Category: Lectures

The Politics of Engagement

Stuart Thorson proposes scientific exchange as a practical way to avoid “demonization.”

Stuart Thorson proposes scientific exchange as a practical way to avoid “demonization.”

Last spring, several experts on Asian countries came together at IU to talk about “Engaging Enemies.”   The issue on the table was how to keep countries out of conflict now and in the future, and the test cases were North Korea, Iran, and Burma.

The word of the day was engagement.  Mel Gurtov laid the foundation of the discussion. Paraphrasing his definition:

Engagement is

  • reaching out
  • establishing cooperation and reciprocity
  • exercising persistence, patience, and ingenuity
  • maintaining credibility flexibility, and a tough skin
  • reducing tensions
  • resetting relationships
  • finding common ground
  • inculcating habit of dialog and mutual respect
  • achieving incremental agreements
  • creating honorable path to peaceable relations

Engagement is not

  • selling out national interests
  • tolerating genocide or other heinous crimes
  • exercising coercive diplomacy
  • postponing the inevitable
  • performing an act of charity

The positive aspects of engagement so apparently outweigh the negatives that it is hard to imagine that countries have not pursued it.  Miroslav Nincic explained some of the reasons why.  Most have to do with resistance of citizens to reaching out to an enemy.  US politics honors a “tough line” and “retributive justice.”  Efforts to engage are seen as “appeasement.” The popular perception is that “conciliatory gestures encourage bad behavior by rewarding offenders.”  Strategic matters related to unequal power relations and political instability can also disarm positive engagement.

The experts generally agreed that “sticks” have not worked.  Sanctions and coercive policies have not made North Korea or Iran back down from their determination to develop nuclear arms.  In place of sticks, Nincic proposes “catalytic carrots.”  Efforts to engage adversaries might be more successful if the objective were not to see a regime overthrown, but to see it alter its “more objectionable policies.”

Walter Clemens echoed this perspective.  He focuses on the hubris of both the U.S. and North Korea.  The politics of “tit-for-tat” and “an eye for an eye” have dominated.  “Arrogance and disdain” have nullified any hope of positive engagement.   He would like to see an abandonment of hubris for GRIT—“graduated reciprocity in tension-reduction”—which involves each side making a “limited series of unilateral concessions.”  But who will make the first step?  Will the initial gesture be trusted or gestures at any stage be betrayed?  Domestic hostility to concessions and bureaucratic inertia may make any GRIT momentum hard to sustain.

As difficult a problem as this may seem, there was some agreement on a solution.  Interactions should be driven less by the abstract—policies and principles—and more by the concrete.  “Getting to Know You” was the theme proposed by Andrei Lankov.  He proposes academic exchanges as a starting point and offered the example of two Russian individuals who came to the U.S. to study and then returned to the USSR to become spies or propagandists.  The suspicion that a country would use exchanges for nefarious purposes was thus affirmed until the beginning of perestroika—when both these individuals contributed to the collapse of the Soviet regime.  Exposure to a different world will promote change in the long run by building up internal pressures for reform and by preparing leaders to deal with a different future.

Stuart Thorson offered an example of successful exchange with North Korea in the area of scientific research.  Science abhors politics (even if it is involved politically), and the ever more global environment requires the relatively transparent movement of data over digital networks among scientific collaborators around the world.  His personal example was the successful collaboration and exchange between Syracuse University and the North Korea State Academy of Sciences.

Other experts echoed this focus on the concrete—people to people rather than policy to policy.  The U.S. needs to assert policies and principles less and to learn more about its enemies.  Humanitarian assistance, such as food aid, should be given for humanitarian, not political, reasons, Karin Lee asserted.  In Iran, the “Obama administration’s sanctions-only policy is both failing to achieve its objective on the nuclear front and adding to the regime’s repression,” said Trita Parsi.  Kun a. Namkung proposed that the U.S. needs to know more about Korean history—to understand that it might make more sense to see a West and East Korea than to see and North and South Korea, for example.  And while the U.S. may see changes in Myanmar as very positive, an understanding of the internal culture would prevent us from being surprised by setbacks there, observed Nicholas Farrelly.

The workshop was sponsored by the East Asia Foundation with assistance from several IU units, including the ANU-IU Pan Asia Institute, and the Office of the Vice President for International Affairs.  The proceedings have just been published in Global Asia: A Journal of the East Asia Foundation (Summer 2013).

 Mel Gurtov,  professor emeritus of political science, Portland State University;   editor in chief, Asian Perspective.
Miroslav Nincic, professor of political science, University of California-Davis.
Walter Clemens, professor of political science, Boston University.
Andrei Lankov, professor of history, Kookmin University, Seoul; adjunct research fellow, Australian National University.
Stuart Thorson, professor of political science and international relations, Syracuse University.
Karin Lee,  executive director of the National Committee on North Korea.
Kim A. Namkung, scholar and consultant on Asian affairs.
Trita Parsi, president, National Iranian American Council.
Nicholas Farrelly, research fellow of international, political and strategic studies, Australian National University.
Kate Gould, lead lobbyist for Middle East policy, Friends Committee on National Legislation.
Mark Valencia, maritime policy analyst and consultant on Asia issues.
Keith Luse, former East Asia foreign policy advisor to Senator Richard Lugar.
Gil Latz, associate vice president of IU International Affairs.
 
There is much we still need to learn about Korean culture, said Kun A. Namkung.

There is much we still need to learn about Korean culture, said Kun A. Namkung.

Gil Latz said that universities won’t be able to bring North Korea into their productive research until they escape the stereotypes associated with Communism.

Gil Latz said that universities won’t be able to bring North Korea into their productive research until they escape the stereotypes associated with Communism.

Andrei Lankov proposed social exchanges as an effective way for enemies to get to know each other.

Andrei Lankov proposed social exchanges as an effective way for enemies to get to know each other.

Keith Luse recognized the importance of domestic buy-in. “Congress has to be a partner” in any effort to engage.

Keith Luse recognized the importance of domestic buy-in. “Congress has to be a partner” in any effort to engage.

Popularity and Culture

Lynn Hooker, associate professor of Central Eurasian Studies, describes the variety and reach of Romani music.

Lynn Hooker, associate professor of Central Eurasian Studies, describes the variety and reach of Romani music.

            Sometimes it seems that social scientists and environmentalists have taken ownership of the world, or at least the study of the world.  Despite the fact that global competency is meant to touch all academic disciplines, discussions usually begin and end with anthropologists, political scientists and the like.  We often forget that in the arts—music, drama, literature, painting—the crossing of cultural boundaries is commonplace and has been for a very long time.  Thus it was good to see that the 2013 Global Mini-Conference, a public portion of the Institute for Curriculum and Campus Internationalization (ICCI—the directors don’t like it referred to as Icky), included amidst sessions on safe water, sexual violence, coffee production, climate change, human trafficking, and the like, a couple of sessions that spoke to the function of art in a global context.

            One of those sessions investigated issues of artistic tradition and popular culture.  Lynn Hooker, of IU’s Central Eurasian Studies department, introduced Romani history and culture, with its diaspora extending back more than a millennium.  The musical world of the Roma was determined by the ‘Gypsy’ epithet imposed on them by the cultures they passed through.  Ever persecuted, they were perceived to be capable only of “lower” art forms.  However compelling, accomplished, original—the music of the Roma, at least as it was generated from within its own culture, was not awarded status as serious art.  Romani music was permitted a place in high culture only when “purified” by composers who themselves were not Romani: Liszt, Bartók, Brahms;  the list of composers influenced by Romani music is very long indeed.

            Instead, Romani music blended with local folk music and became a feature of popular venues, weddings, public houses, holiday celebrations.  As an essential part of popular art, it carries meaning and value to larger numbers of people than “high art” can, and has become equally indispensable.  Its popularity offers a livelihood to Romani musicians, many of whom have established worldwide reputations, such as Hungarian restaurant musician Sándor Lakatos, Macedonian singer Esma Redzepova (Queen of the Gypsies), or the hiphop group gipsy.cz.

            Jennifer Goodlander, of the Department of Theatre and Drama, then introduced the popular tradition of wayang kulit, shadow puppets, whose performances can last days and must go on even when no one is watching.  The tradition of shadow puppets is as ancient and revered as the Hindu epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, whose roots are older than the Bible.  The puppeteer has almost the rank of a priest.  The puppets themselves have special status.  Though seen only in shadow on a translucent screen, they are lovingly and brightly painted.  There is even a ceremony of marriage between puppeteer and puppets.

            Goodlander has studied with a puppeteer in Bali. She demonstrated how this tradition revivifies itself with each new generation by bringing in local color and details relevant to the audience of the day.  After introducing and animating the ancient character of one particular clown, she flashed onto the screen an image of Homer Simpson.  The aptness of the analogy was undeniable.

            Romani music provides connections to Romani past, but was culturally pigeonholed by external ethnic hostility.  Despite that prejudice, it absorbed local folk traditions wherever it went and earned a significant role in popular culture all over Europe.  Shadow puppetry, another art of the people, provides a revered link to ancient culture via an avenue that is constantly repaved with elements of the popular familiar present. 

This shadow puppet, slightly smaller than normal, was made for the tourist trade.  The elaborate pattern of holes carved into the leather (which show on the shadow screen) and the detailed coloring (which doesn’t) are typical.

This shadow puppet, slightly smaller than normal, was made for the tourist trade. The elaborate pattern of holes carved into the leather (which show on the shadow screen) and the detailed coloring (which doesn’t) are typical.

    

The stories are ancient and the characters in them well known to their audience.  The shadows lend mystery and magic to the legends they tell.

The stories are ancient and the characters in them well known to their audience. The shadows lend mystery and magic to the legends they tell.

      

 

Jennifwer Goodlander, assistant professor of theatre and drama, demonstrates the art of wayang kulit and Homer Simpson.

Jennifwer Goodlander, assistant professor of theatre and drama, demonstrates the art of wayang kulit and Homer Simpson.

 

What has the government been up to?

Is our historical record being destroyed?

Is our historical record being destroyed?

The government is destroying our history.  Matthew Connelly did not say this in his recent presentation as part of IU’s Framing the Global Project.  But those who heard him couldn’t be faulted if they left with that impression.  In his lecture on the history and future of official secrecy, Connelly, professor of history at Columbia, ranged from sovereignty, to diplomacy, to government secrecy, to the habits of archivists, and the power of computing to foil the best efforts to hide and destroy. 

The statistics are daunting.   The government produces about 270 million pages of classified documents each year.  Changes in regulations over the past decade—more documents tagged secret, fewer individuals with the authority to change the tags—have led to about 200 million documents a year being withheld from public scrutiny.  The result is that by 2010, the government had accumulated 9 billion pages of classified material.   

One immediate impression is that the government is trying to hide its tracks, to cover its mistakes, and that may be true.  Since we cannot see the documents, we can’t know for sure.  But other motives are at work as well.  Some matters we are better off not knowing—how to create a deadly flu virus for instance, or how to create a nuclear weapon.  Connelly also has concluded from reviewing the metadata of classified documents that much has been retained in classified status to create noise and make it difficult for enemies to ascertain the motives for classification.  And the Supreme Court has made it more difficult for private citizens to accomplish a successful declassification review. 

Other more venial motives are at work as well.  The pile of paper and electronic material has not escaped the notice of government agencies.  The State Department, among others, has set goals for processing the declassification backlog.  The targets for declassification are ambitious, but the agencies have not established sufficient funding to accomplish them. They spend on declassification one twentieth of the amount they spend on classifying documents.  “Archivists are completely overwhelmed,” Connelly explained.   To get the job done, they have had to resort to sampling methods—methods not random and often misguided, Connelly concluded.   In order to manage the workload, whole classes of records are being destroyed. Historians of immigration thus have lost much potential history as immigration and visa application records are thrown away.  Historians interested in sports diplomacy may never know all they need to about the national role in the Olympics because documents tagged to sports may be discarded.  “Only 3-5% of the governments documents are retained,” Connelly said. “I don’t think the agencies know what has been lost.”

 “People who have been trying to stop pushback have been completely outgunned.”  Still, 1.4 billion pages have been declassified.  With so much material, no historian could ever work through it all, so isn’t the destruction a moot point?  Outdated thinking, Connelly would reply. 

Firstly, the habit, fostered by academe’s methods of graduate education, of historians working in isolation will not be the only way for historians to work in the future.  As scientists assemble big, worldwide teams to solve their biggest problems, so historians now have tools that will make it possible to work as teams.  And those tools work best the more they have to operate on.  The application of computers to natural language processing, latent semantic analysis and machine learning has changed the face of linguistic and literary research.  Connelly sees it doing the same to history.  Feed all of these documents into a computer and as the data set becomes ever more massive, the computer will find patterns, clues that will not only reveal what is in the available historical record, but also what might be in the destroyed or redacted documents.

“These records are now valuable in a way they were not in the past. In data mining research, we don’t always know what kind of data is going to be useful.  We need to ask different questions about what is worth preserving.”  By aligning the databases representing the work of large numbers of historians, scholars can find unredacted versions of redacted text.”  With enough of these samples, computers can begin to predict what lies under the large chunks of text blackened out in documents that are released.   That will make it more possible to know if the redacted material contradicts the apparent direction of the text. These processes can analyze classification data that accompanies most government documents to identify linguistic styles–and so make it possible to identify authors.

“How do you have democracy if you don’t know what your government did 40 years ago?” Connelly asked.  With these new tools, and with a new attitude and procedures for handling the massive documentary materials that the government has accumulated, historians “can begin to restore the integrity of the historical record.

Click here for more information and sponsors of the Framing the Global Project.

Beyond the Blind Eye

Journalist Lesley Yarranton describes the difficulties in raising awareness of human trafficking.

 

            Imagine coming home after work and discovering a body in your backyard.  Some years ago, many who lived in the landing path of Heathrow Airport had that or a similar experience.  Autopsies concluded that all had fallen from a great height, probably from wheel wells as flights lowered their landing gears; victims probably died of cold before they fell. Many were traced to airports in Africa, and investigations there suggested that the individuals had help getting to the wheel wells to stow away, help that may or may not have been voluntary. When the press reported that human trafficking was the most likely explanation behind the deaths, readers in Britain began to recognize the enormity of this issue.

            Lesley Yarranton, a British freelance journalist who has investigated human trafficking since the 1980s, related this series of events during a panel discussion of “Human Trafficking and Media.”  She traced the frustration journalists had in convincing readers of the seriousness of the situation.  “The term itself did not help in generating public attention,” Yarranton explained.  “Human and trafficking are blind words in journalism.” The terms don’t have the impact needed.  Traffic is an annoyance, not a profound, violent offence to another person.  In Britain at least, shocking photos and lurid reports over many years, have convinced the public first, that human trafficking is not confined to other, poorer countries, and second that the issue is not a source of titillation but of shame.

            Yana Hashamova, Associate Professor and Director of the Slavic Center at Ohio State, spoke about her research into attitudes towards trafficking and audience reactions to films that address that issue. She first reported on research she had conducted regarding attitudes towards trafficking in Bulgaria and in the U.S.  Some of her findings:

—  Trafficking in Bulgarians is perceived as something which is not right, unfair. However, when trafficking involves foreigners in Bulgaria, attitudes change.  “It is their own fault” is the predominant answer. And, when it comes to sexual exploitation, public opinion is more likely to “blame” those who engaged in prostitution.

—  American students hold a more general (abstract) view of the “positive aspects” of trafficking while Bulgarians connect the “positive side” to concrete economic opportunities (to avoid poverty in one’s own country). The reasons for trafficking are also perceived differently: Americans believe that the whole society is responsible for it, while Bulgarians ascribe it to “business with people.”   American men exhibit lower interpersonal empathy and higher rape myth acceptance; they show more hostile attitudes towards rape victims.

             Hashamova then turned to the portrayal of trafficking in cinema.  She noted a voyeuristic tendency that exploited the sexual side of trafficking.  Only with more recent films, like Lilya 4 Ever, where all is seen through the woman’s eyes as she is subjected to harrowing and humiliating treatment, does the horrific over the voyeuristic aspect of trafficking come clear.  Americans found many of these movies dissatisfying; they wanted happy endings and acceptable solutions to the problem.  She is pessimistic about the impact cinema can have on the problem because cinematic elements so easily block the “shocking trauma” that trafficking represents.

            The third member of the panel was an undercover detective working in a large urban area on problems of sex trafficking.  He made it very clear that the problem has no easy solutions.  Even cases that he saw as clear cut could be compromised before they could be prosecuted.  Victims were often reluctant to speak or ran away before matters could come to trial.  Getting clear evidence that behavior was forced was difficult.  Prosecutors sometimes did not know the specifics of the trafficking laws on the books or in other instances wanted an airtight case before moving forward.  The detective was pessimistic that the legal system could solve the problem.  He offered up an unsentimental and (to the large audience present) uncomfortable view of the world of the traffickers–which might include parents who sold their daughter into prostitution or domestic servitude to pay off a gambling debt. 

            Although his close experience over many years made him sympathetic to the victims, he engaged in an extensive discussion with a member of the audience over the legalization of prostitution.  “Legalization,” the detective said, “would only make it harder to prosecute trafficking.”  He spoke of the unhelpful side of journalist sensationalism, for example when the press reported for the last Dallas Superbowl that there would be tens of thousands of women trafficked in, when in fact, the police identified 28 cases.  For the Indianapolis Superbowl, eight cases were identified.   Trafficking is more associated with what happens every day than what happens once a year.  And pending cases can be destroyed when journalists release too much information early on.

            Journalists in Britain have had some success at raising public awareness of trafficking as an offence to humanity.  Filmmakers          have made found ways to involve audiences in victims’ suffering and degradation, though such films are hard to watch.  The undercover would like to see (but doesn’t expect to see) more prosecutions, especially of pimps and those in control.  All agree that public awareness of the reality of the issue is the most practical near-term objective, and all agree that media plays an important but ambiguous role in raising awareness.  Exactly how media has succeeded so far, how much its presence impedes and assists, and exactly what the media should do to “solve” the problem are still unanswered questions.

            The panel was organized by Stepanka Korytova, as part of a faculty study group on “The Many Faces of Human Trafficking,” of the International Studies Program and of the College of Arts and Sciences Themester Fall 2012: Good Behavior, Bad Behavior: Molecules to Morality.

The Origin of Stories

Novelist Vikram Chandra chatting with Vivek Jain of the IU physics department before his lecture at the University Club

 

     Where do novels come from?  Salman Rushdie imagined a great sea of stories, always intermingling, always adaptable.  Vikram Chandra, author of three major novels, offered a much grittier vision of the origin of stories as he spoke about the genesis of his sprawling novel, Sacred Games.  “Curiosity drives the making of a book,” Chandra explained.  “My curiosity began as I considered the nature and structure of corruption.  The story grew out of the anger and fear that accompanied the increase in crime in Mumbai in the early 1990s—and the discovery that organized crime came awfully close to home, and the recognition of how soon we become used to it.

             “In my desire to understand the nature and structure of corruption, I talked to everyone I could in order to find out what was going on in my city.  This included the bad guys, who, it turns out, were easier to find than those fighting crime, who by necessity keep a low profile.  We like to think the underworld is a place very far away from our lives.  It’s not.

             “The detective novel is the one new narrative form of the modern era,” explains Chandra, professor of creative writing at Berkeley.  “The detective is the incarnation of celestial order.  In detective stories, there is always a solution, and there is magic.  On TV, forensic equipment reveals secrets like the waving of hands to cast spells. 

             “I had intended to write a simple 250-word detective story, but I found I couldn’t write about crime without writing about politics and the partnership of crime and the state which allows it to exist.  I couldn’t write about politics without considering religion and media, and all this had to be set in the context not only of the struggle of states in South Asia, but also the domestic scene behind all the players, criminals and otherwise. The story took on the shape of a mandala—a circle of seemingly unrelated elements that lead inevitably back to the beginning, the symmetry of the world.”

             Chandra splits his time between California and Mumbai.    The award winning Sacred Games was published in 2007 it follows his earlier works, Red Earth and Pouring Rain (1995), and Love and Longing in Bombay (1997).  His talk and reading, “Sacred Games: Reading Gangsters, Writing Cops,” was the 2012 Hrisikesh and Sailabala Bhattachara Memorial Lecture, and was sponsored by the Dhar India Studies Program, the Asian American Studies Program, and the Creative Writing Program.

Elite, Mass, Universal—What Is Education Doing to Us?

 

Anthropologist Susan Blum spent 30 years studying China, 10 years researching education, and is now trying to merge the two with an ambitious goal.  “Schooling helps create children.  All education is political.  At the same time, all education is cultural involving values, meaning, structure, and family.“  Blum wants to explain how this creation works; she is currently conducting research on the effect of higher education in six different societies.  China, with its staggeringly ambitious goals for education, is a challenging case in point and the subject of her lecture, specifically the “massification” of Chinese higher education. 

Educational theorists will understand that the horrible word massifcation has a specific meaning in higher education.  Martin Trow used it to refer to the twilight zone between two social goals–the higher education of the elite alone and universal higher education—exactly where China stands today.  Blum has the statistics:  In 1978, at the end of the Cultural Revolution, China had 400 colleges and 3% of youth attended them.  Today, there are 3,500 colleges with 23% of the college-aged population in attendance, a ramping up of tertiary education similar to, but even greater than, the effect in the U.S. of the GI Bill after World War II.

Blum traced the history of higher education in China from the meritocracy of Imperial China and the corrupt exam system it produced for entry into the higher ranks of the civil service; to the Cultural Revolution, begun at Peking University in 1966 with a specific goal of eradicating educational inequality; to the end of that revolution and the restoration of the exam system; to the current day when vast forests of students spend much of their childhood and youth with the single goal of getting the highest possible score on the Gaokao, the national exam that decides students’ access to the best universities. 

As Blum recounted the effect of this national exam, the situation began to sound more local than foreign.  Teaching to the test produces an empty curriculum relying on disembodied facts and a community of stressed-out students. Achieving the demanding educational goals no longer assures a job and with that comes disillusionment and increases in subtle forms of social inequality.  While the U.S. is further along the “massification” road than China, the impact of social and economic conditions on education began to have a familiar ring. 

Blum announced at the start that she was in the early stages of this research.  She did not finally offer an answer to the question of how these changes in the world of education changed the people themselves.  How will the contradictory educational goals of status vs. return on investment play out?  Can the national exam make society more equitable, or does it always lead to scandal and fraud?  Are we moving towards an international form of leadership with where class is more important than citizenship?  Questions abound both locally and globally, but answers are elusive.

Susan D. Blum is professor and chair of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame.  Her most recent book is My Word! Plagiarism and College Culture (2009).  Her presentation was sponsored by the IU Research Center for Chinese Politics and Business. 

Reconciliation in West Africa

Nobel Laureate Lehmah Gbowee and Marion Broome, dean of nursing. The School of Nursing is working with the University or Liberia to rebuild the university’s nursing and public health programs, whose facilities and programs were devastated by decades of civil war.

“In most of our communities today, people are still looking over the heads of women and looking beyond for experts to come and reconcile their communities,” Lehmah Gbowee said recently to a packed room at the IUPUI McKinney School of Law.  “Women have the capacity.  They understand the context and issues.  They know the stakeholders, and they know in part some of the solutions to their problems.”   

Gbowee, joint recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in ending civil war in Liberia, related some of the ways women worked for peace in West Africa–from establishing benchmarks to assure that the process did not stall, to making sure that leaders knew when promises were not being kept.  When peacekeepers come from the outside, the peace process “is one size fits all,” Gbowee explained.  They have their formulas and their books, and although relying on local knowledge is highly publicized, it is rarely done.  “One of the ways to hide things from the African people is to bury them in books,” Gbowee said.  And some stories of how peace is accomplished don’t get told, especially the stories of the successes of the women who are part of the affected communities.

Besides the practical and pragmatic advice that only someone on the front lines of the process can give—like making sure that soldiers who give up their guns receive promised payments—women are in tune with a vital component of the reconciliation process, exemplified in the story of the woman who while feeding a wounded soldier, heard the soldier’s admission that he had killed her daughter.  “Was I supposed to stop feeding him?” the woman asked.  Peace can only come, Gbowee suggests, when the answer to that question is “No.”

Gbowee’s presentation can be viewed in its entirety here.  The event had sixteen sponsors representing every part and every constituency of the IUPUI campus.

When is Law Not the Law?

Sida Liu spoke of the legal climate in rural China

 

In China, the further you get from cities—from the centers of money and power–the less lawyers control the law.  In a symposium on “legal services for vulnerable populations in India and China,” Sida Liu spoke about one western province of China that had a total of two lawyers.  To cover their territory, they would travel on horseback six hours across the desert.  “They would get so lonely on these trips that they would sing to themselves for comfort.”  They might be paid in produce by their clients.  China has a substantial number of lawyers, but they are concentrated in the big cities where salaries are exponentially higher than in the provinces.

 Legal services in outlying areas are mostly in the hands of legal workers or barefoot lawyers.  Lawyers may be have paid by the government; legal workers must negotiate payment with clients.  Barefoot lawyers have no legal training; they are self-taught and don’t charge fees.  With so much law outside the profession, most grievances are solved outside the courts.  Mediation and negotiation are invoked more than regulation.  Clients therefore can be at the mercy of local custom and tradition. 

 The distribution of lawyers is better in India, but the total number is still so small and the population so large, that “vulnerable populations” are still dominated by customary law and the local climate of opinion.  Laws related to marriage and divorce in India have improved in the last thirty years, but local opinion and the legal climate is still under control of men.    

 In China too, the version of customary law that gets codified is the version by men. Among those who suffer the most from a situation are women caught in bad marriages.  A wife who has the courage to seek a divorce has no customary rights.  To get the divorce, they must give up property, home, and children.  And if they try to get a divorce, they face obstruction, harassment, and physical abuse from husbands; threats can last for years after the divorce.  Susan Williams spoke of a similar situation in Africa.   “Women have greater access to justice, but this access to justice doesn’t translate into delivery of justice.” 

 The symposium sponsored by the Maurer School of Law Center for Law, Society, and Culture included experts from outside and inside the law school:  Sida Liu, assistant professor of sociology and law at the University of Wisconsin, spoke on China’s legal situation.  Sylvia Vatuk, professor emerita of anthropology at the University of Illinois Chicago addressed the legal situation for Indian women.  From the Maurer School were Ke Li, doctoral candidate in sociology, and Christiana Ochoa, Carole Silver, and Susan Williams, professors of law.

 The symposium was long on problems and short on solutions.  Most of the solutions proposed—such as pre-nuptial agreements—seem to impose an outside culture on traditionally patriarchal societies.  Still, the divorce rate is going up in China, it was pointed out.  Chinese women are making the effort internally to mobilize new ideas of the marriage contract.   The symposium did make a start at addressing one of the most fundamental problems that the law makes for vulnerable populations.  Two members of the panel explained that Chinese law students never hear about basic legal workers or barefoot lawyers, so they never know about the legal processes experienced by vast numbers of Chinese.  U.S. law schools have been criticized as well for not addressing the way law works for the poor.   From the reaction of the audience at the Maurer School event, most were hearing these detail about China and India for the first time.  That, at least, is a first step.  

Sylvia Vatuk described the legal world faced by Indian women

 
 
 
 
 

Caught in the Dark Net

Carolyn Nordstrom framing the global

She moves fast.  She talks fast.  She covers a lot a ground and rarely looks back.  When Carolyn Nordstrom is done giving a talk, everyone in the room is out of breath.  Never more so than when her subject is the cyber version of fire and brimstone—the dark, subterranean world of the computer hacker.   I suspect there are few times in the university when listeners leave so fully believing in the existence of Hell—at least the hell that she was describing.

Computer hacking has been around a long time.  It preceded the internet.  Some may remember having to be wary of sharing invisibly infected floppy disks.  The global spread of hacking, made possible by the internet, is also not new.  Users around the world are aware, however dimly, of the likelihood of lurkers in dark corners.

Nordstrom brings two important matters to the public discussion of cyber security. First, she offers a mountain of data demonstrating the reach, and perhaps more terrifying, the high level of organization and entrepreneurship of the hacker’s world.  And then she adds the central question, “Why don’t more of us know about it?”

She layers statistics upon statistics.  Experts estimate that as many as 15% of all computers have suffered a “drive-by” infection or some other undetectable change to their basic operating system that pulls the computer into a botnet.  The computer becomes a zombie totally at the mercy of a bot master to send spam, disrupt major web services, or collect private information like social security numbers and passwords.

Nordstrom talks about internet regions, “the dark net,” that only those in the know can find, and how cyberattack supplies and support services are readily available there. “Click here for money laundering.”

“It’s in front of all of our faces, but we don’t see it, and we deny it exists,” she says.  “The facts are terrifying, but what is more scary is what we don’t see.  I’m an optimist.  If I can see it, I believe it can be fixed.  The fix to the spread and power of cyber warfare will take the efforts of a generation of new students.” Indeed, the very young may be more on top of these issues than most adults, and she quotes one twelve-year-old, “The chaos is coming.  You adults don’t help.”

The internet and the potential it offers for attacks level the cyber battlefield and redefine our most basic concepts of power.  “The individual has the same power as the military in the hacking world.”  Those who explore and attend to the hackers’ world can quickly become hackers themselves.  It doesn’t take a huge government organization to master these skills.

Her talk is thin on moral proclamations and on solutions.  “I don’t want to alienate anyone from the discussion right now, and I don’t want to pre-empt or stifle your suggestions for solving the problem.”  The only advice she offers at the moment is, “Let’s talk.  Let’s get this subject out into the light.”  That’s the first step, but there are many questions left to answer.  Why, if so much power is vested in the hands of a few individuals, have they not brought down power grids or the world’s online money systems?  Why do individuals acknowledge the existence of a dangerous online world, but turn to their laptops and other connected devices as though they themselves were invulnerable?  And what should we do to change things?  Should we hide the extent of the threat (and so the panic that would ensue) and rely on individual morality and mutual trust?  Or should we train all the world to hack so that they can recognize it when they see it and find ways to protect themselves from it?

Carolyn Nordstrom is on the anthropology faculty at the University of Notre Dame.  She has devoted her career to the ethnographic study of dangerous issues—war in Africa, drug trafficking, human trafficking, and other transnational crime.    She has published several books, most recently Global Outlaws: Crime, Money, and Power in the Contemporary World, based on three years of research into illegal trade around the world, research that took her to some of the world’s most dangerous places.  She spoke in Bloomington as part of the “Framing the Global” joint initiative of the IU Center for the Study of Global Change and the IU Press, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Reaching Out: The O’Meara International Lecture Series

Patrick O'Meara: As part of the inauguration of the new lecture series, President McRobbie awarded the President's Medal for Excellence.

         “It was an exciting ride,” said Patrick O’Meara of his global peregrinations with IU President Michael McRobbie, in a brief chronicle of his two decades as dean and vice president charged with overseeing IU’s international affairs.  “The long plane trips were like an academy in the air as we batted ideas around across the world.”

               The occasion was the inauguration of a new series of international lectures named in O’Meara’s honor.  Timothy Roemer, former member of Congress from Indiana, and U.S. ambassador to India from 2009-11, spoke about the connections between the U.S. and India.  In a period of economic uncertainty, a time when instincts are to pull in the reins and view new initiatives with suspicion, Roemer reminded us of a better way.  He began with an image of a book published two decades ago.  It spoke of the United States and India as “Estranged Democracies.”  “It is unfortunate,” Roemer said.  When we recognize how much common ground and how many common interests there are between the nations, we begin to understand how powerful a benefit a mutual reaching out would be.  He offered as a case in point a photo of himself in the driver’s seat of a rickshaw, which was circulated by the press throughout Indian and which spoke worlds to Indian citizens.  Another, Roemer pointed out, was the work of individuals like Patrick O’Meara, who are not content to wait until world issues come to them;  and like Michael McRobbie and O’Meara’s successor as vice president for international affairs, David Zaret, who this fall spent more than a week in intensive meetings on campuses all over India, looking for ways for IU to connect.  Roemer’s final example consisted of three words, “We the people.”  India is a young democracy, the U.S. an old one, but both have constitutions that begin with these words.

Democracies should not be estranged. That was the message from Ambassador Timothy Roemer.

What Can I Do to Help?

Former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, in conversation about current international affairs

The question from the student was “What would you do about the political stalemate in Washington?”  Madeleine Albright, secretary of state under Bill Clinton, first blurted out “I have no idea.”  (That got a round of applause.)  Then she thought for a moment (really half a moment; she’s quick on her feet) and told the large crowd assembled for this Union Board event in the IU Auditorium, about efforts to promote democracy overseas.  “People agree that compromise and cooperation are part of the democratic process.  It’s hard to go abroad and represent the values of democracy when we are setting such a bad example at home.” 

          Albright has been known for fiery and brutally frank speaking.  For this event, she chose a more personal and heartening tone.  Her speech was part of the Themester project, “Making War, Making Peace.”  Her initial remarks asked the audience to consider what war and peace really are.  “Peace is not just the space between wars, but something that needs to be worked at constantly.”  She spoke of her direct experiences of war as a child in Czechoslovakia and then Britain during World War II.   Conscious of her student audience, she traced how her family background and her college experiences led her inexorably to international affairs.  She encouraged students not to limit their attention to those with whom they already agree and to make college “an adventure.”  She assured students that if they did, they would be “surprised by the miracles they could achieve.”

          In an earlier, private meeting with Patrick O’Meara, special advisor to President McRobbie, the two life-long internationalists shared their insider’s views of current world affairs.  The tenor of that meeting was not as positive; they found much that is troubling in the direction events were going in Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere.  And neither felt confident that solutions were near at hand. 

          Albright was interested in the international activities at IU.  When the subject came up regarding one important project that had taken years to develop and was nearly—but not quite—ready to go, the immediate and startling response was, “What can I do to help?”  Albright made it clear that this was not a polite or gratuitous offer.  She stood ready to take action if that would help move the project forward. 

           Perhaps the former secretary and continuing international activist knows more than she admits in dealing with the stalemate in DC.  The willingness and readiness to do something to make a positive difference might just be the solution.

Madeleine Albright

Trade, but Not with Japan

George Wilson opens the IU Art Museum exhibition of Japanese prints related to Commodore Perry's commanding arrival in 1853.

It is difficult to imagine how the townspeople of Edo felt when the black-hulled steam frigate USS Susquehanna arrived in their harbor in 1853.  Edo was the Japanese capital and one of the largest cities in the world at the time.  Contact with the outside world had been forbidden for 250 years.  The ship was five times larger than any ship the Japanese had known, and steam technology was completely new.  That show of force convinced the de facto national powers of the shogunate to accept a letter proposing a treaty.  When Perry returned seven months later with a quarter of the U.S. Navy—eight ships—he left with a treaty.  And so Japan was opened for trade with the West.

George Wilson

George Wison, professor emeritus of history and East Asian languages and cultures

But not quite.  The U.S. had sent Perry on this mission not to gain access to Japanese trade, but for two other reasons, George Wilson, Professor Emeritus of History and East Asian Languages and Cultures emphasized in a brief lecture at the IU Art Museum.   The U.S. was more concerned with protecting its trade in tea from China and in whale oil from the North Atlantic.  Perry’s treaty secured two open ports, one in the South that allowed ships bound for China to refuel, and one in the North, whose main function was to provide a way of repatriating American sailors whose whaling ships had floundered.  Perry’s treaty was the first unequal diplomatic treaty, Professor Wilson explained.  Japan did not get the same rights in the U.S. that they granted the U.S. in Japan.  It also opened a door for a U.S. consul in Japan.  Consul Townsend Harris arrived in 1856 and with persistent pressure won the first treaty securing trade between the two nations.

The impact of this nineteenth-century version of Close Encounters of the Third Kind has been disputed ever since.  Perry and Harris laid the groundwork for the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and ultimately for Japan to play a role as a world power.  At the time, the Japanese wrote of the “Black Ships of Evil Men.”   “Black ships” is still used by the Japanese to describe technological threats from the West.  Although Japanese law forbade depicting current events, Perry’s visits saw artists lined up at the waterfront preparing images for broadsides and street sales around the country.  Professor Wilson’s lecture marked the opening of an exhibition of several of those images which combine the delicate Japanese artistry of line and color with billowing black smoke and fearful military monsters.  With the help of these drawings, we can imagine how the townspeople of Edo felt—the terror and panic, and the fascination–that the arrival of the Western military produced.

The lecture is part of the College of Arts and Sciences Themester, Making War, Making Peace.   The exhibition is one of several special programs at the IU Art Museum.

USS Susquehanna steam frigate, one of the "Black Ships"

Honoring the World’s Best Ideas

Michael Sohlman, executive director emeritus of the Nobel Foundation

Alfred Nobel once said that if he had 300 ideas in a year, and one of them turned out to be a good one, he would be satisfied.  A chemist and engineer, holder of more than 300 patents, Nobel’s best known invention was a way to tame unpredictable nitroglycerin by combining it with chalk and other inert ingredients; the result he named dynamite after the Greek word for power.  He had less successful inventions, such as the bicycle that the rider moved with pedals that pumped rather than spun. 

Michael Sohlman retired as executive director of the Nobel Foundation in May 2011 after nineteen years in that position. He spoke last week in Bloomington about Nobel and the intellectual origin of the prizes.  Nobel was known to be a shrewd businessman, but he also had lifelong engagement with philosophy and political theory.  He kept up a correspondence of 20 to 30 letters a day to friends, philosophers, and intellectuals all over Europe.  He wrote a prose tragedy with such a dismal view of the world that made his friends attempt to destroy all copies when it was published at the end of his life.  Sohlman believes it was the philosopher in Nobel, not the inventor or businessman, that prompted him to create an award that would come to define the way to honor creative endeavor around the world. 

Although in rare cases institutions were honored, the award went overwhelmingly to individuals, individuals with the creative energy to define a new idea and to convince others of its “benefit to mankind” (to quote Nobel’s will).  Ideas do not honor national borders.  Nobel spoke six languages, and the Nobel Prize was possibly the first such honor to have an international reach, much to the chagrin of some of his countrymen, who wished it had been set up to promote Swedish achievements only. 

Although Nobel’s will stipulated the bodies that would choose each year’s awards, he left no instructions on how the effort was to be coordinated.  The Nobel Foundation, established in 1900 for this purpose, has been singularly successful in assuring the secrecy of deliberation and the respect for Nobel’s defining principles in making the awards.  Asked if the Foundation regretted any of the prizes it had given, Sohlman was quick to point out that historical context must be understood before such judgments are made.  He offered a single example.  In 1949, Antonio Egas Moniz received half of the physiology/medicine prize in recognition of his promotion of lobotomy for certain psychoses.  “At the time,” Sohlman commented, “there were few treatments that seemed as humane. We of course understand such things a great deal better now.” As a man who saw that one good idea in 300 made the intellectual effort worthwhile, Nobel would have been pleased with the Foundation’s track record. 

Questions and answers at the Herman B Wells House

 

Surabaya to CNN: Alumnus Eli Flournoy Remembers IU

Seated in the Indiana Memorial Union Gallery, Eli Flournoy talked about IU and his international career.

Eli Flournoy was on the ground for CNN during major crises in Angola, in the Middle East, and in India, Pakistan, and Hong Kong.  As part of CNN’s international news “desk” in Atlanta, he has directed coverage of the Bosnian war, the Kosovo War, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Princess Diana’s death, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  He was part of teams that received major awards for coverage of the Southeast Asia tsunami, the 2006 conflict between Israel and Lebanon, Hurricane Katrina, and the 1999 Indonesian elections. 

He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and African studies from IU in 1991.

 Asked if his experience at IU had turned him into an internationalist, he replied instantly, “That happened long before I came to IU.  My parents took my sister and me for a year-long stay in Surabaya when I was nine.”  After that experience in Indonesia’s second-largest city, the family entertained international visitors frequently at their home in Athens, Ohio. The international perspective was inescapable.  “I came to IU with a specific goal.  I would major in political science with an emphasis on international issues, go on to graduate work, and then take the Foreign Service exam with the goal of working in an embassy overseas.” 

 While IU may not have created the internationalist, it did have an impact on the direction of Flournoy’s career.  “IU is outstanding in the opportunities it makes available to its undergraduates.  I was president of the Residence Halls Association, and in that job I was allowed to take on mature and real responsibilities for such things as the management of a million dollar budget and responding to significant personnel issues.”  Flournoy had developed a strong interest in Africa.  ” With its undergraduate certificate in African Studies, IU was one of the few places that gave undergraduates major opportunities to study Africa.”

Flournoy found that not only could he study Africa, but even as an undergraduate, he could get involved in teaching about Africa.  Patrick O’Meara was director of African studies at the time.  “Dr. O’Meara gave me, an undergraduate, a chance to do a teaching assistantship.”  He became teaching assistant to Charles Bird in a course in African Studies with a special emphasis on South Africa.  “I learned a lot from Professor Bird.  He was always determined to experience not just to study.  He made his own wine and beer. He would have African drumming sessions at his house.” 

The shift in his career came in a summer internship after his junior year.  With a grant from IU, he worked at the CNN Atlanta headquarters that summer while investigating why news organizations didn’t get more information out of Africa.  During the fall semester of his senior year, CNN contacted him with an offer of another internship for the spring.  With the help of Dr. O’Meara, who agreed to oversee a major independent study project, Flournoy spent the spring at CNN.  He joined the team that produced CNN World Report, a  CNN venture to encourage international coverage by broadcasting and sharing news briefs, uncut and unedited, prepared by other news organizations around the world.  He was there during the Gulf War, and for the equivalent of a senior thesis, he investigated the media propaganda of the war, comparing the media strategies of Saddam Hussein and George Bush. 

The CNN internships jump-started a career that celebrated its 20th anniversary last August.  Flournoy comes back to IU periodically.  His visit this time was part of the “Making War, Making Peace” Themester of the College of Arts and Sciences.  He was much in demand as an expert visitor to telecomm courses.  In a presentation sponsored by the Union Board, he fielded passionate questions from students about the role of the media in today’s world.

Saskia Sassen’s Compulsion: Territory, Authority, and Rights

 

Saskia Sassen (right), professor of sociology and co-chair of the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University in conversation with Hilary Kahn, Director of the IU Center for the Study of Global Change, and David Zaret, vice president for international affairs.

By 2010, rich governments, firms, and individuals bought or rented 70 million hectares of land in mostly poor countries.  That is 1.7 billion acres or more than a billion and a half football fields.  When Saskia Sassen ponders that figure, and many other current trends, she thinks of territory.  She claims to be a geek about that word; it, along with authority and rights, has become her obsession.  When faced with trends of this scale, we need to rethink what that word means and what territory is becoming. Territory has for centuries been closely aligned with the idea of sovereign states.  Indeed, land ownership is one thing we have come to expect to be documented rigorously and protected to the full extent of the law.  When a company buys a million acres in a poor country, there is no immediate thought that the land is no longer part of the national sovereignty—the nation’s laws still apply to it, don’t they?  Yet, with such a powerful economic presence, the company can win exceptions to regulations and laws.  Localities will bend their rights and authority to keep the economic well-being that seems  promised by such a massive presence. 

Sassen’s goal is not to deny the truths of world economics and politics as we have come to understand them, but to assert that those truths are not sufficient; she wants to provoke us to be less comfortable with our large well-established definitions as globalization expands our ways of working in the world.  Sassen is known world-wide for her work on defining the impact of globalization.  IU Vice President for International Affairs David Zaret explained in his introduction, “She persuasively argues against convention and overly simple accounts that juxtapose global and national as mutually exclusive categories for social forces that are thought to be engaged in a zero-sum game. Instead, she shows that many important global changes operate within the institutional structure of nation-states, but also restructure those states.”  Judging by the many pockets of animated conversation after her presentation, Sassen has succeeded in her provocation.

Sassen is the first in a series of visiting scholars who are part of the IU Framing the Global Initiative, a five-year project funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  The Center for the Study of Global Change and the IU Press are working jointly to bring top scholars together, virtually and actually, to begin to define new global concepts and analytical frameworks. Their work will take formal shape in a series of books by participating scholars to be published by the IU Press. 

Saskia Sassen grapling with concepts of territory, authority, and rights.

Seeing America through Foreign Eyes after 9/11

          The tenth anniversary of the worst foreign attacks on U. S. soil have prompted a period of intense reflection.  Workshops, performances, memorial services, reminiscences—all have tried to articulate what the events of 9/11 meant and how the country and its peoples have changed as a result.  Indeed, the IUB College of Arts and Sciences has set issues of war and peace as a theme for events during the entire fall semester.  As part of that extended program, international experts from Indiana University gathered in the Georgian Room at the IMU on Monday, September 12. The first half of the three-hour session, moderated by Maria Bucur (history) , was dedicated to political ramifications of the 9/11 events, the second, moderated by Bob Ivie (Communication and Culture), to their cultural implications. There were few confident answers and no sense that we are ready to put these issues behind us.

           The political experts provided few answers.  Rather they struggled with finding the right questions.

Patrick O'Meara (Political Science; African Studies)

Patrick O’Meara spoke of the “terrorists” and “freedom fighters” (the same individuals depending on one’s point of view) that brought significant and largely successful change to South Africa, and noted the differences between those efforts and 9/11.    His question:  Are we in a new dimension, a different form, of terrorism, one with no possible meeting point? 

Nick Cullather (History)

Nick Cullather asked, Why do we care what others think of the U.S.?  He traced the history of America’s interest in the world’s opinion, which began optimistically with Woodrow Wilson embracing it as moral conscience to guide foreign policy, and quickly declined as experts came to see it as a fickle master, and then sank even further as government officials saw it as a force to be surreptitiously manipulated. 

Micol Seigel (African American and African Diaspora Studies; American Studies; Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Micol Seigel brought her expertise of Latin America to the table and counted up the dead in Mexican drug wars–numbers more than ten times those who died in the 9/11 attacks, and many killed in unspeakably horrible ways.  Her question:  Why are some deaths more visible than others?

Padraid Kenney (History; Russian and East European Institute)

Padraic Kenney’s question came from an encounter in Budapest in 2003.  He was there when the U.S. declared war on Iraq, and he expected his Hungarian university colleagues to protest America’s aggression, but they didn’t.  His question:  Why was there sympathy in Central Europe for the U.S. attacking Iraq? Kenney’s answer:  At the time (and possibly no longer), there was still a sense that there is such a thing as moral foreign policy, and Central Europe understood well the corrosive power of dictatorship.

The cultural experts spoke more personally, remembering their immediate reactions in September 2001, but they too provided no resolution, and their presentations became a litany of unrealized hopes and dreams.

Gardner Bovingdon (Central Eurasian Studies)

Gardiner Bovington’s area of expertise is the nation of Uyghurs in Western China.  His colleagues there hoped they would find sympathy and support in the multi-ethnic U.S. for a China whose constitution guarantees equal rights to all its ethnic groups. Since 9/11, U.S. foreign policy, sensitive to the importance of trade, has not responded to that hope.  Bovington saw the possibility of two positive U.S. responses to the events of 9/11:  (1) that Americans would show a greater desire to understand others, and (2) that the U.S. might gain a better perspective on its behavior in the world.  Neither has been achieved.

Jeff Isaac (Political Science)

Jeff Isaac did not cancel his class on Civility in American Democracy on 9/11/2001, but rather prepared a lecture that he was asked to deliver again later on.  But, he said, “The things I was hoping for did not come to pass.”  Instead, he sees a war on terrorism that accomplished none of the things that we needed to address.  “Is there the possibility that things can be better now?”  Now he offers no answer and does not speak in public about the issues of war and peace in the Middle East.

Kevin Jaques (Religious Studies; Islamic Studies)

Kevin Jaques also taught his class that day.  He had expected in teaching the history of Islam that only in the last two weeks would he speak about living persons, but the class was full on the first meeting of the second week of term, and students were asking for answers, “Why would Islam support doing something like this?”  That the question was posed wrong—that Islam is so broad and varied that no one can speak for Islam as a whole—became the theme of the rest of the semester.  And Jaques worries that what America has done and not done since 9/11 has achieved only its’ own inability to have an impact in the Muslim world. 

Hilary Kahn (Center for the Study of Global Change; Latin American and Caribbean Studies)

Hilary Kahn is an expert in aspects of Guatemalan culture, and has spent much time in Jamaica.  She spoke of the intractable ambivalence Latin America feels towards the U.S.  The U.S. is blamed for all the evils visited upon Latin America—everything from short skirts, to drugs, to AIDS.  But at the same time, Latin America held out hope that the U.S. would be a force for local good.  However, since 9/11, their perception is that the U.S. has abandoned the needs of its own hemisphere.

Nazif Shahrani (Near Eastern Languages and Cultures; Anthropology)

As an Afghan and a Muslim, Nazif Sharani, declares he himself sees the U.S. through “foreign” eyes.  What he sees since 9/11 is that the U.S. has written the wrong stories.  At one time, the U.S. had built enormous trust in the Middle East; that trust has gradually winnowed away.  The “dastardly acts” of 9/11 were meant to signal the loss, to bring into the foreground the political grievances that the Middle East had towards the U.S.  But the U.S. wrote a different story, a clash of civilizations.  “They hate us because of our freedom.”  The U.S. story didn’t resolve into a search for peace, but in a declaration of the need for better security.  Military victory was the end of that story, not cultural engagement.

Eastern Europe: Losing What You Never Had

            What do you have in your head when you say “Europe” today?  Slavenka Drakulić, journalist and novelist, has written about some of the worst atrocities that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989.  Read more.  She posed that question this week, in a room crowded with students and experts on what used to be called “Eastern Europe.”  She was most interested in answers that went beyond the political.  “Politics doesn’t change everything immediately, especially people.  It’s more difficult to deal with psychological structures.  What does one do in an empty democracy, where the democratic structures are in place, but they are not functioning?” 

Slavenka Drakulić

Slavenka Drakulić is not an optimist. “I decided to visit the U.S. because I needed a dose of your optimism.”

             To illustrate the new mind set to her Indiana audience Drakulić spoke about candy papers.  In the socialist world, Drakulić explains, “there was no hope.  You expected little and you could blame everything and everyone else.  In Yugoslavia, we had good candy, but you bought it from a bulk display.  Nothing was wrapped.  I remember getting candies from Italy.  Sweet and wonderful they were, but more importantly, each was wrapped in fine paper.  After we enjoyed the candy, we would press the paper in a book, looking as it once in a while and imagining a better, shiny, and glittery world.”

             With the fall of socialism, the “shiny, glittery world” was no longer inaccessible.  “And once that world was in reach, it became something different.  We began to think we deserved what we saw on TV.  Where is the new car?  The beautiful wife?  For most, these things didn’t materialize, and worse, for some they did.  My neighbor gets rich from privatization, but I lose my job.  There is no justice.   Once the inaccessible came within reach, we could no longer blame someone else.”  When the economic crash came in 2008, “it meant the loss of a paradise we never had.” 

             Drakulić is not an optimist.  She sees in the world of the former Yugoslavia, a growing negativity, “protests against rather than protests for,” and from that negativity, a fear and a nostalgia ostensibly for a national identity bur really from a loss of a feeling of security.  She worries about how this vacuum of negativity will be filled especially when the major political parties and media, who see no improvement in constituency or market share by talking about such things.

Estonia and the International Community

Ambassador Reinart describes reintegration of Estonia into the international community.

Ambassador Reinart describes reintegration of Estonia into the international community.

How does a nation become a nation-state?  Väino Reinart, Ambassador of Estonia to the U.S, has spent much of the last two decades in positions that required finding answers to that question.  He was in Bloomington this week to celebrate Estonia’s independence day and to talk about the integration of Estonia into the international community.  Estonians trace their history in the Eastern Baltic back ten thousand years, to the end of the last ice age when the first tribes occupied an area previously covered with ice.  But for most of their modern history, they have not been their own rulers.  A period of independence after World War I ended with Soviet occupation during World War II.

 With the breakup of the Soviet Union, Estonians had a new chance to take back their country, but to keep it, they determined that they needed two things:  stability and explicit international recognition.  Stability they sought with conservative fiscal policies, such as a 26% flat tax.  “Simple,” Ambassador Reinart explained.  “The tax return was just a page long and took five minutes to complete.”  Those policies produced a balanced budget and laid the groundwork for economic development.  

Although building the wealth to support pensions and the expenses of a mature state remains a goal rather than a fait accompli, Estonia has weathered the current economic crisis better than its neighbors, and now has the highest GDP per person of any country that used to be part of the USSR.  International recognition meant meeting the requirements for joining the European Union and NATO.  Those requirements are founded largely on demonstrating economic and political stability.  The success of the fiscal policies seems to have supported a stable political environment.  The same centrist party has been in power for several years, and major changes are not expected in this year’s elections.   Ambassador Reinart traced these efforts and their recognition in the eyes of the world; Estonia became a member of EU in May of 2004 and NATO in November of the same year.