All posts by Focaal Web Editor

Steve Reyna: Replacing Lady Liberty: Trump and the American Way

Der Spiegel, a well-thought-of magazine, ran in February 2017 a cover depicting the newly elected President Donald Trump, standing with one arm upstretched brandishing a bloody knife and the other arm raised flaunting Lady Liberty’s severed head, blood dripping from its wound. Lady Liberty is the Statute of Liberty. The cover came after Trump’s ban on immigration and refugees to the US from seven Muslim countries. Lady Liberty—at whose base is the line “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—stands for principles of compassion, welcoming, and openness, values said to those of the “American Way.” The cover was advising viewers that The Donald—confessed pussy grabber (Mathis-Lilley 2016)—was destroying those values. If Lady Liberty no longer represents the “American Way,” she should be replaced with one that does. One way of deciding what sort of a replacement to build is to examine the dispositions and actions of the Trump-o-crats, because it is they who are busy making Trump-world. So consider The Donald and some of his appointees.

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Cris Shore: What is a European?: Solidarity, symbols, and the politics of exclusion

This post is part of a feature on anthropologists on the EU at 60, moderated and edited by Don Kalb (Central European University and University of Bergen).

Earlier this year, a curious incident occurred in Auckland that ignited a heated debate over the meaning of the term “European.” A new student club calling itself the Auckland University European Students Association announced it was withdrawing its applications to affiliate to the university on the eve of the new semester’s orientation week. The withdrawal came after members of the club were threated with violence and accused by people both on and off campus of racism. This controversy erupted because of the images posted on the group’s website, including Celtic symbols used by US white supremacists and paintings depicting the unification of Germany. The group’s Facebook page included an image of Captain Cook and the motto “our pride is our honour and loyalty,” a phrase reminiscent of the Nazi SS slogan, “my honour is called loyalty.”

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Michal Buchowski: Our coveted Europe

This post is part of a feature on anthropologists on the EU at 60, moderated and edited by Don Kalb (Central European University and University of Bergen).

Today’s political map of the world, and of Europe in particular, is not the same as in the recent past. Until only a hundred years ago, most states that we now take for granted did not exist. In Central and Eastern Europe, where I happen to come from, the four great empires of Russia, Prussia, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottomans dominated. By the beginning of World War I, only the Ottoman Empire was in recession. A veritable revolution of the political map of Europe came about as a result of WWI when new nation-states were established in Central and Eastern Europe. World War II moved some states westward. The collapse of the Soviet bloc led to the emergence of several new polities. In the newly emerged space of postsocialist Europe, the number of nation-states rose from 9 to 20, including the European part of Kazakhstan. East Germany was the only polity that integrated with another state to form a bigger country. Five countries remained untouched: Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania. The creation and expansion of the hybrid political body of the European Union represents in this perspective a counter-project to the ongoing political fragmentation that took place in this part of the continent over the past hundred years.

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Don Kalb: The EU at 60: the Treaty of Rome is a smoke screen

This post is part of a feature on anthropologists on the EU at 60, moderated and edited by Don Kalb (Central European University and University of Bergen).

The EU commemorates its 60th birthday today (25 March 2017), at a time when the institution is more contested than ever. The 1957 Treaty of Rome was an indisputable step toward undergirding the Western part of the continent of Europe with a set of international institutions that would help to secure peace, prosperity, and shared social citizenship—the sort of internationalism that had been urged by the likes of Keynes and Monnet long before the war. This happened against a historical background of half a century of deep, recurrent crisis, escalating class conflict, rivalry, and revenge that had unleashed industrialized destruction on an unprecedented scale. Without any irony, therefore, two loud cheers, please, for the Treaty of Rome and what it sought to secure. This is the basis of what majorities on the continent still like to imagine, defend, and wish to become part of, as their common and cherished symbolic home.

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Chris Hann: Beleaguered pseudo-continent: Happy birthday, Europe!

This post is part of a feature on anthropologists on the EU at 60, moderated and edited by Don Kalb (Central European University and University of Bergen).

Sixty this month, the European Union is almost as old as I am. Should we, in March 2017, celebrate a beacon of liberal-democratic sanity between the populists of Washington and London to the West and those of Ankara and Moscow to the East? Or is it time to pension off the construction launched with the Treaty of Rome in 1957, since it has come to violate basic desiderata of economic efficiency and equity, as well as democratic legitimacy?

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Thomas Hylland Eriksen: Norway and the transformation of the EU

This post is part of a feature on anthropologists on the EU at 60, moderated and edited by Don Kalb (Central European University and University of Bergen).

In Norway, the second referendum over EU membership in 1994 resulted in almost the exact same figures as the first one, back in 1972. The proposal to join the European Union—backed by the two largest parties (Labour and Conservatives), the main newspapers, and the private sector—was defeated, admittedly by a narrow margin—52 percent against 48 percent—but defeated nonetheless. I found myself in a tiny minority, as a left-of-center intellectual favorable to membership in the union, losing a few friends in the process. In Norway, leftist movements have been staunch nationalists for decades, and the very term “union” had unfortunate connotations in that it recalled the unpopular, enforced union with Sweden that lasted from 1814 to 1905. A widespread view also held that the EU was mainly an economic union whose sole beneficiaries were the already rich and powerful.

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Antonio De Lauri: Times of walls: The politics of fencing in the contemporary world

In his well-known poem “Mending Wall” (1914), Robert Frost effectively depicted the act of walling:

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.

He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

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Bruce Kapferer: Ideas on populism: The paradox of democracy and the rise of the corporate state

“All forms of the state have democracy for their truth, and for that reason are false to the extent that they are not democracy.”
— Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

“The power of the people is always greater than that of the people in power.”
— Wael Ghonim, a Google executive at the time of Egypt’s popular uprising against President Hosni Mubarak

When Hillary Clinton attempted to counter Donald Trump and his supporters’ populist attacks by explicitly branding them a “basket of deplorables, racist, sexist, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it,” she was hoist on her own petard. The chant “Lock Her Up” drew its enormous potency from her alleged corruption and from her being a figurehead of the ruling Washington elites who have leached the American state’s democratic egalitarian idealism. Calling Trump and his followers racist and sexist was waving a red rag to a bull. She played on a negative view of populism, an immanent antidemocratic elitism, which elicited outrage, making a mockery of her own populist appeal. The occasionally rank dominant-class prejudice that accompanies antipopulist sentiments (including those that assume it is a working-class phenomenon, when it is frequently cross-class) was egregiously apparent in a CNN pundit’s observation that Trump “was throwing red meat to the base” in his highly controversial travel bans.

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Florin Poenaru: Romanian protests: A cake with three layers (and a cherry on top)

In the past four weeks, Romania has witnessed some of the biggest protests in the post-communist era. Hundreds of thousands of people in cities across the country took to the streets to protest a government bill that would potentially decriminalize corruption offenses and therefore help the case of the ruling Social Democratic Party leader. Hence, at home and in the international press, the protests were framed as a struggle between the corrupt government and the people pushing for anticorruption and for the respect of the rule of law. By virtue of this collective and spontaneous reaction against a government decree, the Romanian protests were cherished as a “beacon of hope” for democracy tout court. This was quite a staggering achievement: Romania was simultaneously portrayed as one of the most corrupt countries in Europe and as a silver lining for the world. It encapsulates the massively contradictory character of the protests that, despite the catchphrases and punch lines of the media, cannot be conveniently reduced to a single narrative or to a clear-cut conflict. I will try to articulate here the complexities of these protests via a metaphor: a cake with three layers and a cherry on top. Can the Romanians have their cake and eat it too?
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