Berlin Wall, June 1989 © Angr | Wikimedia Commons
EssaysFeature

The Communist Roots of Anti-Refugee Sentiment

Those seeking to explain why the response to foreigners on the part of Eastern Europeans — in Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and eastern Germany — has been so severe and contemptuous have to take a look back.

It must have been shortly before we left for Germany, in 1980 or 1981. My father had taken me — I was five or six at the time — for a walk at the edge of our apartment complex in Toruń, Poland. Along the way he pointed at a deserted construction site. It was supposed to be an indoor swimming pool, but the materials and willpower needed to complete the project were obviously lacking. The pool basin had been finished many years earlier; …

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Scene from the January 11, 2015 demonstration in Paris © Kelly Kline | Flickr
EssaysLiberal Democracy in QuestionRace

A Postcard from France: A Canadian in Avignon

To provide some context for what follows: I live in France, in the small southern city of Avignon. My wife, Audrey, is French, but I’m not. I, like so many others here, am “an immigrant.” Recent events have made the last few days emotionally and intellectually complex. I’ve been, at times, angry, exhausted, bewildered, and blasé. 

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A vigil in Luxembourg for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack, featuring one of its controversial covers ©  Valentina Calà | Flickr
EssaysLiberal Democracy in QuestionThe Left

Is Solidarity without Identity Possible?

On the Charlie Hebdo attack

The time I saw Charb in Paris was January 24, 2010, the day of the crowded commemoration of the French philosopher and activist Daniel Bensaïd at La Mutualité. During the speeches, Charb kept drawing and projecting vignettes about his comrade Daniel, whose book, Marx: Mode d’Emploi, he had illustrated a year earlier. In the deep sadness that filled the big room his vignettes constantly reminded us of Bensaïd’s subtle humor, of his little malicious smile with which he used to charm us all, slowly helping us to heal the loss. Director of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Charb was one of the ten cartoonists and journalists killed, together with two policemen, in the ferocious attack of January 7, 2015. …

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Polish Round Table Talks in Warsaw, Poland, on February 6, 1989. © Erazm Ciołek | Polska: sierpień 1980–sierpień 1989
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Reflections on a Revolutionary Imaginary and Round Tables

The new always appears in the guise of a miracle

This is the prepared text answering the question “What do we really know about transitions to democracy?” for  the General Seminar of The New School for Social Research, March 19, 2014.

It was a quarter of a century ago, in 1989, that a new kind of revolutionary imaginary emerged, one that promises a new beginning, and demonstrates the possibility of comprehensive systemic change without bloodshed. Velvet or otherwise un-radical, this kind of revolution has become a site of tangible hope, a site in which words have power, where people regain their dignity, and realize their agency through instruments other than weapons. Negotiated revolutionis not an oxymoron, but it is still an extraordinary event, as dictatorships are by definition opposed to any spirit of dialogue and compromise. …

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Golden City, 1984 © Jan Sawka
Arts & DesignEssays

Jan Sawka: The Power of the Not So Powerless

The following lecture was prepared for delivery at the symposium “Jan Sawka: The Artist’s Role in Changing the World” presented by The Paul Robeson Galleries, Gallery Aferro and the Newark Arts Council, Saturday, November 16, 2013, in conjunction with the exhibition at the Gallery Aferro, “Reflections on Everyman: the work of Jan Sawka.”

I have crossed paths with Jan Sawka three times, although only one of these times did we meet.

It was at a low moment in Polish history, the early 80s. It was in his small apartment on 58th street in Manhattan, in very cramped living quarters, with Sawka, constantly working, drawing and painting, even while the family entertained guests. In the midst of the domestic, he created his own world, responding to life’s public and private absurdities, and tragedies, with his imagination and craft. The intensity of the moment, during the weeks after the declaration of martial law in Poland, the repression of the first nationwide popular social movement in the former Soviet bloc, a labor movement of workers moving against the workers’ state, …

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Tadeusz Mazowiecki in 1989 (cropped). © Artur Klose | http://de.wikipedia.org
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Remembering Tadeusz Mazowiecki

Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the first democratic prime minister of Poland, elected after decades of Communist rule, died on October 28.

In a widely popular weekly satirical puppet TV show, The Polish Zoo, which aired in Poland at the beginning of the 1990s, Mazowiecki was a turtle: sluggish and wise. (Among other central political figures were Lech Wałęsa, the president of Poland, as the lion, and a key post-Communist figure, Leszek Miller, as the spider.) Easily recognizable for his slow manner of speaking, Mazowiecki quickly became the symbol of peaceful, and rapid, democratic change.

 

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