Welcome to the Desert of Transition! Post-Socialism, the European Union, and a New Left in the Balkans

Anti-government protesters in a peaceful march through Zagreb

Anti-government protesters in a peaceful march through Zagreb

by Srećko Horvat and Igor Štiks

The world’s attention has been on the political transformations in the Middle East, the wave of protests from Tel Aviv to Madrid to Wall Street, and the ongoing Greek crisis. But in the shadow of this unrest, the post-socialist Balkans have been boiling. Protests displaying for the most part social demands broke out throughout 2011 in Romania, Albania, Serbia, Macedonia, and, most notably, Croatia. At the start of the Croatian protests Interior Minister Tomislav Karamarko described the protesters as “Indijanci,” meaning Native American “Indians.” He intended to belittle the protestors and their demands by describing them as a colorful carnival of politically irrelevant actors. Not only did this turn against the Minister himself—the protestors appropriated the intended slur and turned it into a satirical weapon against the government, so much so that later many talked about the “Indian revolution”—but it also revealed the essence of the Eastern European, and especially Balkan, predicament today.
In spite of the democratic promise of 1989 and the final arrival of “the End of History,” post-socialist citizens—those “Indians” of the “Wild East”—today feel largely excluded from the decision-making process. Most elections have turned out to be little more than a reshuffling of the same political oligarchy with no serious differences in political programmes or rhetoric. During the privatization campaigns many lost their jobs, or had labor conditions worsen and pensions evaporate, and most of the guaranteed social benefits (such as free education and health care) have progressively disappeared as well. Additionally, many citizens are now highly indebted, owing money to foreign-owned banks that have spread around the Balkans and control its whole financial sector.1 The devastating wars of the 1990s across former Yugoslavia claimed up to 130,000 deaths, and they were followed by another wave of impoverishment in the last decade. This time it was brought on by “euro-compatible” elites who implemented further neoliberal reforms portrayed as a necessary part of the EU accession process.
“Transition” is the name given to the process of turning the former socialist states into liberal democracies and free-market economies (which are apparently the inseparable twins of the new era). This name has brought into both public and political discourse quasi-biblical connotations of acceding to the “land of plenty.” But even today, twenty years later, we hear that the Transition is incomplete. The wandering in the desert seems to be endless. In spite of the rhetoric of incompleteness, we can observe that the free market reigns supreme; post-socialist Eastern Europe is fully incorporated into the capitalist world in a semi-peripheral role. In practice this means the availability of cheap and highly educated labor in proximity to the capitalist core, a quasi-total economic dependence on the core and its multinational banks and corporations, and finally the accumulation of debt. On the political side, liberal democratic procedures formally seem to be there. In spite of that, the notion of an incomplete transition still dominates the media and the academic discourse, and political elites are using it to justify yet another wave of privatization of state or previously socially owned assets. It is as if no one dares to say that Transition meant precisely bringing these states under the sway of capitalism. In this respect, the Transition as such is long over. There is nothing to “transit” to anymore. The rhetoric of incomplete transition has two causal explanations, however: avoidance of a full confrontation with the consequences of Transition, and preservation of the discourse and relations of dominance vis-à-vis the former socialist states. One of the underlying assumptions of the eternal transition is therefore the “need” for tutelage and supervision.
Observers often point out another transitional phenomenon, the appearance of “communist nostalgia.” The politically aseptic Goodbye, Lenin nostalgia is often seen with general sympathy, whereas one opinion poll showing that almost 61 percent of Romanians think that life was better under Ceauşescu is met with strong disapproval and even disappointment by observers.2 Fervent liberals might point out that it is the “Egyptian pots of meat” story: the “slaves” are always nostalgic about their tyrants instead of being happy to be “free,” even when they are within close reach of the “promised land.” Reading “nostalgia” as the expressed “wish” to return by magic to the state socialist regime—as if anyone offered that alternative—means avoiding the questions that simmer behind these feelings: Why do people feel politically disempowered and economically robbed and enslaved today? Why and when did liberal democracy and the free market economy turn wrong? Was there any other possibility? Why is it not getting any better?
Since communist nostalgia does not produce a specific political movement or programme, the answer must be found in the widespread feeling that something does not work in the new system, and hence that there should be a return to the ideals associated with the generous social policies of ex-communist states. Slovenian sociologist Mitja Velikonja’s study on “Titostalgia” shows two strains of the communist nostalgia: the passive, which is oriented towards cherishing the symbolic heritage of the old system; and the active, which is trying critically to observe current reality through the lenses of the undisputable communist achievements in the economic and social emancipation of the masses in the twentieth century.3 Those who cannot (or refuse to) acknowledge these feelings are turning a blind eye to the growing discontent and social demands that put Transition into question, both as a process of reform and as a teleological-ideological construct of dominance.
The EU’s Balkanpolitik
The European Union is the main protagonist of the Eastern European Transition; according to its 1993 Copenhagen policy, it is supposed to educate, discipline, and punish while offering EU membership as the prize at the end of the bumpy road of Transition—where awaits, so the story goes, the democratic and economic pay off. However, the reality destroyed the fable: even when the goal was finally achieved, the promise was not fully kept. All but three member states from “old” Europe immediately imposed labor restrictions on free circulation for citizens of “new” Europe, breaking the promise of equal European citizenship. Moreover, there is even a need for further “monitoring” of the “Eastern Balkan” countries whose citizens (legally EU citizens as well) are often treated as third-class citizens, as demonstrated in the case of those Romanians (most of them Roma) recently expelled from France as illegal aliens. Economic well-being has not been achieved, nor has democracy flourished.
The European Union has been the most powerful political and economic agent in a post-socialist Balkans, Europe’s most varied political landscape. Nowhere as on this peninsula is the European Union’s mission civilisatrice so evident. Though it has fully integrated Slovenia, the EU “monitors” Romania and Bulgaria, both of which have been heavily criticized and sanctioned for not being able to “catch up” (Bulgaria has lost millions in EU funds). Five years after integration, these countries have been hit hard by the economic crisis.4 The European Union not only supervises the Western Balkan candidates (“negotiations” being a euphemism for a one-way communication amounting to little more than the “translate-paste” operations during the adoption of the acquis communautaire), but it actually maintains two semi-protectorates (Bosnia and Kosovo). The European Union developed varied approaches: disciplining and punishing (Romania and Bulgaria), bilaterally negotiating membership (Croatia and Montenegro), punishing and rewarding (Serbia and Albania), managing (Bosnia), governing (Kosovo), and, finally, ignoring (Macedonia blocked in the name dispute with Greece). Today, there is one common denominator in all these approaches—Crisis.
Social gloom reigns over the Balkans, but especially over the so-called Western Balkans, another geopolitical construct forged in Brussels which is composed of the former Yugoslav republics “minus Slovenia, plus Albania.” This entity has complex attributes: it is not only a post-socialist, but also a post-partition and post-conflict region. It is entirely surrounded by EU members, making it a sort of “ghetto” around which the Schengen ring has been slowly deployed. Slovenia, Hungary, and Greece patrol the Fortress; Romania and Bulgaria have been, so far unsuccessfully, preparing for this role as well. One could see the Schengen’s enlargement (instead of the EU enlargement) as a continuation of the 1990s containment policies, when the main aim was to prevent the war in the former Yugoslavia from spilling over. In this respect—and save for the “minus Slovenia, plus Albania” approach that hides the fact that Slovenia is still deeply involved with its southern brethren, and that Albania is primarily close to its Albanian kin in Kosovo—“Yugoslavia” has not disappeared as a geopolitical space. A sense of the region’s unity, despite the conflicts, has led Tim Judah to invent the new term “Yugosphere,” which quickly caught on.5 This does not, however, tell us much, since these “spheres” are formed, not only by their internal centripetal forces, but more importantly by their external borders and isolation from other spheres.
Unlike other regions the European Union took direct action in the Balkans. Kosovo is effectively run by the European Union via its Law and Order Mission (EULEX), although five EU member states participate in the mission even though they still refuse to recognise the new state. This reveals the failure of the U.S.-led (and mostly EU-backed) Kosovo independence strategy, which left the country and its population in the limbo of partial recognition, preventing it from joining any international organization. Besides Bosnia and Kosovo, the European forces, led by Italy, intervened in Albania in 1997; EU militaries were present in Macedonia; and many EU members were involved in the NATO bombings of the then- Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The European Union in the Balkans is therefore not only a club that tests its candidates—it is an active player in transforming the region, politically, socially, and economically. Our survey of its Balkanpolitik demands an answer to the question: Why did it not succeed in its stabilization and integration policies?
The Empire’s Balkan Crisis
The United States in general, and the European Union in the Balkans in particular, dissimulate their dominance through “state-building” or “capacity-building” policies and local “ownership.” This is precisely what David Chandler calls “Empire in denial,” which offers a convincing argument about neo-colonialism disguised as state-building.6 Bosnia and Kosovo have been the examples for some time, but today there is also Iraq and Afghanistan, and now Libya, and tomorrow it will possibly be Syria or another Middle-Eastern country. In practice, the local ownership strategy means little more than implementing externally dictated reforms while nesting responsibility within the local elites. An “Empire in denial” does not govern directly, due to the cost and unpopularity of this mode of domination, but via friendly regimes that remain responsible for implementing (or not implementing) the state-building or “EU-member”-building strategies.
Problems arise, however, when elected local elites avoid cooperating in domains that would cut the branch on which their power sits, particularly that of the judiciary and the police. The problem is further exacerbated by the “Empire in denial’s” ideological inability to question these elected leaders, although the electoral process is prone to various manipulations by local oligarchies, both before and after the voting. It insists furthermore on continuous austerity measures and neoliberal reforms that are supposed to be undertaken by those very same “democratically elected,” hugely corrupt, and deeply undemocratic elites that are eventually the only ones to benefit from these reforms.
Turkes and Gokgoz point out that the European commission’s major strategy is precisely “neoliberal restructuring,” which in practice undermines democratic development (the stated goal of the EU’s actions) and allows for authoritarian practices.7 The assumed causal relation between neoliberal economic reforms and the promotion of democracy appears, therefore, to be highly problematic. These two crucial elements of EU strategy towards the Western Balkans, as Turkes and Gokgoz emphasize, “have not fed one another.” Rather, they argue, “the opposite has occurred.” It seems that in a post-conflict situation—characterized by close ties between businesses, criminal networks, the state security apparatus, and political elites—the current EU strategy undermines its own stated goal of stabilizing and democratizing the region.
The trouble is precisely that neoliberal reforms are opening up more opportunities for corruption and predatory behavior by local elites, as the Croatian case amply shows. The privatization of infrastructure such as telecommunications, big industries, natural resources such as water, media outlets, and even public services, in addition to the foreign bank investments or devastating credit lines, are some of the many “opportunities” rising out of the neoliberal restructuring which is the first phase of the incorporation into the EU-sphere. The case of the former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, who was praised by the European Union but is currently imprisoned for widespread corruption charges, is a telling example of how the local elites can profit from the “restructuring” process.
The Winter of Croatian Discontent
“Zagreb = Maghreb.” At first it seemed only as a jeu de mots employed by left-leaning media, but soon after the fall of the Tunisian and Egyptian dictators the “Facebook protests” started in Croatia as well.8 There is not a simple analogy with the Arab Spring and it would be erroneous to try and establish one. Nonetheless the situation in the Balkans exhibits commonalities with the Middle-Eastern discontent to some extent, but especially to the Greek situation. What is happening in Croatia is fertile ground for an analysis that aims to capture the current mood of discontent and rebellion at the borders of the West.
Since 1990 Croatia has gone through a series of transformations which have included a brutal war, a nationalist autocracy, and the “euro-compatible” behavior of post-Tudjman elites who are reluctant fully to clear the mess of the previous decade. This has finally brought Croatia to the threshold of the European Union. But what state is Croatia in as it knocks on the EU’s door? The $3 billion foreign debt it inherited from Yugoslavia is now around $60 billion, which amounts to around 100 percent of the GDP (which in 2009 decreased by 5.6 percent and in 2010 by an additional 1.5 percent).9 Once the most prosperous and developed of the Yugoslav republics, it now has almost no industry. The dodgy privatization of the 1990s, facilitated by the war and followed by the continuous neoliberal reforms of the 2000s, created enormous social gaps which include a 19 percent unemployment rate. As recently as April 2010 the Croatian government put forward the “Programme for Economic Recovery,” which basically adopted austerity measures by decreasing the number of public sector workers by 5 percent and the budget for paying them by 10 percent. It also announced the privatization of big state-owned firms such as the electric company, the woods and the water companies, and the railways—all of this on top of already privatized successful state corporations such as Croatian Telecom, the famous pharmaceutical producer Pliva, and the petrol company Ina. The tourist paradise of Croatia’s famous coast hides the destruction of one of Europe’s most advanced shipbuilding industries, the fourth strongest, which owns some 1.5 percent of the global market. It employs 12,000 workers and an additional 35,000 jobs are directly linked to it.10 Croatia is being pressured by the European Union to stop state subsidies to shipyards. This will necessarily entail a huge reduction, if not complete closure, of one of the most successful domestic industries.
All contradictions from the capitalist core such as financial shocks, reckless consumerism, big media domination, elite-driven politics, democratic deficit, or commercialization of public services are visible together with all political, social, and economic problems of the post-socialist, post-partition, and post-conflict semi-periphery. Croatia is absolutely dependant on the core for matters related to finance (as mentioned, the foreign banks own 90 percent of the sector), the economy (foreign capital dominates all economic activities), and the military (Croatia joined NATO in 2008). Neoliberal hegemony is coupled with a conservative nationalism which has turned Croatia into little more than an unholy alliance of state structures, big businesses, and mafia. Until recently this all went unquestioned. But in winter, as if the Levantine echoes had found truly receptive ears on the other side of the Mediterranean, the streets were filled with protests.
The Spring of a New Left?
It started primarily as a “Facebook movement” which gathered the younger, politically confused generation that was unsatisfied with the new government policies. The starting point could be seen as the February 26, 2011 protest in Zagreb’s central square, when war veterans and right-wing groups gathered to oppose the extradition and trial of a former Croatian soldier in Serbia. This ended in a violent conflict between a crowd of mostly football hooligans and the police. However, only two days later a different protest emerged. The “Facebook protests” started to become more specific about the reasons for discontent—namely the disastrous social situation, the lack of confidence in institutions, and the political system which breeds corruption and deepened social inequalities. It was a big surprise to see independent protests uniting groups of various political stripes. Even more surprising were the banners denouncing the European Union and capitalism as such, questioning the party system and, taking everything a step further, demanding direct democracy.
The unexpected emergence of what we could call a new, organized, and indeed original left in Croatia that is actively involved in, and even shaping, the current protest movement must be traced back to 2009. Then an independent student movement articulated a strong resistance to the privatization and commercialization of higher education. In a sort of Hegelian “concrete universality,” their protest against neoliberal reforms in education turned into what was probably the first strong political opposition to not only the government, but the general political and social regime. During thirty-five days in spring and two weeks in autumn that year, more than twenty Croatian universities were occupied by students, who were practically running them.11 In itself, this was nothing new under the sun, but the way the students occupied and ran the universities deserves attention for its originality in a much larger context than the one of the Balkans or Eastern Europe.
The students set up citizens’ plenary assemblies—called “plenum”—in which not only students but all citizens were invited; they did not just debate issues of public importance such as education, but also decided upon the course of their rebellious actions. The most active plenum at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb each evening gathered up to a thousand people who would deliberate on the course of action.12 This event gave rise to the movement for direct democracy as a necessary corrective (and possibly a true alternative) to electoral democracy and partitocracy. The new Croatian left, whose ideas quickly spread around the post-Yugoslav space, does not see direct democracy limited to the referendum practice, but rather as a means of political organization for people from local communes to the national level. The proof that it was not only an idea of marginal groups came very soon after the students’ occupations. Between 2009 and 2011 Croatia witnessed a massive movement (under the name “The Right to the City”) for the preservation of urban space in downtown Zagreb which had been sold by the city government to big investors. This happened in conjunction with a wave of workers’ strikes involving the textile industry, shipyards, and farmers’ protests. Some of these collective actions used the “plenum” model developed at the universities, or a similar sort of directly democratic structure, and this came as a huge surprise to the political elite and the mainstream media.
This Is Not A Color Revolution!
Although the new left was pivotal in shifting the nature of the protests, they did not turn into clearly marked leftist demonstrations, but instead remained a genuine people’s movement. In February, March, and April 2011 up to ten thousand people assembled every other evening in Zagreb, and up to a couple thousand assembled in other cities.13 Besides a rhetorical shift (a strong anti-capitalist discourse unheard of either in independent Croatia or elsewhere in the Balkans), the crucial point was the rejection of leaders, which gave citizens an opportunity to decide on the direction and the form of their protests. The “Indian revolution,” previously limited to public squares, soon turned into long marches through Zagreb. It was a clear example of how “invited spaces of citizenship,” designed as such by state structures and police for “kettled” expression of discontent, were superseded by “invented spaces of citizenship,” in which citizens themselves opened new ways and venues for their subversive actions, and questioned legality in the name of the legitimacy of their demands.14 This was not a classic, static protest anymore and, unlike the famous Belgrade walks in 1996–97, the Zagreb ones were neither aimed only at the government as such, nor only at the ruling party and its boss(es). They acquired a strong anti-systemic critique, exemplified by the fact that protesters were regularly “visiting” the nodal political, social, and economic points of contemporary Croatia (political parties, banks, government offices, unions, privatization fund, television and media outlets, etc.). The flags of the ruling conservative Croatian Democratic Union, the Social Democratic Party (seen as not opposing the neoliberal reforms), and even the European Union (seen as complicit in the elite’s wrongdoings) were burned. The protesters even “visited” the residences of the ruling party politicians, which signalled a widespread belief that their newly acquired wealth was nothing more than legalized robbery.
And this is precisely the novelty of these protests. It is not yet another “color revolution” of the kind the Western media and academia are usually so enthusiastic about (but who are otherwise not interested in following how the “waves of democratization” often do little more than replace one autocrat with another, more cooperative one). The U.S.-sponsored color revolutions never put into question the political or economic system as such, although they did respond to a genuine demand in these societies to get rid of the authoritarian and corrupt elites that had mostly formed in the 1990s. The Croatian example shows that for the first time protests are not driven by anti-government rhetoric per se, but instead are based on true anti-regime sentiment. Not only the state but the whole apparatus on which the current oligarchy is based is put into question by (albeit chaotically) self-organized citizens. No color is needed to mark this kind of revolution which obviously cannot hope for any external help or international media coverage. It did the only thing the dispossessed can do: marched through their cities signalling the topoi of the Regime, which had almost cemented over the last two decades but is susceptible to cracking under the weight of its own contradictions and products, such as expanding poverty. The emergence and nature of these Croatian protests invites us also to rethink the categories used to explain the social, political, and economic situation in the Balkans and elsewhere in post-socialist Eastern Europe.
Conclusive Remarks: A New Dawn in the Balkans?
This analysis shows how the very concept of Transition—as an ideological construct of domination based on the narrative of integration of the former socialist Europe into the Western core—actually hides the monumental neo-colonial transformation of this region into a dependent semi-periphery. The adjunct concepts of “weak state” or “failed state,” for example, paper over the fact that these are not anomalies of the Transition, but rather are one of its main products. The famous corruption problem poses a puzzle for observers and scholars, and many have concluded that, since the liberal system as such is beyond questioning, widespread corruption must be related to path-dependent or cultural behavior in the “East.” However, in reality corruption seems to be a direct consequence of the post-1989 neoliberal scramble for Eastern Europe, and, furthermore, is frequent behavior across the European Union itself. In order to understand the post-communist, “eternal transitional” predicament, and especially the current political and economic situation in the Balkans, one has to go beyond the analysis of the state’s failure and weakness. One must engage with the concept of Regime as a conglomeration of political elites, attached businesses and their Western partners, media corporations, NGOs promoting the holy union of electoral democracy and neoliberal economy, organized crime (itself intimately related to the political and economic elites), foreign-owned predatory banks and, finally, a corrupt judiciary and corrupt unions. Other “ideological apparatuses” of the Regime help to cement the results of the big neoliberal transformation.
Here lies the minimal common denominator between the Balkans today and the Arab Spring: all these protest movements, despite their clear differences, are profoundly anti-regime. Rebelling against post-socialist Regimes is all that much harder because they often do not have a single face: there is no dictator, nor governing families or royalty, and furthermore they are not characterized by open repression or censorship. And yet the anger is similar.
This logically brings us to the question: Is a new dawn in Eastern Europe politics, especially in the Balkans, announced in these protests? One does not have to be familiar with Balkan history to know that the possibility of a new and revitalized nationalism is not unrealistic. But, on the other hand, to dismiss a new people’s movement because it is heterogeneous and subject to all sorts of developments means not only to abandon the idea of “the will of the people,”15 but it is also to cling to the old fantasy about precise mature moments for revolutions. The Arab example shows that the situation remains open even after the People give a significant—but not final—blow to the Regime. The example of Croatia demonstrates how a situation that has been initiated by right-wing elements can be turned into its opposite and can be co-opted by newly emerging and imaginative progressive forces. It also demonstrates that a new generation enters politics via direct democratic actions and the street, and not through political channels of electoral democracy and party politics.
The new left we detected within this movement is dissociated both from the past of state socialism and from traditional social-democratic parties. Sometimes in unlikely places such as the Middle East or Croatia we can see a sudden explosion of original radicality from which many in the West, too comfortable in the structures of liberal “oppressive tolerance,” could learn a great deal regarding the forms and methods of subversive politics in the twenty-first century.
1. ↩ For example, 75.3 percent in Serbia, 90 percent in Croatia and up to 95 percent in Bosnia and Herzegovina. See Yoji Koyama, “Impact of the Global Financial Crisis on the Western Balkan Countries: Focusing on Croatia,“ a conference paper presented at “Global Shock Wave: Rethinking Asia’s Future in Light of the Worldwide Financial Crisis and Depression 2008-2010,” Kyoto University, Kyoto, September 25–26, 2010.
2. ↩ See Rossen Vassilev, “The Tragic Failure of Post-Communism in Eastern Europe,” March 8, 2011, http://globalresearch.ca.
3. ↩ Mitja Velikonja, Titostalgia (Ljubljana: Peace Institute, 2008), http://mediawatch.mirovni-institut.si.
4. ↩ Vassilev, Ibid.
5. ↩ Tim Judah, “Yugoslavia Is Dead, Long Live the Yugosphere,” LSEE Papers on South Eastern Europe, November 2009, www2.lse.ac.uk.
6. ↩ David Chandler, Empire in Denial (London: Pluto Press, 2006).
7. ↩ Mustafa Türkes and Göksu Gökgöz, “The European Union’s strategy towards the Western Balkans: Exclusion or Integration,” East European Politics and Societies 20, no. 4 (2006): 659–90.
8. ↩ Toni Prug, “Croatia protests show failure of political promise,” The Guardian – Comment is Free, April 2, 2011, http://guardian.co.uk.
9. ↩ For an analysis of the Croatian economic situation see Hermine Vidovic, “Croatia: Difficult to come out of the crisis,” in Peter Havlik, et. al., Recovery—in low gear across though terrain, wiiw Current Analyses and Forecasts 7, February, 2011, 77.
10. ↩ See Koyama, Ibid.
11. ↩ We have written extensively about the student and civic rebellions that involved occupation of universities but also a defence of public spaces in our book Pravo na pobunu—Uvod u anatomiju gradjanskog otpora [The Right to Rebellion—An Introduction to the Anatomy of Civic Resistance] (Zagreb: Fraktura, 2010). For an overview of the student movement see Mate Kapović, “Two years of struggle for free education and the development of a new student movement in Croatia,” January 4, 2011, http://slobodnifilozofski.org.
12. ↩ For a detailed overview of the student actions see The Occupation Cookbook, or the Model of the Occupation of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb (London: Minor Compositions, 2011), http://www.minorcompositions.info.
13. ↩ Up to 10,000 occupied the main Zagreb square on the October 15 worldwide day of action and held the first “people’s plenum” there, but failed to turn it into a continuous occupation.
14. ↩ See Faranak Miraftab, “Invented and Invited Spaces of Participation: Neoliberal Citizenship and Feminists Expanded Notion of Politics,” Wagadu 1 (Spring 2004), http://appweb.cortland.edu.
15. ↩ See Peter Hallward, “The will of the people: notes towards a dialectical voluntarism,” Radical Philosophy 155 (May/June 2009): 17–29.

Srecko Horvat participated in “Through the Roadblocks: Realities in Raw Motion”. This text from: http://monthlyreview.org/2012/03/01/welcome-to-the-desert-of-transition
Link provided by Nikolas Soros, Christos Ioannou, Dimitra Dimitriou

The Country House and the Coketown. Lewis Mumford’s Modern Age Utopias

Charles Fourrier, The Phalanstere

This is Chapter ten from the seminal The Story of Utopias of the American historian, sociologist and philosopher Lewis Mumford.

How the Country House and Coketown became the utopias of the Modern Age; and how they made the world over in their image.

Now that we have ransacked the literature of ideal commonwealths for examples of the utopian vision and the utopian method, there remains another class of utopias which has still to be reckoned with, in order to make our tally complete.
All the utopias that we have dealt with so far have been filtered through an individual mind, and whereas, like any other piece of literature, they grew out of a certain age and tradition of thought, it is dangerous to overrate their importance either as mirrors of the existing order or as projectors of a new order. While again and again the dream of a utopian in one age has become the reality of the next, as O’Shaughnessy sings in his famous verses, the exact connection between the two can only be guessed at, and rarely, I suppose, can it be traced. It would be a little foolish to attempt to prove that the inventor of the modern incubator was a student of Sir Thomas More.
Up to the present the idola which have exercised the most considerable influence upon the actual life of the community are such as have been partly expressed in hundred works and never perhaps fully expressed in one. In order to distinguish these idola from those that have occupied us till now, we should perhaps call them collective utopias or social myths. There is a considerable literature that relates to these myths in French, one of the best known works being M. George Sorel’s Reflections on Violence; and in practice it is sometimes rather hard to tell where the Utopia leaves off and the social myth begins.
The history of mankind’s social myths has still in the main to be written. There is a partial attempt at this over a limited period in Mr. Henry Osborn Taylor’s The Mediæval Mind; but this is only a beginning, and other ages are almost untouched. The type of myth that concerns us here is not the pure action myth which M. Sorel has analyzed; we are rather interested in those myths which are, as it were, the ideal content of the existing order of things, myths which, by being consciously formulated and worked out in thought, tend to perpetuate and perfect that order. This type of social myth approaches very closely to the classic utopia, and we could divide it, similarly, into myths of escape and myths of reconstruction. Thus the myth of political freedom, for example, as formulated by the writers of the American revolution, frequently serves as an excellent refuge for disturbed consciences when the Department of Justice or the Immigration Bureau has been a little too assiduous in its harassment of political agitators.

Thus the myth of political freedom, for example, as formulated by the writers of the American revolution, frequently serves as an excellent refuge for disturbed consciences when the Department of Justice or the Immigration Bureau has been a little too assiduous in its harassment of political agitators (1887, a group of men loiter in an alley known as ‘Bandit’s Roost’ off Mulberry Street, New York)

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The Utopia Disaster

The wreck of the Utopia in Gibraltar harbour.

The title of a file in the Gibraltar State Archive about the sinking of the ship ‘Utopia’ in 1891 in the Bay before the city with more than 800 Italian migrants on board led to this contribution which – by means of the example of Gibraltar – considers the iridescent nature of the Mediterranean Sea between its roles as bridge and border. Historically the Mediterranean Sea constitutes an ecumenical space of active exchange of cultures and people. Gibraltar whose population in its composition is the outcome of multiple migratory flows bears an eloquent witness to this.
But since the Mediterranean Sea has turned to a kind of an EU-Bufferzone and thousands of people lost their lives in the attempt to cross it, hope and despair lie nowhere in the Mediterranean area so close together as at the Strait of Gibraltar. Here, where already during the battle against the Moors, antique mythology was drawn on as part of political propaganda, the non plus ultra of the Pillars of Hercules is again in force today. Even for the naming of the operations at sea against illegal immigrants, antique myths are used. For over one thousand years European realms derived their legitimacy from the succession of the Roman Empire. The contribution of Asia and North Africa to the spiritual heritage of Antiquity was ignored in order to purify the genealogical tree from undesirable ancestors. Thus an idealised image of ancient Greeks had a major share in the formation of German national consciousness in differentiation to France. Also during the genesis of the German Reich in the 19th century the identity of the construct was strengthened through ideological distinction outwardly, a further parallel between German history and that of the European unification process. The latter builds on the construction of an idea of Europe and its outward demarcation for which discursive action is essential.
The European Commission nurtures here a vocabulary of threat which appears to be chosen in reference to the centurylong defensive struggle of Rome at the Rhine and Danube rivers. When speaking of ‘growing migration pressure on the EU’s external borders’, ‘migration of peoples’, ‘onslaught’ and ‘invasion’ myths are evoked that generate – in the form of collective errors – social cohesion and often enough in history had disastrous effects. Therefore the linguistic representation of immigration should be brought from the area of myth down to the ground of facts and migration be seen as part of a process of internationalisation of the economy and work.

Bernd Bräunlich is a lecturer for German as a foreign language. After having resided and worked in Athens for several years, he is currently teaching at the University of Cologne. He has studied German Literature and Linguistics as well as Classical Philology at the Goethe University Frankfurt and the Gutenberg University Mainz where he worked as a scientific assistant in Latin literature. During the past few years he has been collaborating in several art projects together with Marianna Christofides. His interest lies in the fields of Cultural Studies and German History, especially in the reception of ancient Greece and its impact on the formation of German identity.

Marianna Christofides (b.1980, Nicosia, Cyprus) studied Visual and Media Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts, Athens and the Slade School of Fine Art, London. She completed her Postgraduate Degree in Media Arts and Film at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne. In 2011 she co-represented Cyprus at the 54th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia curated by Yiannis Toumazis. In 2011 she received the Jean-Claude Reynal Scholarship, France and in 2010 the Friedrich-Vordemberge Grant for Visual Arts by the City of Cologne. In 2009, Christofides represented Cyprus in the Biennial of Young Artists from Europe where she won the Resartis-Worldwide-Network-of-Artist-Residencies Award. In the same year she also received the 1st prize for Best Documentary in the 5th Cyprus Short Film and Documentary Festival, for her film Pathways in The Dust. A Topography out of Fragments. Since 2000 she has received numerous scholarships and prizes, among which by the A.S. Onassis Foundation, the German Academic Exchange Service DAAD, the Michelis and the Eurobank Foundation and the National-Scholarship-Foundations of Greece and Cyprus. Marianna Christofides presents her work in international exhibitions and film festivals.

Εκεί μεγάλωσα…

Η φωτογραφία είναι από το κατεχόμενο εκκλησάκι στα Λύμπια-Λευκωσία πάνω στην πράσινη γραμμή

της Χριστιάνας Μανώλη

Μεγάλωσα εκεί. Στην αρχή δεν καταλάβαινα και πολλά. Δεν ήξερα τι είχε γίνει. Παρόλα αυτά δεν μεγάλωσα ποτέ με μίσος όπως είχαν μεγαλώσει κάποια άλλα παιδιά της ηλικίας μου. Για εμένα αυτή η «πράσινη γραμμή» που ήταν δίπλα από το πρώτο μου σχολείο, από το πατρικό σπίτι μου, δεν ήταν μια απλή γραμμή αλλά ούτε η γραμμή του μίσους και του εθνικισμού.
Όταν πέρασαν τα χρόνια συνέχισα να βλέπω εκείνη την γραμμή και τα συρματοπλέγματα που μας σταματούσαν να πάμε παρακάτω. Τότε όμως ήξερα. Ήξερα τι είχε γίνει. Μου μίλησαν για την μεγάλη προδοσία αλλά και την εισβολή. Ήξερα ότι τα γεωγραφικά σύνορα μας δεν είναι εκεί, αλλά ούτε το μυαλό μου μπορούσε να σταματήσει πάνω σε εκείνη την χαρακιά που είχαν τραβήξει άλλοι για εμάς. Σκεφτόμουνα ότι δεν χωράει τόση ιστορία, παράδοση, κουλτούρα μέχρι τα σκουριασμένα συρματοπλέγματα που κόβουν την επαφή με το υπόλοιπο νησί….
Πολλές φορές ακούω συνομήλικους μου πλέον ως ενήλικα άτομα να λένε ότι δεν τους ενοχλεί αυτό το άτυπο τοίχος, αυτή η άσχημη γραμμή, δεν τους νοιάζει τι θα γίνει. Έχουν πιστοί ότι έτσι θα μείνουμε για πάντα έτσι. Άλλες φορές με φουσκωμένα μυαλά μιλάνε για πανηγυρικές νίκες που θα κάνουμε λες και είναι τόσο απλά τα πράγματα. Πάντα δεν θέλουν να ξέρουν τι έγινε, πάντα αδιαφορούν απλά μιλάνε με μίσος.
Γνώρισα Κύπριους που μένουνε στην απέναντι πλευρά Είναι σαν εμάς. Κάποιοι από αυτούς θέλουν την επανένωση και άλλοι εξακολουθούν να έχουν αρρωστημένα εθνικιστικά μυαλά. Το ίδιο που συμβαίνει και με πολλούς δικούς μας. Τελικά οι «κακοί» δεν ξεχωρίζουν από την φυλή, από την θρησκεία, από την εθνικότητα ξεχωρίζουν από το μίσος που έχουν ριζωμένο στις καρδιές τους.
Το μόνο που μπορείς να δεις μέσα από τα οδοφράγματα και την πράσινη γραμμή είναι εκείνο τον ουρανό, τον καθαρό ουρανό που είναι για όλους μας.
Ας ζήσουμε λοιπόν όλοι κάτω απ τον ίδιο ουρανό, μπορούμε…

Ringing The Bell Backwards

Kurt Brereton, “The Nomad Artist Waits for His NY Dealer to Sell a Work”, digital photo, 2012

By George Alexander
Furious Power, Fierce Fate

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.
My writing about the art world has been a kind of cold
armistice between these two terms. Pessimism of theory,
optimism of art making.

Art has been checkmated for a long time. Against
relentless opposition the game consists of seeing how
near you can get to extinction without the neutralisation
that awaits you as a mortal on our overexposed pied-a-
terre. The modernist film jams, begins melting and the
picture turns black. And yet there is this extraordinary
will to live of art, even as the chessboard has been
stripped and the bodies carried off the stage. Art is
sentenced to a stiff rope and short jump aesthetic and yet
it jokes about it with a kind of gallows humour. Like Ad
Reinhardt’s perky stammer, “the end of art is art as art.
The end of art is not the end”. Like Sam Beckett’s, “I can’t
go on, I’ll go on”.

Now theorists, with their special brand of murky grace,
triply distill this already hard liquor for drinking at art’s
wake. Now we have an Information Age update on this
condition, i.e. that art is dead, but its support systems
remain. From Allan McCollum’s Surrogates in the States
to Peter Tyndall’s detail / A Person Looks At A Work of Art /
someone looks at something here in Australia – jokes are
made on the art gallery setting and its frameworks of
display, parodies of generic packaging and namebrand

In part the energy derives from sheer market turnover:
Now Art, New Art, How Art, Who Art. Capitalism, like
trouble, rides a fast horse. Yet despite the Post-
Everything climate where if you believe in anything it is
probably wrong, there are still those who fly to
artmaking as though to a refuge. Like friends who are
likely to stay alive, knowing somehow that you expect it.
I drag them or they drag me like a tattered baffled army
over one more ambush: Art is just another obsessive
form of capitalist production. Blam! Art is the
exhausted code of a doomed class. Blam! There is
nothing at stake in the visual arts anymore. Blam! Blam!
Blam! Continue reading

The Shock of Modernity

Guli Silberstein IL/UK and Tahl Kaminer IL/UK

Modernity is a term which refers to ideas, ideals, ideologies, a worldview, a way of life, a politics, political-economy, class system, social relations and much more – in other words, to all the ingredients of life itself. Modernity was a powerful force which transformed European society over a period of two centuries and more, bringing about conflict, strife, and the demise of the feudal society which preceded it. Modernity produced ‘modern society’, and continues to transform contemporary society as well. Yet currently, the forces modernity unleashes and the radical transformation it brings about are most visible not in the West, but outside Europe and North America, in areas in which the transformation from traditional to modern society has not yet been completed.

Much of contemporary strife, political instability and volatility in the global south (and much of what was until recently called the Third World) is related to the entry of modernity and the damage it has done to traditional societies. The rapid changes, the ungrounding of a reality which had seemed fixed, stable, and transcendental, the uncertainty of subjects regarding their place in this transforming world – all these create anxieties, contradictions, and unexpected reactions. In this sense, even many of the political or social movements which have been formed to fight modernity or its excesses on behalf of an idealized past, including such disparate organizations such as Al Qaida or the Moral Majority, are themselves already ‘compromised’ by modernity – modernity has ‘penetrated’ their thoughts and actions in a manner which prevents positing them as true representatives of traditional society, but rather as an ‘alternative’ modernity at most, one construed on memories of a lost past.

The project presented here, an installation comprising a short experimental film, an assemblage of objects, photographs and texts, forms part of a larger project which carries the same title, The Shock of Modernity. The project is interested in the manner in which modernity is bringing about upheaval outside the West, as its spread is exacerbated by new technologies, globalization, and the search of capitalism for new markets and resources. Understanding this phenomenon is key to comprehending the causes of many contemporary conflicts – conflicts which are typically misconstrued as clashes between ‘Christianity’ and ‘Islam’, between ‘reason’ and ‘barbarism’, between ‘the West’ and its nemesis, or between ‘democracy’ and ‘autocracy’. The project will show how the specific context and its relation to the cultural and geographical origins of modernity – the West – modifies the specific outcomes of the clash between modernity and tradition and determines the specifics of the reception of modernity tin diverse societies. Thus, while the forces operating globally are similar, their reception differs from context to context, as do the ‘hybrid’ outcomes of the mixture of modernity and tradition.

Tahl Kaminer is Lecturer in Architectural Design at the University of Edinburgh. His research studies the relation of architecture to society. Tahl completed his PhD in 2008 at TU Delft, received his MSc Architecture Theory and History from the Bartlett in 2003, and an architectural diploma (B. Arch) from the Technion in 1998. Tahl co-founded the nonprofit 66 East, which ran group exhibitions, presentations, lectures and screenings at a space in East Amsterdam, 2004-7. Tahl is a co-founder of the academic journal Footprint, and edited two of its issues. Routledge recently published his doctoral dissertation as Architecture, Crisis and Resuscitation: The Reproduction of Post-Fordism in Late-Twentieth-Century Architecture. He has also co-edited the volumes Houses in Transformation (NAi, 2008), Urban Asymmetries (010, 2011) and Critical Tools (Lettre Voilee, 2012).

Guli Silberstein is an Israeli-born (1969), London-based video artist and video editor. He received a BA in Film & TV from Tel-Aviv University in 1997 and a MA in Media Studies, specializing in video production, from New School University, NYC, USA in 2000. Since then, he has been working with appropriation to produce video art works dealing with situations of war & terror, cognitive processes and electronic media. His work has been extensively presented in festivals, museums and galleries including: Transmediale Berlin, Kassel Film and Video Festival, EMAF Osnabrueck Germany, ‘Human Frames’ exhibition & DVD Lowave Paris, Museum on the Seam Jerusalem and the National Centre of Contemporary Art Moscow.

The reproduction of space in a neoliberal divided city: Movements reclaiming the right to the city in re-united Nicosia

Nicos Trimikliniotis CY
This paper examines the content, meanings, contradictions and conundrums in the struggles to (re)claim ‘the right to the city’ that is essentially a ‘border city’: modern inner Nicosia is an archetype of a neoliberal city-society torn via a barbed wire and ethno-racial, class and gender divisions. Space is not neutral but an active force that shapes and is reshaped by the social, economic and political forces in and around the inner city: even the so-called ‘dead zone’, the buffer zone handed over to the UN is hardly ‘dead’. Space is t state-fied and nationalised but never fully subordinated or colonized. There is an active and ambivalent process of transformation which alters the rules of engagement with forces pulling in different directions. The city-centre is a spectacle of transformation replayed also digitally and mentally, reproducing ‘new’ and ‘old’ forms of materiality. The spectacle of the transformation of space via the claims to the city in the forms urban revolutions and counter-revolutions, evolutions and erosions is the subject of this study: the neoliberal crisis of capitalism is beginning to hit home in contradictory ways. Is the spectacle of the transform city another ‘social relation between people that is mediated by images’? Is this particular city transformation just another version ‘capital accumulated to the point that it becomes images’? We reserve judgment as the struggle ain’t finished yet; it is unending, indeterminate and inchoate. We witness the manifestation of the Althusserian ‘aleatory materialism’ or ‘the undercurrent materialism of the encounter’:
• developers, investors and city council professionals are drivers in the ‘development of the city’ – they own and are hungry to own all of the city;
• city councillors, professionals and experts;
• The Church, the largest land-owner in the country, wants to build a new massive new Cathedral – yet, the economic crisis and its investment in Greece has left it with 60% less income.
• there are local resistance pockets to neoliberal gentrification by those re-claiming the commons of the square as well as the ‘bufferers’ who strove occupy the buffer zone to reunite Greek-Cypriots, Turkish-Cypriots and non-Cypriots in a militarised ‘dead zone’, as πλατεία-πλατιά;
• subaltern and undocumented migrants in the everyday struggles;
• workers who are onganised in the inner city;
• shop-keepers, dealers of different kinds;
• children and school pupils;
• tourists and vagabonds;
• the police;
• racists and neo-Nazis re-claiming the city to revive the old glory.

NICOS TRIMIKLINIOTIS is an interdisciplinary scholar; he is Assοciate Professor of Law and Sociology, University of Nicosia and Senior Research Consultant, PRIO Cyprus Centre. He has researched on ethnic conflict and reconciliation, constitutional and state theory, class, socialism, integration, citizenship, education, migration, racism, free movement of workers, discrimination and Labour Law. His work include: Beyond a Divided Cyprus: A State and Society in Transformation, Palgrave MacMillan, 2012 (with Umut Bozkurt); Gauging the Global Cycles of Deviance (with Ari Sitas, Sumangala Damodaran and Wiebke Keim, forthcoming); Contested Integration, Migration and Societal Transformation (University of Nicosia Press, 2012); The Nation-State Dialectic and the State of Exception (Greek) (Savalas, Athens, 2010); Rethinking the Free Movement of Workers: The European Challenges Ahead, Wolf, Nijmegen, 2009 (co-edited with Paul Minderhoud); Racism, Migration and Trade Unions in a post-tourist society: a New Paradigm for Cyprus (Greek, forthcoming).

Through the Futurological Deadlock: Revolution, Counter-Revolution, Repetition

Antonis Balasopoulos

If one wished to describe the predominant, indeed by far hegemonic, attitude of the academic Left in the approximately four years of the global crisis, one would have to say that it consists in a kind of impotently vacuous utopianism: calls for drastic change are certainly not in scarcity, but neither are they particularly willing or able to account for the severe limitations imposed on any effective implementation of “change” by the drastic reduction of state sovereignty in a world shaped by state debt and supranational decision making, by the profoundly systemic nature of the crisis, or by the deep structural dependence of their privileged audience of would-be revolutionaries –the global middle-class cognitariat—on the very system it is supposed to have an interest in overturning.

At the same time, and as Raymond Williams showed early on, the academic Left still suffers severely from the self-indulgent delusion that it is the only “forward-looking” player in the political game, though we have ample historical evidence that it was in fact only the passive audience for a series of structural adjustments in administration, system-building and law that have had a disastrous impact on the pursuit of effective forms of mobilization from below.

This paper will locate in the present crisis a crisis of the fundamental presuppositions of the academic, western Left both as regards its understanding of historical processes and as regards class composition and the role of class struggle in them. It will argue that, contra the widespread—particularly in the wake of May 1968—assumption of a near infinite potential for the innovation of modes of struggle and the concurrent emphasis on a complete dismantling of early twentieth-century conceptions of class struggle, repetition forms a crucial aspect in the understanding of both revolutionary and counter-revolutionary initiatives and strategies; and hence the necessary ground for any thought on novelty and the new that aspires to be reflexive. For in the absence of serious engagement with the role of repetition in the shaping of conjunctures of crisis and in the impact these have on ruling class tactics and strategy, the egregious tendency is a repetition that is unaware of itself, repetition as sheer ideology: one repeats the common sense bequeathed by a specific, ideologically “privileged” past (particularly the social democratic and eurocommunist past) as if it were effectively the future itself, in the name, ironically, of leaving the past decisively behind.

Antonis Balasopoulos is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies and Chair of the Department of English Studies, University of Cyprus. His recent research has focused on utopian studies and political theory, while he has also published on questions of critical theory, film, American literature, and postcolonial studies. He is the co-editor of the special issue Comparative Literature and Global Studies (Gramma, 2005), and of the volumes Conformism, Non-Conformism and Anti-Conformism in the Culture of the United States (Winter Verlag, 2008), and States of Theory (Metaichmio, 2010) and the editor of “Intellectuals and the State: Complicities, Confrontations, Ruptures”, (Occasion, 2012). He is also the author of numerous published and forthcoming essays appearing in journals like Utopian Studies, Cultural Critique, Theory and Event, Postcolonial Studies, Gramma, and Occasion; and of book chapters in volumes like Exploring the Utopian Impulse (Peter Lang, 2007), Futurescapes: Space in Utopian and Science Fiction Discourses (Rodopi, 2008), Spectres of Utopia (Peter Lang, 2012), and Dystopia Matters (forthcoming, Cambridge Scholars Press). He has published translations of critical theory in Greek journals, as well as two Greek-language volumes of aphorisms and short prose essays, Through the Loophole (Athens: Astra, 2010), and The Book of Brief Reflections (Athens: Astra, 2010). He is currently working essays on the question of utopia and anti-utopia in Walter Benjamin, Georges Sorel and Franz Kafka. His first collection of poems, Natural History/Amor-Fides-Spes, is planned to appear soon.

Check out the conference program at

Ghosts of Future Pasts: Iraqi Culture in a State of Suspension

I came back to Basra from Baghdad the day the invasion began. I loved my city and was proud to be from there. It used to be a real crossroads of people and cultures, a place of warmth, beauty and elegance, generous-hearted and open to the whole world. Now, everything we loved about the city has been taken from us; it is not the place it was and I feel the bitterness of this loss. Um Mohammed, Basra
©Eugenie Dolberg

Nada Shabout is the keynote speaker the second day of the conference, “Through the Roadblocks: Realities in Raw Motion”

The 2003 US-led invasion promised Iraqis, among other things, democracy, freedom and a better life. Western media predicted a flourishing in the arts and culture with the assured subsequent freedom of expression. Today, nearing a decade since that promise, Iraqi art and culture are in a state of suspension. For the last decade the arts, its institutions and its infrastructure have been neglected and dismantled. With no state patronage or protection of the creator cadre, mass exodus of Iraqi artists caused a decisive rupture in its history of art. Iraqi culture has received serious blows and tremendous loses. Hovering in a continuous state of crisis, emergency and trauma Iraqi art exists outside of its historical index in a state of exception. Moreover, a web of liminal spaces outside of Iraq has been created propagating parallel Iraqi cultures in exile and diaspora, and marking a shift in its historical center of production.

In the midst of what can only be understood as a deliberate campaign of memory destruction and erasure, executed through a program of de-Baathification and de-nationalization as a result of the post-invasion rhetoric of sectarianism and within a discourse of division, the current regime seems to initiate a new campaign for an identity reconstruction. There seems to be a renewed interest in state patronage in preparation for Baghdad as the Arab Cultural Capital of 2013. It is quite telling that the choice of Baghdad as the Arab Cultural Capital, which marks a decade since its invasion, serves as a wake up call and a rush to visually rework the ideological change that is argued was the reason behind the invasion.

This talk centers on the practices of memory, remembering, forgetting and imagining following the cultural destruction of Iraq since the invasion of 2003 and the manifestation and transformation it caused. It examines the internal ideology of the last decade traces the fate of its modern institutions.

Nada Shabout is an Associate Professor of Art History and the Director of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Studies Institute (CAMCSI) at the University of North Texas, USA. She is a former member of the Board of Governors of the Cultural Development Center of the Qatar Foundation, Head of Research and advisor at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha. She was the senior curator for the inaugural exhibition Sajjil: A Century of Modern Art, as well as curator of Interventions: A dialogue between the Modern and the Contemporary. She is the author of Modern Arab Art: Formation of Arab Aesthetics, University of Florida Press, 2007; co-editor of New Vision: Arab Art in the 21st Century, Thames & Hudson, 2009; and the founding president of the Association for Modern and Contemporary Art from the Arab World, Iran and Turkey (AMCA). She co-curated Modernism and Iraq at the Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, 2009, and curated the traveling exhibition, Dafatir: Contemporary Iraqi Book Art, 2005-2009. She published widely on modern and contemporary Iraqi art and the relationship of identity and visual representations. She is the founder and project director of the Modern ArtIraq Archive (MAIA), which documents and digitizes modern Iraqi heritage. Her awards include: TAARII fellow 2006, 2007; MIT visiting Assistant Professor, spring 2008, and Fulbright Senior Scholar Program, 2008 Lecture/Research fellowship to Jordan. She is a member of the editorial committee of MERIP and member of the International Editorial Advisory Board for the Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism (REM).