“The global rise of the far-right,” Nikolaos Paramythiotis, Campus Event Commentary

Cass Mude’s lecture on the 6th of February provided a very interesting insight into the rise of the far-right in Europe and in a global level. The Dutch political scientist pointed out that the rhetoric of the far-right today is characterized by populism, that generates hatred among the society and distrust for the political and economic elites. The main characteristics of the far-right today is its heterogeneity and normalization. As for the latter, far-right movements tend to adjust their ideologies in accordance to a society’s prevalent views and social norms, in order to make it more attractive. At the same time, the yearly exposure of many societies around the globe to far-right ideologies has led to viewing it merely as something unpleasant rather than unsound or illogical.

Finally, Mude makes a distinction between the extreme right and the far right. He supports that the views of the extreme right are so distant from social norms that their fallacy is widely understood. On the other hand, it is the radical right that poses a real threat, because by distorting and radicalizing values already in the core of society, its views do not seem so extreme and the attraction of an increasing portion of the population towards it is more likely.

“The Soviet Union through Jewish Eyes,” public event commentary, Nikolaos Paramyhtiotis

The lecture ‘The Soviet Union through Jewish Eyes” conducted on the 20th of February 2020 provided me a truly interesting insight into the Jewish prosecutions within the Soviet Union and the power that photography possesses to distort reality. A major focus of the lecture was the unknown, relatively to the Holocaust, genocide that took place within the borders of the Soviet Union, whose victims were the Soviet Jews. This was interestingly connected to an analysis of the power of photography to form public opinion.

The lecturer brought as an example the posting of images portraying dead Soviet soldiers and grieving women in the newspapers in order to shift public opinion away from the atrocities happening against their Jewish neighbors, calling the Soviet people to focus their hatred on the Nazis that were killing their compatriots. Another example had to do with the publicly distributed images of the Soviet victory in the Battle of Berlin, that brought World War II to an end. In this instance, the most suitable image taken had to be processed, as it also included a Soviet soldier visibly wearing two watches in his hand. This proved that he had engaged in looting activities and at least one of the watches was in his possession as a result of that, something that did not fit the narrative of the Soviet government about the integrity and honesty of all its soldiers. Overall, it was an amazing lecture that helped me develop a fuller understanding of the factors often hiding behind photography, because of its power to shape public opinion.    

“Yamato: the drummers of Japan” Campus Event Commentary, Nikolaos Paramythiotis

A truly unique performance that I was fortunate enough to attend this semester was by Yamato: the drummers of Japan, on the 22nd of February 2020. The excellent technical ability and unbelievable sense of rhythm of the Japanese drummers became apparent from the moment they stepped on stage and truly left the audience stunned in its entirety. What was even more entertaining was their effort to mingle this traditional art form that they were performing with well-worked elements of farcical comedy, that indeed caused great laughter among the audience. Their ability to flawlessly combine the sound of the drum each of them was playing at the moment into creating a sense of perfect harmony, despite the great noise characterizing the whole performance was really amazing. It was a truly magical performance that let the viewer loose to travel with the sound of their drums and provoked his or her imagination. What is truly amazing, is how this performance essentially managed to draw elements from their country’s ancient tradition and transformed it into something universally appealing that allows them to share their cultural heritage with the entirety of the globe.   

!&? on Meinhof readings and the two films, Unit 8, Nikolaos Paramythiotis

Shadows of the Summit Pointing West:

!: The perception of the Soviet Union’s reduction of military as a proof of the Communist regime’s endurance and applicability is a very interesting insight by Meinhof!

?: Why would the Federal Republic make efforts to acquire a nuclear arsenal, since it is not currently entangled in any conflict and the possibility of having to use it for defense is almost zero?

Hitler Within You:

!: When it comes to reforming a society and its ideology from its roots, then truly no matter how many initiatives are taken, there even more that need to be done!

?: Can a society function if the majority of its older generation that comprises the backbone of the working population is denounced? How can it balance moving forward while simultaneously being dependent on the individuals responsible for its dark past?

Vietnam and Germany:

!: It is interesting how the Federal Republic supports a war that the U.S. is launching to take Vietnam under its sphere of influence which has no direct benefits for the former, in order to ensure advantageous treatment by the this great power!

?: Since the government’s actions are supposed to be in accordance to the public will, is a state justified to start or support a war when it is perceived to be of its national interest, even when there is heavy and wide-spread criticism by the public against this decision?  

Women in the SDS: Acting on Their Own Behalf

!: The same exact behavior of the men in Frankfurt aiming to degrade women and what they advocate for makes up one of the reasons that deem it worth advocating for!   

?: When a private issue is evident in household after household, and affects the life of family after family, then is it still merely a private issue?

Columnism:

!: The fact that a newspaper has certain columns in which different views on events than the one in the main article are expressed does not undermine at all the ability of the newspaper to present its biases as facts, while also offering a façade of pluralism.

?: Is it possible that someone starts a newspaper without having, or seeking, any political affiliation, and even so, is it realistic to hope that it can be established as a mainstream media without the increased funding that the aforementioned affiliation grants?

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum:

!: The Bild newspaper was from the 1950s up until the 2010s the most read newspaper in Germany, despite being widely known for exaggeration of facts, distortion of the truth and political bias!

?: Where should the boundaries of the amount of force the state can use in order to prevent criminal activities and ensure the safety of its citizens be set?

Baader-Meinhof Komplex

!: The convergence in ideology among terrorist groups evident after the 1960s has led to the shaping of terrorism as a truly global phenomenon!

?: 1) West Germany was widely considered to gradually becoming a police state in the “German Autumn” of 1977, as a means to end the activities of the RAF. To what extent is the state justified to sacrifice the privacy and freedom of individuals in the name of “public safety?”

    2) As we saw in Locke’s theory of the social contract, the state should be considered the product of an agreement between individuals to abandon some extent of their “total freedom” in order to be able to coexist and form a society. To this, Rousseau introduced the more radical idea that when the government does not act in accordance to the interest and desires of its citizens, they have the right to overthrow it and establish a new one. In this respect, if we accept that West Germany was a state sheltering Nazi sympathizers and there was no way to achieve its reformation through the existing state structures, then are extrajudicial means towards reform justified? Should having the support of the majority be considered a needed condition?

Reflection on Richter’s “October 18, 1977”, Nikolaos Paramythiotis

For artists occupying themselves with visual art, whether that is painting, sculpture, photography or something else, the question of the connection between reality and its representation is of great importance. Gerhard Richter’s approach to the question of mimesis can be witnessed in his October 18, 1977 cycle, a series of 15 paintings representing blurred photographs related to the Baader-Meinhof RAF group. In his 1993 discussion with Stefan Weirich about these paintings, he characterized photography a rather “useable or acceptable” mimesis of a reality that “moves on,” yet is “much more dreadful.” For the artist, the value of painted photographs lies on the fact that violent photographs that are repelling to the viewer, become “a little more bearable”, causing the viewer to be “a little more curious.”

In these paintings, we can see that Richter’s work is in compliance to his perceptions and ideas. He focuses on the 1st generation of RAF, which’s members committed a series of violent acts as part of their protest against what they viewed as the Nazi-led, police state of West Germany in the 1970s. Their death was not peaceful either, as after years of imprisonment and isolation, they ultimately committed suicide, feeling that there was nothing that could be done to help them. The artist has created a series of paintings of photographs, representing mostly scenes and objects from their time in prison. These works feature paintings of Meinhof’s, Baader’s and Enslin’s bodies after their suicide, Baader’s record player, cell and funeral, as well as scenes from their arrest and confrontation. Richter seems particularly interested in Ulrike Meinhof, as there are three paintings of her body after she committed suicide and her confrontation, respectively, and one painting of her in a younger age. Maybe it could be argued that she enjoys particular interest by Richter, as she is viewed as not only a member of the RAF that “acts,” but also as the one that provides the ideological backbone of the group through her writings. With these paintings of blurred photographs, Richter seems to achieve the creation of a consistent (or stimmig) connection between reality and its representation. His paintings are accurate and consistent with the historical narrative, while at the same time, not unpleasant to watch, which would entail the consequence of turning one’s eyes -and mind- away from what they represent. As a result, they present the viewer with a source of remembering and thinking about the essence of the events which they address, without distorting or influencing the historical truth.  

A thought that emerged from looking at these paintings, is that in a way, Richter’s work has a lot of similes to the concept of translation. A photograph of a person, an object or an event as a perfect representation of a moment in time could be considered the accurate, word-to-word translation of a text. Similarly, Richter alters these photographs through his painting, the same way a translator uses tools as the word choice and figures of speech, in order to create a text in the language in which they are translating, more closely related meaning-wise to the original. The goal of the latter is to provide a text that will provide a fuller understanding and evoke the same feelings to the reader, as these evoked by a native speaker reading the original text, while, in the case of Richter, to create a piece of art that “imitates” what happened, yet at the same time is free of its violent or repelling element, providing room for thought and reflection on these events of reality.               

“Post on Achmatova’s Requiem”, Nikolaos Paramythiotis

We had a very fruitful conversation with Alec, Grace, Luna and Prescott, and agreed on the fact that although one can tell the two translations are of the same poem, they are vastly different. To begin with, Anderson’s translation used more simple language and the message was presented in a more straightforward manner, creating a more personal tone. On the other hand, in his translation Thomas makes use of more advanced and metaphorical language, which set the tone as more distant, but also more professional, poetic and lyrical. In this respect, the messages delivered by the pieces are also drastically different; the more emotional translation by Anderson evokes the powerful feelings of agony experienced by the woman whose son is imprisoned, and the more sophisticated translation by Thomas carries out this deeper feeling of hopelessness that the Terror created to the people of the Soviet Union. Moreover, from my experience with original Greek and German poetry, I agreed when it was brought up that Thomas’ translation, having a more cryptic and mysterious tone, felt more like non-English literature, whereas the translation by Anderson, seemed more like it was written by a native English speaker, based on the word choice and structure. Overall, I would say that the simplicity characterizing Anderson’s translation makes it more understandable and suitable for a person that is not familiar at all with Stalin’s Terror. However, Thomas’ translation is aesthetically more appealing to me and is more intriguing, provoking questions and causing the reader to get involved and think.

About Prof. Ewington’s lecture:

!: It is interesting to see how even poetry not challenging the regime was severely censored and fought against simply because it was outside the Soviet aesthetic as created by the constant propaganda!

?: After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, did poets received the respect and admiration that they had in pre-revolutionary times, as the most important truth-tellers?    

Campus event commentary, Seech by Dr. Gerry Denny”, Nikolaos Paramythiotis

Can you imagine having to write a speech that, depending on the words you use, could either save hundreds of people, or make you feel that it led to their death? That is exactly the challenge Dr. Gerry Denny, one of the two ghostwriters of Nelson Mandela’s first venture throughout South Africa with the goal to combat the Apartheid was, when he was writing Mandela’s first speech after his liberation. This speech, delivered on February 25th, 1990, needed to be a call for peace, with the goal to end the violence between the protestors and the government forces. Moreover, it was necessary that a single sentence would contain the whole meaning of the speech, for it to be repeated over and over again, be spread everywhere and make the headlines of the international press. However, finding the right words was extremely hard, because of the number of parameters that Dr. Denny and his colleague had to think about. In this respect, they needed a phrasing that did not seem to shift towards giving up. Phrases such as, “lower your weapons” or “hide your knives” could not be used, as, describing passive actions, they would make the movement against Apartheid seem intimidated by the government’s violence. On the other hand, the message needed to not be an aggressive one. It should be stark that what Nelson Mandela was calling for was peace, and not continuation of the violence. Moreover, it needed to sound impressive, and have to do with the everyday life of the people of South Africa, so it would be clear to even to the most uninformed resident of the country, what the message was all about. And as Dr. Denny narrated, after a lot of effort, thinking and re-thinking, they came up with the perfect phrase: “Get your guns, your knives and your pangas and throw them into the sea”. So simple, and yet so effective. And soon, it was repeated over and over again in every major street, square and park, made headlines in all domestic and international newspapers, and ignited the dialogue between the two sides, so that common ground could be found. And I find it unbelievable that the phrasing of a single sentence may have altered how the world today is.

Campus event commentary, “Speech by Anthony Foxx”, Nikolaos Paramythiotis

Anthony Foxx, who served as secretary of transportation for Barack Obama delivered a truly unique speech when he visited Davidson earlier this semester. How can public transportation and city planning help decrease the problem of segregated neighborhoods was the main topic of the speech, an issue I had never troubled myself with. However, Mr. Foxx made it completely clear that improving public transportation is a way to improve the life conditions of individuals living in underdeveloped neighborhoods. He said that an increase in bushes, as well as the roads that in the number of roads leading to underdeveloped regions will be crucial in decreasing the level of segregation. That is because such infrastructure will increase mobility, which will strengthen the sense of community in these areas. Moreover, he touched upon the issue of how roads should be built, in order to make travelling more efficient, and allow drivers to make more miles with less gas, which is something gaining more and more importance due to the ecological problem our planet is facing. Overall, Mr. Foxx’s speech was very interesting and provided engaging ideas on how U.S. public transportation as well as transportation infrastructure could be improved.      

Campus event commentary, “Microaggression panel”, Nikolaos Paramythiotis

Microaggression is, as Eleni Tsitinidi ’21 accurately described it, these “mosquito bites” one feels after he or she hears the same comment about their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, physical characteristics, etc. for the millionth time. In contrast to racist comments, that are widely recognized as such and their intention is to harm, comments characterized of microaggression do not intend to be harmful. To most people not in the position of the person these words address, they are considered acceptable, therefore, they are easily dismissed on their own. However, the problem with instances of microaggression is that behind them lies a larger social message that is offensive itself. When a student of color is complemented on the fact he or she is “very articulate”, the words they face are not harmful, but the message they hide behind them implies that they are the exception. Therefore, the main problem with microaggression is that it focuses on and stresses the differences of the body, almost dismissing the personality and the humanity of the individual. There is only one way to prevent it, to just think more and have empathy. The fact that something is not wrong to do or say, does not mean that one should go on to do or say it, if it is going to negatively influence another person. It is that simple.

“Commentary on image from March 2”, Nikolaos Paramythiotis ,Unit 4 Assignment 2

The image I chose to write about depicts George Corley Wallace’s inauguration in Birmingham, Alabama, where he addressed the issue of the freedom rides of the African American activists in the South and the attack on the two busses carrying them, that took place near the town. The reason I chose this specific image, is because I found very interesting how the creators of this graphic novel chose to juxtapose the seemingly rigid statements of the 45th governor of Alabama, with the true nature of the situation, which seemed much more like a generalized call for change.

               Wallace’s inaugural address is accurately depicted in the novel. Of course, his speech is not given at its full extent, however the words in which he chose to express his famous statement against integration are given precisely as he uttered them. The event is presented in a heightened, almost cinematographic manner: the angry expression of his face is closely portrayed, and the hatred his words carry is further illustrated by the choice of the novelists to include different segments of his sentences in different dialogue boxes, in order to stress them. The picture in the right of the page is especially intimidating; It is drawn as if the artist was watching the speech from the first row, and Wallace’s utmost call for segregation, “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” is presented right in front of the emblematic Capitol of Montgomery, Alabama. Furthermore, this phrase of his is extensively segmented, with every two words it includes included in a different dialogue box, highlighting how they created the feeling of cutting the air like arrows.

               However, what I found more interesting than how the actual historical event was presented, is how the thoughts of the members of the Movement about it were presented extensively right next to the governor’s words. As the authors inform us, the SLS had a meeting to decide its next move right while the inaugural address was taking place. The Movement had already achieved desegregation in many public spaces in several southern states, and this speech was merely the segregationists’ desperate effort to prove that the truth was different. “They needed a victory”, commented Fred Shuttlesworth, with Wallace’s words seeming like an attempt to convince initially themselves and after that the rest of the country that they had, and they would, successfully stop the Movement from achieving further victories. As it comes to the big picture in the right page, the governor’s seemingly rigid statements are infiltrated by the truth, namely that if the Movement comes to Birmingham, the situation will shift completely. Even his promise for “Segregation forever” is followed by Shuttlesworth comment, that this action of the Movement would “shake the country”. Segregation was a beast tyrannizing the South for years. And no matter how scary and intimidating his breaths might seem, through the depiction of the situation, it is made clear that they are some of its last.           

        

“The discussion about racial injustice, by Mary Church Terrell and Ida B Wells”, Unit 4 Assignment 1, Nikolaos Paramythiotis

Mary Church Terrell was an African American civil rights activist of the late 19th and early 20th century. She was born to parents that were former slaves, who later went on to become financially affluent. This enabled Terrell to become well-educated, receiving a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree form Oberlin College. Initially, she joined Ida B. Wells (mentioned below) in her anti-lynching campaign. However, the values she became familiar with in her religious and conservative household enabled her to appreciate the value of education, therefore she then focused on an uprising of the African American population in many levels, through the spread of education.

https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/historians-miscellaneous-biographies/mary-church-terrell

https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/mary-church-terrell

Ida B. Wells was an African American journalist and civil rights activist of the late 19th century. Born from parents that were freed slaves, she was a very important critic and advocate against the lynching practices, used throughout the United Sates. What caused her to obtain this role was the racial prejudice and injustice herself and other people of color in her social circle experienced. To this added her religious background, as herself and family were faithful Christians, and she viewed the doctrines she was fighting against as totally disregarding Christian ideals, such as “righteousness” and “self-identity”.

https://www.biography.com/activist/ida-b-wells

https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=6022

Both women are speaking about violence, the one people of color experience living in a predominantly white society. The violence Terrell describes, has to do with the inability of African Americans to obtain a working position that does not have to do with manual labor and matches their set of skills. Her text is written about Washington D.C., that is mistakenly called “The Colored Man’s Paradise.” The labor market is characterized by complete lack of meritocracy, that leads to white employees being favored over employees of color, which leaves the latter feeling hostility inside the capital of their own country.

Wells’ violence is more tangible. She talks about the “unwritten law” mostly followed in Southern states, that derives from the supposed fear of “negro domination” and results in people of color being deprived of their rights as humans, as well as their right to vote. This violence creates in them the most torturing uncertainty; no matter their actions, they have no right to a just trial, and they could be found hunted and executed in the most inhumane of ways at any given moment.

Both authors perceive as causes for this reality the structure of society itself, that keeps on incentivizing white individuals to treat people of color in this manner. Being part of a society with these certain norms, it I very unlikely that one does not grow like-minded. At the same time, even if this was the case, it is almost impossible for them to differentiate. This is vividly illustrated in Terrell’s story about the store owner that hired an African American clerk and even went on to say he would replace the employees that refused to work with her, but eventually had to fire the clerk as his clients threatened they would boycott his store.

Moreover, the way society is structured, women are much more affected by this violence. For Terrell, that’s because women have much more limited opportunities as it comes to the work they can do, for there are much less positions that they would be accepted in. Wells connects it with the injustice in the treatment of offence against women, depending on their color. Once white women accuse an African American man of insulting them, he would be hanged immediately, while the assaults against women of color by men of the white race are not considered punishable.

A common ground between the authors can be found in their view, that this situation requires immediate change. For Terrell, this demand derives from the fact that those atrocities occur inside the capital of the United States, which is supposed to stand for the values of freedom and justice. Wells touches upon this, stating that such behaviors are not in accordance to the founding principles of the country, which are freedom and bravery, and resemble practices of savages, dishonoring the Anglo-Saxon civilization. At the same time, they cause a decline of the feeling of patriotism, which is exactly what the authors are concerned about; they want these practices to be abandoned, in order to result in the formation of a country where individuals co-exist in peace and feel proud to be a part of.

“Forming the connection between Gourevitch: Chapter 11 and Sontag: Chapter 4 and pages 125-126, Unit 3 Assignment 3, Nikolaos Paramythiotis

Chapter 11 (pages 141-171) in the Gourevitch reading and Chapter 4 as well as pages 125-126 from Susan Sontag’s “Regarding the Pain of Others” both focus on the theme of how imagery can serve a certain purpose in mass conflict. In her book, Sontag discusses the concept of which type of imagery depicting armed conflicts is thought to be appropriate to be published by the media. She points out that the media coverage of military operations is often limited, sometimes because of viewer discretion, but mostly because the world’s powerful countries do not want the public to know the way the conduct war. The author uses the examples of the British operation to Falklands in 1982 as well as the involvement of the U.S. in the Gulf War, in 1991, where TV coverage was censored and only certain photographers were allowed to be present, for the two countries wanted to publish a certain, controlled image of how they confronted their enemies. The use of imagery into one’s advantage is a theme that vividly emerges from Gourevitch’s description of how the Hutu Power regime managed to present, at least in the short run, the genocide the Rwandan Hutus committed against the Tutsis as a legitimate war to defend their own lives. During the whole series of events that made up the Rwandan genocide, the official lines of the Hutu Power regime that actually carried out this atrocity were that they had to fight back against the Tutsis that seeked to attack them, and there was not sufficient photo-coverage of the events of the genocide to make it clear that this was not the case. Moreover, after the French troops were deployed to help in establishing peace, it is even stated that although people were still being slaughtered every day, their main concern was to “find any large concentration of Tutsis to rescue before the cameras” (p. 156), which would be labelled as noncombatants of the attacking side, enabling them to further manipulate the public opinion on what was happening in Rwanda. Even the few images that were actually published in prestigious newspapers were not accompanied by the needed text to inform the general population of the real nature of what was happening. Distance also played a great role; it was believable that these images were not a result of a carefully prepared genocidal plan, but in the opposite “Rwandans were simply killing each other as they were wont to do, for primordial tribal reasons, since time immemorial”. When the massive-scale extermination campaign against the Tutsis was coming to an end, and almost one million Hutus who carried it out fled to outside the city of Goma, in Zaire, then the time to take pictures had come. Pictures showing overpopulated refugee camps with people dying of cholera, in front of the Nyaragongo volcano that blew “rock-like dust” and provided a landscape of “hardened black lava”. And as Gourevitch comments, they indeed served their purpose: the western world, at least before more details of what had happened in the area were released, was shocked with the “poor Hutus” who were “terrorized” and “forced out of their land” by the heavily-nationalistic Tutsis. Humanitarian help arrived immediately, and the largest humanitarian-aid mission of the 20th century was organized. And that is a great instance of the manipulating power of imagery, as Sontag explains it: the favor of the public opinion, as well as the help previously mentioned, had as recipients those that managed to present themselves as victims, despite that for the last one hundred days, they systematically exterminated about two thirds, or eight hundred thousand members, of the antagonistic ethnic group in their country.