North Sea neuroses

Matthias Matussek, once London correspondent of Der Spiegel and now its culture editor, not to mention brother of top diplomat Thomas Matussek, has a book out. Wir Deutschen: warum die anderen uns gern haben können is meant to be a call for a renewed German patriotism and pride in culture. This would usually suggest a very dull book, but I enjoyed it immensely. Not for the right reasons, though.

Matussek’s approach is idiosyncratic, not that there is anything wrong with that, and the book is really a collection of essays, on topics ranging from Heinrich Heine and Angela Merkel to Britain, Britain, the German economy, Vergangenheitsbewältigung, the World Cup, Britain, Danish cartoonists, the East after reunification, and Britain. In fact, an obsession with Britain runs through this book like letters through a stick of rock-hardly a page passes without comparing some German institution, writer, company, statesman or building to one in Britain, and no chapter is complete with a volley of snark directed roughly westward.

Now, it is a truism that Britain and Germany share a mutual obsession. But this would be less interesting if it wasn’t for the sheer wordcount devoted to complaining about the British obsession with Germany. There is a complete chapter on Anglo-German relations, which I looked forward to-the possibilities are immense. Would he dig into the pre-1914 closeness that gave Bradford a Little Germany (and its own Nazi, Ernst-Wilhelm Bohle, born there in 1903 and later Rudolf Hess’s right hand) and Leeds a Dortmund Square, Robert Graves a relative on the Oberste Heeresleitung?

Nah. Instead, most of the chapter is dedicated to the results of a trip to Germany for some schoolteachers his brother’s embassy organised, and a pleasant but uninformative weekend in the country with John Le Carré.
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Slovakia: Hm

Last month I posted about the elections in Slovakia. Robert Fico’s “Smer” party — leftish nationalist-populists — had beaten the center-right technocrats.

Well, Fico and Smer have formed a government. And it’s… interesting.

They chose two coalition partners: the right-wing hyper-nationalist, vaguely racist Slovak Nationalist Party (SNS), and the aging ex-Communists of Vladimir Meciar’s HZDS. (You may remember Meciar as the sort of Milosevic/Lukashenko wannabe from the ’90s.)
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Montenegro: Jump higher

So, Montenegro.

Little mountainous state on the Adriatic. Six hundred thousand people, mostly Montenegrins, a few Albanians and whatnot. Was an independent country until 1919, when it got swept up into Yugoslavia. Now it’s part of the “Federal Union of Serbia and Montenegro”, which consists of (1) Serbia, and (2) Montenegro.

And they’re arguing about whether they should leave. After all, the Slovenes, Croats, Bosnians, and Macedonians all left, right? And the Kosovars are about to, any day now. Why should Montenegro be left behind? They had their own country for centuries; why not once again?

Why not indeed:
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Kosovo, Kosovo, Kosovo…

Just ran across this article at Radio Free Europe. Short version: Russia has decided that independence for Kosovo is probably inevitable, and has decided to milk it for maximum benefit to Russia. Putin’s saying, fine, independence for Kosovo — but then apply “universal principles”, and give independence to the Russian-supported breakaway republics of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and TransDnistria.

Once you get past the initial reaction (“Wow, what a jerk”), this bears a little thinking about.
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A modest proposal for CAP reform

I’ve been in Canada for the last month, getting in my last family visit before settling in to the serious business of either going back to school or collecting unemployment checks. My family is large – Great-Grandpa had 25 children, and Grandpa had 9 – so it takes a while if you go to see my family. Ours is a large, disorganised, occasionally frightening clan who, depending on pure whim, identifies itself as either German-Canadian, Dutch-Canadian, Russian-Canadian or Ukrainian-Canadian. Our tribal language is an obscure dialect of Low Saxon (Platt for the actual Germans out there) spoken primarily in Paraguay, Mexico, Central America and Saskatchewan, and whose most famous speaker is, arguably, Homer Simpson. It’s a long story, don’t ask. It not being much of a literary language, we all just say our ancestors spoke German – the liturgical language of my clan’s particular sect.

In contrast to Europe and the US, Canadians are a lot less disturbed about asking people about their ethnic identities or expressing some loyalty to them. I guess the main reason is that Canada has never really pretended to be a nation built atop an identity, but rather a place where an identity of sorts has slowly built up from the existence of a nation. There is no Canadian myth of the melting pot, and as our soon-to-be new Governor General has demonstrated, no serious demand for nativism in public office. Michaëlle Jean, who is slated to be the powerless and unelected Canadian head-of-state when the Queen is out of the country – e.g., practically always – when she is sworn in on the 27th, is no doubt the most attractive candidate we’ve ever had for the office. And, like her predecessor, she is a former CBC/SRC reporter and talking head.

Ms Jean and I share an endemically Canadian charateristic: We both can and do identify ourselves shamelessly as several different kinds of hyphenated Canadians. She is French Canadian, but that’s hardly strange. She is also Franco-Canadian – Ms Jean has dual citizenship with France, making her the first EU citizen to be Governor General of Canada and the first French citizen to be acting head of state of Canada since 1763. But more unprecedentedly, she is Haitian-Canadian and – as logically follows – African-Canadian.

Yes, Ms Jean is black, and furthermore in an interracial marriage. Well, that’s Canada for you. America puts black folk in squalid emergency shelters, we put ours in Rideau Hall.
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EU recognized by the CIA.

Last week, on a visit to Germany, Henry Kissinger stated that Europe “now has a number”. Well, I’m not sure which one in particular he was referring to, or if the CIA’s decision to list the EU in its world fact book has anything to do with Kissinger’s realisation – but depending on the outcome of the Constitutional ratification process, the decision to include the EU at this point of time will either be judged prophetic, or unfortunate – or as another example of “divide et impera”, of supporting those in Europe who campaign against a “superstate” (whatever that may be). After all, it’s a “fact-book”, isn’t it? From the CIA World Fact Book “What’s New” section

“…the European Union has been included as an “Other” entity at the end of the listing. The European Union continues to accrue more nation-like characteristics for itself and so a separate listing was deemed appropriate. A fuller explanation may be found under the European Union Preliminary statement.”

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Networks and Language in Europe (and More)

Many thanks to the good folks at AFOE for the invitation to guest-blog here for a while. To include a non-European and non-European-resident among this crowd is not a little humbling; I hope I do the blog justice. I have no handy bio available, so suffice to say that I’m an academic, I teach political philosophy, once lived in Germany (but not for nearly long enough), now live in Arkansas, and often stay up late trying to get our two-month-old daughter to go to sleep. For more information, feel free to peruse my own blog, W?ldchen vom Philosophenweg.

Recently I ran across a fascinating article by James C. Bennett, he of “Anglosphere” fame. The article, one of the cover features of the most recent issue of The National Interest, is titled “Networking Nation-States” and is heavy-laden with ideas and insights. Bennett is an unapologetic defender of the globalized free market, who sees politics through the prism of contract and transaction, meaning that he understands healthy polities to be those which maximize fluidity, entrepreneurship, reflexivity and innovation, with little distinctions between the political and the economic spheres. Like some others here at AFOE, I find this kind of neoliberal triumphalism wearying. But I forgive Bennett because he has such an intriguing grasp of the related issues of “space” and language in the construction of societies. Those interested in the EU, and the argument over its relationship to traditional understandings of political identity and sovereignty (which I tend to think is a complicated philosophical matter, and not simply an IR debate over terminology), would do well to think hard about what Bennett is saying.
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Reforming Germany. Just A Little Harder.

On February 6th, just when I thought it was actually possible to escape the ?German reform debate? for only a couple of days, on the way from the slopes to the fireplace, Gerhard Schroeder hit back through the airwaves. A coalition of campaigning regional party establishment and the inevitable loony lefties had apparently won their war of attrition against the Chancellor. Reforming Germany is not just hard. It is harder.
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The Tainted Source

Book Review:
The Tainted Source
by John Laughland

A while back, I discovered that my great-grandfather’s estate in Ukraine, Apanlee, figures in a novel which is something of a favourite among neo-Nazis and Aryan supremacists. This led me to a number of websites that I wouldn’t regularly have frequented, including the Zundelsite and Stormfront’s webpage. There I found something genuinely intriguing: A new historical justification for anti-Semitism. They point to a book written back in the 70’s by Arthur Koestler called The Thirteenth Tribe. Koestler – himself Jewish – makes a case that Eastern European Jews originated in the somewhat mysterious medieval state of Khazar, located in part of what is now Russia. He puts forward evidence that many people in this multi-religious Turkic nation converted to Judaism, and that after the disappearance of the Khazar state these people remained Jewish and formed the core of the Eastern European Jewish population.

It is an interesting idea from a historiographic perspective. Others have taken up Koestler’s case since then. I am not a scholar of Jewish history and I make no claims as to the status or veracity of the Khazar hypothesis. What I found fascinating, in a sick sort of way, was how easily radical anti-Semitic movements in the Anglo-Saxon world manage to incorporate this notion into their worldview. For them, this leads them to the conclusion that the Jews aren’t really Jews, and therefore none of the Biblical status given to Jews applies to them. Modern Jews are, in their minds, merely a Turkic tribe that converted to the false Judaism that killed Jesus, and the real Jews were expelled into Europe by the Romans, becoming the Anglo-Saxon people.

It should go without saying that I find this latter hypothesis to be, to say the least, deeply suspect. In fact, laughable would be a better adjective to describe my opinion of it. I bring this up however, because the kind of thinking that motivates this radical reinterpretation of Jewish and Germanic history also motivates a book I have just read: The Tainted Source. Unfortunately, my finances restrict my ability to purchase books for review, and I have not yet had the gumption to write to publishers to ask for a reviewer’s copy. So, the books on Europe that I read tend to come from the discount rack, where many Euroskeptics seem to end up.

Just as Aryan nationalist justify their anti-Semitism by claiming that Jews aren’t really Jewish because of (in their minds) tainted origins, Laughland’s case against Europe is built atop the idea that Europeanism’s roots are tainted.
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A Laid-Back Notion of Risk

I was listening to a programme on French radio about whether the government should intervene to prohibit investigation related to genetically modified food when I came across this piece about obesity in the US. Food and the way we eat it seem to constitute an important part of our cultural identity. Do we have a distinctive European attitude to food, or are the North European cultures more like the US, and the Southern Europeans in a class of their own?

On the other hand when I accepted the idea of Americans as ‘risk takers’, it wasn’t exactly the risk of being a cigarette-smoking, six-pack-drinking, couch potatoe that I had in mind. But then again maybe we are not so different, since most of the Parisians I get to speak to these days go on less about ‘je t’aime, moi non plus’ and more about ‘boulot, metro et bobo’.
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