Posts tagged ‘politics’

6 April 2011

Remembering colonialism in the UK

Working on representations of colonialism in Germany, I’ve been asked recently what Britain’s perspective on its role in imperialism and colonialism is. Today’s Daily Telegraph presents a clear image of an entirely uncritical, unreflective view of the glory of the British empire. A comment piece berates David Cameron for apologising for the British role in Kashmir.

[I]t is the job of a British prime minister, as Cameron knows all too well, to stand up for his country when abroad. He could have pointed out that we gave Pakistan (and indeed the rest of the world) many splendid bequests: parliamentary democracy, superb irrigation systems, excellent roads, the rule of law, the English language and, last but not least, the game of cricket.

Is that the job of the prime minister? I thought it was a more complex affair of negotiations, diplomacy, etc. (and including something about making business deals). Cameron could have pointed out what “we” “gave” Pakistan, writes the Telegraph. This long “we” includes all of today’s British citizens in the “we” of colonialism. Including the Brits of Pakistani origin? “Gave”: so the most important thing to remember about colonialism is the “giving”, not the “taking” of the globe’s natural resources, the arbitrary splitting of traditional collectives, the silencing of local voices, the millions of dead, and the horrors of the slave trade.

The article has more on slavery in a sweep at Tony Blair’s similar attempts to address the colonial legacy:

In fact, our role in slavery is a very complicated one, and certainly not susceptible to Tony Blair’s school of facile analysis. It is true that private merchants were heavily involved. But Britain was the first country to ban the slave trade, on March 25 1807, and thereafter our navy swept the high seas in search of slave traders. We acted in this highly principled and moral way in defiance of wealthy private interests – it was one of the proudest moments in our history.

“Heavily involved”? So the analogy would be that a thief who sweeps the countryside in search of thieves (without in any way being sanctioned for his/her deeds) is acting in a highly principled and moral way? A rapist who sweeps the cities in search of rapists (without in any way being sanctioned for his/her deeds) is acting in a highly principles and moral way. Etc. etc.

That’s quite a different take from the usual Telegraph take on crime: Once a criminal, always a criminal; tough on crime, etc.

1 December 2010

Attac and discourse analysis

Real live discourse analysis in action. Attac Berlin has a “language group”. Another language culture is possible.

Its aim is to analyse the language used by neoliberals, to explore the extent to which those metaphors, phrases, concepts, etc. pervade even the language of those contesting neoliberal practices, and to find ways of using language differently to open new possibilities.

The group meets on the first Monday of every month at 6.30pm in the attac-treff: Grünberger Straße  24, 10243 Berlin-Friedrichshain (U1 Warschauer Straße or U5 Frankfurter Tor).

22 September 2010

Cable, critique and capitalism

I suspected the LibDems were a radical choice. Vince Cable, Business Secretary in the UK, has re-introduced the word “capitalism” into public debate. The Guardian writes:

After some dubbed his comments on capitalism “Marxist”, Cable made delegates laugh by addressing them as “comrades”.

He acknowledged to activists that he had caused controversy with both this morning’s coverage and also with other measures he had taken in his four months as business secretary.

He said he had “managed to infuriate bank bosses, acquire a fatwa from the revolutionary guards of the trade unions movement; frighten the Daily Telegraph … and upset very rich people. I must be doing something right.” […]

“Why should good companies be destroyed by short-term investors looking for a speculative killing, while their accomplices in the City make fat fees? Capitalism takes no prisoners and it kills competition where it can, as Adam Smith explained over 200 years ago,” he said to applause.

David Green, in The Daily Telegraph (!), agrees.

…caricature by Christopher Ammentorp from

4 September 2010


I really didn’t want to write anything about Thilo Sarrazin and his racist comments which have been swirling round the German media. But today I finally found a gap in the discourse. And it’s even in Die Zeit, a newspaper not known for its pro-Muslim or pro-“foreigner” (referring to the ridiculous legal situation in which people born in Germany are still considered and called “foreigners”) or for rendering a complex picture of migration in Germany. Not online, but in the Feuilleton (“Das Letzte”, p.59 on 2. Sept. 2010).

In a story about the Mainz university hospital in which three newborn babies died two weeks ago, Die Zeit tells its readers that the hospital is enjoying its refound innocence. It was not to blame; cost-cutting or incompetence was not to blame. To blame was a bottle. A bottle with a fine splinter which was not visible to anyone and which let the germs get in to the babies’ feed. The article ends:

Und es ist noch schöner. Es war keine deutsche, es war eine ausländische Flasche. Keine gute ehrliche Flasche, sondern eine tückische, ihren feinen Riss berechnend verbergende Ausländerflasche. Da stellt sich doch wirklich die Schuldfrage neu, nicht wahr. Wer hat diese Flasche einwandern lassen – und wann? Waren das vielleicht die Gutmenschen in ihrem multikulturellem Überschwang? Und welche Gesetze haben das möglich gemacht? Und wie kann es sein, dass man Thilo Sarrazins Thesen über die Verkeimung der deutschen Gesellschaft durch Ausländer zurückweist, aber bei verkeimten Flaschen die ausländische Herkunft nur wie nebenbei erwähnt?

Das darf doch alles nicht wahr sein! Ist das ganze Land denn blind geworden für seine Gefährdung? Weil es kein Brillenglas, sondern nur noch Flaschenglas auf den Augen hat? Eines ist jedenfalls gewiss: Deutschland wird sich am Ende wirklich abschaffen, wenn es sich von Flaschen tauschen lässt.

11 April 2010

Integration and the discourse of “concreteness”

The debate on integration in Germany continues. But certain aspects are aggressively excluded from the discussion.

Today a round table discussion on “Tacheles” on Phoenix (state-funded public television channel). Participants discuss, among other things, “positive examples” of educational projects to assist integration. One is a bilingual primary school in which all kids learn subjects in both German and Turkish.

After some comments on the project, Cem Gülay

Cem Gülay

Cem Gülay

says that it is important to remember that education is not the only important aspect to integration. There are over 20,000 young people of Turkish background with university degrees in Germany, but when it comes to getting professional jobs, they are clearly discriminated against. He starts to give concrete numbers: 1 to 3.

The moderator jumps in: wait, wait, wait, we’re talking about this concrete project. And cuts Gülay off, turning to the next participant.

Discursive strategy of “concreteness”: using “the concrete” to disrupt mention of larger systemic issues such as institutional racism. Yet Necla Kelek was not interrupted when she translated the specific project into a mention of women’s position in Muslim societies.

Unfortunately, Gülay’s comments on this topic are not included in the range of clips available on Phoenix’ website.

Hamideh Mohagheghi

Hamideh Mohagheghi

Practical critical discourse analysis on “Islam”

Hamideh Mohagheghi, Chair of the Muslim Academy in Germany, does a nice bit of practical critical discourse analysis (in the video summary below at around minute 3:30) by drawing attention to the moderator’s use of “young people with a Turkish background” and “young people with a Muslim background” as synonyms.

Around minute 7:50 she takes apart the concept of “highly religious people” – what on earth is “highly religious”, she asks. How are we supposed to measure that?

27 February 2010

morale provisoire _ berlin

An event for Berlin discoursologists on Tuesday 2 March, 7pm in KW Institute for Contemporary Art.

Rado Riha: The Idea as Thinking Politics

Over twenty years ago Alain Badiou asked the question “Can politics be thought?”, which today he answers affirmatively via the notion of the idea of communism. For it poses a real reference point in terms of a “morale provisoire” both for our thinking and existence.

In order to fulfill these moral demands we—as “materialists of the event and the exception” (Badiou)—should not forget to ask how such a materialism of the idea could be manifested. In this context one has to consider whether Kant’s philosophy offers any starting points for this materialism of the idea.

Rado Riha is a philosopher at the Institute of Philosophy, Centre for Scientific Research at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Ljubljana as well as professor of philosophy at the University of Nova Gorica (post-graduate program of Intercultural Studies). He studied at the University of Ljubljana and, in the 1980s, belonged to the so-called “Ljubljana school of psychoanalysis”. His research focuses on ethics, epistemology, contemporary French philosophy, the psychoanalysis of Jacques Lacan and the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. From 1996 to 2003 he edited the journal Filozofski Vestnik whose board member he has been since 1993. In English, Riha published “Politics as the real of philosophy” in Laclau: A Critical Reader (edited by Simon Critchley and Oliver Marchart, Routledge 2004); available as publications in German are Reale Geschehnisse der Freiheit(1993) and Politik der Wahrheit (1997, in cooperation with Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière and Jelica Šumič). Currently Riha is working on a book on Badiou and Kant.

Further discussions are planned with Lorenzo Chiesa, Peter Hallward, Alberto Toscano, Nina Power, amongst others.

12 October 2009

Scientists horrified at “flawed” chemical nationality tests

This is the sort of thing you learn preparing a workshop for the “hard sciences”… Chemical tests are to be used in the UK to check if asylum seekers are really from where they say they are.

Basically, it seems that analysing the isotopes of, say, a Bordeaux wine can tell you if it really came from the region its label says or if it’s a fraud. Analysing isotopes can determine where confiscated drugs originate. And now the UK has launched a pilot project to determine where asylum seekers come from – by analysing their isotopes (e.g. through hair, fingernails) and DNA. The problem is, say the scientists, that immigrants travel and move. This sort of analysis can only trace the last few months.

CAMBRIDGE, UNITED KINGDOM—Scientists are greeting with surprise and dismay a project to use DNA and isotope analysis of tissue from asylum seekers to evaluate their nationality and help decide who can enter the United Kingdom. “Horrifying,” “naïve,” and “flawed” are among the adjectives geneticists and isotope specialists have used to describe the “Human Provenance pilot project,” launched quietly in mid-September by the U.K. Border Agency. Their consensus: The project is not scientifically valid–or even sensible. (Sciencemag)

German article. Update: After the outcry, the border agency has pulled back its plans.

1 August 2009

Only 4% Ukrainians approve of government

Gallup has released data of approval rates of governments in 12 of the 15 former Soviet republics. Only 4% of Ukrainians polled answered yes, they approve of their country’s political leadership, whereas 77% approve in Azerbaijan and 71% in Kazakhstan. Russia comes in fourth at 56%.


Showing once more that statistics can be tied into any number of narratives and discourses, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reports the results under the headline “Gallup’s Index of Fear”, saying that it should be clear to all that these results indicate nothing more than the fear of voicing one’s true feelings about the government in these country’s which scored highly.

They may have a point. But the story does indicate that there is no possible way in which public events or comments in, say, Azerbaijan could be interpreted positively by RFE/RL. If they scored poorly, that shows that the leadership should be changed. If they score highly, that shows the leadership should be changed. Here’s to the future of self-reflexive journalism.

And as for Ukraine, RFE/RL echo the words of George W. Bush, when he said he was pleased that there was such vocal protest about the war in Iraq during his visit to London, since that showed true democracy was alive in the UK.

It’s true that Ukraine’s political situation is a mess. But at least people there aren’t afraid to say so. And that means something.

15 May 2009

Political / gas satire in Russia

And they say political satire in Russia is dead..

Option 1: it never died.

Option 2: it has been resurrected under Medvedev

…video thanks to oldag

31 March 2009

Projection onto Moscow

Here we are, in a time of crisis, and once again Russia operates as a space onto which “western” (in this case, German) fears can be projected.

Moscow, so the German state television channel ZDF tells its viewers (at prime time this evening), is a city of mega-rich and shockingly-poor. While the rich ignore the crisis and continue to party, drink champagne and eat caviar (fade in: image of ballroom dancing, tuxedos, etc), the poor get poorer (fade in: image of poor homeless couple, freezing, being picked up by the police).

The strong implication of the rhetoric in the opening minutes of this “documentary” is that these issues are specific to Moscow’s glittering elite.

Such excess would never be relevant in Germany or anywhere else in the West/North, now would it? Especially not during a financial crisis.

Or would it:

  • Partyelite Berlin. Vodka only 60 € for 1 litre
  • “JPMorgan Chase, beneficiary of $25 billion in taxpayer bailout dollars, plans to spend $138 million for swank corporate jets and a new hangar”
  • AIG’s infamous payout of $165 million in bonuses in this same crisis year. (Plus public backlash)
  • Sir Fred Goodwin’s pension of £703,000-a-year. The former chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s “departure from RBS was negotiated on the weekend of October 11/12 [2008] when the bank was saved from collapse by an injection of £20bn by the taxpayer.”
  • “Bob Diamond, the hard-charging boss of Barclays’ investment banking arm […] has suffered a brutal £4m cut to his annual remuneration – leaving him last year with a meagre £17m in cash and shares.”
  • Josef Ackerman, Deutsch Bank boss, also took a massive 90% pay cut, leaving him with only 1.39 million euros ($1.89 million) earnings last year.

And at the same time:

  • “Numbers of Homeless Increase as Nation’s Financial Crisis Continues” (USA)
  • “From June 2007 through May [2008], PADS [Lake County’s homeless shelter] saw a 17 percent increase from the previous year in new clients and a 48 percent increase in children.” (USA)
  • Estimates place Germany’s number of homeless people between 300,000 and 860,000. (More on Günter Wallraff‘s experiences)