Archive for the ‘Culture & Society’ Category

13
Aug

Colonialism, Invasion, and Atomic Bombs: Asia’s Divergent Histories

On September 3 of each year, Chinese people celebrate their victory over Japan in the Pacific War, which ended in the summer of 1945. This year, which marks the 70th anniversary of that victory, the Chinese government has designated September 3—and the days before and after—a national holiday so that “all Chinese can join the celebration.” The government has also extended an invitation to the leaders of other countries, including North and South Korea, to attend their memorial military parade. However, although they too fought against the Japanese colonial power in the same war, Koreans celebrate the nation’s “day of liberation” from Japanese rule on August 15, not September 3.

For Japan, the day to commemorate (and not to celebrate) is August 6, the day that the U.S. atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima. A memorial service honoring the victims of atomic bombs, along with a lantern floating ceremony, is held in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park to bear wishes for lasting peace and harmony in the world. Meanwhile, the United States officially “remembers” only the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor, holding an annual memorial parade and commemoration on December 7.

The above examples illustrate how differently the countries involved remember and revisit the memories of an unfortunate past marked by war and colonialism in the Asia-Pacific region. For Chinese and Koreans, Japanese acts of aggression, such as the Nanjing massacre, forced labor, and sexual slavery, are the most crucial in their memories of the war. Accordingly, it is only natural for Chinese to celebrate their victory over Japan and for Koreans to celebrate the day on which they regained national sovereignty from the “vicious” Japanese colonial power. Read more…

20
Jul

Ukraine is Russia’s identity test

Written on July 20, 2015 by Waya Quiviger in Culture & Society, Europe, Foreign Policy, Op Ed

Ukraine, which has long existed in the shadow of Russia, is sometimes compared to Ireland, which had a similar relationship with England, except scaled down to reflect their relative size.

Both Ireland and Ukraine were for many centuries colonized by their larger, more powerful neighbors. The Irish and the Ukrainians provided the manpower for various wars as well as for settling new colonial territories. The Irish diaspora numbers around 70 million people across the English-speaking world, while Ukrainians live in every part of Russia, from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad, having been either given land to move on their own initiative or transported there under guard during Stalin’s terror.

At different times, England and Russia engineered massive famines in Ireland and Ukraine, respectively, from which those countries are yet to recover demographically, physically and psychologically. In the 20th century, as European empires crumbled, Ireland and Ukraine finally won their freedom. Even the dates of their independence are symmetrical: the Irish declared it in 1919, while Ukraine, along with most other ex-Soviet republics, became a sovereign country with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

And now, since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, both former colonial powers are holding on to a piece of territory which belongs to their former subjects.

And yet, one thing is very different. Unlike the Russians, who still claim that Ukrainians are not a nation, the Brits never actually tried to deny a separate ethnic and cultural identity to the Irish – or, for that matter, to the Scots or the Welsh, even though they all speak English and to a casual visitor not attuned to various accents in English, telling them all apart is next to impossible.

The English are highly individualistic. They all but invented individualism, becoming, in effect, a nation of strangers. Modern English is the only European languages not to use a familiar form: lovers, schoolmates and even parents addressing their young kids use the formal you, whereas the personal pronoun I is always capitalized. Britain has a deeply ingrained tradition of eccentricity, in which individuals are allowed to act as they see fit, without conforming to the prevailing notions of “normal” behavior. Even on the crowded London tube, passengers manage to carve out a private space.

Russia, by way of contrast, has always been collectivist. The individual has never meant a thing; he or she is completely insignificant in relation to the state. Those who assert their difference from the crowd, or proclaimed their individuality typically risked expulsion from the community. Why this is the case has been extensively studied and there are plenty of explanations based on history, culture, geography, etc. Be that as it may, collectivism is evident in everyday life – you always see Russians stand on top of each other when they cue up, even if there is plenty of room on the sidewalk – as well as in major historical events, such as Russia’s embrace of communism. On the other hand, eighty years of communist rule, when being a cog in the great machinery of state was proclaimed a huge virtue, reinforced the nation’s natural collectivist tendencies.

To an individualist, the question of identity is pretty straightforward: it is always I. A collective “we” is trickier. You first have to define who else is included into this universe – and, equally important, who is not.

Historically, it has always been difficult for the Russians to define themselves, and the experience of “communist internationalism” made it next to impossible. Early Bolsheviks wanted the collective “we” to be all the workers of the world, then, when world revolution failed to materialize, it became the “Soviet people”, officially consisting of a “fraternal family of Soviet nationalities”. In reality, this collective identity was rife with ethnic enmities and prejudice.

When the Soviet Union fell apart, the Russian Federation attempted to create a new national identity. A new term appeared – rossiyanin – meaning a citizen of the Russian Federation, as opposed to russky, which denotes more narrowly an ethnic Russian. Creating a collective WE of the rossiyanins has not so far been especially successful, and the search for Russian self-identification is ongoing. Read more…

Posted on July 19th in http://www.kyivpost.com/

Alexei Bayer is a New York-based economist and writer. HIs new detective novel, “Latchkey Murders”, set in Moscow in the early 1960s, is coming out in English in early July.

31
Oct

IR Guest Speaker_Tom Burns

On Oct. 30th, the IE School of International Relations welcomed Tom Burns, Journalist & Essayist, Managing Partner, Eurocofin for an engaging discussion on different aspects of nationalism. Mr. Burns began his lecture by identifying several key figures in the history of nationalism. He first mentioned Johann Gottfried von Herder, a German philosopher, theologian, poet, and literary critic who emphasized the importance of the German language. Herder rejected the influence of French, so prevalent in cultural circles at the time. He wanted the German people to be proud of their language and their heritage.

Mr. Burns then showcased Sir Walter Scott, a pillar of the Scottish establishment in the 18th century. In addition to being a prolific writer, Sir Walter Scott celebrated the folklore and ballads of Scotland. He made being Scottish acceptable, respectable. A little bit later in the 19th century and early in the 20th, Joan Maragall, a Catalan poet and journalist also took pride in the Catalan culture, and language. This was not necessarily a political movement but was more focused on celebrating the Catalan culture, in line with Herder’s canon earlier. These thinkers and poets sowed the seeds of nationalism in the 18th and early 19th century. Mr. Burns last identified Gavrilo Princep, the Bosnian Serb nationalist who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie. To this day, Gavrilo Princep is considered a hero in Serbia. His nationalism was political as opposed to cultural in the above examples cited by Mr. Burns.

Today the resurgence in nationalism in Europe, in Spain and Scotland, is largely due to the recent in economic crisis in 2008. A lot of those clamoring for independence are left leaning blue collar workers who reject big government, globalization, the IMF, austerity measures and the hardship brought on by the crisis. These movements, even if they fail short term, are unlikely to go away any time soon. The MIR students in the audience had many questions for Mr. Burns that he answered with candor and humor. On a more personal note, one student asked Mr. Burns why he had special interest in nationalism. “Because it’s a good story”, was his response. “One of the great stories of our time”. Spoken as a true journalist indeed. 

6
Oct

WWI Analogies: Missing the Role of Culture

Written on October 6, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Culture & Society, Foreign Policy

One hundred years ago began the war to end all wars. World War I, or the Great War, was a war based on unilateral actions, miscalculations and misunderstandings. This inauspicious centenary has been an opportunity for the foreign affairs commentariat to indulge in one of the things it is best at: drawing historical analogies.

It is true that aspects of the global landscape look eerily similar to a century ago. States push the boundaries of international law and act unilaterally, causing regional alarm and global unease. Events in Ukraine and East Asia suggest a return to old-school territoriality. The “Great Game” after all originally referred to Russia’s 19th century contest with Britain over central Asia, including Crimea.

Once again, there is a major redistribution of strategic and economic weight. New superpowers emerge and agitate for a place at the high table of international affairs. This time the shift is seismic, moving across entire continents. Today it is China, India, and other Asian states, as well as Brazil and South Africa. Alongside the growing multipolarity, many have pointed to the increasing great-power rivalry and divergence over major strategic issues like Ukraine and the South and East China Seas, economic cleavages with the BRICS’ New Development Bank and Contingent Reserve Arrangement, and India’s stance at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Countering these voices of doom is the argument that the interconnectedness of today’s world prevents a global catastrophe. It was in response to WWI that great minds like Leonard Woolf suggested the option of collective security, an idea that gained policy momentum, eventually culminating in the League of Nations. The League failed, in part due to disengagement by then rising powers like the U.S. Following World War II, nations tried again, leading to the institutional faces of today’s interconnected world order: the United Nations and economic institutions like WTO, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund.

Opponents of the WWI analogy argue that the integration of the global economy ensures that any state’s cost-benefit analysis regarding war is skewed towards the negative – it’s just not worth it. It could also be argued that modern technology, advances in intelligence gathering, and the ease with which global leaders can speak directly to each other, has made WWI-style “misunderstandings” near impossible. Media coverage of war has, since America’s involvement in Vietnam, meant the public are intimately aware of the realities of the battlefield, shifting the burden of justification further onto advocates for military action. In response to WWI, international pacifist Lord Bryce stated the “impossibility of war…would be increased in proportion as the issues of foreign policy should be known to and controlled by public opinion.”

Something that seems to have evaded the attention of both the voices of doom and the optimists, however, is that today’s power shifts have far more complex implications than last century’s. While Samuel Huntington’s famous “Clash of Civilizations” analysis may discount key factors, it draws our attention to an important and long-ignored aspect of international relations – culture. Unlike the United States and Germany in the 19th century, today’s emerging powers encompass entire civilizations – some with thousands of years of cultural continuity. While Japan’s modernization beginning with the Meiji restoration in 1868 included an adoption of existing foreign policy institutions, the same may not be true for China and India.

Culture is making a comeback as a factor in international relations. And it is not merely via chauvinism manifesting itself in the form of nationalist politics that we have seen since the end of the Cold War; not just states saying “my culture is better than yours.” Culture’s influence in the future will be more deeply felt. Its interaction with foreign affairs will be in a way that has long been shunned as too mystifying to serve as a basis for policymaking. Culture will make an impact through values.

Published on Oct. 5th in http://thediplomat.com/2014/10/wwi-analogies-missing-the-role-of-culture/

Dr. Kadira Pethiyagoda is a former diplomat whose PhD and upcoming book investigated Indian foreign policy. He was a visiting scholar at the University of Oxford. A shorter version of this article first appeared on East Asia Forum.

22
Sep

Warning: The 21st century may get a lot more crowded than previously thought.

In a paper published Thursday in Science, demographers from several universities and the United Nations Population Division conclude that instead of leveling off in the second half of the 21st century, as the UN predicted less than a decade ago, the world’s population will continue to grow beyond 2100. (Read “Population Seven Billion” in National Geographic magazine.)

And for the first time, through the use of a “probabilistic” statistical method, the Science paper establishes a range of uncertainty around its central estimate-9.6 billion Earthlings in 2050, 10.9 billion by 2100. There’s an 80 percent chance, the authors conclude, that the actual number of people in 2100 will be somewhere between 9.6 and 12.3 billion.

Chart showing new world population estimate including range of possible values.

NG STAFF. SOURCE: UN

That range “is the truly innovative part,” says John Wilmoth, head of the UN Population Division and one of the authors of the Science paper. “It’s a much more plausible analysis of uncertainty—but we may still be off by two billion.”

According to other demographers, the UN has missed the mark by just about that amount. In a paper in press at Global Environmental Changeand in a forthcoming book, Wolfgang Lutz and his colleagues at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Vienna, Austria, use a very different method—one that involves canvassing a large group of experts—to argue that population is likely to peak at 9.4 billion in 2075 and fall to just under 9 billion by 2100.

The UN team estimates there’s no more than a 5 percent chance of that rosier scenario coming to pass.

Both groups foresee India becoming the world’s most populous country, with its numbers peaking around 2070 and declining to around 1.5 or 1.6 billion by 2100. Where they differ most is in their estimates of the coming population decline in China and of the coming population explosion in Africa south of the Sahara—where most of the world’s growth is going to occur.

According to the UN, the population in that region could quadruple, from less than one billion to nearly four billion. Africa in 2100 would be as densely populated as China is today.

“These are not predictions,” says Wilmoth. “These are projections of what will happen if current trends continue. There is still an opportunity to intervene.”

Read more…

Robert Kunzig

National Geographic

PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 18, 2014

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