Welcome to our February 2021 WQ Dispatch. As the one-year anniversary of pandemic taking hold in the United States arrives in early March, The Wilson Quarterly’s Spring 2021 issue – “Public Health in a Time of Pandemic” – is well underway.
We’ll examine the effects of COVID-19 in every corner of the world, and bring readers stories from the front lines (and behind the scenes) of global responses to this crisis. We will also look to the future. What will public health look like when the pandemic is over? What lessons have we learned?
The Spring 2021 issue will be published in mid-April.
Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja’s essay on the pernicious legacy of Belgium’s colonial rule in the Congo (“Reversing a Bloody Legacy”) was one of the highlights of the WQ’s Fall 2020 issue on historical memory. It was a broad historical view of that inheritance, including the central role of Patrice Lumumba – the first prime minister of Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In a new piece for the Review of African Political Economy, Nzongola-Ntalaja digs deeper into Lumumba’s story. “Patrice Lumumba and the unfinished business of liberation” relates not only the trajectory of Lumumba’s political rise and murder by a conspiracy between external and internal forces that wished to frustrate the nation’s democratic progress, but also traces the development of his political thought from assimilation to anticolonialism.
The essay is Nzongola-Ntalaja’s adaptation of his keynote address at a 2018 conference (“Revisiting the 1958 All-African People’s Conference – the unfinished business of liberation and transformation”) at the University of Ghana. Near its conclusion, he imparts a central lesson of the Lumumba saga and subsequent decades: “The first and second generations of African leaders have failed to deliver on the people’s expectations of independence. We need new leaders, and these should come from social movements of women, workers and the youth. Such movements ought to be people-centered, and not elite organizations in which ordinary members are simply cheerleaders for ambitious leaders.”
Another highlight of the Fall 2020 issue was Madeleine Wattenbarger’s moving reportage on activists seeking answers to their remaining questions about the fates of Mexicans swept up in that nation’s so-called “Dirty War” of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Her article, “Relentless Quest,” examined the long legal and media war waged by relatives of the “disappeared” of that era, and connected it with the continuing wave of abductions and disappearances related to Mexico’s war on drugs.
Wattenbarger’s interests extend to a wide range of security issues in Mexico, as her latest piece (“Where surveillance cameras work, but the justice system doesn’t”) for Rest of the World on surveillance systems and the law demonstrates. “Since the 2009 inauguration of the C5 (then known as CAEPCCM or C4i4),” she writes, “Mexico City’s authorities have prided themselves on having one of the most ambitious and sophisticated video surveillance systems in the world.”
But is it effective in combating crime? Wattenbarger observes that “Mexico City’s district attorney estimated last year that 94% of crimes in her jurisdiction go unreported. Of the fraction of homicides that have been reported, more than 86% remain unresolved. Furthermore, only a tiny number of police investigations involve evidence taken from C5 cameras. According to an ex-C5 official, Rafael Prieto Curiel, only 0.002% of crimes committed in Mexico City are captured on tape.”
Aleksander Kaczorowski, editor of the Aspen Review Central Europe, offered perceptive analysis of the connection between Bohumil Hrabal’s art and politics in our Winter 2020 article, “Protest and the Muse.” (He is the author of a biography of the influential Czech writer, entitled Hrabal: Sweet Apocalypse.)
Kaczorowski’s work on the Czech literature is steeped in the insights he gained through interviews and relationships with key players. Readers got a sense of the depth of those connections in his tribute to Antonín J. Liehm, a Czech journalist and literary lion who passed away in December 2020. (The piece, translated by Julia Smallwood, appeared in Asymptote.)
Liehm had a long and storied career, but his influence in bringing the works of Czechoslovak writers to Western audiences after the Soviet invasion in 1968 was decisive. The tribute also touches upon Liehm’s key post-Velvet Revolution role as “the initiator of the Central European Newspaper, a four-page monthly supplement published jointly by the dailies Lidové noviny in Prague, Gazeta Wyborcza in Warsaw, SME in Bratislava, and Magyar Hírlap in Budapest.”
Kaczorowski notes that “in the 1990s this was the only publication appearing in all the four countries known as the Visegrad Group providing regular information on events in the neighboring countries and promoting the idea of regional cooperation and advocating for joint integration with the European Union and NATO. It is certainly regrettable that this initiative did not survive Central Europe’s accession to the European and North Atlantic structures.”
What happens when your research leads to unappetizing discoveries about a figure whom you’ve spent vast amounts of time and energy studying? Carole Sargent, a literary historian and the founding director of Georgetown University’s Office of Scholarly Publications, found out as she delved into the life and works of Augustan-era wit Delarivier Manley.
In a piece entitled, “My research helped uncover a long-lost right-wing provocateur – but then I turned away from her work,” Sargent traces the trajectory of her interest in Manley’s life and work. Her most (in)famous book was a two-volume satire called The New Atalantis, a scabrous but veiled attack on figures from Britain’s Whig party (and others) published in 1709. Manley’s life was as notorious as her writing – and she was a juicy target for many fellow satirists.
Yet as Sargent investigated Manley’s work more deeply, she didn’t like what she found there. “Manley was an entertaining writer, memorably commenting on controversial issues while escaping serious punishment,” observes Sargent. “But as my digging revealed coded racism, antifeminism, homophobia and fear of immigration, I reconsidered my priorities.”
Indeed, Sargent argues that Manley was “the Ann Coulter” of her day, and has shifted her focus to work on another influential woman writer of that era: Elizabeth Singer Rowe. Yet she observes that the ghost of Manley still hovers: “If my identification of [Rowe] in The New Atalantis is correct, then Manley attacked her for being a closeted lesbian.”
Cover image: President Joseph Biden speaks in Cleveland, Ohio on November 2, 2020 during the presidential campaign. Adam Schultz / Biden for President (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)