Euro Vision! Leah’s Video for Week 8, Day 1: Human Rights and the Cold War

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?

8 Replies to “Euro Vision! Leah’s Video for Week 8, Day 1: Human Rights and the Cold War”

  1. Discussion Q I’m responding to: 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?

    The Preamble starts off clearly stating that the drafters of the document no longer want any kind of human atrocities to happen. They later go into peace between countries but I think the big thing this document is trying to prevent is another holocaust not another war. I think by giving this fresh start where people are actually protected under international law and ‘everyone’ is supposed to have equal rights that they can reset everything that’s happened and move forward into positive light. The document seems to be searching for a reset button, a way to redo everything in a better more efficient way which alludes to the ‘year zero’ idea. I think they’re just trying to restart and do it in a way where they think everyone should be protected and this doesn’t have the chance to happen again.

  2. I am responding to the third question regarding Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Stating the obvious, there is no protection over sexual orientation. It is ignorant to imagine that this protection would not have been as relevant at the document’s adoption as it is now, however, I do think that the condemnation of sexual orientation-based persecution is more prevalent in the global consciousness and should undoubtedly be included.

    Also absent is a protection on age-based discrimination which is perhaps a broader concept on the fringes of health rights for adolescents and the elderly as well as issues such as voting rights and other civil liberties.

    I believe that the declaration is quite flexible and was written rather progressively for the time and context in which it was written, i.e., the civil rights struggle that continues to this day in the United States, though, any document that wishes to protect the rights and well beings of a people should be made accesible to be changed by those very people. While I think the doucment can be implicity read as a protection against all factors of identity that do not maliciously impede on the the identity of someone else, the nature of the world in which we live suggests that Article 2 might be better suited in explixitly stating more of these factors.

  3. Response to #5:

    I think this is one of the most important sections of the UDHR. Around the world, there are countries that do not have these guarantees written into their own laws. Although the media is often criticized, especially in the present moment, it is completely essential to keep people informed all over the world. The internet has enabled people everywhere to access content without delay. While this is definitely a positive aspect of the internet, it is still concerning that this has also enabled the rise of “fake news” websites that spread misinformation. Still, the right to freedom of opinion and expression must always be defended. Once we open the door to limiting this right, it will be impossible to go back. Things like NSA wiretaps and Facebook data-mining are something that lawmakers really need to address (and have already started addressing). The thought that any company is collecting and selling huge amounts of personal data is just horrific. These kinds of actions are most definitely a threat to the “personal security” that is guaranteed by the UDHR.

  4. To respond to Question 5 about the UDHR,

    The right to freedom of opinion and expression and links them explicitly to the right to access media are connected because for most people, media is the way to knowledge. Knowledge of course is the basis of opinions, and is what allows people to formulate their own “educated” ideas on topics of interest. Of course, the internet has now made it extremely easier to access media and the knowledge needed about issues in the modern world. I still believe that this is a right that is very important and that should be fully protected. The new media scandals from the NSA and Facebook are obviously unethical, but also in my mind a sort of violation of these rights because of their deceptive nature and how they deny people of their right to true media and knowledge, forcing false opinions.

  5. UDHR: Articles 13-15
    Following WWII, the right to a nationality is important because many of the people involved were displaced. The boundaries of many European states had changed such as Germany decreased in size, Poland became a state again and Austria-Hungary splitting off in to separate states. The problem some displaced people could have had was that where they had been before could be a different state now. It was possible that people who lived in Austria-Hungary had no idea how to identify themselves with a nationality if they felt they were solely identiftied as an Austro-Hungarian. The right to leave and return is much like the piece we read before in, I believe, Roth, “Bust of the Emperor,” where the man in Roth’s story didn’t feel at home at his home or that he didn’t know how to identify with his nationality. (Sorry if this isn’t the correct piece!) Once the man left his home, he eventually returned because that was the only place that felt somewhat homey to him. Thus, for some people they maybe soul searching to find where they feel at home, or from displacement. I think it’s important to have a nationality even in the presence of the UDHR. My reasoning behind this is, if I understand this question correctly, nationalities are important for traveling. As a citizen of the United States of America, we can travel to many countries with just our passports and not a visa, but we can’t stay for an extend period of time with just our passports. With the UDHR in effect, traveling, returning home or finding a home, would be easier with a nationality.

  6. In response to question 5 for Dark Continent’s chapter 7:

    According to some contemporary thinkers (for example Zizek), we are currently live on a post ideological world. A world where the individual is no longer ideally portrayed, contextualized or self apprehended in terms of ideology, including what regards the political. This phenomenon, in spite of being characteristic of the post Berlin Wall world, has nonetheless being germinating since the last days of WWII. As somehow implied in the question, this characteristic can be more easily recognized today to be primarily an element of western liberal democracies. How can we explain that?

    Maybe the starting point should be to understand how people around the world had to face war, a war that meant the suffering and death of millions and the displacement and separation of families all around the world. War may have been perceived mostly as a political product. A phase in history on which political discourses got the realer they ever could, where the promises of better days and the social praxis that those dreams required where experienced by everyday people at its fullest, promises that demanded the death of your loved ones and that maybe, at the end, proved people that maybe those passionate dreams where not worth be pursued in the political clash of ideas. That’s how, I guess, politics got stigmatized during and after WWII

    The implications of this turnover in modern history, and specially on western liberal democracies (as can be seen by looking at political apathy in many people in the U.S.) are more negative than positive. First of all, and as mentioned in the question, this evolution implied that people got more concentrated on making money and acquiring consumption goods, which can be understood as a contemporary canalization or fulfillment mechanism for individual and collective passions that would no longer be part of a political life. This post ideological, or at least “post political” world could have been a way for people to forget or even avoid more pain as the remembrance of WWII brought them, however, a non-political society is equally dangerous in the long run. A society that is not interested on discussing and taking action on the clash of ideas that structure their world is most likely to fall into an invisible dictatorship, a tyranny where oppression is, not only perceived as non-existent, but ultimately effective through the very same mechanisms that we turn to be thankful of.

  7. In response to question 3 for the Declaration of Human Rights:

    3. Article 2 list a variety of qualities that one cannot be discriminated against for, however, looking at this today, they have left off a few that I believe are quite important to be recognized. Gender and Sexuality should be added to the list. This is an important topic to add because like the others, this is something an individual cannot change. They cannot change, nor do they have a say in, how they identify their gender or sexuality, just like they cannot have a say in their nationality or race. (Even if someone can change something about themselves, they still should not be discriminated for that, just want to make that clarification too.) These two categories are two that people are often discriminated against and they are not often protected from. This document is somewhat flexible but not too flexible. For instance, it does not protect individuals from the above and several other things I have not mentioned. It definitely lacks the ability to adapt to the modern circumstances. And as for the protection side of it, many, many people are far too often discriminated for the things that are listed in Article 2. The document lacks actual enforcement in these areas. It is almost guiding principle more so than actual enforcement, which is why I think it lacks the adaptability to add new and emerging qualities.

  8. I am responding to question #5 for UDHR
    I think Article 19 in the UDHR is a very good one based on strong ideals. The main ideal obviously, being freedom. It states that the right to freedom of speech and expression is directly connected to the right to access media and I agree 100%. You cannot have one without the other in this world. If you look at countries where the state controls the media they do not have true freedom of speech. In dictatorial and communist regimes like North Korea or Brazil the government controls the means of broadcasting and media and their citizens do not truly have the right to freedom of speech or expression. Also if you don’t have access to true media you can never have freedom of expression because you’ll never know the whole truth. The internet in my opinion hasn’t changed my views on the right to media very much. I’ve always been a big believer in the right to true media whether I saw it on the internet or not. However, I do suppose that with the ability to view so much information online nowadays the internet could’ve swayed peoples opinions. I think having so many news outlets and the ability to do your own research is what makes the internet an amazing place because there is fake news and internet trolls and other things but at this point, with so much readily available information out there, I think if you fall for the trolls or fake news it’s your own fault. I do believe this right should still be fully protected however, you can’t take away someone’s freedom of speech just because you don’t like what they’re saying. I would definitely say yes, wire tapping and data mining without peoples permissions is a clear violation of their right to privacy and it’s why people don’t trust big corporations or the government.

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