Covering Spivak in Montenegro

Tomorrow morning my sons and I fly to Podgorica, Montenegro, for the International Conference of the Institute of Foreign Languages, a linguistics conference run out of the University of Montenegro, where I am honored to be the keynote speaker. Montenegro is a much more prosperous successor nation than Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the recent Balkan wars, it was allied with Serbia. And when in 2006 its public voted for independence, it was by a narrow margin, just over the 55% threshold, that members of this community (then numbering just over half a million) voted for nationhood. Soon it will join Slovenia and Croatia as members of the EU. What can I possibly say to my colleagues gathering in Podgorica that might make a difference?

I could speak about the way in which the EU has rewarded homogeneity and punished diversity. All of the nations in the former Yugoslavia that expelled their ethnic minorities and established majority nation-states the EU has rewarded. Homogeneity and ethnic cleansing has its rewards, among them institutional and legal coherence. Thus, when Dayton imposed heterogeneity on Bosnia and Herzegovina, it also de facto excluded BiH from the exclusive club. Now it wants the three-headed entity it created to supersede the conflict that it reinscribed in the Dayton Accords. I could speak about this. But I won’t. Instead I have elected to recover a meme lost or suppressed over the past three decades concerning the outspoken Derridean who dared to positively invoke the memory of Karl Marx, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.

My reasons for recovering this lost meme is multi-layered. Unlike most Marxists who comment on Spivak’s essay, I am attracted to the story Professor Spivak tells at the conclusion of “Can the Subaltern Speak?” where she explores the Sati-suicide of the daughter of a family friend. I am attracted to this story because it explores how bodies are sites of resistance. And I am attracted to stories that focus on the body because I suspect that Montenegrans, like most post-Yugoslavians, tend to flee from discussions that focus on the body.

But I am also attracted to Professor Spivak’s essay because, as a scholar, I desperately need the insights of activists who can point out where my own practices obscure, conceal, obliterate the body of knowledge I am professionally obligated to illuminate. It is not that I am ashamed or surprised by the spanking that Professor Spivak administers to comrades Foucault and Deleuze. So far had they wandered from the body of knowledge, from the international exchanges and circuitry that held the subaltern body hostage, that it had genuinely become unclear whether (as David Harvey and Frederic Jameson suspect) they had actually switched sides and become cheerleaders for the sublime value form of the commodity. (I personally do not receive a regular salary. I am a contingent, seasonal, laborer who regularly endures the loss of health insurance and other institutional benefits.) So I appreciate Spivak’s interrogation of those of us within our profession who straddle the fence, so to speak, playing both sides, and so inviting the subaltern to speak without acknowledging the mechanisms that account for her silence. (Because I am a white, educated male, I will always enjoy more institutional power than my non-white, non-male colleagues.) In post-Yugoslavia, post-structuralism offers the luxury of speaking while not speaking. So that my principle attraction to Professor Spivak is how she offers me an opportunity to invoke a criticism of disembodied critical theory that emerges from the camp of post-structuralism itself, a Derridean. (I am not a Derridean. I am a Marxian with shades of Freud and Lacan, but also enjoying fairly comprehensive knowledge of and appreciation for the Tanach, the broad Christian canon, and the Holy Quran.) Yet, perhaps, I am also attracted to Professor Spivak’s analysis because her implicitly anthropological methodology allows her to appreciate Marx’s non-foundational, historically and socially specific, ontology. This allows her to offer a non-teleological critique of empire and capital that points not in the direction of totality, but benign difference.
This benign difference is critical since it describes a way through the impasse inscribed upon the body of the post-Yugoslavian social actor. It was already invoked by Adorno in his well-known and often repeated Finale:

The only philosophy which can be responsibly practiced in face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption. Knowledge has no light but that shed on the world by redemption: all else is reconstruction, mere technique. Perspectives must be fashioned that displace and estrange the world, reveal it to be, with its rifts and crevices, as indigent and distorted as it will appear one day in the messianic light. To gain such perspectives without velleity or violence, entirely from felt contact with its objects — this alone is the task of thought.

I do not know whether this is truly emancipatory. I do not know where it will lead those who are convened in Podgorica.
Next week I speak at an economics conference attended by the oligarchs and pimps of the former Yugoslavia. I will deliver a similar message there. There is a chance that I will escape with my life.

A Virtue out of Necessity

Aristotle said it best over 2300  years ago; work is not a virtue, whether it is a necessity or, even worse, a choice.
Today I drove to Belgrade over the highway M-18 where three weeks ago we witnessed a whole hillside collapse onto a rescue vehicle and under which our own vehicle was very nearly crushed. The highway is still far from whole and the homes and fields on either side will not be whole for years to come; homes with watermarks four, five, or even six feet from the ground, and heaps of belongings piled up smoldering on their front lawns. Nevertheless, I tried as best I could to explain what had happened here to our visitors from London.
Upon my return to Tuzla, nine hours later I rushed off to my weekly meeting with Tuzla’s workers. As I explained to my visitors, this was not a meeting I was looking forward to. Last weeks meeting had been a huge disappointment. Our text had been Karl Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach. But instead of taking up their historically determinate position, the workers in my meeting had taken up the position of the bourgeoisie. And why shouldn’t they have? There is nothing in work or in working that makes workers particularly adept at social critique. And in a nation where 50 per cent of the workforce is unemployed, there is every reason for workers who remember the 1970s to identify the security of work and a steady flow of consumer goods with socialism. Marshal Tito gave the workers job security and a steady flow of consumer goods. What we need is Tito.

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Marshal Tito

As one worker at the meeting explained, “A nation is like a household. Every household needs a strong father.”
Workers are not the only ones confused by the last century of political economy. Theorists too are baffled. The temptation to identify emancipation with steady work and consumer goods is understandable. And, yet, if Marx is correct, then we need to learn how to differentiate between an older materialism — a materialism that, according to Marx, focuses on individuals and on civil society — and a more rigorous theoretical framework that focuses on social humanity and social relations. For just as the former Yugoslavia will not be saved by finding another Tito, so it will not be saved by throwing the bums (meaning the oligarchs) out. Individuals are neither the problem nor the solution. So just as a BBQ-of-one misses the point, so a social analysis of one misses the point. Workers themselves need to redirect their attention away from individuals and civil society and toward a new socialized humanity.
This new socialized humanity already possesses the means to realize its ends, not individually or by passing new laws to govern the production and exchange of commodities, but collectively by retraining the focus of socialized humanity upon the things that make our lives most meaningful. We mistake work and commodities for these things. But the workers, at least, know that this is not so. They know that what makes our lives meaningful is spending time with our friends and families, creating new things to share, enjoying good food and song, dance, art, stories together.
Which is why when Marx came to theorize the most radical action workers could take to seize their socialized future, he wrote about shortening the work day. We are all dominated by work. We are dominated by work even when, as in today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina, most of us are unemployed. Because even our ability to enjoy leisure time is (as Hannah Arendt pointed out a half century ago) pegged to work. And this is because we consume the efficiencies of labor not by producing leisure but by producing ever more labor.
When in the 1970s, Marshal Tito found himself caught between low-interest US loans and deindustrialization, he knew that Yugoslavians would not accept the latter. They had grown accustomed to steady work and a steady stream of consumer goods, which they mistook for the good life. And so he opted for the former. When President Reagan strengthened the dollar by restricting the monetary supply in the 1980s, Tito’s successors were caught flat-footed. All of a sudden, the cheap loans Marshal Tito had snapped up in the 1970s ballooned into huge debts. To pay them off, Tito’s successors were compelled by international law to eat into already socialized labor — the labor that had already been translated into public goods and services.
But the real question is: why wouldn’t the workers have accepted deindustrialization? And the difficult answer I think is that by the 1970s workers had come to identify work and consumption with the socialist dream.
At last night’s meeting we therefore revisited Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach, trying to draw a distinction between the old materialism and the new, between a materialism that focuses on individuals and civil society and a materialism that focuses on our social life together and upon the ends implicit in this shared life together. The problem then is also social. We cannot aim at these socialized ends by making a better, more humane and just capitalism. That is because capitalism, by its very nature, focuses on the individual and on civil society. Which means that we can only serve socialized humanity so by making these ends paramount and developing laws that serve these social ends.

Revisiting Borić through the Eyes of Tuzla’s Jews

Yesterday after meeting with a group of Tuzlan scholars studying psychoanalysis, Beatrice Patsalides Hofmann joined us on a trek up through the Banja, through the cemetery, to the small village where Kirsten spent time digging ditches last week. Beatrice is an old friend from Berkeley who, for the past ten years has been working as a psychotherapist with the Primo Levi organization in Paris.

 

Borić
Borić

 

Seminar
Seminar

The devastation is horrific. As we approached the village, several villagers recognized and came to talk with Kirsten who once again shared in their trauma. What else can we do? Aid is helpful, much needed and much appreciated. But the trauma will linger and will fester.

Borić
Borić

 

Borić
Borić

My colleagues in economics are inclined to view events such as last month’s devastating floods or the wars of a generation ago as episodic events without much lead-in and recovery from which entails no more than the right mix of capital and law. We cannot imagine the internal doors that close, sometimes permanently, with each additional major trauma. Economic assistance in Bosnia and Herzegovina more often than not is channelled into and through the bank accounts of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s oligarchs, who happen also to be the leaders in Local, Cantonal and Federal government, as payment for or in anticipation of party and personal loyalty. A handful of lucky citizens are permitted to ride such assistance to a somewhat better life. But the vast majority — without anything to exchange for assistance and/or jobs — must plead for their lives with their votes.

Even in a wealthier society, citizens who experience such trauma can, if they choose, take advantage of psychiatric resources to help them recognize and open the doors slammed shut by their pain. Here, even if there were psychiatric resources — which there are not — the lack of financial resources would keep all but the most meaningless therapy out of the reach of those who could most benefit from it; meaning everyone.

Last night around dinner we reflected with some local scholars about how the floods had loosened more than simply grave stones, bones, and land mines. The floods also loosened memories of the last Balkan wars. And, yet, in many respects, observed the locals, the floods were far worse. In 1992, Bosnians and Herzegovinians still enjoyed financial and institutional resources, and reasonably sound psyches, with which to face the pressures of war, rape and genocide. More than twenty years later, Bosnians and Herzegovinians have endured a generation of Dayton and a generation of abject poverty, abuse, and hopelessness. Facing the floods completely depleted of all resources — financial, psychic, spiritual — is far worse than 1992.
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Jewish Cemetery Headstone

As we wandered up through the Jewish cemetery, we took careful note of the epitaphs and terminal dates under the names. Many passed in the late 19th century, when Bosnia and Herzegovina was still under the protection and then (in 1908) fully incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They were lawyers, doctors, and engineers. The grave stones spoke of their “second homeland.” All of these grave stones were in German. In the early twentieth century, there is a shift. The grave stones are now in Bosnian, and the tell-tale “i” in names like “Miriam” is now a “j” as in “Mirjam.” I can read the German, not the Bosnian. (Molim.) And then in the 1930s, there is an up-tick in the density of grave stones. Since Germany does not annex the region and cleanse Bosnia and Herzegovina of its Roma, Muslims, and Communists until the late 1930s, I am brought to conclude that this up-tick must be due either to disease or to economic hardship, or both. Moreover, the language of the grave stones has now shifted to Hebrew.
What this suggests is that even before the genocide of the late 1930s and the 1940s — when Croats were given liberty to massacre Serbs and Muslims indiscriminately — there is evidence already both of increasing economic hardship and also increasing nationalism within Tuzla’s large Jewish community.

Economists, as I said, tend to view events episodically without much lead-in and without much lasting consequence. And, yet, what might it have taken in the 1920s, when investors in Europe and America were raking in profits hand over fist, to spread that wealth out more broadly so that it might generate something approaching sustained and sustainable economic growth? Probably not much, you say. But at the time both Europe’s and America’s politicians were the property of their respective industrial oligarchs. Nothing doing. But let us suppose that even a rump of these oligarchs had elected to throw their resources at the already large and growing socialist or communist left, permitting these militants the power, in the 1920s, to do what they could no longer do in the 1930s. What if they could pass legislation to redirect national resources to working families? And what if, therefore, this redistribution had exercised a moderating, deflationary, influence in the mid-1920s, therein pressuring investors to plow their resources into sustainable industries. Perhaps then the bubble of 1929 could have been avoided and the political extremism of the 1930s averted.

So, even as I am wandering through the Jewish cemetery of Tuzla, I am thinking not only about the dead who surround me. I am thinking about the future dead who will surround me, who already surround me, among whom I also am planted. And I am thinking about Walter Benjamin’s observation:

our image of happiness is indissolubly bound up with the image of redemption. The same applies to our view of the past, which is the concern of history. The past carries with it a temporal index by which it is referred to redemption. There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one. Our coming was expected on earth. Like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak Messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim. That claim cannot be settled cheaply. Historical materialists are aware of that.

These many Jews planted on a hillside on a path leading to Borić expected our coming on earth. They have a claim on us. And, yet, as I contemplate all of the pain and trauma concentrated on this small plot of land in south central Europe, I am fearful that we may already be too late. This past week, representatives from the EU, the World Bank, and the IMF met in Sarajevo with Bosnia and Herzegovina’s oligarchs to divide up the pie, so to speak. These same representatives could have met with Plenum, the public bodies representing the people. They did not. There is still time.

EU Elections: Why the Far Right is Growing in Europe

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Not that any of us living in Europe really needed to consult the papers this morning to see who won the European Union’s parliamentary elections. Nor does it take a genius to interpret the results. Voters all across Europe are more and more inclined to believe that their economic hardship and the erosion of their “traditions” are a consequence of the free flow of capital, people, and goods between their communities made possible by their membership in the EU. Here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where European and US enforced institutional arrangements preclude EU membership, the most disturbing results were those in neighboring Hungry, Slovenia, and Croatia. News from Italy, by contrast, tells a more hopeful story.
In neighboring Croatia, new to the EU parliament — no surprise here — the right wing HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union) received one more seat than the SDP. The single seat for Croatia’s Green Party (ORaH) is offset by a seat for the “Savez za Hrvatsku” party, Alliance for Croatia.
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In Slovenia, the Social Democrats are down to one seat, although in most voting they are likely to be joined by the two new members from the centrist DeSus (Democratic Party of Pensioners). Far more disturbing are the electoral gains from the coalition formed by the NSi (Christian People’s Party or New Slovenia) and the SLS (Slovenian People’s Party), as though there were any doubts whether Slovenians are identical with Christians, i.e., Roman Catholics. The social liberal (ZARES) did not receive enough support. Nor did the Liberal Democratic Party or LDS. The newly formed Verjamem Party, meaning simply “I believe,” will in all likelihood vote mostly with the left. In effect this means that the right enjoyed a one seat gain in Slovenia since the last elections in 2012. It could have been worse.
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But the really terrifying results came from Hungary. There the far right, openly anti-Semitic Jobbik party (Movement for a Better, i.e., Jüdenfrei, Hungary) joined with Hungary’s far right FIDESZ-KDNP (a coalition between the Federation of Young Democrats and the Christian Democratic Party) to form a super-majority. The Hungarian Socialist Party, the MSZP, barely registered.
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http://www.theguardian.com/politics/ng-interactive/2014/may/25/european-elections-results-across-europe-eu-parliament

The vision for a unified Europe took shape against the backdrop of two centuries of horrific continental war. In the 1950s, when Alcide De Gasperi, Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, and Paul-Henri Spaak resurrected the idea of a unified Europe, the universal conceit was that ever greater economic, scientific, and technological efficiencies were delivering the developed world from its age-old love affair with war. More fluid boundaries for goods, services, and capital, and a single shared currency among all members could only hasten the arrival of global singularity, the convergence of all economies then predicted by most economists. Euro cheer-leaders could not imagine why or even how these efficiencies would come to be aggregated and privatized over the coming decades, rekindling the hostilities that economic disparities invariably provoke.

Their naiveté is understandable. Since everyone in a policy-making position in 1945 agreed the violence of the last century had been caused by social and economic disparities, it stood to reason that state actors would always step in to make necessary, purely technical regulatory changes whenever economic disparities threatened social or political harmony. A little more state spending here, a little more taxation there. All was good. What could go wrong?

What could go wrong and did go wrong was that in the late 1960s something entirely unanticipated and unwanted appeared on the economic horizon: competition. West Germany’s and Japan’s economies had for the most part recovered by the mid-1960s. But it was only in the late 1960s that competition between Japan, Germany, and the US began to place downward pressures on global prices. Continuing economic stagnation forced then US President Nixon in 1972 to take the US Dollar off the Gold Standard and let it float. As the value of the Dollar plunged, this made US goods more affordable both in the US and around the world. But this was only a temporary solution since it also meant that non-US goods grew more costly for Americans at the very moment that the Dollar was declining in value globally. As US investors attempted to recoup their losses, they were faced with the terrible realization that a global economic downturn had disastrous consequences for the very US heavy industries whose recovery and growth could have driven consumer demand. Manufacturing declined and with it so too did the wages that might have fueled global economic recovery.

In retrospect, the choices now seem straightforward. Two choices in particular stand out. One, investors could have simply accepted declining rates of profit. This would make it possible for consumers to enjoy a larger share of the pie overall, but it would mean that investors would have to make do with less both in real terms and as a percentage of their overall share in the global product. But the other alternative, the second, was to shift the regulatory burden off the shoulders of investors and place a larger share of this burden on the shoulders of consumers. In this way, opportunities and returns from investments would increase, but would not generate the kind of demand- and consumption-based returns that investors had enjoyed in the 1950s and 1960s. And as Thomas Piketty has pointed out, this would mean a dramatic increase globally in social and economic inequalities.

The EU was born in 1993, just as neoliberal economic policies were beginning to bear their fruit. A deregulated US economy managed by Bill Clinton was producing famous returns for investors in information and biotech. Privatization and deregulation were also the watchwords in the newly liberated South Africa, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union. The thought that such prodigious returns as investors were now raking in might become a source of revenue to help reduce social and economic inequalities in Europe struck the architects of the new global neoliberalism as a formula for slaughtering the goose that was laying the golden eggs. And, no doubt, had nations taxed investment returns more highly than they did, this would surely have put a damper on economic growth. But it also would have ameliorated the already visible nationalisms springing up in France, Great Britain, and throughout post-Soviet southern and eastern Europe, not to mention Russia.

Of course, at the time, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Samuel P Huntington and Francis Fukuyama were telling us that such nationalisms were precisely what one should expect from free citizens. The peace enjoyed during the previous half century since the end of World War II had been entirely artificial, fake and mostly corrupt, the consequence of state fiscal manipulation and not a genuine reflection of popular will. Nationalist violence will increase, no doubt; but it is a small price to pay for genuine economic freedom.

The New York Times quotes Corina Stratulat, a senior analyst at the European Policy Center, noting how nationalism is “part of the pathological normalcy for European politics” (http://nyti.ms/SEvnkn). However, there is a profound difference between the critical faculties of yesterday’s architects of European Union and its present-day custodians. In the 1950s and 1960s, these architects knew that it had been the free market orthodoxy of the 1910s and 1920s that had generated Europe’s profound social and economic inequalities,  which, in turn, had played such a leading role in two terribly costly world wars and an equally costly revolution. Perhaps they too should have recognized in 1945 that these 70M casualties, not counting those in Germany’s death camps, were part of the “pathological normalcy” of European politics. They then might have spared us the attempts to remedy this pathology through fiscal policies designed to level the socio-economic playing field.

The far right is gaining ground politically in the EU today because neoliberal economic policy is inconsistent with economic union; the pursuit of the former undermines the latter. At some point this tendency becomes irreversible. Economic inequality generates a nationalism that undermines whatever economic efficiencies union may have produced. Which is why no matter where we look today political actors are screaming for autonomy, independence, self-sufficiency, and disentanglement. This we are told is what freedom looks like.

No one in this grand political casino shares more responsibility for what happens over the next decade than Germany’s Chancellor Merkel. For it was Merkel and her Christian Democrats who have proven so savvy playing the European nationalist card. But there is no such thing as a little bit of nationalism. If the Turks and North Africans are ruining the German educational system and undermining Germany’s “Christian” cultural values, then what role could economic policy possibly play in smoothing the playing field in, let us say, Spain, Greece, Slovenia or, dare we mention, Hungary? Germany’s Christian Democrats know how very dependent Germany has grown on Russian energy. So, by all means, let us not challenge Russian nationalism too loudly or forcefully, even if it costs Ukraine its eastern territories. Russian investments in neighboring Serbia are already large and growing. And they are significant as well right here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Serbian nationalists have expressed a commitment to protecting the interests of their ethnic kinsmen. Just a little more belt-tightening, a little more austerity, a little more privatization and deregulation; and everything will be good to go.

But that’s not really how it works. As the nationalists improve their standings in the polls, as neoliberal policies provoke the very conditions that breed nationalist discontent, economic growth and development become casualties in wars no longer fought with words. Chancellor Merkel is not the only Euro-cheerleader flirting with the enemy; she is simply the most important. Social Democrats and Greens everywhere need therefore to remind themselves and their followers why sharing the wealth, even when it takes a chunk out of private returns on investment, is preferable by far than the alternative. And the alternative, let us not forget can be very bleak indeed.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and the Deadly Silence

In less than a month I will have the distinct pleasure of delivering the Keynote Address at before the Annual Meeting of the Institute of Foreign Languages, held this year in Podgorica, Mongenegro (http://www.isj.ucg.ac.me/ICIFL5.htm). This in itself is a great honor. But the real honor is the subject of that address: the amazing Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?”
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It is already more than twenty years ago when I first encountered Professor Spivak’s writing in a course taught by Leora Auslander on methods in historical research. At the time I was completing my doctoral research at the University of Chicago and I am certain that I did not fully appreciate Professor Spivak’s contribution. Reading the work again now twenty years later, it is clear that Professor Spivak was light-years ahead of anyone else at the time; or very nearly. Today we have slipped even further down the embankment to which Spivak called our attention back then. Forgetful of the social formation that constituted both our world and the world of the subaltern — forgetful that is of capitalism — we have tolerated and even abetted the drive to rid our institutions, our syllabi, and our curricula of all but the most insipid traces of the violence under whose cover we are still permitted to speak at all.
This permission, in fact, has prompted a not entirely benign rumor to circulate in Bosnia and Herzegovina that I am in fact a spy for the State Department or the CIA; my Marxist credentials only a convenient cover for my true intentions: to infiltrate and report back to the US about the public and published minutes of Plenum and its radical leaders. Without doubt I am here at the State Department’s leisure. And like innumerable Fulbrighters before me my credentials are far to the left of those who selected, funded and sent me.
Nevertheless, these facts should not be permitted to overshadow the inconvenient truth that I am permitted — no, I am invited, urged, compelled — to speak in Mostar, Banja Luka, Sarajevo, Zenica, and Tuzla, at Medresa and English Departments, at Economic Conferences and the Six O’Clock News, while countless more deserving and more articulate voices are silenced. Which is why, whenever I speak, I try as much as possible to remember Professor Spivak and the wonderful spanking she gave to Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze twenty-six years ago.
But, of course, over the course of these twenty-six years it has gotten so much worse. If students at UC Berkeley pack my courses to overflowing, it is in large measure a sad commentary on what counts as scholarship in the other lecture halls. We must feel the walls closing in on us, narrowing and constricting what we can think and what we can say. Yet it is only as we reflect critically on the constraints imposed on human knowledge, on the ways that the world we live in shapes what we can think, that we might be provoked to also think critically on what we might be able to think under a different set of constraints and not as is now frequently thought in the absence of constraints entirely. Exposing how capitalism and how imperialism have shaped, for example, my many invitations to serve as MC at conferences over whose subjects I enjoy only ephemeral and passing knowledge, is significant because it reminds us that access and speech are gendered, monetized, and cultivated. But to not point this out, to fail to make this my privilege a point of study, is to naturalize them in ways that damages knowledge and learning itself.
I am still forming my thoughts on Professor Spivak and am not sure how I will pitch this subject at a conference whose attendees, like me, enjoy the privilege of speech. What I want is an uprising within departments and institutions and states against capital on behalf of those who as yet have been silenced and for whom I cannot yet speak. But I need to think with sufficient care if I am not to join Saints Michel and Gilles on Professor Spivak’s whipping block. Beware you know I will.

The Post-Fordist Seminary

As I read my friend Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski’s Facebook account of graduation at Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP), I am brought to reflect on how CDSP and how the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) has changed since 1998 when I oversaw the accreditation of the GTUs nine seminaries and (at the time) twenty-one centers and independent research units. My office was situated on the second floor adjacent to the President’s office, whom I also served as special assistant. The Graduate Theological Union Library, the premier library of its kind, housing collections from all nine seminaries, also served the community of the University of California, Berkeley, whose charter specified a working relationship with an ecumenical and multireligious research facility — the GTU.
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Until the 1990s, the GTU had operated on what could be called Fordist assumptions. It aimed at further integrating its faculties and campuses, closer ties among its many religious communities, active recruiting of new seminarians from underserved communities, expansion of its faculties to include more women of color, expansion of student housing so that students short on means could live comfortably in one of the most expensive rental markets in the country, expansion into the Pacific Rim, and deeper institutional collaboration among the boards and administrations of the GTUs many interdependent institutions. There was only one problem: resources. But with the many deep-pocket corporate executives sitting on its board, relationships assiduously cultivated by then GTU President Glenn Bucher, it seemed completely realistic that a pitch for further expansion and confessional integration would hit its mark.
But then, shortly after we issued our self-study and were awarded full ATS/WASC reaccreditation, there was a general house-cleaning at the GTU. There were good reasons for this house-cleaning, although the manner in which it was accomplished by John “the Axe” Dillenberger, the Interim President, left much to be desired. Glenn’s expansive institutional vision was replaced by parochial self-protection and contraction; and all at once the GTU was faced with the realities of post-Fordism: smaller, more flexible, temporary, transportable, more responsive to share-holders, but far (far) less responsive to stake-holders. To fit the new circumstances, President Bucher’s successor was not an icon of ecumenism, but a congenial and parochial Jesuit, eager to protect the private interests of each of the GTU’s separate institutions, but lacking the corporate connections that might have helped fund the coming generations of interreligious instruction.
Initially, of course, there was significant push-back from those in the GTU who continued to believe that the future should be filled with more, not less cooperation, not further contraction, but expansion of the ecumenical and interreligious vision. The library should be expanded. We should build a common campus at the intersection of Le Conte and Scenic. Cross registration among the seminaries and research institutes should be made more robust. Housing should be expanded. Aid for students and faculty, not just bricks and mortar, should be expanded. We should bring our tuitions more into line with our colleagues back east at Chicago, Yale, Harvard and Princeton. The GTU, gateway to the Pacific.
But over the course of the decade, as I moved on to teaching at Berkeley and my wife began her seminary instruction at CDSP, students, faculty and administrators all began to change their tune. Smaller and more stream-lined was better. Smaller, more flexible faculties featuring more contingent, temporary instructors were a good thing. And since we cannot offer full scholarships to seminarians any longer, or offer them free housing like our colleagues back east, we need to start offering more evening and weekend courses, more commuter opportunities, more online classes. But instead of framing these choices as responses to the overall economic downturn, neoliberal economic policies designed to increase institutional efficiencies and squeeze more out of less, members of the GTU community framed these choices as responses to the changing character of the religious communities that they served. Apparently parishioners did not want their seminaries to hire professors earning a living wage; apparently parishioners did not want their seminarians to be awarded stipends or housing so that they could devote themselves to their studies rather than to work-study. This was not a response to the economic downturn or to the prevailing neoliberal economic philosophy. It was a response to the increasing flexibility of the religious community, the increasing flexibility of the spirit; not to be mourned, but rather to be celebrated.
The GTU Library will soon be closed. CDSP’s faculty has been pared down to eight, mostly part-time or shared posts. Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski has accepted a permanent, full-time post at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas.
My family and I live two blocks away from CDSP and from the GTU. We have been living in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the past year: Exhibit A in what happens to institutions under the conditions of post-Fordism. We will return to Berkeley this Fall to a GTU and CDSP much changed from the institution we left a year ago. When we return I expect that we will hear reports of what the spirit is doing at the GTU and CDSP, about how God is moving in mysterious ways. Few or any are likely see in this train of events evidence of a quite different spirit: the spirit of capital.

TV and Radio, vital links to vital information

I am looking out the window of my Sjenjak flat. Cars are driving up and down Ismeta Mujezinavica. There is not a cloud in the sky. And although there was no water service when we woke up at 6:30 this morning, there was water in the pipes by 8.

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But there is no school today at Novi Grad and all of the other parents and students seemed to know that. So I was taken aback when Averil and Yates showed up at our door at 7:30.

In Berkeley the school would have blasted an email to all of the school’s households and would have autodialed all of the households on top of that.

Here in Tuzla, Facebook appears to be the preferred form of communication. Although everyone also has an email account — several — and everyone also has a mobile phone, people prefer Facebook.

Apparently, everyone found out about the school closure by radio or TV. And its true, it is a rare household that does not have either the TV or the radio on when we enter (and often after we enter). We have friends in the US who also run their TVs or radios 24-7. And I have wracked my brain to figure out why. Is it a 1950s thing? Is it a single adult thing? Does it have a psychological dimension; you know, not wanting to feel alone or feeling comforted by the presence of voices in the background. (I know that when I was a boy living in the midwest I sometimes liked to fall to sleep listening to the late baseball game wrapping up out west.)

I have heard that Novi Grad does not use email or phone blasts because they don’t have the technology. But then this fails to explain that everyone we know, from families barely scraping by to our colleagues at the University, everyone is on Facebook seemingly non-stop. And when Averil or Yates communicates with their teachers, it is always by email. The technology is there.

I have also heard anecdotally that Tuzlans simply don’t keep records. No records, no email addresses. But this also does not ring true. Indeed, every time we turn around, the City or Regional government is documenting where we are, where we have been, where we are going, always with a date stamp and a signature on paper.

What I have concluded is that Tuzlans expect to find out about vital things by TV and radio, which, of course, is the same way they learned about vital goings on during the war, 1992-1995. So, perhaps that is it. Perhaps it was TV and radio that kept them in the loop during the most tenuous period of their national history and so it is to TV and radio that they turn, to which they cling, for all of their vital news. Perhaps. But then perhaps not. Who knows.

What’s Next

In the US, it is easy to feel that the events flashing across the screen taking place elsewhere in the world — wars, pestilence, disease, floods — are tragic, unfortunate, sad, but also unavoidable. And when disasters do strike us — Katrina, 9-11 — they are quickly contained, packaged, and digested in such a way that the story changes, but the basic plot remains the same. But what happens when a country does not possess the wealth or fire power to respond to tragedies by starting two costly wars, curtailing civil rights and liberties for millions, and bombing whole countries back to the Stone Age? What if might and money are not sufficient and a nation has to fall back upon a thoughtful, direct response to the immediate disaster?

Now that we have the Internet back, friends are asking what they can do. First, you should pressure the IMF, World Bank, United Nations, EU, NATO and other global actors to please, please not funnel resources to the oligarchs. Resources need to be directed to responsible local, regional, and national disaster relief organizations. Second, this should not become another Haiti or Katrina moment. The oligarchy is already salivating over the financial killing it intends to make over impending fire sale of land, resources, and contracts. However, this could be a moment when global actors place real pressure on the oligarchs; not only will they not be permitted to make a killing, but global actors are going to work with institutions, such as Plenum, who have no political or economic agenda outside of the rule of law, restoration of public assets to public stakeholders, and the clear separation of political from financial interests in the nation. Or it could be a moment when private stakeholders leverage this disaster to obtain more international gifts and public assets.

Third, this is a time for the international community to recognize that until they step up and follow through implementing the plan that it imposed on the former Yugoslavia in 1995 the region will not be in a position to move forward. This may seem unrelated to the latest disaster, but it is not. The systems here in Bosnia and Herzegovina are already stressed and weakened beyond the breaking point. Politically, the Bosnians and Herzegovinians have no place to go. Their “temporary” tri-partite rule and dozens of layers of local, regional, and federal government, were imposed by international actors in order to stop a war. Now the international community needs to take the next step and thoughtfully remove the conditions that it imposed and allow the local and regional actors to craft a solution in the absence of the oligarchy.

The critical ingredient here is to disinvite the oligarchy. Internationally enforceable sanctions need to be placed on specific economic actors and agents. Private assets need to be frozen. Public assets need to be restored. Germany, in particular, needs to get out of bed with the Russians and recognize that its future lies with a Europe empowered to establish and protect public interests over private.

Already even before the latest disaster I have heard despondent Bosnians and Herzegovinians lament that Europe could care less what happens in the Balkans. Perhaps this is so. But just as in the first decade of the last century when Europe believed that it could easily manage the Balkans without endangering their own interests, the belief today that Europe can ignore the Balkans is ill-advised. Instead, the “shatterzone” (as it is sometimes called) needs Europe’s special, specific attention. Only if the international community decides to turn its attention to the Balkans, with credible sanctions against the oligarchy and substantive assistance to public institutions and the rule of law; only then might the Floods of 2014 have a silver lining, marking the moment when the international community acted to avert an even larger impending catastrophe.

The fate and well-being of those within this shatterzone matter. Now more than ever, the international community needs to renew the efforts that it left hanging in 1995 and, now that peace has temporarily been restored, allow the responsible public entities of the region to create public entities capable of entering into and participating in the community of nations of Europe.

Deluge

If you have been following my tweets or FaceBook posts, then you will know that it has been raining in Tuzla. It has been raining throughout the Balkans. Yesterday when we learned that the roads to Mostar were washed out, where I had been scheduled to offer a seminar, and then learned that the university the public schools were closing on account of the rain, Kirsten and I decided what better to do than drive to Budapest wpid-PastedGraphic-2014-05-15-18-28.png
and spend an evening in the baths. Yet, already last night we were hearing reports that it was not only the roads to Mostar, but also the roads to Doboj, Osijek, and Bjeljina, the only roads leading to Budapest. So, when we woke up this morning, we checked to make sure. Perhaps the road through Bjeljina was open, just not to trucks. And so while Kirsten and the boys went to American Corner to finish up some work and check out some books, I packed our belongings and prepared to leave. Yes, a state of emergency had been declared for all of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Yes, many of the low-lands in Tuzla (see photo) were under several meters of water. But the baths in Budapest were calling us. We needed a break. And now we had no excuses to keep us in Tuzla. Oh, yes, and several of our friends had warned us not to travel. What could go wrong?
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As we made our way to Bjeljina, we saw extensive evidence of mud slides. At one point the shoulder of the road had given way, bringing the cliff ledge to within inches of the road. Little rivers pouring down from the hills had left rock fields on parts of the road. But, we kept telling ourselves, “boy will those baths feel good.”

We had just been watching a Frontline episode titled “Inside the Teenage Brain.” The episode described why teenagers engage in risky behavior, behavior that adults would never display. I asked the boys, half joking, whether our little adventure displayed adult or teenage judgment. We all agreed that we were displaying teenage judgment. But, oh those baths.

And then about an hour outside of Tuzla we came up on a short line of cars backed up behind a truck. I got out to see what was going on. From all appearances, a section of the hill on our left had simply slid right onto the road. But a shovel was already on the scene removing the hill from the road. We could see car lights on the other side of the hill. I estimated that the mess would be all cleaned up in less than a half hour and that we could then be on our way. And so we sat back in our Megane listening to some old Sting I had brought along with a mountain stream — now a mountain river — raging on the left hand, downhill, side of the road. What could go wrong?

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I think that all of us were watching when the hill once again gave way, pushing the shovel as though it were a matchbox and half burying the cab (no photo). My first fear, that the hill had pushed the shovel and its operator into the river proved to be mistaken. But, still, it was very scary. And now the hills to our left, towering above the road, assumed a diabolical visage. What if they should give way?

Reluctantly we — along with much longer line of cars — turned our car around and made our way back to Tuzla.

I don’t know what drove us to this precipice of madness. We are all very tired of the rain. And perhaps we also are seeing our time in Bosnia and Herzegovina slipping away. And we remember with fondness our time in Budapest in January. But I also suspect that we feel something close to immunity here. Time and again we have run into what we are told is a very widespread attitude that “it can’t be done,” “it will never succeed,” and “its too risky.” Perhaps this attitude pushes us to the opposite extreme. Sure it can be done. We can make it happen. Face the risk . . . Yes even the risk of a draught from an open window or wearing only one layer of clothing. You can do it!

But then there’s that hillside and the road and the raging river.

Lately the Internet has been down more often than not. We cannot download a movie. I can’t even upload this blog. So, instead, I walked across the street to the video store, a real novelty in this digital age. Tonight we will be watching an old James Bond. Its not Budapest. But, hey, we’re alive.

The Heart and Soul of a Nation

wpid-PastedGraphic-2014-04-28-12-04.pngMention Novi Sad to individuals of Serbian origins and they are likely to tell you three things pretty much all at once: (1) one of the most beautiful regions of Serbia; (2) the cultural heart and soul of Serbia; and (3) the city where, between March 24 and June 9, 1999, NATO ran thirty-one bombing sorties, destroying all communications, electricity, and transport ion in the city.

The stated purpose of NATO bombing was to compel an end to Serbian military operations seeking to maintain control over Kosovo, whose local majority Albanian population wished for independence from Serbia. Sorting through the mess of attacks and counterattacks, accusations and counter-accusations, while not fruitless, does not yield the kinds of clear answers we want; the kinds of answers, that is to say, that might prevent such a conflict in the future. Which is why I want to hold off on drawing any conclusions just yet.

Instead, I want to focus on the first two things Serbs told us when we visited Fruška Gora, Sremski Karlovci, Novi Sad and the surrounding region this past weekend.wpid-ScreenShot2014-04-28at12.51.37PM-2014-04-28-12-04.png
With the Danube wending its way through this mountainous region, there is no question about its natural beauty or why, when Orthodox monks seeking solitude chose sites for their dozen or more monasteries, they overwhelmingly preferred this region over any others. Indeed, Kirsten, the boys and I felt cheated visiting only five. Set in secluded forests, housed in ancient sixteenth and seventeenth century buildings, these communities are priceless.

Sremski Karlovci was until recently the spiritual center of the Serbian Orthodox Church. And, as several websites explain to visitors, this, combined with its beauty, makes Fruška Gora the spiritual center of the Serbian Nation, but, therefore, also the heart of Serbian nationalism. This intimate relationship between spirituality and nationality, between spirituality and nationalism, may explain why, when national revolutions spread across Europe in 1848 and 1849, Novi Sad and Sremski Karlovci provided the base from which nationalist revolutionaries launched their resistance against what they perceived as Hungarian domination. And so simultaneously both the modern Serb nation and the modern Serbian Orthodox Church were born (a point hotly contested by our guide). In any case, it was in 1848 following its successful revolution against Hungary that Karlovci’s Orthodox Metropolitan was raised to Patriarch and when simultaneously Karlovci was declared the capital of the Vojvodina, a northern region of greater Serbia that includes Belgrade.

At least administratively this would all change after World War I, when Belgrade become the capital of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. In 1920, the Patriciate of Karlovci and Belgrade merged to form one Patriciate; and the official seat of political and religious power in Serbia migrated to Belgrade. But, ask anyone, including a close friend of ours in Belgrade: the heart and soul of Serbia still lives in Sremski Karlovci.

But what does this mean exactly?

Let me first say that, since we were visiting so many monasteries, Kirsten was wearing her collar during our visits, a symbol that she was representing our corner of the Church — the Worldwide Anglican Communion — in our visits to this other corner. And let me also say that our welcome in all of these communities was warm and courteous. Yet, one particular community, Monastery Velika, was more than warm and courteous. It was enthusiastic. The brother showered us with CDs of music, photos, and a book, in English, titled Nemanja’s Heritage: Divine Liturgy, written by Mile Medić (1933- ), and published in 2010 by the Monastery.

It was only when we got home to Tuzla, Sunday night, that Kirsten began to skim through the book. This is how it begins: “A people that doesn’t have its country cannot be called the people. People is the country, my dear child. The people is not a flock of birds, nor a herd that moves from north to south, and then lands on the soil to peck or just stop by on a pasture and drink water” (5). “And remember, my child, the blood. Blood also makes the people. Blood is eternal. The blood of a newborn is one thousand years old. . . . My children, by my blood and my spirit, let it not be hatred of a foreign blood let alone of a brother. Blood of man is holy and it runs in us from one spring. It is given from God and our forefather Adam. Do not shed any blood, no matter the tribe or the people. But my child, defend your blood fiercely, for the blood of your ancestors is in it. Do not let anyone shed our blood because it is Serbian. Bring peace where there is war and wage war to bring peace. Offer love where there is love, but defend Serbian blood with blood” (8-9). “Graves, my child, graves and bones make the people” (10). “Country and the people are not the same. People is older than anything. . . . One people can be in many countries, and one country can have more peoples. And now, hear me, my child, hear me well. One people, one country, that was my plan and it remained, and I give it to you as an Oath to all from now and forever. Serbs don’t have their country but they spread in other foreign countries. Slavs pushed the land with their magnitude from north to south seas” (21).

wpid-1__@__PastedGraphic-2014-04-28-12-04.pngNemanja is of course Stefan Nemanja, the 12th century founder of the Serbian state and church. But it is how he founded both state and church that interests me. Originally he was baptized Catholic. Yet, after the defeat of his kinsmen, Nemanja’s family returned to their traditional lands in Rascia where Nemanja was rebaptized into the Eastern Church. When he reached adulthood, he was awarded the princeship of several regions, but not Rascia, which was given to his brother. However, in 1166 and 1168 Nemanja rebelled against his brother and deposed him. And when the Byzantine Emperor threw together a multi-ethnic and multi-religious force of Turks, Franks, and Greeks to defeat Nemanja, Nemanja instead defeated them. Tragically his brother was drowned in the river Sitnica during the conflict. Thus did Nemanja assume the title Grand Župan of all Serbia. Following his death Nemanja was sainted by the Serb Orthodox Church. But among his best-known legacies was his ongoing war against Bogomil heresy, a synchronistic religious practice widespread throughout the Balkans, including the region that is now Bosnia and Herzegovina.

But it was Nemanja’s defeat of the Turks — or rather the multi-ethnic, multi-religious armies that included Turks — that came up repeatedly in our tour of the monasteries. This and, of course, the defeat of the Ottoman’s, an event joyfully reenacted in church pageants every year.

After our visits to the monasteries, Kirsten and I talked with our sons about nationalism. They pointed out how the United States was also guilty of committing terrible atrocities around the world; like, for example, the NATO bombing of Novi Sad. Yes, we admitted. The genocide against native north Americans was a terrible legacy as was the enslavement and murder of hundreds of millions of Africans in route to the Americas and after their arrival. But we do not celebrate these atrocities.

Nor do we believe that they are somehow a fixed feature of our blood.

As to the larger question — why did NATO run thirty-one sorties over Novi Sad — I have only partial answers. Novi Sad supplied essential fuel and ordinance to Milosevic’s forces in Kosovo; Novi Sad was home to valuable supply routes; Novi Sad continued to broadcast disinformation to the surrounding towns and villages.

But I suspect this is only part (and by no means the most important part) of the answer. I suspect that the better part of the answer is buried in the belief, the conviction, held implicitly by everyone we meet, that Novi Sad, Fruška Gora, and Sremski Karlovci are the heart and soul of the nation.

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