Inke Arns on Tue, 27 May 1997 16:31:22 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Paul Stubbs on NGOs, Ljubljana May 23, 1997

Dear all,

this is Paul Stubbs' blitz statement on the Role of NGOs presented at 
Nettime conference 'Beauty and the East', session on 'Power Politics: 
virtual Europe, ministate thinking and the construction of the data East', 
Ljubljana 23 May 1997.

More soon. Greetings to all,

>Organization: Za Mir Transnational Network (Zagreb)
>Date: Sun, 25 May 1997 22:50:00 +0100
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>## Forwarded message of 24 May 97
>## Origin   :
>## Creator  :
>Blitz statement on the Role of NGOs
>presented at Nettime conference 'Beauty and the East'
>session on 'Power Politics: virtual Europe, 
>ministate thinking and the construction of the 
>data East'
>Ljubljana 23 May 1997
>Paul Stubbs, Zagreb and Leeds
>My concern is primarily with the way in which the fashion 
>for NGOs presents the end of history and ideology in a 
>region where histories and ideologies, what in pre-post-
>modernist terms used to be called debate, clearly continue 
>to perform work, including the work of killing people.
>In a sense, I follow Ivan Szelenyi's argument that NGOs, in 
>their local variants, are a part of a survival impulse of what 
>he calls 'the dominated fraction of the dominant class' since 
>they allow this group to exchange global cultural capital for 
>(minimal) economic capital and security. The rate of 
>exchange between economic and cultural capital for local 
>NGO workers in the East is poor - this is the exploitation 
>and colonialism which others have referred to. But, in 
>countries where poverty and insecurity touches fairly 
>directly over 90% of the population, it becomes one of the 
>only options.
>Indeed, in the absence of crisis and war which attracts 
>(northern and western) donors and international NGOs 
>whose money, of course, carries with it its own very 
>particular problems (cf. my text 'Humanitarian 
>Organisations and the Myth of Civil Society'), and being, 
>perhaps, unwilling to take the leap in the dark into the 
>world of true free market, for profit, private enterprise, it 
>remains true that forming regional or even global 
>initiatives, networks or alliances (the conglomerates of the 
>NGO world), represent the best way of converting cultural 
>capital into economic capital.     
>The phenomenon of George Soros and his Open Society 
>Foundation, which I want to term the Uncle George 
>Syndrome is one which is only now attracting critical 
>scrutiny from commentators on the NGO scene in the 
>virtual East. Indeed, the lack of critical attention to Uncle 
>George has echoes of the self-censorship found in many of 
>the closed societies which his open society vision precisely 
>wishes to transform.
>For me, notwithstanding the many positive effects of Uncle 
>George's funding, one problem is that, in the absence of 
>alternative sources, there is a pull towards a kind of anti-
>political cultural bureaucratism which stifles not only truly 
>political and truly aesthetic innovations but, perhaps more 
>importantly, snuffs out embryonic forms of new cultural 
>politics which might transcend these divisions.
>Images of an anti-nationalist elite in Slovakia, surely the 
>worst non-war regime in the region, content to run their 
>literary magazines funded by Uncle George, eschewing 
>direct criticism of the regime ... and of the leading theatre 
>director in Albanian and Macedonian languages in 
>Macedonia heading (I think the term is Executive Director) 
>the Open Society Foundation which meant performing 
>closed society tasks of sitting behind a computer tracing 
>budget lines and project proposals, continue to trouble me.
>I have begun to liken all of this to a sausage factory. All of 
>the diverse ingredients within a society, the composite 
>social movements, campaigns, artistic endeavours and so 
>on, are squeezed, more or less willingly, through the 
>sausage machine to become the NGO sausage. Of course, 
>the sausages taste different in different places, since the mix 
>of ingredients are very different. But they remain more 
>recognisable as part of the NGO sausage family than of 
>anything else. And, whilst this may be purist, I happen to 
>believe that the original ingredients contain more flavour. 
>Uncle George, in his self image a philanthropist, philospher 
>and entrepreneur, may be nothing more or less than a 
>sausage maker.  
>All of this begins to take on a great deal of importance if 
>Katherine Verdery's suggestion (in her book What Was 
>Socialism, and What Comes Next Princeton UP, 1996), 
>that the metaphor of feudalism is actually, with few (and 
>perhaps one could say ever fewer) exceptions, the best way 
>of understanding the reality of post-socialism in what 
>Uncle George and his foundations call 'the region'. What if 
>it is not 'open societies' which are being created but mini-
>states controlled by mafias in which personalism and 
>patronage combine with the exclusion of outsiders, the 
>'alien others', and in which there is a fundamental lack of 
>clarity about where government and authority reside. 
>What if post-socialism can be seen as some kind of new 
>feudalism in the age of globalism in which a new 
>transnational city state elite, armed with modems and 
>laptops, are able to escape (at least virtually) the daily trials 
>of everyday existence. It is exactly these everyday local 
>realities which I see as untouched by Uncle George's 
>financial construction of the 'data East' with the notable 
>exception of zamir bbs which precisely connects local, 
>regional and global networks in a specific crisis context.
>The question, at least sociologically, becomes how to 
>analyse what I want to term, as neutrally as possible!, 
>Uncle George's mafia, and to discuss ways in which they, 
>perhaps I mean we, can be accountable, and to whom.
>## CrossPoint v3.02 ##
Inke Arns * Pestalozzistr. 5 * D-10625 Berlin * Germany
Tel / Fax + 49 - 30 - 313 66 78 *

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