Dear Europeanists, here is my first video for you! Please watch it and/or read the transcript below. You can also turn on closed captioning with the video, but it is auto-generated and not entirely accurate. Remember to respond with your own posts by Friday at 5pm!
Transcript of the Video
Hello, Europeanists! Welcome to the online version of this course. Today’s teaching assistant is Maggie the Cat. She is obviously thrilled to be here.
This is an experiment, and I welcome your comments about this video. Please let me know what you think by email.
Let’s start with announcements. First, remember that from now on, you must do two blogs posts each week. Your posts are due by Friday at 5pm.
During the first half of this semester, most of our class meetings involved about half an hour of lecture. Now that we’ve gone online, we are going to set those lectures aside. It’s harder to concentrate on a lecture you watch online. There’s a certain energy that comes with us all being in the same room and being able to interact in real time that allows lectures to work more smoothly. In our current situation, I’m aware that you have limited time and limited attention that you can devote to this class. I’d rather spend that time on discussion.
I’m going to start today by giving you some brief background information to contextualize today’s primary source, the Universal Declaration of Human rights. In order to draft this document, two factors had to be in place. The first is existence of the United Nations, the international organization that commissioned the UDHR and adopted it in 1948. The second is a concept of human rights that the members of the United Nations could agree on.
The United Nations was designed by the Big Three (the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union) at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference in late 1944, as WWII was drawing to a close. They envisioned an organization that was similar to the League of Nations, but more effective and more likely to survive. To that end, they created a more robust structure. The UN has a Secretariat, which serves as its executive; a General Assembly, which includes all member nations; and a Security Council, which includes five permanent members from East and West (the US, UK, France, Soviet Union, and China) and 11 rotating members. They also created an International Court of Justice, to which all member nations would be subject. This is the structure the UN still has today. It was ratified at the official founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco in June 1945. 50 nations joined. Today, 193 nations belong to the UN.
The UN has the same goal as the League of Nations: to prevent wars. But unlike the League of Nations, the UN has an enforcement mechanism. All member nations contribute peacekeeping forces, which is to say: military. However, the UN will not deploy these forces unless the permanent members of the Security Council all approve the action. Since its creation, the UN has reserved the right to intervene in all conflicts between its member nations. Significantly, it also reserves the right to intervene in the internal affairs of is member nations. This gives it the power to step in in cases of ethnic cleansing within a nation’s boundaries—essentially, to prevent a repetition of Nazi policies—which the League of Nations could not do.
At its founding conference, the United Nations adopted a Charter and set up a commission to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was headed by Eleanor Roosevelt. As you may have noticed while reading it, the UDHR draws on many of the ideas we have seen European thinkers discuss over the first half of the 20th century. Some of these are Civil and Political Rights, which have been part of European thought since the Enlightenment, and others are Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights, which are more a product of the 20th century. In addition to these ideas, the UDHR also draws on the Nuremburg Principles, which were established as the basis of the Nuremburg Trials, and which defined for the first time the idea of crimes against humanity and identified genocide as such as crime. As you’re writing your blog posts, you might think about these different origins and how the document brings them together.
The UDHR was adopted by the United Nations in 1948. It is a statement of principle, not than a treaty. But its provisions have been enshrined in two subsequent treaties, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights. You might be interested to know, since we’re heading into the Cold War now, that the Soviet Union signed and ratified both treaties. The United States signed them both, but has never ratified the International Covenant on Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights.
Now I’d like to give you some discussion questions as food for thought. Remember, you can respond to my questions or pose our own comments and questions on the blog.
Leah’s Discussion Questions about Dark Continent
1. Mazower starts Chapter 7 with a bold assertion. He writes, “There was, in reality, no Year Zero, no clean break between hot and cold war, and the post-war regimes which emerged in the latter had their roots in the social experiences of wartime.” (Mazower, 213) I’d like you to unpack this assertion. What does he mean? What evidence does he give for this claim? What continuities does he show us in this chapter? Also, what are the stakes of this claim? In other words, what makes it surprising or even shocking? Why do we want to believe that there was a Year Zero, and why do we resist the idea that there wasn’t one?
2. Mazower addresses the refugee crisis that followed WWII. The crisis was fueled partly by the masses of people who were displaced during the war, and partly by voluntary and forced displacement of people just after the war. There are a couple issues here I’d like us to discuss:
First, as Mazower points out, this is a moment where Europe really fails its surviving Jewish population. You might notice some similarities to Joseph Roth’s essay “Refugees from the East” in What I Saw, which we read in Week 4. However, after WWII, European countries close their doors to Jewish refugees, and they get stuck in camps until the new state of Israel is created. Of course, Israel in the territory of Palestine, which since WWI had been part of the British empire. So, Europe expels its Jews to Palestine, and they then expel the Palestinians, whose descendants still live in refugee camps today, because no one will take them in. How does this situation shape our understanding of Europe’s reckoning with Fascism, anti-Semitism, and WWII? How does it shape our understanding of Israel? Does Europe have a responsibility for the situation in Israel and Palestine today?
Second, many of these population transfers were aimed at creating ethnic homogeneity—expelling minorities, rather than trying to protect them through international law, as Europeans did after WWI. Can you unpack the ethics of this situation? Do you consider one of these tactics better than the other, or should they have tried something else entirely? What is the legacy of these deportations for Europe today?
3. The majority of those who were forcibly displaced after the war were ethnic Germans, and this gets us to the issue of revenge. Mazower walks us through the different approaches taken by Western Europe (led by Britain and the U.S.) and Eastern Europe (led by the Soviet Union) to punishing collaborators. Can you analyze the reasoning behind each approach and how it related to the politics of the emerging Cold War blocs? In what way did each approach work well? What made them both unsatisfying? Which do you think was better, in the end?
4. Can you analyze the same questions on the issue of how each side dealt with de-Nazification within their occupation zones in Germany? How did the differences in their approaches lay the groundwork for dividing Germany in two, even though nobody wanted that to happen?
5. Mazower also looks at the psychological effects of the war years on the surviving population of Europe. He notes that while liberal democracy did experience a resurgence, people were generally not as interested in politics as before. They preferred to think about their personal lives: starting families, making money, and acquiring consumer goods. Can you theorize why the wartime experience might have had this effect on people? What are the positives and negatives of a population that organizes its priorities this way?
Leah’s Discussion Questions about the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”
1. First, let’s look at the UDHR as a whole. What kind of values does it present as values belonging to all nations in the world, even after the onset of the Cold War? What are the possibilities and limits of this type of transnationalism in the context of the Cold War? Is the idea of “universal human rights” compatible with imperialism, which Britain and France continued to engage in at this time?
2. Now let’s look more specifically at the Preamble. Read it closely and analyze how it responds to the traumas of WWII, and also the traumas of the entire first half of the 20th century in Europe? How is this document trying to create the “Year Zero” that Mazower assures us did not actually take place?
3. Article 2 lists a series of qualities that cannot be used to discriminate against people. It’s a long list, but there are categories we might include today that are not here. In your view what is missing? Is this document flexible enough to accommodate our changing understanding of human rights and categories of protection?
4. Articles 13-15 relate most closely to the issue of refugees and displaced people. Why does this document guarantee the right to a nationality? How does this relate to the right to leave and to return? Why is it important to have a nationality even in the presence of international agreements like the UDHR? Or do you think that it is not important?
These articles also deal with the right to asylum. Based on Mazower’s description of the politics of repatriation after WWII, why might the authors of the UDHR be eager to include this right? Do we still uphold this right today? How is it being tested in Europe and in America?
5. Article 19 guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression and links them explicitly to the right to access media. In what way are these rights connected? How has the Internet changed our thinking about the right to access media? What about Internet phenomena like “fake news” websites, trolls, WikiLeaks, etc.? Should this right still be fully protected? If we look at it from another angle, can things like NSA wiretaps or Facebook data-mining be considered violations of the UDHR?