What takes place in Europe now underlines the continuity of history going back to 1945

The primary purpose of the current post is to bring attention to a Lawfare article about white supremacy as an embedded feature of German military and civic institutions.

I refer to a Jan. 30, 2022 Lawfare article by Anna Meier entitled: “Germany’s White Supremacist Problem – and What It Means for the United States.”

An Editor’s Note outlines the content of the article:

As the United States wrestles with the threat of white supremacist violence, observers often look to Germany for lessons on how to deal with a racist past. The University of Nottingham’s Anna Meier argues that this is a mistake. She finds that German officials often minimize the extent of the problem and, as a result, ignore the deeper structural reforms needed to reduce racism.

The gist of the article is that things are not always as they appear.

The article highlights a theme addressed previously, namely, that in order to address issues such as bullying, harassment, and coercion, the power relations at play must be in favour of the forces that seek to deal with them.

Berlin Wall

The second purpose of the post is to bring attention to two studies of East Germany before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall

Some years ago I read a few pages of Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall (2002) by Anna Funder. As noted at a previous post, a passage from p. 136 of Stasiland concerning an interview with a former German Democratic Republic propaganda official, in particular caught my attention:

He can switch from from one view to another with frightening ease. I think it is a sign of being accustomed to such power that the truth does not matter because you cannot be contradicted.

What comes to mind on reading this passage is the concept that, sometimes, power speaks its own language, whereby up is down, in is out, and big is small. (In the course of observing committee of adjustment and other land use hearings in Toronto over many years, it had dawned upon me that, on occasion, power does indeed speak a language of its own.)

I decided to subsequently read Stasiland from cover to cover because it’s mentioned in a Doctor of Creative Arts dissertation by Siobhan McHugh:

Oral history and the radio documentary/feature: intersections and synergies (2010)

Another study Siobhan McHugh mentions in her dissertation is entitled: The Firm: The Inside Story of the Stasi (2010) by Gary Bruce.

A blurb reads:

Based on previously classified documents and on interviews with former secret police officers and ordinary citizens, The Firm is the first comprehensive history of East Germany’s secret police, the Stasi, at the grassroots level. Focusing on Gransee and Perleberg, two East German districts located north of Berlin, Gary Bruce reveals how the Stasi monitored small-town East Germany. He paints an eminently human portrait of those involved with this repressive arm of the government, featuring interviews with former officers that uncover a wide array of personalities, from devoted ideologues to reluctant opportunists, most of whom talked frankly about East Germany’s obsession with surveillance. Their paths after the collapse of Communism are gripping stories of resurrection and despair, of renewal and demise, of remorse and continued adherence to the movement. The book also sheds much light on the role of the informant, the Stasi’s most important tool in these out-of-the-way areas. Providing on-the-ground empirical evidence of how the Stasi operated on a day-to-day basis with ordinary people, this remarkable volume offers an unparalleled picture of life in a totalitarian state.

The two books, each of which approaches oral history and archives from a different perspective, are worth a close read. [1, 2]

Ukraine

The third purpose of this post is to bring attention to a New York Times article by Ivan Krastev entitled: “Europe Thinks Putin Is Planning Something Even Worse Than War.” The article identifies the author as a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna and an expert on international politics.

I do not subscribe to the New York Times; instead, I access it through the Toronto Public Library website. As a non-resident of Toronto, I pay an annual membership fee to access the site.

An excerpt (I’ve omitted embedded links) reads:

The answer is surprising, even paradoxical. Europeans and Ukrainians are skeptical of a major Russian invasion in Ukraine not because they have a more benign view of Mr. Putin than their American counterparts. On the contrary, it’s because they see him as more malicious. War, they reason, is not the Kremlin’s game. Instead, it’s an extensive suite of tactics designed to destabilize the West. For Europe, the threat of war could turn out to be more destructive than war itself.

America and Europe aren’t divided on what Mr. Putin wants. For all the speculation about motives, that much is clear: The Kremlin wants a symbolic break from the 1990s, burying the post-Cold War order. That would take the form of a new European security architecture that recognizes Russia’s sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space and rejects the universality of Western values. Rather than the restoration of the Soviet Union, the goal is the recovery of what Mr. Putin regards as historic Russia.

2 replies
  1. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Note 1

    The current post highlights the history and historiography of power relations in European society, dating back to the centuries leading up to the Renaissance – that is, to what is now characterized as a rebirth of Europe.

    Among other things, the topic of power relations concerns itself with the question of: “How can we best organize a society?” And, at the national and international levels, the question is: “What security architecture is going to work the best, or, in difficult circumstances, is going to work, at all?”

    Every observation that a person makes, regarding power relations, is of necessity made from the perspective of where a given observer is situated, within a system of power relations.

    Among the explorations of options, with regard to the role of power relations, that come to mind is a work of fiction, namely, The Decameron (2013) by Giovanni Boccaccio.

    I refer to the version of The Decameron translated by Wayne A. Rebhorn.

    In his introduction, the translator Rebhorn notes that in his one hundred short stories, Boccaccio explores how, potentially, the themes of intelligence, Fortune, desire, and magnanimity (the latter sometimes referred to as compassion or humanity) can be brought together to enable a city such as, say, Florence in 1350 or thereabouts, to thrive, or at least to properly function.

    A blurb for the 2013 translation reads:

    “Celebrated in the Renaissance as the foremost stylist of Italian prose, Boccaccio has seldom met his match in English translation…Wayne Rebhorn’s fluid and dynamic rendition hits the mark on every page.” –William J. Kennedy, Cornell University

    The year is 1348. The Black Death has begun to ravage Europe. Ten young Florentines – seven women and three men – escape the plague-infested city and retreat to the countryside around Fiesole. At their leisure in this isolated and bucolic setting, they spend ten days telling each other stories – tales of romance, tragedy, comedy, and farce – one hundred in all. The result, called by one critic “the greatest short story collection of all time” (Leonard Barkan, Princeton University) is a rich and entertaining celebration of the medley of medieval life.

    Witty, earthy, and filled with bawdy irreverence, the one hundred stories of The Decameron offer more than simple escapism; they are also a life-affirming balm for trying times. The Decameron is a joyously comic book that has earned its place in world literature not just because it makes us laugh, but more importantly because it shows us how essential laughter is to the human condition.

    Published on the 700th anniversary of Boccaccio’s birth, Wayne A. Rebhorn’s new translation of The Decameron introduces a generation of readers to this “rich late-medieval feast” in a “lively, contemporary, American-inflected English” (Stephen Greenblatt, Harvard University) even as it retains the distinctly medieval flavor of Boccaccio’s rhetorically expressive prose.

    An extensive introduction provides useful details about Boccaccio’s historical and cultural milieu, the themes and particularities of the text, and the lines of influence flowing into and out of this towering monument of world literature.

    Reply
  2. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Note 2

    The present moment serves as our only available portal to the past.

    In this context, a useful reference to current power dynamics, in this case in Eastern Germany, is a study entitled: The wolves Are Coming Back: The Politics of Fear in Eastern Germany (2021) by Rebecca Pates and Julia Leser.

    A blurb reads:

    Across Eastern Germany, where political allegiances are shifting to the right, the wolf is increasingly seen as a trespasser and threat to the local way of life. Styled by populist right-wing actors as an ‘invasive species’, the wolf evokes and resonates with anti-immigration sentiments and widespread fears of demographic catastrophe. To many people in Eastern Germany, the immigrant and the wolf are an indistinguishable problem that nobody in power is doing anything about. In this account of Eastern German agitation of wolves and migrants, Eastern German hunters, farmers, rioters and self-appointed ‘saviours of the nation’, Pates and Leser move beyond stereotypic representations of ‘the East’ and shine a light on the complexities of post-socialist life and losses. As nationalist parties are on the rise across Europe, The wolves Are Coming Back offers an insight into the rise of the far right in Germany. The nationalist Alternative for Germany represents the third-largest party in the German federal parliament, with representation in the vast majority of German states. They draw much of their support from the ‘post-traumatic places’ in Eastern Germany, regions structured by realities of disownment, disenfranchisement and a lack of democratic infrastructure. Pates and Leser provide an account of the societal roots of a new group of radical right parties, whose existence and success we always assumed to be impossible.

    Reply

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