Monthly Archives: November 2006

Speak up Europe!

A new campaign to foster a European debate just started a few days ago. “Speak up Europe” wants to “facilitate the debate about the European Union”. It is part of the controversial Plan D (D stands for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate) that was proposed by the European Commission after the non/nee votes last year. By the way: interesting debates also take place on the blog of Margot Wallström, the Commissioner for Institutional Relations and Communication.

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The campaign “seeks to collect opinions and concern of the European citizens on a range of topics.” The first step was to translate this into all official EU languages.

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Russia: a ‘soft power’ running out of gas?

Recent news from Russia are not positive at all. Somehow it feels as if Russia is marching back to Soviet times. The list is long and truly worrying:

Economically, the country is run by a handful of oligarchs. Energy is used as a political weapon with a little help of the dubious state controlled Gazprom. Putin is constructing a kind of authoritarian “managed democracy” with a high level of corruption and nepotism. Restrictions on NGOs were imposed and freedom of speech seems to exist only on paper. Large scale human rights abuses in Chechnya as well as in the Russian army are not even mentioned in the press anymore. Also, Russia’s’ neo-imperial foreign policy approach towards its neighbors has become normal. Relations with the EU and in particular with Poland are not good at all. Critics of the government such as Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko were assassinated.

In order to understand all these things it might be helpful to have a look into current debates of political philosophy in Russia. Both, Ivan Krastev and Nicu Popescu analyse the ideological battle that is going on. For Ivan Krastev the concept of sovereignty is central:

For the Kremlin, sovereignty is a capacity. It implies economic independence, military strength and cultural identity. The other key element of the sovereign state is a “nationally-minded” elite. (…) The creation of the nationally-minded elite is the primarily task of the sovereign democracy as a project. Moreover, the need for a nationally-minded elite requires a nationally-minded democratic theory.

Quite logically, the Russian elite is trying to construct a new political theory since “Russia should break its ideological dependence on western theories”. Interestingly, the French political rationalism of Francois Guizot and Carl Schmitt’s “decisionism” are the main pillars of this theory of a Russian style “sovereign democracy”.

Nicu Popescu links this approach with Joseph Nye’s soft power concept which traditionally is used to explain the power of the EU or the behaviour of the USA in the 1990s.

The idea of ‘sovereign democracy’ has a number of functions. The first is to provide Putin’s authoritarianism with respectable ‘democratic’ clothes in order to strengthen it internally and insulate it from international criticism. The second is to challenge the West’s idea of democracy and human rights as a set of universal values and practices. As a result of the ‘colour revolutions’ in Ukraine and Georgia, Russia’s leaders learned that crude manipulation might not be enough to remain in power, that ideas matter and that NGOs can make revolutions. They have also learned that a ‘legitimacy deficit’ can undermine the elites. Thus the Kremlin had to develop its tools for ideological manipulation, enhance control of the circulation of ideas and the NGOs in a more proactive manner.

Therefore, Russia promotes its very own concept of “Eastern Democracy” also abroad.

Russia invests in the development of NGO infrastructure, and enhancing its channels to bring across the Kremlin’s message at all levels. Various Kremlin supported organisations are mushrooming. The scope of their activity is truly all-encompassing. Russia-friendly and Russia-financed NGOs and think-tanks have emerged in many CIS states and even in the secessionist entities.

Interesting examples of this policy can be found here. (The article also contains very interesting quotations of members of the Russian elite!) According to Nicu Popescu these soft power instruments

are designed to create an intellectual milieu of sophisticated, though tricked, ideological support for the current Russian authorities. They also serve as a source of ideology for the Kremlin’s pragmatists. The latter are driven by financial and power interests, not ideas or norms. But they seek to strengthen further their power by complementing it with a ‘soft’ dimension. It is the new face of ‘smart authoritarianism’ that speaks the language of Western norms and is very flexible, but has very little to do with the values of democracy, Eastern- or Western-style.

And if you are now thinking: Why are they doing all these efforts? Is it not easier to use the well-known energy weapon? Well, quite wrong, because What if Russian gas runs low?

A case of “Romanian uniqueness”?

What is the problem of universities in Romania? I am sure everybody who studied in Romania could come up with some very interesting points when answering this question. At least for me the lack of basic academic approaches is more than obvious. Nobody questions the lousy teaching, the badly equipped libraries, corruption, the widely spread ignorance about research methods… Until now a deep reform of the Romanian university system was not on top of the agenda. Now, this debate gains momentum again and I hope it will find its way also into the Romanian political discourse. More than just academic’ is the title of an article by Cristina Bradatan which grasps the most important points in this debate:

Despite the impressive increase of student numbers in the last year, Romania only spends 0,5 % of its GDP on research and development. This is very little compared with 0,6-0,7% in Eastern Europe (Hungary, Bulgaria) or even 1,9%, the European average.

But another aspect of the Romanian university system is more striking:

Doctorates are easily obtained by students lacking minimal scholarly credentials, and many dissertations have been revealed to be based on plagiarized research.

For Cristina Bradatan a worrying divide exists…

…between those academics who perform well and are productive, and those who are poor teachers and generate low-quality research. The way out of the impasse is to put a merit-based promotion system in place, ensuring, in time, that only outstanding scholars rise to be full professors.

Andrei Cornea, a well known “intellectual” in Romania questions the very relevance of this promotion system that actually ensures quality within science. (I assume that he is afraid of the system of peer-reviewed articles and the subsequent international visibility.)

“The promotion system needs flexibility, not rigid bureaucratic rules” Cornea argues. Although it is far from clear where this flexibility should stop in a promotion system that is already too flexible, Cornea’s ideas are shared by many others. Recently, more than 200 full and associate professors who rose through the ranks despite not having doctorates loudly denounced a new law requiring a PhD for holders of those academic positions. Predictably, other commentators took aim at Cornea’s argument, trashing the idea of “Romanian uniqueness” as a disguised apology for cultural pathology and a cheap way to avoid serious reform.

So where is the “Monica Macovei” for the Romanian education system?

Securitatea and CEU

Thanks to Evgeny, I came across this story about Sorin Antohi. I am sure, some of you have read stuff written by him, so you might be interested in that:

The immediate cause of Antohi’s exit was a line on that CV which claimed he received a Ph.D. in History from the University of Iaşi in Romania in 1995. He didn’t. Instead, according to reports in the Romanian press, in 2000, roughly two years after being tapped to head CEU’s history department, Antohi’s status as a doctoral student at Iaşi was terminated. But the story of Antohi’s fall involves far more than a simple case of bogus credentials or scholarship. (The CV also lists several publications whose authenticity can reportedly not be verified.) But what led to the discovery of this fraud was another seemingly unconnected revelation: For several years, Antohi had served as an informer for Romania’s communist-era Departamentul Securităţii Statului, better known as the Securitate.

Bond, James Bond

Are you already excited about the new James Bond movie “Casino Royale”? You want to join the debate over who is the best Bond ever? First you should watch all James Bond movie trailers from the last 45 years here! And if that is not enough, watch all the intros of the Bond movies! Thanks for putting this together!

Borat

Finally I managed to see the movie with the best title ever: “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”. The movie has been described as quality trash and got a lot of controversial press coverage. For some good comments look here and here and here. In my opinion it is a very funny movie but I don’t want to get into the philosophical debates surrounding it. Love it or hate , take it or leave it! Surprisingly, the movie became a mainstream success and has even topped the box office in the United Studies which is quite odd since it is rather anti-American.

By the way: the scenes in Kazakhstan were filmed in a village called Glod in south-eastern Romania which explains the Romanian swearing at the beginning of the movie. In fact not many people know that Romania has developed a quite professional movie industry due to its relatively low production costs. A list of movies that were directed or produced in Romania can be found here.
However, in my opinion Sacha Baron Cohen is a marketing genius.The campaign for the movie started nearly a year ago (or even earlier) when Borat hosted the MTV European Music Awards being mostly unknown outside the UK. The old quote that all publicity is good publicity has been verified. It began with the story of the removal of his website by the Kazakh authorities. Afterwards lots of little movies appeared on the internet mainly from his TV show. Over the summer, Borat appeared frequently in different places always trying to get as much media coverage as possible.

Finally the trailers were released and everyone was thrilled. Unfortunately, it is a short movie (only 82 min). And the several long trailers here and here (up to 2 min 30) include already the best jokes. I was really looking forward to the movie but I guess I was just a victim of the marketing strategy.

And now the controversy continues: The government of Kazakhstan accused Borat again. Russia banned the movie completely. Some of the people that were mocked by Borat want to earn money as well. Borat got beaten up. Even the Romanian villagers want to take Borat to court. And the result at the box office? The second weekend was even more successful than the first one. In case you want to know how this people got in the movie in the first place I found an interesting article here.

November Music

People keep asking me about good music. Of course, I cannot expect that everybody likes  my music but nevertheless I want to share my current playlist with the world. It is a weird mixture of rather popular indie, jazz and britpop tunes that are in a way ‘novemberish’.  I also linked it with the relevant site on myspace or youtube so you can listen/watch to the stuff right away! Unfortunately, I did not always find the actual song I was looking for. But I am sure you will find the songs and the artists somewhere on the internet…

Enjoy!

the mix tape:

Hot Chip “Over and Over
Richard Ashcroft “Why not nothing
Muse ” Supermassive Blackhole
The Vegastones “Drag Queen Eyes”
The Good, The Bad And The Queen “Herculean
Kasabian “Cut off
Flaming Lips “Yeah Yeah Yeah Song
Tom McRae “You cut her hair”
The Doves “There goes the fear
Elbow “Any Day Now”
Interpol “Slow Hands
James “Getting away with it
Beulah “Burned By The Sun”
Little Wings “Sand Canyon”
The High Llamas “Showstop Hiphop”

albums:

Jarvis Cocker “Jarvis
Midlake “The Videos of Van Occupanther
Kasabian “Empire”
The Go-Betweens “Live in London”
Spiritualized “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space”
Erlend Oye “Unrest”
Grandaddy “Just like the Fambly Cat”
Ian Brown “Solarized”
Simian “We are your friends”
Joo Kraus “Public Jazz Lounge”
E.S.T “Strange Place For Snow”
Engineers “Engineers”

If you think I forgot to include something important, please post a comment! 😉