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Archive for September, 2013

The Russian left has hardly escaped Stalin’s shadow, but there are signs of change

By Blog Admin, on 30 September 2013

RIAN archive 535278 Laying flowers and wreaths to Iosif Stalin's grave at Kremlin wall

RIA Novosti archive, image #535278
Vladimir Fedorenko / CC-BY-SA 3.0

How are left-wing parties and movements faring in Russian politics? Luke March argues that despite the strength of the Russian Communist Party (KPRF), the left in Russia remains remarkably weak and fragmented. Nevertheless there is evidence of a shift towards contemporary European patterns with a stronger social-democratic movement and less reliance on the KPRF.

Over two decades after communism’s collapse, commentators rarely tire of pointing out the obdurate survival of the Russian Communist Party (KPRF), which remains Russia’s second-largest party. But it is not the strength of the Russian left that is most remarkable – rather its weakness. After all, sociologically, Russia remains rather a left-wing country, with opinion polls showing high support for social equality and a paternalist welfare state. Even former plutocrat-cum-dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky has repeatedly called for a ‘left turn’ in social policy. Arguably then, the Russian left should be much stronger than the still-large but now much denuded KPRF. So what is the current situation of the left and why?

The parliamentary ‘opposition’

Symptomatically, the dominance of the KPRF is a major sign of the left’s weakness. This party has long been regarded by left-wing activists as a ‘Frankenstein’s monster’, essentially unable to evolve but blocking newer left-wing trends, because of its intrinsic Stalinism, loyalty to the state and ‘right-wing’ nationalist/religious rhetoric. Although in the 1990s this view was somewhat caricatured, the party has signally failed to evolve in the Putin era. After 2003 it was reduced to its core vote and it has gradually lost all of its interesting and/or reformist figures (who were either purged or left). It is bereft of any political influence (even losing its last governor in 2013).

Under the 20-year leadership of Gennadii Zyuganov, the party now barely pretends to contest for power. Indeed, whereas the KPRF used to advocate fighting the ‘anti-national elite’, it has latterly advocated a ‘popular front’ with Putin at the helm and Zyuganov (who has never held executive office) as PM. The KPRF does remain the only Russian parliamentary party (occasionally) to criticise Putin, which accords it increased support from younger voters.

But its endlessly recycled policies (of which ever-more overt Stalinism is just one example) means that political scientist Vladimir Gel’man’s claim that it is Russia’s ‘most boring’ party is apt. Nor is it in any sense a real opposition any longer. Despite griping about presidential dictatorship, the party distances itself completely from the street opposition, which it sees as ‘orangists’ (i.e. pro-Western forces behind ‘coloured revolutions’). (more…)

Folk Psychology: more than nationalist pseudo-science?

By Blog Admin, on 23 September 2013

KlautkeMindEgbert Klautke talks about his new book, which re-evaluates the historical discipline of  ‘Folk Pyschology’ in Germany. It was, he argues, more than nationalist pseudo-science.

 BB: How would you define ‘Folk Psychology’ and what drew you to the study of it?

Egbert Klautke: ‘Folk Psychology’ is an awkward translation of the German term Völkerpsychologie. Originally, it referred to attempts to study the psychological make-up of nations, and as such is a forerunner of today’s social psychology. However, in today’s common understanding, Völkerpsychologie equals national prejudice: it is seen as a pseudo-science not worth considering seriously.

My first book dealt with perceptions of the U.S.A. in Germany and France, and much of these views could be described as Völkerpsychologie: clichés and stereotypes about a foreign nation, which were of a surprisingly coherent nature. Back then, my rather naïve idea was that there must be a general theory behind these perceptions, and I embarked on a study of Völkerpsychologie.

 BB: Did any perceptions on the subject change from the time you started your research to the time you completed the book?

EK: When I started my research, I shared the general view of Völkerpsychologie as a flawed attempt to present national stereotypes as academic research, and was suspicious of its nationalist agenda and racist undertones. I also considered it typically German. Having completed the book, I have a much more sympathetic view of ‘folk psychology,’ at least of the early attempts by [Moritz] Lazarus, [Heymann] Steinthal and [Wilhelm] Wundt. Despite its flaws and shortcomings, Völkerpsychologie was a serious and honourable attempt to introduce a social science to the university curriculum. As such, it influenced pioneers of the social sciences not only in Germany, but also around the world.

 BB: What are some of the factors that led to the demise of this kind of psychology?

 EK: Most importantly: the Third Reich. Even though the Nazis were not particularly interested in ‘folk psychology’ after 1945 this approach was quickly associated with Nazi theories and race ideologies. The genuine weaknesses of ‘folk psychology’ contributed to its demise, but it was mainly the assumption that Völkerpsychologie was part of Nazi thinking that contributed to this process. By the 1960s, the very term had become a taboo in the social sciences. (more…)

Whatever happened to Moldova’sTwitter generation?

By Blog Admin, on 16 September 2013

Moldova celebrates the EU

Photo: Kevin Anderson Kevglobal BY-NC-SA 2.0

Young people spearheaded the 2009 Twitter Revolution in Moldova but are now deeply disillusioned with electoral politics. The country’s future direction in Europe may depend on whether they can be re-engaged, argues Ellie Knott .

It commonly assumed that young people in Moldova are politically uninterested, inactive and inert. However they were among the most active during the 2009 Twitter Revolution against the re-election of the Communist Party.

Young people also formed a crucial part of the electorate: 18-29 year olds are the base electorate of the two of the three parties in the previous Alliance for European Integration (AIE), and the recently formed Pro-European Coalition, comprising 43% of Liberal Democrat Party’s (PLDM) votes and 41% of the Liberal Party’s (PL) votes. To hold on to power in next year’s parliamentary elections, for at least two of the three parties in the Pro-European coalition, ensuring that young people vote – and that they vote for them – will be fundamental to their continuing success.

Young people often describe the change of government in 2009, which saw the AIE displace the Communists, as a turning point for Moldovan politics. It inspired them and encouraged them to believe that things would be different. Many concede that since the ‘democratic’ parties took power the situation has improved, particularly in terms of personal and media freedom and Moldova’s progress with EU integration. But this initial positivity has been often dampened. Several interviewees described how they had stopped following the political situation in the media of late because as one put it  ‘the more I watched news, the sadder I got’. They often spoke of the ‘drama’ and ‘theatrics’ of Moldovan politics, the constant fighting between politicians and how lying and stealing are running rife. (more…)

Nazi storm-troopers’ cigarettes

By Blog Admin, on 11 September 2013

Marketing the Storm troopers’ cigarettes (Image reproduced by kind permission of the Münchner Stadtmuseum, P C 13/70)

Marketing the Storm troopers’
cigarettes (Image reproduced
by kind permission of the Münchner
Stadtmuseum, P C 13/70)

Cigarette marketing in the inter-war period opens up a new angle on Nazi history, finds Daniel Siemens.

Smoking cigarettes became a mass phenomenon during and shortly after World War I. No longer associated exclusively with oriental luxury, smoking nevertheless marked differences – of regional provenance, social class and also of political orientation. In 1926, the cigarette pack was successfully introduced in Germany.

This innovation not only resulted in a boost sales, it also allowed for a new form of marketing. The rectangular boxes proved to be an ideal place for graphic illustrations that helped to identify specific cigarette brands. The marketing of some brands soon reacted to the actual political, social or economic situation. Between 1930 and 1932, in a period of rapidly rising unemployment figures in Germany, these advertisements sometimes used drastic images of emergencies, such as a traffic accident or a shipwreck. It suggested that the smoker of these particular brands reacted serenely and composedly in the face of such situations – coolness desperately sought after by millions of Germans confronted with personal economic ruin, often accompanied by family ruptures.

The late 1920s were the ‘Kampfzeit [time of struggle] of the cigarette market’ – not a direct allusion to Nazi terminology, but a contemporary wording used by the market players. Technological invention and the breakthrough of modern marketing techniques in Weimar Germany forced the cigarette companies into fierce competition. It was precisely in this period, in 1929, that a certain Arthur Dressler approached the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) and its Sturmabteilung (Storm Troopers, the SA) with his plans for a new cigarette factory in Dresden. The Saxon capital had been one of the centres of the cigarette industry in Germany since the late 19th century.

The late 1920s were a remarkable time for a start-up enterprise in this already largely saturated industry, all the more so as Dressler lacked the considerable means necessary for such an investment. But Dressler, an NSDAP Party member, had an interesting idea: he suggested producing a home brand SA cigarette. If the SA would be willing to pressurize their men into consuming his new brand exclusively, he promised the militia a reward of about 15 to 20 Pfennig for every 1000 cigarettes sold. The SA leadership in Munich approved the plan, and with the help of a successful Dresden businessman the ‘Cigarettenfabrik Dressler Kommanditgesellschaft’, better known under the name of her major brand ‘Sturm’, was established. (more…)

Getting Vampirism wrong

By Blog Admin, on 4 September 2013

Johann Christian Harenberg. Some Contemporary and Christian Considerations on Vampires or the Blood-Sucking Dead, Wolfenbüttel, 1733

Johann Christian Harenberg.
Some Contemporary and Christian
Considerations on Vampires or
the Blood-Sucking Dead,
Wolfenbüttel 1733.
Via Wikimedia Commons

Vampires continue to fascinate us, but the legends have strayed a long way from their original meaning, argues Professor Martyn Rady.

The latest commentary on ‘vampires’ In Poland and Bulgaria (summarized in The Guardian, 16 July 2013), which are respectively some decapitated skeletons and staked corpses, shows the problem with studies of vampirism today. Any undead person, or person who is thought to be still walking when they were previously buried, is considered a vampire. These creatures are not automatically, however, vampires; they are merely revenants or returners.

All cultures have believed that the dead may on occasions return to life, but that is not to say the returned will share the characteristics of the vampire. The Greek revenant or vrykolakas might thus return to this world in order to help with the ploughing or other household chores. The West African demon who hides in trees ready to rip out with his long tongue the innards of the unwary traveller, may feast on the living, but he was never human and thus had never experienced mortal death. Both are, however, frequently described as vampires, along with such other supernatural manifestations as ghouls, strigoi or screech-witches, and cannibalistic shape-changers.

The origins of this confusion lie with Augustus Montague Summers (1880–1948). Summers was a pretend priest, notorious exhibitionist, and associate of Aleister Crowley, which is never a good sign. He made his money writing superficially learned books on the supernatural. The Vampire: His Kith and Kin (1928) lumps together a range of revenant stories, together with examples of creatures feasting on the living, and posits a single category of malevolence, which he calls vampirism. The book was a best-seller and Summers rewrote it under several different titles.

We need to pin the vampire down, or else like Summers we will render every evil object a vampire. To be a vampire requires three things: (a) revenance, to be returned from the dead, (b) a proclivity or even physical requirement to feast on the living, and (c) contagion, the ability to infect others with the disease of vampirism. These are necessary conditions. Nothing less will do.

Once we have established the conditions, the provenance follows. Vampires originate in Serbia. The original name, which is upir, is Slavonic and means a demon. In Serbia, however, vulgar traditions of Orthodox Christianity established for the first time the combination of the three features that we have determined. Possibly, this had something to do with beliefs in ‘slow death’, whereby the spirit leaves the body over a period of weeks; possibly, it was related to practices of ritual exhumation; possibly, it was synthetic of Christianity and other traditions. (more…)

What drives the rise of Europe’s new anti-establishment parties?

By Blog Admin, on 2 September 2013

A new breed of protest party is being propolled to success in Central and Eastern Europe by a mix of economic hardship, rising corruption and ossified party establishments find Seán Hanley and Allan Sikk.

The spectacular breakthrough of Pepe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in Italy in February underlined the potential for a new type of anti-establishment politics in Europe – loosely organised, tech savvy and fierce in its demands to change the way politics is carried class, but lacking the anti-capitalism or racism that would make them easily pigeon-holeable as traditional outsider parties of far-left or far-right.

 But for observers of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), the dramatic eruption of new parties led by charismatic anti-politicians promising to fight corruption, renew politics and empower citizens is nothing new. Indeed, over the last decade a succession of such parties – led by a colourful array of ‘non-politicians’ ranging from aristocrats to central bankers, journalists and businessmen – have broken into parliaments in the region.

  Some have achieved spectacular overnight success in elections on a scale easily comparable to Grillo’s and (unlike Grillo) have often marched straight into government. Some examples include Simeon II National Movement (NDSV) in Bulgaria in 2001, New Era in Latvia in 2002 and Res Publica (Estonia 2003) and, more recently, the Czech Republic’s Public Affairs party (2010), the Palikot Movement (Poland 2011), Positive Slovenia (2011) and Ordinary People (Slovakia 2012).

 In a new paper we explore what these parties, which we term anti-establishment reform parties, have in common and what drives their success. (more…)