Weekend light reading: Aesthetics and politics

There is an interesting article available at Kakanien Revisited, which discusses political conflicts in the Milošević period in terms of the promotion and desecration of images, and the techiniques of different art movements. It is illustrated with photographic documentation of some of the more interesting performances of the period.

"Image worship, parody and image destruction in Serbia in the 1990s," by Anna Schober (the article is in pdf format).

The author vigorously contests the perception that parody and irony have become dominant, therefore meaningless, forms of political representation by focusing on the "image struggle" that was carried out in multiple fields during this period.

Coverage of Rumsfeld's exchange with soldiers

The only thing resembling a television news program in the United States, Comedy Central's Daily Show with Jon Stewart, offers its coverage of Defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld's inadequate responses to the concerns of US soldiers, courtesy of One Good Move. The file is a Quicktime video file, 9.9MB, lasting 8 minutes and 42 seconds.

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Apparently Rumsfeld's responses to inquisitive soldiers are nothing compared to the way he answers his own preemptive rhetorical questions.


Department of bad decisions

ICTY yesterday released Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatović, respectively the founder and first commander of the Unit for Special Operations (JSO), pending trial. This more or less guarantees that efforts to intimidate witnesses will intensify, not only in their trial but in the ongoing trial of JSO members for the murder of prime minster Zoran Đinđić. They may have already started.

Economic data from WIIW

At the WIIW (that's Wiener Institut für Internationale Wirtschaftsvergleiche, or Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies for us Yanks) Balkan Observatory, they have posted new economic data and forecasts for eight Southeast European countries: Albania, Bosnia-Heregovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia, and Serbia-Montenegro. Files are in pdf format.

At TOL: Apology time

For anyone who is interested, my new column for TOL is out. This month, it is about Serbian president Boris Tadić's apology and the responses to it.

Also at TOL, a series of articles on drugs in Central Asia, an analysis of asylum standards in the EU by Martin Rozumek, the editors' take on the controversy over election fraud in Romania, and much more.


Quote of the day

From World o'Crap:

"Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes, that way when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes."

2004 Global corruption barometer from TI

Transparency International has released its Global Corruption Barometer for 2004. All 23 pages of it are available as a pdf file here. The group’s work is a little controversial among people who study corruption because they conduct surveys on how much institutions are perceived in public opinion (among 50,000 respondents in 64 countries) as being corrupt rather than studying corruption itself. Perceptions are not completely irrelevant, however, considering that trust in institutions in an important variable in measuring how stable they are likely to be and how likely they are to be perceived as legitimate.

The five institutions perceived as being most corrupt are: 1) political parties, 2) legislatures and parliaments, 3) police, 4) the judiciary, and 5) tax revenue agencies. There is some variation, though: in the US, Canada and some European countries, media outlets make people's top three. 45% of respondents globally expect levels of corruption to increase in the coming three years (up from 42% in 2003), while 17% expect a decrease (down from 20% in 2003).

Obviously it is hard to draw very many meaningful conclusions from a sample as diverse as this, encompassing 64 countries with a wide range of conditions and situations. They do give aggregate data on individual countries in Appendix IV, but not in enough detail to do the kind of cross-tabulation they do in the text of the report. It’s interesting data-gathering, and it cries out for some independent analysis that would produce some good theory.

The Hague moves a couple notes up on the flute

Political analyst Tanja Topić tells B92 that she senses a change in official rhetoric regarding relations between Serbia and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) following president Boris Tadić's return from visiting Bosnia-Hercegovina. It is apparent in Tadić's apologies (however mixed) in Sarajevo and Mostar earlier this week, and in statements by Tadić and foreign minister Vuk Drašković today. She doubts, however, that this change of rhetoric will lead to arrests and extraditions soon, because of "criminalised structures which protect fugitives."

Not to be outdone, prime minister Vojislav Koštunica's government has decided to offer guarantees for the provisional release of Vojislav Šešelj. It is a cynical move, calculated to undermine Tadić by throwing a bone to the far right, and taken in the full knowledge that Šešelj's chances of gaining conditional release are absolutely zero.

No Batman, Mandrake or Phantom?

Now here is a good idea for a film series. Dom omladine in Belgrade is introducing "Superoperator," a program in which every month a well-known cultural figure selects films to be followed by musical performances.

The program kicks off in December with the program selected by Dušan Kojić - Koja of the greatest Yugoslavian band of all time, Disciplina Kičme (the web site includes new music from the British incarnation of the group, Disciplin a Kitschme). You can view the program here. I'd say Koja is a tad on the eclectic side.

Plugging my friends' books: Balkanology edition

My friend Chip Gagnon has just released The myth of ethnic war: Serbia and Croatia in the 1990s. He contests the notion that nationalist politics works by some kind of euphoric mass mobilisation, arguing instead that conflicts empty political space by forcing all issues to be seen through a national lens, the effect of which is to demobilise people as political subjects. Also, it has a great cover design.

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You can get a copy of your very own right here.

Plugging my friends' books: Clark sociology edition

My colleague Bob Ross has recently released Slaves to fashion: Poverty and abuse in the new sweatshops. It is grounded in his long-term research on globalisation of labor and the garment industry, and is sure to be hugely influential both in terms of understanding how labor markets are changing and in terms of guiding activists who are interested in labor standards. You can buy it here. If you want to judge it by its cover, it looks like this:

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And my colleague Parminder Bhachu has released Dangerous designs: Asian women fashion the diaspora economies. It discusses how especially Sikh designers in Britain have defined Asian fashion and turned it into a global commodity, and what this means in terms of economics, culture and identity. You can buy a copy here. Sorry I don't have a cover image to share.

Nothing against Amazon -- for Parminder's book I've linked to their online store. But I like to support neighborhood businesses, and I love independent bookstores. So for Bob's book I have linked to Brookline Booksmith. They do everything Amazon does, and give my dog biscuits too. Doesn't everyone love to read with their dog?


Invitation to park illegally in Boston

The city of Boston has a program running this month: if you get a parking ticket, instead of paying it you have the option of buying toys of equal value to the penalty (yes, you have to produce a receipt). The toys will then go to the Toys for Tots program, which gives toys as holiday gifts to needy children.

Okay, you don't have to park illegally. Just appreciate a program that brings pleasure to an experience that is usually nothing but an annoyance. Actually, it wouldn't help to violate the parking regulations, the program is only for tickets issued between 1 December and 3 December.

The papal you

Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, replying to a question by Army Spc. Thomas Wilson on why soldiers are not provided with protective armor:

"You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have."

Except for this: Mr Rumsfeld doesn't go to war. He sends other people. Probably too, he only imagines that he has Mr Wilson.

Documents on torture

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a series of requests under the Freedom of Information Act for documents related to torture committed against detainees at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq. Here is what they have got. In sum: other agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) knew that prisoners were being treated illegally and informed the Department of Defense about this, with warnings and protests. The Adminstration defended the use of torture and continued to do it anyway.

Why is it again that Mr Bush said he does not want the US to be subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court? Oh yes, it is because he is a torturer.

Balkanblogging 1

Sure I take requests! Coturnix of Science and politics asked for a selection of good Balkan blogs. So … I know a little and found out some more, here are my favorite finds from the first outing:

There is an anonymous but not reticent Sarajka in Rotterdam (no, Amsterdam! sorry!) who encapsulates culture, politics, literature and art in her generally folly-free Letters to Erasmus.

Bojan Bajgorić Šantić, a respected Splitizen, is the first blog-based candidate for the Croatian presidency.

A classic formulation, at Ne bih da se petljam we find the ruminations of a person who would really prefer not to get involved, but in such a situation…

Outsiders take on the challenges of life and politics in Bucharest at Halfway down the Danube. The authors are aware that Bucharest is not on the Danube, give them a chance.

Dragos Novac offers in @rgumente a sort of mixed presentation of business, technology and Romanian politics. I choose it for his elaborate metaphor about cows, the world needs more of these.

In the name of the “Initiative for a normal Serbia,” Miroslav Hristodulo gives his unique and disarmingly honest political analysis. Is it normal for Serbia that he has not updated since March? Probudi se Miroslave, čekamo tvoje insajte.

Holding up the end of people who have not updated on this side of the puddle, a US law student kept us updated on what was being done about Finding Karadžić until, say, October. It’s still pretty interesting.

At Flogging the Simian, one Soj gives long examples of investigative journalism, some of it quite original, and all definitely free of the big-media orientation available almost everywhere else. We hope she does not really abuse primates.

I promise to review any suggested additions to the list and include the ones that strike my fancy in a future installment.

Update: Get an ongoing take on the literature and architecture of Sarajevo with a refreshing dip in the Miljacka. Thanks, Anonymous.


Five characteristics of fundamentalists

Thanks to Digby for drawing attention to the essay "The fundamentalist agenda" by the Rev. Dr. Davidson Loehr. In it he summarises the findings of the Fundamentalism Project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which surveyed fundamentalist movements around the world and found that "the agenda of all fundamentalist movements in the world is virtually identical, regardless of religion or culture." This agenda comes down to five items, on which I will quote Loehr at length:

"The fundamentalists' agenda starts with insistence that their rules must be made to apply to all people, and to all areas of life. There can be no separation of church and state, or of public and private areas of life. The rigid rules of God—and they never doubt that they and only they have got these right—must become the law of the land. Pat Robertson, again, has said that just as Supreme Court justices place a hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution, so they should also place a hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible. In Khomeini's Iran, and in the recent Taliban rule of Afghanistan, we saw how brutal and bloody this looks in real time.

The second agenda item is really at the top of the list, and it's vulgarly simple: Men are on top. Men are bigger and stronger, and they rule not only through physical strength but also and more importantly through their influence on the laws and rules of the land. Men set the boundaries. Men define the norms, and men enforce them. They also define women, and they define them through narrowly conceived biological functions. Women are to be supportive wives, mothers, and homemakers.

A third item follows from the others. (Indeed each part of the fundamentalist agenda is necessarily interlocked, and needs every other part to survive.) Since there is only one right picture of the world, one right set of beliefs, and one right set of roles for men, women, and children, it is imperative that this picture and these rules be communicated precisely to the next generation. Therefore, fundamentalists must control education by controlling textbooks and teaching styles, deciding what may and may not be taught.

Fourth, fundamentalists spurn the modern, and want to return to a nostalgic vision of a golden age that never really existed. Several of the scholars observed a strong and deep resemblance between fundamentalism and fascism. Both have almost identical agendas. Men are on top, women are subservient, there is one rigid set of rules, with police and military might to enforce them, and education is tightly controlled by the state. One scholar suggested that it's helpful to understand fundamentalism as religious fascism, and fascism as political fundamentalism. The phrase “overcoming the modern” is a fascist slogan dating back to at least 1941.

The fifth point is the most abstract, though it's foundational. Fundamentalists deny history in a radical and idiosyncratic way. Fundamentalists know as well or better than anybody that culture shapes everything it touches: The times we live in color how we think, what we value, and the kind of people we become. Fundamentalists agree on the perverseness of modern American society: the air of permissiveness and narcissism, individual rights unbalanced by responsibilities, sex divorced from commitment, and so on. What they don't want to see is the way culture colored the era when their scriptures were created."

There may not be much to add here, except that looked at in this light, the agenda clearly has much more to do with a certain type of authoritarian politics than with religion.


Apology of a sort

Serbian president Boris Tadić is on a visit to Sarajevo, where he is apologising "in his own name" for crimes that were committed "in the name of the Serbian people." B92 is carrying the following text of Mr Tadić's somewhat equivocal statement, in which he calls for mutual apologies by all sides:

"However, these crimes were not committed by the Serbian people, but by criminals, individuals. It is not possible to charge a whole people because the same crimes were also committed against the Serbian people, so in that sense we all owe one another an apology. If I have to start first, well, here I am."

Interesting formulation. Probably it will be taken as a half measure. But then, half measures are not always worse than no measures at all. But it does lead a person to wonder why politicians are so much more cautious when making apologies than they are when doing damage.

Sociology of everyday life

My friend and colleague Ivana Spasić has released a new book, Sociologije svakodnevnog života.

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There is an excerpt of her section of political meanings of everyday resistance in the new issue of Republika.


I am not certain what the source for this is, but a friend tells me that one third of the members of the Italian parliament are under indictment. As near as I can tell, this either means that the parliament is much worse than average or that the prosecutors are much better than average.