Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why I Love My Field in 10 Wikipedia Entries

I am a Russian and East European Studies major. It is a major so insignificant that it does not have its own department here at Yale, unlike our more winsome sister "Slavic Languages and Literatures" (yes, that is just fancy talk for "Russian Lit").

I do not regret my decision, however, because despite my major's total lack of dedicated faculty and resources, it allows me to study the history and politics of a much broader region-- from the North Caucasus to the Balkans, from the Czech Republic to Azerbaijan, from the Christianization of Kievan Rus' in 988 to last spring's bombings in Dagestan.

But let me assure you, it's not all ancient hatred and mass death! My years of study have left me convinced that in addition to being one of the most depressing fields of study, mine is also one of the funniest. I present to you ten Wikipedia pages, chosen completely arbitrarily, the skimming of which I hope will give you a taste of what it's like to be a REES major (some of them were written in less-than-fluent English; I have left them unedited).

"During the first semi-final of the 2009 contest, the introductory 'postcard' leading into the Armenian performance depicted, amongst other monuments, We Are Our Mountains, a statue located in Stepanakert, capital city of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic which is a de-jure part of Azerbaijan. After an official complaint by Azerbaijan, the video clip was edited out for the broadcast of the final. However, in retaliation the presenter of the Armenian votes, Sirusho, held up a clipboard with the monument's picture on it as she read off the votes, and in the background a screen in Yerevan's main square could be seen to display the monument. Azerbaijan's 'postcard' depicted the Maqbaratoshoara and Segonbad monuments, symbols of the cities of Tabriz and Urumieh, in Iran's Azerbaijan region. Armenian media complained that while Eurovision forbade display of an Armenian monument located in Nagorno-Karabakh after the Azerbaijani protest, it allowed Azerbaijan's inclusion of the Iranian monuments."
"We Are Our Mountains", Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh
"First appearance of the 'Hey, Slavs' on territory of Yugoslavia was in times of Illyrian movement. Dragutin Rakovac translated the song, and named it "Hey, Illyrians" (Croatian: Hej, Iliri). Until Second World War, the translation did not suffer many changes, except Illyrians became Slavs.

In 1941 the Second World War engulfed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The Axis powers invaded in early April, and the Yugoslav royal army disintegrated and capitulated in just two and a half weeks. Since the old Yugoslav anthem included references to the king and kingdom, the anti-royalist Partisan resistance led by Josip Broz Tito and his Communist party decided to avoid it and opted for 'Hey, Slavs' instead.
The old anthem was officially abandoned after the liberation in 1945, but no new anthem was officially adopted. There were several attempts to promote other, more specifically Yugoslav songs as the national anthem, but none gained much public support and 'Hey, Slavs' continued to be used unofficially.
After the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991-92, when only Serbia and Montenegro remained in the federation, 'Hey, Slavs' continued to be used as the anthem of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. That country was renamed to the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2003 and was expected to adopt a new anthem, but since no agreement over national symbols could be reached, 'Hey, Slavs' remained the anthem of the state union."

"The compromise solution, as set out in the two resolutions, was very carefully worded in an effort to meet the objections and concerns of both sides. The wording of the resolutions rested on four key principles:
  • The appellation 'former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia' was purely a provisional term to be used only until the dispute was resolved.
  • The term was a reference, not a name; as a neutral party in the dispute, the United Nations had not sought to determine the name of the state. The President of the Security Council subsequently issued a statement declaring on behalf of the Council that the term 'merely reflected the historic fact that it had been in the past a republic of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.' The purpose of the term was also emphasized by the fact that the expression begins with the uncapitalised words 'the former Yugoslav', acting as a descriptive term, rather than 'the Former Yugoslav', which would act as a proper noun. By also being a reference rather than a name, it met Greek concerns that the term 'Macedonia' should not be used in the republic's internationally recognised name.
  • The use of the term was purely 'for all purposes within the United Nations'; it was not being mandated for any other party.
  • The term did not imply that the Republic of Macedonia had any connection with the existing Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, as opposed to the historical and now-defunct Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
One additional concern that had to be taken care of was the seating of the Republic of Macedonia in the General Assembly. Greece rejected seating the Republic's representative under M [as in 'Macedonia (former Yugoslav Republic of)'], and the Republic rejected sitting under F (as in 'Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia', which turned the reference into a proper noun rather than a description). Instead, it was seated under T as 'the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia' and placed next to Thailand."

"Some argue that Kosovo establishes a valuable precedent for other people who wish to secede.
  • Daniel Turp, a member of the pro-Quebec sovereignty Parti Québécois who sits in the National Assembly of Quebec, said 'Recognition [of Kosovo] sets the stage for Ottawa to eventually recognize an independent Quebec'.
  • László Tőkés, an ethnic Hungarian who is a member of the European Parliament for Romania, said Kosovo is a 'model for the Romanian region of Transylvania'.
  • Yasser Abed Rabbo, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian negotiating team, said that if the United States and the majority of the European Union 'have embraced the independence of Kosovo, why shouldn’t this happen with Palestine as well?'
  • Igor Smirnov, the leader of Transnistria, a predominantly Russian separatist republic in what is internationally recognised to be eastern Moldova, said 'For us, the Kosovo precedent is an important ... factor.'"
Proposed flag for the Union State
"Since the formation of the Union of Russia and Belarus in 1997, there has not been official recognition of a state flag or coat of arms. There have been several drafts for flags and coats of arms.

Two proposals have been made for the flag of the Union. In all cases, they are modifications to the flag of the Soviet Union, but representing the state (not communism). In both cases, two red stars are placed in the canton of the flag (to represent the two states of the Union).

A proposed coat of arms is a modification of the double-headed eagle holding the coats of arms of Russia and Belarus. In both cases, the ideal of a single flag and coat of arms is being held back (similar to a single anthem) until the Union is to expand."

"With renewal of the sense of Wendish culture since the 1970s, the Texas Wendish Heritage Society preserves the history and culture of this group with their museum located in Serbin, Texas. The 3000+ artifacts, documents and original log buildings of Johann Killian and his congregation serve as the chief voice of this bygone era. A Wendish Fest occurs annually every fourth Sunday in September to celebrate their cultural background. They continue to decorate eggs in their cultural fashion and their egg noodles are never far from the table."

"In 1929, following disagreements between the Zagreb and Belgrade sub-federations, the Football Association of Yugoslavia was dissolved. It was then re-established in May 1930 in Belgrade, this time with the Serbian-language name Fudbalski savez Jugoslavije. The Belgrade-based association then continued organizing the national league until 1939, when the Banovina of Croatia was created as an administrative region within Kingdom of Yugoslavia. On 6 August 1939 the Croatian Football Federation (Hrvatski nogometni savez or CFF) was established as a football governing body in the newly created province, and Croatian and Slovenian clubs soon began leaving the Yugoslav League to join the CFF-run Croatian-Slovenian Football League in protest of the alleged centralization of sports around Belgrade. The split was eventually rectified with the promise of an increase in the number of Croatian and Slovenian clubs in the league, and because of this a shortened ten-round league was payed in the 1939–40 Yugoslav First League season. In 1940 CFF also played a part in organizing the first ever Croatia national football team matches which played four international friendlies between April and December 1940. However the federation was not yet recognized by FIFA as Croatia was at the time still a province of Yugoslavia."

"Not to be confused with Russian True Orthodox Church.

The True Russian Orthodox Church is a Russian religious group founded by Pyotr Kuznetsov. It is an apparent sect or dissenting faction of the Russian Orthodox Church. Its members reject processed food and consider bar codes satanic symbols."

"The town was founded by 300 families of the Russian sect New Israel, who were seeking religious freedom, which they did not have under the Czar. Their leader, Basilio Lubkov had been imprisoned in Russia as a religious dissident. The settlers introduced the sunflower as well as some advanced agricultural techniques to Uruguay. They constructed a flour mill and the first sunflower oil producing plant in the country.

During the Uruguayan military dictatorship (1973–84) the Russian inhabitants were persecuted, as the military saw each one as a possible communist sympathizer. Many residents stopped speaking Russian, and most Russian books were destroyed. The cultural centre Máximo Gorki--where music, dance and other cultural activities were held--was closed, and traditional dance costumes were burnt. In 1984, the town became known throughout Uruguay for the execution of Vladimir Roslik, a Russian-Uruguayan medical doctor who was tortured and later killed by the Uruguayan military. For some he is a hero and a symbol of internal struggle in Uruguay.

With the restoration of democracy by 1989, the cultural centre Máximo Gorki has again been revived as a focal point for cultural activities in the town. It is home of the traditional dance group Kalinka, who have won many prizes in Uruguayan dance competitions."

"Koschei is also known as Koschei the Immortal or Koschei the Deathless, as well as Tzar Koschei.
Koschei cannot be killed by conventional means targeting his body. His soul is hidden separate from his body inside a needle, which is in an egg, which is in a duck, which is in a hare, which is in an iron chest (sometimes the chest is crystal and/or gold), which is buried under a green oak tree, which is on the island of Buyan, in the ocean. As long as his soul is safe, he cannot die. If the chest is dug up and opened, the hare will bolt away. If it is killed, the duck will emerge and try to fly off. Anyone possessing the egg has Koschei in their power. He begins to weaken, becomes sick and immediately loses the use of his magic. If the egg is tossed about, he likewise is flung around against his will. If the egg or needle is broken (in some tales this must be done by specifically breaking it against Koschei's forehead), Koschei will die."
(Surprise! Russians have their own memes. This is Winged Doom, also known as Omsk Bird, Omsk Crow, and lots of other stuff. They even have their own meme encyclopedia type thing! Man internet, you crazy.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

On "Quitting"

It's been five days since my surgery and everything is going pretty well-- except, of course, for the fact that I can neither smoke nor drink alcohol for at least another eight to fifteen days (and that's an optimistic estimate).

I've been a smoker for almost exactly three years now and have never tried to quit, although there have been times when I consciously cut back, and periods of illness so severe that I didn't even want to smoke. Still, this is the longest I've ever gone without smoking since I started, and so I've been reading up on nicotine withdrawal and quitting hoping that there might be some useful tidbit out there somewhere about how to make this suck less.

I won't keep you in suspense: there's not. What I did find, however, is that people writing about quitting say the darndest things. For your enjoyment, I now present:


Under "Benefits of Quitting" from

"Many people who quit smoking are surprised by how good they feel!
They don’t need to smoke
They don’t have to find places to smoke
They don’t have to worry about their smoke bothering others
They smell good
Their cars, homes, and kids don’t smell like smoke
They can better smell food and other good smells
They feel more relaxed
They don’t have to make sure they always have cigarettes
They have more money"
Seriously, if this is the list of things I have to look forward to I might put off quitting even longer. This is just sad (and I can smell food and other good smells just fine, thank you!).

"Keep other things around instead of cigarettes. Try carrots, pickles, sunflower seeds, apples, celery, raisins, or sugarfree gum.

Wash your hands or the dishes when you want a cigarette very badly. Or take a shower.

Light incense or a candle instead of a cigarette.

Where you are and what is going on can make you crave a cigarette. A change of scene can really help. Go outside, or go to a different room. You can also try changing what you are doing."
"Yeah, Alex was a pretty cool guy before he quit. Now he reeks of pickles, leaves the middle of conversations to obsessively wash his hands with bleach and is always burning things. ... Yeah, you're right, I guess the Machinist does make a lot more sense now."

"7. Bake bread. Smell the wholesome, life-affirming, warm bread instead of deadly smoke.
17. Take a nap. Take a shower (you can't smoke there!)."
Oh yeah?

"18. Yell, sing, whine, howl like a wolf...
25. Wash and dry all ashtrays. Decide whether you should toss them or pack them away. Throw away all matches and lighters.
26. Paint. Sculpt. Make a mess. (Your hands will be too dirty to light a cigarette)."
No comment necessary, but one last one:
Exercise = Exorcism = Casting out evil spirits = Exercise
Exercise = Excise = Cutting off dead or diseased tissue = Exercise"
Okay then!

I may periodically update this as I find more, though, to be honest, reading about smoking is just making things worse. People who have quit: do you actually find all this neurotic self-affirmation stuff helpful? My grandmother, who's been a pack-a-day smoker since she was 17, quit cold turkey every time she got pregnant. Pretty sure that's how it'll be for me, when the time comes. Some friends have suggested I get an e-cigarette, or take up nicotine gum or patches, but come on, smokers, isn't it time we stopped lying? Quitting isn't hard because of the nicotine addiction. Quitting is hard because the physical act of smoking is amazing and because the habit has come to define us. Quitting is hard because I live with two smokers and the 4am conversations we have outside shivering in the cold while we get our fix simply wouldn't exist if not for our shared addictions. Quitting has nothing to do with nicotine. Give me a break. Quitting is about trading one kind of suicide for another.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

“ATHENS WITHOUT JERUSALEM CANNOT STAND”: Political Implications of Christian Theology

Third installment of my paper "Ideas Have Consequences: The Theology of Politics & Identity Construction in the Former Yugoslav Republics". See all installments here.
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“For behind all the shortcomings of Byzantium can always be discerned the great vision by which the Byzantines were inspired: to establish here on earth a living image of God's government in heaven.” – Metropolitan (then Bishop) Kallistos of Diokleia (1)

For a variety of philosophical and historically contingent reasons, the West tends to conceive of the civic and religious spheres as distinct and separate. As many have pointed out, the notion of a secular society was completely alien to the East for a very long time. James H. Billington notes that during the “golden age” of medieval Serbia, Stephen Dushan “assumed the titles of Tsar, Autocrat, and Emperor of the Romans; styled himself a successor to Constantine and Justinian; and summoned a council to set up a separate Serbian patriarchate. … To sustain his claim he leaned heavily on the support of Mt. Athos and other monasteries that he had enriched and patronized.” (2) Likewise, “the Orthodox Church in Byzantium...saw no reason to cultivate and incorporate secular culture into its own teaching.” (3) While certainly by the 20th century the Balkans had developed secular culture, there were no catalysts (like the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, for example) in its history explicitly pulling apart the political and the theological.

Peter J. Katzenstein and Timothy A. Byrnes have observed that “because they are expressions of rationalist thought deeply antithetical to religion, the silence of realist and liberal theories of international relations on the role of religion in Europe and world not surprising.” (4) In the Balkan case in particular, there seem to be two approaches to Christianity: one which abstracts away its distinguishing features and understands it as just another irrational attachment detracting from peace and progress, and one which attempts to understand its intellectual content and perceives it as an ideology hostile to democratization and modernization. The former is an outgrowth of instrumentalist theories of identity, and the latter primordialist. Both leave much to be desired.

“Religions and their traditional symbols and rhetoric remain important and extremely persuasive elements of contemporary national and political mythologies. Although latently present all the time, they are particularly exposed during the critical periods in a nation's history. As such, they must not be treated as something that is neither a priori tolerant nor militant; neither in advance conciliatory nor destructive; neither necessarily oriented toward friendship nor enmity; neither a priori zealous nor well-intentioned. In short, religions are neither hateful nor peaceful in advance: their current interpretations and practical activities make them become such.” (5) Here Velikonja epitomizes the first approach, believing apparently that because “the cross and the crescent are easily transformed into the sword,” (6) it would be a fool's errand to analyze any religion on its own terms, Christianity included: “any creed can be transformed into a ruthless beast.” (7)

He relegates religious motivations to the realm of “the irrational, mythical, and symbolic causes,” and asserts that to focus on them would merely distract from the “rational” causes of aggression and obfuscate the “main motives and causes which, in chronological order, are as follows: first, the plan to reunite Yugoslavia under the leadership of the nonreformist segments of the League of Communists and Army hard-liners; second, prompted also by the ineffective policies of the international community, the great-national policies and aggression toward Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.” (8)

While it would be naïve to suggest that the Church is never manipulated by strong states or that its ideas are never employed deceptively or in bad faith, the Balkan Wars can actually be understood as, at least partially, an outgrowth of irresponsible theology. For example, Velikonja discusses “Christoslavism” as the belief that “Slavs are Christian by nature and that any conversion from Christianity is a betrayal of the Slavic race... In short, Christoslavism represents radical Orthodox Pan-Serbian or Catholic Pan-Croatian mythology, whose ultimate goal is a monoconfessional, nationally (and preferably politically) homogenized state.” (9) What Velikonja fails to realize is that he's actually tapped into a belief condemned as heresy by a pan-Orthodox Synod in 1872: phyletism, the subordination of one's church to one's race. (10) “What is remarkable now, in the opening years of the 21st century, is the extent to which phyletism has come to be regarded as natural, normal and even acceptable throughout the Orthodox world... Reasons for this are not hard to find. Particularly since the fall of communism in Russia and Eastern Europe, phyletism has been encouraged by what might be called “hegemonism” – that is, the efforts of various churches to strengthen their own global position. Sometimes these efforts have been justified by reference to the need to provide more effective pastoral care for a dispersed flock. But all too often, these efforts amount to little more than self-aggrandizement and self-assertion at the expense of others.” (11) Recognizing this dimension of the wars opens up more possibilities for dialogue and conflict resolution.

Likewise, he condemns “the false and dangerous logic that there exists only one type of conflict, namely, between faith and nihilism, and that Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, reappeared,” (12) and points to the fact that “in the Balkans, historical and contemporary developments were interpreted in religious terms,” (13) as an example of the instrumentalization of religion. This further illustrates the tendency in political science discourse to misunderstand Christian societies: bringing religion into the political sphere (or, more properly, understanding the political as indivisible from the theological) and regarding one's entire society in religious terms is legitimate and theologically sound (from, at the very least, the Orthodox standpoint), not an abuse of Christian symbolism or rhetoric. Understanding this helps explain why the Vatican, with which Orthodox Christendom often has a contentious relationship, still hasn't recognized Kosovo as an independent country. In early April 2010, Cardinal Walter Kasper of the Pontifical Council said that “We, of course, know that Kosovo is a heavy wound and pain for the SPC [Serbian Orthodox Church]. We also know that it is the cradle and centre of Serbian Orthodoxy in Kosovo. We understand that and wish to have consideration for it." (14)

However, the blending of the religious and political spheres, and confidence in the universal truth of one's faith, does not, as Velikonja asserts, automatically lead to the conclusion that “if one's faith is the only right and righteous one...the elimination of other faiths—religious and ethnic cleansing—becomes a religious duty; killing is no longer...homicide, but...'malicide,' the liquidation of evil.” (15) One need only to look at Patriarch Irinej's 2010 Paschal (Eastertide) Encyclical to refute this mischaracterization:

“We pray to God that, through the prayers of Saint Sava and Saint Tsar Lazar, peace and freedom are returned to our suffering Kosovo, our spiritual cradle and our Jerusalem, the place of our greatest holy shrines, which are pearls of Orthodox culture and the common treasure of all Christendom. … At this time of the Resurrection, the Church always stresses the value and holiness of human life, from the beginning of conception to the full maturity of every unique and God-like human person, objecting to every form of violence against them. To this end, we are not only reminded by God’s command: Do not kill!, but even more so by the Resurrection of Christ, because it reveals to us the deepest meaning of creation and of the existence of the world and man, which is the salvation 'of all and everything' in the Crucified and Resurrected Christ.” (16)

To ignore the philosophical justifications for integrating faith and society is to doom discourse to irrelevance before it's even begun.

Adamantia Pollis's paper, “Eastern Orthodoxy and Human Rights,” is exemplary of the other approach. In it she puts the intellectual tradition of Orthodoxy on trial and finds that “a consequence of Orthodoxy's cosmology is that it cannot serve as a meaningful and relevant guide to contemporary European life nor to its social and political problems.” (17) Sadly for Ms Pollis, and perhaps happily for the Orthodox peoples of Europe, her conclusions are grounded in profound misreadings of Orthodox theology.

She returns repeatedly to the idea that Orthodox theology “negates the importance of 'man on earth'” (18) and argues that “while Catholics and Protestants combine the spiritual nature of man with his individual distinctive personality and while their concerns include the needs of the living, the Orthodox reject the person qua person and his or her rational faculties and recapitulate traditional, pre-Renaissance, pre-Enlightenment dogma.” (19)

It would be difficult to exaggerate how completely wrong this analysis is. She in fact seems to be summarizing some kind of iconoclast ideology, which was condemned as heresy by the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787 AD. (20) As John T. Koyzis explains, “although the second commandment does prohibit us from attempting to portray the invisible, uncircumscribed God...the fact that God became man in Jesus Christ (i.e became visible and circumscribed) means that he can now be portrayed in an icon. If we prohibit icons it is ultimately because we doubt the Incarnation... Iconoclasm went father than merely to proscribe painted images and embraced a generally negative view of the human cultural endeavor itself. This denial of culture led to a concomitant denial of the goodness of the physical world as created by God. By contrast the Orthodox affirm that the world itself has a sacramental character.” (21) Or, as Saint John of Damascus said in the 8th century: “I do not venerate matter, I venerate the fashioner of matter, who became matter for my sake and accepted to dwell in matter and through matter worked for my salvation, and I will not cease reverencing matter, through which my salvation was worked.” (22)

She goes on to say that because “it is man's spiritual being that is of importance and not his earthly the history of the Orthodox Church any extant political regime has been acceptable as long as it has not challenged the spiritual authority and power of the Church.” (23) Again, she creates a distinction between the physical and the spiritual that Orthodox do not observe: “the whole of God's creation, material as well as spiritual, is to be redeemed and glorified.” (24) “ grasp the aesthetic character of Christian thought is also to understand the irreducible historicality of the content of Christian faith: the kerygma that Christ enjoins his disciples to preach is not some timeless wisdom, an ethical or spiritual creed fortified by the edifying example of its propagator, a Wesen des Christentums, but a particular story, a particular Jew, a particular form. ...worldly beauty shows creation to be the real theater of divine glory...” (25) “The whole man, and not just the soul, is redeemed in Jesus Christ.” (26) Pollis's argument that Orthodox societies can neither conceive of or respect human rights is therefore rendered non-sensical.

Orthodox theology in fact presents an opportunity for just the opposite. As Koyzis explains, “the kingdom of God cannot be seen as merely a transcendent or future reality. … Much as God became man in Jesus Christ and much as an icon communicates heavenly realities to the worshipper, so also is the kingdom of God capable of having an earthly manifestation... God's kingdom is not, after all, Plato's Republic, which is incapable of realization in the world and remains merely an ideal to be emulated. It is rather a present reality.” (27)
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1. Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church. London: Penguin Books, 1997. 42.
2. Billington, James H. The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture. New York: Vintage Books, 1970. 56.
3. Bushkovitch, Paul. Peter the Great. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2001. 53-54.
4. Katzenstein, Peter J., and Timothy A. Byrnes. "Transnational Religion in an Expanding Europe."Perspectives on Politics 4.4 (2006): 689.
5. Velikonja, Mitja. "In Hoc Signo Vinces: Religious Symbolism in the Balkan Wars, 1991-1995." International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 17.1 (2003): 34-35.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid., 27.
9. Ibid., 28.
10. Stylianopoulos, Theodore G. "The Orthodox Church in America." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 387 (1970): 44.
11. Preconciliar Commission. "Orthodox Relationships." 14th All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America (2005): 3. Web.
12. Velikonja, Mitja. "In Hoc Signo Vinces: Religious Symbolism in the Balkan Wars, 1991-1995." International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 17.1 (2003): 33.
13. Ibid., 31.
14. Barlovac, Bojana. "Vatican on Kosovo and Serbian Orthodox Church." Balkan Insight 13 Apr. 2010. Web. .
15. Velikonja, Mitja. "In Hoc Signo Vinces: Religious Symbolism in the Balkan Wars, 1991-1995." International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 17.1 (2003): 33.
16. Gavrilović, Miroslav. "Patriarchal Paschal Encyclical 2010." Serbian Orthodox Church. 1 Apr. 2010. Web..
17. Pollis, Adamantia. "Eastern Orthodoxy and Human Rights." Human Rights Quarterly 15.2 (1993): 354.
18. Ibid., 341.
19. Ibid., 344.
20. Louth, Andrew. Greek East and Latin West: The Church AD 681-1071. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2007. 61-62.
21. Koyzis, John T. "Imaging God and His Kingdom: Eastern Orthodoxy's Iconic Political Ethic." The Review of Politics 55.2 (1993): 271-72.
22. Louth, Andrew. Greek East and Latin West: The Church AD 681-1071. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2007. 53.
23. Pollis, Adamantia. "Eastern Orthodoxy and Human Rights." Human Rights Quarterly 15.2 (1993): 347.
24. Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church. London: Penguin Books, 1997. 34.
25. Hart, David. The Beauty of the Infinite. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003. 16-21.
26. Koyzis, John T. "Imaging God and His Kingdom: Eastern Orthodoxy's Iconic Political Ethic." The Review of Politics 55.2 (1993): 272.
27. Ibid., 274-275.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

NO MAN IS AN ISLAND: The Nature of Identity

Second installment of my paper "Ideas Have Consequences: The Theology of Politics & Identity Construction in the Former Yugoslav Republics". See all installments here.
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“The special pathos of the human is one of ubiquitous metaphor, the condition of being always an interpreted being, never to be traced back to a place prior to culture or language, to a state of nature and simple presence…” – David Hart (1)

In common parlance, “identity” is often that vague abstraction encompassing a hodge-podge of preferences, habits, and inescapable facts about one's self. That I have pierced ears, a nicotine addiction, and an American passport can all be said to constitute my “identity”. Identity is, essentially, whatever one says it is; if someone says something is or is not a part of his identity, there is no real way to refute that—in the context of common parlance. For the purposes of this paper, however, I would like to put forward a more rigorous conception of identity: identity is the collection of those facts about one's self that bind one to a larger community; in essence, identity is that thing that determines where one's loyalties lie, and in what (or whom) one trusts.

Understanding identity in this way—as inherently relational—makes clearer the importance of ethnic and religious identity to both the individual and society, and makes absurd the proposition that the political sphere would be better off without such antiquated and irrational attachments. Nevertheless, the latter idea has been dominant in much of the literature addressing ethnic and religious conflict in the Balkans. Alexander Agadjanian notes that “the common vision is that the break-up of the communist system uncovered a 'Pandora's box' of old evil spirits competing with the good spirits of democratisation. Religious identities are part of this dubious legacy from the frustrating past, providing a temporary and inefficient substitute for real needs and, at the same time, a convenient means of manipulation by resource-hunting elite groups.” (2) This attitude is exemplified in Mitja Velikonja's paper on religious symbolism in the Balkan Wars: “To certain religious integrists, political developments in the late 1980s and early 1990s presented an excellent opportunity for the long-awaited re-Christianization and re-Islamization of the political and cultural identity of 'their' nations and the reaffirmation of their dominant position in society. The already belated modernist differentiation and pluralization of these societies seemed to have lost to radical premodernist dedifferentiation.” (3) Adamantia Pollis is more blunt: “If Orthodoxy is to become relevant to the contemporary European world, a reformation is needed of the broad parameters of Orthodox theology. As transmitted through the centuries, Eastern Orthodoxy speaks to the rights of persons only in mystical and spiritual terms; it needs to speak to them as individuals possessed of equal rights, divest itself of its ethnic trappings, and free itself from the state.” (4) Ethnicity, too, receives similar treatment: “In the ultimate analysis (if there is such a thing in the Balkan case), it is the tenacity and resilience of ethnicity as a 'volksgeist' (not the dialectics of history) that defied Tito's rational design...” (5)

These excerpts are reflective of what essentially boils down to ignorance and condescension: failure to understand that ethnic and religious identity are rooted in something stronger than irrational, unjustifiable preferences blinds one to what is actually going on. If one accepts that identity is about loyalty, then one must understand that loyalty is about the relationship between authority and trust. Loyalty to something greater than one's self indicates recognition of an authority stronger than one's own judgment; one is able to submit to this authority because one trusts it. The loyal Serb—likely as a function of his 'Serbness'—trusts the Orthodox Church and submits himself to its authority: this means that he will do what it demands of him even when, and in fact precisely when, he disagrees, or doesn't understand. This submission stems from neither intellectual laziness nor obstinate irrationality, but from conscious recognition of one's own limitations, the desire to actively affirm one's identity (preference without commitment and obligation does not meaningfully shape identity), and to preserve one's self and one's interests within society (the fact that man is an innately social creature aside, if one does not have binding loyalties to various communities and vice versa, it is very hard to accomplish one's ends, regardless of what they are—the man without a team can't play the game).

Inability to understand the philosophical significance of loyalty means it is easier for Western observers to be overwhelmed by the “absurdity” or “irrationality” of Balkan politics. How to make sense of the fact that, during his tenure as Dean of Belgrade University's Philology Faculty, Radmilo Marojević renamed “Croatian literature” “literature of Catholic Serbs” (6), or that a 1982 Greek law “ceased to recognize university degrees obtained in the Republic of Macedonia on the grounds that Macedonian was not an internationally recognized language,”? (7) Unable to wrap their heads around any rational justification for such acts, Western analysts move ever further toward radical instrumentalist theories of identity manipulation. Such theories, however, in addition to denying the intellectual heritage of the peoples about whom they purport to expound, have lower predictive value than one that takes into account the constraints of ideology.
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1. Hart, David. The Beauty of the Infinite. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003. 111.
2. Agadjanian, Alexander. "Revising Pandora's Gifts: Religious and National Identity in the Post-Soviet Societal Fabric." Europe-Asia Studies 53.3 (2001): 473.
3. Velikonja, Mitja. "In Hoc Signo Vinces: Religious Symbolism in the Balkan Wars, 1991-1995." International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 17.1 (2003): 27.
4. Pollis, Adamantia. "Eastern Orthodoxy and Human Rights." Human Rights Quarterly 15.2 (1993): 356.
5. Norbu, Dawa. "The Serbian Hegemony, Ethnic Heterogeneity and Yugoslav Breakup." Economic and Political Weekly 34.14 (1999): 836.
6. Greenberg, Robert D. "Language Politics in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia: The Crisis over the Future of Serbian." Slavic Review 59.3 (2000): 629.
7. Danforth, Loring M. "Claims to Macedonian Identity: The Macedonian Question and the Breakup of Yugoslavia." Anthropology Today 9.4 (1993): 9.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ideas Have Consequences: The Theology of Politics & Identity Construction in the Former Yugoslav Republics

Preparing for tonight's Yale Political Union debate on Resolved: Save the Church from the State with Yale Law Professor Stephen Carter, I've been referencing a paper I wrote last semester for my poli-sci seminar on "Conflict and Cooperation in Post-Communist Europe", taught then by visiting Professor David Siroky. It's one of the few papers I'm proud of, so I thought I'd post it here in easily digestible segments over the next few days. If you're interested in the Orthodox Church, the Balkan Wars of the 90s, theories of multiple modernities, or Church-State relations in general, please give it a read and let me know what you think! All posts in this series will be tagged under "Responsible cross wielding", a phrase I came up with for this paper of which I'm rather fond. Footnotes are indicated by numbers in parentheses and listed at the end of each post. It's a slow start, but I end up arguing some pretty controversial things, so stay tuned!
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"Yugoslavia is a country with six republics, five peoples, four languages, three religions, two alphabets, and one Yugoslav - Tito." – Gary Bertsch (1)

“The South Slavs are a people of ideas; religious, state, and other ideas played and today still play a role in their history.” – Vladimir Dvorniković (2)

The composition of identity in southeastern Europe has long been a Gordian knot for anthropologists, historians, and political scientists alike. Understanding what determines ethnicity, how and to what degree is it consciously constructed (and by whom), and the nature of its relationship to religion are all essential for effectively analyzing the death of Yugoslavia, the birth of the sovereign republics, and how they conceive of themselves and their neighbors in a post-Communist world. While constructivist, instrumentalist, and primordialist theoretical models of identity formation provide a helpful framework from within which to examine South Slavic group formation and dynamics, they overlook the role of the intellectual content of specific ethnic or religious ideologies. The radical instrumentalist view posits that ethnicity, and identity more broadly, is simply “a tool exploited by individuals or elites to obtain power or greater resources and benefits,” (3) essentially implying almost infinite powers of (re)interpretation, unconstrained by history, philosophy, or theology. The primordialist view, on the other hand, approaches identity as rigid, fixed, and “natural” (4), precluding the possibility of development or evolution of an intellectual project. Constructivism comes closest to acknowledging the non-arbitrary nature of ethnic and religious ties, suggesting that “ethnicity evolves in parallel with changes in social interactions.” (5) Ethnic and religious identities amount to more than food preferences and how many days a year one fasts, and to assume the intellectual grounding of a group is arbitrary, infinitely malleable, or irrelevant, is to open one’s self up to radical misinterpretation of that group’s actions and motivations, as well as to limit the predictive ability of one’s theories. Likewise, I posit that ethnic and religious loyalties are often manipulated precisely because they already hold sway over peoples’ lives, and that the goals sought from ethno-religious mobilization are tied to the specific natures of the groups being mobilized, contra the idea that “ethnic political entrepreneurs” manufacture false divisions within societies for the pursuit of arbitrary and personal gain.
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1. Norbu, Dawa. "The Serbian Hegemony, Ethnic Heterogeneity and Yugoslav Break-Up." Economic and Political Weekly 34.14 (1999): 835.
2. Banac, Ivo. The National Question in Yugoslavia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988. 70.
3. Sharafutdinova, Gulnaz. "Chechnya Versus Tatarstan: Understanding Ethnopolitics in Post-Communist Russia." Problems of Post-Communism 47.2 (2000): 14.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid., 15.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Now I'll never see heaven or home

Some longer pieces about CPAC '11 are in the works, but in the meantime I figured I'd take a cue from Leah and give you some songs to mull over this Valentine's Day (will I ever turn down an excuse to beat you over the head with Tom Waits?).

I'd like to start with what I always think of as a collapsitarian love song: "Tables and Chairs" by Andrew Bird.

"I know we're going to meet some day
in the crumbled financial institutions of this land.
There will be tables and chairs,
there'll be pony rides and dancing bears,
there'll even be a band,
'cause listen, after the fall there will be no more countries,
no currencies at all, we're gonna live on our wits,
we're gonna throw away survival kits,
trade butterfly-knives for Adderall.
And we were tired of being mild,
we were so tired of being mild,
and we were so tired..."

Next up: a traditional American folksong that apparently dates to the War of Forced Industrialization, "Lorena". I first learned this singing Jeff Douma's arrangement with the Yale Glee Club, and there are many variations. I've embedded Kent Stewart's version.

The beautifully haunting melody aside (not to mention its eminent singability, a quality many modern love songs, thanks to divas and autotune, fail to achieve), I've always loved how this song deals with duty, fate, and memory. As with most folksongs, there is no canonical list of verses, but here are some of my favorites:

"We loved each other then, Lorena,
more than we ever dared to tell,
and what we might have been, Lorena,
had but our loving prospered well.
But then, 'tis past, the years have gone,
I'll not call up their shadowy forms.
I'll say to them, 'Lost years, sleep on,
Sleep on, nor heed life's bitter storms.'

The story of the past, Lorena,
Alas! I care not to repeat.
The hopes that could not last, Lorena,
they lived, but only lived to cheat.
I would not cause e'en one regret
to rankle in your bosom now,
'For if we try we may forget,'
were words of thine long years ago.

Yes, these were words of thine, Lorena,
they are within my memory yet.
They touched some tender chords, Lorena,
which thrill and tremble with regret.
'twas not thy woman's heart which spoke,
thy heart was always true to me.
A duty stern and pressing broke
the tie which linked my soul with thee."

Fast forward about 150 years and we arrive at Chester French's "She Loves Everybody", which did very well on the charts in 2009.

"But you feel so clean!
Well she craves affection,
so I use protection.
And I know she loves me-
she loves everybody."

Speaks for itself.

If I can be sappy for a moment, I have to pimp Ingrid Michaelson's cover of "Can't Help Falling in Love", which is actually heartbreaking.

And the grand finale... I must admit I had a hell of a time picking just one Tom Waits song for this post, but in the end it was always "Lucinda".

Death by hanging, unforgivable and unspeakable transgressions, the criminal underworld, sacrificial love, all tied together with a beat that evokes alternately the last wheezes of a 19th century locomotive or the weary axe falls of a chain gang.

"Well, they call me William the Pleaser,
I sold opium, fireworks and lead.
Now I'm telling my troubles to strangers,
when the shadows get long I'll be dead.

Now, her hair was as black as a bucket of tar,
skin as white as a cuttlefish bone...
I left Texas to follow Lucinda,
now I'll never see heaven or home.
As I kick at the clouds at my hanging,
as I swing out over the crowd,
I will search every face for Lucinda's
and she will go off with me down to hell.

I thought I'd broke loose of Lucinda,
the rain returned and so did the wind.
I cast this burden on the god that's within me,
and I'll leave this old world and go free.
Now I've fallen from grace for Lucinda,
whoever thought that hell be'd so cold?
I did well for an old tin can sailor,
but she wanted the bell in my soul.

I've spoken to the god on the mountain,
and I've swam in the Irish sea,
I ate fire and drank from the Ganges,
and I'll beg there for mercy for me."

So, happy Saint Valentine's day! If, like me, you are single, "just remember that being alone on Valentine's Day is no different than any other day of your life."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Crazy People Acting Conservative, indeed!

I'll be leaving for DC in just a few short hours. Will eventually have some longer posts covering it, but I'll also be tweeting up a storm. Hunt the snark:!/tristyn_bloom

Been watching some of the speeches online courtesy of C-SPAN today; here are my reactions to Gingrich's speech (start at the bottom and work your way up):

Tristyn Bloom
"I believe you can love nature+be a conservative" Gingrich already abandoned futurism,no longer laughing @ us from the height of skyscrapers

Tristyn Bloom
"I'm a futurist." - Newt Gingrich. SO MANY MALEVICH AND MAYAKOVSKY JOKES. Can't pick just one. Oh, man.
Tristyn Bloom
Newt's "environmental friends"? Does that mean singing chipmunks a la Snow White?

Tristyn Bloom
"The number 1 job today is creating jobs... America only works when Americans are working..." Newt as Chauncey Gardiner?
Tristyn Bloom
Fuck yeah Calvin Coolidge!
Tristyn Bloom
"Barack Obama is no Ronald Reagan" is a thing that needed saying?...
Tristyn Bloom
2+2=5 is sometimes a very charming little thing... (The Underground Man is clearly a goldbug, by the way.)
Tristyn Bloom
Bold colors, not pale pastels. ZOOT SUITS in 2012!
Tristyn Bloom
Okay, the music introducing Gingrich is hilarious. And then kind of sad. And then hilarious again.

I'm strongly considering making a FUTURISTS FOR GINGRICH page sometime this weekend. Stay tuned.