Event Highlights: Irish Voices – A Reading & Conversation with Irish Poet Harry Clifton

May 1st, 2017 in Event Highlights

On Tuesday, April 18th, Irish poet Harry Clifton was the guest speaker at the Center for the Study of Europe, reading from his collection of poems, Secular Eden: Paris Notebooks 1994-2004. Clifton started the conversation by briefly describing different types of Irish poets and the complex emotions arising from the placement of Ireland within the broader interpretation of what it means to ‘be European’. Joking he said, “as an Irish poet you are caught – as they say in the economic debate – between Boston or Berlin, and you are asked to choose ‘are you on the Berlin side or are you on the Boston side?”

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Clifton then gave the background of his poem “Euclid Avenue,” which was written 30 years ago while Clifton was a visiting fellow at the Iowa International Writers Conference. While the poem is a reflection upon his university days, Clifton explained his childhood experience, “growing up in Ireland in the 1950s and ‘60s, you were part of a post-independence Ireland where the poetry was part of what you might call the ‘pedagogy’ – it was coming from above down and it was lots of early Yates, lots of folk identity – very beautiful poetry but if, as in my case, you grew up in a city and you had other roots, cosmopolitan roots, you found that you had to go looking for a voice somewhere else.” He then delved into describing his exposure to two things during university which profoundly influenced his writing: European philosophy and modern American poetry. After discovering the fantastic spectrum of 20th century American poetry, Clifton explained his fascination with Hart Crane’s work, including the intriguing fragment of a poem. Introducing his poem, “Euclid Avenue,” Clifton commented that the “words ‘Euclid Avenue’ were like a poem in themselves,” and continued by admitting, while a common name in suburban America, the ‘Euclid Avenue’ had an “energy…like a coiled spring” and that there was something “quite American, and different” about the words. Clifton added “I often feel –when I’m in America – that I’m in a society that’s in perpetual movement, and that I’m always in the presence of an undertone of automotive power. I can hear a sort of ground base of American life in the background all the time and it’s an energy that’s going outwards, whereas Irish energy is often going inwards – it’s an introverted sort of super-historical energy.”

The poet then talked about transitions, and his experience moving from Ireland to the continent at the end of the 1980s, a time when Europe had “come to be considered a museum – a very beautiful place, but somehow frozen.” Clifton continued, “the ice broke in 1989 and the old energies that had been buried emerged from the permafrost of all the Cold War years,” something he identified as a crucial juncture in the re-establishment of Europe. He complimented Europe in its “capacity for dying and resurrecting itself,” and commented on the immortal energies that thrive in Europe. He then read several poems related to his experience in the Apennine Mountains in Italy.

Clifton paused in his readings to discuss his fascination with the mixture of light and darkness in the energy of Europe, stating “I often think of Europe as the conscious of the world, because it has lived through things that other parts of the world might yet live through but haven’t lived through,” emphasizing how his interpretation of ‘conscious’ encompassed both its positive and negative connotations, viewing the idea as an “incubator of things that often come to terrible fruition in other places, as well as in Europe itself.” He then moved on to described the timelessness of Europe in his reading of “The Landbridge” about the pilgrimage route from Paris to Rome, followed by a discussion of the climate and natural environment in Europe before reading “Citrus” and “Daffodils”.

Clifton then explained the relationship between poets and their audience as an “active friendship,” and then opened the floor to a conversation with the audience. After several minutes of Q&A, Clifton transition back into reading from his collection of poems, focusing on those related to Ireland, including a description of a traditional dark humored Irish joke. Clifton read from his poem “Burial With Your People,” which describes a fluid landscape, “half night, half day; half water, half sky – you would not know exactly what side of existence you’re on” and tied the piece back to the “great statement of the melancholic nature of the Irish mind in its approach to things that are life giving, life affirming.”

After a second period of conversation with the audience, Clifton ended by highlighting his personal favorite Irish poetry: the elementary writing of hermits who wrote about the delicacies of nature and raw untouched island. He finished by reading “After Ireland,” his own interpretation of Ireland before the modern era, a piece which, Clifton explained, was his attempt to capture the tone of the early Irish poets he was inspired to emulate.

You can watch the entire conversation here:

This year’s European Voices events are organized in collaboration with the literary journal AGNI and the Goethe-Institut Boston and are taking place as part of EU Futures, a series of conversations exploring the emerging future in Europe. The EU Futures project is supported by a Getting to Know Europe Grant from the European Commission Delegation in Washington, DC to the Center for the Study of Europe at Boston University.

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Event Highlights: Which Future for Democracy in a Post-political Age? A Lecture by Chantal Mouffe

April 25th, 2017 in Event Highlights

On Tuesday, April 11th, the Center for the Study of Europe welcomed Chantal Mouffe, a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster. Beginning with an assessment of the present state of democracy, Mouffe described our contemporary period as a “post-democracy” era in modern democracy is a façade of true democratic principles and values, whereby institutions are controlled by privileged elite members of society. She explained that “emergence of neo-liberal policies has led to the colonization of the state by corporate interests” and how crucial political decisions are being taken outside democratic political channels and thus undermining the transparency expected in a democratic system. Mouffe claimed that the origin of the “post-political” age is loss of legitimacy in democratic institutions and subsequent process of de-politicization in Europe. Agreeing with the generally accepted analysis surrounding the emergence of the current political order, she emphasized the necessity of examining the consequences of the phenomenon and the role of the left in forming possible solutions.

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While her previous book examined the reason for a “post political perspective” in liberal democratic societies, Mouffe talked about its connections to the strategy of the “third way” as conceptualized by sociologist Anthony Giddens. Discussing the approach of Giddens, she explained how his theory argues the necessity of thinking beyond left and right and instead envisage a new type of politics in which a “radical center” transcends the traditional left right divide. Mouffe said that the trend of social democratic parties moving toward the center of the political spectrum in Europe reflects this idea, and added, “according to that approach western societies have entered a second stage of modernity, one they call ‘reflexive modernization’.” She described the now obsolete first state of modernity, referred to as the era of “simple modernization,” and characterized how it was replaced by the adversarial model in which the social democratic leaders believed that adaptation to an increasingly globalized world demanded a movement toward the “center left,” a trend which spread from the UK to Germany and then across Europe. Under the pretense of modernizing the social democratic project, these leaders instead abandoned the project and capitulated to neo-liberalism, “convinced there was no alternative to the current form of global financial capitalism those parties have accepted the framework established by neo-liberal hegemony”.

Mouffe criticized the abandonment of the social democratic project by party leaders, noting the self-imposed limitations of trying to “humanize neo-liberal globalization”. She acknowledged the lack of interest in politics and blurring of policies presented by the center right and center left has led to the emergence of of populist groups appearing “to be the only ones offering an alternative to the existing order.” Mouffe talked the question of traditional democratic elements – rule of law, declarations of human rights, and the idea of popular sovereignty – being declared as obsolete and resulting in the abandonment of the struggle for equality by the center left parties in favor of liberal values. She discussed the precarious position of working class people and their role in the post-democratic European order. Demanding democracy beyond representation, Mouffe described the movements within various sectors of European society which seek to actively participate in the democratic system. Today it is a “crisis of representative democracy,” and she presented her view that the refusal to accept the post-political order and subsequent protests “can be read as a call for radicalization of liberal democratic institutions not for their rejection.” Mouffe continued that the overarching goal is more inclusive representation, and said that the political system must be transformed to one in which the individual is offered a voice. She condemned the desertion of existing democratic institutions, and instead presented the idea of citizens engaging with institutions in order to profoundly transform them, a “strategy of the radicalization of democracy,” which “requires the emergence of a progressive project that will offer an alternative to the post-political liberal consensus which is dominant in center left parties.”

Mouffe discussed the debate between horizontalism and verticalism within the left, and added “if we are thinking of having some impact it is necessary to transform institutions, necessary to articulate these dimensions with some form of channeling toward institutions some form of an electoral war machine.” She articulated her belief that, in order to address the crisis of representative democracy, there must be a formulation of a progressive project offering an alternative to the status quo, an aging monument of neoliberalism. Commenting on the kind of political movement that such a political movement would require, she argued that there must be framework in which the people can establish an open dialogue with the establishment, something she termed “left wing populism.” She explained how the reestablishment of a democratic core in the post-political age demands the construction of a populist movement that promotes an agenda of left-wing values. Mouffe noted how “we are – all of us – subjected to the logic of capitalism,” and then added “the ‘us’ of the collective will that is going to be organized by the left wing is much more transversal, it can bring together – around the idea of collective will – many more groups than those traditionally associated with the left.”

Mouffe emphasized her deep conviction that her interpretation of an emergent “left wing populism” is the only feasible solution to fighting right wing populism. She insisted that this left wing populism should have a European dimension because “it is obvious that if the end is to offer an alternative to neoliberalism, this is not going to be possible only at the national level.” Convinced that the left wing populist movement demands an “agonistic confrontation about the future of Europe,” Mouffe alleged “many people on the left are beginning to dodge constructing a future within the framework of the EU alternative to the neoliberal model of globalization.” She continued “the EU is increasingly perceived as being an intrinsically neoliberal project – a project that cannot be reformed.” Mouffe condemned the perspective carried by many European leaders today that exiting the EU is superior to reforming it, and blamed such pessimistic anti-European sentiments for feeding into the rhetoric used by right-wing populist groups. Rather than turning toward Euroscepticism and the abandonment of the European project as whole, Mouffe told the audience that legitimate criticisms of the current neoliberal policies would lead to the reformations necessary to transition the EU toward a democratic future.

In Mouffe’s view, “what lies at the bottom of the disaffection toward the EU is the absence of a project that could foster a strong identification among the citizens of Europe and provide an objective to mobilize their political passion in a democratic direction.” She explained how the EU is formed around people “as consumers rather than citizens,” and claimed that the lack of a common will as a central weakness of the project. Mouffe argued that in order to foster popular allegiance to the EU, there must be “an elaboration of a social political project offering an alternative to the neoliberal model…the old model cannot continue, but the new one is not yet born.” She placed responsibility upon European institutions and national governments in contributing to the current crisis and discussed the failed attempts of using neoliberal solutions to solve a neoliberal crisis. To stop the growth of right wing parties and the spread of anti-European sentiments, Mouffe concluded with a warning to the audience, questioning a future in which right wing populists succeed in destroying the European project. She ended by calling upon leaders to unite “European citizens around a new vision…a project that could give them hope for a democratic future – establishing, at the European level, a synergy between left parties and social movements…[which] could make possible the emergence of a collective will and radical transformation of the current hegemonic order…to mobilize people’s hopes and passions toward a more just and equalitarian society.”

You can watch the entire lecture on the EU for You YouTube channel:

This event takes place as part of a new initiative entitled "Interferences," a series of events on issues pertinent to democratic politics in the US and Europe. Organized as part of EU Futures, a series of conversations exploring the emerging future in Europe. The EU Futures project is supported by a Getting to Know Europe Grant from the European Commission Delegation in Washington, DC.

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Event Highlights: Reconfiguring European States in Crisis – A Lunch Talk by Patrick Le Gales

April 19th, 2017 in Event Highlights

Patrick Le Galès, a CNRS Research Professor of Sociology and Politics at Sciences Po Paris, spoke at the Center for the Study of Europe on Wednesday April 5th, about his recently co-edited book. “Reconfiguring European States in Crisis” offers a ground-breaking analysis by some of Europe's leading political scientists, examining how the European national state and the European Union state have dealt with two sorts of changes in the last two decades. The central argument of the book is that the processes of Europeanization and globalization have been the main factors undermining state capacity to exercise authority, to control their economics, and to defend their territories.

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As European states become primary policy states, Le Galès explained that internal reforms have occurred as a direct result of democratic pressures and the interdependence within globalizing financial capitalism. He emphasized how Europe has been the continent where states have mattered the most and for the longest time, noting the Treaty of Westphalia in the 17th century as the critical juncture for the emergence of states as the dominant form of political organization. Addressing the multidimensionality of the state, Le Galès spoke about the duality of the European political system and highlighted the hierarchal authority struggle in the management of challenges and crises. Since the early 1990s, Europeans have experienced the state in two forms – within their nation-state and as members of the greater European Union. He noted that the question of state capacity has been brought to the forefront of conversation in Europe, as EU institutions continue to gain authority while Member States fight to retain sovereign control over domestic policy and governance.

After a brief evaluation of the debate surrounding the epistemology of "the state", Le Galès turned the discussion toward the issue of governmentalization in European states and argued that public policies are major drivers of state reconfigurations because “not only do policies make politics, but policies also help to make or transform institutions and states.” He described the internal and external contemporary challenges facing European countries, and discussed the blurring of state identities resulting from migratory trends in the EU and the role of mobility in shaping both states and policies. Le Galès then discussed how the book interprets how European states have been reconfigured through five processes: globalization, new public–private relationships, policy crises (and the subsequent reform and expansion of institutional authority), the changing scale and number of regulatory agencies, and shifting internal security concerns. He ended by acknowledging how the current crises in fiscal policy, Brexit, security and terrorism, and migration through a borderless European Union have had dramatic effects on European states and offered several “futures” which may emerge in the near future given the rise of nationalistic populist movements across the continent.

This event was organized as part of EU Futures, a series of conversations exploring the emerging future in Europe. The EU Futures project is supported by a Getting to Know Europe Grant from the European Commission Delegation in Washington, DC to the Center for the Study of Europe at Boston University.

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Event Highlights: How Will Capitalism End: Reflections on a Failing System – A Lecture by Wolfgang Streeck

April 18th, 2017 in Event Highlights

Director Emeritus at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne, Wolfgang Streeck gave a lecture at the Center for the Study of Europe on Tuesday, April 4th about his recent book. While his book is about the failings of the contemporary capitalist system and not specifically about the European experience, Streeck began by emphasizing how any discussion of Europe today must embed the subject of the general transformations of global capitalism in recent years. He warned that simple solutions, such as blaming the Germans for imposing austerity, are dangerous as “it’s not that easy – capitalism is more complicated and we [Europeans] are dealing with one of the embodiments of the general crisis of the capitalist system.”

Streeck explained how his book is not a systematically built grand theory, but instead a raw collection of essays. It is an attempt at explaining “to my colleagues in the social sciences that today our disciplines can no longer be productive unless we work in a good part of political economy and unless we begin to understand…the process of material production in its modern form, and that is modern capitalism.” He continued by explaining how his overarching goal is to demonstrate that a return to the late 19th century tradition of blurring the disciplines of economics, political science, and sociology would promote greater analysis of the current world order.

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To summarize the book Streeck said “capitalism is an unlikely social formation – it took, and takes, a lot of effort to institutionalize it and make it work,” and continued by underlining how capitalism is simply “the infinite accumulation of accumulating capital.” He explained how there is no end in sight, as monetized transactions continue to replace traditional transactions and how the process has expanded both horizontally (moving from the center toward the periphery and absorbing as the system spreads) and vertically (as more spheres of life are being identified as potential sites for commodification and monetization).

The lecture then moved to a discussion on the complexities of capitalist dynamics, as Streeck returned to the previous summary of his book, adding that the infinite accumulation of capital is accumulated for the sole purpose of further accumulation. He noted that all major theorists of capitalism have struggled to capture this trend in a conceptual framework, including Marx who described capitalism as a system that is permanently restive, replacing subsistence with maximization. Streeck identified proof of capitalism being an ‘unlikely’ social formation in the theoretical attempts to explain it, noting that “all major theorists of capitalism expected that during their lifetime capitalism would come to an end,” including John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, and Max Weber.

He highlighted his personal interpretation of what he identifies as the ‘three-and-a-half crises of capitalism’ since the 1970s. Beginning with the inflation crisis, Streeck explains how his analysis links this original global financial challenge to the public debt crisis of the 1980s, the private debt crisis of the 90s and early 2000s, and finally to the collapse of the private debt mechanism in 2008. He described how each of these periods had mechanisms which were inventions created to keep the system going after the end of post-war growth and the breakup of the post war regime, and then continued with a discussion of how each crisis transitioned into the next in the past 45 years. Streeck warned that the ‘rule of the central bank’ is limited in time, arguing that we are in the early stages of a fourth period of crisis, in which central banks are dangerously buying up debt and in turn becoming the primary owners and “creditors of last resort” in many countries.

Streeck then began broader discussion of the historical emergence of central banks and the evolution of capitalism in an era of increasing globalization. He added an analysis of the linkages between current political leadership and global capitalism, and explained how many countries have bought into the mentality that “there is no alternative – we have to open up we have to liberalize you have to struggle you have to fight and in the end you’ll do better.” Streeck noted that the reality has been much different, as large chunks of the world population did not flourish but instead suffered, both culturally and economically. He highlighted how in less than 2-3 years he witnessed a strong reversal in opinion in many countries (including the U.S.) as there was a backlash against – and ultimately a destruction of – center-left moderates by the working class population who felt betrayed by the global capitalist system. Streeck then went through the varying experiences of different countries in managing this reaction to modern capitalism, transitioning the conversation to a more specified discussion of the challenges facing Europe.

He ended by asking “where is this beast to be governed?” questioning the role of national sovereignty in the future and the interplay between the managerial positions of political and economic institutions. Streeck described some of the different perspectives and opinions on the fundamental problem of “what is the optimal size of government in the world in which capitalism is global but politics is local or regional or national?” He claimed that no nation has figured out a solution to this major question, and concluded by saying “the interregnum is a time in which the dead body of capitalism is still lying around, but nobody has the power to push it out of the way so that there is a new future.”

The event then transitioned into a Q&A portion, which began with two questions from the moderator Cornel Ban, Assistant Professor of International Relations and Co-Director of the Global Economic Governance Initiative at Boston University, and then opened to the audience.

You can watch the entire lecture on the EU for You channel on YouTube:

This event takes place as part of a new initiative entitled "Interferences," a series of events on issues pertinent to democratic politics in the US and Europe. Organized as part of EU Futures, a series of conversations exploring the emerging future in Europe. The EU Futures project is supported by a Getting to Know Europe Grant from the European Commission Delegation in Washington, DC.

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Event Highlights: Make the World Think Again: Reason, Hope, and Faith in an Age of Populism – A Lecture by Tomas Halik

April 12th, 2017 in Event Highlights

“A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism,” was the dramatic quote Tomas Halik used to begin his lecture on March 28th, a line taken from the opening page of The Communist Manifesto. Halik started the discussion by speaking about the 150 year legacy of communism in Europe and the world, emphasizing how after the non-violent 1989 revolutions many nations were determined “to build a new democratic, just, and free society.” He spoke about post-communist countries finding the concept of a powerful and united Europe immediately attractive, and how they believed their future advancement was centered upon joining the European project and promoting Western liberal democracy.

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Halik, however, said that these grand ideals have not been fulfilled, warning that and that the world is in the most dangerous place it has been since the end of WWII. He gravely noted “a new spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of populism, nationalism, terrorism, and political extremism.” Halik asked the audience whether these monsters were really unique to the contemporary environment, citing the 1930s era of fascism as a comparative global environment where financial pressures produced such negative social and political reactions. He announced that the greatest consequence of these extremist views is the emerging “crisis of confidence” in which people believe that the present system is incapable of fulfilling expectations.

After discussing the dissent of many populations across Europe and the cynicism in existing institutional frameworks, he turned to criticizing the role of social networks in the fundamental breakdown of the space traditionally reserved for public debate – a centerpiece of classical democracy. Groups of people become “entrapped in their bubbles,” only consuming information that supports their existing convictions and emotions, isolating them from any alternative visions and perspectives on the world. Halik emphasized that such narrow-minded thinking has been exacerbated by the traditional media. He explained how the press has been contributing to the same polarization in reporting on contemporary issues, especially in regards to the phenomena of extremist violence. Halik claimed that the media has inadvertently become the principle allies and tools for terrorists, given that the prime concern of these individuals and factions is not the killing of innocent people but the dissemination of the event to the broadest audience possible.

He then turned to a brief discussion of the interrelationship between politics and religion and the rise of extremist elements in both arenas. In discussing the question of guilt, Halik harshly criticized those who remain complicit during political turbulence, claiming that the the “silent anonymity” of those who stand by the controversial decisions of their leaders are also responsible. He clarified that he cannot condone the usual paths of coming to terms with guilt (witch hunts and displacement of responsibility), instead arguing that a balance between the two extremes is “necessary to seek and to implement a tenuous process of reconciliation and genuine healing.”

Halik then transitioned into a discussion of modern Czech democracy after the fall of communism, explaining some of the difficulties the nation faced with a metaphor: “institutions are like bodily organs – if they are to live and function properly they need blood to circulate, and that role is performed by civil society.” He spoke about the rising tide of populism around the globe today, citing how the 2016 elections in the UK and USA demonstrated that “even the Anglo Saxon world is far from immune to populism.” Arguing that the crisis of real democracy is not only a crisis of confidence in the democratic system, credibility of liberal ideas, and contemporary type of capitalist economy but instead a more profound crisis of confidence in general, Halik analyzed the trend of society becoming increasingly centered upon the individual. He explained how the lack of social cohesiveness leads individuals to feel isolated, resulting in a broader crisis of identity which causes people to turn toward a collective group identity centered upon strong emotions, such as anger and fear of the unknown.

Halik ended the lecture portion of the event by speaking on what he believes to be the greatest division in society today: the access to education. He argued that people without educational advantages feel left behind by those profiting from globalization, resulting in individuals feeling lost, frustrated, and isolated in communities all over the world. These people receive their information from social media, seeing the platform as an opportunity to share their voice and views (which Halik reminded the audience is a dangerous negative feedback loop cycle that feeds isolated groups information that supports their established preconceptions and opinions). Announcing the need to build bridges between the various schisms in society, he specifically called upon the Church to bring the Islamic world and Western liberal societies together. Pope Francis has transformed the Christian Church from an impenetrable and foreboding fortress into what Halik referred to as a ‘field hospital’, reacting to contemporary global issues and adopting opinions on modern challenges. He stressed that Christianity should be a hope for the future, remaining flexible to transform and adapt to contemporary conditions in an effort to actively respond the varying emerging threats facing the world today as “liberal democracy also needs a moral vision.”

You can watch the entire event on the EU for You channel on YouTube.

This event was organized as part of EU Futures, a series of conversations exploring the emerging future in Europe. The EU Futures project is supported by a Getting to Know Europe Grant from the European Commission Delegation in Washington, DC to the Center for the Study of Europe at Boston University.

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Event Highlights: Europe in the Age of Popular Nationalism, a Lecture by Erik Jones

February 24th, 2017 in Event Highlights

- February 10, 2017 -

On Friday, February 10th, the Center for the Study of Europe hosted a lecture by Erik Jones, Professor of European Studies and International Political Economy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at SAIS Bologna.

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Jones started by saying, “What is going on right now in Europe is pretty alarming. You feel an acceleration of events.” He then continued with a discussion on the current hopeless outlook for the European project and the growing force of nationalism around all of Europe. After offering an analysis of the Brexit decision, Jones cited three key features of current European integration: 1) European integration does not go in just one direction, but instead is bidirectional; 2) Sovereignty is unconstrained in Europe; 3) Nationalism is popular.

Erik Jones elaborated on this wave of nationalism across many countries by describing the shifts in perspective in the UK and then his personal experience in Italy, the place he now refers to as home. He explained that as nationalistic inclinations rise across the EU, confidence in the European project continually decreases. Popular nationalism gives individual countries a reason to promote national sovereignty and independence from EU institutions. For Europeanists, creating an integrated vision that can be spread across the EU is a complicated and difficult process as nationalism remains a strong undercurrent in the public dialogue.

Boston University Professor of Political Science, Graham Wilson (Director of Initiative on Cities at BU), began the second session by proclaiming, “my practice is usually not to wear my politics on my sleeve... but I have to start by saying I believe that Brexit is an unmitigated disaster for the United Kingdom.” Prof. Wilson briefly explained his qualms about David Cameron’s leadership in the U.K. leading up to the British vote to leave the EU, and eloquently stated that evidence exists demonstrating Cameron’s underestimation of both the public opinion and political environment leading up to Brexit, explaining how it was “not a happy story in Britain.” Moving away from the specific topic of upcoming Brexit-related decisions facing the U.K. and the EU, Prof. Wilson argued that there is an emerging trend towards nationalism for one’s home country rather than toward a Europeanized vision for the future.

Prof. Wilson then discussed how Brexit can potentially be seen as a reason why other countries would actually not want to leave the EU. He explained the positive interpretation of Brexit, arguing that countries may benefit from the lack of British influence and instead prosper from the opportunities made available under the conditions of a U.K. withdrawal from the EU. Graham Wilson and Erik Jones ended their conversation by noting the importance of continuing the discussion on European integration. As nationalism takes hold throughout Europe, the view of the EU will inevitably change, and European leaders must prepare to face these challenges in the upcoming years.

Watch the event on BUniverse:

This event was organized as part of EU Futures, a series of conversations exploring the emerging future in Europe. The EU Futures project is supported by a Getting to Know Europe Grant from the European Commission Delegation in Washington, DC to the Center for the Study of Europe at Boston University.

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Event Highlights: European Voices: A Reading & Conversation with Lola Lafon

November 3rd, 2016 in Event Highlights

On Thursday October 27th, The Pardee School of Global Studies’ Center for the Study of Europe partnered with the Association Francophone de Boston University to bring French author Lola Lafon to Boston University. The conversation with the author was moderated by AFBU Faculty Advisor Liliane Duséwoir, Co-Director of Undergraduate Studies and Senior Lecturer in French and Spanish in BU's Department of Romance Studies.

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Culturally, Lafon’s background is a mélange of French, Russian, and Polish. She was also raised in the diverse cities of Bucharest, Sofia, and Paris. In addition to her multiculturalism, Lafon is also an author with a multidisciplinary skill set. A dancer and musician turned author, Lafon came onto the scene with a natural talent for writing. “I wrote because I needed to write,” says Lafon. “I wrote because I liked to write, because it was my way of talking to people.”

“I think writing is very physical,” explains Lafon. “So, for me with dancing you are in front of yourself, so what you see in the mirror is exactly how you are, it’s not better it’s not worse. It’s the same way with writing. It’s humiliating in a very good way; it keeps you in reality.”

Her most recent novel, The Little Communist Who Never Smiled, is the fourth she has published. Combining themes of politics, capitalism, and feminism, this fictionalized account of Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci ties together Lafon’s writing prowess with her several social and political collectives, especially feminism. “In France we have this thing called la littérature feminine, or woman’s writing,” details Lafon. “I’m not sure I like this because that would mean that, if you had to add ‘woman’, writing is ‘man’.”

“I wasn’t sure that I was going to do this novel, and then I saw this French newspaper who wrote about [Comaneci] when she was eighteen… [the author] said ‘the little girl became a woman. Verdict? The magic is off.’” The use of the word verdict here strongly impacted Lafon, as she re-imagines Comaneci’s childhood under scrupulous investigation. “When I read this, I knew I had my novel, because for me the subject is this trial, made on women’s bodies.”

In The Little Communist Who Never Smiled, a critique on perfectionism, Lafon skillfully blends together fact and fiction. While the names, dates, and events of The Little Communist may be true, Lafon explains that her writing mixes the historical with the creative. “I don’t write my life,” says Lafon. “I believe in imagination.”

-Toria Rainey ‘18

Watch this event on YouTube!

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Event Highlights: The End of Capitalism with Peter Frase and Richard Seymour

October 24th, 2016 in Event Highlights

From the rise of US third party candidate Jill Stein, challenging the two-party system, to Jeremy Corbyn’s ascension in the British Labour party, dealing a huge blow to the Blairite opposition, radical politics has been forced into the mainstream. This event – organized as a conversation on the current state of radical politics and the emerging futures that may result – address the ‘End of Capitalism,’ a subject both Richard Seymour and Peter Frase have alluded to in their extensive writings. Recognizing that humanity has never before managed to craft an eternal social system, capitalism is notably more precarious and volatile than most preceding global orders. Increasing automation and a growing scarcity of resources, thanks to climate change, could potentially bring it all tumbling down. These are the issues tackled in the Q&A event organized by the Boston University Center for the Study of Europe and moderated by Jacobin editor Nicole M. Aschoff.

Richard Seymour is the author of The Liberal Defence of Murder (2008), Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens (2012), and Against Austerity (2014). He currently presents a programme, ‘Media Review’, for TeleSur, and has previously appeared on BBC, Al Jazeera and C-Span. He is finishing a PhD at the London School of Economics, where he also teaches. Peter Frase is an editor at Jacobin magazine, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center, and has written for In These Times and Al Jazeera. He lives in New York City.

The event began with welcoming remarks by Center Director Vivien Schmidt and a brief introduction of the authors by Nicole Aschoff. Richard Seymour began by talking about the transition away from capitalism. He explained the rising idea of a “left party” in Europe and the United States as “there is a feeling among a growing number of people that we are not represented and that it is about time we had a party.” Seymour then explained how the emergence of Corbyn as an alternative to the establish elite in the UK parliamentary exemplifies “the nature of the crisis at the present – and the nature of the tendencies with which we have to work in order to make socialism a more realizable prospect.” He then described how the left did not deserve this opportunity, but merely emerged from the crevices of capitalism.

Seymour transitioned into a critical analysis of the various mutations experienced within the crisis of capitalism in Europe since 2008. Emphasizing the limitations exposed in the capitalist system, Seymour stated that the compounding effects of the crisis revealed the fragility of a system of consumption based entirely upon speculation and debt. After the crisis of the financial system exposed the rotten subprime housing market, Seymour explained how the crisis of capitalism began to spread into the general economy, resulting in limited investment, a sovereign debt crisis in the peripheral countries, and a final transition into the public domain as the EU establish counteractive austerity programs. Seymour said, “the crisis of economy became a crisis of politics, of ideology,” and continued by explaining how a crisis in representation became accentuated, resulting in the ostracization of working class populations who began withdrawing from politics.

Revealing the underlying nature of the crisis, Seymour explained how the gradual disinterest in voting can be directly related to a definite process in which “democratic capacities of the state have been deliberately – and as a matter of political strategy – closed down. And the name of the beast is neoliberalism.” He then moved into a summary of the rise of neoliberalism and proceeded to critique the assumptions made by politicians who depended upon the expectations of neoliberal society and its effects on citizens. Pointing out various flaws in the capitalist system, Seymour analyzed the limitations of basing all economic, political, and social aspects of life on the logic of the market, centered upon a governmental system which enforces the laws of competition. He described how the system has limited the opportunity for social democratic parties to establish legitimate social bases, while simultaneously cited that increasing numbers of people have begun to feel unrepresented in the “representation of representation, or, the media.” Seymour delved into a critique of media bias and the resulting disconnection between the poor and working classes from the elite policy makers. Seymour then offered an overview of the rise of Corbyn in the UK, highlighting the relatable nature of his campaign efforts and the growing role of social media in mobilizing populations disillusioned with the status quo crisis of representation (which in turn offers long-term solutions to the crises in capitalism).

Proposing the major question of the left wing project, “What are the prospects of success or failure?” Seymour took on the issue of whether the left could use the established institutions of government for radical transformations or if an entirely new governmental structure would be necessary to transition away from the contemporary capitalist system. He explained how the left would have to convince capitalists that they are not proponents of “anti-business politics,” as governance of a capitalist society requires the investment of capitalists. Recognizing that the left-wing project must demonstrate itself as beneficial to business, Seymour highlighted the preference of the left to establish a long-term investment system, based upon: automatization, educating and scaling up the workforce, and ironing out dysfunctions in the economy. Seymour admitted, however, the entrenched resistance of the media and civil servants who prefer the status quo, and explained how they would remain the central obstacles to the rise of the radical left establishing itself as a legitimate alternative leadership.

The final challenge facing the left-wing project is the major question of “what is the state?” Seymour explained that the simplistic Marxist view that the state is merely the “machinery of oppression” limits the possibilities for a leftist project. He recommended overcoming the conceptual assumption that the state is something exclusively controlled by the wealthy or elite. Instead, Seymour argued that we should “see the state more as a field of power and a field of contest and a field of struggle.” Seymour described his dual-level perception of the left-wing struggle, based upon strengthening participation among citizens in civil society organizations, and establishing a transformative agenda within the state. He concluded by emphasizing the idea of transition, highlighting the importance of the left depending upon both the collection action of the people and the power of office to back the development of their alternative radical project.

Peter Frase then began by speaking about his book, which he explained was a thought experiment addressing the question of “how will the crisis be resolved? And what happens next?” Frase emphasized his Marxist opinions, and stated that while he believes “capitalism as we understand it will come to an end sooner rather than later,” the future alternative will not necessarily be better or worse, “just different.” He explained how in writing his book, he decided to focus on the constant drive to increase productivity, and how the modern world is experiencing a total transformation of our production systems in favor of robotized automatization. Frase summarized the two reactions to this trend: optimism and pessimism. The first view is hopeful, identifying the possible sources of bounty, wealth, leisure for all of us if we could harness these technologies in different forms within society. The “alternative holds the possibility of reducing us all to misery and unemployment if we do not control how these technologies are implemented.” Frase explained that both of these arguments have existed since the emergence of the industrialized capitalist society, and decided to begin his thought experiment with the total assumption that automatization replaces human labor.

Inspired “partly by Karl Marx, and partly by Star Trek,” Frase combined politics with the more hopeful perspective on the automatization of production in his recent book. He quoted the classic Marxist idea that ‘we face the choice between moving into socialism or regressing into barbarism,’ which influenced his decision to write his book. Based on the speculation of the crossroads between political struggle, intersecting class and technological dynamics, and the global ecological crisis, Frase stepped to the board to draw a representation of what he argued in his book as the “four possibilities.” Automatization is the premise of Frase’s book, and his 2 by 2 diagram featured a horizontal “ecological” axis (ranging from ‘scarcity’ to ‘abundance’) and a vertical “class struggle” axis (ranging from ‘equitability’ to ‘hierarchy’). Frase explained how he individually examines each of his four futures in the book, and offers examples from both contemporary theory and science fiction.

Frase summarized the two extreme futures, beginning with what he called his “communist box.” Frase explained how the combination of equality and abundance may outwardly seem utopian, but he identified the different problems arising in such a societal arrangement. He predicted an environment in which “rentism” would emerge, in which an economy independent from human labor would instead be based upon charging access to physical objects and intellectual property, in turn “virtualizing the economy.” Addressing the ecological component of this society, Frase explains a necessary accountability for countries negatively impacting the environment as not all countries are equally impacted by the effects of climate change. He described an organization or “plan of consumption’ for natural resources, in addition to a system of “ecological credits” which would ensure all people would be equally responsible for the protection of the planet.

Transitioning to the alternate extreme future, Frase highlighted the major aspects of his “exterminism box,” existing under the conditions of scarcity and hierarchy. Frase cynically argued that without the mutually dependent relationship between laborers and capitalists (as Frase’s thought experiment assumes totally automatized production), the elite would view unemployed workers as a “surplus population.” He explained how, given the limitations of natural resources resulting from ecological crisis, the elites would not want to “waste resources” on the surplus population and sacrifice their own standards of living. In turn, the poor would be isolated and neglected, with limited or no opportunities for social mobility. Frase insisted that, while a pessimistic view, he ends his book by offering a “matrix of possibilities” rather than concrete predictions for the future. He concluded by emphasizing how, “on one level all of these possible futures are happening now, but which parts we draw out and which we suppress are, in many ways, up to us.”

Aschoff began the Q&A portion of the event by asking both guest speakers a variety of questions. She asked Seymour to compare the rise of Bernie Sanders in the U.S. and Corbyn in the UK, and for his speculations on the potential emergence of a stronger radical left movement in America. She then asked Frase to explain his reasoning behind using examples from science fiction instead of emphasizing current leftist literature dedicated to “emerging futures.” Additionally, Aschoff asked the writer to speak about whether or not thought experiments – similar to his own book –could be used for building social movements on the ground.

Seymour responded by first describing the pessimism of left-wing projects, and how radicals should “organize a cultural counter-pressure against the default left optimism and bad hope which always results in disillusionment, and demoralization and demobilization.” He warned the audience the dangers in believing each new idea will become “the thing that will change everything, turn everything around” and suddenly make the left both successful and popular. Seymour explained how it is “realistic to be pessimistic” as the balance of power is not in favor of the left, emphasizing the scale of challenge requires “a generation of work.” He ended with a call to action, citing how the left can take the Bernie Sanders experience as a collection of memories and scars of defeat or use the radical politicization to launch a new radicalized cultural movement in favor of establishing a more permanent and sustained left-wing project in the United States.

Frase responded to Aschoff by explaining how he uses science fiction in context, arguing that, while rational pessimism is necessary, we must hold onto a vision of a speculative future. He said he relied on fiction because he “didn’t want to write blueprints, recipes for the kitchens of the future,” as events never turn out as predicted. Frase described the inherent contradiction in predicting the future as a Marxist, as Marxist theory is based upon the unpredictability and continued struggle for emancipatory socialism. He also explained how thought experiments are deeply ingrained in traditional Marxism, as the conceptual structure was used to draw together multiple struggles into a whole image. For this reason, Frase claimed, he decided to knit together major contemporary issues (environmental crisis, class struggle, intellectual property, militarism, etc.) into a vision of a broader future in which we discover what unifies us.

This event takes place as part of a new initiative entitled "Interferences," a series of events on issues pertinent to democratic politics in the US and Europe. Organized as part of EU Futures, a series of conversations exploring the emerging future in Europe. The EU Futures project is supported by a Getting to Know Europe Grant from the European Commission Delegation in Washington, DC.

- Claire Coffey '18

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Event Highlights: European Voices: A Reading & Conversation with Maja Haderlap

October 20th, 2016 in Event Highlights

On Thursday, October 13, the Pardee School of Global Studies at 121 Bay State Road opened its doors to Austrian-Slovenian author Maja Haderlap, accompanied by her translator, Tess Lewis, to talk about her most recent work, Angel of Oblivion. Born in Austria to a rural, Slovenian-speaking family, Haderlap and her family were in the minority; the majority of Southern Austria spoke German. Angel of Oblivion narrates that disparity, centering around a young protagonist who has to traverse the rigid boundaries between both the equally burdened Slovenian and German languages, and their contrasting communities.

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A coming of age story, Angel of Oblivion is not entirely a memoir, but it also is not entirely a novel—critics of Haderlap’s have dismissed its multifaceted nature, but Haderlap sees the label “messy hybrid” in a positive light. It is no wonder that this work intermixes elements of both poetry and prose, memoir and fiction, and history and culture–this work exists in a particularly difficult moment of history, one wrought with contradictions, excellently encapsulated as Haderlap interweaves her own childhood experiences. “You work with shadows as well as the light,” she notes.

The book, written in German, aims to connect the same two communities Haderlap was torn between while growing up. “It is the grounds for connection between the Slovenian speaking minority and their German neighbors,” Tess Lewis translates from Haderlap’s German. “In Europe, you wall yourself up—more than in the US. If you’re this, you are this and you can’t be that. I try to break this pattern.”

Engaging with the complex themes of the vagaries of memory, the confusion of contradictory emotions, and the struggle of formulating an identity within a community, Angel of Oblivion’s heartbreaking narrative unearths values and issues just as poignant today as they were some fifty years ago.

-Toria Rainey ‘18

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Event Highlights: European Voices: A Reading & Conversation with Enrique Vila-Matas

October 11th, 2016 in Event Highlights

On Tuesday, October 4th, the Boston University Center for the Study of Europe welcomed renowned literary figure Enrique Vila-Matas for a reading and conversation. Born in Barcelona, Vila-Matas is the recipient of international literary prizes such as the FIL Award in 2015, and has been both long and shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. His successes have led to the translation of his works into thirty-seven languages; his most recent publications in English include Because She Never Asked and Illogic of Kassel, with a collection of short fiction called Vampire in Love just gathered for the first time in English in September of 2016.

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Hailed as “arguably Spain’s most significant contemporary literary figure” according to Joanna Kavenna of the New Yorker, Vila-Matas’ works intermix fiction, essay, and biography to redefine his own literary canon of contemporary Spanish literature.

“His work is a texture of real and invented quotation,” says Christopher Maurer, Professor of Spanish at Boston University. While Vila-Matas’ books cross genres and continents, he does still ascertain that he does not plan to abandon any one form of storytelling in favor of another.

“In March, I am going to come out with a book that is a mix of novel, short story, essay, and diary,” Vila-Matas shares. “In that book, the voice of the narrator has a lot of the characteristics of an essayist voice, an essayist who is influenced by poetry…in that sense, narrative supports essay and all of these different genres buttress each other mutually, but I will never abandon the pure narrative, if there is such a thing—because we can never abandon the narrative.”

“As a reader, I like poetry, but that’s not necessarily something I feel like I have at my disposal as a writer,” Vila-Matas shares. “I prefer to read (and read a lot more of) essays than narrative forms…when it comes to writing, I see something another author has written and notices the author’s tics, habits, quirks, and anything that I like I want to unlock and figure out how the writer accomplishes [their writing].”

Vila-Matas attributes some of this unconventional genre-bending style to his experience living and studying in Europe. “In the 70’s in Spain, there was this movement of experimental fiction that people protested against because they didn’t understand them that well, and in the 80’s, there was a kind of boom in Spanish narrative, which people thought was good,” he explains. “Around this time, I had been in France and was taking in a lot of literary theory, and didn’t necessarily agree that a good narrative had to include that narrative thrust, that it could include other aspects.”

The themes that Vila-Matas tackles include themes of otherness, art, and existential crises, which Vila-Matas attributes to his poetic and literary influences. “I read a lot of the poets of the Generation of ‘27 with a particular focus on Luis Cernuda, Garcia Lorca and Pedro Salinas.”

“I began by wanting to be original,” explains Vila-Matas. “There’s a caravan of anonymous literature, which speaks to that theme of the lack of originality…and to paraphrase Paul Valerie, one of the hardest things to think about is that there will be man after us.”

- Toria Rainey '18

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