Article of the month: On the side of democracy

Brussels is not empowered to be a policeman for liberal democracy in Europe. Not yet. But should it be? Following recent developments in Hungary and Romania, Jan-Werner Müller argues that it is legitimate for Brussels to interfere in individual member states as a democracy watchdog -- and not least in the interests of upholding one of the key aims of European enlargement. Namely, "to consolidate liberal democracies":

"Hence neither Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán nor Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta are right to accuse Brussels of some form of Euro-colonialism: Orbán, for instance, compared the EU to Turks, Habsburgs and Russians -- former oppressors of the freedom-loving Magyars. In fact, 'they' are only reminding the Hungarians and Romanians how they wanted to live when they joined the Union in 2004 and 2007 respectively."

However, it's not merely the fate of certain member states that is at stake, as Müller makes abundantly clear:

"Strictly speaking, there are no purely internal affairs for EU member states; all EU citizens are affected by developments in a particular member state, as long as that country's executive remains in the Council and keeps voting on European law. This fact of interdependence has been brought home to Europeans by the eurocrisis, but it has mostly been interpreted in financial and economic terms. Yet there is political interdependence, too."

Having dispatched with concerns that commonly accompany the prospect of intervention, Müller outlines "the missing tool kit" for effective democracy-protection when faced with systematically illiberal governments. After all, he concludes, "as one political community, the EU has outer and inner boundaries: where liberal democracy and the rule of law cease to function, there Europe ends."

Jan-Werner Müller
On the side of democracy
Should Brussels intervene in EU member states?

This article is available in English

Hungary in focus

In recent years, Hungary has been a constant concern for anyone interested in European politics and Eurozine has published extensively on different aspects of the Hungarian situation. Ahead of the Hungarian elections in 2014, we have collected some of those articles dealing with both recent developments and broader issues relating to Hungarian politics, history and culture.

This collection of texts puts into perspective how, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Hungary's democratic reforms were held up as an example to the states of central eastern Europe. Twenty years later, the political process suffered a sudden reversal following the election in 2010 of the Fidesz government under Viktor Orbán. Now the dismantling of Hungary's political and constitutional system continues.

However, the focus also includes a series of responses to serious unrest on the streets of Budapest in September 2006 after the then Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány admitted to downplaying the scale of the national debt in the run-up to elections earlier the same year.

Read all articles in the Hungary focus

The end of the state? Discussion on 10 June in Vienna

The nation-state faces more challenges than it has defenders. Wealthy citizens live their financial lives abroad, preventing the state from aiding others. The European Union has been halted in midcourse, with mixed sovereignty providing an excuse for nationalist demagogy among its members. In Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, those who claim to defend the traditional state are often defending little more than the clique that happens to control it. In the United States, not only the Tea Party regards the state as a problem rather than a means of solving problems.

The ideological wars of the last century were all about the future of the state. Now that these conflicts of ideas are in the past, can the state survive without ideas? Can the state be a functional reality without an animating mission? On 10 June in Vienna, Timothy Snyder, Ivan Krastev and Marci Shore will discuss the fate of the state on the basis of Snyder's and Tony Judt's book Thinking the twentieth century.

The event is a cooperation with the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna.

More on the Vienna event The end of the state?

Independent Levada Centre branded "foreign agent"

Eurozine partner Osteuropa is spearheading an appeal for solidarity with the Levada Centre, led by sociologist and Eurozine contributor Lev Gudkov. The Moscow-based centre, an independent opinion research agency, has received a warning from Savelov Interdistrict Prosecutor's Office claiming that the publication of sociological survey results represents a form of political, rather than scientific activity.

Gudkov states that the Russian authorities' attempt to defame the Levada Centre as a "foreign agent", owing to its receipt of "funding from abroad", puts the centre "in an extremely difficult situation, basically forcing it to stop its work as an independent sociological research organization conducting regular public opinion polls in Russia."

Eurozine has signed the online petition protesting this blatant attack on academic freedom in Russia. So has meanwhile more than 12 thousand individuals and organizations.

More information, including details of how to sign the petition

Remappings: New book on European narratives

When the European Cultural Foundation (ECF) started its initiative "Narratives for Europe" in 2010, Eurozine joined this project with the focal point European histories (2): Concord and conflict.

In this focus, articles deal with how contested interpretations of historical and recent events are activated in the present and, in the process, contribute to uniting or dividing European societies.

Contributors include Jan-Werner Müller, Pierre Nora and Alana Lentin.

Meanwhile, the ECF's own "Narratives for Europe" platform collected and shared "those stories -- whether comforting or confronting -- that keep Europe moving forward". A collection of essays stemming from the project has now been published in print under the title Remappings: The Making of European Narratives. The book presents texts on the changing narratives of Europe, accompanied by comic strips by up-and-coming European comic artists, investigating how narratives emerge, unfold and contribute to redrawing the mental maps of Europe.

Among the contributors are Amitav Ghosh, Milla Mineva and Wolfram Kaiser.

More about the project and the book

New articles

Václav Stetka
The rise of the tycoons
Economic crisis and changing media ownership in central Europe
As the regional presence of international players diminishes two decades after the privatization of media markets, local business elites looking to win influence are buying into the media sector. Vaclav Stetka takes stock of the consequences for free and independent journalism.

This article is available in English

Tariq Modood, Varun Uberoi
Understanding multiculturalism
Has multiculturalism in Britain retreated?
The emergence of a culturally diverse citizenry, a vision for the nation or an ideology: multiculturalism may mean any of these and more. That it has received anything but a good press of late prompts Varun Uberoi and Tariq Modood to clarify why multiculturalism is in fact flourishing in Britain.

This article is available in English

George Blecher
Deeper than a tweet
The Boston bombing and why you can't become completely American
George Blecher pinpoints exactly what it is that confuses Americans about the actions of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who, prior to the bombing of the Boston Marathon, may not have been far off from becoming an ideal American. But then becoming completely American always was a fiction.

This article is available in English

Paul Rogers
Woolwich and Afghanistan: The connection
Professor of peace studies Paul Rogers insists that there is a connection between the shocking murder of a young soldier on a London street and "remote-control" attacks by western states. It's crucial to recognize this if we are to avoid such extreme violence in the future.

This article is available in English

Frederik Stjernfelt
Gagging for God
What if the attempt earlier this year on the life of a Danish Islam critic proves to be yet another instance of a concentrated assault on free expression by fundamentalist believers? Frederik Stjernfelt slams the critics of Enlightenment values for their complacency.

This article is available in English

Pierre Nora
Reasons for the current upsurge in memory
Over the past quarter century, social structures have undergone a sea change in their traditional relationship to the past. Pierre Nora examines the roots and causes of "memorialism".

This article is now available in English, German, French, Hungarian, Italian, Lithuanian and Russian

John Gray, René Scheu
The role of the sceptic
A conversation with John Gray
The destination of intellectual journeys, remarks John Gray, is unknown at any one time. Utopianism, on the other hand, usually ends in disaster. Thus the radical anti-communist of the 1970s finds Marx's analysis of capitalism prescient today and rates Keynes above Hayek.

This article is available in English and German

Marc-Olivier Padis
Relocating the European debate
"Esprit" editor Marc-Olivier Padis outlines why a strong platform for European debate has yet to emerge and the role that cultural journals can play in establishing one. Among the most urgent issues for discussion: liquid modernity, cultural decentralization and the dilemmas of an open society.

This article is available in English, Estonian and French

Märt Väljataga
Circulating ideas
"Vikerkaar" editor Märt Väljataga braves the cross currents that accompany ideas and their communication in transnational contexts, with a view to assessing the contribution of cultural journals to the public sphere. He discovers an ongoing process in which persistence pays off.

This article is available in English and Estonian

Pier Virgilio Dastoli, Milvia Spadi
The will to succeed
A conversation with Pier Virgilio Dastoli
Pier Virgilio Dastoli advocates a federal future for the European Union if the current imbalance of power is to be redressed. A federal approach will also help seal success in the areas of energy, criminal law, industry, social questions, international security and economic governance.

This article is available in German

Jan-Werner Müller
The failure of European intellectuals?
Intellectuals have been accused of failing to restore a European confidence undermined by crisis. Yet calls for legitimating European narratives reflect the logic of nineteenth-century nation building, argues Jan-Werner Müller.

This article is available in English, French, German, Greek, Italian and Slovenian

Ivan Krastev
The transparency delusion
Disillusionment with democracy founded on mistrust of business and political elites has prompted a popular obsession with transparency. But the management of mistrust cannot remedy voters' loss of power and may spell the end for democratic reform.

This article is available in English and Romanian

Oxana Timofeeva
Trampling cats
The recent proliferation of new taboos in Russia seems to know no limit, according to philosopher Oxana Timofeeva. She shows how proposals for new legislation to curb noise pollution may reveal more about the animal inside us all than the authorities could dream.

This article is available in English and Russian

Zygmunt Bauman
Solidarity: A word in search of flesh
Who will outsmart who, who will be kicked out first? This is the job market, and probably society at large, reduced to the level of reality TV, writes Bauman. However, though the spirit of solidarity is in exile, it would be premature to give up on the prospect of its return just yet.

This article is available in English and Polish

Marco Simoni
The roots of Italian economic decline
Reforms implemented without logic or consistency have cost Italy the economic dynamism it achieved in the 1980s. A hybrid and infertile capitalism is the outcome, writes Marco Simoni, leaving Italy with the highest number of young people in Europe who are neither studying nor employed.

This article is available in Italian

Miljenko Jergovic
The merchants of Europe
The presidents and prime ministers of Balkan countries have convinced Europe that they represent the only guarantee that the Balkans will not descend back into war. It is through this kind of counterfeit politics that Croatia has arrived at the threshold of the European Union.

This article is available in Croatian and English

Fahim Amir
Rats with wings
Doves are a symbol of peace, purity and fertility. They were once of practical use too: until science intervened, dove droppings were essential to the manufacture of fertiliser. So just how did they end up at the bottom of the urban symbolic order? Fahim Amir investigates.

This article is available in German

George Blecher
David Foster Wallace: Innocence and experience
He pointed a way for American fiction out of the doldrums of postmodernism, writes George Blecher. For a culture troubled by the corrosive commercial media and closed-end systems underpinned by technology, David Foster Wallace's influence remains a force to be reckoned with.

This article is available in Czech and English

Martin M. Simecka
After the velvet divorce
Differences between the Czech and Slovak national cultures begin with language and range from newspaper circulation to attitudes to corruption. Yet they don't justify seeing the Czecho-Slovak split as blueprint for dismantling the EU, writes Martin Simecka.

This article is now available in English and Hungarian

Marcin Król
Farmers in fairy-tale land
Poland and the European crisis
Lack of political decision-making and the demise of objectivism have landed Europe where it is today, argues Marcin Król. A lesson could be learned from Poland, whose tradition of economic liberalism and rural pragmatism has enabled the country to weather the crisis.

This article is now available in English and Hungarian

Timothy Snyder
Balancing the books
Sixty years and more since the end of WWII, eastern European experiences of subjugation are often glossed over. This creates misunderstandings that could be avoided by an awareness of a common European history. Then, solidarity rather than national prejudice would motivate public opinion on matters of European politics.

This article is now available in English, German, Lithuanian and Hungarian

Tomasz Zarycki
In search of a usable past
Who were the ancestors of the Polish middle class?
As the new Polish middle class seeks to establish its own identity and to break with the traditional ethos of the central European intelligentsia, it may draw on the experience of merchants once based in the Polish sector of the Russian empire.

This article is now available in English, Hungarian and Polish

Enda O'Doherty
The beautiful German language
With German-bashing now firmly established as a European "Volkssport", "Dublin Review of Books" editor Enda O'Doherty turns to the semi-barbarous German language; and finds that in the right hands, or expressed through the right vocal cords, German is indeed a very beautiful language.

This article is available in English

Jan-Werner Müller
On the side of democracy
Should Brussels intervene in EU member states?
Brussels is not empowered to be a policeman for liberal democracy in Europe. Not yet. But should it be? Following recent developments in Hungary and Romania, Jan-Werner Müller argues that it is legitimate for Brussels to interfere in individual member states as a democracy watchdog.

This article is available in English

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Eurozine Newsletter: 06/2013