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Photo: Irina Stelea

Between  February 6 and 10 2012, ECLA held its annual “Annual Conference”: an event devoted to current global issues in which guest lecturers, ECLA faculty and students explore a particular theme in a series of lectures, panel sessions and seminars.

This year the topic was “Censorship” and its connection to the state, religious belief, institutions and practices and technology. While the entire week was marked by heated discussions, it might be fair to say that it culminated on Friday with the lecture and panel session titled “Technology and Dissent”.

Evgeny Morozov, who delivered the morning lecture, is currently a visiting scholar at Stanford University and a Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation. Formerly he was a fellow at the Institute for the Study of Democracy at Georgetown University and George Soros’ Open Society Institute.

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Screenshot From the Film

Screenshot From the Film

A life without love, devotion to a person or a profession, and a life without delicious food and drink is a cold and gloomy one. The lives of Martina and Philippa, two sisters in Babette’s Feast, are cold and gloomy. During the week dedicated to the Annual Conference, ECLA students, faculty, as well as our guests, were treated to one of the most subtly disturbing films that I have seen in a long time.

While the film is definitely worthy of seeing, the story of Babette’s Feast is depressing, and it is depressing precisely because it pretends to be otherwise. It is meant to be cute, hopeful, and ultimately a merry little film that induces warm and fuzzy feelings and makes our lives warm and fuzzy as well.

The film follows the lives of two sisters who are born to a charismatic but nevertheless controlling minister in a desolate and secluded 19th century town, located on the Jutland coast of Denmark. After the father passes away, the strict and pious sisters continue to lead their father’s little congregation and cook for the town’s miserable elderly folk.

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Photo by Josefina Capelle

Photo by Josefina Capelle

Food to eat and food for thought on food and eating. Although a very tautological sentence, this statement truly summarizes this year’s Annual Conference hosted by ECLA, where the word ‘food’ was put to use in its fullest sense. Although this topic seems to provide a variety of areas for discussion, I would like to focus my attention on food for thought.

The past days have provided us with a lot of issues to think about, from the theoretical to the practical. Nevertheless, if one were to ask the question as to why we are discussing food in the first place, especially from the “What shall we eat?” point of view, then Monday’s panel discussion with Roger Scruton on his essay “Eating our friends”, which makes an illustration of the relationship between humans and animals in the context of the food chain, provides a good starting point for answering this question.

One of the last remarks made before the closing of the discussion was that animals- although not moral agents- are moral subjects. I particularly took note of such a statement because it seemed to incorporate the two main diverging arguments expressed during the discussion. The first being in favour of vegetarianism and against the purportedly unethical action of eating and killing an animal (especially one with which you have a bond), and the second being against vegetarianism, denying the presence of an ethical issue in the first place. As a member of the audience, however, I was not able to say whether I agreed with either side by the end of the discussion. I found myself in the middle, partially relating to both arguments.

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Whose Is That Wall

The very first event of the Annual Conference 2009 materialized with the support of ECLA art history faculty Aya Soika and addressed one of the many features of Berlin that I find particularly fascinating –the ubiquitous street art. I became a discoverer of street art when I saw that familiar cities ‘back home’ were no longer neutral, but had started to engage each pedestrian with their playfulness. Suddenly, forgotten corners of Bucharest, Brasov or Timisoara blossomed into gems of style and wit through which one ‘reads’ how a special group of dwellers lovingly approach their cities and poke at the indifference of others. No surprise that once I got the chance to live in Berlin, I felt like a child in a candy store. Walking (or biking) though the streets here comes close to reading a perpetually changing comic book. For this reason, I needed to transmit a dose of my exhilaration to those ECLA classmates with an eye prepared to see art in the most unexpected sites. My proposal for this years’ Annual Conference was a presentation of street art and the question of ownership, followed by a walk through Kreuzberg where we got more acquainted with the ‘works’ and, indirectly, with the artists.

What we call ‘street art’ now is an umbrella term which originated in 1960s wall scribbling, and which expanded to include other manifestations that share a fundamental characteristic:  using public space as display. Spray-painted names or words on building façades were a nuisance to everybody, initially; regarded as vandalism and punished by state authorities, this set the course for many of the practices still present in street art operations: the anonymity of the artists, the speed at which they work (prompted by the fear of being arrested), the formation of a ‘behind-the-scenes’ community, and the ephemeral and critical nature of this art. The scope is now international, no longer restricted to an urban setting, and by gaining the appreciation of city dwellers, it gradually grows out of its illegal relation with the city authorities. Nonetheless, this is a slow process undercut by massive arrests and rapid defacing of the works, even in cities where street art is old news by now.

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ANNUAL CONFERENCE GUEST LECTURER Volker Wiese Seminar on Legal Issues in the Restitution of Cultural HeritageMonday’s theme on restitution was further developed in an afternoon seminar led by Dr. Volker Wiese from Bucerius Law School. The main goal of the seminar was to examine several legal aspects of the restitution of cultural heritage. The discussion centred on the essence, as well as the legal and ethical implications, of the concept lex rei sita, which stipulates that “questions related to the validity of a transfer of personal property are governed by the law of the state where the property is located at the time of the alleged transfer.”    

Students, faculty and Dr. Wiese explored how the trade and restitution of culturally significant objects is complicated by the diversity of local laws that concern bona fide purchasers – buyers who acquire a cultural item in accordance with local trade laws and are not aware of the special provenance of the item, which belongs to the cultural heritage of a foreign country. While in Germany, bona fide purchasers become lawful owners as long as the object has not been stolen before, Anglo-American laws do not apply the concept of bona fide acquisition of property at all. On the other end of the legal spectrum, under Italian law bona fide purchasers are honoured even when it becomes known that the property had been stolen before from its original owner. The seminar participants discussed how specific historical and cultural developments in each country might have contributed to the formation of a particular legal view on bona fide purchases. To illustrate the practical significance of the fact that the international community does not have a standardized international framework, Dr. Wise presented several insightful cases where local laws are recognized in the case of a sale even if the cultural item has been abducted from a legal order that does not follow the concept of bona fide purchase, and has been subsequently brought back to that country.

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ECLA Annual Conference Panel Discussion Berlins Water Management

One of the student initiatives during the Annual Conference was to stage a panel discussion, the focus of which would be the issues surrounding the ownership and management of Berlin’s water. This would be placed in the context of global concerns about water access and water management, both in general, and with specific reference to China. The invited experts were Eva Sternfeld (China Environment and Sustainable Development Reference and Research Centre), Mrs. Härlin (Attac; Berlin Wassertisch) and our guest speaker of the day Maude Barlow (Blue Planet Project). Much of the organization for the panel was carried out by Lena Schulze-Gabrechten (Germany) and the high point of her involvement was the privilege of moderating the discussion. Here she candidly describes how it felt to preside over a panel of experts, in front of a sizeable (and lively) audience of students, faculty, other invited guests and interested members of the general public [Ed].

‘I try to scan about forty faces in one gaze. Mainly interested faces (only one person obviously sleeping), and nobody looks at me in a shocked or irritated way – I call that potentially successful!

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ECLA Annual Conference -  Student Project Water Fund

During the Annual Conference, projects initiated by students complemented the theoretical framework generated by the guest lectures and the seminars offered by ECLA professors.

Such a project, initiated by ECLA student Cholpon Degenbaeva (Kyrgyzstan), under the guidance of the ECLA professor Rafael Ziegler, had as its goal research and proposals which would go into the creation of the ‘water fund’, which would support projects by people from regions of the world where water scarcity is a day-to-day issue. The idea was prompted by the WasserStiftung, a non-profit organization in Germany, which is dedicated to providing people with clean water. The organization has already implemented projects in countries across the world, including Ethiopia, Eritrea, Palestine, Afghanistan and Chile. The findings of the water fund project would be presented to the WasserStiftung, which might then implement the project.

Throughout the Annual Conference, the challenge for students (with the help of guest lecturers) was to write the charter and proposals for the water fund, consisting of a mission statement, objectives and the selection criteria for projects to be supported. The project was a thread of continuity throughout the week. Every day the guest lecturer joined students in discussion about the creation of the water fund. All bringing different disciplines to bear, guest speakers Maude Barlow, David Blackbourn, Tony Allan and Michal Kravcík, helped to shed light on the project’s mission, according to their expertise, respectively in human rights activism, historical thought, global economics and hydrology.

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Petra Dobner

Petra Dobner

On Friday 9 May Dr. Petra Dobner visited ECLA to deliver a guest lecture, ‘Crossing the Jordan: Global Water and Transnational Constitutionalism’, as part of Annual Conference. It was fitting that Dr. Dobner’s lecture should be the last of the Annual Conference series, as it served to bring together many aspects of water addressed throughout the week and to situate the water problem within the power structures of the globalized world.

The old ‘sandwich’ model of the state, which posits a determined territory, on which a determined people resides, and over whom a determined power is exercised, is outmoded, Dr. Dobner claims. In the globalized world, powers outside a state may impact on its freedom to exercise power over its own territory: the people may not all be located within that territory, or may have strong associations without. Other transnational or international power structures may make claims of the nation state, and on its people. Even the territory of the state has become unstable. The effect of these tendencies is to create a constitutional problem. For where the elements and interests of the nation state are intermingled with those of its neighbours, as well as with transnational organizations, the constitutional principles that act to constrain power become uncertain in their application and effectiveness. Power structures which exist beyond the boundaries of nation-state competence cannot be subjected to state control and thus begin to take on an unconstrained character. The problem for twenty-first-century political theorists is how to submit these power structures to ‘constitutional’ control. This is the project of transnational constitutionalism.

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