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Karel Holomek: Polemic with Václav Bělohradský about post-representative society

28.7.2015 1:17
Karel Holomek  (Photo: Lukáš Houdek)
Karel Holomek (Photo: Lukáš Houdek)

Intra muros, extra muros – inside the "walls of Rome" or outside them:  That is how Václav Bělohradský discusses earlier conceptions of society in an article published in the daily Právo entitled "Without nostalgia for post-representational democracy", and he undoubtedly is right to do so. In the piece, he says he considers multiculturalism to be an "anti-Enlightenment utopia that has been going bankrupt before the eyes of Europeans" for the last decade.

"Multiculturalism ascribes the 'right to have rights' to the bearers of traditions, and the fight for the recognition of traditions as the basis of rights then takes on the role of the fight for social equality. That conception of rights contravenes the Enlightenment state, where the 'right to have rights' is legitimized through culture - through a rational, critical reconstruction of those traditions," Bělohradský writes.

This idea is a bit complicated, but isn't it true all the same? Bělohradský then adds that there is a permanent deficit of representation underway in society today, where every event with the potential to create a common demos is rendered illegitimate before it can even take place.  

All the previously rarified representations of large units - economic classes, nations, the poor - have definitively dissipated, he says. What remains instead are individuals who are capable of quickly coming together in various critical masses to change something here and now.

Problems in the future, or problems somewhere else ,will be addressed by other such critical-mass groups in ways that have yet to be invented, he believes. There is no doubt that he has deftly defined the way our society is now shaping its development and very existence.

Now I will attempt to argue with this precisely-defined overview. I will do so by using the example of just one such "large unit" of society, which we will call the Romani nation.

According to Bělohradský, this group has been characterized as extra muros for several centuries already. Unfortunately, it has not yet advanced to the phase of rarified representation and is still attempting to create that.

Most recently such an attempt took place here in May near Brno, where a rather numerous, strong group of older Romani people who have been active in politics for some time - each on his own, like an isolated hunting dog far from home - came together. Now, together, disturbed by our current situation, we felt the ambition to create a representation that, if realized, could independently and legitimately represent the Romani nation.  

With just one exception, there has never been such a representation during the entire history of the existence of the building of the democratic state here. That exception was the brief, euphoric but ultimately unsuccessful work of the Romani political party called the Roma Civic Initiative.

That flared up and then died out! Of course, it was not then replaced by a "critical mass" of people involved in joint action and sensibilities (Romani people in our case) who were capable of changing something here and now, as Bělohradský describes the current trend.

That "critical mass" didn't come together until just this past May!  Everyone gathered in Brno knew we were facing a clear case of the wreck of Romani political representation and we knew what should be done.

We had to at least create a critical mass capable of doing something, i.e., creating legitimate Romani representation here and now. We even said we knew how to do this so that all the criteria of such representation would be fulfilled.

And then it didn't happen! The Roma once more flared up and then died out like a candle in the wind!

If we were to acknowledge the truth of Bělohradský's sketch of social development in the case of the Roma, then we would have to bear witness to the completely hopeless development of this nation over centuries. However, if the Roma had not been able to rely on their traditional values so far, on the hope of some eventual representation that we haven't yet created, then we would have witnessed our extinction long ago.  

This would be the case even if such representation were replaced by a "critical mass" of individuals temporarily sharing actions and sensibilities, but not identity. Such a group, however, would probably not be intent on fulfilling the eternal dream of the Romani people, which is to be included and received into society on the basis of our traditions and of the "anti-Enlightenment utopia" that is the development and preservation of the Romani identity.

We won't know whether Bělohradský's analysis is right for another 10 years - or probably another 20. That means it is up to the Romani people, once we explain away this idea of the ad hoc "critical masses", to manage to prove him wrong. 

Reprinted with permission from the author's blog on Aktuálně.cz.

Karel Holomek, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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