Posts Tagged ‘Prague’

I am a foreigner. A migrant. I live and work in Prague, the city that has become my adopted home. No one forced me to come here, nor even invited me – I decided to come here myself. I have been warmly welcomed by Czech people and love being a part of Czech society. As a foreigner and a migrant with such a positive experience here I now watch in disbelief at the stance the country is taking to the ongoing refugee crisis.

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“Sit Down! Watch this, its important. You’ll remember it for the rest of your life.”

My Mum probably didn’t know it then, but she had sparked a chain of events that would have great importance for how – and where – I live my life and for how and why I am writing this article. Although I was born and grew up in the UK, I live and work in Prague and have lived most of my adult life in Central and Eastern Europe. Time and again when people have asked me – often somewhat incredulously – why I am so interested in this part of the world, I come back to these words and to the impact of the reportage that I was about to watch. Now I come back to them again as a migrant living in the Czech Republic and contemplating the country’s response to the migration crisis.

Originally published in Czech in Reporter Magazine on 12/10/2015
Read the full text in English at: http://reportermagazin.cz/a-migrants-story/

and in Czech at http://reportermagazin.cz/migrantuv-pribeh/ 

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The Prague metro system’s design transcends the circumstances of its making, yet still provides a rich architecture of memory.

By Benjamin Tallis

Prague’s trams are its mechanised flaneurs; their scenic routes criss-cross the city in a dense meshwork that makes them a prominent feature of street-life in the Bohemian capital. For those leisured travellers with time on their hands there is no better way to ride the city. However, for those of us whose schedules and planning skills mean that we live more like futurists than flaneurs, getting there on time often means going underground.

Hidden beneath Prague’s richly layered material histories, the subway system, with its 61 stations and 65km of tracks is the 7th busiest in Europe, carrying more than 1.5 million passengers every day. This adds up to nearly 600m passenger rides per year: more in absolute terms than on either the Vienna or Berlin U-Bahns and, given Prague’s relatively low (1.25m) population, this makes it the best used metro system on the continent in per-capita terms.

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Begun and primarily built during the communist period, this massive public infrastructure project became one of the flagship projects of ‘Normalisation’ – the clamping-down on the public sphere that followed the crushing of the Prague Spring. The precarious Husák regime that sought to build socialism without a human face attempted to offset the loss of public-political possibilty by boosting material conditions. Increased consumption and enhanced infrastructure represented the politics of meagre promise, laced with threat.

Keen to show that ideology was no impediment to innovation, the regime invested heavily into architecture, prompting a flurry of public building. Brutalist shopping centres and high-modernist office buildings proliferated. Despite the popularity of these styles in the West, in Prague they continue to be associated with a distinct and ill-remembered, politically periodisable vision of how the future used to look. The tighter Soviet embrace of Czechoslovakia brought new technology and resources to bear on large infrastructure projects and it was with Russian help that a plan to take the tram underground was abandoned in favour of a building a proper subway system. This intervention allowed Prague to realise one of its recurring 20th century dreams[1] and become a genuine metro-polis, but like its overground counterparts it was realised in a style that became synonymous with the oppressive regime of the time.

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However, the metro system also provided the stage for one of Czech political performance art’s most famous actions: “on an escalator … turning around, I look into the eyes of the person standing behind me.” Jiří Kovanda’s attempt to provoke connections amidst atomisation and anomie was typical of attempts at low-key defiance of Normalisation’s numbing conformity. Like Havel’s contemporaneous Power of the Powerless, it suggested the fragility of the seemingly implacable post-totalitarian façade and the role that people would need to play to exploit its cracks.

After the revolution of 1989 many stations were renamed as the metro system shed its party nomenclature to become a velvet underground. Moskevská (Moscow station) became Anděl (Angel), while other socialist shibboleths were swapped for prosaic descriptions of location: Budovatelu (Builders [of the future]) became Chodov; Leninová became Dejvická, Kosomonatů became Háje, Družby (Friendship) became Opatov; more proudly, Gottwaldová (named for the first Czech Communist premier, Klement Gottwald) became Vyšehrad, the high castle that is a sacred site for Czech nationhood.

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(Photos from idnes.cz and ceskatelevize.cz)

The metro system recently celebrated its forty-first birthday and many new stations have been added in the last decade. However, it is the formal qualities – as well as the functional efficiency – of the older sections that continues to enchant. Entering the streamlined catacombs beneath Prague’s streets may mean sacrificing the breathtaking vistas afforded on certain tram routes, but in no way abandons aesthetic interest. Like the normalisation-era’s architectural flourishing above ground, the design of the metro – more modernist than the peoples’ palaces of Moscow or Petersburg – has stood the test of time. It transcends the loathed regime that made it and gives the lie to the notions that there was no creativity or quality production in the communist period, or that this era was somehow “post-cultural.”[2]

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Descending from the square at Náměstí Míru, with its art nouveau town houses and pitch-perfect neo-gothic church, toward the vanishing point of one of Europe’s longest escalators (87m length, 43m drop), is to allow oneself to be transported into a gleaming futuristic grotto. Filtered between thick set rectangular pillars, elegant in chrome and marble, passengers are greeted by the colourful, curving surfaces of the tunnel walls. Coloured rows of anodised aluminium tiles – silver, aquamarine, royal blue, aquamarine and amber-gold, provide a wonderful horizontal articulation and a dynamic modernist sheen. Concave and convex indentations and protrusions[3] in the tiles prevent heat warping, but also enhance the tension between motion and stillness that encapsulates the role of the station – a node in a fast moving network. The decor benignly (dis)orients passengers and helps immerse them in metroland as they are transported.

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photos from tuxboard.com

The majority of the stations on the Green ‘A’ line follow a similar pattern, distinguished by colour and the re-combination of modular components. The other lines have their own design identity. The Yellow ‘B’ line makes great use of reflecting and refracting surfaces, particularly visible in the chrome ‘lenses’ at Náměstí Republiky, the curved glass tiles at Jinonice and the . The Red ‘C’ line is plainer and was designed to provide a smooth transition from overground to underground,[4] generally employing wide central platforms and high ceilings. An exception is the dual-platformed, glass-walled Vyšehrad station from which trains are dispatched over a valley, encased in the belly of the Nusle bridge’s elegantly soaring concrete. The newer stations tend to be somewhat blander, although the elegant curves of Střížkov and Nemocnice Motol merit some attention. The stunning effects as coloured light plays on the chrome columns of Letňany’s platform space are in marked contrast to the rest of the station and its surroundings.

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Returning overground, Jože Plečnik’s famous Church of the Holy Heart (1929) dominates the square at Jiřího z Poděbrad. In front of the church stands an unusual structure – a distorted, tiled concrete cylinder, leaning and tapering before being opened and crowned by a series of chrome verticals, supporting what look like rusting venetian blinds. Around the corner, in the Svatopluk Čech gardens, another anomaly faces the monument to the 19th century Czech poet. An outcrop of angular, mosaic-tiled, micro towers, reaching, striving to their different flat-topped heights with the aid of sweeping, curvilinear chrome frontage, looking like something scalped from the head of a brutalist medusa.

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Resolutely functional, yet formed with the sculptural and material qualities of the best public art, these structures are just two of the many air vents that serve the Prague metro. They appear in sometimes-unlikely parts of the city and provide reminders of what lies beneath. These quiet monuments provide material-mnemonic links between the concrete estates of the periphery and the affably pretty inner suburbs and speak of the revenant presence of the past, even as their design transcends the conditions of their production.

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The best of Prague’s metro stations are gloriously encapsulated event architecture, while the air-vents often provide incongruously quotidian counterpoints that draw out the best in their surroundings. The now velvet underground and its above-ground eruptions are essential parts of Prague’s palimpsestuous psychogeography that disrupt all-too coherent narratives that oversimplify the recent past.

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[1] Previous plans for a Prague metro had been made in 1898 and 1926 –  http://metro.angrenost.cz/history.php

[2] As Milan Kundera claimed in his famous essay ‘The Tragedy of Central Europe’ – http://www.ises.hu/webimages/files/Kundera_tragedy_of_Central_Europe.pdf

[3] Known locally as ‘breasts’ (prsy) and ‘anti-breasts’ (anti-prsy).

[4] Interview by Ryan Scott (2013) with Evžen Kyllar, one of the architects involved in the Metro design, along with Jaroslav Votruba and others. http://www.expats.cz/prague/article/prague-metro/secrets-of-the-prague-metro-part-2/

A version of this piece was originally published in The Modernist, Issue 8 – ‘Carried Away’ in 2013.

“At least they can’t divide the sky.

– [No], the sky divides first”

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Manfred and Rita, in Christa Wolf’s DDR novel Der Geteilte Himmel (Divided Heaven), may have been discussing the problems of a nation, a city and a couple torn asunder by the Berlin Wall and all it stood for, but their words call to mind another symbolically divisive piece of architecture. The construction of the Prague TV Tower began more than 20 years after Rita’s gloomy response to Manfred’s forlorn optimism, but now, a further 20 years after its completion, it still divides opinion as it divides the Bohemian sky.

Looking across from the vantage points of Hradčany, visitors to Prague’s famed castle district visually retrace their routes across the city, eagerly picking out the gothic highlights of the old town, the neo-renaissance splendour of the national theatre and the crème-chantille of Malá Strana’s baroque. However, their affable ocular perambulations are disturbed by the tower, which sits on the opposite lip of the bowl that encircles Prague’s inner core. Both the size and shape of the tower – a 216m-high ideal home for an urban spaceman – are disconcerting for those seeking to lose themselves in dreamy, historical reverie.

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The TV Tower is one of Prague’s few genuine ‘cloudscrapers’ [2] and the only one in the ring of historic suburbs surrounding the inner core and, as such, is a dissonant presence. The high-point of Václav Aulický’s architectural oeuvre has attracted considerable derision, being named in a list of the ‘world’s 21 ugliest buildings’ by the Daily Telegraph and as the ‘2nd ugliest building in the world’ by tripadvisor.com, to which the Daily Mail added “As if Prague’s television tower was not ugly enough, it now sports statues of crawling babies on its exterior.” Local architect Martin Krise who is part of the ‘Club for Ancient Prague’ agreed, “the TV tower is a crime against the old town.”

But for me, it was love at first sight; a condition, which, in retrospect I can see was partly brought on by the circumstances of our meeting. Arriving on the late train from Berlin, without local currency and in need of abed, I was wandering through the decaying depths of the main station[3], when a Czech student, upon seeing my backpack, asked me if I was looking for a place to stay. This stranger’s kindness was not limited to a mumbled tip and a biro’d cross on a map, instead helping me get a metro ticket and guiding me to the Clown & Bard in Žižkov, which he had heard was a good place to stay.[4]

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Taking what I now know to be a slightly unusual route, we changed to the A-line and rode underground to Jiřího z Poděbrad. I was first struck by the expanse of the square, ringed by secession town houses, and by Jože Plečnik’s masterpiece, the Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord, but my eye was quickly drawn upwards. Rising, massive, yet elegant, was the TV Tower and the affect was instantaneous. I lost sight of the tower as we walked on towards the hostel through a five-storey valley of apartment buildings. Then we entered Škroupovo Náměstí, the peaceful circle where Václav Havel spoke to great effect in 1988 and, crossing the quiet garden in its centre, I looked to the right and there it was. In the space and time between the two squares, the Tower had drawn itself up to full height and, illuminated in the Prague night, I could get a clear look at what it was made of.

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The battleship-grey high-tech tubes, between which the pods of its three gantry-like decks are slung, the porthole and ribbon windows, the elongated cream hand grenade of its aerial mast reaching skyward, its climbing babies and its perfectly balanced asymmetry all played a part, and I would come to appreciate these aspects of the Tower over time. However it was the Tower’s sheer size and incongruity with its surroundings that impressed me most; the sheer chutzpah of doing that; there – exactly what Krise complained of! In a Herzogian moment of aesthetic ecstasy I had stopped in my tracks. My companion waited patiently before telling me that the tower had been built by the communists and while it was pretty unpopular, he liked it and was happy to see that I did too. We walked on to the hostel, where despite my offer of a beer by way of thanks, he had to go home and study. I’ve never seen him again, but I wish I could thank him.

I have subsequently spent a good part of the last decade living in the neighbourhoods around the TV Tower, which stands close to the border between ‘Red’ Žižkov, that formerly working class warren of bawdy pubs, and bourgeois Vinohrady with its broad boulevards, secession villas and charming cafés. Returning to Prague, the sight of the tower always brought an excited feeling of arrival, of coming home. Many nights I walked there: in the warmth of the summer after times with friends at the Riegrovy Sady beer garden, with the lazy air lapping slowly around its masts; in the winter, with biting cold and frozen breath, the ground crisp and unevenly reflecting the tower’s lights. The stillness, the preternatural silence, testify to the respect and wonder that the tower commands, of the shock and awe of approaching an architectural sublime.

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Innovations (tricolour lighting from 2006) and renovations (new interior, bar and restaurant) speak of an ongoing commitment, of a recognition of the need to deal productively with the tower as it is, as well as where (and when) it came from, and reflect a wider trend in negotiating Prague’s painful pasts. The Miminka, the terribly deformed enfants that artist David Černý attached to the tower add a further layer of reflection. The babies, with their television shaped heads, bisected by a deeply embossed barcode can be read as comment on what came after ‘89, on the strange contradictions of neoliberal ‘freedom’ and the consumption-entertainment nexus. While most of the babies appear to be making their way up the tower, some are heading the other way, having seen the view and decided to come back down.

It seems that even in applied critique, the tower divides opinion, but its functional magic and architectural daring are now combined with a sense of humour that softens its hubris without denting its pride. It is all that its critics and boosters say it is and as such lives up to its nickname “Jakeš’s finger” and so follows in a long Prague tradition, called into appropriately stark and beautiful relief by the surrealist poet Vítězslav Nezval.

Hundred-spired Prague
With the fingers of all saints
With the fingers of perjury
With the fingers of fire and hail
With the fingers of a musician
With the intoxicating fingers of women lying on their backs

With fingers touching the stars
On the abacus of night[5]

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This piece was initially published in Issue 10 of The Modernist, Published in Manchester by the Manchester Modernist Society in 2014. The final image is taken from http://www.jenniferlynking.com/2013/02/05/snow-charles-bridge-and-the-beauty-of-pragues-spires-in-winter/

[1] Cloudscrapers is the literal translation of the Czech word mrakodrapy which is used in the same way as ‘skyscrapers’ in English.

[2] Which has since been restored to stunning effect – bringing out the beauty in both Jan Bočan’s brutal high-tech fusion and Josef Fanta’s Art Nouveau original

[3] It was – and Geoff Berner agrees https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wX8Ss0P7Bq8

[4] As fully translated in Stephan Delbos’ stunning collection ‘From a Terrace in Prague’ Litteraria Pragensia, 2011.

Commentary on Timothy Snyder’s talk ‘Russia, Ukraine and the Central Significance of Civil Society’, Charles University, Prague, 27/01/2015.

 

By Benjamin Tallis

On 27th January, the renowned historian Professor Timothy Snyder spoke to a packed hall at Charles University on the central role of civil society in understanding the Ukraine conflict and what is at stake in wider tensions between Russia and the West. Snyder compellingly made the case for critically re-examining received wisdoms about what civil society is, what it does and why it matters. He situated his analysis of the need to re-invigorate and actively enact civil society in relation to the complacency of Francis Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’ thesis. Snyder claimed that following the great upsurge in civil society activity of 1989 we have allowed ourselves to become complacently post-historical in expecting both a vibrant civil society and ‘progress’ (towards liberal market democracy) to occur “automatically”.

Snyder based his argument on discussion of the convergence and divergence of Russian and Ukrainian histories and national myths. He then presented insightful analyses of certain aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their links to civil society, history and collective memory, particularly with regard to the driving forces and goals of Euromaidan and the obstacles to achieving these. Snyder also provided an illuminating contextualization of the Ukrainian conflict with regard to the wider objectives and orientations of the Putin regime’s domestic governance and foreign relations. However, this led into a discussion on propaganda, which, I argue below, was became less credible the more it was pursued and actually showed the flaws in Snyder’s own arguments and methods. This was particularly the case when he linked the fight against Russian propaganda back to the importance of believing in history, which, he had earlier asserted, provided the platform for effective civil society. Snyder also repeatedly contradicted himself – something he accuses Russian propagandists of doing – and was also guilty in some instances of aping their dissembling tactics, while trying to slip through claims that do not stand up to further scrutiny.

 

Civil Society and the Malleable Communities of History and Memory

The presentation began with a very reasonable definition of civil society as occupying the space between the level of the individual and the level of the state and as providing a way to translate private concerns into meaningful collective action. The collective aspect of this necessitates the delineation of communities within and for which with such action can take place. As Snyder argued, an important example of such a community is a nation, although he dismissed related although different ideas of ethnicity and language as “silly.” For Snyder (and many others), the role of history and the nation’s collective memory is a key aspect of community cohesion, which can also help it bond with other communities or create distinctions from them. This led into a discussion of the contested legacy of the Kyivan Rus, which Snyder pointed out was populated by “Vikings and Jews” yet is nonetheless claimed as a part of both Russian and Ukrainian heritage. He identified the formation of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth in 1569, as significant because it meant that the sizable parts of Ukraine that were included in it experienced ‘normal’ European development – “the renaissance, reformation, counter-reformation” – while Russia did not. Despite Snyder’s ostensible rejection of Fukuyama, this analysis points to an acceptance of some aspects of the ‘historicism’ that were smuggled in with ‘the end of History’, specifically the notions of natural or correct paths of development.

 

Snyder then jumped to the divergent experiences of Ukraine in the early Soviet period, with particular reference to the industrialization and collectivisation of Stalin’s first 5-year plan, which led to the Holodomor, the starvation famine that affected Ukraine to a far greater extent than Russia. However, Snyder then noted that the experience of the Second World War served as a unifying force, with narratives of great patriotism obscuring the activities of Ukrainian nationalists to a significant extent. Echoing the arguments made by Andrew Wilson in a recent book on the Ukraine crisis, Snyder then claimed that the events of the last 18 months had “overwritten and overwhelmed” memories of WW2 as the intense experience of (Euro)Maidan and then the conflict with Russia had been such an intense experience that it had created a new socio-political national myth that left Russia and Ukraine “as different as any pair of European countries”.

Crucially, Snyder emphasized the role of civil society in this process and countered claims that EuroMaidan was led or dominated by Ukrainian-nationalists or Ukrainian-speakers by asserting that it’s driving force was Kyiv’s Russian-speaking middle class. Language, had thus gone from “silly” in other analyses to significant in Snyder’s and was about to become even more so. He plausibly identified a confluence of Ukrainians’ desire for ‘European’ governance and disgust at the “oligarchical pluralism” that had characterised governance in independent Ukraine. The failure to sign the Association agreement meant the continuation of the latter at the expense of the former and provoked a spontaneous surge in civic activism, culminating in the overthrow of the Yanukovych government. Snyder argued that this showed exactly why civil society was so threatening to Putin-type governance, at home and abroad, particularly because the protestors shared a common language (and much else) with Russian citizens, again seeming to contradict some of his previous claims. He then went on to talk about various dimensions of the conflict that ensued, focusing on its military, strategic and propagandistic elements.

 

Dimensions of Conflict: Military Tactics, Strategic Worldview and the Propaganda War

With regard to military tactics, Snyder termed the well-described ‘hybrid’ warfare of the Eastern Ukrainian separatists and their Russian allies as ‘reverse asymmetric warfare’. This label implies that the state (normally the ‘stronger’ party in asymmetric conflict) has in effect adopted the tactics of ‘the weak’, of guerrillas and irregular combatants. This analysis jarred with Snyder’s assertion, when trying to emphasise the magnitude of the conflict earlier in the talk, that Eastern Ukraine had witnessed the largest tank battles since the Second World War (between Russian and Ukrainian regular forces). However, the notion of reverse-asymmetric warfare fits Snyder’s overall analysis of Russian strategy, which he describes as “strategic relativism” – an idea that has long been common currency in the discipline of International Relations, but was presented by the Historian as something new. Snyder argued that Russia sees itself as relatively weak compared to the powers supposedly aligned against it: the West (in various configurations) now joined by a corrupted or kidnapped Ukraine. According to Snyder, this is why the seemingly stronger side in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine adopts the tactics of the weak, although there are also plenty of other reasons for doing so.

Snyder also argued that this self-perception of relative weakness, which does fit with narratives of victimization and humiliation in international affairs that have been prominent in much Russian discourse since the end of the Cold War, also lies behind Russia’s propaganda war against the West. In this analysis, a weak Russia can become stronger by weakening other powers, particularly the EU. This weakening has taken two forms. Firstly, Snyder claimed that Russia has sought to undermine European unity by supporting anti-EU parties and groups on both the far-right and far-left, many of whom have bought into the type of propaganda discussed below. Secondly, Russia has sought to undermine the confidence of Europeans and their political leaders in the EU and in their own societies, branding them as decadent. As Snyder cleverly pointed out, this term not only differentiates the EU from Russia in terms of values – “gay latte drinkers [vs.] true defenders of Christianity” – but also implies the decay of Europe and European societies. If true, this would weaken the basis for political action, by states and by the EU, as well as by civil society actors, which Snyder claims requires a re-assertion of true ‘history’ rather than the nihilistic relativism that he sees as further weakening Europe.

To achieve the goal of a relative re-balancing of power, Snyder claimed that the Kremlin has employed methods of dissembling and confusion, throwing up enough lies (of varying degrees of plausibility) to obscure what Snyder sees as ‘the truth’ in the long run, or even ‘facts’ in the short term. He claimed that this type of propaganda not only effective in Russia, where it falls on favourable ears and eyes, but also in the West where rather than trying to get us to believe something in particular, the propaganda further “corrode[s] our ability to believe anything.” Snyder links this to the West’s embrace of what he sees as a radical postmodern skepticism that has not only undermined our ability to read the present, but has also undermined our “confidence in history.” Crucially, Snyder sees this undermining of history as having a doubly detrimental effect in that it hinders the action by both civil society and states (and the EU) in the face of situations such as that which has developed in Ukraine, as both interests become obscured and communities fail to bond or to believe they should or even could act.

 

History, Politics and Critique

In responses to questions, which unfortunately were required to be in written form which hindered the level of critical engagement, Snyder discussed how Russian propaganda could be countered, while emphasising the importance of not resorting to counter-propaganda. Instead, Snyder made a convincing argument for the need for reporters on-the-ground to provide information and for academics and others to point out the contradictions or inconsistencies in propaganda and political messaging. Both measures are attempts to re-assert the value of ‘truth’ and ‘fact’ in opposition to the confusing “postmodern” “cacophony” that Snyder bemoans. It was unfortunate therefore that when answering a question on the supposed presence of right wing or ‘fascist’ elements in Eastern Ukraine, Snyder resorted to the same tactic. He offered a bewildering list of those that have been alleged combatants, ranging ranged from the Polish army to Blackwater and the (non-existent) NATO foreign legion, in order to cast doubt on the validity of claims that the those such Azov battalion, which has been pictured using fascist symbols, are indicative of a right-wing presence.

This essay has shown some of the inconsistencies in Snyder’s own positions, which do not necessarily undermine the overall thrust of his argument, but do cast doubt upon some of the foundations upon which his scholarship is based. This is particularly the case with regard to the inconsistent treatment of ‘language’ and ‘ethnicity’, which move from being “silly” constructs to ‘real’ factors in explaining conflict and community as suits the argument. This is perhaps linked to Snyder’s unwillingness to talk about intersectional identity politics for fear of its proximity to the postmodernism he so abhors, but it is not good scholarship and nor were his quasi-orientalist remarks about Russian and Chinese propensities for skulduggery and cunning respectively. Despite criticising the complacent assumptions and conclusions of the ‘end of history’ Snyder reproduces many of its aspects, particularly regarding its liberal goals, while somewhat incredulously claiming to be “true left wing”.

More worryingly, Snyder also smuggled in big, political claims under the banner of academic scholarship, such as the questionable assertion (particularly in the EU context) that “you cannot have a foreign policy if you don’t have an army.” Taken together with Snyder’s argument that we need to believe in history rather than fall prey to dangerous critical relativism, this amounts to an attempt to put his own politics beyond the pale of serious critical questioning. This sits uneasily with the first point Snyder made – the need to critically examine received wisdoms or stabilised concepts, such as the notion of civil society. This inconsistency is the most serious critique of his talk as it undermines his own challenge to the propagandists, who he is more similar to than it would be comfortable for him to admit. There is much to admire in the detail of Timothy Snyder’s scholarship, as the astute observations reported above testify, but we should also hold his work up to the critical standards that he applies to others, rather than allowing it to be off-limits to thoroughgoing critique.

A Full video of Timothy Snyder’s talk is available here

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In nice news, uber-Designer Swiss Miss featured my CM Prague talk on space and borders on her website (more than 1m unique visitors per month!).

Check out the talk and the rest of Swiss Miss’ on the link below

http://www.swiss-miss.com/2013/08/link-pack-3.html

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And it was the headline piece in the CM Global monthly newsletter!

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Thanks again to everyone who made it happen – I was really pleased to be part of such a great event!

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– take a look at the wonderful photos of the event from Everybay here

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.490279277720830.1073741833.331379706944122&type=1

Also, have a look at the other great talks that CM Prague – who just celebrated their 1st birthday – have organised this year!

https://www.facebook.com/CreativeMorningsPrague

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On Saturday 4th May, the 2nd Prague Security Conference took place at Anglo-American University. The conference, which featured leading academics as well as local students, focused on issues relating to Terrorism and Political Violence, Human Security and Humanitarian Intervention as well as on Urban, Spatial and Architectural politics.

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Academic Papers were presented by international experts Dr. Xymena Kurowska from Central European University (Budapest) (with Benjamin Tallis) and Dr. Japhy Wilson of University of Manchester. Kurowska & Tallis presented a version of their paper ‘Chiasmatic Crossings’ which was recently published in leading journal Security Dialogue and looks at new ways of understanding and methods of conducting political research and the production of useful knowledge in European security.

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Japhy Wilson presented a paper in response to Chiasmatic Crossings, which looked at the politics of conducting fieldwork in development research. The audience were captivated as a tale that sounded more like it came from a spy novel than a textbook combined charges of ‘Sabotage of Development’ with Lacanian pschology to understand contemporary neoliberalism in Africa.

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Further details on the guest speakers, as well as on the papers, which showed the breadth and depth of academic research into politics as well the ethical issues involved, are available below.

In addition to sharing the latest in their cutting-edge political research with a diverse Prague audience, Dr. Wilson and Dr. Kurowska also provided expert feedback on four panels of student papers.

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Students from the AAU Upper Level Bachelors and Masters classes on ‘Terrorism & Human Security’ prsented in the morning and the members of ‘Power Structures: Architecture, Politics and the City’ in the afternoon. The morning session featured presentations ranging from ‘Mad, Bad or Misunderstood: Anders Breivik and the Depoliticisation of Political Violence’ to an examination of the case for Humanitarian Intervention in Syria.

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The afternoon session started off closer to home, looking at Prague architectures in and beyond transition and how they work, asking questions such as who is the city for and are Panelaks the new Versailles? The relevance of such approaches beyond the Czech capital was shown by other papers that looked at global issues on cycling, hollywood representations of the city and the policing of movement in the West Bank.

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AAU faculty members Prof. Don Fuller (Dean of School of IR & Diplomacy), Dr. Bill Eddlestone (Head of History) and Daniela Chalaniova (Lecturer in Politics) were on hand to see the quality of the students’ work and, along with Dr. Francesco Giumelli of Metropolitan University Prague, they engaged with the students work and provided valuable feedback.

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The conference provided a chance to students to experience a real academic conference and get high-level and diverse feedback from leading academics. The papers given by the guest speakers introduced sophisticated and significant new ideas and research findings to students and staff. The presence of members of the public only helped to confirm the significance of these issues beyond academia and the importance of research into them.

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At the end of a intense day, the group retired to less formal surroundings to continue their discussions, which went on long into the night.

Conference Programme

https://ceethrough.wordpress.com/2013/05/02/2nd-prague-security-conference-security-the-city-panel-programme/

Guest Speakers

https://ceethrough.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/2nd-prague-security-conference-security-the-city-guest-speakers/

 International Guest Speakers

Dr Xymena Kurowska – Central European University, Budapest

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Xymena Kurowska is an IR theorist interested in interpretive policy analysis. She earned her doctoral degree from the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. Her research and writing concentrate on interdisciplinary approaches to security and international state-building, with the focus on EU’s security and border policies in EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood. She was a fellow of the European Foreign and Security Policy Studies Programme, conducting fieldwork research on border reform in Ukraine. She is the CEU principal investigator for “Global Norm Evolution and Responsibility to Protect”, a collaborative grant awarded to a consortium led by the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin and encompassing institutions in Europe (CEU, Oxford University, the University of Frankfurt), Asia (Peking National University, J. Nehru University), and Latin America (Fundação Getulio Vargas, Brazil). Xymena has co-edited two books on European security and her work has appeared in numerous edited collections as well as leading IR Journals including Security Dialogue.

Dr Japhy Wilson – University of Manchester

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Japhy Wilson completed his PhD in 2009 at the University of Manchester, where he subsequently worked as a Lecturer in International Politics until 2011. He is currently a Hallsworth Research Fellow in Human Geography, also at Manchester. His research explores the relationship between space, power and ideology in the global political economy, with a particular focus on the politics of social engineering. His PhD thesis and initial publications address the

contested production of space in southern Mexico. His current research concerns philanthrocapitalism and the politics of development in sub- Saharan Africa. Theoretically, he draws on historical materialism and the psychoanalytic critique of ideology, in order to critically engage with the power relations though which social space is imagined, produced, and transformed. Japhy is the co-editor of a forthcoming book on Spaces of Depoliticisation and Spectres of Radical Politics and his work has appeared in several edited collections as well as in leading political geography journals including Antipode and Society and Space.

Xymena Kurowska and Japhy Wilson will be presenting papers on the Keynote Panel at the 2nd Prague Security Conference
Saturday 04 May (1300 – 1430)

  • –  Xymena Kurowska & Benjamin Tallis – ‘Chiasmatic Crossings: Reflexive Research Encounters in Central & Eastern Europe’
  • –  Japhy Wilson – ‘Sabotaging Development: The Researcher as Lacan’s Objet Petit a
Contact: benjamin.tallis@aauni.edu