Tag Archives: Nordic

Twelve Years an Editor – Almost. Nordic-Mediterranean Perspectives on Iceland’s International Image

Introduction

Since the year 2015 I have been working as editor in chief of Nordicum-Mediterraneum: Icelandic E-Journal of Nordic and Mediterranean Studies, published by the University of Akureyri (<http://nome.unak.is>). As such, I have received, read, reviewed and released a number of contributions by foreign and, in particular, by Italian scholars, dealing with Iceland under a broad variety of scientific perspectives. Also, especially during and immediately after Iceland’s 2008 financial meltdown, I was contacted and interviewed by a number of media outlets, primarily Italian. Thanks to these experiences, I can contribute to today’s discussion with an eminently personal yet qualitatively rich account of Iceland’s image among Italian and foreign academic circles. Above all, I believe the materials accumulated in the long life of Nordicum-Mediterraneum to be a truly interesting source of insight in the academics’ interest points, if not even the educated commonplaces, about Iceland.

Albeit in charge of the journal since its inception, I am not its real father, who is instead a scholar that has been working for many years at the University of Iceland in Reykjavík, Maurizio Tani. Eleven years ago, one year short of the title’s twelve, he approached me with the idea of a scholarly journal devoted to the many and diverse historical exchanges between the North and the South of Europe and, in particular, between Iceland and Italy. Nothing of the sort existed on the academic scene. Needless to say, his suggestion was taken aboard. Then, thanks to the small yet vital financial support of the University of Akureyri, plus the crucial help qua webmaster of Mr. Fabrizio Veneziano of Schiller International University in Paris and of Ms. Sigrún Magnúsdóttir qua Akureyri-based editorial assistant, the journal was officially born.

Foreign contributions about Iceland: Numbers and titles 

A true pioneer in open-access scholarly publishing in Iceland, the journal aimed primarily at serving as a forum and an archive for scholars interested in Nordic and Mediterranean mutual connections. Progressively, pressured by its growing readership, the journal expanded its scope to Nordic and Mediterranean matters at large, rather than remaining confined to the exchanges between the North and the South of Europe. At the same time, the journal continued to publish a variety of other contributions as well, ranging from reviews of recent literature to interviews and personal memoirs. The break-up of the publications listed below does not include the special issues 11(2-3), due this year and already in the pipes, editorially speaking, and reads as follows:

Regular issues: 11 (2006-2016)

Special issues: 12 (2006-2016 i.e. up to 10(3)/2016)

Of which:

Conference proceedings: 11 (2008-2016)

Other subjects: 1 (2006)

New articles: 42

Reflections on Iceland’s economic crisis: 13

Conference proceedings: 102

Conference-related notes: 11

Review essays: 5

Book reviews: 121

Interviews: 6

Memoirs: 6

Translations: 5

Republished books: 2

Degree theses: 1

Other contributions (short notes, reports, surveys, non-peer-reviewed articles, etc.): 19

Total publication: 333

Of all these published materials, 45 contributions can be said to deal with Iceland’s image in the eyes of foreign scholars, whether directly or indirectly, e.g. as reported in books reviewed for the journal (in the case of book reviews and review essays, I attribute each entry to either the reviewer’s nationality or the book author’s nationality, depending on who emphasises Iceland more). Longer pieces (e.g. articles, conference papers) amount to 21, while shorter ones (e.g. book reviews) to 24. Most of them are in legal studies (12), linguistics and/or literature (7) and history (5). Then we have contributions in philosophy (4), economics (4), geography (4), politics (3), psychology (2), art history (1) and personal memoirs (3). The countries of relative observation can be listed as follows:

  • Argentina: 1
  • Faroe Islands: 1
  • Finland: 1
  • Germany: 3
  • Ireland: 2
  • Italy: 25
  • The People’s Republic of China: 2
  • Romania: 1
  • Russia: 2
  • Scotland: 6
  • Spain: 1

True to the original spirit of the journal, publications by Italian scholars on Icelandic or Italian-Icelandic matters stand out as far more numerous than the others. This geographical predominance and the limited overall as well as specific number of published contributions make a quantitative analysis unlikely to provide valuable information. Their qualitative value as academic exploration of Iceland’s heritage and historical experiences persists, however.

The typology, depth and length of these 45 contributions varies enormously. I list them below in chronological order, specifying their category, in accordance with the journal’s internal system of classification. In the pages following the list below, I refer to the underlined authors and the relevant year of publication in the journal; when Icelandic-foreign collaborative projects are included, I underline and count for the country list above only the foreign specialists involved:

1(1)/2006

Article

Antonio Casado da Rocha, “Narrative Ethics and the Ecology of Culture: Notes on New Italian-Icelandic Sagas”

Note on conference proceedings

Maurizio Tani, “Italo Balbo, Iceland and a Short Story by Halldór Laxness. Notes on the Conference ‘La trasvolata Italia-Islanda del 1933’ (Reykjavík, 7 June 2003)”

Interviews, memoirs and other contributions

Francesco Milazzo, “Teaching Roman Law in Iceland”

1(2)/2006

Translations

Maria Savi Lopez (1848-1940), “Akureyri”, Nei paesi del Nord, Torino: Paravia, 1893

Italo Balbo (1896-1940), “Nella terra dei Vichinghi”, La centuria alata, Milano: Mondadori, 1934

3(1)/2008

Articles

Emanuela Finocchietti & Luca Zarrilli, “Paesaggio naturale e politiche di sviluppo territoriale in Islanda”

Conference proceedings

Manuela S. Campanini, “Iceland as a Landscape Investigation Pattern”

Book reviews

By Antonio Calcagno: Paolo Borioni, Cesare Damiano & Tiziano TreuIl modello sociale scandnavo. Tra diritti e flessibilità (Roma: Nuova Iniziativa Editoriale, 2006)

4(1)/2009

Interviews, memoirs and other contributions

Federico Actite, Ancient Rome and Icelandic Culture – A Brief Overview

5(1)/2010

Articles

Diego Ferioli, “On the Oral-Formulaic Theory and its Application in the Poetic Edda: The Cases of Alvíssmál and Hávamál”

Manuela S. Campanini, “Imagine a Collective Landscape”

Viola Miglio, “Old Norse and Old English Language Contact: Scandinavian Legal Terminology in Anglo-Saxon Laws”

Reflections on the economic crisis

Giorgio Baruchello, “Eight Noble Opinions and the Economic Crisis: Four Literary-philosophical Sketches à la Eduardo Galeano”

Maria Pia Paganelli, “Learning from Bjartur About Today’s Icelandic Economic Crisis”

Interviews, memoirs and other contributions

Antonio Costanzo, “Fyrirlestur um bókina Hávamál. La voce di Odino”

Marinella Lorinczi, “Dracula in Iceland”

6(1)/2011

Article

Adriana Di Stefano, “Northern Steps of EU Enlargement: The Impact of ‘Cohesion’ Policies on Iceland’s Accession Process”

Book reviews

By Rachael Lorna Johnstone: H. Beale et al., Cases, Materials and Texts on Contract Law, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2010); and T. K. Graziano, Comparative Contract Law: Cases, Materials and Exercises (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009)

By Rachael Lorna Johnstone, Natalia Loukacheva (ed.), Polar Law Textbook (Copenhagen: Nordic Council of Ministers, 2010)

Dissertation

Fabio Quartino, La Costituzione Islandese: storia ed evoluzione

6(2)/2011

Article

Garrett Barden, “Responses to the contributors”

7(1)/2012

Article

Birgir Guðmundsson & Markus Meckl, “’Karlson’ – A Stasi ‘Kontakt Person’. An episode of Iceland’s Cold War legacy”

Book reviews

By Andrea Hjálmsdóttir: Aðalheiður Ámundadóttir & Rachael Lorna Johnstone, Mannréttindi í þrengingum: Efnahagsleg og félagsleg réttindi í kreppunni (Akureyri-Reykjavík: Háskólinn á Akureyri og Mannréttindaskrifstofa Íslands, 2011)

By Anita Einarsdóttir & Tiantian Zhang: Herman Salton, Arctic Host, Icy Visit: China and Falun Gong Face Off in Iceland (Saarbrücken: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, 2010)

Interviews, memoirs and other contributions

Jorge Mejía, “Some impressions after a quick visit to Iceland”

8(1)/2013

Articles

Hjálti Ómar Ágústsson & Rachael Lorna Johnstone, “Practising what they Preach: Did the IMF and Iceland Exercise Good Governance in their Relations 2008-2011?”

Irina Zhilina, “The Security Aspects in the Arctic: the Potential Role of NATO”

Review essay

By Carlo Penco: Juha Manninen & Friedrich Stadtler (eds.), The Vienna Circle and the Nordic Countries. Networks and Transformations of Logical Empiricism (Vienna: Vienna Circle Institute Yearbook vol.14, Springer, 2010)

Book reviews

By Gísli Aðalsteinsson: Maurizio Tani, La chiesa di Akureyri: Guida storico-artistica alla parrocchiale luterana della «capitale del nord» (Grafarvogur: Snorri Sturluson, 2010)

By Guðmundur Heiðar Frímansson: Brian Lucey, Charles Larkin & Constantin Gurdgiev (eds.), What if Ireland defaults? (Dublin: Orpen Press, 2012)

By Herman Salton, “‘Arctic Host, Icy Visit’: A Response” (cf. Tiantian Zhang)

By Rachael Lorna Johnstone: Jesús Ballesteros, Encarnación Fernández Ruiz-Gálvez & Pedro Talavera (eds.), Globalization and Human Rights: Challenges and Answers from a European Perspective (Ius Gentium: Comparative Perspectives of Law and Justice, Vol. 13, Leiden: Springer, 2012)

By Rachael Lorna Johnstone: T. Kue Young (senior ed.), Rajiv Rawat, Winifred Dallmann, Susan Chatwood & Peter Bjerregaard (eds.), Circumpolar Health Atlas (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012)

By Tero Mustonen, C. Raudvere & J.P. Schjödt (eds.), More Than Mythology – Narratives, Ritual Practices and Regional Distribution in Pre-Christian Scandinavian Religions (Lund: Nordic Academic Press, 2012)

Translation

Luana Giampiccolo, “Leiðarvísir, an Old Norse itinerarium: a proposal for a new partial translation and some notes about the place-names”

9(1)/2014

Article

Matteo Tarsi, “On Loanwords of Latin Origin in Contemporary Icelandic”

Book reviews

By Federica Scarpa: Natalia Loukacheva (ed.), Polar Law Textbook II (Copenhagen: Nordic Council of Ministers, 2013)

By Giorgio Baruchello: Þorlákur Axel Jónsson, Dagur Austan. Ævintýramaðurinn Vernharður Eggertsson (Akureyri: Völuspá, 2009)

Interviews, memoirs and other contributions

Birgir Guðmundsson & Markus Meckl, “Regaining Iceland for the Catholic Church in the mid-19th Century”

9(2)/2014

Conference proceeding

Giorgio Baruchello, “The Picture—Small and Big: Iceland and the Crises”

10(1)/2015

Conference proceeding

Thomas Hören, “IMMI and Whistleblowing in Iceland – the new regulatory framework”

Book reviews

By Giorgio Baruchello: Sven-Olof Olsson (ed.), Managing Crises and De-globalization. Nordic foreign trade and exchange 1919-39 (New York: Routledge, 2014 pbk.)

By Giorgio Baruchello: Gaetano Roberto Buccola, Forme del centro. Percorsi analitici dal “Viaggio al centro della Terra” al nucleo dell’uomo (Palermo: Nuova Ipsa, 2013)

By Rachael Lorna Johnstone: Kári á Rógvi, West-Nordic Constitutional Judicial Review: A Comparative Study of Scandinavian Judicial Review and Judicial Reasoning (Copenhagen: Djøf Publishing, 2013)

Interviews, memoirs and other contributions

Roberto Buccola, “The Unconscious and the Island: Fragments of Research on the Self”

10(2)/2015

Conference proceeding

Giorgio Baruchello, “Enemies of Interculturalism: The Economic Crisis in Light of Xenophobia, Liberal Cruelties and Human Rights“

 

Foreign contributions about Iceland: Recurring themes

What sort of recurring themes can be found in this collection of diverse scholarly and scientific texts? I have identified four.

  1. Iceland as “the land of the Vikings”

This is the title given by the aviator Italo Balbo (2006) to the chapter on Iceland in his 1933 memoirs, who also recalls how the Vikings discovered America before Columbus himself. Spanish-Portuguese philosopher Casado da Rocha (2006) mentions too the Vikings’ “stories of warriors and wise men, poets and politicians of the golden age of settlement and commonwealth.” The marauding hordes, their adventures and their legacy are very much a focus-point for many commentators. They are a reason for distinctiveness, if not distinction. For instance, law professor Milazzo’s (2006) account of his teaching experience emphasises how Iceland is not as much part of the legal tradition based on Roman Law as most other European countries. Legal scholar Johnstone too, in her 2011 review essay on comparative law, mentions the enduring island-centric character of mainstream legal education in Iceland. This is not to say that classical culture did not reach or influence Iceland’s cultural development. Quite the opposite, Actite’s 2009 text offers a concise account of the deep, extensive and sometimes surprising impact of the Latin tradition on this island: “For instance, the Latin phrase Rustycus es, Corydon gave origin to the Icelandic words rusti [farmer] and dóni [rude people]”. Tarsi (2014) offers an even longer account. Even some elements of the later Catholic Christianitas endure, as noticed by Cardinal Mejía (2012) and Tani (2013). Still, the land of the Vikings is distinct and original, which is shown by the interest of foreign scholars, and Italian ones in particular, in the history, development and influence of Old Norse or ancient Icelandic, and its literary accomplishments in the Edda and the Sagas, e.g. Ferioli (2010), Miglio (2010), Costanzo (2010), Lorinczi (2010), Tani (2006), Barden (2011), Mustonen (2013), Giampiccolo (2013),

  1. Iceland as a Nordic State

Former Italian governmental ministers Damiano and Treu, together with the historian Borioni (2008), lump Iceland together with the other Scandinavian countries, as though Iceland had as strong a social-democratic tradition as Sweden, Denmark or Norway. However, Iceland does not have it. It was never a welfare State, in the sense and to the extent these other countries have historically exemplified. The right-wing Independence Party has marked its history much more than the various incarnations of democratic socialism in Iceland (cf. also Meckl’s 2012 article on Iceland’s Cold-War history and Baruchello’s 2014 book review), as also reflected by the largely unnoticed repression of Falun Gong demonstrators in Iceland in 2002 (cf. Tiantian Zhang, 2012 & 2013). Difference does not mean intransigence, however. Thus, Hören (2015) and Johnstone (2013a) reveal significant changes in a more Nordic direction led by the historically weaker left-wing forces of the country, in freedom of the press and in human rights provisions respectively. Perhaps, the most obvious manifestation of the “un-Nordicness” of Iceland was the neoliberal boom-and-bust hot-money cycle that led to the notorious kreppa of 2008, about which a number of contributions have been published, i.e. Baruchello (2010), Paganelli (2010), Johnstone (2013), Lucey, Larkin & Gurdgiev (2013), Johnstone (2013a & b), Baruchello (2014 & 2015b). Penco (2013) adds another layer of “un-Nordicness” by noticing how Iceland’s philosophical tradition owes more to Anglophone and Dutch academic traditions and establishments than to Scandinavian ones. Still, there exist clear connections with Scandinavian political experience, notably the Danish roots of Iceland’s constitution (cf. Quartino, 2011). In fact, in addition to its linguistic-literary roots and heritage, the legal tradition of Iceland seems to be, at large, the most Nordic feature of Iceland’s culture, at least according to Kári á Rógvi (2015). Baruchello (2015) adds another line of continuity, i.e. the cartelisation of strategic industries during the 1930s.

  1. Iceland as an Arctic State

Less controversial is this third commonplace notion. Iceland is located in the North Atlantic, after all, which is cold, dangerous to navigate upon, remote. This is the tone of the account by Savi-Lopez (2006), who pioneered the study and dissemination of Icelandic literature in Italy in the first half of the 20th century. As to later accounts, it would appear that being located in the North Atlantic is strategic. It is so for NATO (cf. Zhilina, 2013), for the EU (cf. Di Stefano, 2011), but above all for the Arctic nations and the governance of the region, as emphasised by Loukacheva (2011), Johnstone (2013c) and Scarpa (2014). Indeed, Meckl’s 2014 studies on the Catholic Arctic mission of the 19th century show the Catholic Church being the first international institution to conceive of the Arctic as a geographically, politically and culturally strategic region of the World. The number of submissions and publications pertaining to this third notion have been growingly steadily over the years, reflecting Iceland’s own growing institutional and intellectual self-characterisation as an Arctic State, not least as manifested by the developments within the University of Akureyri, which is part of the University of the Arctic consortium and hosts a most successful Master’s programme in Polar Law.

  1. Iceland as a dimension of the spirit

Iceland’s unique landscape, the result of equally unique and rather extreme geographic, geological and climatic conditions, lead to awe and deep existential reflection. Scientific observations are the beginning of more profound considerations about the relationship between humanity and the natural environment, the struggle for survival that we have fought throughout our journey on this planet, and the most disturbing question of all: why do we keep fighting? More or less explicitly, this is the tone of the contributions by literary scholar Finocchietti (2008) as well as geographers Zarrilli (2008) and Campanini (2008 & 2010). The same applies to those of Jungian psychologist Buccola (2015a & b). Numerically, we are not talking of a large number of contributions. However, and here the qualitative character of the present account comes to the forefront, the number of authors that have been interested in Iceland because of its mystique is conspicuous. Methodologically unlikely to reflect upon and disclose the motives for their own research, scholars and scientists have often discussed them with me qua editor and a southern European expatriate in the far north. The fascination with Iceland’s lunar vistas and its seemingly prohibitive inhospitality, combined with the sense of authenticity that such conditions inspire, are a frequent reason for Mediterranean minds to develop an interest in Nordic matters, even if these may have little to do with the island’s vistas, inhospitality or authenticity.

Concluding remarks

The literature by foreign experts published over the years in Nordicum-Mediterraneum pertains to many different disciplines. Prominent are literary, linguistic and legal studies. These disciplinary areas of emphasis are the result of many factors, not least the network of scholars and researchers who have found the journal a suitable venue for their work and that of experts willing to review the books that we receive from publishers. It is difficult, if not impossible, to gauge with certainty how representative they are of the stereotypes of, and commonplace conceptions about, Iceland. Nonetheless, I believe that they do offer considerable food for thought, which is an adequate and relevant aim for the present contribution.

Rikke Andreassen & Kathrine Vitus (eds.), Affectivity and Race. Studies from Nordic Countries (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015)

The book’s title announces that two concepts are of crucial importance in this publication: affectivity and race. The book’s subtitle places its content geographically: in the Nordic countries; or better, in Scandinavia, since there are no studies comprised in the present book that deal with Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

Continue reading Rikke Andreassen & Kathrine Vitus (eds.), Affectivity and Race. Studies from Nordic Countries (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015)

Ingvill Helland & Sören Koch (eds.), Nordic and Germanic Legal Methods (Tuebingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2014)

This book on Nordic and Germanic legal methods includes contributions from a number of German, Swiss, and Nordic legal scholars and is a welcome contribution both to the national and the international debate on legal reasoning.

Continue reading Ingvill Helland & Sören Koch (eds.), Nordic and Germanic Legal Methods (Tuebingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2014)

U. Blossing, G. Imsen & L. Moos (eds.), The Nordic Education Model: ´A School for All´ Encounters Noe-Liberal Policy (Dordrecht: Springer, 2014)

This is a timely book on the clash between the Nordic welfare practice and the neo-liberal state experiment changing nations from welfare states to competitive states and their individuals from citizens to being part of a workforce, as Rasmussen and Moors put it. The book is an important contribution to the discussions of the changes being implemented in the countries which aimed at realising the ideals of democracy, social justice and prosperity by equality in education.

Continue reading U. Blossing, G. Imsen & L. Moos (eds.), The Nordic Education Model: ´A School for All´ Encounters Noe-Liberal Policy (Dordrecht: Springer, 2014)

A Presentation of IDIN

The network has been established with financial support from NordForsk for four years, 2011-2014, and has initiated in the project period several scientific events. Many researchers and PhD candidates have participated in the activities, and the increasingly diversified realities in the Nordic context have been approached from various angles. Contributions have come from a wide range of disciplines in the social sciences, humanities and economics, and from network members as well as invited scholars. Continue reading A Presentation of IDIN

Teaching History in a multicultural society

Trends and tendencies in Nordic schools

 

Perhaps the most succinct explanation of the crucial role that history plays in the life of us humans is the Ingsoc slogan from George Orwell’s novel 1984:

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.

We cannot, of course, control the past in itself – at least not as long as we presume that ‘the past’ has some kind of objective existence. What can be controlled, however, is how we construct and reconstruct our interpretations of the past. Which, when all is said and done, is what history is about.

The core content of Orwell’s wordings is reflected in the concept ‘Historical Consciousness’, which for the last 30 years or so has played a central part in the Scandinavian debate on history teaching and learning. Within that debate, the multi-faceted definition proposed by Karl-Ernst Jeismann in his article ‘Geschichtsbewußtsein’ (1979) has served as an obvious point of reference.

 

Jeismann’s definition starts with a quote from Theodor Schieder, which in itself is a definition of the concept ‘historical consciousness’ as an ever-present insight that every human being, and every form of social life, is embedded in time, i.e. has a past and a future that is neither stable nor unchanging or without conditions. He then goes on by stating what can be seen as one of the fundamental, perhaps the most fundamental, element of the concept:

 

More than being just knowing or taking an interest in history, historical consciousness comprises the relations between interpretations of the past, understanding of the present, and perspectives on the future (ibid. p. 42).

 

Linking together the past, the present and the future opens up for a corollary, namely, that history is not a mirror image of the past, but our (present) reconstruction of it. Historical consciousness, writes Jeismann, is thus a mode through which the past, as imagination and experience, is made part of our own time. This also means that the past as reconstruction is dependent on and formed by our present questions, needs, and interests. Jeismann here quotes the French philosopher Raymond Aron:

 

History is the reconstruction of the lives of the dead, by and for the living. The interests of times present are what make man – thinking, suffering, acting man – explore the past (Aron 1961 p.17).

 

If history is a reconstruction of the past that springs from the needs and interests of our time and our place – our lifeworld – it also follows that the form, the content, and the reflective depth of our historical consciousness will differ from person to person, from group to group. Historical consciousness can have the character of a cliché or watchword, or it can be reflected, thought-out, and open to new encounters and experiences. Implied is (a) that everyone has and makes use of (some kind of) historical consciousness, and (b) that one’s historical consciousness, situated in a social context, is constantly changing, added to, and passed on to others.

 

 

Jeismann finally stresses the importance of historical consciousness as shared, collective experiences – or as shared and collective stories of experiences. When elements that unite dominate over elements that divide, it will contribute to defining as a group those who share the stories. Historical consciousness as collective experiences can therefore be seen as ‘a necessary element for the creation and the upholding of human societies’ (Jeismann 1979 p. 43).

 

This aspect, which highlights the connection between, on the one hand, historical consciousness as an individual, personal relation to past, present, and future, and on the other hand as a collective relation, is what gives history its political and ideological charge and also explains why history has had its given place in the curriculum of the compulsory school, from the 19th century onwards. The education policy of the nation-state is one where the narrative of the ‘imagined community’ is honed, polished, and above all transferred to generation after generation of school children as part of ‘the skills and sensibilities which make them acceptable to their fellows, which fit them to assume places in society, and which “make them what they are”’ (Gellner 1983 p. 37). Through its monopoly of legitimate education the nation-state, controlling the present, has strived to control the past in order to control the future.

 

Intense battles over school history textbook content have recently been fought in Greece and Japan (Repoussi 2011; Ogawa & Field 2006). As late as 2013 the UK Department for Education published a proposal for a new history curriculum, aiming at ensuring that all pupils would know and understand ‘how the British people shaped this nation and how Britain influenced the world’ (Department for Education 2013a p. 3). After heavy criticism from teachers’ associations and academic bodies the curriculum was rewritten and now aims at ensuring a knowledge and understanding of ‘how people’s lives have shaped this nation and how Britain has influenced and been influenced by the wider world’ (Department for Education 2013b). Remaining from the first proposal, however, is the idea that British history can be told as ‘a coherent, chronological narrative’ (ibid.), which, apparently, is supposed to be shared by all as ‘our history’.

 

The dream, so dear to education policy makers, that school history ought to assimilate young people into a unifying master narrative has, however, become more and more imaginary. As pointed out by Andreas Körber (2011), history is, inevitably, affected by contingency:

 

…due to their multi-dimensional plurality, humans exhibit different needs for temporal orientation. Because of the different times, societies, social groups, cultures etc. they live in, they will quite naturally be using different concepts, operations, patterns of explanation and of narrating which in turn will result in different narratives […] And as for people living and acting within the plurality of today’s societies, it becomes vitally important to (be able to) handle this contingency of narrative orientations (ibid. p. 157).

 

Teaching history as an assimilation project, built on a single, unifying master narrative, is no longer possible, nor is it desirable. A multi-culturalist approach – to each his or her own history, not to be questioned or criticised – may at first seem to be an attractive alternative but runs the risk of developing into what Thomas Hylland Eriksen somewhat drastically has labelled ‘apartheid with a friendly face’ (Eriksen 2005), or at least into societal fragmentation rather than cohesion. Does this also mean that we must renounce Jeismann’s idea that some kind of collective historical experience is necessary for upholding a sustainable society?

 

One viable alternative might be to promote a common understanding, not of what history says but what it does. Or, in other words, a collective experience of history as form rather than as content. Or, yet again, to promote a cognitive awareness of one’s own as well as other’s historical consciousness, understood both as a state (something that we have) and as a process (something we use in everyday life).

 

In order to achieve this, the scholars involved in the research project FUER Geschichtsbewußtsein, launched in the year 2000, have suggested that four core competencies or fields of competence are crucial for the development of a reflexive historical consciousness, namely the competencies of inquiry, methods, orientation, and subject matter (Schreiber et al. 2006; Körber 2011). The first three can be seen as related to the procedural dimension of historical thinking, the fourth to the substantive dimension of historical ‘facts’.

 

Starting out from the understanding that historical consciousness as a process starts with an uncertainty, a need for orientation, and a question, the first dimension of competency is the Inquiry Competence (‘Fragekompetenz’). This is described as ‘the capability to transform [a] perceived uncertainty into some processable form of historical question in order either to reconstruct a historic narrative or to analyze given historical narratives of other people for their historical questions, and to understand them’ (Körber 2011 p. 149).

 

The second procedural dimension, Methods Competence (‘Methodenkompetenz’) comprises the subject-specific, i.e. historical, methods used for gaining and processing knowledge:

to categorise, to put bits and pieces in their chronological order, to integrate information into a narrative structure but also to identify and de-code the structure of existing narratives. Central to this field of competence is the capability to both re-construct and de-construct historical narratives.

 

 

The third and last of the procedural dimensions, Orientation Competence (‘Orientierungskompetenz’) contains the skills and abilities needed for using the knowledge gained from the re- and de-construction of historical narratives. Here four core competencies are discernible, and they all relate to the aim of the FUER project: developing a reflexive, and also a self-reflexive, historical consciousness. They are also of utmost relevance when considering the role of history and historical narratives in a pluralist society:

 

the ability to revise one’s own concept of history as a field of knowledge, including concepts and categories used in historical thinking;

the ability to revise one’s concepts of the past and the present world, i.e. one’s picture of other people and/or other times;

the ability to revise one’s own relation to the past and the present, i.e. to revise one’s own identity, including one’s relation to the actions (commendable or deplorable) of one’s ancestors or members of one’s own group/culture/nation;

the ability to revise one’s own ideas of what can be done in the present and hoped for in the future (Körber 2011 p. 150).

 

The three procedural dimensions are all linked to a fourth, somewhat improperly named Subject Matter Competence (‘Sachkompetenz’). Contrary to what may first come to one’s mind this dimension has nothing to do with the memorising of names, dates, or particular events. The FUER project nevertheless used the label:

 

…on the grounds that the ‘subject matter’ of historical teaching and learning is not the past, but rather ‘thinking about the past’. Therefore, in our model, this ‘subject matter competence’ stands for the command over/ability to use and apply rather abstract first and second order concepts, categories, knowledge of procedures and methods etc (Körber 2011 p. 151).

 

Waltraud Schreiber and Sylvia Mebus have sketched a graphic representation of how the four fields of competence are present in the process of historical thinking:

 

Figure 1: Historical thinking competencies

idin article kgha

after Schreiber & Mebus 2006 p. 13.

Being in possession of these competencies means being able to scrutinise and challenge established ‘master narratives’ handed down by authoritative (or authoritarian) institutions, among them the school. It also means being able to scrutinise and challenge narratives prevalent in one’s family or peer group, and, ultimately, to scrutinise and revise one’s own ontological narrative. Being in possession of these competencies therefore means being able to exercise a certain amount of control over how history is presently written.

 

That history can, and should be viewed as a process rather than a well-defined body of knowledge, and that this process is present not only as a cognitive activity in the classroom or the scholar’s study but also in our everyday life, is an approach that is reflected in the history curriculum in all Nordic countries, most markedly in Denmark and Sweden where the concept ‘historical consciousness’ was introduced in the 1990’s. In the Danish curriculum, history’s crucial role in human life is described thus:

 

People make decisions out of their experience and knowledge of the past, their ideas about the present, and their expectations for the future. That is to say that a time frame – history – is a prerequisite for being able to understand oneself and the world as an entirety, as well as to reflect on possible actions.

History is furthermore used to establish and strengthen the consistency of real and imagined communities.

History is thus an integrated aspect of our lives. It is a basic condition of human existence that we are shaped by, as well as co-creators of, history (Undervisningsministeriet 2014 p. 3).

 

The resemblance with the Swedish curriculum is obvious:

 

Man’s understanding of the past is interwoven with beliefs about the present and perspectives of the future. In this way, the past affects both our lives today and our choices for the future. Women and men throughout the ages have created historical narratives to interpret reality and shape their surroundings. A historical perspective provides us with a set of tools to understand and shape the present we live in.

[—]

Teaching should contribute to pupils developing their understanding of how historical narratives are used in society and in everyday life. By this means, pupils should develop different perspectives of their own identities, values and beliefs, and those of others (Skolverket 2011 p. 163).

 

To what extent have the curriculum aims been achieved? Has school history abandoned the long-standing tradition of transferring a canonical master narrative of the nation’s past? Thanks to recent studies from Denmark and Sweden, presented at the 28th Congress of Nordic Historians in 2014, we have at least a provisional answer: history education is undoubtedly heading towards its aims – but progress is slow and there is still a long way to go.

 

Nanna Bøndergaard Butters (2014) has performed a study built on observations of history lessons in three classes (4th, 8th and 9th grade) in an urban Danish folkeskole (compulsory school) with 60 % plurilingual students (42 different languages were represented among the students), followed up by teacher interviews. A central part of the study was to investigate whether teachers planned for discussions around concepts such as ‘culture’ and ‘identity’. All teachers declared that they had not introduced these concepts. One teacher mentioned lack of time and the demand to reach the curriculum’s learning outcomes. Another confessed that she never had thought about these concepts as related to the history subject. A third ‘solved’ the challenge of pluralism by simply denying it:

 

If their histories are given room in the course, you mean? But they too are part of this history… Actually, I’ve stopped thinking in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’. For me, it’s important that no one is left behind, I am aware that they come from different places and different cultures, but a Danish home can be just as different as the home of a bilingual. I simply do not see veils, or ‘here’s a Somalian girl’ (ibid.).

 

More common was an approach where society’s heterogeneity and plurality were acknowledged in principle, but where a traditionally taught history of Denmark kept its role as a unifying narrative.

 

Butters’ results have been confirmed by Claus Haas’ findings from a nation-wide survey among History teachers in the Danish folkeskole, followed up by qualitative interviews with 20 teachers (Haas 2014a, b). Again, the interviewees at the same time acknowledged diversity and saw Danish culture and history as the obvious unifying factor:

 

In my opinion, education should prepare them for the multicultural society which they are about to enter as citizens. But I still believe that… what I like about the curriculum’s canon after all… is that somewhere… a tiny bit of common thread through something… that we all can feel that right here in our multi-cultural, heterogeneous society, there still is something that bind us together somehow. I think that is a very good idea (Haas 2014a.).

 

Borrowing a concept from Gregory Ashworth, Haas characterises the typical Danish approach towards pluralism as ‘Core +’. In Ashworth’s definition, this concept slightly resembles the classic ‘melting pot’ metaphor, but with the difference that a substantial core of history and heritage is preserved. To this core can be added ‘such other social groups as are seen to be unthreatening to the existence of the core and even contributing a useful addition

to its variety’ (Ashworth 2007, p.20). However, Haas stresses that this approach is not the outcome of a deliberate choice – when present in the interview answers, it is conceptually vague and marked by a lack of critical reflection.

 

A certain vagueness and lack of rigour is also present in the preliminary results from a Swedish survey carried out as part of a research project on interculturalism and history education conducted by the historians and educationalists Per Eliasson, Maria Johansson, and Kenneth Nordgren (Eliasson 2014). The survey results indicate that history teachers are interested and eager to promote ‘orientation competence’ of the kind proposed by the German FUER project. They clearly see the relevance of and the possibilities inherent in their subject, but it is uncertain whether they actually contribute with narratives challenging or adding to the textbooks’ ‘master narratives’. It is also uncertain whether they, tied up in the straight-jacket of a detailed curriculum, can find the time for classroom work focussing on multi-perspectivity and different interpretations and explanations in history.

 

According to a deceivingly simple but extremely fruitful explanatory model, outlined by the Swedish political scientist Lennart Lundquist (1992), Successful implementation of a reform or programme requires that those who are supposed to carry it out on the shop floor

have the understanding, the ability, and the will to implement the programme.

 

When it comes to the implementation of history education that is meaningful and sustainable in a society marked by a multi-dimensional plurality, we can therefore ask whether Lundquist’s three requisites are met. Interview answers suggest that they lack the ability due to a shortage of appropriate learning material and best-practice examples and also of time needed – curricula do not stress procedural knowledge only, there is a huge portion of factual knowledge that must be given time if the learning outcomes are to be fulfilled. They also lack a profound understanding, firmly grounded in theory and established practice. There is, consequently, much to be done in teacher education institutions as well as in the field of continuous professional development, e.g. developing and defining conceptual frameworks for inter-cultural teaching and learning (both generic and subject-specific) as well as integrating inter-cultural perspectives on teaching and learning in subject-related courses in teacher education programmes.

 

The good thing is that the perhaps most important factor, a willingness to teach for a pluralistic, multi-cultural society, is present.

 

 

References:

 

Aron, Raymond (1961): Dimensions de la conscience historique, Paris: Plon.

 

Ashworth, Gregory J. (2007), ‘Plural pasts for plural publics in plural places: taxonomy of heritage policies for plural societies’, in: Groote, P., Ashworth, G & Haartsen, T (eds.), Public Places, Public Pasts, Groningen: Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, pp. 13-26.

 

von Borries, Bodo (2008): Historisch Denken Lernen – Welterschließung statt Epochenüberblick. Geschichte als Unterrichtsfach und Bildungsaufgabe, Opladen: Verlag Barbara Budrich.

 

Butters, Nanna Bøndergaard (2014): ‘Når elever gør kultur og bruger historie’. Unpublished conference paper, the 28th Congress of Nordic Historians, Joensuu 14-17 August 2014.

 

Department for Education (UK) (2013a): History: Programmes of study for Key Stages 1-3. February 2013. London.

 

Department for Education (UK) (2013b): History: Programmes of study. September 2013. Internet: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-history-programmes-of-study

 

Eliasson, Per (2014): ‘Förutsättningar för en interkulturell historieundervisning’. Unpublished conference paper, the 28th Congress of Nordic Historians, Joensuu 14-17 August 2014.

 

Eriksen, Thomas Hylland (2005): ‘From obsessive egalitarianism to pluralist universalism? Options for twenty-first century education’. Keynote speech, NERA conference, Oslo 10 March 2005. Internet: http://hyllanderiksen.net/Obsessive.html

 

Gellner, Ernest (1983): Nations and Nationalism, Oxford: Blackwell.

 

Haas, Claus (2014a): ‘(Fler)Kulturelle paradokser i historieundervisningen – om en national kerne + kulturs hegemoni’. Unpublished conference paper, the 28th Congress of Nordic Historians, Joensuu 14-17 August 2014.

 

Haas, Claus (2014b): Staten, eliten og ‘os’: erindrings- og identitetspolitik mellem assimilation og livet i salatskålen. Århus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag.

 

Jeismann, Karl-Ernst (1979): ‘Geschichtsbewußtsein’, in Bergmann, Klaus et al. (eds.), Handbuch der Geschichtsdidaktik, Vol. 1, Düsseldorf: Schwann, pp. 42-45.

 

Körber, Andreas (2011): ‘German History Didactics: From Historical Consciousness to Historical Competencies – and beyond?’, in Bjerg, Helle, Lenz, Claudia & Thorstensen, Erik (eds.), Historicizing the uses of the past: Scandinavian perspectives on history culture, historical consciousness and didactics of history related to World War II, Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, pp. 145-164.

 

Lundquist, Lennart (1992): Förvaltning, stat och samhälle. Lund: Studentlitteratur.

 

Ogawa, Masato & Field, Sherry L. (2006): ‘Causation, controversy and condition: recent developments in the Japanese history textbook content and selection process’, in Nicholls, J. (ed.), School history textbooks across the cultures: international perspectives and debates, Oxford: Symposium Books, pp. 43-60.

 

Repoussi Maria (2011): ‘History Education in Greece’, in Erdmann, E & Hasberg, W (eds.), Facing, Mapping, Bridging Diversity. Foundation of a European Discourse on History Education, Schwalbach am Taunus: Wochenschau, pp. 329-370.

 

Schreiber, Waltraud et al. (2006): Historisches Denken. Ein Kompetenz-Strukturmodell, Neuried: ars una.

 

Schreiber, Waltraud & Mebus, Sylvia (eds.) 2006: Durchblicken. Dekonstruktion von Schulbüchern, Neuried: ars una.

 

Skolverket 2011: Curriculum for the compulsory school system,

the ­pre-school class and the leisure-time centre (Lgr11), Stockholm. Internet: http://www.skolverket.se/publikationer?id=2687

 

Undervisningsministeriet 2014: Læseplan for faget historie, København. Internet: www.emu.dk/sites/default/files/L%C3%A6seplan%20for%20faget%20historie.pdf

Kári á Rógvi, West-Nordic Constitutional Judicial Review: A Comparative Study of Scandinavian Judicial Review and Judicial Reasoning (Copenhagen: Djøf Publishing, 2013)

 

 

The book is clearly organised, with a solid theoretical account of constitutional judicial review filling around the first half. Kári defines his study thus:

The term Constitutional Judicial Review implies an action with three components. First, the review is based on a superior legal norm – constitutional – the archetype being a written Constitution. Second, the review is performed by an independent forum – judicial – the archetype being a Supreme Court. Third, an action of evaluation – review – the archetype being (considering) invalidation of a statutory law (37).

 

The second half of the book shows this theory in action in the Courts of the selected legal systems and demonstrates the evolution of constitutional judicial review in the West Nordic countries from something that once seemed at best foreign, and at worst laughable, to a feature, albeit still peripheral, of West Nordic law (326). Kári’s account is no simple recollection of cases but situates the legal developments in their unique historical contexts – something essential to any understanding of law, but especially comparative law. However, he also demonstrates wider scholarly foundations beyond the Nordic systems, in particular, an influence of common law legal theory (not least by virtue of his methodology of study – an examination of case law!).

 

One controversial premise lies at the heart of Kári’s account: that the West-Nordics are “quasi-federal” owing to the influence on their Supreme Courts of the law and judgments of the European Union (EU) (notwithstanding that of the countries studied, only the Danish mainland is inside the EU) and the European Convention of Human Rights and its Court in Strasbourg (46). This view might not be readily accepted – or readily acceptable – to constitutional scholars in the Nordic States, or even be widely admitted by the EU institutions and European Court of Human Rights themselves, but in any case, Kári demonstrates the undeniable influence of the supra-national European Courts on constitutional interpretation in the West-Nordics. If any criticism can be levied at the book itself, they are of a formal nature: in places the editing is wanting and the index is rather thin. The case list is very clear but could have been strengthened by a bibliography of scholars cited, especially given the perfunctory referencing system.

 

Comparative law is much neglected in West-Nordic legal education – as in most legal traditions – though the reasons for this in the West-Nordic schools are perhaps different: one traditionally learns “the laws” (of the realm) rather than “law” (as an academic discipline) (324). This leads to complacency. Law students are not encouraged to question the law: the law “just is”. An excess of critical thinking is frowned upon. But this comparative study – as comparative law more widely – forces the readers to rethink their legal techniques and revisit their pre-judgments. There is nothing natural or inherent about any particular legal process, let alone any specific legal rules. Law is a product of historical developments as Kári’s study shows, and, most importantly, a product of choice. “Law does not just happen.”[1] This is not widely (enough) recognised in the Nordic legal tradition where law is often viewed as something passed down from generation to generation like some great immutable tablets of stone (73). Thus, by studying other systems, one learns not only those systems but one learns one’s own system better. Most importantly, one understands law better. Zweigert and Kötz have long argued: 

It may indeed be that the mere interpretation of positive rules of law in the way traditionally practised by lawyers does not deserve to be called a science at all, whether intellectual or social. Perhaps legal studies only become truly scientific when they rise above the actual rules of any national system, as happens in legal philosophy, legal history, the sociology of law, and comparative law.[2]

 

For that reason alone, Kári’s text should be standard reading for all constitutional scholars in the Nordic States, whether they call their field law or political science. This is nowhere more necessary than in those regimes considering radical constitutional reform, such as Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Iceland (though the latter appears to have quietened its calls for wholesale constitutional revision in recent months). But what Kári shows is that irrespective of grand national debates about formal constitutional amendments, constitutional reform is always going on; it is a continuous process. Indeed, Kári cautions against undue reliance on the legislature to maintain the contemporary relevance and aptness of law instead arguing that democracies need active Courts to bring an end to “uncommonly silly” laws (339-40).

 

Beyond this small corner in the North Atlantic, West-Nordic Constitutional Judicial Review is a welcome contribution to scholars of constitutional comparative law. Most English-language comparative law lumps the Nordic systems in with the Germanic systems – if, indeed, the literature refers to them at all. This may be a result of language barriers and a general want of competence in “skandinavísku” outside the region but this book unlocks that World to the English speaker. With that in mind, it is only a shame that it does not extend to Finland! The Nordic systems, as aptly demonstrated by Kári’s case selection and analysis, are neither simply civil law nor common law but of their own kind and it is time they received this attention.

 

 

Editor’s note:

On 14th February 2015, Kári á Rógvi passed away after a short illness. Kári will be sorely missed by the legal communities in the Nordic Countries, not least in the Faroe Islands where he was a leading light in constitutional reform and Professor of Law at the University of the Faroe Islands. This review was written before these sad events and has not been influenced by them but Kári had an opportunity to read it in draft and was aware of the significance of his original contribution to comparative constitutional law in the Nordic countries. Kári, 41, is survived by his beloved wife, Johanna, and three children, Bragi, Brest and Bryndís. The editorial staff and the reviewer extend their sincere condolences to his family.

 



1 S Vogenauer, ‘Sources of Law and Legal Method’ in M Reimann and R Zimmermann (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Law (OUP 2008) 877.

2 K Zweigert and H Kötz, An Introduction to Comparative Law (Tony Weir tr, 3rd edn, OUP 1998) 4. 

C. Raudvere & J.P. Schjödt (eds.), More Than Mythology – Narratives, Ritual Practices and Regional Distribution in Pre-Christian Scandinavian Religions (Lund: Nordic Academic Press, 2012)

 

More Than Mythology – Narratives, Ritual Practices and Regional Distribution in Pre-Christian Scandinavian Religions, asks this relevant question regarding the old Nordic belief systems and religions in a publication comprising together a vast array of scholars of Pre-Christian Scandinavian cultures and a handful of views on the Sámi-Finnish tradition. The 286-page book opens new horizons in the understanding of the past and the present of the Northern part of Europe.

 

Central to the diverse papers are the overarching themes of narrative studies, the role of rituals and the discussion of regional difference and distribution, and perhaps secondly also religion as a communal practice. Price opens the book with an in-depth and conclusive view on “Mythic Acts”, stressing the need of assessing burials, rituals and other practices as series of “performances” sometimes spanning over decades in the same geographical place, such as the gravesites in the Oslo Fjord. He refers to such a process as the “theatre of death” where these “performances” have taken place. Furthermore, in his splendid essay, he makes the case for the need to combine archaeological data with ethnographical, anthropological and other textual sources. He makes a strong case for diversification of views regarding the pre-Christian Nordic context, given the reported 500,000 different grave- and other dug sites, stressing the need to avoid any “unified view”. Price also proceeds to provide the reader with an eyewitness’ account of a “Viking” funeral along the Volga River in Russia, through the text of Arab geographer and historian Ibn Fadlan – such a description remains a pivotal text on the topic, despite the possibilities of misinterpretation and culture-specific lenses that Fadlan’s testimony gives rise to. Again, the notion of performatory function of the rituals comes to the fore.

 

Jackson investigates the merits and limits of comparative philology. He positions the crucial difference of nomadic and settled communities of the “pre”-Indo-European peoples of the Steppes as a topic worth paying attention to in the linguistic context. One can almost see the vast expanse of the pre-historic Indo-European society from India to the West Fjords in Iceland, spanning continents, nations, cultures, over time and space. Jackson investigates the rituals of the past using key linguistic possibilities, employing such concepts as the “blót” qua shared cultural heritage. Dumezils’ notion of an “Indo-European” ideology is mentioned, but Jackson stresses that the “present now” of any belief system makes the unique characteristics of such systems.

 

DuBois makes an excursion into the diets and deities of the Scandinavians and the Sámi. This is a good overview of the differences between the settler-farmers of Scandinavia and the hunter-gatherers belonging to various Sámi Nations. He positions different animals as a source of cultural-religious similarity and difference between the two cultures – as a result the Nordic communities hold in reverence mostly domesticated animals, as opposed to the Sámi, who have preserved other worldviews centred on “wild” animals, even though the reindeer, as a semi-domesticated herd animal falls between these categories. Within the Scandinavian life-world, the role of sheep and goat is very interesting. Differences come to the surface with regard to fish and their cultural interpretations in the communities. Interestingly, some animals, such as horses, have a meaning for both peoples, but they are of a very different kind – to the Sámi the horse possesses a demonic association. DuBois discusses the notion of a “mythic lag” on community change – how some attachments from “prior” systems [hunter-gatherer] manifest “still” or persistently in the “more advanced” life stage of a people.

 

As he is the only author who, to a certain extent, discusses Sámi worldviews and compares them to the Scandinavians, his text requires some reflection. The article has merits. At the same time, it has serious flaws too, for the viewpoint is fixed upon the Finno-Ugric side. According to DuBois, “both Scandinavians and the Sámi differentiated themselves from each other through the religious imagery related directly to the species they chose to consume”. It is true that the Sámi stress their connection with fish and reindeer as opposed to domesticated animals, but there is a set of reasons for this. DuBois avoids stressing the Scandinavian and, since the 1800s, the Finnish colonisation of the Sámi across the region; meaning the hunter-gatherer-herder systems as opposed to invading and expanding farming settlers. It is reasonably safe to assume that already the early historical meetings [while trade was certainly also a part of them] between the farmers and the Sámi in various parts of the region led to land use conflicts, as the subsistence rounds of the hunters required large, stable old-growth territories, as opposed to the needs of the farmers to clear forests for farms. As several Sámi scholars and leaders, such as Elina Helander, Jelena Porsanger, Pauliina Feodoroff and others have done, the emphasis in the cultural discourses on reindeer and fish, and other “wild” foods and animals, are also mechanisms of resistance against invasion.

 

DuBois utilizes some photographs from Eastern Sápmi (or Finnmark) in Norway in his article. They should be seen in a critical light. Especially the famous “Grease Stone” of Mortensnes (p.81) receives special attention. Having worked in the villages and areas around the stone since 1996, I have another opinion. My Sámi friends indicate strongly that the stone is, in fact, a Scandinavian imposition on their landscapes – while other stones and other sites of Mortensnes are indeed of the Sámi world. DuBois utilizes little-known and well-established sources from the Sámi side, but the big change and sites of resistance are not expressed clearly enough.

 

Raudvere establishes religion as a mechanism to interpret local reality. Cosmic histories and transcendental realities of past community life are a text for the scholars but a lived reality for the people themselves. She utilizes Völuspá to explore ritual and meaning. Readers could have benefitted from a more thorough discussion on the various versions of Völuspá.

 

 Nordberg presents a significant methodological paper on the study of Old Norse religion. Importantly, he stresses the need of geographical diversity and difference.A Map could have helped this article. Secondly, Nordberg importantly distinguishes between farms and coastal fishing villages, and stresses the shifts within religions in times of change. Some old colonial ghosts loom within the text with the references to “advanced religions” [of farming societies] – such terms having been deconstructed a long time ago to their proper place by postcolonial research.

 

Stark and Anttonen offer us the only views of the Finnish-Karelian tradition. They dwell little on the difference between the Scandinavian and the Sámi tradition; however Stark reminds us that “some elements of the Finnish folk practice…clearly have Finno-Ugric roots…[deriving from] Eurasian shamanism.” According to her, these constitute a “loosely structured ethno-theory for illness aetiology.” This is in line with the claims by Clive Tolley, who has not found evidence of shamanism in the Old Norse religion. Stark employs a strong feministic view on the recorded texts and identifies the year 1860 as a big change for the Nordic traditions and the complex cultural layers of religious imagery. Anttonen, by quoting at length the earliest Nordic folk tradition text by Agricola, investigates the influences and context of Finnish and Karelian deities in early times. He argues that no single coherent pagan system existed here and makes the case for the slow speed of religious change. Both texts are an important and distinct introduction to the Finnish tradition and its difference compared to the Sámi and Scandinavian ones. Stark’s conclusions could benefit a Finnish popular audience too.

 

Sundqvist investigates the sacral kinship and proposes a “religious ruler ideology” instead as a defining term. It would consist of relationships with the mythic world, its rituals, symbols and cultic organisation. He convincingly argues that there is a need of an all-inclusive rethink – and using empirical materials makes a strong case between the Swedish-Norwegian situation and the strongly independent Icelandic Commonwealth, leading to the conclusion that there was no uniform religious ruler ideology in the Nordic space.

 

Schjödt brings the far-reaching volume to its close by offering new aims and methodological discussions. Shortly stated, contemporary sources such as archaeology and the medieval sources, such as cultural texts of the time, need to go to together to widen the scope of studies on the Old Norse religion. Sagas and Eddas are to be viewed as a blend of skills of the author, oral traditions and influences of the time-space in which they were composed. Models, discourse analysis and comparative views will open the doors to new understandings. The hunt for the “original text” remains an enigma, even though, according to Schjödt, an Indo-European kernel of stories and myths existed – but, despite this and Dumezil, the “old” religion was not a coherent worldview, rather a “discursive space of diversity”.

 

Technically, this surprisingly good book could have benefitted from maps. Contemporary views of Norse religion, the role of Sigur Rós in Iceland and other followers would have enlightened the views expressed in the book too. A clear distinction between Karelian hunter-societies in the period 1600-1800 and the Sámi hunters, as opposed to the colonial impact of the farming societies of Scandinavia, would have made clearer the expanding nature of the Old Norse world. And lastly, what happened to the dragons?

 

And thus we come to a close of “More Than Mythology” – in the opening line I asked, borrowing from Schjödt, what kind of evidence is needed to propose convincing interpretations? The main problem with the critical study of religion is that it is often done by people that do not believe. Therefore the “materials” are seen as “texts” and interpretations abound, but yet the “source” is missing.

 

I am pondering this in the Karelian village of Selkie, one of the westernmost of our communities, where a hundred years ago Kalevala-style incantations and poems were collected by the scholars of that day. Snow has fallen on trees and our fishing season for open waters is at a close, boats are up and we eagerly await for the arrival of proper lake ice so that we can spread the nets under the ice again. As I reflected about the More Than Mythology, on the lake, the last of the migratory birds flew by on their way to the south – soon we will meet again, I said to them. And the realisation came to me – if we are to understand the views of our ancestors, we need to live in that nature, or remnants of that nature, that sustained them – that is the source. Then the scholar, removed from the yearly cycles of the European North with his analytical or even her feminist apparatus, can return to see that time and space are not a line, indeed many things remain, of the “old” and of the “new”, of the things the wind only whispers of, but which are already emerging.

 

 

 

 

Felice Vinci, Omero nel Baltico. Le origini nordiche dell’Odissea e dell’Iliade (5th edition; Rome: Palombi Editori, 2009)

The book tells, and documents, the author’s journey following his original intuition: can the geography described by Homer in his epics be related not to the Mediterranean coasts and towns, but to the Scandinavian ones? Vinci pursued such an ‘experiment’: he tried to fit Homer’s places into the Scandinavian context. And according to Vinci’s studies, partially supported by further studies by Nilsson and Tilak, the protagonists of the Iliad and the Odyssey could have actually lived and performed their heroic deeds on the coasts of the Baltic Sea. One of the starting and strongest points of Vinci’s research is already suggested in the ancient historical sources: Plutarch stated that Ogygia island, where Calypso kept Ulysses for several years, was in the Northern Atlantic, five days of navigation away from Britannia. Then, the evidences mingle with an unstoppable sequence of facts and hypotheses, reasonings and dreams. For example, why is it said that the island of Faro, in front of Egyptian Alexandria, took one day of navigation from Egypt?

As Vinci bears witness to with his studies, the names of Homeric places still overlap with the names of Northern villages and cities. The same applies to the distance between towns, the description of the warriors’ garments and habits, as further substantiated by well-documented archaeological and historical studies that match Vinci’s peculiar theory. Furthermore, there is an answer to the issue of the climate described in Homer’s poems: the Baltic Sea was warmer at that time, just before the end of the ‘climatic optimum’ that forced Nordic populations to move to warmer places, i.e. to the Mediterranean area.

As the cooling of the climate is concerned, I must confess that I felt myself shivering: what an intellectual vertigo does induce Vinci’s notion, whereby Europe’s classical culture shifts suddenly northward. Torn between my Mediterranean birth and my sympathy for Nordic countries, having visited Greece and the ‘epic’ places of Achilles and Telemachus, I still find it difficult to accept the idea that Ithaca may be one of the Danish islands, Troy to be in the Gulf of Finland, Crete in Pomerania, and Mycenae, perhaps, the ancestral cradle of today’s Copenhagen. Not to mention Ulysses–thus interpreting Tacitus’ definition–being a forerunner of the Vikings, maybe even the Ull recalled in the Edda.

Yet, as the classical scholar Rosa Calzecchi Onesti states in the foreword to Vinci’s book, none of the great previous researches on Homer’s geography is in doubt, because Vinci argues that such Northern populations recreated a second ‘Baltic’ along the Greek coasts and islands. As historical novelist Franco Cuomo writes in the preface, Vinci’s book must be “read like the memory of a population who, moving elsewhere, brings along its own myths” (p. 9) . Vinci’s book evokes Homer’s epics as a primordial portrait of a ‘greekness’ that we have learned to know and imagine through classical texts, visual arts, movies, travels, etc. We know that history is crowded of misunderstandings and misinterpretations, and Vinci’s theory shall be seriously considered as a new approach to Homeric and classical studies.

The book suffers from the poor quality of the pictures contained therein. Also, I cannot comment on the conclusiveness of Vinci’s revolutionary thesis. Still, I can appreciate its originality, the personal approach of Vinci when he recalls his journeys throughout Scandinavia, the careful descriptions of the landscapes he visited and their comparison with well-known Homeric places, and the wealth of historical sources cited to support his stance.

Vinci copertina Palombi

Past, Present and Future of Social Democracy: The Debate (?) in Italy and the Nordic Experience

1. The weakness of the Social Democratic tradition in Italy

To such a question is devoted one of the rare reflections on Social Democracy published in Italy, in 2009, i.e. Giuseppe Averardi’s book The mutants. Why the post-communists have rejected the Social Democratic choice. According to the author (a journalist and former politician), during Gorbachev’s leadership in former USSR,  the belief prevailed within the PCI that both Communism and Social Democracy were to be abandoned, as both had failed[2]. However, in addition to this historical judgment, a crucial role was played by the will to keep together the traditional electorate, who used to consider Democratic Socialism as the betrayer of the working class, whilst the leadership was imbued itself with the same hostility[3]. Averardi disregards the influence played by the presence, and then by the collapse, of the Socialist Party (PSI) on the PCI leadership’s line of action. At a first time (1989-1992), the choice of a Social democratic option would have implied for the PCI-PDS to be absorbed by the rival party[4] – which had not been questioned by the fall of the Soviet system. Later, after the early 1990s trials for bribery and corruption involving the leaders of PSI, the Social Democratic wing within the PCI found itself bereft of its main external partner, coming out weakened in the power struggle within the PCI[5].

Averardi’s main thesis is that, like mutants, the Communist leaders changed, under the pressure of external events, the party form, but not the party machinery, which survived untouched, and neither their mentality, which remained Stalinist[6]. Hence the failure of the project, nourished between 1995 and 1998, by Massimo D’Alema (a key-figure in the 1990s-2000s party history, as he became Italy’s prime minister in 1998-2000). D’Alema wished to convert the Democratic Party of the Left into a Social Democratic Party[7]; but he failed, and so did his successor Walter Veltroni’s (another prominent party representative), who attempted to transform the party into a liberal-socialist organization[8]. The final point is the PD, which is a generically liberal party along an American political line. This is an outcome to which “Repubblica”, the newspaper now in the frontline against Berlusconi, has strongly contributed, with its determination to avoid a Socialist landing-place for the post-communists[9]. Averardi’s conclusions are disconsolate: once abandoned revolution, the heirs of the PCI believe no longer either in reformism, and, as good Stalinists, have entirely fallen back on the management of daily power. “This is their plague and at the same time the misfortune they have thrown the country into”[10].

2. A double crisis: Social Democracy and Capitalism as well

In the light of this poor gift for Social Democracy on the side of the Italian left, it is not unexpected that the debate on the turn that Socialism can take in the XXI Century focuses mainly on foreign countries (and makes use of foreign contributions). There is a general agreement on the crisis that Social Democracy is going through; at the same time, no one forgets to stress that the financial crisis that shook the international economy in 2008 – with lasting consequences – is a turning point too. Yet European Social Democracy seems unable to turn the lack of confidence in the free market to its own advantage.

According to the already mentioned D’Alema (founder and chairman of a foundation, “Italianieuropei”, which is among the few research-centres promoting a reasoning on Social Democracy in Italy), two are the reasons for such a débâcle. First, the managerial shift carried out by socialist parties in the second half of the 1990s has assured their permanency in power, but it has not undermined social inequalities (which, on the contrary, have increased); turning themselves more and more into neo-liberal forces, socialist parties have made themselves jointly responsible for such an outcome. Secondly, these parties have restricted themselves to national perspectives, giving up the chances implied by European integration[11]. Both these arguments are a recurring complaint in the diagnosis of the crisis from which Social Democracy is said to be suffering. Let us start with the Socialist leveling-off on Neo-Liberalism.

Massimo Salvadori, one of the most prominent Italian scholars of Socialism and Communism, focuses on the impact produced on Social Democratic policies by the changes in the production system, the fall of Socialist bloc, the neo-liberal counterattack, and the Chinese opening to the free market. Exactly when Social Democracy was celebrating the end of Communism, it came to be stricken by the attack to the State, in every respect. Globalization, for its part, compromised the power of politics over the economy, sealing the triumph of wild capitalism. In the face of such an upheaval, Social Democracy has given in, from a cultural and from a policy-making point of view, splitting up between Renewers and Traditionalists. The outcome has been a withdrawal from the two main targets of 1) defending the weakest social groups and 2) facing economic powers. By pursuing obsessively the middle electorate – giving up the task to organize what once were called “subordinate classes” – Socialist parties have betrayed their identity, to the advantage of the Right[12].

Paolo Borioni, expert of the Nordic model, points out nevertheless a kind of symmetric process, particularly clear in Scandinavian countries[13]: while Social Democracy absorbed more and more right-wing values and policies, the Right, for its part, was reducing its laissez-faire aggressiveness; today it avoids ideological confrontation, defining itself as a centre force; it is very careful not to question openly the Welfare State, which rather is slowly worn down. Clearly, the right-wing Welfare State is not a vehicle of equality; on the contrary, it turns into a kind of refuge for those who are left out of competition; but it works to some extent, at least as a populistic instrument for consensus[14].

Giuseppe Berta, economic historian and author of the only recent book (even if very short) entirely devoted to Italian Social Democracy, insists upon the convergence of the opposite fronts; while once upon a time one could talk about a “labour capitalism” (following Schumpeter), nowadays it seems to be suitable to resort to the concept of “capitalistic Social Democracy”. In the age of globalization, Social Democracy has found out to be forced to adapt itself to capitalistic requirements, giving up its original claim to transform society[15].

3. European Socialist parties’ state of health

Typically, the main culprit for the rejection of genuine Social Democracy is said to be Tony Blair. Even if New Labour has been, together with the Nordic socialist parties, the only left-wing movement able to catch the importance of changes occurring because of globalization, instead of ruling them out, it is often accused of having complied with them far too much[16]. What Blair did was to put a humanistic breath on a Thatcher-inspired politics[17]; his New Labour accepted the so-called “turbo capitalism” of the 21st century, shifting from a collectivist ethics to full-fledged individualism: in this view, emancipation becomes the outcome of a process made by: education – skills improvement – and competitiveness on the labour market[18].

The German Social Democratic Party, SPD – as one of its MP, Angelica Schwall-Düren,  points out – spent the eleven years in power (first as ruling party, later in the grosse Koalition with Angela Merkel’s CDU) engaged above all in technocratic modernization, i.e. reforms were put forward without discussion with the citizens, who therefore did not identify themselves with those policies. No participation, no consent. In the light of such a line of action,the catastrophic electoral result of the SPD in the last general elections (September 2009) should not come as a surprise: 23%, the worst result since 1949[19]. The difference between New Labour and SPD lies, in Berta’s analysis, in the greater determination of the former as to the rejection of Socialist tradition; the SPD being more hesitating, albeit its policies show no autonomous profile: the party does not distinguish itself from the others in any significant respect[20].

As to the French Socialist Party, Zaki Laïdi reminds us that it was in power for only fifteenth years (i.e. with Mitterand and Jospin) out of the last fifty. Being traditionally not a labour party, it has suffered from a deep split between the national level (ruled by an ideology with no obvious connection with social reality) and the local one (quite pragmatic).[21].

There are nevertheless in the European political landscape two (seemingly) successful cases: the Greek and the Spanish one. The journalist Panos Papoulias acknowledges yet that the victory of the Greek Socialist Party (PASOK) in the 2009 elections has been due not secondarily to the failure of the conservative government, even if it must not be neglected the cleverness of the party in exploiting the discontent aroused by the 2008 economic crisis. But now the PASOK has to face several and demanding challenges[22].

Before the widespread love affair with Barack Obama[23], the only political leader able to give the European Left some hope back, in the last decade, has been Josè Luis Zapatero. His governments have been indicated like the demonstration that even in the XXI Century the Left can successfully rule a country, without betraying its ideals. The historian of Spain Alfonso Botti, nevertheless, even if commending Zapatero’s good record (in foreign policy, civil law, Welfare State, minorities protection), warns that, because of the 2008 economic crisis, his golden age is behind him. Then Botti wonders what kind of Socialism Zapatero has represented: not a working class’ expression, but a mix of Social Democracy and political Liberalism, with its emphasis on the extension of civil rights and individual freedom; a modernization strategy, aiming to bring near to the party new social groups (mainly the youth and women). If Spain proves to be today a tolerant and hospitable country, its economy shows weak roots; Zapatero has not been able to modify substantially the labour market, the banking system, Spain’s fiscal policy. Revealingly, the Spanish success has not involved a decrease in social inequalities[24].

4. Globalization/localization: threat or opportunity?

As mentioned above, Social Democracy is often blamed, not only for its falling into line with the Right, but also because of what philosopher Antonio Negri calls its “geopolitical failure”: instead of making the EU into a political subject, in every respect (that would have been, in Negri’s analysis, the last chance to salvage whatever possible), Social Democratic parties have allowed it to become a maidservant of the USA. Furthermore, they have offered little resistance against identity-oriented and populist forces. In brief, European Socialists have not understood either the crisis in national sovereignty or the one in government, that is to say, the shift to governance, a key-word in the moderate-left debate nowadays[25].

Giuseppe Vacca, chairman of the Gramsci Foundation, reminds that, in the 1970s, Socialist parties replied to the challenges of that time by the pro-European shift, for they were aware that the so-called “social compromise” could be preserved only at a continental level, However, from the end of the 1990s they have delegated the rule of economy to the European Central Bank, which has implied the priority of monetary stability, not of growth; hence,the return to national economic policies, and of the missed chance of European integration, esulting into the worst crisis suffered by Reformism in the post-war age. Indeed, within the EU, political initiative is more and more in the hands of the European Popular Party[26].

On the other hand, Berta stresses that, compared to the golden age of Social Democracy, the territorial dimension has changed too. Nowadays, the real decision-making centres are no longer nations, but urban areas, macro-regions, as shown by localist movements in  Italy and Belgium above all. It is a “federalism with a metropolitan ground”, a “borgomasters’ Europe”[27].

Are Social Democratic politics still conceivable, in an age of globalization and localization? And furthermore: is Social Democracy going to regain credibility, thanks to the severe lesson given by the economic crisis of 2008 as regards to the alleged virtues of the free market?

That the recent collapse of international capitalism can pave the way for a Social Democratic resurrection it is not a common belief. It depends, on one hand, on the awareness of the differences between 1929 and 2008. Back in 1929, capitalism was said to be done for good; today, a Socialist economist such as Giorgio Ruffolo can sentence that “not the days are numbered, of capitalism, but the Centuries” and that, “at least in a discernible historical perspective, capitalism is essentially not irreplaceable” [28]. On the other hand, unclear are the will and capability, on the side of Social Democratic Parties, to renew their identity without wasting their traditions and achievements (first of all global thinking and Welfare State). A complicated balance; how to achieve it? Here the answers differ greatly.

If someone, like the philosopher Giuseppe Bedeschi, gets rid of the problem hastily, pressing for more Liberalism within Social Democracy[29], others  work out more concrete proposals. Negri, for example, urges Socialist parties – which are upon death’s doorsteps, in his opinion – to commit themselves to the following tasks: 1) to organize brainwork, favouring the alliance with the working class; 2) to create a Welfare-oriented income distribution (starting from a productive system that must be tailored to actual human needs); 3) to achieve a democratic control of the financial system, turning the measures introduced in order to face the peak of the crisis into permanent features, then removing unearned incomes, which must go back to the community (in Negri’s view, this is a basic point, for those who aim to improve democracy); 4) to strengthen the European Union, breaking apart the NATO alliance; finally, 5) to show courage, if necessary even bypassing the worn polarization between Left and Right[30].

D’Alema for his part believes that the best therapy for Social Democracy would be to rediscover social conflict and labour (not only blue collars, but also craftsmen and minor entrepreneurs) and to improve democracy, at every level (from the local to the global one);. Also, politics must recover its supremacy over the markets, but without falling back into an outdated centrally planned economy. D’Alema wishes as well a renewal of the struggle against social inequalities (thanks to a redistribution of wealth), which have been exacerbated by the crisis occurred in 2008; wealth must be produced not by low wages, but by innovation, both in products and in processes. Shortly, D’Alema’s thesis is that Social Democracy is over, it is an old experience, depending as it is on conditions that  no longer exist. However, its vital elements – democracy, equality, innovation – must be preserved, adjusting them to the present circumstances[31].

Different is Salvadori’s conclusion: from the 2008 crisis, Social Democratic aims come out strengthened; what is needed is a strategy free from the race to the middle of the political spectrum and the recovery of a leftist identity, with a commitment to join together the varied world of subordinate employment, to integrate immigrants, to safeguard secularism and pluralism, and to protect the environment[32].

Berta is fascinated by New Labour’s new course: under Gordon Brown and David Milliband, the party seems to take some distance from Blair’s age, reminding that the task is to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor and therefore that the market cannot be left unrestrained; the language of social solidarity must be restored, even by the regulation of economic activity[33]. But what is more astonishing, in Berta’s book, is that, after 110 pages spent in repeating a sentence to death for Social Democracy – warning reformist parties that they are wrong, if aiming to go back to the past – in the final part of the work the author glorifies… Keynes’ relevance to the present; not Keynesianism or the mixed economy, dead and buried as well as Social Democracy, but Keynes’ theories (never applied, according to Berta) about the relationship between liberalism and socialism. In other words, centre-left-wing parties have to test, with a pragmatic attitude to reassembling, if Keynesian lines of action – economic efficiency, social justice and individual freedom – can turn into their own agenda[34].

The more well-constructed proposal comes from Borioni, and, consistently with his research-field, it is inspired to the Nordic model, particularly the Danish one. Yet the core of his reasoning is not flexicurity in its Italian declination (Borioni here refers to economists like Francesco Giavazzi of Bocconi University) or in the European one (Barroso), that is to say, a mainstay of current market economy. On the contrary, Borioni emphasizes the role of flexicurity as a policy intended to influence – thanks to the Welfare State – the market itself. The way out of the crisis lies, for Social Democracy, in planning the economy on the basis of three aims: (1) jobs (labour market policies and higher wages, in order to favour market expansion, abroad and at home), (2) Welfare (such as competitiveness incentives) and (3) innovation (i.e., a specialized system production): in other words, the shift from “turbo capitalism” to a “patient capitalism”, with finance coming back to its maidservant role. If most of the Italian scholars restrict their attention to the developments in the UK and Germany, Borioni turns to Norway as a success story: Social Democrats have once again won the elections thanks to a politics based on: few fiscal reliefs; public investments not in colossal projects, but instead in works achievable in a short time (such as maintenance of infrastructure); a good relationship with the trade unions; and a definite opposition to populism and xenophobia. The basic assumption, in the Norwegian Social Democrats’ strategy, is that competitiveness requires the inclusion of everybody and the latter must be ensured also by using State-owned oil revenues as a long-term fund to preserve the Welfare State[35].

5. Concluding remarks

There is no Italian way to Social Democracy: because of the historical reasons that have been recalled hereby, but also owing to intellectuals’ and politicians’ incapacity to face the challenged to Social Democratic policies and reformism as a whole, especially in connection with the Italian peculiarities. There is no reference to territorial lacks of balance, for example, and to the backwardness of the national economic system. The weak social groups who should constitute the target of centre-left-wing policies remain indistinct and secondary. Furthermore, inequalities are mentioned only with regards to their economic dimension, which obviously is fundamental, but not exhaustive. Gender equality is completely absent from the debate; and one can with good reason wonder how the issue can be avoided, in a country where the female employment rate is among the lowest ones in Europe, with the following economic, but also cultural and political, marginalization of women. Let alone the discrimination that other social groups (e.g. immigrants and homosexuals) also suffer from.

The poorness of the Italian debate is not unexpected, as already pointed out: the party which was the natural candidate to sponsor a debate on Social Democracy has instead adopted a confuse profile; in the effort to seduce the moderate electorate, it has displeased the traditional one without succeeding in gaining new votes, and now it is drowning in a sea of pornographic scandals and judicial inquiries.

The party which nowadays seems inclined to receive the Social Democratic inheritance,  i.e. the Party of the Communist Refoundation, has been deleted from parliamentary institutions in the last general elections and it is now engaged in safeguarding its survival, struggling between identity-oriented pressures (the preservation of a Communist tradition) and the search of economic and social policies suitable to XXI Century Italy and Europe.

As to leftist intellectuals, they seem to be marginal in a country where the public opinion spends more time in talking about the prime minister’s sexual life than about the ongoing economic crisis.

 


[1] On the shift from PCI to PDS to DS, see I. Ariemma, La casa brucia. I Democratici di Sinistra dal PCI ai nostri giorni, Venezia, Marsilio, 2000.

[2] See G. Averardi, 1989-2009 I mutanti. Perché i postcomunisti hanno rifiutato l’opzione socialdemocratica, Roma, Datanews, 2009, p. 88. Marcello Flores, historian, is however of a different opinion: during the several transformations (from PCI until PD), the party leadership, shocked by the fall of Communism, has not been able to realize that Social Democracy as well is over; such a blindness, with the consequent attempt to merge two outdated culture, i.e. the Social Democratic one and the popular-Catholic one, in the Democratic Party, has prevented the discontinuity which is required in order to give Left a new identity. See M. Flores, Una sinistra ancora in cerca di una nuova identità, “Italianieuropei”, 2009, 4, pp. 39-42.

[3] See G. Averardi, pp. 109-111. See also A. Possieri, Il peso della storia. Memoria, identità, rimozione dal PCI al PDS (1970-1991), Bologna, Il Mulino, 2007, p. 289.

[4] See I. Ariemma, p. 58.

[5] See E. Macaluso, Al capolinea. Controstoria del Partito Democratico, Milano, Feltrinelli, 2007, pp. 50-52.

[6] See G. Averardi, p. 102.

[7] See G. Averardi, pp. 120-131.

[8] See G. Averardi, pp. 144-145.

[9] See G. Averardi, pp. 160-161.

[10] See G. Averardi, p. 227.

[11] See M. D’Alema, Editoriale, “Italianieuropei”, 2009, 4, pp. 10-11.

[12] See M. Salvadori, Considerazioni sul passato e il presente della socialdemocrazia europea, “Italianieuropei”; 2009, 4, pp. 31-32.

[13] On Sweden, see M. Quirico, Il socialismo di fronte alla realtà. Il modello svedese (1990-2006), pp. 215-227 (Una conclusione provvisoria. Le elezioni politiche del 2006).

[14] See P. Borioni, La socialdemocrazia: perché perde, perché potrà vincere, “Italianieuropei”, 2009, 4, p. 65.

[15] See G. Berta, Eclisse della socialdemocrazia, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2009, pp. 11-18.

[16] See A. Negri, Sul futuro delle socialdemocrazie europee, “Italianieuropei”; 2009, 4, p. 22.

[17] See P. Borioni, p. 71.

[18] See G. Berta, pp. 24-26.

[19] See A. Scwall-Düren, La SPD nella trappola della credibilità, “Italianieuropei”, 2009, 5, pp. 22-26.

[20] See G. Berta, pp. 28-34.

[21] See Z. Laïdi, Perché il Partito socialista è in crisi?, “Italianieuropei”, 2009, 5, pp. 36-38.

[22] See Panos Papoulias, La vittoria elettorale dei socialdemocratici greci e il suo significato per il centrosinistra europeo, “Italianieuropei”, 2009, 5, pp. 53-57.

[23] See G. Berta, pp. 52-56.

[24] See A. Botti, Il socialismo di Zapatero nella crisi della SD europea, “Italianieuropei”, 2009, 5, pp. 44-52.

[25] See A. Negri, pp. 20-21.

[26] See G. Vacca, Il socialismo europeo e la globalizzazione. Le radici della crisi pp. 70-73.

[27] See G. Berta, pp. 63-64.

[28] See G. Ruffolo, Crisi dell’economia e declino della socialdemocrazia, “Italianieuropei”, 2009, 4, p. 43 e p. 44.

[29] See G. Bedeschi, La crisi della socialdemocrazia, “Italianieuropei”, 2009, 4, p. 63.

[30] See Negri, pp. 23-24.

[31] See D’Alema, pp. 12-14.

[32] See Salvadori, pp. 34-35. Papoulias follows a similar line, when listing the challenges the PASOK is going to face. See Papoulias, p. 59.

[33] See Berta, pp. 75-85. On Brown and the recent developments within Labour, see R. Liddle, L’impatto della crisi economica globale sul futuro della socialdemocrazia europea, “Italianieuropei”, 2009, 5, pp. 14-21.

[34] See Berta, pp. 112-126.

[35] See Borioni, pp. 72-75.

“Dracula in Iceland”. An Interview with Marinella Lorinczi

ML. Thank you for the kind appreciation. I have the deep convinction that a genuine, really good scholar of Bram Stoker’s most famous novel Dracula should investigate the whole literary production of this interesting writer, and connect the novel with his other narratives, both short and long. It is not entirely my case, I must confess, although I tried to compare Dracula with other two novels of his, i.e. The Lady of the Shroud and The Jewel of Seven Stars. However, I can be excused, because my main research subjects – as you mentioned – are not English literature or literature of the Victorian age. I did not begin my Dracula studies reading in English, but in Romanian and Italian. After that beginning, I was obliged not to avoid the English language, therefore my initial, very poor knowledge of this language improved and now I am able to read, understand, and study essays as well as works of fictional literature. All this thanks to Dracula… A nearly unknown Dracula to me, at the beginning, because in Romania – my country of birth -Stoker’s novel has no special significance, and only the historical person has, who lived in the XV century – he is called normally Vlad Tepes, that is, Vlad the Impaler – and is best known from history textbooks (as voivode, that is governer of Wallachia, now South Romania). Therefore my first and almost casual glance was at the historical figure, in the historical documents regarding him, and not at the novel. And this kind of interest fits with the interests of the philologist in the wider sense. It fits with my interests in multiethnic areas, like the Balkans or Transylvania, in commonplaces, and, first of all, in the mystification of research activities and products. There is plenty of examples of just such mystifications in much secondary literature dealing with Dracula. Why people are so attracted by the vampire or, more specifically, by the Dracula theme, unfortunately, I can’t answer in a satisfactory way. I made a hypothetical connection between the popular culture of the United States, which are the first and most successful propagator of the fame of Dracula the vampire, and Halloween as the context of reception of Dracula; in other words, between a kind of carnival and the everchanging Dracula, and I realised, during the Dracula centenary celebrations in Los Angeles in 1997, that I was right. But people are mostly interested in the vampire movies and not in the novel, so Stoker’s Dracula is widely known and little read. And this interest generates movies upon movies, in a neverending way.

NM. In your books and essays you present Bram Stoker’s Dracula as deeply connected to Nordic, Scandinavian cultures. How did Bram Stoker succeed in connecting the Danubian Dracula with Scandinavia? And why?

ML. If you read Dracula’s fictional autobiography, in the third chapter of the novel, the answer lays therein: ” … in our [Dracula’s] veins flows the blood of many races … the Ugric tribe bore down [to the frontier of Turkey-land, on the Danube] from Iceland the fighting spirit [of] Thor and Wodin …”; and then he mentions the Berserkers, the terrible Nordic warriors as his ancient relatives. There are a lot of similar details, on the surface of the novel, or hidden in semantic associations, which I have analysed. You can recognise, for example, the ideas of the late Roman historian Jordanes (6th c. A.D.), the historian of the Goths, about the origin of European peoples: “Scandia” is “vagina gentium“, the womb of nations. I think that there is a cultural-philosophical background, related to the romantic gothicism of the 19th century and of the previous century too, that explains Stoker’s mild and vague but certain, in my opinion, inclination toward Scandinavian culture.

NM. Yes, in Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula does declare to be a descendent of Huns and Scandinavian Berserkers. But how much is Dracula himself a Viking, an Icelander, a creature of the North?

ML. You are mentioning his pedigree, his asserted noble origins, that justify and announce his aggressive behaviour in his fictional future. But his “nordic-ness” belongs to the past, whereas he is a fictional contemporary of his author, of Stoker; and in that world he is a stranger coming from Eastern Europe and a loser. He is outside the “European community”. Don’t you think that Stoker had an excellent flare?

NM. Is Dracula a southerner, in any way, Mediterranean?

ML. He can be alike in the movies, I think, when dark-haired actors like Bela Lugosi or Frank Langella played the character. But in the novel he is not at all Mediterranean, for he comes from the eastern borders of civilized Europe, he is a Barbarian. A noble one, but Barbarian, a noble savage transformed into an invader, into a migrant. Therefore he is fearful, he must be.

NM. You are from Transylvania, one of the most beautiful and rich parts of Europe – in its variety of cultures, traditions and landscapes. Why do you think Bram Stoker chose to have a Székely, Transylvanian Dracula?

ML. I was born in Transylvania, but grew up in Bucharest. Transylvania is not my actual homeland, it is my father’s. But I know well the history of Transylvania, so I can answer your question, obviously from my point of view. You must recall that Transylvania is now a significant and historical region of Romania, but in Stoker’s time (Stoker died in 1912) it belonged to Austria-Hungary. The unsteady political situation of Austria-Hungary caused the ignition of the First World War. Transylvania was in the focus of Western politicians’ attention as one of the most important and explosive European multiethnic areas. I think that Stoker was looking for a very exotic and untamed minority of Europe to settle there Dracula. A Hungarian-speaking minority whose name (Székely) is not related to “Hungarian”, who is living almost beyond, trans-Transsylvania, in any case not in “proper” Hungary, with a fame for pride and self-consciousness, and so on. He was creating an allegory, an artistic model of what could happen if a minority explodes, getting fed up with its situation. It was not Gladstone, in 1845, who said: “Ireland! Ireland!… That coming storm!”? And Stoker was an English-speaking and writing Irishman. And Dracula became a coming storm too, threatening Victorian England.

NM. Do you see a connection between Szekelyland (a Hungarian religious and linguistic island in a Romanian/Orthodox area, homeland of Bram Stoker’s Dracula), Ireland (the homeland of Bram Stoker), Iceland (the land of origin of Dracula’s “fighting spirit which Thor and Wodin gave” him) and Sardinia (your present homeland)? Are islands special in a similar way? I ask this question because I have in maind, for example, the similarities in the very ancient traditional dances that you can still witness in Transylvania, Sardinia and the Faroe Islands.

ML. I don’t know Iceland, unfortunately. I never visited Iceland, nor the Faroe Islands, though I would like to. I know Ireland better, and Sardinia quite well. I think, that is to say, I learned, that small or medium-sized islands’ history and culture depend on their relations with their respective mainlands, so each island is different. The similarities in traditional dances, if you are thinking of so-called “round” dances, the circular-chain dances, exist everywhere, independently of the shape or size of the geographic areas. I am not a traditional-dance specialist, but I read about them and saw them in documentaries about several countries. I think that it is a social universal: sitting, dancing, speaking, eating in a circle, there is no rank difference, and every member of the community, of the group, has the same place. Think, for example, of the legendary Round Table.

NM. Among your main interests there is also the study of the Sardinian languages. How did you develop this interest of yours? How would you describe the situation of the Sardinian languages: are they in danger of extinction, as many other local languages in Italy and in Europe? How much do Sardinians and Italians care about these disappearing languages? Do you think it is possible and desirable to save them in today’s globalized world?

ML. You are asking many important questions about minority languages. As you mention, in Sardinia, there are many languages, such as Sardinian, a truly indigenous language, or the Catalan of the town of Alghero. The dominant Italian is exogenous, of external origin. Between the XVI and the XVIII century, instead, the dominant language was Spanish. I began studying Sardinian casually, as a normal branch of Romance linguistics; this part of the story is not really interesting. After graduating in Bucharest, I got married in Sardinia and have lived there since. It was and is normal, again as a linguist, for me to study Sardinian.

Most recently I have become a keen observer of attitudes to language, because the study of lesser used languages involves quite a significant impact, both emotional and political. The European Union is promoting minority languages, theoretically and financially; yet, in this way, minority studies, which still lack an official ethical code, could transform into a mostly bureaucratic and academic business. There is no warranty that this top-down, authoritative, promotion is conformable to real and widespread social needs in a society where literacy is universal, schooling is universal, and schools have their own language policy. Consider, for example, that everyone wants to learn English today, or that some subjects are taught extensively in English at the school level and at the university level. This fact means the beginning of the loss, or in any case a functional restriction, of the former dominant language, such as Italian, in our case. Therefore Italian, an historically important and non-minority language, needs protection or special attention as well.

The loss of a minority language must be prevented because linguistic and cultural variety, like biological variety, is quite simply good per se and necessary from a modern point of view. But linguistic variety means also that people should be allowed and able to speak all kinds of dialects as well, for dialects too are minor idioms. What is the difference between the protection and promotion of minority languages and of dialects? The hidden idea here is that a minority language belongs to a potential nation, which could develop into an independent state in certain circumstances, hence it is more important; whilst dialects belong to a part of it, hence they are less important. It is not on biological or natural grounds, but on historical grounds that one human group can be defined as a nation and another cannot. Therefore minor idioms are not alike and can be more or less easily discriminated against. Or, more precisely, speakers are different and discriminated against. And discrimination on linguistic basis must be avoided too. Speakers as individuals and as members of a community must be protected, but the balance between individual rights and group right is not easy, and it depends also on who is representing the group and its rights: politicians, intellectuals, bureaucrats, associations, agencies…

Besides, is the whole population of a specific geographic area ever asked how they would like to use their repertoire languages?  And how is actually defined this population? UNESCO documents, on these topics, refer to individuals and about human groups with inalienable linguistic rights. Yet take Sardinians, for example, and I mean people living in Sardinia, in a geographically closed area, an island. They are linguistically heterogeneous. Why must politics represent only the Sardinian-speaking people, who are also Italian-speaking? Perhaps the other people in Sardinia do not possess the same linguistic rights? Is it only the Sardinian language the actual, representative one? And within the Sardinian language, which dialect is more representative, so as to aspire to became the common language? Why central dialects are thought to be the best, to have more chances to became the language of all? As you can well infer from my own questions, linguistic protection and promotion involve several serious, preliminary, and mostly unresolved problems.
NM. I have the impression that, at least in Italy, whenever you talk about popular culture, dialects, or regional cultures, you are immediately accused to be provincial, backwards-minded, nostalgic, even anti-modern. Do you agree?

ML. No, I do not agree. First, traditional culture, including local language, does exist. Rather, it depends on the ideological point of view whether you want to promote it or not. On the other  hand, in touristically developed areas or in areas where the local leaders want to gain more power, more autonomy, language and local traditions are often used as a kind of advertising, and as a tool for political propaganda, whether good or bad, useful or not. As though one were saying: “We are special, we are different, so we want, we need, we deserve …”. After all, “glocalisation” is possible, it means a mixture of global and local. The question is whether you want to adopt this model or not.

 

NM. You are mainly a scholar of Romanian. Is it difficult to promote Romanian culture and langue in Italy? I ask this question in connection with the negative prejudices that many Italians still have about Eastern Europe, Romania, not to mention non-western-looking foreigners.

ML. I can see that students and young people in general are curious about Romania and Romanian language and culture. But it is true that now, the general circumstances are not good for their promotion. As of 2007, when Romania became a full member of the EU, Italy received not only a somewhat physiologically “normal” wave of immigrants from Romania, but also an “abnormal” one, which results from the demographic disasters of 1980s Romania. If there were already negative prejudices, then they became much stronger because of this. Indeed, I was advised not to tell around that I was from Romania, though I have not followed this advice.

 

NM. Is it possible that some difficulties that you have experimented are caused by the fact that today in the academe, and in the cultural system overall, we study the different national cultures inside institutions that are organized according to the classification in language families made by linguists? For example, students of Hungarian language and culture are asked to study Finnish, but probably they are never asked to study Slavic language and cultures or Romanian.

ML. You are right on this last issue, but I think that it is not question of linguistic proximity, rather of ideological proximity. If neighbours disagree or quarrel, they cannot be promoters of each other’s culture and language.

 

NM. Why are you interested in the Csàngòs, the very little Hungarian minority of Romanian Moldavia? Maybe because of the fact that they have preserved so many elements of the cultures of both Romania and Hungary?

ML. I conducted field-work in Csàngò-land rather casually: I made the acquaintance of Ferenc Pozsony, a very active ethnologist at the University of Kolozsvar/Cluj and so I got involved, once, in a study project. It became a very interesting experience for me: I had to come up with a research topic, because I had none, so I studied bilingual anthroponimy on the graveyard crosses. And that is all, for the moment, although I feel that I am in the best position for studying the idioms of Csàngòs. I know Hungarian, Romanian, I live in a western country, and I am not under the pressure of nationalistic or religious agendas. I wanted to study, then, the question of linguistic competence in such an intricate bilingual context as theirs. Whether in so doing I helped improving the rather tense Romanian-Hungarian relations, I do not know, although I hope I did.
NM. As a well-travelled scholar, what do you think are the main differences between northern Europe and the Mediterranean region?

ML. Geographers, historians and anthropologists have not answered yet the question about the South-North border in Europe. Said in a nutshell, there is no such border in reality; you can always find a northern or a southern area if you are not in Malta, in the South, or in Alta, Norway, in the North, which can be considered as the two most extreme points of Europe along a vertical axis. Also, south of Malta is Africa, and north of Alta is the North Pole. The world does not end there ether. The South-North border is in our minds, in our prejudices, varying themselves with the historical epoch in which we happen to live. Yes, I have travelled much, I like to travel, I like every place, I never get bored anywhere. All is interesting and instructive. It is amusing for me when, for example, some Danes, who live North to Sardinia, to Italy, to Romania, think that I do not know anything about the snow! Now, Bucharest is colder in winter than Denmark; then, northern Italy, in the Alps, is also much colder than Denmark, and many ski-champions are from the north of Italy. Yet geographical distortion is common in our minds and leads to prejudices or even springs from them. At the same time, correct geographical knowledge is so important, so essential, that now, in the so-called globalised era, literary criticism has developed a new trend, called “geocriticism”, which, I quote from a textbook, “involves the study of places described in the literature by various authors, but it can also study the effects of literary representations of a given space”. I applied this method in the first essay of the volume of mine dedicated to Dracula’s wreck in Whitby, after visiting this delightfully small, but historically very important town, situated on the southern shore of the North Sea. I recommend it to you and to your readers.

NM. Why do you think there are still problems in having foreign, e.g. Italian, university degrees fully recognized in the Nordic countries? Is it only a question of immigration policy?

ML. The opposite should be true. The whole Bologna process aims, among other things, to remove this obstacle. But the inner, national university traditions are very strong everywhere and they change very slowly, despite the new European protocols, new norms, official recommendations, etc. Indeed I could tell you the bizarre history of the ten-year university reform process in Italy, from 2000 to 2010, which could now cause the whole system to collapse. But this is another story …