Tag Archives: politics

Telling the Real Story of Nam Theun 2

Dead in the Water, a new book co-edited by today’s guest blogger Bruce Shoemaker, is published this week as part of the series New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies.

When I tell people I went to my first meeting on the Nam Theun 2 (NT2) hydropower project in Laos way back in 1991, I sometimes don’t know whether to be embarrassed or proud. At times it seems it has become an unhealthy obsession. But in reality this involvement has been sporadic and my renewed interest in the project over the last few years represents a return to NT2 after years during which I paid it little attention.

For a time, when I was living in Laos in the mid-1990s, the NT2 controversy was the biggest thing happening—dominating discussions and debate among NGOs, those in the diplomatic and bilateral aid community and discussions with Lao government officials and other local colleagues. As several international NGOs agreed to either endorse or accept paid contracts from the project developers, NT2 created large rifts and the controversy quickly spread beyond Laos and into the international media.

NT2 had a large impact on me personally. Witnessing the extent to which large corporate, government and international financial institutions would go to manipulate public debate and promote a misleading narrative in order to justify their favored project left me with a much more critical eye and what has become a life-long orientation towards questioning the agendas and initiatives of self-interested institutions claiming they are acting in the public good.

In 2001, as momentum built to proceed with NT2, I participated in a “river-based livelihoods” study of the Xe Bang Fai, the river slated to be dramatically affected. Our study, which documented the existing livelihood links local communities had to their river, never mentioned the dam. But it was very much in the background and its publication sent Bank planners scrambling to play catch-up in devoting more (albeit still inadequate) attention to potential downstream impacts.

NT2’s approval by the World Bank in 2005 was the source of not a small amount of disillusionment and cynicism–there seemed to be so many solid arguments against it, so many good reasons why it was the wrong project at the wrong time in the wrong country. But many governments and institutions had bought into the Bank’s rebranding of NT2 as a socially and environmentally responsible “model project.”

While I continued to visit the country for other work, for a long period I didn’t even have anything to do with NT2. While I stayed engaged in the region, I just tried to put it out of my mind and focus on other things.

This continued well past the time that the project was completed and became operational in 2010. My re-engagement dates from 2011 when the World Bank published its own book on NT2, Doing a Dam Better. I saw it as a self-congratulatory and premature puff-piece written before NT2’s many promises could even begin to be realized. In retrospect, its publication sparked my first interest in trying to eventually set the record straight.

By 2012 multiple reports were coming out suggesting that, in contrast to the public pronouncements of NT2’s supporters, not all was well. The reports of the project’s Panel of Experts, people I had previously unfairly dismissed as uncritical project cheerleaders, were becoming critical, even scathing at times, as implementation failures revealed the hollowness of the project’s social and environmental promises.

This first led to a renewed interest in examining what had happened on the Xe Bang Fai, through participation in a return study to the river in early 2014. A peer reviewer for our subsequent journal article, who apparently had a very positive view of NT2, ended up accepting our critical assessment of NT2 impacts on the river–but insisted that we should balance that by “focusing on all of the other positive aspects of NT2.”

This book, a collaboration with my longtime friend and colleague William Robichaud, as well as many other contributors with long histories with the project, is I guess a response to that challenge and to Doing a Dam Better. And as we approached publication in early 2018 the World Bank declared success and announced the closure of its NT2 social and environmental project. Our book tells a different story and suggests that the World Bank’s decision is both premature and unwarranted.

 

Bruce Shoemaker is an independent consultant on development and natural resources who has conducted extensive research on the impacts of the Nam Theun 2 dam. His books include The People and Their River: River-based Livelihoods in the Xe Bang Fai Basin in Laos.

Talking about civilian complicity with the Pinochet regime’s violence

Civil Obedience: Complicity and Complacency in Chile since Pinochet by Michael J. Lazzara is published this week in the series Critical Human Rights. We spoke with Lazzara about issues raised by his book.

Q. Why is it so important to talk about civilian complicity now, more than forty years after the September 11, 1973, coup that put General Augusto Pinochet in power?

A. In the midst of the Cold War, the Pinochet regime (1973-1990) came to power as a violent reaction against democratically elected President Salvador Allende’s “Peaceful Road to Socialism.” Pinochet’s seventeen-year dictatorship resulted in the murder, disappearance, and exile of thousands of Chilean citizens who longed to build a more just and equitable society, as well as the torture of tens of thousands more. Throughout the 1990s, the early years of Chile’s transition to democracy, people almost exclusively attributed the Pinochet regime’s human rights violations to the military, the most egregious perpetrators. Yet we know that dictatorships are always supported behind the scenes by a cast of complicit civilians who play roles—major or minor—in perpetuating the violence and who, through complex processes of rationalization, manage to turn a knowing blind eye to the torture and murder of their fellow citizens.

The stark reality is that many of those who supported the Pinochet regime “behind the scenes” in the 1970s and 1980s remain active in politics, business, and other sectors today. Victims, their families, artists, academics, journalists, lawyers, and concerned citizens have struggled for decades to fight for memory and create a culture of respect for human rights. To a great extent, they have succeeded. But we can’t easily forget that memory and human rights constantly find themselves under attack from political and economic forces that still perpetuate certain violent attitudes fostered under dictatorship.

Q. Is the public discourse of these civilian accomplices relevant for thinking about the “post-truth” era in which we’re living?

A. Definitely! My book is not only about civilian complicity in Chile but also about how civilian accomplices remember and justify their past actions and commitments. I use the phrase “fictions of mastery” to talk about the vital lies (or partial truths) that such accomplices spin, both publically and privately, in order to live with themselves or to convince others that they were acting in the “best interest” of the country or out of a sense of patriotic duty.

Clearly, our contemporary scene is full of individuals who spin stories to advance particular agendas or maintain their hold on political and economic power. My book deconstructs and “outs” such self-serving fictions—and actors—while also advocating for a need for accountability (moral, ethical, and even judicial, when applicable).

Q. Your work provocatively suggests a relationship between complicity and complacency. How are these two concepts linked?

A. The question is important because it forces us to ask: Who is complicit? My book answers this question boldly, even somewhat controversially. It asserts that the spectrum of complicity is vast—that it includes not only those who participated directly in the dictatorship’s crimes but also those who knew what was going on but stood by and did nothing. Even more assertively, I argue that the vast spectrum of complicity in Chile may very well include certain people who years ago fought for revolutionary change and social justice and who now, decades later, wholeheartedly embrace the neoliberal model that the General and his civilian economists espoused. I call these revolutionaries-turned-neoliberals “complacent subjects” and wonder if their political stance, interested in protecting their own status and wealth, might be construed as a form of complicity with the dictatorship’s legacy.

Q. The Chilean dictatorship ended nearly three decades ago. Many analysts praise the country’s transition to democracy as highly “successful.” Why is it important that we continue thinking today about the legacies of the Pinochet regime?

A. Many people, especially economists outside of Chile, have called Chile an “economic miracle” because its economy did relatively well when compared to other countries in the region. This may indeed be true by some measures. But we cannot forget that Chile’s economic strength has its origins in a dark history of torture, disappearances, and murders. We also can’t forget that, despite its economic growth, Chile remains one of the most unequal countries in the world. Moreover, socioeconomic inequality has sparked massive protests and deep disenchantment with political elites from across the ideological spectrum.

The past does not go away. Anyone who goes to Chile today can see and feel signs of the dictatorship’s legacy everywhere. It’s palpable! The political and economic class that sympathized with the dictatorship is now back in power, and the dictatorship’s constitution, penned in 1980, remains in effect. There are still families who have not located their disappeared loved ones. And despite the valiant efforts of those who have struggled to create a culture of human rights and justice, every so often people in positions of power appear in the media denying past human rights violations or explaining them away. Schools avoid talking about the recent past, particularly at the primary and secondary levels. Lots of families remain politically divided. For all of these reasons, it is just as important now as it was in the 1980s and 1990s that we continue the fight for accountability, truth, and justice.

When I began researching Civil Obedience, eight years ago, almost no one was talking about civilian complicity with the South American dictatorships. The topic was complete public taboo. Over the past five or so years, important works of journalism have started to address the subject, and it is now commonplace to hear people in Chile use the term “civilian-military dictatorship” (dictadura cívico-militar). I hope that my book will help fuel an honest debate about the uncomfortable ways in which Chile’s brutally violent past still maintains a hold on the present.

Michael J. Lazzara is a professor of Latin American literature and cultural studies at the University of California, Davis. His several books include Chile in Transition: The Poetics and Politics of Memory and Luz Arce and Pinochet’s Chile: Testimony in the Aftermath of State Violence.

Critical Human Rights
Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors 

 

Writing Against Impunity: State Violence in Thailand

Our guest blogger today is Tyrell Haberkorn, the author of In Plain Sight: Impunity and Human Rights in Thailand, the latest addition to New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies. In Plain Sight was published this month.

When I recently held In Plain Sight: Impunity and Human Rights in Thailand in my hands for the first time, I felt a sense of bittersweet urgency. Seeing one’s work in finished book form is always exciting. That’s the sweet part. The bitter part is that the publication of my book on the history of impunity for state violence in Thailand coincided with the stability of the harshest military dictatorship since the late 1970s. The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), which fomented a coup in May 2014, is approaching its fourth anniversary with no clear exit from power in sight. Impunity, or the persistent and repeated failure to secure accountability for state violence, reigns supreme. Urgency arises from the ongoing need to act against impunity and, in the case of scholars, write against it.

I researched and wrote In Plain Sight as a scholar-activist who divides her time between the present and the recent past, and among reading in archives and libraries, observing human rights court cases, and translating accounts of state violence. Beginning with the end of Thailand’s absolute monarchy in June 1932 and ending with the coup by the NCPO in 2014, I asked: What does the history of a nation look like when told from the perspective of citizens whose rights are violated, rather than the perspective of victorious and powerful leaders?

What I discovered is that Thai citizens have experienced a range of forms of extrajudicial violence at the hands of state officials, including torture, disappearance, assassination, and massacre, across regimes both dictatorial and democratic. In nearly all cases, state officials have escaped sanction and accountability. This impunity has been produced and sustained through the unwillingness of state officials to find their colleagues responsible, the intimidation of victims of violence and other citizens, and weakness in legal systems and other institutions. Impunity takes place in public, is pedagogical, and is meant to be witnessed, from the instance of state violence to the evasion of accountability, and finally to the creation of evidence about it.

The title of the book comes from the most surprising lesson I learned while writing the book: state violence and impunity take place in full public view. My expectation was that finding evidence would be difficult. Instead, I mined archival and other publicly available state documents, newspaper articles, memoirs of civil servants and victims of state violence, and court observation to reveal a history of impunity. Many of the violent events I write about in the book have previously been unexamined or overlooked, but the primary reason is not a sheer lack of information. The events, as well as the evidence of violence, are in plain sight.

The urgency of writing against impunity is underscored every time another person’s human rights are violated. I finished the research for In Plain Sight a few weeks before the May 2014 coup. For several years it had seemed that there might be an end to impunity, rather than a resurgent dictatorship. Political prosecutions, particularly for peaceful expression of dissent, are pervasive. Activists are taken from their homes by soldiers and held for periods of incommunicado detention, designed to intimidate rather than secure any kind of justice. Torture, particularly of those accused in national security cases, is common. As in earlier periods, the law is primarily a tool of repression under the NCPO, not one for challenging it.

The individual lives of those affected by dictatorship form the ongoing urgency of writing against impunity. Scholars cannot stop state violence, but we can document and write about it and ensure that it is not forgotten. This means that after basking for a moment in the glow of holding my book, I put it down, picked up my pen, and went back to work.

Tyrell Haberkorn is an associate professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of Revolution Interrupted: Farmers, Students, Law and Violence in Northern Thailand, also published by the University of Wisconsin Press.

 

A grim anniversary: the Sedition Act of 1918

Our guest blogger today is Eric B. Easton, whose book, Defending the Masses: A Progressive Lawyer’s Battles for Free Speech, has just been published.

The year 2018 marks the centenary of many important events in American history, including the horrific flu epidemic that killed millions and the armistice that ended World War I. Free speech advocates will note with sadness that 2018 is also the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Sedition Act—draconian amendments to the Espionage Act that Congress had passed the previous year. As summarized in Geoffrey Stone’s Perilous Times, the new amendments enacted on May 16, 1918, forbade anyone, during wartime, to:

  • willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the government, military, or flag of the United States; or
  • use any language intended to bring the government, military or flag of the United States into contempt, scorn, contumely, or disrepute; or
  • willfully display the flag of any foreign enemy, advocate the curtailment of war production, or advocate, teach, defend, or suggest doing any of these; or by word or act support the enemy or oppose the United States.

The Sedition Act was repealed in 1920, but it should be remembered today for the arguably honorable, if misguided, reasons why some in Congress supported enactment. Stone quotes Senator William Borah, a progressive Republican from Idaho: “I know this is a drastic law, and I would not support it . . . unless I believed it necessary to prevent things far worse.” While most legislators supported the act to put down dissent, Borah and others thought the law was needed to preempt mob violence against dissenters.

Today, the First Amendment is under stress from numerous challenges that require society to weigh conflicting interests.

Today, the First Amendment is under stress from numerous challenges that require society to weigh conflicting interests. College administrators try to balance the cherished tradition of free speech on campus against the possibilities that some kinds of speech may lead to harassment or violence, or cause members of the campus community to feel unwelcome or less safe. Social media platforms struggle to balance open access for all against the risks of cyberbullying and “fake news.” And the U.S. Supreme Court is, even now, seeking to balance the right of a gay couple to purchase a custom-designed wedding cake against the baker’s purported free-speech right to refuse to express his art in support of same-sex marriage, an institution he opposes on religious grounds.

Protection of privacy, reputation, and cultural sensitivity continue to trouble free-speech advocates today.

While these problems do not raise the existential issues that dissent and reaction in wartime present, they do test the resiliency of the First Amendment in the face of conflicting values. Historically, laws against blasphemy, sedition, and obscenity have repeatedly challenged free-speech values, just as protection of privacy, reputation, and cultural sensitivity continue to trouble free-speech advocates today.

Eric Easton

Resolving these conflicts has been a tortuous process, with more than a few missteps along the way. First Amendment doctrine has largely evolved to overcome bad legislative decisions, almost always in the direction of providing more protection for speech. As we work through these contemporary problems, we would be wise to keep the Sedition Act in mind and the harm that even well-meaning advocates can do to by suppressing free speech to advance other values.

Eric Easton is a professor of law at the University of Baltimore and the director of the LL.M. program in the law of the United States. He is the editor of the Journal of Media Law & Ethics and the author of Mobilizing the Press: Defending the First Amendment in the Supreme Court.

New Books & New Paperbacks, January 2018

We’re pleased to announce the following books to be published this month.

January 9, 2018
Defending the Masses: A Progressive Lawyer’s Battles for Free Speech
Eric B. Easton

“An early twentieth-century champion of the cause of free speech for the American people, Gilbert Roe has found an ideal interpreter in Eric B. Easton, whose own legal background serves him well in analyzing Roe’s brilliantly argued wartime freedom of speech cases.”—Richard Drake,author of The Education of an Anti-Imperialist

“Gilbert Roe was a remarkable person who associated with and defended the rights of many of the most fascinating people of the Progressive Era. Easton brings all these stories to life in his wonderfully accessible biography.”—Mark Graber,author of Transforming Free Speech

 

January 9, 2018
In Plain Sight: Impunity and Human Rights in Thailand
Tyrell Haberkorn

New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies

“Powerfully uncovers and documents many episodes of state intimidation and violence in postwar Thailand. Haberkorn deftly probes the nature and domestic actions of the Thai state and holds it accountable for its own history.”—Ben Kiernan, author of The Pol Pot Regime and Viet Nam

“This stunning new book goes far beyond Thailand’s heartrending experience of serial dictatorship without accountability and state formation grounded on impunity for crime. Haberkorn also compellingly engages Thailand’s place in the rise of human rights movements. Her documentation of an ‘injustice cascade’ reorients the study of global history and politics.”—Samuel Moyn, author of Human Rights and the Uses of History

“Required reading for anyone who wants to understand modern Thailand. Haberkorn reveals a state where political violence is normalized as it has established and maintained a narrow royalist and elitist regime.”—Kevin Hewison, editor of Political Change in Thailand


January 9, 2018
Now in paperback
Winner of the Kulczycki Book Prize in Polish Studies
Primed for Violence: Murder, Antisemitism, and Democratic Politics in Interwar Poland
Paul Brykczynski

“An outstanding and welcome contribution to scholarship on Polish nationalism, the history of antisemitism, political violence, fascism, and democratic politics [that] will resonate with the public at large as we grapple with contemporary challenges to democracy across the globe.”Slavic Review

“This assiduously researched, impeccably argued, and well-illustrated book should be required reading for anyone interested in modern Polish history and/or the evolution of the Polish nation more broadly.”Polish Review


January 16, 2018

Tragic Rites: Narrative and Ritual in Sophoclean Drama
Adriana E. Brook

Wisconsin Studies in Classics

Presenting an innovative new reading of Sophocles’ plays, Tragic Rites analyzes the poetic and narrative function of ritual in the seven extant plays of Sophocles. Adriana Brook closely examines four of them—Ajax, Electra, Philoctetes, and Oedipus at Colonus—in the context of her wide-ranging consideration of the entire Sophoclean corpus.

“Brook throws new light on the representation of rituals in Sophoclean tragedy, especially of incomplete, incorrectly performed, or corrupted rituals that shape audiences’ and readers’ emotional, ethical, and intellectual responses to each play’s dramatic action and characterization, concern with identity and community, and ambiguous narrative and moral closure.”—Seth L. Schein, author of Sophocles’ Philoctetes


January 23, 2018
Conflicted Memory: Military Cultural Interventions and the Human Rights Era in Peru
Cynthia E. Milton

Critical Human Rights Series

“Brings to light how military ‘entrepreneurs of memory’ strategically place memory products in a memory marketplace. A major intervention in debates about Peru’s internal armed conflict of the 1980s and ’90s and its aftermath, which will interest scholars in many disciplines and regions.”—Paulo Drinot, coeditor of Peculiar Revolution

“This incisive analysis of Peruvian countermemories explores the military’s seemingly failed cultural memory production, its lack of artistry and inability to suppress evidence. Though the military is unable to fully reclaim heroic and self-sacrificing patriotism, Milton nonetheless recognizes its success in shaping memory politics and current political debates.”—Leigh Payne, author of Unsettling Accounts

“Impressively documents the military’s diverse interventions in Peru’s culture—memoirs, ‘truth’ reports, films, novels, and memorials—and its numerous attempts to censor cultural productions that challenge its preferred narrative.”—Jo-Marie Burt, author of Political Violence and the Authoritarian State in Peru

Memory, urgency, and shades of gray in Chile’s presidential election

Our guest blogger today is Leith Passmore, whose new book, THE WARS INSIDE CHILE’S BARRACKS: Remembering Military Service under Pinochet, is published this week in our series Critical Human Rights. From 1973 to 1990 in Chile, approximately 370,000 young men—mostly from impoverished backgrounds—were conscripted to serve as soldiers in Augusto Pinochet’s violent regime. Some were brutal enforcers, but many also endured physical and psychological abuse, survival and torture training, arbitrary punishments, political persecution, and forced labor. In his book, Passmore examines the emergence, in the early twenty-first century, of a movement of ex-conscripts seeking reparations. In his blog post for us, he comments on the continuing effects of the Pinochet regime on today’s Chile.

During the brutal military regime in Chile under Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), two young protesters—Rodrigo Rojas de Negri and Carmen Gloria Quintana—were set on fire by Chilean military personnel and left for dead. This infamous 1986 incident, known as the caso quemados (case of the burned ones) helped consolidate the growing opposition to Pinochet on Chilean streets. It also proved to be the last straw for the Reagan administration, which withdrew American support for the dictator as a result.

Fast forward to September 2017, as candidate Loreto Letelier ran for congress in Chile. She suggested on her Facebook page that Rojas de Negri and Quintana had in fact set themselves alight. Her comments came just days after thirteen retired soldiers were indicted for the murder of Rojas de Negri and the attempted murder of Quintana. The version of events peddled by Letelier is not new, but its reemergence reflects a particular and urgent moment in Chile’s memory struggle as a generational horizon looms.

The context of Letelier’s comments is the current presidential election. Conservative former president Sebastián Piñera was favored to win before the recent vote on November 19th, 2017. However, third-place, left-wing candidate Beatriz Sánchez performed better than expected, creating uncertainty in the upcoming runoff election between Piñera and the second-place finisher, the socialist candidate Alejandro Guillier.

As for Letelier, she received less than 1% of the vote in her district. During the campaign Piñera eventually distanced himself from Letelier’s comments and later her candidacy, but he also courted sectors of the community still loyal to Pinochet. The far right has raised its voice in recent years in opposition to social reforms regarding abortion and marriage equality, but also in relation to the memory question. “Pinochetistas” have publicly revived hardline narratives and appropriated the language of rights to demand the release of convicted human rights abusers, citing the prisoners’ advanced age among their justifications.

The flipside to the urgency felt on the pinochetista right is the campaign of victims and their supporters to bring remaining human rights abusers to justice before they die. Victims’ groups have pressed for a change to the legislation that has kept secret the information provided to truth and reconciliation commissions. Proposals are currently before Congress. Although not responsible for the current initiatives, outgoing president Michelle Bachelet did promise to consider removing the embargo, after a 2015 meeting with Gloria Quintana.

Carmen Gloria Quintana (left) and Rodrigo Rojas de Negri (right) prior to being set on fire in 1986. (see source)

The quemados case was reopened in 2015 after an ex-conscript, Fernando Guzmán, testified that Lieutenant Julio Castañer had ordered another recruit to douse Quintana and Rojas in gasoline before setting them alight. A second ex-conscript subsequently corroborated Guzmán’s testimony, and their version is in line with Quintana’s own 1987 testimony to Amnesty International.

Declassified CIA documents also show how the military launched a disinformation campaign in the wake of the incident, buried a compromising police report, and intimidated witnesses, judges, and lawyers. A 1991 finding in the military justice system codified this “official” version, finding no one responsible for Rojas’s death or the burning of Quintana. The narrative that Letelier insists on is the result of this process. It was already actual “fake news” in 1986. In 2017 the case reveals not only the fundamental divisions within Chilean memory, but also at least one unresolved silence.

Ex-conscripts have emerged as important witnesses in high profile cases, but not as narrators of their own stories. The 370,000 former recruits who served under Pinochet may be perpetrators, victims, both, or neither. They may vote left, right, or not at all. Many have a story to tell, but Chile still does not know how to process such shades of gray.

Ex-conscript groups are demanding recognition and benefits, with their appeals assuming their own urgency as their members approach old age and their health fails. While presidential candidates were quick to respond to an ill-

Leith Passmore

informed social media post, none made time to meet with the men drafted into Pinochet’s army. Theirs is a complex and difficult story that does not lend itself to sound bites.

Leith Passmore is a historian at the Universidad Andrés Bello in Santiago, Chile. He is the author of an earlier book, Ulrike Meinhof and the Red Army Faction: Performing Terrorism.

A Russian Revolution Reading List

In this centennial year of the Bolshevik Revolution, here is intriguing reading on political and cultural facets of the revolutionary era (1914-21).

AN AMERICAN DIPLOMAT IN BOLSHEVIK RUSSIA
DeWitt Clinton Poole
Edited by Lorraine M. Lees and William S. Rodner

“A fascinating edition of US diplomat DeWitt Clinton Poole’s oral account of his experience in revolutionary Russia from 1917 to 1919. . . . His views of the early Bolshevik government, like those of other Americans who were there, are critical as the centennial of the Russian Revolution approaches. Highly recommended, all levels/libraries.“Choice

“A historical treasure trove for an era that will never be short on paradoxes, colorful characters, brutal conflict, and harrowing circumstances. Poole, one of the last American diplomats in Russia after the Bolshevik revolution and before recognition in 1933, was a cool, detached observer of events, and rather prescient in his predictions.”Russian Life

 

THE BODY SOVIET
Tricia Starks

The Body Soviet is the first sustained investigation of the Bolshevik government’s early policies on hygiene and health care in general.”—Louise McReynolds, author of Russia at Play: Leisure Activities at the End of the Tsarist Era

“A masterpiece that will thoroughly fascinate and delight readers. Starks’s understanding of propaganda and hygiene in the early Soviet state is second to none. She tells the stories of Soviet efforts in this field with tremendous insight and ingenuity, providing a rich picture of Soviet life as it was actually lived.”—Elizabeth Wood, author of From Baba to Comrade: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Russia

 

FAST FORWARD
The Aesthetics and Ideology of Speed in Russian Avant-Garde Culture, 1910–1930
Tim Harte

“The book is well-written and richly illustrated. It is a pleasure to read both in the old-fashioned slow way and to browse in the accelerated fast-forward mode. This highly stimulating study responds to a long-standing need to address speed as an aesthetic category in modern Russian art and constitutes a very welcome and important contribution to the field.”—Nikolai Firtich, Slavic Review

Fast Forward reveals how the Russian avant-garde’s race to establish a new artistic and social reality over a twenty-year span reflected an ambitious metaphysical vision that corresponded closely to the nation’s rapidly changing social parameters.

 

WHEN PIGS COULD FLY AND BEARS COULD DANCE
A History of the Soviet Circus
Miriam Neirick

“A beautifully written, compact history of the Soviet circus.”—Janet M. Davis, author of The Circus Age: Culture and Society under the American Big Top

For more than seven decades the circuses enjoyed tremendous popularity in the Soviet Union. How did the circus—an institution that dethroned figures of authority and refused any orderly narrative structure—become such a cultural mainstay in a state known for blunt and didactic messages? Miriam Neirick argues that the variety, flexibility, and indeterminacy of the modern circus accounted for its appeal not only to diverse viewers but also to the Soviet state. In a society where government-legitimating myths underwent periodic revision, the circus proved a supple medium of communication.

EPIC REVISIONISM
Russian History and Literature as Stalinist Propaganda
Edited by Kevin M. F. Platt and David Brandenberger

“Platt and Brandenberger have collected first-rate contributors and produced a coherent and powerful volume that amplifies what we know about the uses and abuses of history in the Soviet 1930s.”—Ronald Grigor Suny, University of Chicago

“A boon to graduate students and a delight to aficionados of Soviet culture.”—Jeffrey Brooks, John Hopkins University

 

 

RUSSIA’S ROME
Imperial Visions, Messianic Dreams, 1890–1940
Judith E. Kalb

A wide-ranging study of empire, religious prophecy, and nationalism in literature, Russia’s Rome provides the first examination of Russia’s self-identification with Rome during a period that encompassed the revolutions of 1905 and 1917 and the rise of the Soviet state.

“Gives a new and significant context to the work of some of Russia’s major poets and prose writers of the early twentieth century. Kalb’s main contribution is to show that the interest in the Roman Empire was not an incidental part of Russian literature in this period, but a genuine obsession.” —Michael Wachtel, Princeton University

 

Burying the United Nations Genocide Treaty

This week, University of Wisconsin Press is pleased to release THE SOVIET UNION AND THE GUTTING OF THE UN GENOCIDE CONVENTION. After the staggering horrors of World War II and the Holocaust, the United Nations resolved to prevent and punish the crime of genocide throughout the world. The resulting UN Genocide Convention treaty, however, was drafted, contested, and weakened in the midst of Cold War tensions and ideological struggles between the Soviet Union and the West. Author Anton Weiss-Wendt presents a unique historical account of the failure of the genocide convention. 

Joseph Stalin is the most outstanding figure in Russia’s history, followed by Vladimir Putin and Alexander Pushkin, according to a poll of Russians released in June 2017 by the independent Levada center in Moscow. The 38% of Russians who gave their vote to Stalin clearly dismiss and/or trivialize the mass crimes committed by his regime.

Mine is a story of international criminal law through the prism of Cold War, a legal history of the Cold War. Click To Tweet

When I learned the word genocide, it was in Russian. My paternal grandparents spent nearly twenty years of their lives in Stalin’s Gulag, though they rarely spoke of it. For me, genocide is a personal story. But I am also a professionally trained historian. Hence, the objective of my book is not to condemn but to explain. Neither is it exclusively a story of the communist dictatorship and its crimes.

Unearthing a mass grave on the site of a Gulag camp at Chelyabinsk, east of the Urals, in 1990 (Scanpix)

The Soviets were certainly the biggest offenders in trying to hollow out the Genocide Convention during the UN debates in 1947–48, but they were not the only ones with a vested interest. Neither the Soviet Union nor the United States wanted political groups to be protected by the Genocide Convention. The two countries also reached an unlikely consensus that postponed indefinitely the establishment of an international criminal court. The British, for their part, never tried to conceal their dislike for the kind of international treaty they regarded as futile.

As I worked through documents in over a dozen archives in the United States and Europe, I have oscillated in my view of whether or not Stalin and his top diplomats/ accomplices Andrei Vyshinsky and Vyacheslav Molotov (the men on the front cover of the book) should have stood trial on charges of genocide. I conclude that, “under ideal circumstances, Stalin and the Soviet Union could no doubt be indicted for genocide,” yet I caution that this statement not be taken out of context.

Negotiators for the former Allies in World War II—the Soviet Union, the United States, the United Kingdom—were each conscious of cases of mass violence that they did not want to be covered by the convention. For the Soviets it was forced labor, ethnic deportations, and the destruction of political opposition in Eastern Europe. The Americans had on their minds racial discrimination at home and the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe. The British had yet the longest list of hot-button subjects: the treatment of colonial populations, American use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the treatment of Jews in Mandate Palestine, again the faith fate of German expellees, and so on.

A car owner in Moscow displays his admiration of Stalin, October 2015 (Photo: Ilya Varlamov)

The big question for me—and for all those who have examined or tried to apply the Genocide Convention in a court of law—is whether or not it is a useful legal tool. I am not optimistic. Cold War politics bankrupted the word genocide and ran aground the international treaty that was meant to stamp genocide out of existence. Stalin, and bloody dictators like him, care little for human rights law and are seldom brought to justice.

Stalin, and bloody dictators like him, care little for human rights law and are seldom brought to justice. Click To Tweet

Anton Weiss-Wendt directs research at the Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities in Oslo, Norway. He is the author of Murder without Hatred: Estonians and the Holocaust and Small-Town Russia: Childhood Memories of the Final Soviet Decade; editor of The Nazi Genocide of the Roma; and coeditor of Racial Science in Hitler’s New Europe, 1938–1945.

New books and new paperbacks, July 2017

We’re pleased to announce these new books, and titles new in paperback, debuting this month.

July 18, 2017
WISCONSIN AND THE SHAPING OF AMERICAN LAW
Joseph A. Ranney

“Not simply about Wisconsin’s legal history, for Ranney covers the sweep of state laws in American history from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 to recent legal questions of the twenty-first century. Impressively researched and invitingly written, this is a unique introduction to our states as laboratories of democracy.”—Lloyd C. Gardner,Rutgers University

State laws affect nearly every aspect of our daily lives—our safety, personal relationships, and business dealings—but receive less scholarly attention than federal laws and courts. Joseph A. Ranney looks at how state laws have evolved and shaped American history, through the lens of the historically influential state of Wisconsin.

 

July 18, 2017  NEW IN PAPERBACK
AMENDING THE PAST
Europe’s Holocaust Commissions and the Right to History
Alexander Karn

“Historical commissions, Karn argues, have brought expert historical practice to bear on complex questions, adding new meaning to facts that have either been debated or glossed over. These commissions matter because they serve to amend history in cases in which social memory has impeded understanding of historical injustices and begin the amelioration of past human rights violations.”Choice

“A very important contribution to the interdisciplinary scholarship on the broad theme of reckoning with histories of atrocity.”—Bronwyn Leebaw, University of California, Riverside

Critical Human Rights
Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors

 

July 18, 2017 NEW IN PAPERBACK
SHAPING THE NEW MAN

Youth Training Regimes in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany
Alessio Ponzio

“Ponzio tells a nuanced story of the delicate and volatile relationship between interwar Europe’s two fascist regimes. . . . He highlights power struggles between leaders, curricula designed not to educate youth but to transform them into ideal representatives of their regimes, and strict gender policing within each of the organizations. Recommended.”Choice

“Ponzio provides, above all, valuable new perspectives on the tremendous influence of Italian Fascism on fledgling Nazi youth organizations, and the cooperative and reciprocal relationships that flourished between the two regimes.”—Michael Ebner, author of Ordinary Violence in Mussolini’s Italy

George L. Mosse Series in Modern European Cultural and Intellectual History
Steven E. Aschheim, Stanley G. Payne, Mary Louise Roberts, and David J. Sorkin, Series Editors

 

July 27, 2017
BEYOND THE MONASTERY WALLS

The Ascetic Revolution in Russian Orthodox Thought, 1814–1914
Patrick Lally Michelson

“Impressive in its analytical breadth and astute in its interpretive depth, this is an engaging, lucid, and original contribution to the history of modern Russian thought and modern Orthodoxy.”—Vera Shevzov, Smith College

“Reading this extraordinary book is like having missing pieces of a puzzle click together at last. Actors normally examined separately—radical socialists, theological academies, hermits, great writers, bureaucrats, lay intellectuals—emerge as part of the same religious culture that placed asceticism at the center of discourse and practice in imperial Russia’s defining century.” —Nadieszda Kizenko, University at Albany, SUNY

 

July 27, 2017
IF YOU DON’T LAUGH YOU’LL CRY 
The Occupational Humor of White Wisconsin Prison Workers
Claire Schmidt

“A lucid, compelling study of some very funny, compassionate corrections officers. Their intelligence and comic delight shine through on every page.”—Jackie McGrath, College of DuPage

America is fascinated by prisons and prison culture, but few Americans understand what it is like to work in corrections. Claire Schmidt, whose extended family includes three generations of Wisconsin prison workers, introduces readers to penitentiary officers and staff as they share stories, debate the role of corrections in American racial politics and social justice, and talk about the important function of humor in their jobs.

Folklore Studies in a Multicultural World

 

 

New books in June 2017

We are pleased to announce six new books to be published in late June.

June 20, 2017
WRITTEN IN BLOOD

Revolutionary Terrorism and Russian Literary Culture, 1861–1881
Lynn Ellen Patyk

In March 1881, Russia stunned the world when a small band of revolutionaries calling themselves “terrorists” assassinated Alexander II. Horrified Russians blamed the influence of European ideas, while shocked Europeans perceived something new and distinctly Russian in a strategy of political violence that became known as “the Russian method” or “terrorism”.

“A superb model of interdisciplinary scholarship: highly original, subtle, thought-provoking, and a pleasure to read. Analyzing both word and deed, Patyk rewrites the history of modern terrorism showing why the Russian case was pivotal. A gripping story.”—Susan Morrissey, author of Suicide and the Body Politic in Imperial Russia

 

June 27, 2017
THE POX LOVER
An Activist’s Decade in New York and Paris
Anne-christine d’Adesky

Memories of the turbulent 1990s in New York City and Paris told by a pioneering American AIDS journalist, lesbian activist, and daughter of French-Haitian elites.

“In a voice both powerful and cool, The Pox Lover takes on a sprawling personal history, deeply aware throughout that it is the politics of anyone’s day—and how we respond to it—that shapes a life. Never far from the mad joy of writing, loving, and being alive, even as it investigates our horribly mundane capacity for horror, this book is a masterpiece.”—Michelle Tea, author of Black Wave

 

June 27, 2017
YOOPER TALK

Dialect as Identity in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Kathryn A. Remlinger

Yooper Talk explains linguistic concepts with entertaining examples for general readers and also contributes to interdisciplinary discussions of dialect and identity in sociolinguistics, anthropology, dialectology, and folklore.

“Although humorous songs poke fun at Yoopers’ words and customs, Remlinger takes this place and its people very seriously. She explains how history, ethnicity, environment, economic changes, tourism, and especially language have created a colorful and distinctive regional dialect and identity.”—Larry Lankton, Hollowed Ground: Copper Mining and Community Building on Lake Superior

Languages and Folklore of the Upper Midwest
Series Editor(s) Joseph Salmons and James P. Leary

 

June 27, 2017
THE LIMA INQUISITION

The Plight of Crypto-Jews in Seventeenth-Century Peru
Ana E. Schaposchnik

The Lima Inquisition reveals the details of the Americas’ most alarming Inquisitorial crackdown: the ‘Great Complicity’ and subsequent Auto de Fe of Lima in 1639. Schaposchnik convincingly shows that it was not an aberration or just another Baroque-era spectacle—it was the essence of what the Inquisition was and had been all about, from inception to abolition.”—Kris Lane, Tulane University

“An in-depth look at the trials of the Great Complicity in the 1630s, during which almost 100 people, overwhelmingly men and women of Portuguese origin, were accused of being crypto-Jews and detained and tried by the Inquisition. Recommended.”Choice

 

June 27, 2017
9XM TALKING 
WHA Radio and the Wisconsin Idea

Randall Davidson

This is the fascinating history of the innovative work of Wisconsin’s educational radio stations, from the first broadcast by experimental station 9XM at the University of Wisconsin to the network of stations known today as Wisconsin Public Radio. Randall Davidson provides the first comprehensive history of the University of Wisconsin radio station.

“An engaging, even engrossing, narrative about the station’s pioneering work in broadcasting. … A reader witnesses … the struggles that small and educational broadcasters faced in the early years in what was nearly a constant battle to maintain a foothold in the frequency spectrum.” Journalism History

 

 

June 27
FROM WAR TO GENOCIDE
Criminal Politics in Rwanda, 1990–1994
André Guichaoua, Translated by Don E. Webster, Foreword by Scott Straus

“A landmark in the historiography of the Rwandan genocide. No serious scholar writing about the genocide can afford to ignore this trailblazing contribution.”—René Lemarchand, author of The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa

Critical Human Rights   Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors