Summer/Fall 2001 - Council on Foreign Relations
An International Review of Culture and Society
Issue No. 8
An International Project of the Committee on Intellectual Correspondence
Published by the Counci l on Foreign Relations
Globalization and Cinema
In This Issue
The Cultural Politics of Film
Roots of Globalization in the Cinema 3
Paradoxical French Cinema
Latin American Cinema
Why Hollywood Rules the World
France’s Film Subsidy System
French Cinema’s American Obsession 9
Denmark’s New Golden Age of Film 10
The Most Important Art
Film and New Media
Internet Film Culture
The Legacy of the 1960s
Refashioning of a German Radical
Dany the Red
We Have a Situation
Our Man at the Times
Questions of National Identity
Spain’s Forgetting of Things Past
A Rise of Nationalism in Japan?
(continued on next page)
or those who want to make the case that globalization is essentially “Americanization,” exhibit number one is usually Hollywood’s dominance of
international cinema. American movies account for more than 70 percent
of films seen in most of Western Europe and have a 90 percent market share in
many other countries around the world. If poets were “the unacknowledged legislators of the world” when Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote in the early nineteenth
century, that role passed to filmmakers during the twentieth century. An extraordinary 1.5 billion movie tickets were sold in the United States alone in 2000,
and that constitutes only a fraction of the films seen on television and on video
in one country. Because of its power to influence public opinion and shape cultural values, the hegemony of Hollywood films has become a major international
political issue. Some have accused American movie studios of practicing “cultural imperialism,” and many countries have established “domestic content”
rules to protect their film industries. Access to film and television markets has
become one of the thorniest issues in recent international trade agreements.
Previous issues of Correspondence have focused primarily on written culture so
we felt it important to consider the politics of film in this and coming issues.
Richard Peña reminds us that worries of “cultural imperialism” have been with us
from the beginning of the film era—but that at an earlier time the United States
had tried to defend itself from the invasion of French cinema. Tyler Cowen argues
against the protectionist reflexes in countries such as France and insists that the
decline of the many European film industries is the result of the subsidy systems
that were invented to nurture them. The most exciting new developments in international film, he writes, have come from the lively markets of India and Hong Kong,
which are driven by commercial interests rather than government support. Three
different articles present aspects of the French point of view. Serge Toubiana
laments the increasingly regional nature of French cinema despite its global ambitions. Frédéric Martel describes and writes appreciatively of the success of the
French subsidy system, while Guy Konipnicki criticizes recent French cinema for
trying unsuccessfully to imitate the formulae of Hollywood.Christina Stojanova
describes the virtual collapse of Eastern European cinema in the wake of the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the state subsidy systems of the former Soviet bloc.
But the pro- and anti-Hollywood debate is only one aspect of contemporary
world cinema. Denmark, as Morton Piil explains, has become the exception to all
rules. Despite having a domestic audience of only five million, its modest subsidy
system has created commercially viable movies that have enjoyed great critical success and international appeal. N. Frank Ukadike describes a perhaps even more
remarkable response to globalization. Unable to compete with big-budget Hollywood films, African filmmakers in Ghana and Nigeria started making hundreds of
inexpensive video-films, which have now won a much bigger audience than traditional celluloid films by creating movies specifically for an African public.
Jonathan Rosenbaum suggests that digital technology may do for the rest of the
world what video has already accomplished in parts of Africa: by lowering cost
and making films accessible on the Internet, digitization may change the economic
calculus of film and the terms of engagement between producers and consumers. ◆
English Made Difficult
(continued from previous page)
Blair’s Cultural Policy
Tony Blair’s Grands Projets
Blair’s Market Populism
Europe and the U.S. Death Penalty
Japanese Police Scandals
Safe Food, Endangered Food Culture 34
The Feuilleton Culture Wars
Can One Still Write in German?
Nabokov’s Russian Return
Love & Politics in Japanese Classics 40
Japan and Confucianism
Confucianism and Democracy
The Harry Potter Phenomenon
The French and the “Anglo-Saxon”
Infantilization of Culture
Foreign Models for
Japan’s Children’s Literature
Mafalda,Argentine Child Dissident
Patoruzú, Argentine Indian Hero
English Made Difficult
The Towers of London
List of Contributors
he vagaries of English pronunciation have long tormented language students, but now their difficulties have been confirmed by neurological
science: dyslexia is far more common in English-speaking countries than
in those whose languages have fewer sounds and simpler spelling. Dyslexia
involves a brain structure that makes it difficult for a learning reader to connect
verbal sounds with the letters or symbols that “spell’’ that sound. Italian, for
example, contains thirty-three sounds, spelled with only twenty-five letters or
letter combinations. English, by contrast, has 1120 ways for letters in the written language to symbolize the spoken language’s forty sounds. French spoken
language is almost as complex.
In English, many words share the same letter combinations, but involve different sounds when spoken. In French, the complexity lies in different letter
combinations that “spell’’ the same or similar sound, such as “au temps’’ (at the
time) and “autant’’ (as much, so much).
An international team that compared the brain-scan images and reading skills
of dyslexic university students in Italy, France, and England and published their
findings in the U.S. magazine Science (“Dyslexia: Cultural Diversity and Biological Unity,” Science, March 16, 2001) reports twice as many identified dyslexics
in English-speaking countries as in countries with less complex phonetics. While
students took reading exams, positron emission tomography (PET scanning) was
used to measure and image blood flow in specific parts of the brain, an indication of neurological activity. All of the students had the same deficits in the left
temporal lobe of the brain. The team found virtually no difference in the neurological signature for dyslexia, but an immense difference in how well the students learned to read their native languages. The English, French, and Italian
dyslexics did equally poorly in tests based on the short-term memory of verbal
sounds; yet the Italians could read their native language far better than the English and French students theirs.
Because diagnosing learning disabilities is notoriously subjective, and most
reading disorders are due to such social factors as inadequate education, the neurological study team specifically targeted university students. Yet because identified dyslexics are rare in Italy, since the language mitigates the dyslexic’s condition, the researchers had to find dyslexic Italian students through special tests
to discern the neurological signature for the disorder.
It is estimated that between 5 and 15 percent of Americans have some degree
of dyslexia. And although native French- or English-speaking dyslexics are
“very successful people” by virtue of the compensatory skills their disability
has demanded, they need more time taking exams, for instance, and continue
to misspell. This suggests that language difference alone makes it harder for
English-speaking dyslexics to learn how to read. “The complexity of the English and French written languages stems from historical events that have introduced spellings from other languages, while, in comparison, Italian has remained quite pure,’’ said Eraldo Paulesu of the University of Milan Bicocca, the
lead author of the study.
A study that found an Australian boy in Japan who was dyslexic in English
but not in Japanese clearly suggests that language significantly determines the
severity of a reading disorder. Neurologists cannot agree why dyslexics’ brains
differ from normal readers’, and, says Paulesu, short of advising an early move
to countries with simple sound-symbol connections, cannot yet help dyslexic
students overcome their reading disability.
Sources: Paul Recer, Associated Press dispatch, March 15, 2001.
Laura Helmuth, “Dyslexia: Same Brains, Different Languages,” Science, March 2001.
The Cultural Politics of Film
The Roots of Globalization in the Cinema
lobalization” has become one of the great vacuum words of our time; it seems to suck up any
meaning anyone wishes to ascribe to it. Protesters from Seattle to Beijing have decried what
they see as the disastrous effects of globalization (uncontrolled competition) on the fragile
economies of Africa, Asia, and Latin America; meanwhile, in a recent interview U.N. Secretary General
Kofi Annan maintained that what’s needed to right the present economic imbalance is more globalization
means of protecting their own film industries and, it was said,
as a way of limiting American influence on their cultures.
Precisely why American films remained so dominant internationally is a subject of continued debate. The process of conglomeration, in which smaller companies came together to
form larger entities, continued in the industry until, by the
beginning of the sound era (1929),
seven companies (known as the studios) were responsible for about 90
percent of Hollywood films; these
companies, although competitors, cooperated to ensure the continued
power of American cinema abroad.
Studios not only made films and held
contracts on talent; they also controlled the distribution and exhibition of films, making for an industry
that economists would term “vertically integrated.” The U.S. had a huge
internal market to exploit, which
provided a bedrock for the industry.
In 1939, for example, a year that saw
the release of Gone with the Wind, The
Wizard of Oz, and Mr. Smith Goes to
Washington, it’s estimated that the
U.S. industry only broke even with
the American market alone; the
industry’s profits, then, were entirely generated through
exports. American companies were also known to engage in
practices (later declared illegal, at least in the U.S.) such as
“block booking,” in which an exhibitor is forced to accept a
large package of films in order to get some of the most potentially profitable titles, thus limiting the possibilities for foreign films to find space on their own domestic screens.
This situation would begin to change in the years after World
War II. In 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the major
American film studios to sell off their distribution and exhibition chains, thus ending the vertical integration of the film
industry that had proved so profitable. The twin onslaughts of
the growth of American television and increasing suburbanization decimated film audiences, effectively destroying the financial security of the film industry. Simultaneously, other film
industries (France, Italy, Japan) began to grow, re-conquering
large parts of their own markets and creating or reviving film
exports. The impact of this was felt even in the U.S., where in
the 1950s “foreign films” suddenly became regular presences
© Matteo Pericoli
(greater access to world markets), not less. The semantic and
consequent political quagmire around the meaning and future
of globalization seems to have a special urgency in discussions
about film and related media, as in this case the effects of globalization are seen to be ideological as well as economic.
In fact, globalization has been, in one form or another, a factor in film history since the beginning
of the medium. Developed by several
different people in the first part of the
1890s, the technology which made
motion pictures possible was quickly
standardized, so that by 1900 there
was hardly any major variance in the
mechanics of how films were shot,
processed or projected—films made
in China could literally be screened in
Peru. Early film producers seemingly
were quickly aware of this, and soon
began searching for and creating markets for their films far beyond their
national or continental boundaries.
The French were the first out of the
gate; by 1903, pioneer filmmaker
Georges Méliès sent his brother Gaston to New York to open a branch
office to service his customers, and by
1905 Charles Pathé also had an American office. Indeed, as Richard Abel points out in his fascinating book The Red Rooster Scare, the proliferation of French cinema in the U.S. in those earliest years of film history was
denounced because of its feared adverse effects on American
audiences, especially those susceptible immigrants who were
having enough trouble becoming “Americanized.”
Within a few years, of course, the situation would change
drastically. The onset of World War I disrupted the nascent
film industries of France and Italy—the two biggest international exporters—at precisely the moment that American cinema, undergoing a process of consolidation, was becoming big
business. Quickly taking over the secondary markets developed by the Europeans—such as Latin America and Australia
—the U.S. film industry began to establish a control over
world film markets that, despite a few bumps along the way,
it continues to exert today. By the mid-1920s, the American
domination of most European markets (90 percent of the U.K.
market, 80 percent of the French and Italian markets) led several nations to attempt to impose import quotas, both as a
The Cultural Politics of Film
in American movie theaters—many of them independently
owned and operated after decades as part of studio-owned or
-controlled chains. The revival of these film industries was part
and parcel of strategies of postwar economic recovery, and
many governments began to actively promote filmmaking in
both the economic and cultural interest of the nation.
Industrially, the 1950s and 1960s were rocky decades for
the American cinema; perhaps not accidentally, it’s also the
era remembered as the “golden age” of foreign film. By the
1970s, though, new corporate strategies had begun to emerge.
American studios, at least what remained of them, were incorporated into new kinds of media conglomerates, in which one
company (say, Time Warner) would own or control film studios, magazines, publishing houses, record labels, and eventually even television networks. If the old studio system had
been vertically integrated, one now spoke of the American
film industry being horizontally integrated; synergies were
created between the studios and all the other components
within the conglomerate. Moreover, by the late 1970s new
market opportunities emerged, such as cable television, pay
television, and videocassettes; the studios, at least those with
their film libraries still intact, became enormously valuable
“cash cows” for these conglomerates, as they offered the possibility for new earnings with relatively little investment.
Gradually, the economic power of the now re-imagined and
re-configured American film industry came to surpass that of
Hollywood even in its greatest years.
This renewed power of the industry allowed it to devote its
energies to aggressive overseas export and marketing of its films,
which inevitably has brought American cinema into even more
bitter competition with other cinemas, as seen in the GATT
negotiations. In some ways this was aided by the fact that often
the media conglomerates which now controlled the studios were
themselves multinational (Bertelsmann, Sony, Murdoch/News
Corporation, etc.). New technologies such as satellite television
transmission or the Internet have enabled the industry to market its products directly to foreign consumers, bypassing
domestic middlemen. Recently, there has been a spate of new
movie theater construction internationally financed by these
same media conglomerates—theaters that, as might be expected, usually screen only American-produced films.
So in many ways, one could say regarding globalization in
the contemporary cinema that it truly is both the best of times
and the worst of times. New technologies hold out the possibility for filmmakers everywhere that their works could be
available to audiences around the world, yet those same technologies have also made it easier for the biggest and most powerful producers to dominate markets even more effectively.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon became the first foreign language film in the U.S. to earn over $100 million, yet few other
foreign language films have been at all profitable this year.
Whatever the future holds for cinema, one thing is certain:
whether understood in a positive or negative sense, globalization of world cinema will only increase in the coming years,
and filmmakers, as well as film audiences, will all have to
decide how we can make it work to our advantage.
Paradoxical French Cinema
rench cinema is in a schizophrenic situation, caught
between the increasingly “regional” nature of its artistic and cultural influence and the increasingly global
ambitions of the communication groups that finance it, as
seen in the recent acquisition of Universal Studios by
Vivendi, whose main shareholder is the French television
channel, Canal Plus....But despite the power of the French
communication groups, Canal Plus, Hachette or Pathé, French
cinema has more and more the characteristics of a regional
phenomenon. That’s not entirely bad when compared to the
situation of our neighboring countries such as Italy, Germany, or even Great Britain. Their cinemas are basically on
the brink of extinction, where public authorities have either
sealed their defeat or placed them entirely at the mercy of private television. If French cinema still constitutes an exception in Europe, it is because it continues to express a sense of
national identity, both industrially as well as linguistically
and culturally, while remaining open to the outside world.
This notwithstanding, the push of “globalization” is such,
the hegemony of the United States so powerful, that French
cinema’s influence has been reduced to within its own borders. In short, we export fewer films and they are less visible
on screens around the world.
There is a paradox, then, between the desire of French
groups to assert themselves on the world market and the weak
reach of our cinema. This paradox has a history,…a tradition
of public aid to the cinema that goes back to the immediate
postwar period. Protected by national rules, French cinema
has trouble asserting itself on the world market. At the beginning of the 1980s, the domestic market share of French movies
was above 50 percent but in recent years has fallen to 30 or 35
percent. At the same time, the share of American films has
grown to about 60 percent of the market. This phenomenon is
happening in the rest of the world on an even grander scale.
The American hegemony is based on exceptional commercial ability and incomparable marketing. But it exists also
because the films, the “products” proposed by Hollywood,
find their audience. Young people under twenty-four, who
constitute the bulk of the movie-going public, “vote” en
masse for American movies. It is a question of immediate cultural identification with a way of life. They dream American, dress American, and eat American....The multiplex theaters are helping to increase box office admissions, but this
is helping films that already have high visibility through the
media and advertising. In a multiplex with twenty screens it
is not unusual to see a film like Star Wars playing on three
of them at once....This contributes to putting the French cinema on the defensive, and the authors of films in a marginal
One of the reasons for the decline of our cinema is the aging
of our so-called “commercial” or popular cinema, which has
failed to renew itself. Up until the 1970s, French cinema was
still a center of gravity—Yves Montand, Jean-Paul Belmondo,
Simone Signoret, Alain Delon, Phillipe Noiret, Romy Schneider, Catherine Deneuve....The handicap of the French cinema
The Cultural Politics of Film
is not having a cinema of genres, which is the great strength
of American film. With Gladiator, for example, they revived a
genre that was completely dead and buried!
The public, basically, does not want to hear about reality. It
goes to the movies in order not to recognize itself. For a long
time, I believed in the ideas of Roberto Rossellini or Jean-Luc
Godard, or Claude Lanzmann, for whom making movies consists of showing the viewer what the director feels he needs
to know to understand his time. But as seductive and stimulating as this idea is, both aesthetically and philosophically, it
has never worked commercially. The whole format of the
movies is structured so that the public cannot see or hear anything of the “real world.” It is the realm of entertainment, the
equivalent of Euro-Disney.
—Serge Toubiana* (translated by Alexander Stille)
Source: Interview with Toubiana, Le Débat, Nov.-Dec. 2000.
* Former editor of Cahiers du cinéma
In Search of an Audience:
Latin American Cinema
ince 1996 film production in Argentina has tripled,
with 1999 a banner year for the unprecedented number of films commercially released. In Chile El Chacotero Sentimental (The sentimental joker) beat all box-office
records. At 1999 Oscar time, Brazilian director Walter Salles’s
1998 feature Central do Brasil (Central Station) nearly won
Best Foreign Film. The Colombians have scored a triumph
with Sergio Cabrera’s Golpe de Estadio (Stadium putsch)
(1999), the mind-boggling story of a soccer match that brings
about a truce between army and guerrilla forces. In Mexico,
Sexo, Pudor y Lágrimas (Sex, modesty, tears) drew an audience of five million, an unheard-of number that put it in third
place at the box office, after Titanic and the animated version
of Tarzan. “Not even the most optimistic expectations,”
according to Mexican critic Leonardo García Tsao, “could
have predicted such success.”
Does this mean we’re in a golden age of Latin American cinema? Is the film industry in this region in an unprecedented
heyday? Far from it, in fact. In some countries there’s a crisis
in creativity, in others a crisis in product; in all, there’s a crisis in distribution. “Latin American cinema,” jokes Argentine
critic Salvador Samaritano, director of Buenos Aires Film
School, “has always been a dying art.” In fact, Latin American cinema doesn’t exist. What does exist is a Brazilian cinema, a Mexican cinema, an Argentine cinema ....
“We barely know the filmmaking of other Latin American
countries,” complains the Brazilian Sara Silveira, director of
the independent production company Dezenove Som e Imagens. “We don’t even get the chance to see movies from
Argentina, though it’s right next door.” The problem is distribution, which is totally in the hands of big U.S. companies.
For a Latin American film to be seen beyond its borders, it
has to be bought and distributed in the United States., which
then allows, in some cases, for it to be seen in other Latin
It’s incredible but true: Latin America can’t see movies
made in Latin America. The U.S., in fact, sees more Latin
American movies than Latin America does. The only movies
that manage to circulate throughout Latin America are those
nominated for Oscars, like Central do Brasil, or directed by a
Latin American director established in Hollywood....Every
so often, some Latin American movie causes a stir in the U.S.:
for instance, the Mexican Like Water for Chocolate, or the
Cuban films Strawberries and Chocolate and Guantanamera.
Distributors then decide to release it to the rest of the world.
Another possible circuit is that of film festivals, the bestattended of which is Havana’s International Festival of New
Latin American Cinema. But the general public doesn’t attend
festivals, and in the absence of any regional distributor,
coproductions represent the only chance for a film to be distributed in more than one country.
Argentina and Brazil are obviously in the midst of a cinema
renaissance. In both cases, the revival was made possible by
legislation supporting local production. Brazil’s law, in effect
since 1996, allows individuals and companies to deduct
investments in film productions from their income tax.
Through this initiative, production has risen to some thirty
films annually—though in 1999, of course, devaluation again
reduced such investments. Argentina, through a law adopted
in 1994, is producing more films than ever before: thirty-one
were made in 1999, as against an average of ten in years before
the law. This new arrangement requires TV networks to contribute between 6 and 8 percent of their publicity profits to
film production. In addition, 10 percent of ticket sales and 10
percent of video cassette sales go into the cinema. “Thanks to
the film aid law,” adds Argentine director Eduardo Calcagno,
“one can try to smuggle in another kind of film to a public
that’s interested a priori only in movie entertainment, in
And apparently the countries that have no such laws go the
way of entertainment. Mexico, which in the 1950s produced
up to 150 movies a year, now makes no more than ten. But in
mid-1999 Sexo, Pudor y Lágrimas came out, a sentimental sex
comedy by the young director Antonio Serrano, which took
in over $10 million, breaking all records at the Mexican box
office. Three tales of sex and mixed-up emotions make up the
story-line also of El Chacotero Sentimental by Chilean director Cristían Galaz, which was the movie of 1999: 400,000
rushed out to see it, making it the biggest film hit in Chile’s
history. “People like to see themselves in movies,” comments
Galaz. “It’s not caricature; it’s a portrayal of people as they
The commercial success of both these films enables new projects to be financed. This might well encourage certain lawmakers. “If we had the sorts of fiscal incentives they grant in
Argentina or Brazil to producers and distributors,” says Mexican critic García Tsao, “the situation in Mexico would be
—Samuel Silva and Minerva Vacio
(translated from the French by David Jacobson)
Source: Américaeconomía (Santiago, Chile), undated, excerpted
and translated in Courrier international (Paris), June 22-28, 2000.
The Cultural Politics of Film
Why Hollywood Rules the World (and Should We Care?)
ultural innovations often come in geographic clusters.
abandoned in 1966. By the 1970s, Hollywood movies, such as
Today, however, there is widespread fear of too much
Jaws and Star Wars, had become significantly more exciting
concentration in the film industry, where Hollywood
to mass audiences than a decade before, just as European
dominates the market for big-box-office movies, occasioning
moviemakers found themselves unable to compete with telecharges of U.S. cultural imperialism.
vision. For Hollywood it was a blessing in disguise that teleWhat lies behind these charges?
vision hit the American market first.
The United States has at least one natural advantage in
Demographics have worsened the European problem. In most
moviemaking—the largest single home market for cinema in
countries, people over thirty-five generally prefer television to
dollar terms. Total attendance but not revenue is higher in
moviegoing, which has become the province of the young. Most
India. Aggregate market size nonetheless remains only a sinEuropean countries suffer twice here. They have older populagle factor in determining who betions than does the United States.
comes a market leader. The United
And their “art-house” styles betUNITED STATES vs. WESTERN EUROPE
States, for instance, has long been
ter suit older audiences, making
a major presence, but only rethem less exportable.
cently have European movies held
The success of American films
272 million vs. 366 million
such a low share of their home
has made them easier to finance,
markets. In the mid-1960s, Amerimarket, and export. Hollywood
Cinema tickets sold
can films accounted for 35 percent
films have become increasingly
1.48 billion vs. 805 million
of box-office revenues in Contiglobal, while European films tarnental Europe; today the figure
get small but guaranteed revenue
Number of screens
ranges between 80 and 90 percent.
sources, such as state subsidies or
37,165 vs. 23,168
The greater population of the U.S.,
and the greater American interest
stations. A vicious circle has been
Frequency of film-viewing
in moviegoing, do not themselves
created: the more European pro5.37 times a year vs. 2.2 times a year
account for these changes.
ducers fail in global markets, the
Furthermore, only certain kinds
more they rely on television revInhabitants per screen
of cinema cluster in Hollywood. In
enue and subsidies. The more they
7,334 vs. 15,821
a typical year the Western Eurorely on television and subsidies,
pean nations make more movies
the more they fail in global marthan America does. In numeric
kets. Television receipts account
terms most of the world’s movies come from Asia. India typifor more than half of film revenue in France, but only 19 percally releases eight or nine hundred commercial films a year,
cent in the U.S., where there is also a much larger market for
compared to about 250 from the United States.
video rentals, a market that is less passive, and more competiThe Hollywood advantage is concentrated in highly visible
tive, than television.
entertainment films with broad global appeal. The typical
Television and subsidies are closely linked. Most Western
European film has about one percent of the audience of the
European nations have television stations that are owned, contypical Hollywood film, and this differential has been growtrolled, or strictly regulated by their governments, which use
ing in markets around the world.
them to promote a national cultural agenda. Typically the staThe question, then, is why Hollywood movies have more
tions face domestic content restrictions, must spend a certain
global export success, while European movies are aimed at small
percentage of revenue on domestic films, must operate a film
but guaranteed local audiences. And why, since the 1970s, have
production subsidiary, or willfully finance films for political
most European cinemas seen their export markets collapse?
reasons. The end result is overpayment for broadcast rights—
As television became widespread throughout Europe,
the most important subsidy many European moviemakers
movie audiences dwindled. In Germany, 800 million movie
receive. Audience levels are typically no more than one or two
tickets were bought in 1956 but only 180 million were bought
million at the television level, even in the larger countries such
in 1962. At the same time, the number of television sets rose
as France—too small to justify the sums paid to moviemakers
from 700,000 to 7.2 million. In the U.K., cinema attendance
for television rights on economic grounds.
fell from 292 million in 1967 to 73 million in 1986. This negaSubsidies have made government the primary customer in
tive-demand shock forced European moviemaking to contract.
many cases. French producers receive “Sofica” tax shelters
Hollywood stepped into the void. Starting as early as the
(estimated worth of more than 5 percent of total budgets),
1950s, American moviemakers responded to television by
automatic box-office aid from the government (estimated at
making high-stakes, risky investments in marketing, glamour,
7.7 percent of total budget), the discretionary “advance on
and special effects. American directors found greater latitude
earnings” subsidy [see Martel, p. 8], which takes the form of
to experiment with sex and violence once the Hays Code was
an interest-free loan (estimated at over 5 percent of total bud-
The Cultural Politics of Film
get), and subsidies to promote French films abroad. A 1970
study estimated that 60 percent of the “avance sur recettes”
subsidy was in fact never recovered. Money is also advanced
for the development of new film ideas, and for script rewriting if the proposed film is rejected when it applies for subsidies on the first go-round. There is a special subsidy fund for
coproductions with Eastern European filmmakers. The French
government also subsidizes the upkeep and construction of
cinemas and encourages French banks to lend money to
moviemaking projects. Martin Dale, a cinema industry analyst, has estimated that the state provides at least 70 percent
of the funding for the average Continental film, taking all subsidies into account.
Subsidies encourage producers to serve domestic demand
and the wishes of politicians, rather than international export.
The film industries will not develop specialized talents in
demand forecasting and marketing, as Hollywood has done.
The training of cinematic talent in the United States and
Europe reflects these differences. American film schools are
like business schools in many regards. European film schools
have become more like humanities programs, emphasizing
semiotics, critical theory, and contemporary left-wing philosophies. The European directors that survive tend to have
longstanding political connections; one 1995 study estimated
that 85 percent of the film directors in France were over fifty
at the time. Many younger talents set their sights on Hollywood from the beginning.
In contrast, the two non-Hollywood cinemas that have
enjoyed the most export success—India and Hong Kong—are
run on an explicitly commercial basis. While some Indian
films receive government subsidies, the vast majority do not
and, with large audiences in much of Asia, Africa, the Middle
East and elsewhere, probably reach more people than any
other national industry. Though much criticized for their
generic nature or sappy plots, they are often visually and
musically quite beautiful and, compared to Western productions, even pathbreaking.
The Hong Kong film industry has experienced export success from the 1970s onward, mostly throughout Southeast
Asia. At its peak it released more films per year than any Western country, and as an exporter was second only to the United
States. And Hong Kong cinema arose in a market dominated
by Hollywood through the late 1960s.
Hong Kong movies first focused on the martial arts, but then
branched out to include police movies, romance, comedy, horror, ghost stories, and other genres. The best of these movies,
by directors such as John Woo, are acclaimed as high art and
have strongly influenced directors around the world.
Today’s mainstream European cinema appears less creative
and less vital than its 1950-1970 heyday. But cinematic creativity has almost certainly risen in Taiwan, China, Iran, South
Korea, the Philippines, and many parts of Africa, among other
locales. Even within Europe, the creative decline is restricted
to a few of the larger nations, such as France and Italy. Danish
cinema is more influential and more successful today than in
times past, as is, arguably, Spanish cinema. While filmmakers
in these countries struggle against Hollywood competition,
creative world filmmaking is not on a downward trajectory.
European governments are understandably reluctant to
remove the subsidies. In the short run, laissez-faire would
likely bring a greater Hollywood presence in European cinema. European governments would like to return to something
like the 1930-1970 period when a strong Hollywood presence
did not crowd out native creativity. In 1973, Hollywood held
only 23 percent of the Italian market, and large numbers of
high-quality Italian movies were commercially viable. Hollywood had dominated the postwar Italian market, but Italian
moviemakers fought back, in part by appropriating Hollywood techniques. Even as recently as 1985, French movies
outgrossed the Hollywood product in their home market.
Since that time, Hollywood could capture 80 percent of French
film revenue largely because French revenues have declined,
not because Hollywood revenues have risen so much. The
French might reconsider their own “Golden Age” in the
1930s, when directors such as Vigo, Renoir, and Carné made
their classics, and over thirteen hundred films were produced,
all without government subsidies.
WESTERN EUROPEAN FILM STATISTICS
* statistics available only for 1998
Source: Media Salles, Milan, Italy. Website: www.mediasalles.it
The Cultural Politics of Film
France’s Film Subsidy System
hree cardinal rules have always guided France’s unique
film subsidy system: American movies should finance
French ones; TV networks should finance directors’
projects; and popular and commercial movies should finance
“directors’ films” (films d’auteur). This model, economically
original and juridically complex, evolved through more than a
half-century of technically subtle legislation.
Though French “art films” gained worldwide prominence
through the “New Wave” launched in 1959, the two economic
principles that made such films possible, financial aid and
market regulation, were established ten years earlier. The first
significant law, drafted in late 1948, created a “financial aid
fund,” a very simple flat-tax system on all tickets to movies,
French and foreign. Thus with every screening they attended,
French moviegoers were contributing to a small fund to
develop and promote their national cinema.
The system is not specifically anti-American, since the boxoffice proceeds of all films, foreign or French, contribute to
the fund. And note too that this system, quite innovatively,
was first applicable within French cinema itself, as commercial hits were used to finance small-budget films d’auteur for
The money raised in this way is reinvested in French film projects, and awarded, through the joint administrative supervision of a public organization, the Centre national de la cinématographie (CNC), and a professional committee of French
directors, actors, and producers. But if this regulatory mechanism gradually took the form of indirect state intervention, such
intervention at the outset didn’t really extend to financing. The
state organized, but didn’t subsidize, the movie industry.
The nature of the system was transformed, however, in 1958
when de Gaulle made André Malraux his minister of culture.
Malraux, though consistently defending cinema’s artistic
autonomy, nevertheless claimed the right to oversee the CNC
(taking it from the ministry of economics), granted specific new
aid to the sector, and created the mechanism of the “avance sur
recettes”—the second major component of the system.
This “advance on earnings” system is even more original in
its contributing aid to “small,” particularly first-time, directors,
and to the cinéma d’auteur. As its name indicates, it is a mechanism that, on the basis of a screenplay accepted by various committees and review boards, grants selective public financial aid
that lets a director shoot a first or original film for which he or
she could not otherwise find backing. This classic mechanism
in French cultural policy works particularly well for filmmaking, since it is coupled with strong state intervention to assist
producers and distributors of “art films.” Alain Resnais,
Jacques Rivette, Marguerite Duras, Agnès Varda were some of
the fledgling directors enabled by this “advance”; today, the
list includes some forty directors a year.
Beyond the two essential mechanisms of “financial aid funds”
and “advance on earnings,” other, smaller forms of selective aid
have been in place since 1959. Competition for that aid is strictly
monitored to avoid concentrations both of production and cir-
culation, which helps to maintain 5,000 screens throughout
France. There are specific forms of aid for independent movie
houses and those in small towns and rural areas, which help to
distribute non-commercial work to the most remote regions.
The state helps finance the Cinémathèque française archive and
filmmaking training; and it provides film appreciation in lycées
and universities. Since the 1980s, and despite France’s strong
commitment to European unification (which might have translated into a reduction of specific aid), the French cinema has
gradually become a genuine “cultural exception.”
The French system also uses television to support cinema
by requiring both public and private stations to coproduce
films for television and by establishing programming quotas
for French and European works.
Clearly, regulation has achieved comprehensive support of
France’s cinema, from creation and production to theatrical and
television presentation. Cinema, under this system, even comes
to seem an economic sector immune to economic laws, a market
product untouched by trade liberalization.
The result of this policy is admirable in several respects. The
French cinema is in good health, at least when compared with
the rest of Western Europe. In 2000, 145 films of French origin were released in the French film market. Almost all (93
percent) were shot in French. About a third were produced
with “preproduction advance on earnings” aid. Movie attendance also rose to 166 million tickets; nearly 30 percent of the
films attended were French. On balance, then, the financing
of French cinema is overwhelmingly positive. Indeed, the policy of film support enjoys broad—and rare—consensus on the
left and right to defend a certain “cultural exception” here.
Cinema is one of the nation’s last rallying points.
Still, although the “French exception” has created good
national numbers, they hide an undeniable element of crisis:
French movies, for the last decade, have had an increasingly
hard time reaching a broad audience, even in France, and their
directors meet with little international acclaim.
Attempts to compete with American blockbusters exist
(Astérix, Taxi, Luc Besson’s films), with frequent success, in
fact, but not enough to jumpstart the system. French cinema
not only hasn’t learned how to produce movies for the world
market, it can’t even mass-produce for a home market. It is as
though France, as a once great nation, has shattered its own
myths, deconstructed its own model, managed to be subversive and self-critical in the extreme—and then, taken no care
to “reconstruct” itself or set itself new goals. And its cinema
naturally reflects this situation.
Yet in a generally Americanized world that has often lost
the culture war to the “dreamless machine”—the TV—France
may well embody a potent counter-model of hope beyond its
borders. To do that, however, it must allow its movie-financing model to open up to Europe’s cultural diversity, and above
all, as it confronts spaces that have grown too narrowly indi◆
vidual and “authorial,” take some new collective risks.
—Frédéric Martel (translated by David Jacobson)
The Cultural Politics of Film
French Cinema’s American Obsession
cine-marketing too. So much for the legend of crass American
fare versus an age-old European, and particularly French, tradition of refinement! The characters in our comedies of French
Jewish life, say, have more in common with Midwestern hayseeds than they do with those in Woody Allen. But then, you
have to be a Yankee, really, to fill theaters with characters
obsessed by Dostoyevsky or Chekhov. Robert Altman and
Woody Allen belong, of course, to a Francophile tradition in
American cinema, one that savors the intellectual recognition
the French have bestowed on them.
The French, in turn, have imitated
the Oscars with their “Césars,” but
American actors or directors feel
they’ve “arrived” when they’re honored at Cannes, just as a Juliette
Binoche is at the height of her glory
winning an Oscar, not a mere César.
This mirror-play between our two
countries extends to themes as well.
Americans have long adapted French
literature and moments in French history, and the French have reciprocated with adaptations of great American crime novels. Recently, however,
spurred largely by Hollywood example, the French have returned—back
beyond the “New Wave” directors
who so reviled them—to make largescale historical dramas. But what
French productions often forget in
these large spectacle films is that American successes depended
not only on casting (a term that now appears in English in
French film credits) but on writers and directors, and even
those auteurs like Spielberg they don’t take very seriously.
French auteurs today are for the most part left to their smallscale “art-house” productions; the moment French producers
think toward a “broad audience,” they sugar-coat their products with nice, soft, consensual stories, albeit with stars whose
presences have substantially hiked up production costs.
And like the Americans, we’ll soon be making feature films
out of cult TV series. Because when our filmmakers aren’t imitating American techniques, the sociology and marketing
squads are systematically going after their themes. This is as
true in genres like the thriller or horror flick as in comedies
and dramas that work in politically correct formulas that have
played well in America (e.g., the gay hero).
From the rise of superproductions to borrowing of successful formulas, French cinema seems to be trying to shed its
originality as if it were a handicap, and the only competition
were one of budget. The result: After our own Taxi 2, or Vercingétorix, we can only breathlessly await Clint Eastwood’s
Breezy and Ridley Scott’s Hannibal.
—Guy Konopnicki (translated by David Jacobson)
© Matteo Pericoli
GM may not be what it once was, but in the French
movie market at least, Hollywood still roars like a
lion. Sixty-four percent of the films seen by the
French in 2000 were American; when the remaining 36 percent comprises the entire rest of the world, and there are
works to see by major foreign directors such as Lars von Trier,
Pedro Almodovar, or Ken Loach, fewer and fewer of the
movies the French go to see are by their compatriots. The deficiency here is not one of unavailable means, but simply of
quality rarely found anymore in
French cinema. Today you can no
longer claim that on the one hand,
there is the “good” French cinema,
whose auteurs are the envy of the
world, and on the other hand, the
terrible, diabolically commercial
American cinema, with its special
effects and blockbusters. American
box-office hits in recent years have
borne the signatures of Kubrick, the
Coen brothers, Robert Altman, Clint
Eastwood, Woody Allen—and, to a
lesser extent, of various French directors who have become full-fledged
American directors (Luc Besson,
Jean-Jacques Antaille). Even America’s superproductions and specialeffects extravaganzas are the work of
singular directors such as Ridley
Scott, David Cronenberg, Joe Dante,
and, of course, Steven Spielberg. Like them or not, they too
are auteurs, with their distinctive styles and visions.
Faced with this, the French respond by trying to adapt the
methods attributed to American cinema in its heyday. Rather
than come up with some ascetic Danish-style “dogma” for
European cinema, French production is attacking on the Americans’ own turf, beefing up budgets and taking large financial
risks. For, contrary to popular belief, French cinema has financial means—more than it’s ever had. The biggest company
around, Vivendi-Canal Plus-Universal, is French. But shooting
budgets were already soaring before the merger, and they are
fueling French blockbusters. When films stay small-scale now,
it’s mainly to be provocative, as in the pornographic Baise-moi.
But French cinema is allowing itself everything American cinema used to be blamed for: sex, violence, epic-scale historical
reconstruction. All that distinguishes France’s biggest hits of
2000 from some American B-movie is that the car chase is happening in Marseille, not Los Angeles, among Peugeots, not
Chryslers. And the repetitiveness we once condemned in such
hit film series as Rocky, Rambo, and Halloween, is becoming a
more common French practice too; what does well quickly
returns as a sequel with “2” at the end of the title.
Another Hollywood formula, the targeting or catering to a
specific community or minority, is starting to drive French
Source: Abridged from Marianne, March 5-11, 2001.
The Cultural Politics of Film
Denmark’s New Golden Age of Film
Palme d’Or triumph in Cannes, popular appeal and
gilded subsidies—Danish cinema is stronger than
ever in the first year of the new millennium. Dancer
in the Dark, Lars von Trier’s winning movie at Cannes 2000, is
the flagship of a renaissance that’s been on its way for quite a
while. As a film nation, Denmark is often regarded as synonymous with a few great individuals such as Asta Nielsen (the
silent movie star) and Carl Theodor Dreyer (the director), but
in fact Danish cinema has always proved capable of rejuvenation. Talent has never been in short supply; the stumbling
block has been the limited domestic market of just over five
million inhabitants, combined with state subsidies that were
far too modest.
In the last two years output (including coproductions) has
grown to about twenty features a year, and Danish film has not
only reasserted its grip on the box office at home but has also
made a surprisingly powerful impact on the international market. In 1999 and 2000 the domestic share of the box office averaged over 20 percent, a very decent figure considering the
massive promotional campaigns for the popular Hollywood
movies. The two greatest successes—with sales approaching a
million tickets apiece (or a fifth of the entire population!)—
have been witty, intelligent comedies, Susanne Bier’s The One
and Only (1999) and Lone Scherfig’s Italian for Beginners (2000).
The latter won a Silver Bear at this year’s Berlin Film Festival
and was the fifth Danish movie to be made in accordance with
the celebrated Dogme principles—a set of rules agreed upon
by Danish directors in order to produce a more authentic kind
of cinema, including the use of hand-held cameras and a ban
on artificial lighting and special effects. The previous year
another Dogme film won a Silver Bear at Berlin—Søren KraghJacobsen’s affectionate comedy-drama Mifune, starring Iben
Hjejle, which met with considerable critical acclaim in the U.S.
and the U.K. In 1999 Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration won
the Grand Prix at Cannes, was seen by over two million people outside Denmark, and won the New York and Los Angeles
film critics’ awards for best foreign film.
So Lars von Trier is far from the only international success
in an industry that had frequently been in severe crisis in the
last two decades, with years in which the national output of
feature films dwindled to just ten a year. Various factors combined to create the foundation of this revival of the late 1990s:
1. The National Film School of Denmark was founded thirtyfive years ago, and its accumulated expertise began to bear
fruit seriously in the last ten years. Most of the big names
today—from Lars von Trier and Susanne Bier to Thomas Vinterberg and Lone Scherfig—are alumni of the college, whose
graduation films have repeatedly served to identify promising new talent.
2. The government and Danish television broadcasters have
increased their stake in film production. In 2000 the treasury
allocated DKK 154 million (U.S. $18 million), a small amount
by Hollywood standards but double the 1998 figure, and Dan-
ish directors have made the money work. Simultaneously DR
TV, the Danish public-service broadcaster, has specialized in
producing the relatively inexpensive Dogme films, including
von Trier’s The Idiots and Vinterberg’s The Celebration.
3. The special way state subsidies for features are distributed is also important. Just over half the funds available are
allocated by three film consultants. They don’t work as a committee, but take a personal view of each project based on artistic criteria and close contact with the directors, scriptwriters,
and producers. This makes it possible to support innovative
films that might not make it through a committee.
4. Danish film was given the decisive thrust into the future
by the controversial and frequently misunderstood Dogme
rules. At heart they are perfectly serious, but their launch in
manifesto form in 1995 was imbued with von Trier’s sense of
pedantic irony. The spirit of the Dogme rules (which von Trier
drew up with Thomas Vinterberg) is more important than
their letter, and may really be reduced to a single principle:
The director must always put human drama before technical
considerations. The fact that several Dogme films were actually shot with hand-held cameras is due to this simple fundamental rule. Curiosity rather than the urge to create “beautiful” images must dictate the work of the cinematographer. All
shooting must be on location, all sound must be direct, no
genre films are allowed (murder, gunfights, etc., must not
occur). The flexible hand-held camera of Dogme filmmaking
allows actors new freedom for spontaneous expression and
inspired improvisation. But Dogme films like The Celebration,
Mifune, The Idiots, and Italian for Beginners were based on
strong, thoroughly developed scripts. Improvisation is not the
key to the success of these films, but one tool among many.
The Dogme rules, however, have often been misunderstood
by persons, mainly non-Danish, who don’t take von Trier’s
peculiar cast of mind into account. His rules are partly ironic
and partly a promotion gimmick, so must not be interpreted
too literally. But the core is serious, as proved by his own films
and most of the other Danish Dogme films. The non-Danish
Dogme films, by contrast, have almost all been very poor.
An important precursor to the Dogme movement was von
Trier’s satirical, stylistically innovative television series Riget
(The Kingdom), which was also theatrically released in two fourhour presentations (1994 and 1997). The series was shot using
hand-held cameras and practically no artificial lighting, and the
visual style, with its disregard for the rules of movie syntax,
was very much inspired by U.S. police series such as N.Y.P.D.
Blues and particularly Barry Levinson’s Homicide (1992).
The series was not only von Trier’s popular breakthrough
in Denmark, but, with its deft astonishing amalgam of styles,
also aroused considerable attention abroad (“There really is a
hospital in Copenhagen called The Kingdom,” reported one
British critic with a shudder). Two years later, von Trier both
rammed audiences in the solar plexus and tugged at their
heart strings with his dizzying melodrama Breaking the
The Cultural Politics of Film
Waves, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes and went on to
become an international hit, placing him in the small number
of the world’s leading directors.
Since the 1960s Danish film has been very much marked by
a trend toward realism that Lars von Trier repudiated in spectacular fashion with the release of his highly stylized feature
debut, The Element of Crime (1984), winner of the Prize for
Technique at Cannes. But eighteen years earlier Henning
Carlsen’s Hunger, based on Knut Hamsun’s novel, was one of
the most highly praised films at Cannes. Realism continued in
Bille August’s In My Life (1978), Twist and Shout (1984), and
Academy Award and Palme d’Or winner Pelle the Conqueror,
(1987). Another major Danish director, Nils Malmros, provided a superb collective portrait of the agonies of adolescence
in his modern classic The Tree of Knowledge (1981). Indeed, in
the 1980s Danish film built up massive expertise in films for
children and teens including Søren Kragh-Jacobsen’s Shadow
of Emma (1988).
The realist tradition has been continued in well-rounded
films such as Kaspar Rostrup’s A Place Nearby and Per Fly’s
debut feature The Bench, both from the year 2000. Meanwhile a
young, more U.S.-oriented director, Nicolas Winding Refn has
told violent, crime-pervaded urban tales in Pusher (1996) and
Bleeder (1999); both films have found international distributors.
The current urge on the part of Danish directors (including
Refn) to shoot films in English and produce them abroad
would be problematic if Denmark was short of talent. With
increased state funding and more response from abroad than
ever before, Danish cinema at last has the opportunity to give
its growing talent pool the scope it needs. Names such as
Academy Award winner Anders Thomas Jensen, Lotte Svendsen, Natasha Arthy, Jesper W. Nielsen, Åke Sandgren, and Ole
Christian Madsen—the two last with Dogme films already finished—are ready to demonstrate that Danish film has plenty
more to offer beyond von Trier, Vinterberg, and company. ◆
EASTERN EUROPEAN FILM STATISTICS
Number of fiction
Czech Republic 32
Source: Media Salles, Milan, Italy. Website: www.mediasalles.it
The Most Important Art
he Eastern European cinema will remain among the
most controversial legacies of communism. Films in
this system had wide and often unpredictable political implications and social effects. Despite the tremendous
popularity of the low melodramas churned out between the
wars, “the most important art” was emphatically insensitive
to the tastes of the so-called mass viewer. Following the Soviet
model, Eastern European cinemas were totalitarian institutions par excellence, with centralized and strictly censored
film production, designed to translate in accessible images the
methodical efforts of the totalitarian state.
Ironically, this totalitarian cinema allowed rare glimpses of
paradise (or loopholes in the system), when an ideal marriage
between generous state subsidies and artistic freedom engendered works that challenged, covertly or overtly, the political, moral, and aesthetic status quo. A relatively small group
of dissident films secured international fame and exemplary
standing for their authors and their respective national cinemas; yet their energy often took less accessible cinematic
forms (documentaries, animation).
With the end of the cold war, films from Eastern Europe lost
their dissident aura, and, with other “world” cinemas, humbly
took their place in the long line for the attention of Western producers and distributors. Western Europe, however, had its own
worries over impending cultural globalization. All post-communist countries suffered a dismantling of state budgets followed by lack of private investment, collapse of the traditional
distribution network and film-production structure, a drastically dwindling audience, and Americanization of film fare.
But Eastern Europe’s cinema was the first hit by the fall of
communism. The powers-that-be reached an amazingly swift
consensus with most of the filmmakers on reorganizing the
centralized industry into many small, entrepreneurial, market-oriented companies. Traumatically and unexpectedly,
Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic did not necessarily
come out better than Bulgaria, Romania, or ex-Yugoslavia. The
production of fiction films in Bulgaria, for example, fell from
21 in 1989 to 4 in 1994; in Hungary from 33 to 6, in Slovakia
from 10 to 3; in the Czech Republic from 32 to 19. Since the
mid-1990s, film production in Poland and the Czech Republic
has slowly begun climbing toward its pre-1989 figures thanks
to pan-European coproductions but mainly to the financial
support of national television, principal producer or coproducer of all local films. Both countries produced twenty films
in 1997. Production in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and especially in Russia, however, has continued to decline, through
increasing unaffordability of tickets (in Bulgaria a film ticket
in 1996 was twice as expensive as a ticket for live theater performance!) and lack of adequate tax legislation.
The political transition has also triggered the existential and
emotional changes of a general crisis of values. Eastern European dissident directors were instrumental in bringing down
the totalitarian regime and guiding its aftermath; but for the
first time in its modern history, their states have ceased financing arts and culture, testing not only the physical survival of
The Cultural Politics of Film
its intelligentsia but also the very idea of nationhood, national
identity, and culture.
The absence of consistent cultural policy has made a large
number of highly qualified Eastern European filmmakers and
entire well-developed film industries totally dependent on the
demands of foreign producers and coproducers. Even with the
participation of such prestigious institutions as Euroimages,
Canal +, or Channel Four, there are no guarantees Eastern
European directors won’t find themselves in a position
painfully reminiscent of the totalitarian past. The pressure to
find a magic formula for a universally marketable hybrid of
Western money and Eastern European sensibility is no less taxing than Comrade Stalin’s suggestion to create art national in
form and socialist in content. The only agency to exercise some
kind of visionary protectionism, mindful of local cultural institutions, is the Brussels-based Euroimages, which to date has
helped produce more than forty films across the region. It has
also sponsored two or three precious repertory film theaters
per country, the only places people can still see their national
film production along with other European art films. Yet evidently, coproductions capitalize on the already-established
popularity of a national cinema and individual directors. If
those become history, and the post-communist national cinema fails to produce new indigenous masters, coproduction
will lose its meaning as an alternative to Hollywood.
The traditional elitism of the Eastern European intelligentsia, meanwhile, also seriously impedes the survival of
post-communist cinema. Under communism, the intelligentsia’s elitism was coupled with the official obsession to
(re)educate the masses. This attitude suited filmmakers’ obsession with serious art and auteur cinema. Spectacular, accessible Hollywood entertainment represents a further challenge
for Eastern European filmmakers.
The psychological depths and moral concerns so typical of
the Eastern European cinema under communism are quietly
being relegated to the museum of cinema. In post-communism, the Aesopean allusions and political euphemisms of
Jancso’s films, for example, have become increasingly hermetic. More narrative and universally intelligible classics will
enjoy a longer life-span thanks to their accessible narratives
and universally intelligible characters, of course; but young
film-lovers on both sides of the ocean do not know—or care
to know—the concrete historical circumstances necessary to
comprehend the complex political and social metaphors of
much classic Eastern European cinema.
Yet against all financial and cultural odds, Eastern European
filmmakers from the middle and younger generations are
struggling hard to reflect and analyze the current crisis—and
trying to preserve their national film styles as a psychological
compass in disorienting times. Their efforts over the last
decade fall into two broad categories: those in quest of the
truth, and those in quest of the viewer.
The quest for the truth further subdivides along stylistic
and ideological lines into a realistic-descriptive approach that
flaunts the humanistic spirit and historical optimism of the
Enlightenment, and one guided by experimental aesthetics,
existential pessimism, and social nihilism. The former view
the totalitarian system as imposed from without, and the
national character as fundamentally humane, gradually
reawakening a reservoir of self-knowledge. The widely admired Sunshine from Hungary is an example. Although these
films formally belong to various genres, they all could be
defined as “dramas of survival,” in which characters’ moral
make-up is predetermined by tragic historical circumstances,
i.e. by the totalitarian system.
The second approach interprets the post-communist crisis
as the result of an existential breakdown that has brought
Eastern Europeans to a stage of complete social and moral stupor. Works of this sort release dissident energies, pent up from
the times of totalitarianism and have pushed ad absurdum the
principles of the classical Eastern European “dissident” cinema. Their extreme pessimism and aggressively avant-garde
style, in the context of the new economic and social reality of
Eastern Europe, demonstrates a total, one might say suicidal,
disregard of the viewer.
By contrast, the quest for the viewer includes attempts to
adapt American genre formulas to post-communist reality, and
to revive popular genres from the interwar period such as
melodrama and the nationalist epic. (Understandably, the latter are still well beyond the budgets of impoverished post-communist cinemas; when they appear, as in E. Kusturica’s Underground (1995), they usually deconstruct rather than boost the
officially sponsored nationalist sentiments of the genre.)
The most successful genre to date seems to be what I have
called the mafia thriller, which was launched by the Polish
film Pigs (Wladyslaw Pasikowski, Poland, 1992) and has been
continued mainly in Poland and Russia.
Melodramas, excluding the Oscar-winning Czech film Kolya
(1996 by J. Sverak) have enjoyed an uneven success, owing
partly to their novelty, but, more significantly, to the absence
of any nominal consensus on the basic values of post-communist society: what is socially acceptable and what is not; what
is prestigious and what is not, essentially, what is Good and
what is Evil. Neo-liberalism has provided an ideology for the
post-communist transition in the public sphere but little guidance in the private sphere. This confusion is evident in the
representation of women as either nurturing mothers and
wives, or objects of sexual desire.
A newly ascendant generation of filmmakers, born in the
1960s, seems to be finding solace in a closed existential world,
far from the maddening, unresolvable post-communist tensions. The witty magical-realist allegories of some of the most
original Eastern European directors, such as Ildiko Enyedi
(Simon the Magician, Hungary/France, 1998), Jan-Jakub Kolski (Jancso, the Water Magician, Poland, 1993), and Martin
Sulik (The Garden, Slovakia, 1995), are part of this tendency.
Their films bode well for the future of Eastern European cinema. Free of the messianic pathos of moral leadership so typical of previous generations, they are meeting the demands of
their financially constrained local film industries without
abandoning either high artistic standards or viewers from
both sides of the East-West divide. They confute the premature rumors of the death of the Eastern European cinema. ◆
Film and New Media
African Video-Films: An Alternate Reality
n Africa, where movie screens have long been dominated
by Indian romance musicals, Hollywood B- and Chinese
Kung-Fu films, a parallel movie industry has emerged in
recent years, as cheaply made video-films by, for, and about
Africans have begun drawing a much larger audience than their
foreign-made celluloid competitors. In Nigeria and Ghana, local
video filmmakers are churning out a combined total of about
seven hundred feature-length movies a year—more than the
number of celluloid films either Hollywood or the European
Union produces. In 2000, Nigeria’s registered video rental clubs
jumped from 333 to 738. Along with traditional movie theaters
projecting videos, there are thousands of informal makeshift
video parlors in cities, towns, and villages around Nigeria and
Ghana, where proprietors charge viewers a small fee to watch
video-films on television monitors. The resulting new industry
brings a new audience for African movies, much larger than the
traditionally elite one that is confined to a few urban theaters.
Hollywood, says one critic, may rule the rest of the world, but
in Ghana it has been trounced by “Ghanawood.”
Ironically, the flowering of African video is a direct effect of
the continent’s prolonged economic crisis, which had virtually
paralyzed its film industry. With the “Structural Adjustment
Program” (SAP) imposed by the International Monetary Fund,
both Ghana’s and Nigeria’s currencies were dramatically devalued, depriving filmmakers of hard currency to import filmmaking equipment, buy raw film stock, or afford postproduction. The result in Ghana, for example, was only six
feature-length films in the 1980s, none in the 1990s.
Filmmakers soon turned to the video format, hitherto used
for fairly universal home-movie purposes, recording marriage,
birth, naming, and death ceremonies. Once the medium’s commercial potential was grasped, however, the ranks of videomakers suddenly included anyone able to afford a video camera and captivate a popular audience through storytelling.
The video-film boom, then, has changed not only the volume but the content of African film production. During the
postcolonial 1960s and 1970s, African cinema was highly
political, pervaded with Marxist philosophical rhetoric and
revolutionary ideology. The new video-film universe, colloquial and dominated by popular themes and hot social issues,
offers comedies, satires, musicals, adventure tales, soap operas,
and even horror movies.
In this fledgling industry, most videos are still technically
crude, produced by autodidacts, yet able to galvanize a mass
audience intrigued to see their societies depicted as they really
are. The films originally made in Nigeria and Ghana have
begun to find a wide public in other African countries, as well
as in expatriate African communities throughout the world.
Foreign-made films, while technically superior, either ignore
Africa entirely or depict only its disease and poverty.
By contrast, the new genre-videos deal with Africa’s contemporary real-life problems: teenage pregnancy, marital infidelity, political corruption, and organized crime gangs. Even
when they treat the subjects of magic and witchcraft, they do
so in effortlessly normal conversation. Independent director
Tom Ribeiro best explains this increased appetite for locally
made movies: “First [Ghanaians] used to enjoy cowboy films.
That died off. Then Kung-Fu pictures. That died off. Then just
killing, killing, killing. And we think, is that all Americans
know?” No wonder, then, that since the early ‘90s, theaters
in the major cities of Accra, Takoradi, Tamale, have exclusively played Ghanaian video-films.
The video phenomenon, however, also expresses the values
and aspirations of a new, get-rich-quick age. In Nigeria, for
example, under the guise of social criticism, many video cameras dwell on the latest models of Acura, Infiniti, Jaguar, Mercedes, and Rolls-Royce luxury cars of the nouveaux riches of
Lagos rather than the familiar rattletrap taxis that ply the country’s roads, conjuring up images of an imaginary Africa of unrivaled prosperity. Designer clothes and imported wines
allegedly point to misplaced priorities, but also reflect current
And while it is part of a new capitalist economic order, video
has allowed social mobility, bringing up many of the new
video-film entrepreneurs from the lower ranks of their societies. One of the pioneers of Ghanaian video-films is Socrates
Safo, whose filmmaking “schooling” consisted of watching
movies while working as a janitor in a theater in order to pay
for his training as an auto mechanic. With backing from his
coworker friends, he shot an experimental but commercially
successful feature, Ghost Tears, the first of five tragic romances
to date—and supposedly one of the six highest-grossing features of the late 1980s. Safo recounts the woes of unfaithful
husbands whose mistresses’ wild spending sprees reduce them
to abject poverty and eventual mental derangement, ridicule,
and haunting by malevolent ghosts. Safo’s plots draw on the
folktales traditionally told in Ghanaian families in the evenings, as well as the modern Ghanaian newspaper practice of
exposing government officials’ extramarital affairs.
Genre experiments have proliferated. Dubbed “Ghana’s first
hip-hop film,” Bampoe-Addo’s Abrantee portrays youthful
exuberance and love. Tricky Twist and Matters of the Heart are
popular comedies starring the well-known comic actor Augustine Abey. While Bismarck Nunoo’s Phobia Girl and Sam B’s
Deliverance have explored the metaphysical/supernatural, in
Sidiku Buari’s Ogboo I and Ogboo II characters are transformed
into animals and vice versa. Ogboo uses folkloric symbols and
conventions to illustrate contemporary economic problems
such as corruption both in the most traditional and “sacred”
establishments (i.e., the native medicine men) and the more
“Westernized” institutions (such as the law and the police).
Traditionally denied access to film, women have recently
been able to get behind the camera through the video counterculture. Female video-makers are exposing cultural conventions
and finding innovative strategies to challenge Eurocentric and
male-chauvinistic assumptions about black female subjectivity.
One of the most innovative video-films by an African woman is
Veronica Quashie’s Twin Lovers (Ghana, 1996), about the lure of
Film and New Media
the city, sexual promiscuity among young people, and the perils of “sugar daddies.” At about twenty-two, the protagonist
Juliet is still a virgin when she meets Kobbie through friends.
One such “friend,” Doreen, spikes her drink, allowing Kobbie
to lure her home to be raped. Kobbie, a rich engineer and notorious Casanova, uses his charm as well as intimidation and
deceit to achieve his goal. As a village girl, Juliet was pure, but
the vice-ridden city to which she’s come for education destroys
her ambitions. Now pregnant, she is terrified her father will kill
her if she fails to perform the puberty initiation, a ritual of
honor and source of parental pride.
As in Ghana, the Nigerian video scene is dominated by
“emergency” (Nigerian slang for upstart) directors and producers bent simply on making money. Production is open to
anyone with the necessary funds: businessmen, traders, theater and television personalities. This commercial approach
has paid off. And although many directors work in English to
draw the broadest possible audience, the low cost of videos
has also spawned a great many films in various local languages, such as Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa, Nigeria’s three main
language groups. The low cost of video subtitling and English
dubbing allows some of the videos to cross ethnic lines.
Yoruba videos have become one of the country’s most popular
genres, thanks to plot structures that draw on the fantastical,
supernatural dimensions of the Yoruba cosmology. These
videos are a weak imitation of the excellent and highly professional Yoruba traveling theaters, which the video-films
nevertheless rival in audience appeal. Some at least do use
popular theater actors.
The Igbo, another of Nigeria’s main ethnic groups, were
instrumental in beginning the video boom. Taboo, directed
by Vic Mordi, takes up the question of arranged marriage,
recalling the romance themes and sexual titillation of Indian
films (which remain very popular in many African countries).
The singing and dancing blend the conventions of the typical
Indian romance film with traditional Igbo theater. But Taboo’s
hybrid structure does not diminish its engagement with serious cultural issues, as in the depiction of the caste system in
the “impossibility” of a member of the upper class family to
marry someone of a lower caste, the Osu. In some Igbo cultures, the Osu is a slave, a social outcast. Music and dance
never obfuscate the detail of the conflict and resolution, nor
the drama’s moral force.
As in the Ghanaian and Yoruba video-films, Igbo video-films
hold a mirror to its society’s vices. Dirty Deal, produced and
directed by Kenneth Nnebue, and Circle of Doom by Vic Mordi,
are about the notorious “419” crime syndicate; and Diet of Lies
by Chris Oyams pokes fun at sugar daddies. Consultation by
barren couples with the river goddess (Mammy Wata) is the
theme of Zeb Ejin’s Nneka, the Pretty Serpent. Other features
deal with syncretic religions, Christian-Muslim conflicts,
women’s marginal status and lack of inheritance and property
rights, and the social decay wrought by materialist values. The
new African video-films, while they coat the pill with the
sweetening flavor of entertainment, in particular comedy, have
begun to serve as an important forum for social criticism. ◆
—N. Frank Ukadike
Internet Film Culture
Since the paper I write for—an alternative weekly called
the Chicago Reader — began to post my extended film reviews
online in 1996, some significant changes in my life and career
have taken place. With my readership thus expanded from
Chicago and environs to the English-speaking Internet, I
started to receive feedback from unexpected corners of the
globe, including Iran, Japan, Korea, and Thailand. Last fall, I
was invited by several young film critics in Argentina to give
some lectures in Buenos Aires, and this led a few months later
to my most recent book, Movie Wars, being published in
Spanish by Buenos Aires’s International Festival of Independent Cinema. Teenagers in Rochester, New York and London
with a particular interest in foreign films, which I often concentrate on, began sending me e-mails, and I discovered that
some of my pieces were getting cited in French newspapers
and on Swedish Websites. I hasten to add that I’m far from
being the only American film critic with an interest in international cinema to achieve this kind of global currency. Two
of my favorite contemporary film magazines, Senses of Cinema
and Screening the Past—both of them strictly online affairs
based in Melbourne that appear on a bimonthly basis—regularly print, cite, and/or interview critics, scholars, and historians (as well as solicit their “all-time” ten-best lists) from
around the globe, and are possibly even more international
than the venerable British Sight and Sound has ever been.
(Another comparable publication on paper, the Toronto-based
quarterly Cinema Scope, offers portions of its contents online.)
In some ways, these cybernetic links are only the cutting
edge of what appears to be an exciting new kind of film culture that traverses national boundaries, pools diverse
resources, and can exchange information in an unprecedented
fashion. It’s an invisible phenomenon to the more isolationist
Americans who assume that so-called Hollywood blockbusters—many of them made and financed by non-Americans—are the only game in town, and therefore marginalize
everything else in movies as esoterica.
But for a rapidly expanding and, significantly, mainly
youthful cultural underground, these so-called esoteric
movies are becoming much easier to access (and hear about)
on a global scale. Outside the U.S., where multistandard VCRs
playing NTSC, PAL, and SECAM formats are easier to come
by, the possibilities of swapping videos of relatively scarce
movies are steadily expanding. This is an activity that’s
already enjoyed by many American film professionals who
possess such equipment, but it’s a sad yet symptomatic fact
that most Americans are still unaware of these different formats, multisystem VCRs, or the ease with which one can order
foreign videos online.
On the other hand, given Internet access, one suspects it
may only be a matter of time (and advertising muscle) before
nonprofessional film freaks in the States start benefiting from
these options. And sometimes the finds are unexpected: in the
process of searching out films by Yasuzo Masumura (19241986)—a fascinating, singular, and prolific Japanese studio
director whose fifty-five features are virtually unknown as
Film and New Media
much about our identities as racial or national origins.
The paradox is that people across the globe have conceivably never had more in common with one another at any other
time in history. Why? Because the multicorporations that rule
the world much more than national or city governments tend
to do the same things everywhere. A Starbucks invading the
main street of Savannah, Georgia, in spite of local protests or
a Wendy’s becoming a popular hangout for teenage girls in
Tokyo’s Ginza district are only two examples of phenomena
that could be multiplied a hundredfold across the planet. In
her recent book No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies,
Naomi Klein charts the growth of organized political opposition to these multicorporations—an international movement
that has ironically been much more visible in smaller countries such as Canada (where Klein lives) or England (where her
book has already sold over 100,000
copies) than in larger ones like the
U.S., Russia, and China, which tend
to get too preoccupied with their own
apparent diversities to be able to perceive wider common interests of this
kind. But it already seems fairly certain that if this myopia is to change,
it will be the Internet more than the
evening news that will make the
global movement apparent.
Insofar as the Internet tends to have
an equalizing and somewhat democratic influence—potentially giving a
good many Web-surfers across the
globe something else in common—it
could be argued that the advent of
digital video has similarly levelled
cinema’s playing field. One obvious
thing that DV does is place people on both sides of the camera
on something that more nearly resembles an equal footing.
Strictly in terms of class, a 35-millimeter camera creates something like apartheid between a filmmaker and his or her typical camera subjects, fictional or non-fictional, with the equivalent of an entire industry, an ideology, and a great deal of
money and equipment standing in between the two. DV
removes that barrier, inviting everyone to play the same game.
By the same token, one could speculate that if tristandard
video systems become as popular in the U.S. as they already
are in Europe, the possibilities of international swaps and purchases of videos could wind up confounding the cinematic
isolationism that currently infects American moviegoing. Now
that national boundaries are rapidly becoming defined more
by the reach of marketing and advertising campaigns than by
any particular concentration of national characteristics,
there’s no reason why adventurous filmgoers always have to
be as landlocked as the media implies they should be. Significantly, despite efforts on the part of multinationals to keep
various DVD systems separate and incompatible, players
breaking through such limitations are already being auctioned
off on the Internet.
© Matteo Pericoli
well as unavailable in the U.S.—I discovered from a Philadelphia contact that English subtitled videos of two of the best
were available from film enthusiasts in Israel, and I now have
copies of both. Intercultural exchanges of all kinds are on the
rise: even within the so-called Hollywood mainstream, widespread video piracy has already ensured that more of the
movies being seen today by teenagers in Iran as well as certain parts of Eastern Europe are unsubtitled dubs of brandnew American features rather than domestic products of any
kind. The kids may not be able to follow much or any of the
dialogue, but the lure of global culture proves irresistible.
Similarly, the broken English that often serves as the lingua
franca in e-mail circling the globe is beginning to lose most
signs of nationality for the sake of global currency.
It might be argued, for that matter, that the more that certain popular videos circulate internationally, the more the various signs
of nationality become simplified and
abbreviated as well as somewhat confused. What we’ve gotten accustomed to calling “typically American” when we speak of blockbuster
movies or hamburgers may be easier
to market with those associations,
but that doesn’t mean that they tell
us anything significant about life as
it’s currently lived in the United
States. (The hamburgers may not
always taste the same either, even if
the advertising tries to persuade us
that they do.) Compare the 1977 Star
Wars to the 1996 Independence Day,
and one of the first things that
becomes apparent is that whereas the
earlier movie reflected both American life in the mid-’70s and
the pop-drenched personality of a single American writerdirector, the latter movie, whose director and cowriter is German, has to reach back to the 1950s to find its “all-American”
iconography of the future, including its clichéd images of
other countries. In other words, now that blockbusters are
being aimed at the global market from the outset, and are frequently financed and owned by multinational rather than
national entities, assigning them an American label may be
more a form of advertising than a meaningful indication of
their existential identity.
It’s interesting that even a prescient international filmmaker
like Jim Jarmusch who personally shuns the Internet intuitively grasps many of the principles of crosscultural “sampling” that emerges from its busy traffic. His recent feature
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai—which mixes codes of
samurai behavior carried out by an African-American loner
(Forest Whitaker), rituals of Italian gangsters who hang out in
a Chinese restaurant and quote rap lyrics, and English Victorian and Japanese fiction (Frankenstein and Rashomon) read
in a black ghetto where a Haitian (Isaach de Bankole) sells ice
cream—suggests that we’re all turning into unstable combos
of this kind, where nicknames like “Ghost Dog” may say as
The Legacy of the 1960s
The Refashioning of a German Radical
t was not during the “German Autumn” of 1977, as the wave of terror reached its peak in West
Germany, that many good German citizens felt the Second German Republic had come to an end,
but much later, on December 12, 1985. On that day, millions of television viewers watched in
disbelief as the new Green Party environment minister of the state of Hesse took his oath of office in
tennis shoes, a worn-out sport jacket and—the supreme act of revolt—no tie. Sixteen years later, the
Hessian state environment minister has become the Federal
Republic of Germany’s foreign minister and vice chancellor.
He wears Armani suits, and his tie is as impeccably understated
as his diplomatic pronouncements. But the commotion he is
causing in the German public arena is as loud as it was in 1985.
He stands before the court and must testify as a witness in a
terrorism trial. And the question on everyone’s mind is: In
Joschka Fischer, has Germany let a sympathizer, perhaps even
an accomplice, of terrorism, become foreign minister?
Fischer’s career belies Oscar Wilde’s assertion that life imitates art. The life story of this politician, who scores better
than any other in German public opinion surveys, can be told
only as literature.
Joseph Martin Fischer, nicknamed Joschka, was born in
1948. He left his college-prep school without a diploma and
began studying in Frankfurt in 1967. Among his instructors
were Theodor W. Adorno and Jürgen Habermas. He became
a friend of Daniel Cohn-Bendit and a member of the militant
group “Revolutionary Struggle,” which occupied apartment
buildings and waged street battles with the police. Fischer
worked for Opel and for a while earned his living as a taxi
driver. As he describes it, the Red Army Faction (RAF) murder of the industrialist Hans Martin Schleyer in 1977 marked
an ideological and political turning point for him: he came to
realize that leftist radicalism had no political future, and parliamentarianism must be defended against a movement that
had ended in terror. Fischer joined the Greens and became a
delegate in Germany’s federal parliament in 1983, when his
party won 5.6 percent of the vote. He was state environment
minister in Hesse from 1985 until 1987, when he stepped
down in a dispute over nuclear policy. He became a minister
in Hesse again in 1991, and, when Social Democrat Gerhard
Schröder formed an SPD-Green (“red-green”) coalition government in 1998, he appointed Fischer vice-chancellor and
then foreign minister.
Fischer started out pudgy and plump-cheeked. The higher
he rose, the more ascetic and hollow-cheeked he became. Verbal duels between the slimmed-down Joschka Fischer and the
still-fat Helmut Kohl recalled the first meeting between G.B.
Shaw and G.K. Chesterton: “To look at you, Shaw, you would
think there was a famine in England.” Shaw: “And to look at
you, Chesterton, one would think you caused it!” Fischer is a
master of self-presentation: no one celebrates his own conversions better, as anyone who ever dined with him can testify.
You quickly lost your appetite when Fischer ordered: “A glass
of water. Then coffee. Black. No sugar.” Behind such episodes
lies political strategy. Fischer has figured out how to convey
three messages to the public: 1. I have changed. 2. I am in total
control of myself. 3. He who has changed and is in control of
himself is a born politician in times of change.
Fischer had to testify in court as a witness in the trial of
Hans-Joachim Klein at the beginning of this year. Klein was
accused of having taken part in three murders during the 1975
attack on the OPEC conference in Vienna. Klein and Fischer
knew each other from the radical leftist scene in Frankfurt in
the 1970s. Klein, found guilty of murder, received the relatively mild sentence of nine years in prison; he had agreed to
turn state’s witness, and had credibly declared that he had
distanced himself from his terrorist past.
At the outset of the trial, Germany’s largest illustrated magazine, Stern, interviewed Fischer and published photos from
his radical past. One scene, broadcast from every German television station, was downright repulsive: Fischer and four likeminded comrades were beating a police officer even after he
had fallen to the ground. Not until another policeman drew
his weapon did they let up. These were not new pictures—
even if many viewers hadn’t seen them before. A storm of
indignation broke out on the political right, with calls for the
foreign minister to resign. But, surprisingly, the broader German public remained unmoved: to this day, more than 60 percent of those surveyed say they oppose a parliamentary investigation into Fischer’s past, and 80 percent are adamantly
opposed to his resignation.
In court, Fischer initially showed self-confidence; then,
with growing nervousness, he became increasingly insolent.
At one point he sarcastically asked the judge whether he
should tell how he and Cohn-Bendit had planned to unleash
World War III. He answered precise questions with piqued
imprecision. His links to the radical leftist scene were probably closer than he has yet admitted. More difficulties arose
when word got out that, in 1969, he took part in a PLO conference that condemned Israeli Zionism and the United States.
If Fischer made false statements in court, it could still cost him
his office sometime in the future.
Yet all this rouses his political opponents more than the
general public. Why? We can only speculate. The Germans
have changed as a nation: the West Germans after 1945, and
the East Germans after 1945 and again after 1989. Germans
want others to believe in the sincerity of their transformation, so they find anyone likeable who knows how to make
his own process of transformation convincing. Many Germans see themselves in the young Joseph Fischer; after all, as
The Legacy of the 1960s
young people they were enthusiastic members of the Hitler
Youth or later of the Free German Youth (FDJ), a Communist
organization in East Germany. The tangle in many German
biographies brings a national sympathy for Joschka Fischer:
he’s one of us.
Even when he still wore tennis shoes, Fischer belonged to
the pragmatic wing of the Greens whose members are called
Realos. This wing had the chutzpah to alter Rudi Dutschke’s
motto of the “long march through the institutions.” Dutschke
wanted to penetrate the institutions in order to change
them—and society. Fischer & Co. have entered the institutions
and cozily set up house in them. And let themselves be
changed by those institutions.
Thus, a Minister Trittin defends the cross-country transport of nuclear waste after once militantly taking to the
streets to fight such things. Thus, a Minister Fischer advocates the use of Bundeswehr troops in Kosovo, though he
once would have fought such a measure tooth and nail,
showing that the staunchest defenders of realpolitik are converts from ideologies.
This has created a political problem for the Greens: they have
arrived at the same political center into which the Social
Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and the Liberals are
already crowding. Only the former East German communists
still claim to carry out leftist politics—but their leftist politics,
too, are shaped more by a petite bourgeoisie than by a socialist
consciousness. The Germans have become political centralists,
and German politics boring. The Greens have lost their illusions. The question is whether that has not blurred their edges
so much that they will vanish in the coming elections. Some
already whisper that, if this should happen, Fischer has long
since planned his move to the Social Democrats.
The opposition is enraged at the virtuosity with which Fischer presents his realpolitik as a policy to which there is no
alternative. For Fischer, like most of his allies among the
Greens, was once a moralist. He and his generation long
claimed to be the first in Germany to draw public attention to
the everyday fascism of Germans during the Third Reich.
There is little truth in this, because what Fischer and his
friends focused on in the 1970s was fascism as an ideological
system, not National Socialism as an actual experience. They
used suspicion of fascism to morally and humanly discredit
their older political opponents.
Beyond that, the Greens have always mercilessly lashed out
at every personal weakness of their political opponents—most
recently in the affair surrounding former chancellor Kohl’s
illegal party donations. Yet Fischer does not want to be judged
according to moral, but only according to political, standards.
In this, incidentally, he resembles Kohl, who also believes his
political life’s work exempts him from blame for ignoring legal
niceties. Thus the Greens and the conservatives resemble each
other more than they are likely to admit publicly. In this situation, it is hardly a coincidence that we are hearing more and
more speculation that a “black-green” (Conservative-Green)
coalition might succeed the “red-green” one, which would
push the German turn to realpolitik to new heights.
—Wolf Lepenies (translated by David Jacobson)
Dany the Red
he controversy over the political activities of German
Foreign Minister Joschka Fisher during the 1960s and
1970s is part of a larger “trial” of the generation of ‘68
that has been underway in the European press for several
years now. The latest, and most surprising, “defendant” is
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the red-haired Peter Pan of the Parisian
Latin Quarter in May ‘68 and one of the most visible political
figures on the European left today.
Cohn-Bendit, known universally as Dany, has always been
surrounded by drama. Born in France in 1945 to a German-Jewish couple that had fled Hitler, he spent his early years in
Parisian schools, then moved to Germany with his family in
1958. After graduation in 1965 he crossed the Rhine again to
enroll at the new satellite-campus of the University of Paris in
nearby Nanterre, a dreary and anonymous place that became
the center of student dissatisfaction. Dany quickly galvanized
that dissatisfaction and took it, as we used to say, to the streets—
first in Nanterre, then in the narrow rues surrounding the Sorbonne in central Paris. When the simmering contestation
flashed into violence in May ‘68, Dany was everywhere, now
playing the serious agitator leading meetings and confronting
policemen in riot gear, now playing the merry prankster for
journalists. His good looks, his ethnic “bastardy” (his term), and
his sense of humor, such a refreshing contrast to the dour Stalinists in the French Communist Party, lent élan to the student
movement and convinced many that it portended a break in
French history as important as the Paris Commune, the revolution of 1848, or the French Revolution itself. By the end of May
the French government had heard enough from Dany and
deported him. He was not allowed to return for another decade.
Back in Germany Cohn-Bendit became an active figure on
the German left, though he was a vocal critic of the manichean
and militaristic propensities that would soon give birth to terrorism there. Most of his time was spent editing a magazine in
Frankfurt and working at an anti-authoritarian child-care
center. After a while, like his friend Joschka Fischer, he began
the long march through the institutions. He joined the Green
Party in 1984, became assistant mayor of Frankfurt in charge
of multicultural affairs in 1989, served as a German deputy to
the European Parliament, and finally, in 1998, was elected to
the same post in France. (The post of European deputy is the
only one which non-Frenchmen may hold in France.) For the
past few years he has had his small share of the media limelight in France as a spokesman for the “idea of Europe” and
Green politics—a good example, it would seem, of the political maturation of the ‘68 generation.
For a short time this past winter, however, Dany became a
pariah again. In January Bettina Röhl, the daughter of the German terrorist Ulrike Meinhof who provoked the Fischer affair
in Germany, gave an interview to the French paper Libération,
in which she pointed out a passage in one of Dany’s books from
the seventies which could be read to suggest that he had sexually abused children in the day-care center where he worked.
The passage, from Le Grand bazar (1975), reads in part: “Several times certain kids opened my fly and began to tickle me. I
The Legacy of the 1960s
reacted differently according to circumstances…but if they
insisted I caressed them nonetheless.” Libération, a mainstream
paper founded as a radical-left one in the aftermath of May ‘68,
refused to publish the information. The London Observer picked
it up, as did other European papers and magazines, France
included. Parents of the children he cared for rushed to his
defense, as did his many friends in the media and European politics, who pointed out that the passage is ambiguous and wondered why no one objected to it when the book was published.
It soon became clear that the issue was not Dany but the
legacy of the sixties, especially in sexual matters. That question has been debated endlessly in the United States but not
by the French, who consider themselves always to have been
more open-minded and worldly about sex than the AngloSaxons. But pedophilia? To its credit, when the Dany story
broke, the staff at Libération went back to the archives and
discovered that, in fact, the paper had published a number of
articles and petitions on pedophilia in the seventies and even
eighties that were anything but critical. Sorj Chalandon collected a number of shocking instances in his article of February 23: an account of a man who seduced the five-year-old
daughter of a friend, defenses of teachers convicted of pederasty, and petitions calling for the abolition of the legal age
of sexual majority, signed by, among others, Jean-Paul Sartre
and Simone de Beauvoir, philosophers Michel Foucault and
Jacques Derrida, and novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet. But, as
Chalandon explains, the issue back then was not sex but,
justement, liberation—liberation from the moral order, from
all hierarchies including those of age, from the “grid” that
society imposed on sexuality through schools, the family, and
churches. What did sleeping with children mean back then,
at least in theory? Chalandon asks. “A liberty like any other.”
Dany reacted strongly to this portrayal of the ‘68ers’ view of
child sex, arguing that without the new openness about sexuality that began in the sixties we wouldn’t now be aware of just
how much sexual abuse exists, and has always existed. The
point of sexual liberation was to make sex consensual among
men and women, not underwrite the non-consensual abuse of
children. Dany continues to defend what he calls “libertarian
liberalism” against both the anti-liberal left (which rejects
democratic procedures, the rule of law, and the market) and
the right-wing critics of the sixties who fail to recognize the
good fruits of the liberation movements, especially for women.
And, indeed, the conservative paper Le Figaro jumped on the
Dany story, calling for a moral “inventory” and even “repentance” by the entire ‘68 generation. To which Serge July, the
editor of Libération, angrily responded: “I’ve already examined
my conscience and I prefer a thousand times over the families
of today, though they be somewhat ramshackle, often recomposed, with more liberated women, men who are changing,
and children who are wanted and autonomous, to the authoritarian, stifling, and violent families of the past.” And so, it
appears, do most Frenchmen. What relation these changes
might bear to the apparent proliferation, thanks to the Internet, of networks of pedophiles and child pornographers in all
Western countries is a question they have yet to resolve. ◆
We Have a Situation
hile the political legacy of the 1968 generation is
coming under scrutiny in Europe, a least part of
its cultural legacy is currently being celebrated,
especially in France. Over the past several years publishers
have produced a steady stream of books on a small, obscure,
and seemingly marginal group of bohemian visionaries called
the Situationist International, which was founded in 1957 and
dissolved in acrimony in 1970. Why such an ephemeral organization should still have a hold on the European imagination
is a matter worth pondering.
Although the Situationists claimed in their heyday to have
had chapters in sixteen countries, including the United States,
recent histories of the “movement” (such as Laurent Chollet’s
L’insurrection situationniste (Dagorno)), suggest that it probably never had more than a hundred active members, and that
by the end most of these had, in traditional avant-garde leftwing fashion, been excommunicated or split to form their own
groups. Their lineage, however, could be traced to the Dadaists and Surrealists, who were active in the first half of the
twentieth century. Dada and Surrealism began as aesthetic
movements with only an indirect interest in politics, but in
the years leading up to World War II the Surrealists in particular followed their leader André Breton into the pro-communist camp. After the war the Surrealists regrouped but ceased
to have significant direct cultural influence.
Indirectly, however, the examples of Dada and the early
Surrealists continued to inspire young people who found contemporary bourgeois life stifling and conventional, yet who
could not bring themselves to swallow the economic and political dogmas of the Stalinism then dominating French intellectual life. Capitalism was part of the problem, to be sure; but
so was the kind of culture capitalism had produced, a culture
of consumption and images of consumption, of inhuman
architecture and brutal urban spaces, of sexual repression and
exploitation, of isolation and sadness. Modern capitalism had
produced a script for modern man, and this script had taken
on a life of its own, independent of economic and political
relations. This script had to be exposed and subverted, a task
the Dadaists and Surrealists had begun with aesthetic gestures
that juxtaposed images, toyed with the unconscious, and
deflated bourgeois pieties with humor. Situationism was
founded on the conviction that these avant-garde gestures
could be taken to the streets through the creation of “situations” that would break the illusions of normality created by
the “spectacle” of modern life. Indeed, beyond the streets to
the Métro, where they served free dinners, complete with silver service, wine, and different courses at each stop; or Notre
Dame cathedral, which they entered disguised as monks, in
order to shout “God is dead” during Mass.
The classic work of Situationism was Guy Debord’s La Societé du spectacle (1967), which has recently been reissued in
paperback. Debord was the Svengali of the movement, the
founder who attracted young writers and artists to his group,
only to denounce and excommunicate them when they deviated from his dogmas. Debord was a complicated case, as one
The Legacy of the 1960s
sees in his Correspondence (2 vols., Fayard) and even in the
generally admiring new study of his thought, Anselm Jappe’s
Guy Debord: Essai (Denoël). But La Société du spectacle is a classic of gonzo sociology and has had tremendous influence on
subsequent French thought on modernity, notably in the
work of Jean Baudrillard. Debord argued that Marx’s picture
of capitalist society, in which the economic and political reality was covered over by ideological falsification that only
Marxism could penetrate, no longer applied. The distinction
between image and reality had disappeared: modern life is
nothing but a spectacle, a show in which our relations with
each other and our physical environment is entirely mediated
by shadowy representations. In 221 tightly written “theses”
Debord described the hall of mirrors in which we now live,
and which could be escaped only by breaking those mirrors.
About the time this work appeared, one of Debord’s comrades, a Belgian writer named Raoul Vaneigem, published an
equally influential manifesto called Traité de savoir-vivre à
l’usage des jeunes générations (1967), which can be roughly
translated, Life: A User’s Manual for Young People. This little
book, which has also been reissued in paperback, made the
connection between Debord’s sociological analysis and the
dissatisfactions of youth. The truly revolutionary class would
not be the workers, Vaneigem suggested, but young people
who would create “situations” in the name of authenticity,
autonomy, spontaneity, passion, and eroticism. Against the
cold, antiseptic lives young people were offered in postwar
Europe, Vaneigem called on them to acquire une nouvelle innocence: “With a world of ecstatic pleasures to gain, we have
nothing to lose but our boredom.”
Reading Debord’s and Vaneigem’s books today, along with
reprints of the movement’s magazine, Situationiste Internationale, one can see how they helped to shape the sensibility
of 1968. The demonstrations that turned into street theater,
the slogans painted on the walls (“Change your life!”, “Under
the cobblestones, the beach!”, “Never work!”, “Come forever!”) that mixed a childish anarchism with an artsy irony—
these were pages taken directly from the Situationists’ writings. The movement of French students was certainly
political, though not political in the way their parents’ generation had been; it was equally skeptical of capitalist and communist authority, morally libertarian, and self-consciously
short-sighted, celebrating spontaneous action as a means of
exposing the calculated, scripted quality of modern political
life. Whether they knew it or not, those students created a
“situation” whose effects can still be felt today.
Within two years of May ‘68 the Situationist International
finally dissolved after long, bitter arguments over how to
exploit the “revolution” and whether a more politically militant position was necessary. The original founders dispersed,
some finding jobs as teachers, others continuing to write,
paint, or design buildings. Debord remained his shadowy self,
surrounded by scandal, and took his own life in 1994;
Vaneigem is alive and still writing. Yet the persistent nostalgia
surrounding this little avant-garde circle may reflect more the
failure of the group’s aspirations than their successes. The bestselling French novel in recent decades, Michael Houellebecq’s
The Elementary Particles (1998), paints a horrific picture of the
emotional wasteland that young people inhabit today—a
wasteland created, in Houellebecq’s view, by the cultural revolution of the sixties. Yet as one reads his description of the
current malaise—the sexual anomie, the personal isolation, the
mindless, unsatisfying consumption—one cannot but see the
parallels between it and the world the Situationists thought
they were describing. And so we are left to wonder: has nothing changed? Or did the Situationists, and the cultural revolution they helped to inspire, actually accelerate the very forces
they wished to combat? This second thought arises after reading Chollet’s glossy, coffee-table history of “insurrection,”
which looks spectacular—and costs nearly $30.
Our Man at the Times
uring his four-day visit to New York for the United
Nations Millennium Summit last September, Fidel Castro made time to visit the offices of the New York Times.
As he walked down the portrait gallery, he asked, “Where is
Herbert Matthews’s portrait? There was a good journalist!” But
no picture of the paper’s foreign correspondent and editorialist
for thirty-six years hangs among New York Times legends—as
it does in the Museo National de la Revolución in Havana,
among tattered clothes, images of revolutionary heroes, and old
rifles: a small black-and-white photo showing Matthews against
a leafy background, a cigar between his lips and a notebook in
his hand. By his side, Fidel Castro lights a cigar.
This scene took place in February 1957, in the humid dusk
of the Sierra Maestra mountains, 750 kilometers east of Havana.
The Times had hastily dispatched Matthews to the island, after
learning that Castro was still alive, hiding in the mountains. In
December 1956, Castro’s body and that of his brother, Raúl,
had been officially identified and allegedly buried by the
Cuban army. The thirty-year-old rebel and his eighty-one followers had sailed from Mexico a week before. Castro was convinced that Cuba, worn by violence and corruption, was ripe
for rebellion, and that his landing, coordinated with an uprising in Santiago de Cuba, would spur popular revolt. But, in
rough seas and heavy rain, the pitiful yacht ran aground in
swampland two days too late. The army of Fulgencio Batista
had crushed the Santiago uprising, and for days special troops
hunted and machine-gunned the rebels. A dozen survivors,
including the Castro brothers and Che Guevara, made for the
woods, where peasants helped them hold out for two months.
Since the Cuban press was censored, Castro, who was officially
dead, coveted the foreign press and sent a messenger to the
Times’s Havana correspondent, Ruby H. Phillips, who, being
known to authorities, could not pursue the story herself.
Matthews and his wife, disguised as tourists, traveled to
Oriente province. From Manzanillo, the rebels drove
Matthews for two hours through sugar-cane fields, then
walked him through the woods. The fifty-seven-year-old journalist sat waiting on a blanket all night until Castro arrived
and granted him a three-hour interview. “There was a story
to be got, a censorship to be broken,” Matthews recalled in his
The Legacy of the 1960s
memoirs. “I got it and I did it—and it so happens that neither
Cuba nor the United States is going to be the same again.”
Indeed, on February 24, 25, and 26, 1957, the New York
Times published three lengthy articles (two on the front page)
that unleashed a political tidal wave both in Cuba and the U.S.
Describing in graphic detail the corruption of the Batista
regime and the atrocities committed by the army, Matthews
condemned the U.S. military and diplomatic support and
praised the island’s growing opposition and civil resistance.
Above all, Matthews gave prominent place to Fidel Castro and
his July 26th Movement (named after the date in 1953 of Castro’s first, and unsuccessful, armed attack on Batista at the
Moncada barracks, which brought him eighteen months in
prison, capture, torture, and death to many young followers—
and wide popular support): Castro’s rebels “dominated” the
Sierra Maestra and were defeating the best of Batista’s army.
He quoted Castro’s reference to “groups of ten to forty” and
later estimated Castro’s followers at forty. Actually, they
totaled eighteen. Castro revealed his trick in April 1959 at the
Overseas Press Club in New York: during his interview he had
cleverly had his men change clothes and mill around to give
the impression of a crowd, and had Raúl interrupt with news
of a fictitious “second column.”
In his articles, Matthews noted that their political agenda
was somewhat vague, yet defined the movement as “a new deal
for Cuba, radical, democratic, and therefore anti-Communist.”
Though his movement spoke of nationalism, anti-colonialism,
and anti-imperialism, Castro bore no animosity toward the
United States. Matthews was obviously captivated by the
young rebel. His extraordinarily flattering portrait challenged
deeply rooted ideas among U.S. officials and the public that,
despite growing signs of civil discontent, Cuba under Batista’s
pro-American regime was prosperous and peaceful. Arthur
Gardner, the American ambassador in Havana, enraged by the
Times articles, dashed off reassurances to Washington that
Batista had the situation “fairly well under control.”
In Cuba, the articles dramatically undermined Batista’s
credibility. As Matthews was heading home, his notes hidden
in his wife’s girdle, Castro quickly outwitted Batista’s censored
press: he sent a man to New York to copy and send the articles back. Thousands of copies were distributed throughout
the island. Days later, Batista suddenly lifted the censorship,
allowing Cuban newspapers and radio stations to discuss the
articles—priceless advertisement for the July 26th Movement.
Batista’s opponents thus learned that Castro was very much
alive and combat-ready. To save face, the Cuban Defense Minister declared that “the interview and the adventures
described by correspondent Matthews can be considered a
chapter in a fantasy novel. Mr. Matthews has not interviewed
the pro-Communist insurgent Fidel Castro.” He expressed surprise that Matthews had missed the opportunity of being photographed with Castro to prove his words.
The New York Times diligently published the minister’s
statement followed by the now-famous double photo. Just
before copies reached the island, the military commander of
Oriente Province, whose troops had hunted Castro’s men,
asserted: “The North American newspaperman’s statements
are totally untrue due to the physical impossibility of entering the zone in which the imaginary interview took place. No
one can enter the zone without being seen. In my opinion this
gentleman was never in Cuba.” Even Batista thought the story
was fake and denounced the “composite picture.” But, as the
president of the National Bank of Cuba told him: “If it’s published in the New York Times, it’s true in New York, true in
Berlin, true in London, and true in Havana. You can depend
on it that the whole world will believe the story.”
In January 1959, after a two-year struggle, Fidel Castro triumphantly entered Havana. Herbert Matthews, who wrote
most of the articles and virtually every editorial on Cuba during that time, invariably kept to his initial positions, maintaining that Castro was not a Communist and imploring Americans to disregard Castro’s bad temper and back the social
revolution. Given the cold war context, he warned, bad relations between the two countries would bolster Cuba’s Communists, who were already trying to appropriate the revolution. But in 1960, the revolution’s land reform directly hurt
American economic interests in the island and diplomatic relations severely deteriorated. The New York Times decided that
Matthews could still write editorials but had become too
”subjective” and ”emotional” to send to Cuba again.
In January 1961, President Eisenhower severed diplomatic
relations with Cuba. For most Republicans, the conservative
press, and Batista supporters who could not, and still cannot,
accept that the U.S. “lost” Cuba, Herbert Matthews, and by
extension the New York Times, became ideal scapegoats.
Matthews required government protection after receiving death
threats and was forced off a University of New Mexico podium
after a bomb scare. He was fired from the Inter-American Press
Association and avoided visiting the Overseas Press Club.
Until his death twenty years after the Sierra Maestra interview, Matthews had to face tremendous criticism—including
Eisenhower’s charge in 1965 that he had “almost singlehandedly” made Castro a national hero—but refused to take blame
for ‘creating’ Castro, “a man of destiny who would…have
made his mark sooner or later.” Others disagreed. In 1960,
Ambassador Gardner claimed that the three Times articles
“served to inflate Castro to world stature and world recognition. Until that time, Castro had just been another bandit in
the Oriente mountains of Cuba....” A cartoon in the National
Review of May 1960 showed Castro riding a map of Cuba, its
caption a parody of the newspaper’s famous advertisement
campaign: “I got my job through the New York Times.”
As late as 1984, William Ratliff, a research fellow at Stanford’s
Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace concluded:
“Seldom has a single writer so influentially set the tone—at least
as perceived by a broad cross-section of its interested readership—toward a person, movement, or historical phenomenon.”
But blaming the journalist allows many to ignore other possible explanations. Discontent in Cuba with economic and
social conditions and political corruption was widespread
before the 1957 articles. American diplomacy failed to grasp
its extent, called for uncritical support of Batista, and was
totally unprepared for the revolution of 1959.
Questions of National Identity
Spain’s Forgetting of Things Past
hen an odd array of skinheads and octogenarian
right-wingers turned up at Francisco Franco’s
tomb last November 20 to commemorate the
twenty-fifth anniversary of the Spanish caudillo’s death, they
met with simple, effective rebuke. The doors to the basilica
were shut; federal guards had been given the day off. “This is
like closing the cemeteries on All Saints’ Day,” one mourner
complained. His observation sums up the way Spain has contained history’s ghosts.
Indeed, since Franco’s death, Spanish public officials have
tended to turn a blind eye to unpleasant reminders of the
recent past. In what is known unofficially as the pacto del
olvido (the “pact of forgetting”), the right and left agreed in
1975 to end the century’s vicious cycle of recrimination by
abstaining from retrospective public inquiries. A popular slogan of the day, libertad sin ira (“freedom without rage”), gave
voice to a policy of collective amnesia, which meant, in practice, amnesty for human-rights abuses perpetrated during the
authoritarian Franco regime (1939-1975) and the three-year
civil war that preceded it.
The pact involved no small amount of forgetting. Precise figures will never be known, and of course are disputed. But
respectable estimates set political executions carried out by
Franco’s forces during the Civil War at close to 42,000, with
the postwar repression claiming another 28-30,000 lives up to
1950. This omits the less dramatic, but still egregious, torture,
incarceration, forced exile, and murder since that time. Many
responsible for these acts are still alive. For its part, the Spanish left had similar enormities to forget: some 72,000 men and
women executed in the Republican zone during the Civil War,
including roughly 7,000 clergy. One of the most notorious suspects, the Communist Santiago Carrillo, is still alive (until 1982
he served as General Secretary of the party). In short, plenty
of ghosts haunted the Spanish landscape in 1975. They still do.
As some native commentators have appreciated, it is uncomfortably ironic that a Spanish prosecutor, Baltasar Garzón, has
spearheaded the human-rights crusade against the Chilean
Pinochet and Argentina’s generals. Should he turn his gaze
homeward, he could undoubtedly expand his case file.
Yet rather than dispel its ghosts by turning on the lights,
Spain has chosen to keep them in the dark—arguably a successful policy that has helped to make the country the stable,
thriving democracy it is today. The paltry number of Franco’s
mourners last November (and the virtual non-existence of a
Spanish extreme right) seem to testify to this success, confirming the nineteenth-century French political philosopher
Ernest Renan’s observation that forgetting is an “essential factor in the history of the nation.”
This is no easy proposition for those of us living amid what
commentators call our present “memory boom,” the application of the dictum “never forget” to all facets of experience.
For precisely this unwillingness to confront old demons
returned to haunt countries like Germany, Austria, France,
and Japan after the war. They, too, pursued initial policies of
forgetting in their post-‘45 transitions to democracy, only to
be forced later to confront the trauma of psycho-historical
repression. Might Spain be forestalling its own “Vichy syndrome,” its own painful reckoning with the past?
To anyone following Spanish news of late, this may seem to
be the case. Last June, a group of historians and intellectuals
in Barcelona issued a manifesto calling upon the Congress of
Deputies to “morally condemn those responsible for the
crimes of Franquismo,” while petitioning the hierarchy of the
Catholic Church to “ask public pardon for its complicity in
sustaining the dictatorship.” In December, the Catalan regional parliament approved a statement introduced by the
left-wing Catalan nationalist party, the Esquerra Republicana
(ER), condemning “those responsible for the crimes, the persecution, the barbarity, and exile” committed during the dictatorship. Finally, in February 2001, the Basque Nationalist
Party (PNV) introduced a measure in the Spanish congress
condemning Franco’s coup d’état of July 18, 1936, and demanding that all symbols and references to the Franco regime
be removed from public buildings. The measure was quelled
by the conservative majority of President José Maria Aznar’s
Partido Popular (PP).
This flurry of activity notwithstanding, Spain is unlikely
to undergo a period of painful public reckoning, or Helmut
Kohl-style apology for past sins. In the first place, the pacto
del olvido has been violated before. The Spanish Socialist party
(PSOE), which governed Spain from 1982 to 1996, employed
this tactic in the 1990s, waving the bloody shirt in the losing
election of 1996 and introducing legislation in 1999 condemning Franco’s “fascist military revolt.” Its motivation, however,
was transparently political. A spurious, and ultimately failed,
effort to link the conservative PP to Franco’s crimes, the
PSOE’s invocation of the past was a tacit admission of present
fragility. Much the same can be said of the Catalan and Basque
parties initiating the latest round of historical condemnations.
They also face the challenge of an ascendant PP, and so hope
to score political points by loosing the ghost of the man notorious for suppressing regional freedoms. Their efforts, however, betray more their own electoral uncertainties than the
delicate state of Spanish national conscience.
For in truth that conscience—like Spanish democracy as a
whole—is relatively healthy. The very fact that these allegations can now be bandied about with impunity shows that old
wounds have largely healed. Moreover, despite the relative
political silence demanded by the pacto del olvido, Spaniards
have long worked to exorcise their demons in less official
capacities. Since the late 1970s historians have conducted a
remarkably frank and fair assessment of the recent past, ensuring that, unlike in Germany or France after the war, few hidden demons are liable to come leaping out of the dark. By and
large, the Spanish know the unsavory things that haunt their
graveyards. But they also know that with ample blame to go
around, they are probably best kept where they are.
—Darrin M. McMahon
Questions of National Identity
A Rise of Nationalism in Japan?
ince the end of the 1960s, Western authors and the media have repeatedly expressed the
alarmist view that nationalism is on the rise in Japan. Such prominent figures as Henry
Kissinger have predicted that Japan would dramatically reverse its postwar preference for
keeping a low international profile, convert its economic power into military power, and embark on
substantial rearmament, perhaps even including nuclear weapons. Yet this idea has not materialized
overseas, however, is the third position, which attempts to
reevaluate the meaning of history for the nation-state. Masakazu Yamazaki, Japanese director of Correspondence, has argued
that these debates conflate two different histories: “history as
perception,” in which a free individual’s description contributes
to knowledge and scholarship, and “history as tradition,” in which a myth or
shared memory helps build a collective
identity. In the twentieth century, the organization of the state, resting partly on tradition and partly on universal principles,
combined these two histories, created its
tradition as a nation-state, and offered history education by the state to strengthen
its legitimacy and unify its people.
At the same time, the wave of globalization and the revitalization of various ethnic groups have weakened the hold of the
nation-state, and people’s sense of belonging today has become more complex. The
nation-state can therefore stop the continuous animosity over the bitter past by not
trying to create a “national history” and
revert to a genuinely legal and institutional entity. Yamazaki distinguishes justice in politics from truth in scholarship;
statements political officials make must recognize circumstances
of the past as well as the feelings of neighboring countries.
The philosopher Seiji Takeda, on the other hand, argues that
the textbook debate between the left and right is flawed by
their shared belief that history education can provide a community-based worldview among citizens. Education scholar
Takehiko Kariya also argues that the state should stop “legitimizing” historical knowledge if history is to be part of compulsory education, a textbook including multiple, conflicting
views of history should be used.
The Japanese "progressives" who oppose the writers the foreign press identifies as "nationalists" may be as nationalistic. If
"right-wing nationalism" means affinity for prewar Japan, "leftist nationalism" expresses itself as self-assertion toward the U.S.
policy, often in the form of idealistic neutralism, radical antimilitarism or in the protests against U.S. army bases in Japan.
"Left nationalism" has been fueled by such recent incidents as
the rape trial of an American soldier based in Okinawa or the
accident earlier this year in which a U.S. nuclear submarine hit
a Japanese fishing training vessel, killing nine people. Despite
© Matteo Pericoli
in the last thirty years, nor is likely do so in the near future.
Most recently, events suggesting the rise of nationalism in
Japan have again attracted the Western press. In 2000, the outspoken nationalist Shintaro Ishihara was elected governor of
Tokyo. Despite his controversial xenophobic statements, he
remains popular with the electorate.
Works by the cartoonist Yoshinori Kobayashi about Word War II or current
social and political events convey neorightist messages to largely apolitical
youth. Is Japan truly “right-leaning”?
In the first issue of Correspondence
(“Japan’s Textbook Debate: Who Controls
History?” Fall/Winter 1997-98), we reported on politicization of history textbooks in Japan and a case in which a historian whose textbook under government
authorization review was asked to dilute
his description of Japan’s prewar invasion
of Asia. He sued, claiming this authorization system constitutes wrongful government censorship, and violates guaranteed
freedom of speech. The courts ruled the
authorization system was lawful, but
restricted government intervention in
textbook content, which tended to reflect
the “progressive,” i.e. highly negative, view of prewar Japan.
This outcome largely satisfied the protesting Chinese and
Korean governments, but infuriated Japanese nationalists, who
maintain that a more “balanced” perspective should be taught,
and wrote their own textbook, which they submitted for government authorization. The Ministry of Education demanded
multiple revisions, which, to everyone’s surprise, the group
agreed to make. The revision won authorization and is teachable, if individual schools and the board of education choose it.
The teachers’ unions, strongly left-leaning, and the “progressive” intellectuals, reacted vehemently to this government decision, which, together with the official objections of China and
Korea, deeply embarrassed the Japanese government. Once criticized for its textbook censorship, Japan was now condemned
for lack of appropriate censorship. In reality, teachers can freely
teach history regardless of choice and contents of textbooks.
Moreover, since textbooks can be published freely in the market without “authorized” approval, the issue is largely political.
Thus, the well-known debate over prewar Japan continues
among the intellectuals of Japan’s left and right. Little-known
Questions of National Identity
a full acknowledgment of responsibility and various messages
of apology on the part of the U.S., Japan’s media continued to
cover this incident day after day, criticizing the United States,
and roused further resistance against U.S. forces in Japan.
Akihiko Tanaka, one of Japan’s most prominent scholars of
international politics, argued that the Japanese government
should demand a U.S. investigation of the incident, appropriately representing the feelings of families of the victims, but
at the same time deliver a clear message recognizing the importance of U.S.-Japan relations to its most important ally, the
United States. He notes that the Japanese government has
failed to do both—while Japan’s opposition parties, by using
the populist anti-American sentiment as a political tool to criticize the government and repeatedly claiming that the LDP
government is too weak vis-à-vis the U.S. government, have
hurt their own credibility as a political force able to take
charge of Japanese diplomacy.
Japan’s unfulfilled nationalism has always been a major problem for both the left and right, and has been an important factor in debates among Japanese intellectuals. However, Japanese
nationalism is not necessarily a return to the past; it is more complex, as Japanese people nowadays have a diverse sense of identity, transcending the nation-state. Once more the alarmist view
that nationalism is resurgent seems a case of “crying wolf.” ◆
ust two hours after taking office, Ariel Sharon’s new
minister of education, Limor Livnat, declared she would
“uproot” all “post-Zionist values” from Israel’s school
textbooks, and again teach our children the love of Zionism.
The complaint is not new. A public controversy around textbooks has been raging for some years now, at times at quite
high pitch. So high a pitch, in fact, that historian Eyal Naveh
of Tel Aviv University, author of a twentieth-century history
textbook, has received death threats from right-wing extremists who claimed he was stabbing our young in the back.
The controversy has traveled overseas. Yoram Hazony, author
of The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel’s Soul, published a
fierce attack on the new textbooks, not only in Israel’s leading
newspapers, but also in the Washington-based New Republic.
As in his book, Hazony asserted that Israel’s establishment
elites have turned their backs on Zionism and are progressively
eroding the moral legitimacy of the Jewish state. But are our
textbooks really post-Zionist? No, they’re not. Yet Hazony and
Livnat do sense something that should not be dismissed.
Post-Zionism is a tricky term. It was the label a group of
ardently anti-Zionist young scholars coined for themselves to
give their highly ideological stance a solemn air of academic
detachment. Being “post,” they are after-the-fact, aloof, no
longer trapped in our outdated “Zionocentrism.” But the
scholarship they produced is, mostly, a negative image of
crude Zionist propaganda from the 1950s. The old propaganda
(and early textbooks) told us, for example, that “the Arabs”—
never referred to back then as Palestinians—left Israel in the
1948 war of their own free will; they went to live in refugee
camps, obeying their misguided leadership, despite our hospitable urgings to make themselves at home in our new state.
Post-Zionists hold, conversely, that Zionism was a deliberate
racist plan of ethnic cleansing, and the ’48 war just the opportunity its leaders were waiting for to brutally implement it.
Neither version is accurate. Our best-informed historical
research reveals something in-between, and the new textbooks
seem to take this research quite seriously. According to Elie
Podeh’s recent study of Israeli history textbooks (History and
Memory, Spring/Summer 2000) they are guided by what he
called the “academic school,” whose adherents aim—pardon
the old-fashioned expression—to get the facts right. Accordingly, the 1948 war emerges in some, if not all, of these books
very much as it does in research: we now know that many
Palestinians fled war zones, but there were also many ad-hoc
expulsions. The war was imposed on Israel, but in the haphazard struggle to achieve statehood, Israelis were not saints.
There is, of course, more to textbooks than facts, and more
to one’s evaluation of Israel’s war of independence than the
question of counting and classifying refugees. The writers of
these new textbooks are, for the most part, professional historians or professional educators. And they reflect a middle-ofthe-road academic mood that is uneasy with both old indoctrination and new post-Zionism. Their worldview refuses the
idea that Israel has no moral right to exist, but also refuses to
ignore the tragedy that Zionism brought on the Palestinians.
The choice to be “academic,” then, reflects the sort of sober
view of the conflict that a great many Israelis have been holding since the Oslo Accord was signed.
But, although this does not show up in the textbooks, there
has been a gradual, partial retreat of Israel’s educated classes
from nationalism in general and Zionism in particular. To be
sure, most educated Israelis are far from renouncing the idea of
the Jewish state; but still they are less comfortable with nationalism than they used to be. Both Hazony and Minister Livnat,
among others, sense this. And while the textbooks have
retreated to sobriety rather than anti-nationalism, their critics
view the books in the light of this wider change of mood.
Hazony has offered an explanation for this more general
uneasiness with nationalism. His The Jewish State blames Martin Buber and his Hebrew University disciples for poisoning
the spiritual wells of the Jewish state with anti-Zionism—so
successfully that they sent Israel’s entire elite into a post-Zionist orbit. This claim is so out of touch with Israeli life, it could
only hold water abroad. Anyone truly familiar with Israel
knows that Buber was never that influential, nor was the
Hebrew University really anti-Zionist.
But there is something even more ironic about Hazony’s book.
He is not simply wrong. He and Livnat are, in fact, part of the
cause for the growing uneasiness over nationalism. Although
he greatly exaggerates it, the phenomenon he complains about
is, in part, a response to the expansionist form of nationalism
he himself espouses. It is also due to the impact of American,
free-market-based conceptions of society, which he wholeheartedly embraces. A settler himself and head of the Shalem Center, an Israeli right-wing think tank closely tied to the American New Right, he vigorously and quite ingeniously promotes
Questions of National Identity
the settlements and the free market, two forces that, in complementary ways, were central in creating the current mood.
Unquestionably the occupation of the West Bank and the
Gaza Strip was the main force. The hawkish right has enlisted
all possible nationalist symbols to support the occupation,
and, for over three decades, tainted them with the Greater
Israel ideology. Nationalism began to seem to many not the
fulfillment of the right to self-determination, as it was for classical Zionism, but rank chauvinism. And the more chauvinism seeped into our politics the more uncomfortable many
who cherish democracy became with nationalism itself.
Gradually, the occupation brought about a curious change,
which Israelis have so far paid little attention to. The daily
presence of the Israeli army in the territories has shifted the
language of the debate from national to individual terms.
Many of those who oppose occupation have stopped talking
about the rights of nations to self-determination and begun
talking almost exclusively about the rights of individuals. The
idea that Palestinians have a right to independence, and for
the very same reason that Israelis do, has receded into the
background and the occupation has been denounced almost
solely for violating human rights.
Those human-rights violations, of course, were so glaring—
how else to maintain occupation?—that they became impossible to ignore. But what facilitated the smooth shift in our moral
language was not just the existence of violence but the steady,
growing American influence. Our economy, our jurisprudence,
our philosophy of education have, by and large, changed base:
from an emphasis on solidarity to the ideology of individualism as the long and short of moral argument, with its peculiar
blindness to national and collective rights.
The problem is, of course, that the Palestinian struggle against
Israel is very clearly a national one. To reduce it to individual
rights is to misunderstand it altogether. And so, ironically, the
partial, gradual drifting away from Zionism, which sprang from
sympathy with the Palestinians, ended (for some, certainly not
all) in obscuring the nature of the Palestinian cause. At the margins, among actual post-Zionists, it reached its logical extreme
in the bizarre idea of “a state of all its citizens.” A pure, nonnational democracy between the Jordan and the Mediterranean
Sea. To Palestinians—with the possible exception of Edward
Said, a long-time champion of this non-national state—it all
sounds strangely like what the most far-right hawks demand:
annexation to a Western state. Colonialism all over again.
George Orwell once remarked that Western intellectuals
never forget the liberating power of ideology and the oppressive power of nationalism, but they rarely remember the
oppressive power of ideology and the liberating force of nationalism. In the case of Israel this seems a timely reminder. For the
logic of our own demand for statehood, the right to self-determination, is now the fuel that threatens to ignite the whole
region. And so the more we drift away from our own national
sentiment, the less we understand what is going on around us.
This unease with nationalism—so far mostly a buzz in the
background, a change of tone rather than a major shift in politics—has not really penetrated our textbooks. It may, however, have been part of what curbed the excess of national-
chauvinist rhetoric, tailored for the days when Israel struggled for its very existence. So much the better. Now we can
afford to be more sober. As can our textbooks. This may not
please Hazony and Livnat or the post-Zionists either. But
should the textbooks move from curbing of chauvinism to
actual moral rejection of nationalism, the dovish left, as well
as the right, should start worrying. Textbooks do depend on
the mood in the academy, and theories that dismiss nationalism are becoming commonplace among younger scholars. A
very bloody century has taught us how dearly we must pay
for underestimating the force of nationalism.
t is a seemingly simple story. Sixty years ago, on July 10,
1941, in the town of Jedwabne, in northeastern Poland,
1,600 Jews were rounded up into a barn and burned alive.
Those responsible for this brutal murder went on trial in 1949.
Eleven were sentenced to between eight and fifteen years of
prison; one was sentenced to death; nine of the accused were
acquitted. In 1957, all were released. Any trace of the crime’s
main instigator was lost, after his wartime arrest by the Germans for appropriating the Jews’ property. The murderers of
the 1,600 Jews were Poles—indeed, their neighbors.
It is no accident, then, that the book relating this simple
story, written by historian Jan Tomasz Gross, a Pole long settled in the United States, is titled Neighbors: The Destruction
of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne. The sparely written
text, based on the testimonies of those defendants in the trial,
but above all that of Szmul Wasersztajn, one of the seven Jewish survivors, has stirred an unprecedented debate in Poland.
This debate raises questions of collaboration, responsibility,
shame, identity. Beyond historians and journalists, those
involved include Poland’s president, premier, and primate of
the Catholic Church. And the Institute of National Memory, an
organization that documents crimes—chiefly Nazi and Communist—against the Polish people, has opened an investigation.
But even the debate has its history, having snowballed with
each day’s new participant. For Gross has broken the taboo of
Polish collaboration and joint responsibility for the Shoah.
The running liberal explanation had been: Nazi-occupied
Poland became, paradoxically, the only one in Europe where
you could be both anti-Semitic and anti-Fascist. By this paradox the Poles (except for the numerous well-documented cases
of informants on Jews to the Germans) did not participate—
unlike certain neighbors (the Lithuanians, for example)—in
the Shoah. They were often passive spectators, at times outright police spies, but never murderers and collaborationists.
Gross, on the other hand, tells how, just days before the
withdrawal of the Red Army (which occupied Jedwabne in
September 1939 through the Hitler-Stalin Pact) the townspeople, headed by the German-appointed mayor, unleashed a
pogrom, followed by a massacre. In pogroms houses are raided,
property looted and destroyed, and occasionally, people killed
in the course of the attacks. This is what occurred in Jedwabne’s streets. Afterward, however, they rounded up all their
Questions of National Identity
Jewish fellow citizens, minus seven escapees, lined them up in
fours, as in an extermination camp, herded them into the barn,
fetched gasoline from a local farmer, and set the barn ablaze.
The odd thing is that the events in Jedwabne were public
knowledge for years. Not only had a normal trial taken place.
In 1966, the historian Szymon Datner had reconstructed Jedwabne’s crime, although, under the constraints of regime censorship (which made all Poles out to be patriots), he assigned
political responsibility to the Germans. In 1980, eyewitness
accounts, unconditioned and uncensored, were published in
Yedwabne: History and Memorial Book, a book of remembrance
for a destroyed community by survivors and their children. The
book reprinted the testimony Wasersztajn had given in 1945,
before the Jewish historical commission of Bialystok. In that
same year, the two families who had hidden the seven Jewish
survivors (including Wasersztajn) and saved them from murder, were attacked by neighbors and their lives threatened. One
family, the Wyrzykowskis, subsequently moved to Warsaw.
In the spring of 2000, a book of essays was published in
Poland to honor the historian Tomasz Strzembosz (a future protagonist in the debate). In one of these essays, Gross cites the
testimony of Wasersztajn (who died on February 9, 2000).
Finally, in May 2000, the publishing house Pagranicze (“the
border”) in Sejny, a Polish town that borders Lithuania, issued
the book Sasiedzi (Neighbors). Gross in his conclusion denounced as a lie the memorial plaque in Jedwabne speaking of
1,600 citizens murdered by the Germans—and signed “[The]
Community”—since it was the Community that killed the Jews.
The real debate, which divided public opinion, began some
months later, around the winter of 2000, just—and perhaps
by no coincidence—as U.S. book publication approached. The
historian Andrzej Paczkowski outlined four positions in this
debate in the newspaper Rzeczpospolita (March 24, 2001). The
first was “affirmative:” that of those who, in his words, “stress
the moral aspect” [of the event] and “underscore the absolute
need for both individual and collective atonement....” The second is “open-defensive,” adopted by those who “recognize
that the Jedwabne pogrom was a crime perpetrated by the Poles
[...], but “take a critical stance toward the book, raising objections to some of its scientific premises.” This involves the old
dispute about the credibility of victims’ testimonies in relation
to archival documents. The third position is the “closed-defensive,” based on the argument that the Poles were mere
“helpers” and the action led “by the Germans”; and above all,
that the Poles’ conduct was determined by the effects of two
years of Soviet occupation and the role the Jews played in it.
Finally, the fourth position, which Paczkowski defined as
“refusal,” is that of those bare-faced anti-Semites who view the
book as part of a Jewish conspiracy to harm the Polish nation.
But another position should be added, the oddest at that,
whose merit at least is to have brought the debate to its crudest and most extreme terms. Let’s call it amazement and sincere bewilderment. This is the position of Jack Zakowski, a
journalist, author of major books and a figure in the Polish
liberal scene. A non-Jewish Pole—a fundamental distinction
in this context—he raised provocative questions in the Gazeta
Wyborcza (November18, 2000), above all: In speaking of col-
lective guilt in which the fathers’ responsibility is visited on
their children, isn’t Gross perhaps using “ethnic” language?
More interesting, however, was the reaction of the Catholic
Church and its heads. In particular that of Poland’s primate,
Cardinal Jozef Glemp, who, on Radio Jozef, after alluding to
the “ethnic and political” aspects of the question, went on to
say: “As a priest I am most interested in the moral aspect. This
is tied to a recognition of generational responsibility based on
asking God’s pardon for the sins of one’s forebears and asking
for forgiveness of the victims’ descendants.” More radical is
the position of Tadeusz Pieronek, one of Poland’s most publicly prominent bishops, who spoke of “genocide” and criticized some priests who instead had taken quasi-negationist
positions. Above all Pieronek stated that “[guilt for the crime]
falls on all of us Poles.” And further: “We must shoulder the
responsibility [for the actions] of those born before us who
were criminals.” Thus Pieronek subscribed to the asking of
forgiveness in the name of the Poles proposed by the ex-Communist and avowed atheist Aleksander Kwasniewski, often
perceived as an adversary by the Church.
Wojciech Sadurski, a jurist and professor of the Istituto Universitario Europeo in Florence, wrote on several occasions of
the importance that statements of regret, and especially the
value of shame, have in building a civil society.
Has the shock of the Jedwabne debate been salutary, then?
Perhaps. Anthropologist Joanna Tokarska-Bakir thinks so.
Speaking psychoanalytically of anti-Semitism as Polish society’s collective sickness, she writes that Gross’s book has
opened up the chance for Poles to speak at last of a repressed
reality, because “our memory is a place in which there are no
Jews.” Literary historian Maria Janion concurred, explaining
in an interview how rife with anti-Semitism Polish culture,
even enlightened and Enlightenment culture, has always
been, and how taboo it has been to even mention the antiSemitism of many of Poland’s founding fathers.
But probably the most significant text has been that published in the weekly Polityka (February 10, 2001) by a veteran
opposition historian, Jerzy Jedlicki. In his large essay, Jedlicki
extended the field of inquiry, noting the long history discussion of the Shoah and Jewish-Polish relations in Poland actually has. “[But] the Shoah has not prompted a general reassessment of positions, it has only deepened longstanding
divisions.” Yet Gross’s book marked a turning point. Finally,
Jedlicki asked: “What is more important in the general
national account: heroism or contempt, piety or lack of
piety?” To which he answered: “Both matter…We cannot,
alas, choose just one.... If we accept the legacy of prior generations, then we must claim the legacy both of their greatness
and their pettiness, their honor and their shame.”
Meanwhile, the memorial plaque Gross criticized has been
removed. And on July 10, 2001, the sixtieth anniversary of
the crime, there was a public ceremony in Jedwabne. The head
of state came and asked for pardon. Priests, bishops, and
church officials prayed with rabbis. Poland’s status as a free,
sovereign country can now afford itself the luxury of hearing
out the most painful truths.
—Wlodek Goldkorn (translated by David Jacobson)
Blair’s Cultural Policy: Pro and Con
Tony Blair’s Grands Projets
ike all Western countries enjoying mounting prosperity, Britain has had widening inequality too, though
this trend slackened in the 1990s. Unlike some other
Western countries, however, Britain has unusually many tools
to mend the tearing social fabric. The economic boom has
proved more amenable to repairing Britain’s historic social
divisions, based on class, than America’s, based on race, or
Ireland’s, based on religion, or Italy’s, based on region. And a
system of undivided sovereignty gives the government
mighty powers of social regeneration, if its own ideological
predispositions and shrilly critical media allow it to use them.
Thus even the watered-down social democracy of Tony
Blair’s “Third Way” can in theory address inequality more
directly and effectively than stiffer ideological regimes such
as the French. But it does so through buzzwords—“social
exclusion”; “government for the many, not for the few” (a slogan crafted to appeal to traditional “Old Labour” heartlands);
“joined-up government” (policy cooperation across departments). The buzzwords ripple through a huge range of government agencies and, importantly, denationalized and voluntary bodies still anxious to ingratiate themselves with
government. And all these bodies, public, semi-public, and
private, are—in this new age of “customer care,” “citizens’
charters,” “accountability,” “transparency”—determined to
translate the buzzwords into action.
Nowhere has the instrumentalization of New Labour buzzwords been more apparent—and more controversial—than in
the field of culture. British governments traditionally steered
clear of culture, one of the few in the West never to have, before
the 1990s, a culture ministry. High culture was adequately
funded by private enterprise for a small audience. The BBC was
always an anomaly, though a creative one. Left-of-center governments were wary of stirring up their supporters’ class
resentments by pampering the arts; right-of-center governments were too much in thrall to commercialism. John Major’s
weak Tory government was the first to partially break from this
tradition, viewing arts patronage as a cheap way to appear to
be moderating brutal Thatcherite materialism. A Cabinet-level
Department of National Heritage, a virtual culture ministry, was
set up in 1992. More significantly, the “good causes” identified
as the beneficiaries of an enormous National Lottery launched
in 1995 immediately gave a central place to the arts, more particularly to building projects for cultural purposes, a novel
British analogue to François Mitterrand’s grands projets.
Many of these grands projets were already under way when
Labour came to power, including the most spectacular, the
Millennium Dome, which has come to symbolize—for better
or, more often, for worse—Labour’s cultural policies. The
Dome’s high-tech fabric tent covering twenty acres of
reclaimed chemical dump on the River Thames near Greenwich opened on schedule on New Year’s Eve 1999, though
logistical errors soon cut its expected attendance by half. The
government had to devote a further tranche of lottery money
to closing the gap, bringing the total bill to £628 million.
The 6.5 million who did squeeze in made the Dome as big a
draw as the Louvre, and three times bigger than its nearest
British rivals among paying tourist attractions. Visitor satisfaction was very high: 88 percent, and, tellingly, given the
nearly universal chorus of press pans, half thought the Dome
better than expected, a third much better.
Why the bad press? While the worst flaws were logistical,
journalists took aim mostly at the Dome’s content—the sixteen
infotainment “zones” inside, addressing themes such as work,
learning, communication, faith, community, environment.
Hastily assembled and, for Britain, unusually corporate-sponsored, these stylishly designed zones confounded pundits by
their mix of Disneyland and vague didacticism. They were at
once low on theme-park-like thrills and also on the arty avantgardism that drew intellectuals to the 1951 Festival of Britain.
Quirky, uneven, rather earnest for a mass-market family attraction, above all middlebrow, they aimed to “intrigue” rather
than educate, impress rather than inculcate. The Dome found a
huge audience markedly more cross-class and multicultural
than normally found in the metropolitan halls of culture—an
unusual achievement that discomfited the traditional guardians
of high culture as well as journalists who like their cultural categories clear and exclusive. This gave the Dome considerable
symbolic social value—despite the botched logistics—and in
some sense accurately symbolized Labour’s cultural policy,
which does strive, however clumsily and often only rhetorically, to offer “one big tent” for a once badly divided society.
The Dome example has also spread—literally—quite far.
Practically every major museum in London now has, thanks
to the lottery, a dome of its own: the British Museum’s Great
Court, the courtyards of the Wallace Collection and the
National Maritime Museum, the yawning, dome-like spaces
of Tate Modern. Though fundamentally enhancements of
existing high-culture institutions, in many details large and
small they carry with them elements of the government’s
social message. The British Museum is the nation’s biggest
non-paying visitor attraction and for years has been begging
for relief for its over-congested halls. Connoisseurial outposts
like the Wallace have had to earn their lottery shilling through
all sorts of promises regarding education and access. The content of the National Maritime Museum’s new exhibition
spaces are suspiciously reminiscent of the Dome’s, only a part
of them successful educationally. The gospel of social inclusion is clearer beyond London: more Domes (a hugely successful eco-botanical one in Cornwall, the Eden Project; another
horticultural one in Wales), a national center for popular
music in Sheffield in a gorgeous but substance- and visitorless building. Two of the happiest projects merge high-culture curators with aggressively populist presentation and local
community spirit in depressed industrial towns: a multimedia
center in Salford showcasing a naïve modernist painter and a
contemporary art gallery in Walsall featuring a brew-pub and
singles nights in a feted architect’s dream.
Like the Dome, many of these projects took wing in the Major
Blair’s Cultural Policy: Pro and Con
government’s dying days, but as they have materialized under
Labour, bear Labour rhetoric and the accoutrements of Labour
social policy: “access” prioritized over content, “life-long
learning” and “social inclusion” over artistic innovation, “community” over the expertise of the arts professionals. Through
other lottery money diverted to smaller community-based projects below journalists’ radar, art content is lower, and more
demotic cultural tools are used to gain wider audiences. The
Department of National Heritage, now the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, has suffered the same makeover: for the
first time “culture” has been smuggled into the heart of government, but only by equivalency with tabloids and football.
A similar process has struck the related area of educational
policy, with Conservative departures re-spun and re-tailored
to Labour specifications. Schools have been bombarded with
national tests, standard-setting exercises and inspections,
most of Conservative origin, but with new emphasis on bucking up inner-city failures and fading out the Conservative
chimera of “parental choice.” Universities, which rose to
unprecedented numbers under the Conservatives in the early
‘90s, are being expanded further to reach an ambitious 50 percent of the age cohort—this in a country which in the 1970s
had one of the smallest university populations in Western
Europe. “Social inclusion” is again the rallying cry here. A
famous recent episode, where Labour’s Gordon Brown made a
largely groundless attack on Oxford University for rejecting
bright young things from deprived inner-city schools, was a
shameful piece of scapegoating but effective in focusing the
minds of elite university managers on the government’s message. Everywhere plans are now afoot to bring inner-city settings university missions on a scale that a few years ago would
have been unthinkable.
That episode well illustrates the way in which British government institutions, even though stripped by privatization
of many of their overt levers of power, can still exert formidable powers of moral suasion—particularly if their message
boils down to a few simple phrases (understandable even to
the dimmest bureaucrat), remorselessly rammed home by a
government skilled in the dark arts of “spin,” and ramified
across all the available agencies of “joined-up government.”
No one—least of all the government—imagines that its cultural policy could be the linchpin for social cohesion. “Culture, Media and Sport” still occupies a low place in the ministerial pecking order. Even the dilute egalitarianism of Tony
Blair’s “New Labour” will achieve its ends far more through
social and economic policy. But culture in the service of social
policy may collaterally drag culture into the sightlines of
many hitherto wary people—ministers as well as masses. In
the long or even medium term, intellectuals may mind that
levelling up risks dumbing down, disturbing precious
achievements of high culture easily damaged in handling. In
the short term, however, there is some good to be gained from
forcing the purveyors of high culture to meet their fellow citizens at the middling point. Only so much magic can be
wrought by highbrow radio programs no one listens to, uni◆
versities no one attends, art films no one sees.
Blair’s Market Populism
f a foreigner in a hurry asked what was new about Britain
under its “New” Labour Government, the short answer
would be “not much.” A party that, as late as 1994,
described itself as democratic socialist has tramped enthusiastically down the Conservative path. Privatization has struck
the National Health Service and state schools—which even
Thatcher at her most imperial dared not touch. Despite ruling
in a time of peace and plenty, Tony Blair has presided over a
widening of the gulf between rich and poor (wage inequality
is allegedly greater now than at the time of the Industrial Revolution), and has spent a lower proportion of gross domestic
product on health and education than the last Tory government. Foreign policy has continued to follow U.S. interests.
Blair appears as confused as John Major about Britain’s integration into the European Union.
For all that, there is a distinct Blairite ideology—or at least
a definite style—its adherents insist is anything but conservative. Blair took office in 1997 proclaiming he represented a
“young country” and a “new generation.” At his 1999 party
conference he cried with characteristic evangelical uplift:
“Arrayed against us: the forces of conservatism, the cynics ,
the elites, the establishment. On our side, the forces of modernity and justice. Those who believe in a Britain for all the people. Those who fight social injustice… Those who believe in a
society of equality, of opportunity and responsibility. Those
who have the courage to change.”
The personal histories of Blair’s ideologues have left them
well placed to pull off the curious trick of dressing reactionary
programs in revolutionary rhetoric. Many are ex-Marxists
who grouped around the think tank suitably titled Demos.
Geoff Mulgan, the head of the prime minister’s policy unit,
and Charles Leadbeater, the policy wonk the PM most
admires, are an ex-Communist and ex-Trotskyist respectively.
Like the New York neo-conservatives, when they replaced
their faith in socialism with a faith in the market, they retained
an intolerance of heterodoxy; argument, however plausible,
and moral considerations, however fine, cannot change the
inevitable march of progress; history is moving down the
tracks and questioning its terminus is pointless.
“New” Labour teleology originally saw the future in the
tiger economies of the East. Blair made one of his first speeches
on his elusive “Third Way” between social democracy and
Thatcherism in Singapore (with no comment on his host’s way
with dissenters). When the Asian Miracle had the bad manners to collapse, adulation was transferred to the “new economy.” “Globalization is good!” shouted Leadbeater in Living
on Thin Air, his book on the weightless world of e-commerce,
purringly admired by much of the London political establishment. He was echoing a prime minister whose speeches have
a hollow and disturbingly Orwellian ring: “Realism and idealism at last in harmony!” “To be in touch is to be in sympathy!” “I am listening! I hear! And I will act!” What might be
called “capitalist realism” is not merely the dialect of a small
group in Westminster. Blair and his advisers are inspired by
the discourse of a corporate America where criticism of busi-
Blair’s Cultural Policy: Pro and Con
agers whose loyalty to the CEO must be absolute. Many were
vetted by the party before being allowed to stand for Parliament and happily accept that they are in the House of Commons to endorse the Government’s wishes. Rebels find their
party machine briefs against them in the press. In private—
never in public—senior politicians say they will not speak out
for fear that messy love affairs from their past will appear in
the pro-Blair tabloids within days.
As in Westminster, so in the rest of the country. The arts
and universities are largely funded from the public purse in
Britain, and the state until recently kept at arm’s length. But
as every brand-conscious marketeer knows, image matters,
and Chris Smith, Blair’s culture minister, told the arts that autonomy
could no longer be tolerated. The
enemy was, as ever, elitism. Arts
Council chairman Gerry Robinson
explained: “Too often in the past, the
arts have taken a patronizing attitude
to audiences. Too often artists and
performers have continued to ply
their trade to the same white, middleclass audience” while holding on to
the “vague hope that the masses
might get wise to their brilliance.”
Robinson, ironically, is the fantastically wealthy white chairman of a
leisure conglomerate, who was given
the Arts Council after contributing a
small part of his fortune to New
Labour funds. Artists who wrestled
with complexity, successfully or otherwise, were elitists. He was a millionaire proletarian forcing them to attend to the yearnings of
the oppressed. The Millennium Dome, neither highbrow nor
populist nor anything in particular, is a monument to this
vacuity as, increasingly, is the BBC, which faces continuous
political pressure about the contents of its reports.
The universities are also learning the dangers of elitism.
When a pair of academics produced a study critical of government policy, Blunkett warned: “If this is what our money is
going on, it is time for a review of the funding of social science research.” And while censorship has always existed, no
British politician has had the nerve to be quite so blunt before.
I’m not saying that Britain is a tyranny. A lively and rude
democratic culture survives. Rather it is a suspicious, over-regimented country in which millions, quite sensibly, are giving up
on politics, and each new election brings a record low turnout.
Sadly, when Blair assumed control of his party in 1994 and
transformed Labour into “New” Labour he promised that his
newness would consist of opening up the monarchical British
state. He has since reneged on his promises to introduce a robust
freedom of information act, to support proportional representation so the country’s diverse opinions might be represented,
and to eliminate the sleaze of corporate funding of power, which
might allow the public to be citizens, not just consumers.
© Matteo Pericoli
ness is “elitist” and a refusal to believe in the truth of advertising “cynical.”
Blairism has adopted a political vision close to what the
American social critic Thomas Frank has defined as “market
populism” in his recent book, One Market Under God: “Taking as fact the notion that business gives people what they
want, market populism proceeds to build all manner of populist fantasies: of businessmen as public servants; of industrial and cultural production as a simple reflection of popular
desire; of the box office as voting booth. By consuming the
fruits of industry we the people are endorsing it in a plebiscite
far more democratic than a mere election.”
Blair, far more than his Thatcherite
predecessors, sees himself as selling
government in a political supermarket.
In 1998 he delivered a suggestively
titled “annual report,” which included
the admonition: “In all walks of life,
people act as consumers, not just citizens.” His education minister, David
Blunkett, wants head teachers to emulate “the managing directors of big
companies.” Labour, a party founded
by trade unions, woos billionaires for
donations with promises of preferential access. Americans who have
watched Blair’s hero Bill Clinton in
operation may not find the above particularly shocking. But no one on the
British “left” before the arrival of
“New” Labour would have said, as one
of the party’s modernizers did indeed
say, that the “era of pure representative democracy” is coming to an end and parliaments and congresses should be replaced with opinion polls, tele-sales and
focus groups—the tools of the marketing department huckster.
Blairites can commodify. Thus Leadbeater described the conflict between Diana Spencer and the House of Windsor as a war
of competing brands. The Windsor Court was “imprisoned by
the assets and protocol which were once its strength.” Ms.
Spencer, was “the upstart challenger.” As we enter the world
of what he calls “Dianomics” established incumbents will face
“younger, nimbler contenders armed with new technologies,”
just like Di. “For the Royal family read IBM; for Diana read
Microsoft. For the Royal family read Barclays and Natwest, for
Diana, read First Direct.” (Leadbeater did not seem to understand that the essential point point about a monarchy is that
consumers cannot refuse to patronize the unelected head of
state, however shoddy Her service has become.)
Corporations are undoubtedly modern and the modernist
Blair is far more sympathetic to their global ambitions than
the xenophobic rump of the Conservative Party. But they are
autocracies, not democracies, and the imitation of corporate
discipline has produced a suffocating atmosphere. The British
electoral system allows a party to win a huge majority on a
minority of the vote and render the legislature powerless
before the executive. Blair’s MPs are treated as middle-man-
n its scientific policy, the European Commission refutes
the words of a great European man of science. Levis,
argutus, inventor—deft, clever, inventive—were how Carl
von Linné described in the eighteenth century what he saw
as the crowning form of homo sapiens, homo europaeus. The
Commission is hardly behaving deftly, cleverly, or inventively.
For it is implementing a science policy that lacks Geist—a policy without “mind” or “spirit.”
In its overall planning, the Commission has adopted a “Centers of Excellence” program aimed at supporting outstanding
research institutions in Central and Eastern Europe. Out of 185
applicant institutions, thirty-four in eleven countries have been
selected. Over the next three years they will receive up to two
million German marks [U.S. $872,600]. Only two of these thirtyfour institutions are devoted to the human and social sciences.
According to a report in Le Monde, the Commission does, however, have a small research budget for socio-economic projects.
These figures reflect typical Brussels priorities for the sciences.
Commissioner Philippe Busquin has banished human and
social sciences to the furthest fringes of his “Research Area.”
Some economics, a few drops of sociology may lubricate governing and administrative action and give some extra legitimacy—but that’s all. To the sober question those affected by
this policy have raised, namely, whether the Commission
could not do a bit more for the human and social sciences,
Busquin responds in J.F.K. fashion: Applicants should first
ask themselves what they can do for Europe.
But a European science policy that slashes support for the
human and social sciences also mutilates itself. It forgets that
our continent owes its cultural identity largely to the humaniores litterae. For Jacob Burckhardt the centers of Western civilization were “great forums of intellectual exchange.” If
Europe wishes to be such a forum in the future too, inspiring
its natives and attracting outsiders, it cannot afford to nurture only the “hard” sciences and technology. Europe sees
itself as a model of civil society, in which cultural diversity,
difference in historical experiences, and plurality of languages
are inestimable advantages, not disadvantages. In this European civil society the sciences citoyennes have their place.
That the conference of European university presidents
reached a similar position can be dismissed as group politics:
of course they have to promote their clientele’s work. Yet not
only they and their functionaries protest the short memory
for the humanities the Brussels science policy reveals,
but—the politicians. Not in some humanities apologia, but in
the Livre blanc européen sur la gouvernance, do we read that
the E.U.’s insufficient legitimacy may stem in part from its
neglect of humanities and social sciences.
Among the harshest critics of the Commission and its science policy is France’s minister of research Roger-Gérard
Schwartzenberg. The human and social sciences have, he says,
become poor, barely respectable cousins in the European
research family. No longer the backbone of states, they are at
best tolerated. Furthermore, the Union’s science policy is
heavy on big-institution funding but light on ideas. It overlooks individual researchers. Were they alive today, quips
Schwartzenberg, neither Sigmund Freud nor Marc Bloch nor
Hans Kelsen would stand a chance of Commission funding.
Schwartzenberg is not alone in his criticism. Whenever a
European country takes over presidency of the Union, its minister of sciences immediately calls for a thorough shift in priorities, in favor of the human and social sciences. The Portuguese and French said as much last year, and in Uppsala the
Swedish minister recently swore allegiance to the humanities;
the Belgians promise to carry on this tradition when they succeed the Swedes in
Statements by ministers in this specialized domain, however, fail to impress
the Commission. Nothing declared in Lisbon, Paris, Uppsala, or
Brussels the capital of
Belgium, sways Brussels the Euro-metropolis. In European summit meetings, including the last one in Lisbon, the significance
of science and technology is loudly proclaimed. They state the
long-term goal of making our continent the most competitive—
i.e. wholly “knowledge-based”—economy in the world.
To judge this ritual correctly, it helps to remember that in
its founding documents the European Union set the goal of
strengthening the scientific and technical bases of industrial
production. Nothing beyond this was either asked of nor
entrusted to the sciences. European science policy is essentially industrial policy. In this the Commission is remaining
true to the Union’s original intentions—strengthening its
power in the face of any desire for change expressed on the
part of individual member states, which will remain unavailing until they congeal into a joint European program.
Europe thinks it can catch up with, and perhaps overtake,
America, if it focuses all its efforts on becoming a transnational knowledge society. The European politicians darting
from one “Science Park” inauguration to another are apparently unaware that the presidents of major American private
universities, even in California, not to say Silicon Valley, are
eloquent on the importance of the “humanities” and social
sciences in the education of their best students.
In many areas of public policy—the labor market, pensions,
family life, and immigration, or the debate, say, over “European Islam” or relations with Turkey—it is becoming uncomfortably clear that research findings of the social sciences are
taken into account either too little or too late. The disadvantages of a narrow, short-term science policy are also evident
in the expansion process of the European Union. It grows
painfully obvious to new candidates how far they still are
A European science
policy that slashes
support for human
and social sciences
also mutilates itself
from being considered “proper” Europeans. It is all the more
important, then, to recognize the value of the dowry that
many countries in Central and Eastern Europe bring to the
Union. Not least among their gifts are large portions of the
human sciences, including quite formidable linguistic competence. In an ideal seminar on the sociology of religion, students would read Durkheim in French, Max Weber in German, and Tawney in English. Today you can barely conduct
such a seminar in Paris or Berlin or at Harvard, but you could
still in Crakow, Budapest, and Bucharest.
Setting a priority on support of natural sciences and technology for the applicant countries fits the logic of the Union’s
expansion process.The natural sciences in Eastern Europe are
no different from those in the West. They have been kept back
only by insufficient subsidies and thus research possibilities.
The humanities, however, are contextual disciplines. That different historical circumstances have made sister fields develop
in very different ways in many countries of Central and Eastern Europe than in the West, is a boon. Here, differences are
signs of intellectual wealth, not lack.
Natural and technical sciences easily conform to the logic of
the expansion process. This is designated by the central concept of acquis communautaire, i.e. what has already been
achieved by members of the Union. But such a designation is
entirely unsuitable for the human sciences. In their case, it
would be senseless arrogance to steer Central and East European countries toward what we in the West have already
“achieved.” What matters far more here is an acquis commun,
the common basis of a spiritual and intellectual Europe. This
is what our continent must reflect on, if it wishes to attain that
“civilization of solidarity” that Walther Rathenau defined as
the goal of a European unification process.
In the wake of the Great War, Paul Valéry, too, spoke of the
homo europaeus Linné had defined as the crown of creation. The
first “world” war was largely a European one, which ended
Europe’s preeminence, making it just one civilization among
others. Europeans had to accept that country names such as
France, England, and Russia would someday have the archaic
ring of Nineva and Babylon. Academies, pure and applied sciences, grammars and dictionaries, classicists and romantics,
Symbolists, critics, and critics of critics—all would someday
fade away. There is irony in Valéry’s words. But stronger still is
sorrow, born of the horrors of the world war, for European civilization and its impotence in the face of inhuman crimes.
It must seem all the more amazing, then, that European civilization not only survived the First but also the Second World
War, and with it even greater crimes. Perhaps it was this
amazement and a sense of gratitude that allowed Jean Monnet
to state, as he launched his project for European unification,
that he would make culture, not coal and steel, its foundation.
He surely did not mean by this that one could approach culture and intellect like coal and steel. It is high time now that
as expansion proceeds, a science policy of the European Union
become a European science policy—one, that is, in which the
human and social sciences find their rightful place.
—Wolf Lepenies (translated by David Jacobson)
Source: “Europa ohne Geist?” Süddeutsche Zeitung, March14, 2001.
The Towers of London
ondon is a low-rise metropolis, with planning laws
to preserve historic sight-lines and keep parks, monuments, and squares from the shadows tall buildings
cast. Yet its business-based City of London’s financial services industry has grown to 38 percent of the city’s gross
domestic product—and with it, demand for skyscrapers.
The pressure comes both from Canary Wharf, east London’s
decade-old high-rise business district, and from European
financial centers. Corporate tenants require City headquarters to be comparable with others abroad, i.e. high-rise.
Many local preservationists do not gauge architectural
quality in height. English Heritage, one of two public advisory organizations, recently objected to proposals for a 66story tower at London Bridge designed by Renzo Piano and
a 37-story tower at Bishopsgate. London’s economy, it
argues, has thrived precisely by keeping the texture of its
older neighborhoods; planners eager to increase densities
can do so with “groundscrapers”—low-rise buildings as
broad as soccer fields. Cabe (Commission for the Built Environment) disagrees, endorsing the Bishopsgate tower, and
judging only the architectural quality of individual towers.
Financial institutions, favoring skyscrapers, consider
groundscrapers impractical: they require walking hundreds
of yards and are, as one executive at Canary Wharf commented, like working in an airport. Canary Wharf’s chief
executive points out that efficient groundscrapers have to
be enormous—unthinkable in today’s London. Moreover,
investment banks seeking big trading floors want only open
spaces up to 60,000 sq. ft. Groundscrapers offer too little
natural light, given the vast distance from core to windows.
Cabe chairman Sir Stuart Lipton emphasizes the environmental advantages of skyscrapers. Groundscrapers use
up land, whereas developers can create public space
around the base of tall buildings. High-rises near central
transport networks can ease suburban sprawl and spare
further investment in transport infrastructure.
Skyscrapers, admits architect Renzo Piano, while adding
“intensity” to city life, alter a skyline’s cultural character,
cast shadows, even alter wind patterns. Despite this, London mayor Ken Livingstone recently worried aloud at a skyscraper conference that London’s financial preeminence was
constantly menaced by Continental cities. The City’s corporation therefore wants government planning restrictions
relaxed so that at least fourteen institutions currently seeking large spaces in its scant “Square Mile” will not be lured
east or to north London’s lower-cost Paddington district.
To these officials, office towers seem as inevitable and
fitting to the coming century as Wren’s spires were to his.
They symbolize, in Sir Stuart’s words, “the cry for space
and light and the new dominance of money.”
Source: Norma Cohen, “The Skyscraper Invades London,”
Financial Times, July 4, 2001.
Europe and the U.S. Death Penalty
able executions and dissatisfaction with the murkiness of the
new statutes ushered in full abolition with the Murder Act of
1965. Around this same time, the U.N. began issuing regular
worldwide reviews, which continue to this day. The first two
landmarks in an effort at analysis based on global developments were Marc Ancel’s 1962 reports covering 1956 to 1960
and the 1967 “Morris Report” by American criminologist Norval Morris, based on countries’ responses to a U.N. questionnaire and covering developments between 1961 and 1965.
Clearly by the 1970s capital punishment was broadly perceived as an international human rights
affair. In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court’s
decision in Furman v. Georgia found capital punishment in its “arbitrary and
capricious” nature to constitute “cruel
and unusual punishment” and a violation
of due process, and thus unconstitutional; but only four years passed before
reinstatement, after states tailored their
statutes to comply with the Supreme
Court’s objections to “arbitrary imposition” of death sentences. In Spain, the
Franco regime’s execution of five Basque
terrorists in September 1975 brought
worldwide protest that turned the public spotlight on the practices of many
other governments and widened the
debate. Immediately after assuming the
French presidential office in May 1981,
François Mitterrand cleared the way for Minister of Justice
Robert Badinter’s campaign for an abolition bill, which passed
into law in October 1981. The ground was then set for the
Council of Europe’s pushing abolition through in the rest of
Europe. Protocol No. 6 of the European Convention on Human
Rights, the first international instrument of death penalty abolition, was opened for signature on April 23, 1983.
In Eastern Europe, the application of capital punishment
diminished after “de-Stalinization” in 1956. In public debate
many now felt free to emphasize Marx’s abhorrence of capital
punishment over Lenin’s insistence that the death penalty was
necessary to defend the revolution from “class enemies.” But
formal abolition was not achieved until the period of collapse
in the 1980s. Socialist Unity Party leader and East German
head of state Erich Honecker’s face-saving efforts vis-à-vis
intensifying international criticism of his regime brought
forth the first total abolition in the East in 1987.
Subsequently, in the 1990s, abolition was tied to the sweep
of liberalization and democratization through the region; Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary ended
their uses of the death penalty. In the former Soviet Union,
despite the initial resistance of the newly independent states,
abolition gained ground in the late 1990s. Many Eastern European countries were reluctant to give up the death penalty precisely because it was perceived as American. “Any implied crit© Matteo Pericoli
n ending his tenure as U.S. Ambassador to France, Felix
Rohatyn wrote that one issue in particular was casting
a shadow on America’s image in Europe: capital punishment. Indeed, frequent protests outside of U.S. embassies,
harshly critical newspaper editorials, loud front-page headlines,
and innumerable Websites signal a growing European movement against the American death penalty. In 1997, in perhaps
the most extravagant public gesture to date, the mayor of
Palermo went so far as to have the remains of Joseph O’Dell, an
American condemned to death in Virginia for rape and murder,
flown to Italy and buried with great ceremony in a city cemetery. This April the
European Union forwarded a resolution to
the U.N. Human Rights Commission calling for a worldwide moratorium. This latest resolution follows years of statements
by European officials appealing to the U.S.
to rethink its use of capital punishment.
The death penalty asymmetry has generated bitter antagonism in international
legal matters. A number of extradition
cases have made it clear that U.S. courts
cannot expect to obtain a defendant’s
extradition from a European country if
they plan to pursue a death sentence, thus
complicating attempts to lay the foundations of an international penal system to
handle terrorism and war crimes.
French international relations scholar
Dominique Moïsi embeds the death penalty issue in a larger
context, suggesting a “decoupling” between the U.S. and
Europe. This post-cold-war sensibility associates the death
penalty with other signs of American unilateralism, such as
the decision to build a national missile defense system and to
renounce the Kyoto accords on pollution levels. These growing differences with the U.S. are helping to define a distinct
European liberalism. As debate over whether to admit Turkey
into the E.U. has shown, abolition of the death penalty has
become a defining feature of membership in the new Europe.
Abolitionism has been part of the philosophical baggage of
European liberalism since Cesare Beccaria’s 1764 treatise Dei
delitti e delle pene (Of crimes and punishments), and there was,
for example, a significant abolition movement in Germany in
the mid-nineteenth century. But—with the prior exceptions
of Portugal, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Iceland, and
Monaco—abolition was largely a twentieth-century achievement. The movement toward it emerged after World War II and
the International Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. In
overhauling their legal systems, both Germany and Italy, anxious to make a break with fascism, created constitutional bans
on the death penalty despite widespread popular support for
its continuation. Amid much debate, the British Parliament
tried to limit capital punishment to five categories of homicide
with the 1957 Homicide Act; but the combination of question-
icism of the United States and its use of the death penalty were
met with derision,” wrote Peter Hodgkinson, who served as the
Council of Europe’s death penalty expert during its negotiations with the Baltic states over membership. “If the death
penalty was good for the United States, then it was good for the
Baltic states and my references to the scholarship were simply
not believed.” But the intractableness gave way and spread
beyond the Baltic; Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia, Azerbaijan,
Ukraine, and Turkmenistan totally abolished the death penalty.
The Latvian parliament voted to ratify Protocol No. 6 in 1999,
abolishing the death penalty for ordinary crimes. Russia continues a moratorium, applied under Yeltsin in 1996.
The centripetal pull of European consolidation under the
Council of Europe propelled abolition in Eastern Europe and
the former Soviet Union, and prompted the removal of capital
punishment from military penal codes throughout Europe.
Abolition has been woven into the complex set of conditions
and privileges of Council membership.
Public support for capital punishment has not disappeared
in Europe; a 1999 Gallup poll shows over 60 percent in Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and in the U.K. in favor. Rising crime rates and the impact of organized crime are cause for
enormous public pressure for executions in Russia, as described
by Presidential Pardons Commission Chairman Anatoly Pristavkin in a 1999 Council of Europe report (“The Death Penalty:
Abolition in Europe”). In detailing abolition in his country, Slovakian Minister of Justice Robert Fico points with concern to
the “lack of expert discussion” that preceded the change. Horrific prison conditions in places like the Ukraine and the lack
of funds to build or renovate prisons have revived discussion
of the death penalty as an alternative. But confidence remains
in the “new system of values” that defines abolition as a “natural, logical consequence of liberalism,” as Russian parliamentarian Sergei Kovalev concludes in the Council’s report. In facing populism’s challenges to democracy, ending the death
penalty has been a demonstration of political will to “get it
right,” to paraphrase a statement from the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly Vice-President Renate Wohlwend, who completed a death penalty fact-finding mission to the U.S. in April.
Writing for the New Republic in July 2000, Joshua Micah
Marshall reasoned across the death penalty divide by citing
the differences between the American separation-of-powers
and European parliamentary systems. The difference suggests
that abolition is unlikely in the U.S. without majority public
support, as was not the case with abolition in Europe. Whether
determined by the public at large or by official mandate, the
future of the American death penalty, retained by thirty-eight
states and the federal government, is under some domestic
scrutiny. The burning question is over a death penalty moratorium, imposed in Illinois in January 2000, proposed for public referendum in the Texas legislature last April, and supported by a national majority, according to some recent polls.
It is apparent that moves toward a moratorium in the U.S. are
prompted more by concerns over exactitude in the justice system, as raised by the forensic use of DNA analysis, than over
concerns with the rest of the world’s view of America.
Japanese Police Scandals:
A Crisis in Authority
ince the autumn of 1999 a whole series of policerelated scandals have come to light in Japan. In Kanagawa Prefecture, a police spokesman repeatedly made
false public statements about police officers’ crimes, about
which evidence was systematically being concealed; eventually, several senior police officers were charged and found
guilty. In Niigata Prefecture, a young girl kidnapped nine
years earlier was found confined in a second-story room of a
private house, her sequestration the result of an inept initial
police investigation. But matters didn’t end there. The incidents in Kanagawa Prefecture demanded that a senior officer
of the National Police Agency directly inspect the Niigata
Prefectural Police Headquarters. His visit was quite perfunctory, though—he and the director of the Niigata headquarters soon repaired to his hotel to play mahjong. To add insult
to injury, the director did not return to his post even when
informed that the kidnapped girl had been found. In yet
another disturbing case in Saitama Prefecture, a woman was
murdered when the police refused to believe her complaint
of being stalked. The officers in charge of the case received
As a result of this string of incidents, the police were
severely criticized by the public, and police stations were
swamped by telephone calls and e-mail messages protesting
police behavior. At one point, matters had degenerated so
much that it was difficult for an officer to make even an
arrest for a traffic offense. A commission has been set up to
consider reform of the police, and a number of recommendations have been made, but the image of the police is unlikely
to recover from this damage without great effort.
Why this rash of scandals? Some argue that the institution
of the police has become exhausted, lowering law-enforcement discipline and morale. Because the powerful in Japan
before World War II used the police as a tool in their political maneuvering, the latter were reformed after the war, to
preserve their political neutrality, into a privileged organization without public accountability. Exempt from appropriate external checks, they grew autocratic and so incapable
of self-discipline their recent scandals were almost inevitable. This problem has been endemic to Japan’s government for the past decade or so. The country’s bureaucracy,
once considered the secret of Japan’s success, has largely lost
the public’s trust due to corruption, incompetence, and
secrecy. Some see the police as privileged bureaucrats, and
their lack of democratic monitoring as the cause of their
According to Hiroshi Kubo, a journalist well-versed in
police matters, however, the cause of the scandals is unique
to the police. Although Japan’s postwar reforms were geared
to decentralizing the police force, they produced a hybrid
system combining some of the problems of excessive centralization and decentralized lack of control. The Tokyo government oversaw an elite corps of bureaucrats known as
“career” officers who commanded the majority of police officers. This second corps of “non-career” officers are recruited
and paid by local authorities. The career group lacks sufficient knowledge, ability, and interest in the actual work of
the cop on the beat, and focuses on its own safe climb up the
bureaucratic ladder. The non-career group, on the other
hand, routinely frustrated by lack of promotion and status,
could not help but lose discipline and morale. This, says
Kubo, lies behind the many scandals we have had.
Japan, of course, has had police scandals in the past; what
makes criticism of the police
more severe this time? Some
point to a rapid deterioration
in public safety in Japan in
recent years. Although foreign visitors to Japan are frequently surprised to learn
that a purse forgotten in a
Tokyo taxi will often be
returned intact, the city may
no longer be as safe as it once
was. National crime statistics
show crime declining from
the somewhat chaotic period
after the end of World War
II, as the country enjoyed its
economic boom; but from a
low of 1.2 million cases in
1973, the annual figure doubled to 2.4 million in 2000,
the highest incidence since
Fortunately, rates for such
crimes as murder or arson are
still declining. Thefts, however, account for 90 percent
of crimes. Since these statistics are based on cases reported to the police, people
who would not previously
have reported theft and
other “light” crimes may
simply be taking the trouble
to report them more now. In any event, publicly available
statistics suggest that Japan is still a very safe country. Yet
new types of crime do worry the Japanese. Juvenile crime,
organized theft by foreign gangs, and the Aum Shinrikyo
sect’s indiscriminate terrorism using poison gas, for example, are unfamiliar, and psychologically uncharted, phenomena for Japanese society.
It is also argued that the scandals are causing such a stir
because of the press’s active interest in them. Traditionally
the Japanese press has been very dependent on the police as
their news source. Thus they would make little of a police
scandal even when word of one leaked out. This coziness
between the media and news sources has lately come under
attack, making journalists’ relationships with their news
sources, including the police, more businesslike. As a result,
some say, police standards may actually be improving.
Whichever of these hypotheses is correct, the interesting
thing is that the tone of the reactions to the recent scandals
has changed. Once, postwar Japanese journalism was heavily influenced by liberal, idealist intellectuals. There was
strong distrust of state power, and criticism of the police was
mainly directed at their abuse of authority and the resulting
curtailment of civil liberties. The tenor of criticism surrounding this latest chain of scandals is that the police are
not doing enough to maintain public safety. In point
of fact, the conviction that
“water and safety are
free”—i,e., they should be
available without reliance
on the government—has
deep roots. The postwar
Japanese have begun to
turn away from the state’s
presence as an authoritarian force, punishing criminals and controlling violence. That is why the
police, the judiciary, the
armed forces, and other
structures of state power
have been in some measure
rejected by society; why
those structures have become rigidly bureaucratic;
and why an incentive
structure has evolved under which defense of the
organization is more rewarding for members of the
police and the judicial
bureaucracy than their
Perhaps the mounting
criticism of the police and
the rising debate on judicial reform signify the disillusionment of the Japanese people with their nation’s paternalistic authority, on which they had relied heavily in the
past. Japan may soon have heightened calls on the one hand
for increasing state power, and, on the other hand, for security bought in the marketplace if people can’t rely on public
protection mechanisms. Indeed, private security companies
are thriving; if this keeps up, the wealthy in Tokyo may
someday live like their New York counterparts—in apart◆
ments guarded by doormen.
Sources: Hiroshi Kubo, Keisatsu Hokai, Tokyo: Takarajima-sha,
Atsuyuki Sassa, Nihon Keisatsu, Anzen Shinwa wa Owattaka,
Tokyo: PHP, 1999.
Safe Food, Endangered Food Culture
amily farming in Britain was already in crisis when foot-and-mouth disease was detected in an
Essex abattoir this past February. Government veterinary staff were down by almost 50 per
cent. State-licensed power plants were still incinerating the pulped and rendered remains of
more than four million cattle and calves preemptively killed to contain mad cow disease. More than
one farmer a week was committing suicide. The National Farmers’ Union calculated average farm
incomes after expenses down to the equivalent of just under
$12,000—”70 percent down on six years ago.’’ When the
British army finishes shooting and burning the millions of
healthy animals it calculates must die to cordon off the virus,
it seems inevitable that many, some say most, of the country’s
165,000 family-owned livestock farms will fail.
For virologists familiar with the latest vaccines and diagnostic tests, the European Union’s resolve to let the disease
burn out in Britain rather than move in to vaccinate is unfathomable. But the political will is not there to stop the nineteenth-century-style bloodbath. In fact, it serves a purpose
quite outside disease control. As the E.U. struggles to curb
overproduction, rationalize farm subsidies, and prepare producers for a globalized market, the annihilation of British livestock farming comes as a solution. The subsequent consolidation, with the numbers of farms shrinking, and methods
modernizing, suits a process already underway across Europe
for decades. Vast amounts of the Union’s budget are mired in
farm subsidies, correcting milk, butter, and meat mountains.
Food safety had thus provided a compelling guise for introducing measures that would also, handily, thin a crowded
industry. Last year, the European Union approved a raft of
food safety legislation that in the next three years will require
every food producer, processor, and retailer in the Union to
adopt food safety protocols recommended by Kraft Food and
developed for the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space
Agency. The NASA plan is called “Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point,” or HACCP (pronounced hass-up.)
Proponents of the HACCP-ization of Europe within the E.U.
argue that it is “only positive and not negative.” E.U. Health
and Consumer Commissioner David Byrne beats the safety
drum in speech after speech: “Safety is the most important
ingredient in our food.” But critics contend that this food will
be sterile, that HACCP offers little real safety value, speeds a
seemingly inexorable rise in factory food production, and will
not only end British livestock farming, but kill Europe’s most
vulnerable and venerable artisanal food producers.
HACCP was developed by the Pillsbury Company in 1959,
when NASA asked it for safety protocols for astronauts’
rations, to prevent the disaster of food poisoning in space suits
at zero gravity. The result was less a rule book than a recommendation for a safety-minded approach. HACCP now requires that businesses write down how they make a food,
identify the danger spots along the preparation line, then
check against those risks. A dairy’s “critical control points”
might include checking thermometers to ensure pasteuriza-
tion temperatures are hot enough. In a butcher shop, grinder
cleaning must be logged, meat locker temperatures noted, etc.
The estimated fifteen extra hours of HACCP paperwork per
week would ruin the smallest businesses.
It was the phasing in of HACCP throughout the 1990s by the
Codex Alimentarius Commission (Latin for “food rules”), the
food safety arm of the United Nations, that internationalized
it. Codex sets the World Trade Organization’s minimum trading standards. Its guidelines are not laws, stresses U.S. delegate
Mike Wehr, but trading nations must meet them to avoid legal
trade embargoes. The standards set by the 165 member countries of Codex are studies in the art of compromise: the same
milk standard that fits France must also apply to Mexico. The
Codex pasteurization equivalency standard is why the Camembert we buy in the U.S. doesn’t taste like the French original.
The milk has been cooked to destroy potential pathogens. Even
within France, the Codex standards have given rise to a new
class of cheese jokingly called “vrai faux”—pasteurized,
bland, but sold in folklorique packaging.
HACCP became the domestic U.S. standard under Clinton,
whose administration, two weeks into office in 1993, was shaken
by the country’s first major E. coli O157:H7 poisoning. Seven
hundred people were sickened by hamburgers traced to a restaurant chain in Seattle. Four died. Bucking tradition, the Clinton
administration appointed a lawyer, not food safety specialist, to
lead the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service. Along with mandatory warning labels, Michael Taylor
forced the beef industry to adopt HACCP in all plants. By intent
or accident, consolidation was dramatic. Eighty per cent of
American beef is now processed by four big corporations.
A series of similar food safety disasters in Europe made
HACCP an attractive tool to David Byrne (also a lawyer) when
he assumed the leadership of the Health and Consumer arm of
the European Commission three years ago. Since 1995, the
eruption of a human form of mad cow disease in Britain and
France, two major E. coli outbreaks in Scotland and Bavaria,
and a dioxin scare in Belgium, have provided just the ammunition needed to rationalize the European food supply.
To some, devolution of farming to agribusiness rewards bad
behavior. They stress that mad cow disease was caused by five
multinational agribusinesses’ dark practices at feed mills, not
farmers. The solution favored as just by food lovers, environmentalists, and even Prince Charles has been turning E.U.
farm subsidies away from farms practicing high-yield conventional methods and toward less productive but more environmentally friendly organic ones.
This is costly for consumers and governments. Inspecting
and monitoring the activities of large networks of small farms,
abattoirs, processors, and shops was (and remains) difficult
and expensive. Then there was the liability for regulatory failure. The U.K. government is now negotiating millions in compensation to human victims of mad cow disease. Byrne’s new
hygiene regulations and HACCP bring a profound shift of liability, with food operators “bearing full responsibility for the
safety of the food they produce,” according to the opening
statements in the introduction to new regulations.
But the HACCP system is not without benefit for food producers capable of complying. It brings a business that much
closer to meeting the international trading standards of the
Codex. Soon many foods made under European Union regulations will have an instant global passport.
This brings tears to foodies’ eyes. as did last year’s speculation that E. coli O157:H7 might survive the acidity of raw milk
in classic hard cheeses—which would mean a Codex ban on
English Cheddar and Italian Parmesan, for instance. A group
called the Cheese of Choice Coalition displayed petitions at
high-end cheese shops across the U.S., later delivered to a
Slow Food convention in Italy. [See Stille, p. 36]
Wehr, however, says that while government scientists are
looking at E. coli O157:H7 in hard cheeses, no such trade
restrictions are imminent. He also points out to those charging that the U.S. enjoys unfair dominance in Codex concerning cheese standards that E.U. member states have fifteen delegations with individual votes, the U.S. only one.
But for British food safety advisor (and confessed Europhobe) Richard North, HACCP stands for “Hardly Anyone
Comprehends Commission Policy.” “You’re not allowed to
clean your hen house until you have a written procedure saying how you will do it,” he says. The Republic of Ireland, a
major exporter of food, particularly dairy food, was one of the
first countries to make HACCP mandatory. Darina Allen, a
nationally celebrated food guru and proprietor of the Ballymaloe cooking school, decries HACCP as a disaster. “Quality
food producers are being hassled out of existence,” she says.
Will HACCP save lives? E.U. officials themselves admit that
it is too early to tell. Data on pre-reform food poisoning levels
are too sketchy in Europe to be sure. In the U.S., unions representing government meat inspectors insist that HACCP costs
lives. Militant meat inspectors were last seen on a Dateline
exposé decrying conditions in a HACCP-run Colorado plant
recently associated with a fatal E. coli O157:H7 outbreak.
The U.K.’s foot-and-mouth epidemic was first spotted in an
Essex slaughterhouse by a veterinary meat inspector. While
under HACCP, European abattoirs will become easier to
inspect, since there will be far fewer of them, concentration
brings the kind of Colorado conditions where an inspector may
be keeping track of three hundred animals an hour. Richard
North, himself a former health inspector, argues that shifting
to HACCP has little safety value for the food industry or the
consumer. “It is the ultimate blame avoidance and blame transfer system,” he says. “Failures in food inspection will be legally
defensible provided the paperwork has been maintained.” ◆
uropean Union rules on fair competition are forcing
member state Sweden, where binge drinking is a
tradition, to dismantle its anti-alcohol policies. For
decades, the country’s sparse, high-priced, clinical, and illstocked liquor stores have closed early on weekdays and
never opened on weekends. Now, redecorated stores open
late and on Saturdays, and offer wide wine selections. The
beer tax is down, the wine tax likely to follow, and the hard
liquor tax expected to be phased out. Even restrictions that
needn’t go, like the high taxes, are undermined by open
borders: Swedish pensioners today make extra cash by driving trunks full of untaxed beer from Denmark.
Faced with rising alcohol consumption and black marketeering, many Swedes fear that past restraints of stateowned monopolies and high taxes have not cured the country’s bad drinking habits, spread during mid-nineteenthcentury industrialization when liquor became cheap. Sweden had over 175,000 distilling machines for about eight
million inhabitants, and consumption neared 49 quarts of
alcohol per adult per year compared with about 9.5 today.
Whereas southern Europe merged drinking with dining
and scorned blatant signs of intoxication, in Sweden and
other Scandinavian countries drinking was less frequent,and intoxication a form of group recreation. While
their southern counterparts have more long-term drinking-related health problems, Swedish drinkers lean toward
high rates of violence, accidents, suicide, and homicide.
To curb these social ills, for nearly forty years, until 1955,
Swedes needed ration cards to buy liquor. When Sweden
joined the E.U. in 1995, the government still monopolized
production and both wholesale and retail distribution of
spirits, which meant high prices and low availability.
The country has until 2004 to meet E.U. standards.
Although it has had to give up its monopoly on production
and wholesale distribution of alcohol, it can keep its monopoly on retail stores if it makes more products available and
expands store hours; and it has managed to negotiate a stepby-step increase in the amount of alcohol that Swedes can
buy in lower-taxed countries and bring home.
At home, meanwhile, Swedish officials have revamped
an anti-alcohol plan focusing on education, tougher
drunk-driving laws, tougher regulations on serving
drinks to minors, and a ban on liquor advertising (which,
however, allegedly violates the “free movement of services
within Union countries”). Officials hope to show E.U. partners that a market commodity in one country may constitute a health issue in another. The lesson, however, may
already have be driven home to European partners, as
social patterns converge; even southern countries are now
seeing a rise in binge drinking among youth.
Source: Suzanne Daley, “Europe Making Sweden Ease Alcohol
Rules,” New York Times, March 28, 2001.
f in France, the defense of traditional food culture is epitomized by the image of José Bové, the political activist/farmer driving a back-hoe into a local McDonald’s
franchise, in Italy it is symbolized by the movement called
Slow Food. Rather than attack fast food directly, Slow Food
tries to preserve and reinforce traditional ways of growing,
producing, and preparing food: the cultivation of grains that
were widespread when the Etruscans ruled central Italy; the
raising of a rare, succulent black pig that was the rage at the
court of the Dukes of Modena in the Renaissance; the growing of heirloom species of peach and tomato that are exceedingly flavorful but take too long to mature for mass production or are too irregularly shaped for supermarket containers;
the making of nearly extinct types of cheeses, whose recipes
have been passed on by word-of-mouth over centuries but are
now made by a handful of elderly farmers.
The movement, which has adopted the snail as its official
symbol, was founded at a meeting of various international
groups in Paris in 1986, where its members endorsed a Slow
Food Manifesto, which states:
A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way
to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life.
May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and
slow, long-lasting enjoyment preserve us from the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency.
Our defense should begin at the table with Slow Food.
Let us rediscover the flavors and savors of regional cooking and banish the degrading effects of Fast Food.
In the name of productivity, Fast Life has changed our
way of being and threatens our environment and our landscapes. So Slow Food is now the only truly progressive
While Slow Food may have seemed at first a Quixotic defense
of quaint but impractical traditions and an elitist movement of
gourmets, now—in the age of mad cow and foot-and-mouth disease, of growing protests over globalization and genetically
modified food, of rising interest in eco- and gastro-tourism—it
has evolved into something of a political and economic force.
Since 1995, when it began to develop the notion of “eco-gastronomy,” it has grown from 20,000 members to 70,000 members in forty-two countries. To press its political concerns, Slow
Food has opened an office in Brussels, where it lobbies the European Union on agriculture and trade policy as well as an office
in New York, which organizes trade fairs and tries to find markets for traditional food producers. Two years ago, Slow Food
flexed its muscles when the European Union tried to enforce a
directive that set identical hygienic standards for all European
food producers that were originally invented by the American
space agency NASA. [See Emily Green, p. 34] The standards,
known as Hazard Analysis Control Critical Point, have helped
to keep astronauts from getting sick in space and are used successfully by corporate giants such as Kraft Foods, but would
have imposed impossible burdens of reporting, paperwork, and
new equipment on thousands of small farmers and driven them
out of business. “We cannot allow the elimination of the heart
of Italian gastronomy,” declared Carlo Petrini, the founder and
president of Slow Food. “The artisan quality of our cheeses, of
our chocolates, or our wines is already a backbone of our tourist
industry. Are we going to renounce this in order to force a single cheesemaker to satisfy the technicalities of a NASA directive?” Slow Food started a petition that was
signed by 150 members of the Italian Parliament, and eventually Italy obtained
exemptions for thousands of artisan makers of cheeses, ice
creams, and prosciuttos. “Ancient traditions of cultivating
and making food have
to be considered as part of cultural heritage not just as trade
commodities,” says Luciana Castellina, who spent twenty years
as an Italian representative of the European Parliament. An
interesting sign of the times, Castellina, who spent most of her
career supporting various far-left parties, now dedicates her
political energies to the causes of Slow Food and the Italian film
industry—both of which she sees as part of the same web of
cultural diversity. In fact, Slow Food has many joint projects
with the Legambiente, Italy’s main environmental organization,
insisting that defense of gastronomical diversity is part of the
larger cause of biodiversity. A recently-conducted census of
Italian foods has identified 1,657 types of cheeses and dried
meats. Hundreds exist, however, only on paper, their makers
having recently died off or gone out of business.
If Slow Food has acquired some political clout it is because
it represents both powerful economic interests as well as a
potentially even bigger business. Slow Food now produces a
magazine, gastronomic guides, wine guides, guides to the
osterie of Italy, “Slow Itineraries,” and has organized major
trade shows that have opened international markets up to traditional food producers. By giving them publicity, Slow Food
has turned a number of sleepy provincial restaurants, vintners,
and cheese-makers into booming businesses. In an age of
extreme prosperity, in which food has become fashion and top
chefs have become international celebrities, the market for
high-quality, specialty foods is growing, especially in the wake
of recent health scares. A few years ago, Slow Food organized a
consortium of cattle-breeders near its headquarters in the
northern Italian region of Piedmont, encouraging them to raise
a rare breed of local cow with strictly organic methods. Initially, the cost of raising the cattle appeared to make it unprofitable; but now, in the wake of mad cow disease, and beef consumption down by 30 percent in Italy, local butchers are
desperate to get their hands on the consortium’s cattle.
A firm defense of
quiet material pleasure is the only way
to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life
The Feuilleton Culture Wars
n June 27, 2000, German culture changed. On that
day the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung devoted
three feuilleton pages to printing 0.1 % of the
human genetic code (“GAGGAT GTGGAG AAATAG …”), the
last sequence of the human genome to be deciphered at Craig
Venture’s Celera Genomics, which the paper introduced as
“the greatest scientific sensation of our time.” This surrealistic act is now widely viewed as the starting point of a new
trend that Le Monde (March 16, 2001) described as the invasion of German thought by biotechnology, genetics, and the
life sciences in general. After the code excerpt, hardly a day
passed without some lengthy contribution to the bioethics
and biopolitics debate appearing in what is still regarded as
Germany’s leading cultural supplement and intellectual
print forum. The politically conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) feuilleton maintains this status through
tradition, thematic range, and sheer page length, although
the paper’s circulation (400,554) is surpassed by Munich’s
Süddeutsche Zeitung (418,947).
The summer media coup and its aftermath was staged by
Frank Schirrmacher (born 1959), a literary critic by training
and one of the FAZ publishers responsible for the feuilleton’s
editorial policy. Good design heightened the impact of the
now-famous spread of seeming gobbledegook, which earned
the paper an “Award of Excellence” at the European Newspaper Design Awards 2000. Since its appearance, the discussion
of developments in biological, biotechnological, and biomedical research and their possible social and ethical implications
have been lifted from the science page, a corner of German
newspapers hitherto ignored by the general, and particularly
the culturally attuned, public. Since the start of Schirrmacher’s well-orchestrated controversy, the science world is
steadily gaining a lay audience which prior decades of efforts
to increase its cultural and social standing could never muster.
Schirrmacher’s enthusiasm for Craig Venture, his attitude of
having raised biopolitics from obscurity in Germany, and the
space the FAZ allotted to the opinions of information-age
gurus Bill Joy and Ray Kurzweil have been severely criticized
for their air of technological euphoria and their popularizing
blend of technical jargon and science fiction; so have the concept of culture implied in Schirrmacher’s claim that science
today is more exciting than many novels and films and the
absence in this debate of either science or culture historians.
But even Schirrmacher’s sterner critics don’t deny he beat
everyone else in Germany at staking out a major theme for our
time, and expertly stage-managed its introduction six months
before anyone would have guessed that mad cow disease, footand-mouth disease, or Dutch euthanasia laws would push
biopolitical topics to the top of the political agenda, or that
their political, economic, social, ethical, scientific, and technological aspects demanded analysis. Nor did anyone foresee
last summer that half a year later the traditionally minor cabinet post of agriculture secretary would be redefined as consumers’ advocate and provide the institutional basis for the
meteoric rise of the Green Party’s Renate Künast, now an
essential link in the governing coalition and one of its most
popular politicians. In light of these developments, the forum
Schirrmacher created allows for a broad critical spectrum of
opinion, and may well usher in the kind of excellent popular
science writing the U.S. excels in.
Schirrmacher’s “moment” may also be seen as the result of a
longer-term demotion of traditional topics of high culture.
Over the last decades it has become increasingly hard to present the description of a recent Beethoven performance, the
analysis of new poems, plays, and novels, or the criticism of a
new staging of a classical tragedy as the activity most relevant
to self-reflective social discourse. Joachim Kaiser, born in 1928
and still the grand old man of the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s feuilleton, has voiced bitter complaints about this turn away from
“high culture” in an interview in Der Spiegel (April 2, 2001).
If thirty years ago many critics were literary scholars, today
they tend to be historians or social scientists assessing the cultural aspects of politics. An alleged bit of Schirrmacher fallout illustrates this. The Süddeutsche Zeitung recently announced its feuilleton would be hiring writers Ulrich Raulff,
Thomas Steinfeld, and Franziska Augstein, i. e. the FAZ’s
feuilleton director, its literature section director, and one of
its cultural correspondents. The FAZ in turn announced that,
beyond its own Patrick Bahners succeeding Raulff, it was hiring six media and culture critics from the SZ. The seemingly
routine reshuffling created a public stir, with articles speculating on the background and implications of this “war of the
feuilletons” and its ongoing redefinitions of concepts of culture and the relation between culture and politics. Of the four
leading German critics cited above, three are trained historians. The recent bioethical debate hasn’t really pushed classic
feuilleton themes off their first pages—that’s happened—but
it jostles for space with other debates on socioeconomic and
Some critics therefore see the biopolitical turn as a delayed
response to a crisis among conservatives after the Helmut Kohl
era and party finance scandal that marred its end. What a relief
it must have been to triumphalistically embrace the political
and cultural implications of the “new biology” rather than simply toe the conservative line in a time of political disorientation and embarrassment. That triumphalist tone sells the new
preference for science by a shock-the-bourgeois strategy and
identifying these attitudes with the values of the younger generation; it expounds new attitudes to science while ignoring
humanist sensitivities to any affinity with the biological creeds
of National Socialism; and it patriotically suggests that if Germany isn’t at the forefront of science, it can at least pioneer cultural implementations of the latest perspectives. But one
shouldn’t overestimate the extent to which the media can determine what will be perceived as substantive new problems:
parts of the ideological baggage currently connected with them
may still be jettisoned as they are further explored.
Can One Still Write in German?
eut-on encore écrire an allemand?” Yes, if one’s young and living in Berlin. That, at least,
according to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, was the main message from the Paris “Salon du
Livre,” where Germany was this year’s guest of honor, and a message reinforced by Le Monde
des Livres. In the issue covering the event (March 16, 2001), the main topics were Berlin in general and
“Le boom berlinois,” its literary developments, new generation of writers, “wonder girls” and “pop
literature.” In Berlin, says Le Monde, culture is very much “on
the move.” The city attracts young writers as well as literary
agents whose increasingly important mediations between
publishers and writers account for about half the new book
contracts. Prohibitive prices for copyrights of foreign books,
especially from the U.S., have intensified the search for new
German talents and first-time novelists, even if the density of
writers per square meter in Berlin doesn’t always translate into
quality. Anything, says Le Monde, can get published in Germany today on the pretext it’s happening in Berlin.
Discussion of individual authors such as Georg Klein,
Thomas Brussig, and Judith Hermann, seemed almost swallowed up by observations on the trends they are supposed to
exemplify. German literature in the hands of “the young” is
said to have become less experimental, less complex, and more
entertaining, less typically German, more focused on such universal literary themes as happiness, love, loneliness, and interpersonal relations. Thomas Brussig’s novel Am kürzeren Ende
der Sonnenallee (At the short end of Sun Avenue) grew out of
his collaboration with Leander Haussmann, a highly successful young German stage director, on the script for the film Sonnenallee. The film version and the more nuanced novel are
equally effective in portraying details of everyday life in Communist East Berlin shortly before the opening of the Wall
within a light comedy of first love. Georg Klein has been proclaimed the new superstar of German literature after two bleak
metropolitan suspense stories: Libidissi, a spy novel set in a
fictive oriental capital, and Barbar Rosa, a detective story in
present-day Berlin. Klein’s style is both precise and ambiguous, and packed with literary allusions, almost the opposite of
Judith Hermann’s everyday language, though both know how
to evoke intense atmospheres. Judith Hermann’s first book
Sommerhaus, später (Summer house, later), is a collection of
nine melancholy short stories, often set in Berlin, whose protagonists inhabit a vaguely bohemian world. Stumbling into
and out of relationships, ill at ease, they recognize their emotions only in retrospect; yet for all their seeming indecision
and passivity, they show a strength of sheer obstinacy. These
three authors exemplify a larger trend, and may, though just
barely, be more successful than about a dozen other younger
writers (some already in their forties). Though they don’t form
a tight-knit group, they seem to share quite a few traits, and it
is difficult to say whether in twenty years their success will
still be seen to mark a new period in German literature.
Although the “new” German writers garnered most attention in Paris, more established ones were not completely
ignored. (The French, for example, seemed to think better of
Too Far Afield, Günter Grass’s unification novel and homage
to the German novelist Theodor Fontane, than did German
critics six years ago.) Reactions to the young German voices
on home soil, at the Leipzig Book Fair, held shortly after the
“Salon du Livre,” were more sceptical. Reviewers generally,
according to Michael Naumann, an editor of Die Zeit and former publisher and federal secretary of culture, find it increasingly hard to keep the public informed about the bewildering
spate of new publications. Toward young authors, as one critic
remarked, they pursue a “wait-and-see policy.” Does this mean
that the failure or success of new titles today depends more
heavily on the size of their promotion budgets?
German culture critics are still in the business of preparing
the reception of new books. They write daily some forty reviews
for the feuilletons, or culture sections. Newspapers such as the
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, or the
weekly Die Zeit each review more than a thousand fiction and
non-fiction books every year.
Whatever they may think about the status of literature
today, most German readers seem to agree that fixed book
prices are an absolute prerequisite for the continued existence
of German culture. The belief in fixed book prices as the precondition for the continued production of a wide variety of
high-quality books seems to be a major exception to the present belief in the greater efficiency of competitive markets in
providing scarce goods to meet human needs. A flood of articles has been devoted to this topic over the last few years. Not
only German booksellers and book publishers were recently
relieved to hear of Italy’s passage of a law to fix book prices,
and that the federal secretary of culture in Germany has proposed a similar law replacing the current system which safeguards fixed book prices only by contract.
Unfortunately this will not solve all problems in the world
of German books. The Leipzig Book Fair is mainly a public
promotion event attracting large audiences, unlike the Frankfurt Book Fair, at which copyrights are sold and contracts
drawn up. Its future to a large extent will depend on continued financial support from Bertelsmann/Random House
which earns a capital yield of circa 10 percent on a turnover
of $1.6 billion and expects similar yields from its German book
section that controls about 10 percent of the German book
market. But the medium yields of most German book publishers are far below 10 percent. Will this affect the content and
quality of books written in German?
Nabokov’s Russian Return
homeland today: the whole country is wearing his mask.
The contemporary Russian reader reads Nabokov into
everything. In response to a recently carved bust of President
Putin, Russians quoted Nabokov, “Portraits of the head of the
government should not exceed a postage stamp in size.” Those
Russians who still stubbornly disregard material comfort
recall his phrase about the “nuisance of ownership”; those
who insist on individualistic values follow him in being “an
indivisible monist.” Nabokov is translated, retranslated, and
republished. There is even a Nabokov Reader, a guidebook for
schoolteachers on how and why to read Nabokov.
Expecting just a few fanatic students
in my class at the university’s School of
Journalism, I walked into the room each
session to find the number of people
wearing Nabokov’s “masks” doubled or
tripled. The first week I had six students,
the next, twelve, then eighteen, and
finally thirty. They are deft and determined, reciting passages of Lolita and
Speak, Memory by heart in both English
and Russian; they don’t skip classes or
make excuses as we did in my time at
MGU fifteen years ago. Instead of pitifully crying over Akhmatova’s “Poem
Without a Hero,” or helplessly whispering in some kitchen about Solzhenitsyn’s
Gulag Archipelago, these level-headed
kids of the post-post-communist new
century put literature to practical use.
They told me they find nineteenth-century writers too dramatic, too pathetic—and those of the
twentieth-century too critical, unhappy, and dissident. Postcommunist literature is too trashy. But Nabokov is just right!
“Pushkin has been everything for you, Nabokov is our
Pushkin”—and I detect a tinge of disdain for the old-fashioned traditions of the past. “He managed,” their faces
brighten with admiration, “to remain ‘high’ literature but be
pragmatic, no-nonsense, a great stylist with cool themes and
a brave, strong, victorious individual as hero.” “My favorite
creatures, my resplendent characters—in The Gift, in Invitation to a Beheading, in Ada, in Glory, et cetera—are victors in
the long run,” they quote passionately. “We,” they say with
pride in themselves, “are that ‘et cetera.’ Nabokov is a literary
manual for our everyday life on the road from unapplied Russian intellectual to efficient, pragmatic, western individual.”
“Something like Pnin, but better,” one girl added resolutely.
“Why do you need me then, why do you come to this
class?” I asked the now full classroom. They said they need
somebody who had already gone the way Nabokov and his
characters had—to make sure it’s doable, to verbalize the
experience through his books.
Russia’s liberal transition has not been in vain after all. ◆
© Matteo Pericoli
Vladimir Nabokov: American writer, born April 23, 1899 in
St. Petersburg, Russia
t was a matter of fierce pride for any Bolshevik: “Russians
read more than any other people on earth.” Which in turn
was a matter of bewilderment for any number of Western
economists and management consultants who could not help
noting that hypothetical and literary concepts have a far greater
hold on this people than practical ones. As a result, capitalism
and democracy here in Russia scarcely resemble any Western
conception of those ideas. Russia’s bookstores, however, are a
bibliophile’s dream, even if you can’t get a latte as you browse.
My Russian heart warms to see that
despite robber barons, Wild West capitalism, Internet access, trendy restaurants, pubs, and the multiple jobs people
keep just to make ends meet, Russians
still read books, constantly. My Americanized rational mind, however, longs to
find a practical way for Russia’s reading
passion, and its belief in the writer as
prophet and teacher, to be made to benefit everyone. Here, after all, Solzhenitsyn and dissident writers were more
important than Brezhnev and other
politicians. So we were postmodern in
our contempt for politics even before we
had a real politics.
Full of messianic intentions, I took a
semester off from my research on the
Russian economic transition to venture a
few months of teaching at Moscow State
University (MGU), where I would give a course on Vladimir
Nabokov, “Nabokov and Us.” Of course, I saw myself in many
ways walking in Nabokov’s footsteps: the long eleven years
I’ve spent in Princeton and New York have turned a dreamy
Russian intellectual into a practical Westerner. Please don’t
take this as a delusion of grandeur; I am saying only that my
experiences in America, not my writings, have been akin to
Nabokov’s. So in returning to Moscow I felt I had something
to reveal to my fellow Russians: to become liberal and free,
Russia must put its best traditions of reading to practical use.
We should switch to reading Nabokov rather than IMF briefs
(official documents have never been a Russian forte), for
Nabokov provides a better road map of the way forward than
some uncertain successes of faraway Indonesia and Brazil: he
managed to remain Russian, dreamily, greedily, unambiguously, yet be American at the same time.
Like all missionaries, I was humbled to discover (with satisfaction rather than disappointment) that I was almost late with
my “good news.” Nabokov, who stoically accepted (or at least
claimed such) that he would have very few readers in his
socialist homeland—indeed, he imagined his audience in Russia as a “room filled with people, wearing his own mask”—
would have been extremely delighted at his reception in his
Love and Politics in the Japanese Classics
rootoko, kane to chikara wa nakarikeri. (The man who loves has neither money nor power.) So
goes a familiar Japanese proverb. This is not simply a put-down of men who enjoy women’s love
but lack material means. In fact, to some extent it is an expression of envy toward such men. It
voices the feeling of the Japanese that regards success in love as equal in value to economic success and
the attainment of power.
Kimi to neyo ka, gomangoku toro ka. Nan no gomangoku, kimi
to neyo. (Shall I sleep with you or take fifty thousand koku?
What are fifty thousand koku? I’ll sleep with you.) This is a
phrase from a popular song of the Edo period (1600-1868). The
koku (about five bushels, or 180 liters) was the unit used to
express the size of landholdings under the feudal system, measured by annual yield of rice. The song refers to the gallantry
of a samurai who faces the choice between the love of a woman
and the chance to become lord of a feudal domain, and picks
the former. Even the samurai places love over political ambition, and the masses sing in praise of his choice. This aesthetic
embodies one aspect of Japanese political thought.
The distinctively high evaluation of love, alongside the
praise of literary prowess, was a feature of the Japanese cultural tradition going back to the eighth century. Japan’s earliest anthology of lyrical verse, the Man’yoshu, is filled with
poems in praise of love, indicating that the biggest concerns
for Japan’s ancient poets, who in their work transcended the
barriers of class, were the joy of winning love and the sorrow
of losing it. Love between men and women was also the central theme of the tenth-century prose-and-poetry classic Ise
Monogatari (Tales of Ise), and the eleventh-century Genji
Monogatari (Tale of Genji), the world’s oldest novel.
What is of great interest in all these works is that success in
love is depicted, both in legends and fictional tales, as being a
privilege enjoyed by those who have failed in the quest for
political power. Otsu no Oji, one of the representative poets
included in the Man’yoshu, was killed as a result of the scheming of his elder brother and stepmother in a struggle for succession to the throne. But he is reported to have won out over
the same brother in their competition for the love of the legendary beauty Ishikawa no Himetone; having won her heart,
he and she left beautiful poems for posterity. Ariwara no Narihira, who was extolled as one of the six greatest poets of the
ninth century and whose exploits are the central theme of the
Ise Monogatari, is reputed to have enjoyed the love of many
beautiful women thanks to his own comely looks and sensitivity. His was also a tale of political failure: though he was born
a grandson to the monarch, his father was accused of disloyalty, permanently barring Narihira from succession to the
throne. Also consider Hikaru Genji, the tenth-century protagonist of the Genji Monogatari, perhaps the most brilliant “serial lover” in the history of fiction: Genji was acclaimed as by
far the most talented and charming figure at court, but because
his mother was of low birth, his path to the throne was barred.
The tradition of granting success in love as compensation
for failure in politics and making political losers the heroes of
love stories continued as a consistent thread in Japanese literature through the nineteenth century. Consider the twelfthcentury Minamoto no Yoshitsune, who became the most popular tragic warrior figure among the masses. Yoshitsune
rebuilt the fortunes of his ruined house, and he succeeded in
having his elder brother made shogun, but he was killed as
the result of his brother’s mistrust. The masses in subsequent
ages felt pity for him and depicted him in their tales as the victor in many splendid love affairs. The declaimed tales portraying the tragic love between the young Yoshitsune and Joruri
in fact became the source of an entire genre of narrative chanting, called joruri. And for centuries Yoshitsune was also celebrated in No and kabuki drama. Another tragic hero was the
fourteenth-century military leader Nitta Yoshisada, whose
distinguished house was destroyed in the unsuccessful struggle for the restoration of imperial rule. In the historical narrative Taiheiki the court’s greatest beauty becomes Yoshisada’s
spouse; the story of this couple stands out as the only paean
to love in this forty-volume record of military conflict.
What bears noting here is the cause-and-effect relationship
seen in the ancient and medieval tales of love. The hero is not
depicted as failing because he has fallen in love. His tragic fate
is determined by some other cause, and happiness in love is
granted to him as a form of relief. For the writers and readers
of these tales, love was clearly of sufficient value to serve as a
substitute for riches and power, providing relief and compensation for the loss of these other desired items.
Another key point is that love in these tales is distinguished
from mere sexual satisfaction, and the tragic nature of love
itself is stressed. The loss of love is depicted more beautifully
than its attainment; what is stressed is its impermanence. The
lovers themselves recognize the fragility of their happiness,
and they even sometimes appear to love for the purpose of
being able to compose poems on the resulting sorrow.
This view of love was carried over to the Edo period, and it
became the main theme of the works of Chikamatsu Monzaemon and other authors of Edo joruri works. The hero and heroine in these tales were the son of a merchant family and a prostitute, but they abandoned wealth, honor, and secure lives for
the sake of their love. What is most remarkable is that they
would even abandon the supreme Confucian value, filial piety.
In these works love is placed in the balance against the official social order, based on loyalty to one’s family and one’s
employer, and the main characters, finding them of equal
value, agonize over which to choose. They then decide to com-
mit suicide together, paying with their lives for victory in
love. Society approved such behavior and frequently viewed
it as a heroic choice. In representative works by Chikamatsu,
we see members of the general public rating and admiring the
year’s love suicides.
In his Love in the Western World, Denis de Rougement declares that love, as distinct from sexual desire, first became the
subject of Western literature in the twelfth century. What
emerged as a typical example was the tale of Tristan and
Isolde—a love fated to remain unconsummated, for which reason it burned as an interior passion and was sublimated into a
spiritual value. In this respect the love depicted in the Japanese classics may be said to have a structure that on the surface
is the opposite. The love seen in the Ise Monogatari and the love
depicted by Chikamatsu both presented consummation as
being accompanied by presentiments of separation. But both
the Western and Japanese depictions share an inner cherishing
of love as a longing or a memory and idealizing of it as a value.
According to Chinese comparative literature scholar Zhang
Jing, this idealized concept of love was not found in traditional Chinese literature. Works that depict relations between
men and women are few in number, pornographic when they
existed, and not considered part of proper literary history.
This was due to Confucian asceticism and a negative attitude
toward the union of men and women in general. Traditional
Chinese literature drew no distinction between spiritual and
physical love, and when it depicted relations between men
and women, it always tended to lapse into graphic sexual
descriptions. The representative major works dealing with
sexual love, adds Zhang Jing, emerged in the Qing dynasty
(1644-1911), since it was of Manchu origin and the hold of
Confucianism was loosened under it.
Zhang may overstate his position somewhat, but it is clear
that in China love was not weighed against political success
or put on equal terms with the official social order. There is
the tale of the emperor who was ruined after being captivated
by the charms of a spectacularly beautiful woman; but this is
a tale of disgraceful failure. Nowhere do we find a protagonist
who fails in politics but is celebrated for his success in love.
Nor do we find lovers who commit suicide being praised as
courageous heroes. Confucian ethics call for loyalty to one’s
parents and lord, sympathy for the weak, and sincerity to
one’s friends, but they contain no idealized treatment of love.
It has not yet been determined why such a concept of love
emerged in Japan and continued to be a central literary theme.
Was it because Confucianism did not become well-rooted in
Japan? Or was it the other way around—did the appeal of love
in its own right interfere with the acceptance of Confucianism? The topic remains for future scholars to consider. What
is already abundantly clear, however, is that this traditional
concept of love contributed to Japan’s spontaneous modernization and aided the emergence of the concepts of individualism and human rights among the Japanese. Even before
Japan’s modernization, the concept of love was the basic inspiration for youthful rebellion against the Confucian social
order and, in particular, against paternal authority.
From the late nineteenth century on, rebellion against one’s
father, along with the attempt to escape from the old family
order, became the major theme of Japanese literature. A young
man’s purpose became the quest for free love, in opposition to
the idea of accepting an arranged match; his rebellion did not
start out as a demand for his father’s assets or a rejection of his
father’s religious or political thinking. Young men started to
think on their own about politics only after abandoning their
families, and the impetus for leaving their families behind was
their quest for free love. And this love was distinguished from
sexual desire as a spiritual value idealized at times to an almost
In Correspondence, Issue No. 6, I wrote about one such character, the protagonist of Soseki Natsume’s novel Kororo (The
Heart). He rejects the marriage his parents have arranged and
leaves home, but is ultimately unable to find happiness. The
cause of his failure is his overly idealized concept of love, his
quest for a form of love that is absolutely free, based completely on autonomous choice, and not driven even by his
own desire. His thinking is an unconscious blend of the Western, Kantian concept of free will, Confucian asceticism, and
the traditional Japanese vision of idealized love. This brings
him not happiness but existentialist solitude—the sense of a
modern, autonomous self.
The love stories of the past were told in homage to fallen
princes. In modern times they have changed their object to
compensation for young men who have driven themselves
from their families and abandoned the possibility of happiness within the constraints of premodern society.
Japan and Confucianism
egel viewed Confucianism as the ideology that
allowed China to sustain what he called “the empire
of continuity.” Max Weber, on the other hand, suggested that Confucianism’s lack of rigorous rational thinking
had kept it from developing the modern scientific tradition
characteristic of the West. Confucianism was widely perceived
as a negative legacy of the past, which had led to Asia’s stagnation. But if Confucianism prevented the modernization of
China, how can Japan’s modernization be explained? This is a
problem that many social scientists, including Max Weber,
struggled to deal with, and many hypotheses have been
advanced. One hypothesis is that the influence of Confucianism was fairly limited in Japan, compared to China or Korea.
Japanese people naturalized Confucianism to their advantage,
just as they did Buddhism and Christianity, and therefore,
Japan was never sufficiently Confucian.
However, during the militaristic rule of Japan before World
War II, loyalty to the nation and unconditional devotion to
the group were justified by Confucian rhetoric. Many argued
therefore that Confucianism is anti-modern, and a source of
the distorted nature of Japan’s modernization. Long after the
war, Confucianism was negatively regarded as the feudal ideology of chauvinism and emperor worship, irremediably antimodern and anti-democratic.
Despite such an anti-Confucian intellectual environment,
however, a considerable number of experts in Japan offered a
conciliatory understanding of Confucianism and modernity.
Even one of the most liberal intellectuals, Masao Maruyama,
was critical of the depiction of Confucianism as static and antimodern. According to Maruyama, between the sixteenth and
nineteenth century, the extremely ideological thinking of
early neo-Confucianism (founded by Zhu Xi, 1130-1200) was
dissolved and gradually modified to suit changing times.Thus,
he argued that within Confucian thinking in Japan, there were
conditions that allowed Japan rapid modernization after the
mid-nineteenth century. In other words, the modern rationalism of Japan has its roots in the Confucian spirit of the Tokugawa period.
A well-known authority in Chinese philosophy, Kenji Shimada, thoroughly examined the classic literature to clarify that Confucianism not only
perpetuated tradition by reintroducing the
teachings of Confucius, but that Confucianism itself had gone through dynamic development throughout history. During the Song
dynasty, Shimada explained, the emperor’s
bureaucrats were selected on a competitive
basis—through rigid testing of their Confucian knowledge—and assumed the role of
noble aristocrats. The political role of Confucian intellectuals expanded accordingly.
China’s intellectual elite were expected to follow the principle of noblesse oblige as well as
command a wide range of scholarship from
ontology, ethics, and classic literature, to policy debates. This was the background of Zhu
Nor, according to Shimada, did the philosophical development of Confucianism stop with Zhu Xi. After
Zhu Xi’s death Wang Yangming appeared and spread his philosophy of action and emotion in place of his predecessor’s
excessively ideological scholarship. His philosophy even led
some philosophers to criticize Confucius. Given this dynamism
and diversity within Confucian thought, Japanese theorists
have often argued for its affinity, or at least its compatibility,
with Western rationalism and egalitarian thinking.
Interest in Confucianism reemerged in the 1980s as Asia’s
economic development drew worldwide attention. Some
Western analysts and Asian thinkers and public figures such
as Singapore’s leader Lee Kuan Yew even defined Confucianism as the spiritual backbone of economic growth in Asia, not
the source of its stagnation. While it is possible to argue that
Japan is not truly Confucian, it is impossible to make that
argument with Korea and Taiwan, which have also successfully industrialized and democratized. With the astonishing
achievement of countries with much stronger Confucian influence, some Asian intellectuals argued that the Asian societies
succeeded in their modernization due to Confucian tradition’s
strong emphasis on discipline, in contrast to the permissive
and individualistic West. Such arguments influenced the
reevaluation of Confucianism in Japan.
One counterargument to this was that Confucian ethics were
secular and Confucian religious precepts less stringent. In
other words, Confucianism was not an all-controlling, theocratic system, and as such it could passively support modernization. So the relationship between Confucianism and modern values was understood in various ways. In one sense this
was natural, given its long history and diverse contents.
In recent years, Confucianism has been invoked in many Asian
countries in contrast with the Western philosophy of human
rights and as part of a critical reevaluation of postwar democracy and liberalism in Japan. Takao Sakamoto, an influential
scholar of modern Japanese political thought, says that the differences between communitarian Confucian ethics and the more
individualistic Western notion of human rights stems from differences in their basic understanding of humanity rather than
differences of concrete rules and ethical codes
that each thought-system demands. Confucianism understands human beings not as
individual entities but within the context of
human relations or roles within a social order,
such as prince and subordinate, father and
son, husband and wife. Moral rules are set in
accordance with respective positions within
mutual human relations. One of the leaders in
Confucian studies in modern Japan, Nobuyuki
Kaji, argues that the essence of Confucian
thought lies in its communitarianism, its
emphasis on family ethics, based on kinship.
He suggests that there are distinct differences
from the Western notion of human rights,
which is based on abstract notions of human
equality and universality of human rights.
Why are such views of Confucianism influential? Some argue that the introduction of
democracy and liberalism during the American occupation
resulted in the weakening of the communitarian consciousness
that was long the fundamental norm of Japanese society. Consequently, even family ties became fragile, and led to the
increase in juvenile crime, devastation of schools, and collapse
of authority in the society at large, thus leading to the ethical
deterioration of postwar Japan. Kaji suggests that liberalism
and individualism, which became the official orthodox ethics
of postwar Japan, has their spiritual roots in the contractual
relationship between god and the individual. Thus, they work
well in a Western society where the Christian ethic of self-discipline is well internalized, but not in Japan where Confucian
ethics were lost and an alternative spiritual backbone did not
exist. He argues that the uncritical devotion to individualism
in Japan gave birth only to self-indulgence and decadence. The
recent reevaluation of Confucianism therefore is not necessarily a direct reaction to the Western world. Rather, it is deeply
linked to the critical reexamination of ethics in Japan—and
such orthodox postwar Japanese values as human rights,
democracy, and individualism—and to the reevaluation of
Japan’s postwar period. While this period has largely been
admired for its democratization and economic prosperity, some
conservative thinkers see it as as an era of moral failure.
Confucianism and Democracy
n recent years, there has been an intense debate in Asia
over Confucianism and democracy. One group of intellectuals regards Confucius as a bulwark against Western-style
democracy. They have invoked Confucius’s principle of filial
piety to justify an “Asian way,” combining economic development with traditional respect for authority and loyalty to a
powerful ruler. Another insists Confucianism contains the
seeds of democracy and human rights and facilitated rather
than blocked the growth of democracy in Asia.
Each side has its favorite quotations ready at hand. The
authoritarian traditionalists often quote the famous Confucian
saying: “Let the ruler be a ruler, the subject a subject, the father
a father, the son a son.” The longtime leader of Singapore, Lee
Kuan Yew, echoed this when he declared: “Eastern societies
believe that the individual exists in the context of his family.
He is not pristine and separate. The family is part of the
extended family, and then friends and the wider society.” Asian
democrats intent on rescuing Confucius for their cause prefer
to focus on the idea of mutual obligation between ruler and subject, present in other Confucian maxims such as: “The ruler
should employ his subject according to the rules of propriety;
the subject should serve his ruler with loyalty.” These scholars
perceive the idea of “implicit rights” in the idea of reciprocity.
Contrary to these two opposing views, I would argue that
there is no direct causal link between Confucianism and democracy. Confucian tradition has coexisted with both authoritarianism and democracy in modern times. It is not Confucianism
that brings about democracy; nor does Confucianism hinder
the development of democracy in Asian countries. One need
only consider the different historical paths Asians have taken
under the influence of Confucian tradition. With America playing a crucial role in reshaping its political regime, Japan has created a long-stable democracy in the postwar period. South
Korea, with its strong Confucian cultural legacy, has experienced both authoritarianism and democracy over the last
decades, while North Korea, also sharing in Confucian tradition, has never known democracy. China, the matrix of Confucianism, has a long road ahead before the one-party state ends.
The Korean experience reveals a dual Confucian legacy.
South Korea’s former first president Rhee Syngman (1948-60)
relied on Confucian rhetoric to legitimize his rule. People often
called him the father of the country. As an extension of filial
piety, loyalty to a president was made to justify his autocratic
rule. Rhee was forced to step down, however, after massive
demonstrations by students and intellectuals, whose movement gained its legitimacy from Mencius’ teaching that revolution against an illegitimate ruler is acceptable. Confucian tradition accords deep respect to scholars and intellectuals, whose
voices rulers can ignore only at their peril; so it has become a
tradition for students to stand up to authoritarian rule.
The flowering of democracy in Korea was cut short by the
1961 military coup of Park Chung Hee (president, 1963-79). To
compensate for weak political legitimacy, his regime rapidly
stepped up industrialization. The Korean people’s enthusiasm
for education, which could be considered a legacy of Confucian ethics, provided an engine for economic growth.
Expanded public education provided an abundance of literate
and skilled laborers. Confucian respect for seniority may have
contributed to the smooth start-up of industrial development.
Rapid economic growth, however, could not satisfy popular
desire for democracy. The social transformation brought by this
rapid government-driven industrialization brought unforeseen
consequences: economic growth created a broad middle class
eager for stable democracy once its basic needs were met. When
students, intellectuals, and religious leaders—considered the
conscience of a nation—continued to decry authoritarian rule,
the middle class lent its support to a democratic movement. To
many Koreans, reckless oppression by authoritarian rulers
seemed the symptom of a dysfunctional government. On the
other hand, heavy and concentrated investments in a limited
number of big corporations, called chaebul, created a large number of young male laborers in confined industrial complexes.
The working-class consciousness they acquired led to their
appeal for democratic labor relations, which in turn burgeoned
into nationwide pro-democracy agitation.
Democracy in Korea was won by a fierce struggle waged by a
loose alliance of students and intellectuals, laborers, and whitecollar workers. This feature may be considered a deviation from
the Confucian ethic, which honors hierarchical stratification
and loyalty to one’s government. But Koreans wished for democracy not because it fits the Confucian conception that they are
familiar with, but because political democracy and due respect
for human rights are universal values.
In Korea the Confucian legacy has been attenuated by rapid
industrial development. But this does not mean that the Confucian legacy disappeared. In private, such Confucian norms as
respect for elders, regard for family, filial piety, expectations of
sincerity, the search for truth, and high esteem continue to be
cherished. Violation of these norms would invite critical
responses from others. In the public political realm, however,
such Confucian ethics as emphasis on hierarchical order and
the extension of filial piety to loyalty to public authority did
not change Koreans’ desires for democracy, justice, and equality. When necessary, people did not hesitate to fight against
authoritarian government in pursuit of democracy because the
Koreans have learned that democracy is never simply given by
incumbent rulers or by external forces.
Culture is not destiny. Confucianism itself does not guarantee the arrival of democracy; nor does it hinder or prevent its
development. The Korean experience suggests that Confucianism may both facilitate democratic transition and justify
authoritarian rule. What really matters is people’s willingness
to fight for political democracy and civil liberty. Democracy
is attained by actions enlightened by universal values. In
understanding democratization, one should duly take account
not only of attitudinal codes but also of group conflicts
affected by industrialization and urbanization.
—Cheol Hee Park
The Harry Potter Phenomenon
ho would have thought, four or five years ago, that the broadest international cultural phenomenon would have been a
set of children’s books, the Harry Potter stories (a projected set of seven volumes, the fourth released in the United
States at special midnight bookstore sales clearly not geared to children’s attendance), which have now been published
in over thirty-three countries, with a worldwide sale of over a hundred million copies.
The closest comparison is the Japanese Pokémon phenomenon, a set of video games, cartoons, and collectors’ cards, about heroes
fighting monsters: a television series based on the pocket monsters is the most popular children’s program in the U.S.; the five topselling video games are all Pokémon-themed; and more than fifty million Pokémon game cards have been sold.
But the Harry Potter series are books, to be read, and this is what makes it even a more extraordinary marvel. The novels, by a
single mother—J. (for Joanne) K. Rowling, living in Edinburgh—are about a ten-year-old boy, raised by evil stepparents, who is sent
to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, where it is revealed that, like his real parents, he is a wizard. In the school,
owls deliver the mail, people in paintings wander out of the frames, and sports are played on broomsticks. It is not only the situations
that are fanciful, but the words are comically enticing: Muggles for non-magical people; the pseudo-Latin spells cast on people (Petrificus Totalus!); and the mouth-filling names of the four houses that make up the Hogwarts School (Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff,
and Ravenclaw). Children—and adults—reading these mirthful names chant them to one another in delight.
How does one explain the beguiling success of the Harry Potter tales? Moreover: “Why are so many of the best-known children’s books
British or American?” as Alison Lurie, the American novelist, wrote in the New York Review of Books (December 16, 1999). “Other
countries have produced a single brilliant classic or series: Denmark, for instance, has Andersen’s fairy tales, Italy has Pinocchio, France
has Babar, Finland has Moomintroll. A list of famous children’s books in English, however, could easily take up the rest of this column.”
“One explanation,” she says, “may be that in Britain and America more people never quite grow up. They may sometimes put on
a good show of maturity, but secretly they remain children, longing for the pleasures and privileges of childhood that once were, or
were said to be, theirs.”
An intriguing hypothesis, and readers will have to judge for themselves if the explanation is compelling. We have asked David A.
Bell, Stasoshi Mukai, and Michael Greenberg and Edgar Krebs to write about children’s literature in France, Japan, and Argentina,
while from Germany, Donata Elschenbroich reports on her investigations into “preliteracy” around the world as Western pedagogues
reassert the developmental benefits of early exposure to reading and writing.
The French and “Anglo-Saxon”Infantilization of Culture
he astounding success of the Harry Potter books has
focused attention on the Anglo-American tradition
of children’s literature. Despite the inability of
almost any contemporary fictional work to avoid being
bruised in the “culture wars” (Harry Potter has been
denounced in various quarters for everything from sexism
to satanism), the series has nonetheless been widely hailed
as a worthy addition to a canon that includes Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, The Wizard of Oz, The Hobbit, and
the Narnia Chronicles.
Indeed, the popularity of the Harry Potter books, like those
of the other members of the canon, comes from their popularity among adults. Ask any American child for a list of favorite
books, and Harry Potter or The Wizard of Oz may well appear,
but almost certainly in the company of other titles, from the
Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew to the works of Judy Blume, which
rarely feature in the same canon, because their appeal rarely
survives a child’s adolescence. Rowling and Tolkien are quite
different matters; they do.
In asking why other countries have not developed such a
canon, therefore, the proper question may not be why
French or Italian writers have failed to deliver works pleasing to children. The question is rather: Why have English
and American adult readers have been so eager to embrace
works written for children?
In answering this question, it may be worth while to consider three different works which have, over the centuries,
best succeeded in appealing to both French children and
adults: the late-seventeenth-century fairy tales of Perrault,
Bruno’s late nineteenth-century classic La Tour de France par
deux enfants, and finally, the Astérix comic tales. The first
and third of these surely require no introduction. The second is the story of two orphans from Alsace-Lorraine who,
in the wake of France’s defeat by Germany in 1870-71, make
their way across the country in search of their uncle. A standard text in French schools throughout much of the twentieth century, it has only recently begun to fade out of living
memory. The Astérix volume La Tour de Gaule d’Astérix
(translated into English as Astérix and the Banquet) is a gentle parody of Bruno’s book, although the joke has been lost
on non-French readers.
What is most striking about all three of these works is that
although each manages to appeal to adults and children alike,
in each case the authors in question consciously intended
adults to read them differently from children. Perrault, for
instance, intended his fairy tales to appeal to a courtly audience, and wrote them in an impeccably classical, highly stylized language, with the intention that adult readers would
appreciate its delicacies and artifices. He did not present them
as the authentic, immemorial voice of rural folklore, as later
Romantic editors would do, but as carefully sculpted courtly
fictions, virtual poems in prose.
As for La Tour de France, it was written, after the French
defeat, in a highly self-conscious patriotic vein, intended as
part of a campaign to comfort the French in their humiliation,
to singe the memory of the loss of Alsace-Lorraine into every
young citizen, and to help to prepare the nation’s return to
glory. To the extent that the text appealed to adults, it did so
by relentlessly reminding them of their patriotic duty to
instill its lessons in their own children. Far from encouraging
them to imagine themselves once again as children, it emphasized their responsibilities as adults and parents.
The Astérix books, whose enormous popularity has only
partly survived the death of their co-author René Goscinny
(he wrote the texts, while Albert Uderzo drew the pictures),
also operate very explicitly on two separate levels. For children, they present wonderfully amusing and exciting adventures. For adults, however, they appeal through Goscinny’s
wit, which expresses itself above all in endless, complex puns,
and in satires of familiar French political and cultural icons.
Thus in these strips depicting the resistance of a small Gaulish village to the occupying Roman armies of Julius Caesar,
characters bear such names as Astérix and Obélix (all Gaulish
names need to end in -ix), while the Roman camps surrounding the village (whose names need to end in -um) include Laudanum and Babaorum—from the pastry baba au rhum. The
Gauls’ dog is named Idéfix (idée fixe), which the English edition wonderfully translates as Dogmatix.
The stories frequently play off traditional French stereotypes of foreigners (the violent Germans, the culinarily incompetent English), and the frequently-mocked figure of Julius
Caesar bears more than a passing resemblance to Charles de
Gaulle. All of these references, of course, sail over the heads
of French children, and also of most foreign readers, which
explains why so few foreign adults have become aficionados.
It also explains why, since the comparatively heavy-handed
Uderzo took over the series himself following Goscinny’s
death, the appeal to French adults has evaporated.
In short, while all three works appeal to adults as well as
children, they explicitly appeal to them as adults. Is this true
of the Anglo-American children’s canon? To be sure, adults
have found many things in Lewis Carroll, Tolkien or, Rowling which their children miss.There is even coded Populistera political satire in The Wizard of Oz (the Yellow Brick Road
representing the Gold Standard, the Scarecrow and the Tin
Man representing agricultural and industrial interests, etc.).
Nonetheless, it is hard to resist the conclusion that, unlike
the French stories, the essential appeal of these works for
adults resides in the fact that reading them provides a fantasy of a return to childhood, with its black-and-white categories, easy certainties, and above all, perhaps, an absence of
In this context, it is important to note that the Anglo-American canon of children’s literature got its start in the Victorian
period, a time of extraordinary public puritanism in both English and American high culture. It has often been remarked
that this puritanism, with its almost complete elimination of
sexuality from official, “respectable” culture, had certain
infantilizing effects, especially upon the English and American middle classes. The Victorian “cult of childhood,” with its
emphasis on the early years as ones of complete innocence and
purity, was directed as much at adults as at children, and the
same can be said of the literature that emerged from this cult.
In France, by contrast, the official proscription of sexuality
never had anywhere near as broad or deep a reach.
Today, despite the sexual revolution, the influence of Victorian puritanism remains strong in Anglo-American culture,
which may go far toward explaining not merely the continued
appeal of children’s literature to adults, but the continued
appeal of the same titles which appealed to our great-grandparents. Alice in Wonderland has never been out of print. It is
no coincidence that the ultimate praise for Harry Potter is precisely comparison to these classics.
Writers like Alison Lurie take pride in the fact that AngloAmerican culture, unlike the cultures of continental Europe,
has managed to produce this remarkable array of books.
Meanwhile, in France, writers continue routinely to depict
Americans in particular as large children who have never
quite made it all the way through adolescence. In truth, the
two observations are two sides of the same coin—testimony
to a prevailing strain of infantilization in Anglo-American culture which has, quite astonishingly, managed to generate some
excellent works of art.
—David A. Bell
Foreign Models for Japan’s Children’s Literature
he year 2000 marked the centenary of Antoine de
Saint-Exupéry’s birth. All of his works, from his first
novel, Courrier Sud (Southern Mail), which drew on
his experience as a pilot, to his final uncompleted masterpiece,
Citadelle (The Wisdom of the Sands), have been translated into
Japanese, yet it is not these novels which are most widely read
or familiar to Japanese readers today, but rather his sole venture into children’s literature, Le Petit prince (The Little
Prince), which he wrote in exile in the United States in 1943
after fleeing Nazi-occupied France.
The first Japanese translation of Le Petit prince appeared in
1953. It has gone through several editions since, selling over
five million copies. A commemorative new edition was published in March 2000 with illustrations from the original American edition. It rose instantly to the top of the bestseller list.
It is not unusual for translations of European and North
American children’s literature to become bestsellers in Japan.
A translation of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone did so just last year, and a glance through the bestseller lists of previous years reveals many more examples,
including Michael Ende’s Momo, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of
the Rings, and Tove Marika Jansson’s Finn Family Moomintroll.
The history of children’s literature translations in Japan can
be traced back to the end of the nineteenth century. The
favorite at that time was Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord
Fauntleroy, followed by Jules Verne’s Deux Ans de Vacances.
These were not only exciting and suspenseful adventure tales,
in which children surmounted unusual difficulties, they also
created the concept of a children’s literature rich with internal description and poetic allegory to take root within the barren world of Japanese children’s literature.
When speaking of Japanese children’s literature, it is common to take the thirty-two volumes of Nihonbungaku (Japanese Literature), also published around the end of the nineteenth century, and from it Sazanami Iwaya’s vengeful
parable, Koganemaru, found in the first volume, as the beginning of the central stream, and to consider Lord Fauntleroy
and Deux Ans de Vacances as secondary. I believe, however,
the opposite is true. Translations of foreign literature, far
superior in both theme and content, came first, and spurred
Japanese authors to experiment and create their own works
for children. Yet considering that they started from scratch,
they made astonishingly rapid progress.
In the twentieth century, classic children’s tales such as
those by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen
began to be translated, and on this foundation, Miekichi
Suzuki launched the children’s literary magazine Akaitori
(Red Bird) in 1918. This opened a golden age of contributions
from established writers. It was during this period that Mimei
Ogawa, the first Japanese writer to specialize in children’s stories, began his career, as did Kenji Miyazawa, whose children’s
tales, which remained obscure during his brief lifetime, are
now revered as exceptional literary works.
The late 1920s witnessed a fierce competition between two
publishers to create the most comprehensive collection of
Japanese and foreign children’s literature, Shogakuseizenshu
(The Complete Primary School Child’s Collection) and Nihonjidobunko (The Japan Collection of Children’s Literature). The
size of these collections was substantial, eighty-eight and seventy-six volumes respectively, and the vitality of the children’s
literature market during this period is apparent from the publishers’ extravagant advertising campaigns. Shonenkurabu (The
Boys’ Club), founded in 1914, is another children’s magazine
from this time that deserves attention, though it is frequently
overlooked. An entertainment version of Akaitori, it carried
many serial adventure stories, historical works, detective stories, and science fiction. With a circulation of 750,000 copies
in 1936 it became the
largest boys’ magazine in Japan.
But as Japan’s involvement in the Second World War intensified, Shonenkurabu
came under state control, and children’s literature in Japan went into a period of
limbo. A resurgence in the genre came on the heels of Japan’s
defeat in 1945. A series of new children’s magazines such as
Akatombo (Red Dragonfly), Ginga (Galaxy), and Kodomonohiroba (Children’s Plaza) appeared, and new authors with them.
This second golden age, however, was briefer, lasting a mere
five years. It is no exaggeration to say that the greatest obstacle
to a lasting renaissance was the role of leftist theories about children’s literature, with a proliferation of stereotyped works condemning the cruelty and stupidity of war and an excessive
emphasis on realism in illustrations. There was simply not
enough adventure or fantasy—those essential elements of children’s literature which set young readers’ hearts racing and
inspire them to dream—to sustain those works.
In contrast, the recent highly acclaimed Shonen H (The Boy
H) by Kappa Seno, a description of life during the Second World
War as witnessed by the author as a young boy, does manage
to evoke war’s cruelty and stupidity while capturing the hearts
of young readers with its sustained element of adventure.
In 1950, when the postwar children’s literature of realism
had waned and children’s literature magazines, including
Akatombo, had disappeared, the publishing house Iwanami
stepped in to fill the gap with its Iwanami Shonenbunko, a collection of translated foreign children’s books, which supplied
the elements of adventure and fantasy lacking in Japanese literature. Several other publishing houses followed Iawanami’s
lead, and since then translations of foreign works have made
up more than half of children’s-book publications in Japan.
Yet of all the translated works over the years, none has thrilled
young people more than Le Petit prince.
The greatest obstacle
to a lasting renaissance was leftist
theories of literature
Mafalda, the Child Dissident of Argentina
six-year-old child sits alone, deep in thought. “If it’s
true that flying saucers come from a world more
advanced than ours,” he muses, “then no one can tell
us that we live in an underdeveloped country. Because it turns
out the whole planet is underdeveloped….” Suddenly his
thoughtful expression changes. He looks up at the sky and
joyously shouts to the far-off planets: “Thank you for saving
our international prestige!”
Welcome to the world of Mafalda, creation of the Argentine cartoonist Joaquín Salvador Lavado, better known by
his nom de plume, Quino. Quino’s black-and-white, mostly
four-panel comic strip began appearing in Buenos Aires in
1964 (in the tabloid Clarín, the country’s largest-circulation
newspaper), a daily dose of fatalistic humor that Argentines
quickly came to regard as an indispensable part of national
life. Nine years later, in 1973, Quino discontinued the strip,
and to Argentines who had come to rely on Mafalda as a
comic salve to their country’s incurable ills, the loss was
almost a cause for mourning. Somewhat improbably, Mafalda
had survived a succession of hostile military regimes, who
knew that the forced removal of this irreverent and sometimes radical group of children from the nation’s newspapers
would cause them more embarrassment than they cared to
handle. Frequently asked what Mafalda would be like today
had she grown in real time with the cartoon strip, Quino has
always replied that she would long since be dead, one of the
regime’s desaparecidos. Quino’s political cover was the tender age of his protagonist and her friends. In his introduction to Todo Mafalda (the complete collection published by
Editorial Lumen in 1992), the novelist Gabriel García
Márquez wrote: “Quino shows us that children are the true
repositories of wisdom.”
But is Mafalda “children’s literature?” Certainly not by its
creator’s design. As a cultural phenomena, however, it has
crossed the boundary of age. Ask an Argentine in her thirties
how she learned to read, and the chances are good her answer
will be, “From Mafalda.” If one wonders how she could have
understood Quino’s worldly humor at such a young age, she’ll
shrug as if to say, “Everyone understands it.” This is because
Mafalda embodies a social attitude so etched in the national
consciousness that it transcends explanation; it is a given,
something in the air, like the perennial humidity of the River
Plate. This wryly philosophical child reflects the fact that
Argentina, though a vast New World country, had no historical age of innocence; it was hatched into a state of disappointment. One typical strip shows Mafalda sitting on a beach,
yelling at a crab crawling by her: “Stop walking backwards!
You stupid creature without a future!” Then, peering over the
horizon, she quickly checks herself: “Unless the future’s so
bad it’s decided to turn around?” Like Argentina itself,
Mafalda and her friends have been born into a most precarious social position: the Third World middle class, ever subject to the obliterating effects of a sudden coup d’état, currency collapse, or other man-made disasters. (Mafalda’s father
is a salaried white-collar grunt; his Kafkaesque job is to sell
insurance in a country where indemnity is virtually impossible.) This has made them astute observers of the world’s social
and political hypocrisies; they have precious few illusions
about what life may hold in store.
Quino is the voice of the European in South America,
bewildered by how he ended up in a New World with less
social and economic fluidity than the old one he left behind.
Born in 1932 to Andalusian immigrants, he understands the
frustrations of the middle-class Argentine to perfection.
Mafalda is the sophisticate without money, the cosmopolitan
without a passport, droll, thwarted, experientially wise—in
short, the educated South American. Ingrained in her is a
painful awareness of Argentina’s dubious status as perhaps
the world’s most underachieving nation, a country whose
enormous natural wealth is hoarded by the few, then squandered by social upheaval and political incompetence. The
average Argentine exists in a perpetual state of pessimism,
the specter of his country’s unfulfilled promise hovering over
him like a constant reproach. Quino’s ability to capture the
“Let’s see this new story book.” • “In a faraway land, there lived an ogre who ate children.” • “Come off it! Always eating us!” • “How long
are we going to be poultry for literature?”
© Joaquín Salvador Lavado (Quino), Todo Mafalda, Editorial Lumen, p. 151.
“Or did you have big plans?”
© Joaquín Salvador Lavado (Quino), Todo Mafalda, Editorial Lumen, p. 291.
profound fatalism born of this state is the key to the popularity of his creation.
Among the principal members of Mafalda’s circle is the bullnecked Manolito, who helps his father tend their small neighborhood grocery store, while dreaming of owning supermarkets in a ruthless future of personal capitalist glory. Tiny
Libertad, by contrast, is a pure anarchist soul, a kind of touchstone of truth whose sagacious and idiosyncratic turn of mind
drives her elders—and sometimes her companions—to distraction. Susanita is an outspoken conformist, outraged by
feminism and most other threatening harbingers of change.
And then there is Mafalda herself, around whom this little
world orbits, a common-sense philosopher with an untamable
bush of black hair and a relentless curiosity that constantly
sheds new light on the planet’s most incurable problem:
human folly. “So young,” she marvels over the crib of her gurgling newborn brother, “and already he’s talking nonsense!”
As children, they are powerless to change this unfortunate
state of affairs, and that powerlessness is what makes their
observations so trenchant. They are not children in the romantic, fanciful sense of Alice in Wonderland or Harry Potter, but
rather in the way that we all sometimes are like children: as
impotent citizens of an out-of-control world. Hence the standing comedy of Mafalda’s revulsion at
having to eat her mother’s soup, or
her reluctance to do necessary violence to household flies. She puts up
a sign telling flies to keep out, and
furiously swats one that has strayed
in with a shout of “Illiterate!”
Umberto Eco, who as editor at Bompiani was the first to publish the
Mafalda strip in Europe (in 1969), recognized the immense influence of
Charles Schultz’s Peanuts on Quino’s
creation, as well as the fundamental
differences between them. “Charlie
Brown,” wrote Eco, “lives in his own
infantile world, from which adults are
strictly excluded; while Mafalda lives
in permanent dialectical confronta-
tion with the adult world.... Charlie Brown evidently has read
the Freudian revisionists and goes out in search of a lost harmony; Mafalda most probably has read Che Guevara.” It is
interesting to view Mafalda in light of the recent surge of children’s stories that have crossed over to adult popular culture.
Mafalda, like Peanuts, made the opposite journey: from a primarily adult audience to one that came to include children.
Broadly speaking, there are two central veins in children’s literature: one depicts childhood as a time of boundless imagination, a time of enchantment and hallucinatory distortion, exemplified by Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter, and even Dr.
Seuss; the other sees the child as a pure respondent to the adult
world, García Márquez’s “repository of wisdom.” This child
may seem like a miniature adult, but she isn’t; she is an observer
without explicit enemies, special interests, or an axe to grind.
Oliver Twist belongs to this latter camp, as does Bart Simpson.
We may remember that in the Middle Ages one’s childhood
was considered to have ended by the age of seven. After that,
it was time to work. The folk tales collected by the Grimm
brothers in Germany (and by Italo Calvino in Italy) were not
expressly created for children. They were allegorical stories
of the poor whose powerlessness consigned them to a perpetual state of infancy, filled with irrational fears and elaborate
superstitions. The only way out of
one’s miserable plight was by magic.
Today those stories are part of the
classical canon of children’s literature. Mafalda inadvertently offers
herself as a bridge to those medieval
tales when, in one of her many ruminations, she notes the two contradictory worlds she straddles: on the one
hand she innocently believes in the
story of the Three Magi because her
father assured her it was true; on the
other hand, she is highly pessimistic
about the possibility of peace on
earth, because every day offers further proof that such a thing is truly
a fairy tale.
Asked what Mafalda
would be like today had
she grown in real time
with the cartoon strip,
Quino has always replied
that she would long since
be dead, one of the
Patoruzú, the Indian Hero of Argentina
hy would the reputedly most European and unLatin American of nations, Argentina, have in a
Patagonian Indian, called Patoruzú, its most successful, almost legendary, cartoon character and popular culture hero? The mirage of an all-white nation is a relatively
modern conceit, shared and reinforced by locals and foreigners alike, but one which took shape only in the late nineteenth
century. An historical perspective helps to dispel it, and to
explain the appeal of an Indian “Superman.”
Buenos Aires, Argentina’s metropolis, was a backwater village until late in the eighteenth century, when the Bourbons
made it the capital of a new administrative colonial entity:
the Viceroyalty of the
River Plata. The village,
founded by Pedro de
Mendoza in 1536, was a
bare outpost in the middle of the pampas, with
no trees in sight and
surrounded by an unlimited expanse of grass.
The neighboring Indians laid siege to it, provoking famine, pestilence, and horror. The
Spaniards decided to
move their settlement
north to Asunción, in
“A white man! And he has
Paraguay, later the cencontrol over everybody!”
ter of the famous Jesuit
Province, home to several Indian groups, some of which, like
the Abipones and the Mocobí, the intellectually inclined
Fathers portrayed in splendid early ethnographies.
What is now Argentine territory was first settled from the
north, through conquering forays out of Peru. For almost
three centuries, until the Bourbons accelerated the incorporation of their southernmost American domain to the wider
world, the future nation of Argentina—from its Amazonian
and Andean limits in the north, to Patagonia and Tierra del
Fuego in the south—was mostly Indian country. It was also
an active theater for métissage—the biological and cultural
mixing of natives and foreigners — and the emergence of a
distinct criollo society, with complex roots on both cultural
sides (which modern scholars and novelists still need to capture and turn into narratives worthy of the topic).
Enter the Revolution, in 1810. Its criollo leaders were very
aware that without Indian support, their hopes to establish an
independent government would not prosper. Proclamations
and declarations were issued in the three main Indian languages of the Viceroyalty: Quechua, Araucanian, and Guarani.
General José de San Martín, the Argentine hero of the independence wars, courted his Indian and Black battalions, and
before landing in Peru to carry on the war against Spain, dispatched letters written in Quechua announcing his mission to
the native Indian inhabitants. Soon after independence a split
emerged between the fast-rising capital of Buenos Aires, and
the provinces of the northeast and northwest (Patagonia was
settled only in the latter part of the nineteenth century). The
caudillos of the provinces drew their following from the
countryside, as they knew how to connect with its Gaucho
and Indian populations. Buenos Aires, the new nation’s port
and point of contact with the wider world, gave rise to a merchant elite, which in turn produced a notable group of intellectuals, writers and poets, of whom Jorge Luis Borges is the
most visible and exemplary late heir.
These writers were typically torn between their attraction
for the Enlightenment,
the urgency of imagining and building a nation, and the dark seductions of the untamed
wilderness. When overwhelming numbers of
began to arrive at the
end of the nineteenth
century, tripling the local population by the
early twentieth, these
writers, in self-defense,
came up with a national
symbol: the Gaucho. A
“Swine! Hitting an old Indian!”
product of urban elites,
this icon, drawn from
real life, displaced the Indian as a potential alternative. He was
a frontier type, an outcast of both the white town and city settlements and the Indian societies that lay beyond them.
Yet the Gaucho falls short as ultimate symbol of Argentina.
An Indian specter haunts him, the final face in the mirror.
Borges knew this and made it clear in short stories such as
“The South,” in which the narrator, a European immigrant,
fatefully takes a train to where all had once begun, the pampas (the center of the labyrinth), to meet his death at the point
of an Indian’s knife.
Patoruzú came into being in 1928 as a secondary character in
the comic-strip pages of a Buenos Aires newspaper. He quickly
struck a chord with the public and began to develop independently. Dante Quinterno, its creator, now ninety-one years old,
has been reluctant to discuss the genesis of Patoruzú with journalists or academics. The son of Italian immigrants, he had an
early start as a graphic artist, and has remained steadfastly
averse to publicity or theorizing of any kind. Nevertheless, the
gradual emergence of the character into the archetypal role of
hero is evident, and does not require his elucidation.
Patoruzú does not reflect an ethnographic reality: he is an
immensely rich Tehuelche Indian who owns a vast estate in
Patagonia. The Tehuelches (Magellan’s tall and sturdy
Patagones) were virtually wiped out when General (later
President) Roca launched the military campaign in the 1880s
that ended the Indian control of Patagonia. Patoruzú’s success hinges on the fact that he turned the tables, and provided a positive symbol for the suppressed Indian within.
Innocent, well-meaning, ever on a Quixotic mission to right
wrongs, he is driven and rewarded by his lack of guile, an
invigorating connection to his traditional wilderness, and
an overwhelming physical prowess that naturally allows him
to perform extraordinary feats. In contrast, city life, white
men, and white society are portrayed as the source of duplicity and evil, and of all the misdeeds Patoruzú combats and
brings under control. Isidoro Canoñes, his sidekick, is white.
The nephew of a retired Colonel who was a friend of Patoruzú’s father, Isidoro is a porteño (i.e. native of Buenos Aires),
and a lovable rogue. With his dark hair combed backwards
and his distinctive double-breasted suit, Isidoro is always in
pursuit of money and women, and constantly getting into
trouble. But whenever this happens, the good Indian is there
to help him and to forgive, even when Isidoro, led by greed,
aids land-speculators who have set their eyes on the Patagonian estate. Isidoro is not evil, but the weak and frivolous
scion through whom the values of the Brave New World
come into view.
Over the years the story grew in complexity. Other members of the Patoruzú family appeared: Patora, the sister perpetually in search of a mate; Upa, a simple-minded younger
brother who uses his big belly to corner and subdue wrongdoers (named after the Quechua word for infant or mute adult,
he inspired the famous character of Astérix); Chacha,
Patoruzú’s no-nonsense wet nurse, a criolla who administers
the estate and restores the hero’s body and spirit with herbs
and sublime empanadas. And there is Pampero, Patoruzú’s
horse, which he sometimes rides to the city, where it has
adventures of its own.
Always wearing a poncho, uchutas (Inca sandals), rolled-up
pants, a head-band with a feather stuck in it, and carrying the
boleadoras, the ball-weighted lasso his ancestors used to hunt
ostriches and cattle which he now wields to combat the bad
guys, Patoruzú looks the part of an Indian action hero. The
character was so successful that Quinterno built a team of
artists around him and launched a magazine devoted to
Patoruzú’s adventures. In its heyday it sold more than one million copies, and still appears. Its following remains mixed:
children from all sorts of backgrounds, urban and rural; adolescents and young adults; even, I am told, Chririguano Indians in Bolivia, and former president Menem.
The Golden Book of Patoruzú (as the thick magazine with
extra stories was known), came out for Christmas, and was an
Argentine institution. As a child, I waited eagerly for it in our
countryside home. A wire fence in the backyard marked the
incessantly attractive border beyond which the horizontal
vertigo of the pampas began. Pombo, the newsman, would
bicycle from town into that magic circle to deliver the magazine. His clothes were crumpled, and he was always drunk. I
trace to the look in his eyes and to that frontier my earliest
recollections of strangeness and danger.
t the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin I once asked the
fellows to recount their earliest memory of reading
or writing. Thirty out of thirty-five researchers
recalled having had their first reading experiences at home
in their family.
Twenty years hence, another generation, raised in the waning years of what Swedish writer Ellen Key heralded in 1900
as “the century of the child,” may well remember something
else entirely: how they were kept back from reading in German nursery school and kindergarten by a lack of encouragement if not outright discouragement on the part of their teachers. Perhaps these children even had a sense that showing too
much curiosity for the world of writing and signs might make
their mothers look bad, so that they reined in their impulses
until they started school, just as the pedagogues recommended to their parents.
Among the misconceived fads the “century of the child”
has left behind in Germany lies the notion of a happy childhood as one free of all knowledge and writing. Mothers intimidated by pedagogues asked: Is it all right for my child to be
left-handed? If my child writes reversing characters, is there
trouble ahead in reading and writing? A child’s first steps into
literacy were seen as so precarious that nonprofessionals as
well as parents or kindergarten teachers—since the latter are
only socially, not educationally, responsible in Germany—
shouldn’t even go near it. Germany is not a country with worrisome rates of adult illiteracy. But joy in writing—expressive
writing that instills trust in the world—remains, as it long has
been, the privilege of the few. Is that because most of us
learned to write in school, and could only experience it as an
Some recent initiatives in Anglo-Saxon countries have
helped to free us from this view of pre-school “preliteracy.”
For children probe the meaning of the notations and signs
that surround them, and are unhappy to be shut out from
In every literate culture, learning to read is an initiation, a
transition from a state of dependency and limited understanding to competency, partaking in collective memory through
notations. In many cultures the introduction into literacy is a
mother’s task. “Mary Teaching the Infant Jesus to Read” and
“Anna Instructing Mary” were favorite motifs in medieval
painting. In the nineteenth century, at a time when reading in
Europe was largely a privilege of the upper classes, Japanese
children were familiar with written characters even in remote
villages; today they are taught the syllabic characters by their
mothers. When they enter school at age six, they have already
read some books written in hiragana, whose fifty characters
they will have learned through shopping, advertising, and a
highly developed children’s literature, as well as in front of
the television, which in Japan is an accepted, indeed very
well-trusted, teacher. A traditional series for mother and
child, okaasan-to ishho, which most mothers know from their
own childhood, further acquaints them with the hiragana
characters. Finally, of course, they also receive a quarter-hour
of formal instruction every day from their mother, on the floor
or at table. Here, the “mother-tongue” is also mother-script.
The veneration in which every literate culture holds written language is particularly fervent in Japan. The gods do not
so much hear prayers as read them. Children are encouraged
at a tender age to put their wishes and requests into little
notes. In kindergarten teachers help them in this, for instance
at the Tanabata, the spring festival. “Please let Jun-chan make
the soccer club!” Let Yukiko-chan get over her allergy….” The
wind stirs the white paper strips left in trees and bushes.
The holy writ of Hebrew tradition is father-, not mother-script.
The reading of texts, a religious
duty, or mitzvah, should never be
a compulsory school chore; study
should become a passion. To cultivate love of scripture with all one’s
body and soul, texts in the
medieval Torah schools were
daubed with honey which the
youngest children were urged to
lick off. Vigorous rocking while
reading and reciting prayers is
practiced to rouse the memory.
When we filmed recently in Israel,
the historic land of a scriptural
culture, we observed how much
time and ingenuity is invested in
the forms of children’s preliteracy—in kibbutz pre-schools as
well as in both secular and orthodox kindergartens. Instructors
always manage to bring some new
direction to children’s play and
find new occasions for writing,
drawing, and message-sending. In
Israel, a land of immigration,
whenever families newly arrived
without books could find no connection to their rapidly modernized new environment, social
workers in literacy programs would visit the home bringing
children’s books and ideas for games.
“Preliteracy” is also the focal point in educational programs
of the Blair government in England. In the country’s by now
thirty “Early Excellence Centers,” generously equipped family centers designed to provide new forms of learning for
adults and children in education-fostering sites, no staff is
without its “family literacy worker.” The goal is that by the
first year of life a child will have had some direct exposure to
writing and communicating through signs. The enthusiasm
with which children in early years “write” the world is infectious. The example of their children has inspired many young
parents, often themselves school dropouts and illiterates, to
use to the Excellence Center either to get their own school
diplomas or to receive vocational training.
Long before school begins, children know that written messages are mood-altering, that writing marks property, that
signs convey a value judgment about objects, that music can
be notated by signs, that print tells a story and therefore provides a narrative structure, and that books conjure up new
thoughts and images.
The preschool years are an ideally formative time for children to be inscribed into various writing modes—into the
communicative, solicitous writing of the first messages and
invitations, or into the first scientific documentation (for
instance, charting bodily growth). In nursery school or
kindergarten there is as yet no fixed curriculum, no hourly
lesson plan, no report card—just
time and space for errors and repetitions. Time to stroll through
writing, to pull letters out of graffiti, movie posters. For expeditions
through stationery stores, and
time to be busy in the writing corner of a kindergarten with blackboard, felt pens, and computers.
When they make a picture of letters, they’re not yet writing; yet
they are encircling the world of
signs. How the gap between
abstract signs and meaning is
finally bridged remains a mystery.
Over time, the capacity to actively, self-confidently relate to
reading and writing takes on more,
not less, value: every computer
step is writing-driven. In many
German kindergartens today even
four-year-olds can be seen busy
with reading programs, once or
twice a week. They seem to enjoy
them; they show concentration,
and when they correctly arrange
puzzle parts into letters, the computer salutes them with a musical
flourish. And yet, even if a computer prints out their name more perfectly than they can yet
write it themselves, the joy they take in this doesn’t seem to go
very deep. Which is also why there is a demand to cultivate
the hand as a human writing tool. When children write out
letters, when they follow the ancient handiwork of writing on
clay or wax tablets, or form letters with a stick on the forest
ground, or trace them with their fingertip on a fogged-up windowpane, “the brain speaks with the hand and the hand with
the brain.” And when they break into rhythmic movement and
song, they are also practicing the spoken language, that continuum of sounds and syllables, that making out of wordbeginnings and syllable-endings—that “phonological awareness” that today, the world over, is recognized as a central
component of “preliteracy.”
The ordaining of a childhood “free of writing” underestimated children and needlessly deferred much of their
—Donata Elschenbroich (translated by David Jacobson)
THE COMMITTEE ON
is an international project sponsored by the Suntory Foundation
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Berlin, and the American Academy
of Arts and Sciences.
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Gerd Bucerius, a foundation of the
German newspaper Die Zeit.
Correspondence is published twice a year
by the Council on Foreign Relations, which
does not accept responsibility for the views
expressed in the articles presented here.
Contributors to this Issue
Michael Becker is program director at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.
David A. Bell teaches French history at Johns Hopkins University and is
author of the forthcoming The Cult of the Nation of France. ■ Nick Cohen is a
columnist in the Observer and New Statesman (London) and the author of Cruel
Britannia: Reports on the Sinister and the Preposterous. ■ Tyler Cowen, professor of economics at George Mason University, is the author of In Praise of Commercial Culture and the forthcoming Minerva’s Owl: Sources of Creative Global
Culture. ■ Donata Elschenbroich is a senior researcher at the Deutsches
Jugendinstitut München whose recent publications and films include
Weltwissen der Siebenjährigen and Ins Schreiben hinein. ■ Wlodek Goldkorn,
New York correspondent for the Italian weekly L’Espresso, is the author of Uscire
dal ghetto (1988), a study of twentieth-century Eastern European Jewry.
■ Emily Green, a Los Angeles Times staff writer on science and food production, reported for many years in leading British journals on agriculture and food
in the U.K. ■ Michael Greenberg is a contributing editor at the Boston Review
and frequently writes for the Times Literary Supplement, among other publications. ■ Nina Khrushcheva is a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute of
the New School University. ■ Edgar Krebs is Research Associate at the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. ■ Wolf Lepenies, a director of the Committee on Intellectual Correspondence, is the director of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. ■ Mark Lilla is
Professor of Social Thought at the University of Chicago. ■ Darrin McMahon,
a fellow at the Remarque Institute (New York University), is the author of the
forthcoming Enemies of the Enlightenment. ■ Peter Mandler teaches modern
British history at Cambridge University and is the author, most recently, of The
Fall and Rise of the Stately Home. ■ Frédéric Martel is a freelance journalist
and researcher in the sociology of culture at the École des Hautes Études en
Sciences Sociales, Paris. ■ Satoshi Mukai has worked as a literary critic in
Japan ever since leaving the major advertising company Dentsu in 1982.
■ Cheol Hee Park is an associate professor at the National Graduate Institute
for Policy Studies, Tokyo. ■ Julie Pecheur, a graduate student in international
relations at Columbia University, writes for various French newspapers, including Le Nouvel Observateur. ■ Richard Peña is programming director of the Film
Society of Lincoln Center in New York. ■ Matteo Pericoli is an Italian architect and illustrator who lives in New York. ■ Morten Piil, a film critic for the
daily Danish newspaper Information, has edited and written most of the sevenhundred-page guide Danish Films from A to Z (2000). ■ Jonathan Rosenbaum
is a film critic for the Chicago Reader and is the author, most recently, of Movie
Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Conspire to Limit What Films We Can See.
■ Cyrus Samii has researched capital punishment for a film by the Press and
the Public Project, Inc. in New York. ■ Alexander Stille is the author, most
recently, of Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian
Republic and is editor of Correspondence. ■ Christina Stojanova is a film critic
and scholar of Central and Eastern European and Québecois cinema, and teaches
at the University of Toronto, and Queen’s University, Ontario. ■ Masayuki
Tadokoro is a professor of international relations at the National Defense Academy in Yokosuka, Japan. ■ Gadi Taub is co-editor of Mikarov, an Israeli journal of literature and society. ■ N. Frank Ukadike, Associate Professor of film
and African Diaspora Studies at Tulane University, is the author, most recently,
of the forthcoming The New African Cinema. ■ Masakazu Yamazaki, a director of the Committee on Intellectual Correspondence, is artistic director of the
Hyogo Prefecture Theater in Kobe, Japan.