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Category: Magazine

Issue 1/2019: Public intellectuals. What is their place, role and responsibility today?

This issue takes a special look at the role and responsibility of the public intellectual in Central and Eastern Europe today.

January 2, 2019 - New Eastern Europe

Where there is word, there is responsibility for mankind

A conversation with Basil Kerski, director of the European Solidarity Centre in Gdańsk. Interviewers: New Eastern Europe.

NEW EASTERN EUROPE: For today’s meeting you brought with you a book authored by the late Lord Ralf Dahrendorf…

BASIL KERSKI: Yes, this is his 2006 work titled Versuchungen der Unfreiheit. Die Intellektuellen in Zeiten der Prüfung. Ralf Dahrendorf wrote here about the breakthroughs which we experienced in the 20th and early 21st centuries. These were the events of 1945, 1968, 1989 and 2001. The most interesting in this book is the chapter where Dahrendorf analyses the challenges that still await us. Reading this piece today, we can see how much of his forecast is confirmed by reality.

January 2, 2019 - Basil Kerski

The intellectual in Central Europe: Havel, Orbán and Walter

What option is open to Central European intellectuals today? How can they maintain their independent stance and moral principles, yet find a position where they can support democracy in their countries? This is a particularly pressing question today, when Central Europe is again traversing a rocky road paved with nationalism and populism.

At a recent conference of European editors of cultural journals, an English participant remarked, a bit puzzled, how only in Central Europe do people still talk in all seriousness about – and even quarrel passionately over – the role, place and responsibility of intellectuals. First, I felt slightly embarrassed recalling that Kritika & Kontext, the journal I founded in 1996, had devoted a whole issue to “The Intellectual and Society”. The debate then was both serious and passionate and, rereading it now, seems still valid today. Perhaps after all there is a special place for intellectuals in the heaven and hell of Central Europe.

January 2, 2019 - Samuel Abrahám

The long shadow of the dissenter: Challenges to public intellectual practices after 1989 in Hungary

The Hungarian story of how the social role of public intellectuals was undermined may help us make sense of what is happening elsewhere today. Hungary’s case highlights that the real danger to critical commentary and its functions in society arises not out of new media platforms, but out of the demise of the democratic multitude.

“In the 1970s and 80s, I met a fair number of western writers, most of them through György Konrád. In our conversations, the mystery that intrigued them the most was this one: how can opposition writers in Central Europe command such respect, play such an exceptional role in politics and in society – a role that they [the western authors] cannot dream about anymore.” Hungary’s prominent public intellectual Sándor Csoóri made this observation in 2006. At that time Csoóri, a one-time luminary of the Hungarian Narodnik tradition and of the post-1989 political universe as a whole, had been a bitter man for a decade and a half. He had been in the fulcrum of a controversy surrounding remarks he made concerning Jewish-Hungarian relations and the cleavage inscribed into them by the Holocaust.

January 2, 2019 - Gergely Romsics

Ukrainian intellectuals after Maidan

The war with Russia creates a difficult task for Ukrainian intellectuals. We must take care of decommunisation and de-Sovietisation not only by renaming our streets and cities but also in the consciousness of our citizens. Ultimately, decommunisation is a part of the decolonisation process in Ukraine.

The Maidan has changed our lives forever. This might sound a little pathetic, but for anyone who was directly involved in the events of 2013/2014, the Maidan has far-reaching significance and harkens great emotional stress. The same applies to those who were not concerned about these events or those who opposed it. And, of course, it definitely applies to Ukrainian intellectuals.

January 2, 2019 - Vakhtang Kebuladze

Intellectuals need to compete in quality, not quantity

Interview with Marci Shore, associate professor of history at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Interviewers: Kate Langdon and Jordan Luber

KATE LANGDON AND JORDAN LUBER: What does it mean to be a public intellectual in 2018?

MARCI SHORE: I can answer this only for myself. For me, it has been important to learn to speak at different registers, to reach out to different people beyond the university and beyond my own academic field. This is a kind of translation: can I express in essence the same ideas, the ones I feel it is most important to convey at a given moment, in different kinds of language? This demands a kind of empathy with the audience, a figuring out of what is and what is not self-evident at a given moment to a given group of people. And it involves taking a risk to leap out of one’s disciplinary comfort zone.

January 2, 2019 - Jordan Luber Kate Langdon Marci Shore

Where Eastern European intellectuals sit today

I was once amazed when someone said that without inheriting an apartment it is impossible to pursue an artistic profession, as all your energy would go towards paying off a mortgage. I heard these words in Eastern Europe around the year 2000. They were uttered in a discussion with a group of well-educated artists.

Italo Calvino’s The Baron in the Trees is a unique novel about a public intellectual. Its protagonist meets all the characteristics of what we call a man of letters. Cosimo Piovasco di Rondo, as was his full name, read books, was involved in intellectual disputes with the brightest minds of his time, reflected on a variety of issues and had a positive impact on the life of the local community. At the same time, he had a unique personality. After having rebelled in his youth against eating snails, which he was trying to save, Cosimo escaped to live in the crown of a tree, a place he had not since left.

January 2, 2019 - Zofia Bluszcz

Tsars and boyars on the Muscovite court

Two prominent historians of the second half of the 20th century – Richard Pipes and Edward Keenan – delivered two radically different explanations for the Russian phenomenon. Clearly, these two competing theories are the offspring of their time. The Pipes perspective stems from the harsh 1960s while the Keenan concept of “Muscovite folkways” was the product of the 1970s era of détente.

Since the rise of the Russian Empire, western scholars, diplomats and politicians specialising in Kremlinology have been trying to resolve the great conundrum about the core of the Muscovite power structure. Two prominent historians of the second half of the 20th century – Richard Pipes and Edward Keenan – delivered two radically different explanations for the Russian phenomenon.

January 2, 2019 - Tomasz Grzywaczewski

Can Israel accept Russia in its backyard?

Military intervention in Syria put Russia in Israel’s neighbourhood starting in 2015. This, on top of the 1.4 million Russian-speaking Jews already living in Israel, has made for an interesting dynamic in Russian-Israeli relations.

For contemporary Israel, Russia is not just a country that is more than three thousand kilometres away: Russia is already in Israel. Having absorbed more than one million “Russian” Jews, Israel is not the same anymore. What is more, the Middle East has, again, become a strategic region for the Kremlin. By intervening in neighbouring Syria, and backing Bashar al-Assad in his struggle to stay in power, Russia has made spectacular inroads into Israeli national security debates.

January 2, 2019 - Agnieszka Bryc

Russia’s role in the Middle East – a grand plan or opportunism?

Russian military engagement in the Syrian war has been a big game changer. Whatever the tactical successes and failures, the sheer fact that Russian troops are present in Syria sends a clear message.

Since the start of the decade, Russia has been taking advantage of major security developments in the Middle East: the Arab Spring, including faltering regimes in Egypt and Libya; the United States’ light footprint approach, i.e. its withdrawal from Iraq and reliance on proxies in Syria and Yemen; and the growing tensions in the Gulf between Iran and the Sunni Arab states. The apex of Russia’s engagement arrived in 2015 when Moscow decided to provide militarily support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the Syrian war. Russian military intervention did not end in quagmire. Instead it empowered Assad’s forces to crush most of the rebelling groups, thus tipping the balance of power in Assad’s favour as per Russian objectives.

January 2, 2019 - Wojciech Michnik

Overcoming the damage of disinformation

Since 2014 Russian malicious activities against foreign targets in cyberspace, such as espionage and hacking, have been expanded to include political and electoral interference operations. It is clear that there is still much to be done to protect the West and its societies from these actions.

"Russian despotism not only counts ideas and sentiments for nothing but remakes facts; it wages war on evidence and triumphs in the battle” – Astolphe-Louis-Léonor Marquis de Custine.

It seems that not much has changed since Astolphe-Louis-Léonor Marquis de Custine, an illustrious French aristocrat, made this observation during a three-month tour of tsarist Russia nearly 180 years ago. Just as in 1839, in the last two or three years the Russian state seems to employ the tactics of deception, distortion and manipulation of information to gain political advantage. What has changed, however, is the technology

January 2, 2019 - Przemysław Roguski

How to profit from education in Russia

The year 2013 marked the beginning of a revolution in Russian education. After Vladimir Putin declared that the country needed a single history textbook, a process was set into motion that removed textbooks the regime viewed as unsuitable for schools.

Modern-day Russia is a place where speaking openly about the Second World War could lead to a five-year prison sentence. It is a country where buying academic degrees is publicly accepted and high positions are handed out based on loyalty to the regime. The illegal circulation of funds surprises no one in Putin’s Russia. Without the right connections, there is no way to run a business or develop a career. In this climate, there are growing restrictions on the type of school textbooks and who is allowed to publish them.

January 2, 2019 - Dagmara Moskwa

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