A Tank in Prague

Monuments have recently become focal points for debates about history, politics, and social justice. In the United States, protestors have called for the removal of statutes of Confederate leaders. In South Africa, students advocating for the “decolonization of education” have succeeded in having a statute of Cecil Rhodes removed from the University of Cape Town. In Ukraine, a law about communist monuments has led to what Ukrainians dub “Leninopad”—the “Lenin fall”— most of the statutes of the Soviet leader have now been dismantled.

empire of friendsMy new book, Empire of Friends: Soviet Power and Socialist Internationalism in Cold War Czechoslovakia, begins and ends with a monument in Prague. The monument was a Soviet tank: it was erected in July 1945 by Soviet and Czechoslovak leaders to honor the Soviet army’s liberation of Prague from German occupation in World War II.

A tank on the streets of a Central European city is the paradigmatic symbol of the Soviet Union’s oppression of its Eastern bloc satellites during the Cold War. A Soviet tank in Prague on a summer’s day remains an especially indelible image of the USSR’s violent efforts to maintain control over its socialist empire in Europe. It calls to mind the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, which crushed the country’s experiment in reform communism, known as the Prague Spring. In this familiar narrative of the superpower’s use of force against its satellite states, the 1945 monument to the Soviet Tank Crews in Prague is the foundation of Soviet hegemony in Czechoslovakia and the rest of Eastern Europe.

Yet long before the tank monument became a quintessential symbol of Soviet hard power in Czechoslovakia and the rest of the Eastern bloc, it was part of an audacious but less well-known experiment in power of a different kind: the attempt by Soviet and Eastern European officials to use transnational “friendship” to create a cohesive “socialist world.” This experiment, which involved cultural diplomacy, interpersonal contacts, and the trade of consumer goods across national borders behind the Iron Curtain, linked citizens of the superpower and its satellites in an “empire of friends” that lasted until the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Empire of Friends tells the story of the rise and fall of this friendship project between the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. The book’s central argument is that Soviet power in Czechoslovakia and the other Eastern bloc countries constituted a new type of empire—an empire of friends. I use this term to highlight the paradoxes of the relationship: between high politics and the realm of everyday life, amity and violence, cultural exchange and authoritarianism, and hard and soft power. The Monument to the Soviet Tank Crews in Prague illustrates this paradox. The monument employed a tank—a symbol of military force—to connote Soviet liberation and friendship. Over the course of the following four and a half decades, the tank monument became the most iconic symbol of friendship between the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia.

Following the Soviet invasion in 1968, many Czechoslovaks came to see this symbol of soft power as a painful reminder of Soviet hard power. In the spring of 1991, in the aftermath of the Velvet Revolution, which brought an end to communism in Czechoslovakia, and not long before the collapse of the Soviet Union, a young Czech artist named David Černý undertook an act of political protest art. He painted the tank pink and stuck a giant model of a paper mache middle finger at its center. Protests that followed led the Czechoslovak government to move the offending monument to a military museum, where it remains today.


 

Rachel Applebaum is a historian of the Soviet Union, communist Eastern Europe, and the global Cold War. Her first book, Empire of Friends: Soviet Power and Socialist Internationalism in Cold War Czechoslovakia, is available for purchase, here

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A Tank in Prague

What makes Pete Buttigieg such an effective communicator?

The biggest surprise of the 2020 presidential campaign so far has been the rise of South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg from relative unknown to contender. People who hear him speak tend to come away impressed, and there are many possible reasons for this, including the fact that he just seems like a decent human being, which offers a refreshing contrast to the current president.

Mayor Pete also seems to have an intuitive grasp of effective framing, which means that he is good at describing ideas in a way that makes listeners agree with him. I am a cognitive scientist who studies the importance of framing in political discourse. In my new book, America the Fair: Using Brain Science to Create a More Just Nation, I discuss framing techniques that liberal politicians could use to make their policy proposals more palatable to conservative voters.

The first technique was pioneered by George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist at UC Berkeley who has published several excellent books arguing that the language used by politicians and pundits to describe policies plays a fundamental role in determining how those policies are perceived by people—because of the way that language activates the mind.

In other words, the way in which a policy is framed could induce agreeable or disagreeable mind states.

Lakoff believes that the popularity of the conservative worldview in contemporary America is due to the fact that conservatives are better framers than liberals. He believes that many people have biconceptual minds, meaning that they are capable of understanding both liberal and conservative value systems. However, the inner liberals of many biconceptual citizens have gone dormant and need to be reawakened—by consistent and persistent use of liberal frames by liberal politicians.

In America the Fair, I express skepticism about Lakoff’s technique and suggest that liberal frames do not work well on conservative minds. A more promising approach, pioneered by Matthew Feinberg of the University of Toronto and Robb Willer of Stanford University, recognizes that conservative minds are much more likely to be persuaded by arguments that are consistent with conservative morality. For example, environmental protections can be framed to conservatives as maintaining purity, and to liberals as protecting the defenseless.

This brings us back to Mayor Pete, who seems to understand conservative morality way better than most liberals. More impressively, he talks about liberal ideals using conservative language.

MEEGANThe most newsworthy example is the way he talks about his experience as a gay man. To conservative Christians who think that homosexuality is a choice, he challenges them using their language: “If you have a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.” About his marriage to his husband, Chasten, he says it has moved him “closer to God.”

Some of Buttigieg’s competitors for the Democratic nomination have proposed that college should be free to anyone who wants it. When he was asked recently about free college, he replied, “Americans who have a college degree earn more than Americans who don’t. As a progressive, I have a hard time getting my head around the idea a majority who earn less because they didn’t go to college subsidize a minority who earn more because they did.”

Notice how clever this is? He identifies himself as a progressive while using language that is reassuring to conservatives. When Mayor Pete talks about liberal ideas using conservative language, it rubs people the right way.


Daniel Meegan is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Guelph, and the author of America the Fair: Using Brain Science to Create a More Just Nation. 
You can view and purchase his book, here.

UPCOMING EVENTS

May 1st, 2019 at 7pm: Book Launch with Daniel Meegan: America the Fair

 

What makes Pete Buttigieg such an effective communicator?

Mastering Natural History

One of my former Baja students wrote, just last week, with two exciting bits of news. First, now that she finally has a real job, she is buying a house in Billings, Montana.  Second, she is pursuing certification as a master naturalist. I wrote her back immediately.

Although it’s always exciting to learn that former students are acquiring mortgages and the other accoutrements of adulthood, I was intrigued by the news that she planned to become a master naturalist.

I must confess that, despite having taught natural history courses at the university level for a dozen years, I had no idea what qualifies one as a master naturalist. I got on the internet and searched for master naturalist programs, pleased to discover not only that such things exist, but that there is a fledgling organization, the  Alliance of Natural Resource Outreach and Service Programs, ANROSP, that networks naturalist and/or master naturalist training programs in 29 states.

In the days of yore my mother earned a bachelor’s degree in interpreting natural history at the University of Colorado. Does that sound a bit old school? These days, one interested in such things might pursue a course of studies in environmental education, and I know of at least one master’s program in that subject offered by Western Washington University. But even there, the question might be asked what qualifies one as a master naturalist.

In my recent book, Coves of Departure: Field Notes from the Sea of Cortez, I mention that Harvard’s E. O. Wilson, one of the foremost naturalists at work today, writes of having once been instructed that he couldn’t call himself a naturalist until he had identified ten thousand species. Yikes. But even if Wilson’s counsel had been offered tongue-in-cheek, it dabbles with a real question of whether one can actually master natural history.

Experts could argue that the master would need such breadth of knowledge that it would take a lifetime to achieve sufficient depth to achieve mastery.

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In my next book, Nature Beyond Solitude: Notes from the Field, I make the case that we are just now entering into the golden age of natural history. Many will argue otherwise, however, because less and less natural history is being taught at the university level. This is especially true in biology departments, where expertise in organismal biology is being replaced by interests in molecular & cellular biology. At the same time, citizen science is producing a wealth of data related to natural history that could never have been collected, let alone processed, as recently as when I earned my bachelor’s degree. And now we have programs like the Montana Master Naturalist Program!

Even if I’m wrong about a forthcoming golden age of natural history—you’ll have to read the book to decide on that—it must be stipulated that natural history is occupying vibrant new niches everywhere one looks.

Here in Seattle, just a few days ago, more than 5,000 Amazon employees signed off on an open letter to the company’s board of directors that identified climate change as an existential threat. I doubt that many of the signatories of this letter would identify themselves as naturalists, let alone master naturalists, and yet the letter itself, which can be read HERE, is informed by a sophisticated understanding of ecology and natural history. I am encouraged by the shared belief, articulated in this letter, that “climate impact must be a top consideration in everything we do.”

Natural history relates directly and unambiguously to climate change. Indeed, the American Museum of Natural History recently opened a permanent display on climate change. The exhibit covers everything from corals to glaciers, forests to polar ice caps, and that’s a lot of natural history. And now what we need are a few more master naturalists to help us understand where we’re going with nature.


 

John Seibert Farnsworth, who recently moved to the Pacific Northwest, is fast becoming a serial author with Comstock Publishing Associates. His first book, Coves of Departure: Field Notes from the Sea of Cortez, was released this past November. His second, Nature Beyond Solitude: Notes from the Field, will be published on March 15.

Mastering Natural History

Reframing Vaccination Controversies

Vaccines have saved millions of lives. The scourge of smallpox is gone from this planet, except for stockpiles kept in Siberia and Atlanta, and polio has almost been eradicated. Dangerous and burdensome diseases have been tamed, and child survival improved due to vaccines. Refusal of vaccination denies these historical and medical truths and puts all people at risk of infectious disease.

That’s one way to start a story about vaccine skepticism. Here’s another:

Ever since there have been vaccines, there has been vaccine dissent. Themes in antivaccination protest are remarkably cohesive: impure vaccine ingredients, physician and corporate greed, potential ill effects, and threats to bodily integrity animate historical and contemporary concerns. While significant majorities accept vaccination regimes across the globe, determined minorities rely on a variety of belief systems and evidence to support their claims that vaccines are damaging to individuals, populations, and the planet.

The first narrative initiates a story that only flows one way—toward excoriation of those who cannot, for whatever reason, see the truth. The next sentence in the story is some version of this one: Vaccine dissent is essentially selfish, foolish, and irrational.

The second narrative offers a more open-ended opportunity, but currently, in the United States and elsewhere, only the first is allowable. Try to argue that beliefs about vaccination are complex and socially contextual, or even that people’s individual beliefs matter when it comes to vaccination, and you will be targeted as an antivaxxer. Vaccine hesitant parents are vilified and ridiculed in the media; well-founded concerns about the political impact of strict vaccine mandates are automatically criticized; and any suggestion that vaccination policies and requirements could be adjusted in response to public concerns is labeled science denial.

What is going on? In the 1990s, major news outlets in the U.S. reported evenhandedly about parental worries about thimerosal, a mercury-containing vaccine preservative in use since the 1930s. In the 2000s, though, as mainstream consensus coalesced around the lack of a connection between vaccines and autism, reporting on vaccination shifted to a more critical stance toward those who still questioned vaccine safety. After 2006 and the roll-out of Gardasil, an HPV vaccine marketed to prevent cervical cancer (whose maker, Merck, lobbied for state-level mandates, angering Christian conservatives who objected to a school-entry mandate for a vaccine against a sexually-transmitted disease), it became commonplace to see inflammatory news reporting in traditionally reliable outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Anti/Vax: Reframing the Vaccination Controversy tries to reorient public debate around vaccination by reminding us that there are numerous currents in American culture that share the concerns of vaccine skeptics. In the book I try to change the way we tell the story of vaccine dissent, much like a recent New York Times article that identifies poverty, political and social unrest, international travel, and geographical barriers as significant deterrents to comprehensive measles vaccination coverage globally.

Vaccine dissent is only one factor affecting current measles outbreaks in the U.S., and probably not the most important one. Balanced reporting about vaccination and infectious disease can illuminate the highly complex context in which modern medical efforts often conflict with local traditions, personal and community beliefs, and political realities in the context of globalization.

antivax

The way we tell stories matter. Storytelling can open up or shut down meaningful conversation. We are at a time in American history when talking across barriers of belief, ideology, and cultural identification are more important than ever. Vaccination controversy, and the contentious public debate that envelops it, is just one element in an increasingly polarized cultural conversation about what binds us and divides us as a nation.

We need to craft vaccination stories that differ from the inflammatory, accusatory, and vilifying narratives that we have created across social media and more traditional news platforms. Understanding vaccination controversy more deeply, with more attention to the features it shares with other cultural concerns, is one way to start.


Bernice L. Hausman is professor of humanities and public health sciences and chair of humanities at Penn State College of Medicine. The author of four single-author studies of medical controversies (including Anti/Vax), she has a background in women’s studies, literary and critical theory, and the medical humanities. 

You can purchase Anti/Vax: Reframing the Vaccination Controversy, here


Featured blog post image: ‘The Public Vaccinator’ by Lance Calkin. Credit: Wellcome CollectionCC BY

Reframing Vaccination Controversies

NATO and the Dangers of Democracy

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is in crisis. NATO is one of the most successful and longest-lasting military alliances in history.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

A glance at news headlines from any of the last seven decades might leave you thinking NATO has been in a perpetual state of crisis since its origins in 1949. And yet, time and time again, the Presidents and Prime Ministers of NATO states have decided that NATO should – indeed must – remain in existence. What explains this cycle of crises accompanied by determination to keep NATO together? How can every generation’s pundits write headlines warning of the imminent demise of the alliance, while its leaders insist that the alliance must continue?

sayle

The answer to the riddle lies in the fact that many of NATO’s largest and most important powers were led by governments that relied on public support for their political power. This led to what I call in Enduring Alliance: A History of NATO and the Postwar Global Order the “dangers of democracy.” It was these dangers that help us why NATO leaders thought the alliance was necessary but also why they constantly fretted about its future.

The leaders who formed and maintained NATO did so because they thought the alliance would protect members from being blackmailed by the Soviet Union. In the late 1940s, the British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin argued that the Soviet Union would use its military and political power to compel other states to act as Moscow wished. The “Russians,” as Bevin called them, “seem to be fairly confident of getting the fruits of war without going to war.” Soviet pressure on Finland, in which Moscow gained significant influence in the shaping of Finland’s foreign policies, offered an example of how this might happen. A Soviet ultimatum to Norway, and later a coup in Czechoslovakia, suggested that the Soviets would gain influence in Europe by picking off one state at a time. In the aftermath of the Second World War, it seemed likely that Europeans, cajoled or bullied by the Soviet Union, would urge their leaders to give in to any Soviet demands rather than risk confrontation. George F. Kennan, the famous American diplomat and expert on the Soviet Union, explained this fear eloquently when he said that “it is the shadows rather than the substance of things that move the hearts, and sway the deeds, of statesmen.” And the Kremlin cast long shadows.

NATO offered a solution.

NATO’s integrated military commands were never so much about being able to defend against the Soviet Union in case of war, but in cancelling out the Soviet Union’s ability to influence and compel European states to do what Moscow wished. Ideally, NATO would ensure that the Soviet Union would not bother trying to pressure an ally. But if a crisis came, NATO’s military capability had to be real enough to ensure that leaders could convince their citizens they did not have to give in. The alternative would be for frightened voters to pressure their leaders – be it through elections or other public protest – to give into Soviet demands. NATO insured against one danger of democracy – a panicked electorate faced with crisis – that might have otherwise allowed for the “Finlandization” of more European states.

The NATO leaders’ other worry, however, was that in times of peace, or even cold war, their electorates were not interested in maintaining the defense spending on which NATO relied.

Periods of détente with the Soviet Union seemed to strip away the rationale for NATO. The public reaction to the Vietnam War in both the United States and Europe caused allies to wonder whether there had been an outright rejection of the military instrument of foreign policy. These worries were amplified in the 1970s and 1980s as some protesters challenged NATO’s reliance on nuclear weapons.

NATO’s champion believed the alliance prevented crises and would allow them to prevail if one did occur.

They also believed that NATO worked, in a sense, too well – that it caused their voters to forget why NATO was important. On its 70th anniversary, the greatest challenge to the alliance may be an American president who ignores these nuances and does not understand the power of shadows.

 


About the author of this blog post: Timothy Andrews Sayle is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of Toronto and a Senior Fellow of the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History. He is the author of Enduring Alliance: A History of NATO and the Postwar Global Order, and the editor, with Jeffrey A. Engel, Hal Brands, and William Inboden of The Last Card: Inside George W. Bush’s Decisions to Surge in Iraq, forthcoming from Cornell University Press.

NATO and the Dangers of Democracy

Why Strong Governments are Bad for Precarious Workers

rathgeb_precarious

Philip Rathgeb, author of the recently published Strong Governments, Precarious Workers: Labor Market Policy in the Era of Liberalization, chatted with our publicity manager Cheryl Quimba. Here’s their conversation:

What is Strong Governments, Precarious Workers about?

It examines why some European welfare states protect unemployed and ‘atypically’ employed workers better than others. While all countries faced the emergence of such precarious workers, some compensated them with better protection and training, whereas others reinforced new divisions within the workforce. The question is, why? Looking at the cases of Austria, Denmark, and Sweden in particular, I find that trade unions are the most consistent force in resisting precarious employment and welfare. What is most striking, however, is that left-right differences between political parties matter less for trade unions – and thus precarious workers – than differences between weak and strong governments. Only when governments are weak can trade unions enforce greater social solidarity in the interest of precarious workers. The book therefore challenges theories that attribute precarity to union clientelism.

Can you explain this relationship between strong governments and precarious workers?

The gradual stages of the liberalization era shifted the balance of class power from labor to capital, which created opportunities for employer associations to push governments in their preferred direction. Governments of the right as well as the left therefore stimulated job creation by liberalizing the labour market. Strong governments are unrestrained in this regard, because they are internally united and have enough seats in parliament. As a result, they can marginalize trade unions to prevent lengthy and costly negotiations. Weak governments, by contrast, need trade unions for consensus mobilization, which creates opportunities for trade unions to strike policy deals for precarious workers. Variations in government strength best explain why trade unions in Social Democratic countries like Denmark and especially Sweden faced remarkable defeats in labor market reform, whereas their counterparts in a Conservative country like Austria remained influential and could thus enhance the protection of precarious workers.

What motivated you to write this book?

What I find striking is the gradual breakdown of the long-term employment relationship in favour of flexible short-term jobs. Among the middle classes of my generation – the so-called “millennials” – this shift is often welcomed, because it can create greater autonomy in working life. You can switch jobs and adapt working hours according to your current life situation or desire for self-realization. This is certainly a great progress for well-educated people without problems in making ends meet or reconciling work-family life.

But I care more about the other side of this story: in-work poverty, unpredictable income, low protection when unemployed or retired. While “flexibility” means greater autonomy for some, it means greater insecurity for others. I wanted to understand when political actors respond to the social demands of workers that are unemployed or on temporary ‘atypical’ contracts, as they face the costs of growing flexibility on contemporary labour markets.

Why do you think this is important?

Precarity is associated with several trends that are detrimental to democracy and society. First, we know that precarious workers are less likely to vote, because they gradually lose faith in the political system. This refers to a process of political resignation so impressively captured by Marie Jahoda, Paul Lazarsfeld, and Hans Zeissel in their seminal study Die Arbeitslosen von Marienthal. I vividly remember reading this book when I was in high school, as it has shaped my way of thinking about unemployment ever since. Second, it is clear that precarious workers are more likely to face economic poverty, unequal life chances, poor health, and even an increased relative risk of suicide. Understanding how political actors respond to precarity is thus of great political and social significance in contemporary capitalism.

 

Philip Rathgeb is a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Konstanz.

Why Strong Governments are Bad for Precarious Workers

Shaping a City, Ithaca, New York: A Developer’s Perspective

At 320 Pages with 115 photographs, published by Cornell Publishing, an Imprint of Cornell University Press, you will find Shaping a City a fascinating behind the scenes look at why and how Ithaca, NY has grown from a mud flat at the head of Cayuga Lake to the successful miniature metropolis it is today. For Ithacan’s, it is our story, our history, starting in the early 1800’s, and focusing on the most recent 40 years of real estate development. For readers beyond Ithaca, it will become the roadmap for how to shape your own small town from a vacant, under-utilized cross-roads to a vibrant, dense, thriving and attractive small city, and possibly —like Ithaca as recognized in a score of national publications—, turn it into one of the “Best Small Cities in the country.”

This book is my story of financial survival as I began renovating old houses and went on to be selected by the City and Cornell University as the Preferred Developer for Collegetown. It is the story of City politicians building the Commons pedestrian mall on our main street in downtown in 1974, and then rebuilding it again from 2013 to 2015.

It is the stories of over a dozen major developers and their projects, which have contributed to the revitalization of Ithaca—John Novar, Jason Fane, Gus and Nick Lambrou, Andy Sciarabba, Bill Downing, Travis Hyde Properties, Schon  Bloomfield, David Lubin, Joe Daley, Marc Newman and Bryan Warren, John Guttridge, David Kuckuk, Neil Patel, and others.

It is the story of how a group of us salvaged Center Ithaca, the largest building in downtown out of bankruptcy, and how philanthropist Jeb Brooks; music producer Dan Smalls; and our company, Travis Hyde, with assistance from the Tompkins Trust Company and the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency, saved the 1600 seat historic State Theatre, and the 200 year old historic Clinton House from foreclosure and certain demolition.

It is the story of Ithaca Neighborhood Housing and its significant role in creating affordable housing in our community. It is the story of Carl Haynes and the Tompkins Cortland Community College purchase of the M&T Bank Building for its Ithaca Campus and as a source of income for the College. It is the story of the creation of Coltivare, an upscale farm-to-bistro restaurant that serves as a training laboratory for the Tompkins Cortland Community College students. It is the story of why and how our oldest bank, Tompkins Trust Company, chose to consolidate its operations and construct a new 7-story office building downtown.

And primarily, it is the story of the BID, our local business improvement district, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, for which I served as founding member and president. Our Executive Director, Gary Ferguson has guided us through the formation of two, ten year Strategic Plans that have been created by the stakeholders of downtown, based on professional feasibility studies, the findings of  retail and marketing consultants, and approved by the City Council.

We have recognized that it is arts, dining, and entertainment that drive downtown revitalization, and we have formed a Tax Abatement Program that stimulates downtown development. There is much to appreciate, and much to learn, as developers, city and county staff and representatives, local banks, and often local philanthropists, work together in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration to create what has been recognized as one of the Best Small Cities in America

City centers are an under-utilized resource in our country and I invite you to read my book, and learn how the principles and values developed in Ithaca and set forth in Shaping a City, can perhaps be replicated in your community.

 Featured event:

Join #CornellPress author Mack Travis for Gallery Night: Book Release for Mack Travis’ Shaping a City this upcoming December 7th, 2019; an event hosted by Downtown Ithaca & The History Center in Tompkins County.

SHAPING


 

About the author of this blog post: As one of Ithaca’s major developers, as one of the founders, and former president of Ithaca’s Business Improvement District, and as a frequent lecturer at Cornell’s Graduate Program in Real Estate, Mack Travis is uniquely qualified to write this 40-year look back at the people and projects that have shaped Ithaca.

Shaping a City, Ithaca, New York: A Developer’s Perspective