural geography. Impervious to critique, fully oblivious to the implications, for this location, the notion of the "freedom" of the market is expected to smooth over five hundred years of the history of physical, moral, economic, social, and symbolic violence that constitutes the "European project" in the first place.

Well, it doesn't.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

"Race" to the Bottom

Kertész Ákos is an octuagenerian writer of reknown, especially for his strikingly critical work on the conditions of working-class life in Kádár's Hungary. His novel, Makra has been sold in 1.2 million copies (in a country with ten million citizens--i.e., approximately one in three Hungarian households is likely to own it). Kertész has received just about all high state awards that are available for a writer in Hungary.

On February 29, Kertész followed thousands of Roma citizens of Hungary (including, e.g., former Member of the European Parliament Viktória Mohácsi) in applying for political asylum in Canada. He decided to do so, his press statement explains, because, for the recent year or so, he has been subject to ceaseless harassment and physical threats for a piece he had written for a Hungarian-language newspaper, published in the USA, in which he suggested that Hungarians must be "genetically inferior," otherwise they would not have tolerated a series of dictatorships over their heads. (Having been called upon by the Hungarian government to do so, Kertész later recounted his statement. In spite of that, the conservative majority in the Budapest municipal council revoked Kertész's title as "Honorary Citizen of Budapest". The extreme-right party in Parliament has initiated a number of procedures against him, including a motion to revoke all his state awards.)

I have two small comments about the whole affair. First, it is obvious that such turns of phrase are absolutely commonplace in Hungary today, making just about any conversation, television or radio discussion, or even a trip by public transportation, quite unpleasant for those of us with a normal sense of humanity. Everyday racism is all over the place. What sets apart Kertész's statement is of course that it is applied to "Hungarians" in toto, i.e., a sacred object of devotion for extreme nationalist rhetorics. The prevalence of the 'race' discourse does not absolve Kertész of the responsibility for what he puts on paper (see my comments on that below), but helps us contextualize his point. It also helps us understand how it is possible that such a thought, if it can be called that, once penned by an author, should be able to pass through the hands of newspaper editors and all other people involved in the production of a newspaper and a website, apparently without raising an eyebrow. To me, that is the real clue regarding this matter.

Second, the racist slur used, as it is here, against "Hungarians" as such only makes sense, given the context, if we take into account the fact that Kertész himself is a "Hungarian," i.e., if we recognize that the absurd statement is, at a minimum, self-deprecating. The whole point is that of a desperate self-deprecation. With this, Kertész makes a very powerful literary allusion to a (not particularly pleasant, but still powerfully present) topos in Hungarian literature, that of lamentation and self-castigation over the tragic failings of the "nation." But understanding that allusion would require a sympathetic mind and a basic familiarity with Hungarian culture--both of which are woefully missing from the attitudes of the right-wing hacks who gave Kertész a Nazi reaction, thereby implicitly confirming the bigger point Kertész was trying to make with that ill-chosen metaphor.

To me, the worst thing about all this is the repeated realization--something I am getting with alarming frequency in, and with respect to, Hungary nowadays--that members of the culture behind the speech community, including many of those who label themselves as "left" and/or "liberal," have basically no idea how retrograde, antisocial and, overall, how suicidal their ignorance about the implications of the "race" discourse is.

The tragedy is not the racism of the extreme right. The ultimate tragedy is the implicit "openness" of the "liberal / left" position to such racist imageries. This truly is the end of a culture, as far as I am concerned.

cover page of the book

cover page of the book
image used for the cover design by Anannya Dasgupta