Welcome to our December 2020 WQ Dispatch. We hope that you are having a wonderful and safe holiday season.
We are working busily on The Wilson Quarterly’s Winter 2021 issue – “Back to the Future” – which will revisit key policy decisions of the past four years (and longer) and examine the possibility (or advisability) of their reversal by a new administration.
Also in the wings for Spring 2021 is an issue on "Public Health in a Time of Pandemic."
Beth A. Simmons, Andrea Mitchell University Professor of Law, Political Science and Business Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote a Fall 2019 essay (“On the Border of Anxiety”) that brought WQ readers to the cutting edge of scholarship on borders. The piece articulated what social science and law can tell us about the physical boundaries imposed by state sovereignty.
“One might say that the challenge of our time is no longer how borders are to be delineated,” wrote Simmons, “but rather how they should be governed.”
So what effect has the COVID-19 pandemic had on our “anxious” borders? In a special edition of the journal International Organization (Cambridge University Press), Simmons and Michael K. Renwick, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University, co-authored a piece on “Pandemic Response as Border Politics.”
Simmons and Renwick link the pandemic’s effects on border politics to larger trends that have developed over decades: “While the increased pace of movement wrought by globalization may one day return, it appears that the current pandemic has hastened movement away from international cooperation and reinvigorated a my-nation-first approach.”
The last eight weeks since the U.S. general election have brought the effect of partisanship on the process of casting ballots to center stage. In this moment, a new book by Dov H. Levin, Assistant Professor of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Hong Kong, is one way to grapple with the empirical evidence behind the hubbub.
In Meddling in the Ballot Box: The Causes and Effects of Partisan Electoral Interventions (Oxford University Press), Levin provides the first comprehensive analysis of U.S. and Russian ballot interventions from the immediate post-World War II era through the 2016 U.S. election. Levin argues that we should be wary of assigning blame to nakedly foreign meddling in elections from outside a nation-state:
“I found that electoral interventions are ‘inside jobs,’” writes Levin, “occurring only if a significant domestic actor within the target wants, or is willing, to be aided in this manner by a great power.”
Read more in an October 2020 interview with Levin by The Center for International Relations and Politics.
Irmgard Keun is one of the essential German writers of the 20th Century. Yet too few readers are familiar with her works, or her topsy-turvy life. She was a rising star in the literary scene of Weimar, publishing two astonishing novels, Gilgi (1931) and The Artificial Silk Girl (1932), before the Nazis seized power and banned her books.
Keun had the reckless audacity to sue the government for damages. She was punished with fines and interrogations, so Keun eventually joined many of her fellow writers in exile. This brief period resulted in two more classic works: After Midnight (1937) and Child of All Nations (1938).
Yet in a decision which she never fully explained, Keun became one of the very few émigré authors who escaped into exile only to sneak back into Nazi Germany. She returned in 1940 with an illegal passport and a faked suicide to cover her tracks, and lived quietly in Cologne for the duration of the conflict.
Few writers possess Keun’s sparkling and sharp concision. She is a novelist who could boil down the feeling of living in Nazi Germany in a brief sentence, as she did in After Midnight: “We’re all in a concentration camp, the whole nation is. It’s only the Government can go running around free.”
Since only the four novels mentioned above have been translated into English, Michael Hoffman’s new translation of Keun’s first postwar novel, Ferdinand, The Man With the Kind Heart (Other Press), is a welcome addition. Keun’s eye catches all the collective guilt, anxiety, and misery of postwar Germany. “I would like to be perfectly alone for awhile,” her protagonist says. “If you have no money and nowhere to live, you can never be alone…. When I was a soldier, I could never be alone, when I was a prisoner of war I was never alone, and wretched returnee, still less so.”
A new Keun novel in translation is one of the happiest literary events of 2020.
If you enjoyed the Fall 2020 issue’s exploration of the “spomenici” of former Yugoslavia – abstract monuments to key events of WWII in that region, built from the 1960s through 1980s – we invite you to an online discussion about these extraordinary works of art on Tuesday, January 5, 2021 at 9 a.m. EST.
In Monumental Politics: The Spomenici of Former Yugoslavia, WQ Editor Richard Byrne will discuss these unique artworks with Donald Niebyl, who founded a website about the spomenici and is the author of a book, Spomenik Monument Database (Fuel). Please join us.
Those interested in the region may also want to seek out Ian Bancroft’s new book, Dragon’s Teeth: Tales From North Kosovo (ibidem-Verlag). Bancroft’s portrait of one of the most-contested political territories in the world – the largely-Serbian north of Kosovo – is rendered with vivid colors and powerful anecdotes.
Bancroft served with the EU’s Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (Eulex) from March 2015 until December 2018. His sketches of life in a corner of Europe that fell into shadow after the 1999 conflict are keenly observed, underscores a seemingly-mythic hardness and violence in the landscape. “People would often ask why Serbia doesn’t simply relinquish the north for the greater good,” Bancroft writes. “The answer is simple and lies beneath—too many dragon’s teeth have been planted, both in the north and elsewhere.”
Cover Image: Flower Monument (Cvjetni spomenik), Jasenovac, Croatia. (Donald Niebyl).