Archive for March, 2022

Rereading “The Heart of Darkness”

Friday, March 11th, 2022

This blog will be a bit personal, but I believe it will make it more interesting. In the centre will be the book “The Heart of the Darkness”. It is a publication widely known in the area of colonial and postcolonial studies and was one of the first books that we were talking about in the first classes of the master´s programme. It makes it crucial. We spent quite some time discussing its meaning and relevance, and only at the end of our classes devoted to the book, did I realise I know the book. From where? It was a compulsory book when I was in high school, and during classes at LNU I was shocked to see how much I did not understand the book while reading it at school, and it made me think why, but also how it is possible that I was discussing the book that I have read without knowing it. Especially a book like this one.

The book is full of references and meanings, which as a teenager, who did not know the context, I was unable to understand. What do I remember from reading the book back then? That it was weird, mysteriously ridiculous and that it was the most confusing book that I had to read at school.

Having this book as compulsory must have been an important step to reveal the importance of literature and its message. Therefore, this blog does not aim to either prise or criticise this title for high schools students. On the other hand, it aims to present how the perspective can change and how interesting can be approaching the same book in different parts of our lives. Reading it now primarily gave me an understanding of the book, but I am curious to see how I will approach it, in let´s say, ten years and later.

Katarzyna Kiryluk

Imagined Refugees

Wednesday, March 9th, 2022

I write this post with a few caveats. First of all, the fact that war (and especially highly medialised ones, such as the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine) uncovers acts of racialised violence and generally deep-rooted patterns of colonialism. Secondly, in any fruitful discussion of a topic as traumatic existentialist as that of war, be it in an academic or non-academic setting, one should be able to hold more than one thought in one’s head at the same time. This is not intended as a form of gatekeeping by demanding a certain level of academic professionalism when expressing a thought on a topic, but it has become clear in the last few days (especially when opening Twitter), that the condemnation of war crimes committed by anyone other than Putin’s forces, is  directly anti-Ukrainian and (in some extreme cases) also an apology of everything bad that went down in the Soviet Union (yes, apparently Russia in 2022 is a commie dictatorship). So when I voice an opinion against some of the atrocities that are being committed by other actors than the Russians, this by no means is to serve as an apologetic stance towards the illegal invasion by Russia. With that out of the way, let us look at a particularly under-reported topic, which might seem slightly trivial, but indeed is symptomatic for the policy of Europeans nations on the matter of refugees.

Since the invasion which began on the 24th of February 2022, the international support for Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees has been overwhelming. Hitherto unprecedented economic sanctions (likened by some experts to economic warfare) has been put in place, not just by the West, but even by China. Countries, like Poland and Hungary, who earlier have expressed a, to put it mildly, firm stance against refugees, soon came with promises of being safe havens for the millions who fled the war. However, relatively soon, reports of gross racial violence against non-white Ukrainians and foreign students emerged. The accounts were brutal, and I find no reason to go into the gory details in this post but suffice to say that the UNHR issued a statement on the xenophobic violence (1).

While this form of brutality is nothing novel in war, and certainly not unique to this conflict, there is a certain case which caught my attention, and which demonstrates some of the more sinister and structural forms of racism in Europe.

The Nordic countries have, at least in terms of international standing, been regarded as relatively humane in their treatment of refugees. However, of these countries, Denmark has received quite a bit of criticism for passing laws aimed at altering the behaviour of non-ethnic Danes (read: Foucauldian bio power in its purest form). Among these were the controversial ‘Ghetto laws’ (2) and the insistence on people ‘shaking hands’ in a civilised matter when swearing the obligatory oath of loyalty to Denmark (3). These are certainly problematic in themselves, but there is one law which stood out: the jewellery law. It stipulates that the Danish state can confiscate any piece of jewellery possessed by asylum seekers who have passed through several “friendly” states to arrive in Denmark. It is a law, which now, might be revoked specially for Ukrainians.

Again, this is not a criticism of Ukrainians fleeing the war. I am personally for revoking the law. But I am also of the stout opinion that such a revocation should apply for everyone, and not, as in this case, as a loophole for certain people. It becomes, as I shall argue, a form of reversed state of exception (as postulated by Agamben) wherein the hastily inclusion of a demographic group becomes the variable which serves to highlight the exclusion of others. The controversial law which drew widespread international criticism (4) allows for the confiscation of valuables worth over 10.000 DKK and came in the wake of the 2015 refugee crisis. However, now the two biggest political parties in Denmark, the Social Democrats and Venstre (a market-liberal but quite value conservative ‘moderate’ party) are investigating the possibility for changing the law to exempt Ukrainians. It is as of now not yet clear whether this includes Ukrainians of colour. But what is clear is who it does not include: the Syrian refugees who was the primary target of the law when it was enacted in 2016.

The motivation for this, according to a spokesperson from the Social Democrats is that Denmark is a regional neighbour to Ukraine (5) (6). Another area being investigated is whether one could change the very law on asylum seekers, so as to circumvent ‘  flygtningeproblematikken’  (as a Dane myself, I would translate this as the ‘refugee issue’) in order to label Ukrainians not as asylum seekers, but a category for themselves (5). It has to be mentioned, that reports show that the jewellery law is seldomly, if ever, enforced. Yet it does highlight the categorisation, thinly veiled behind regional security policy, of certain peoples as wanted refugees against non-wanted refugees. And while I am all for opening the borders and supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression, it saddens me to see exactly how blatant the bias against refugees from what is deemed as the ‘periphery’ is. The state of exception in this case is a mechanism of power which becomes highly imperial in that it decides exactly who gets to live and who gets to die. It creates, as Agamben might have noted, the perfect homo sacer by imagining some people as legitimate refugees, and others as simply opportunistic.

Ejner Pedersen Trenter

Sources:

Land exploitation and violence against Indigenous women

Wednesday, March 9th, 2022

Yesterday was international women’s day. All over the world people demonstrated for women’s rights. An important issue when talking about women’s rights is of course the problem of violence against women. In the feminist discourse on violence against women, voices of Indigenous women are sometimes excluded.

In a brilliant article by Rauna Kuokkanen (2008), “Globalization as racialized, sexualized violence”, the overlaps and links between patriarchy, colonialism and capitalism is highlighted. Kuokkanen argues that economic globalization poses a threat of a multifaceted attack on the foundation of Indigenous peoples existence, in that capitalist exploitation of  Indigenous peoples’ territories further marginalize Indigenous peoples and undermine their right to self-determination (2008: 216). Indigenous women are the ones who bears the brunt of the violence that globalization entails. The increased pressures on  land displace Indigenous women from their roles and positions in their societies. This implies a shift in gender dynamics in Indigenous societies and disrupts the social fabric. As a result, women’s social status may diminish, making them more vulnerable to marginalization and exclusion (Kuokkanen, 2008:223).

The gendered violence embedded in patriarchy, colonialism and capitalism is multifaceted. It ranges from direct and interpersonal; to structural; to economic; to epistemic. Kuokkanen points out that  violence against women shouldn’t be analyzed as a result of inborn male sadism, but rather as a mechanism in process of ongoing “primitive acculumation”(2008:221-222). With this in mind, I turn the gaze towards globalization in Sápmi and the gendered violence it has brought to Sámi societies.

The violence Sámi women has bore the brunt of is not neccesarily physical or directly sexualized. It is structural, long term, and seemingly hard to discover.  When the 1928 reindeer grazing act was implemented in Sweden, it was presented as a solution to overpopulation of reindeer grazing lands and to land conflicts between Sámi and settler population in the north (Amft, 1999). A simplified explanation of the law and its effects is that it protected reindeer grazing lands from further overpopulation by constraining the group allowed to herd reindeer. In the law, a legal definition of Sáminess was created. The definition was not anchored in Sámi self-identification. With this definition, Sáminess was tied to reindeer herding, and reindeer herding was masculinized. This, in practice, meant that Sáminess was gendered: men and women were Sámi on different grounds. With the 1928 reindeer grazing act, Sámi womens position and role in reindeer herding societies changed. They were excluded and marginalized. In order for the colonizing state to gain control over traditional Indigenous lands, economic, epistemic, and reproductive violence against indigenous women played an important role. The gendering of Sáminess and the marginalization of Sámi women has had long term effects on the way Sámi women could participate in society.

When celebrating and or demonstrating for women’s rights on March 8 (and all other days of the year), we must remember that Indigenous women are the recievers of different kinds of violence brought by capitalist exploitation of Indigenous lands, both globally and here in Sweden. This should not just be a footnote in the struggle for women’s liberation going forward, but an integral part of how we strive to end violence against women.  

Alva Blomkvist

References:

  • Amft, Andrea (2000). Sápmi i förändringens tid: en studie av svenska samers levnadsvillkor under 1900-talet ur ett genus- och etnicitetsperspektiv. Diss. Umeå : Umeå universitet, 2000
  • Kuokkanen, Rauna, “Globalization as Racialized, Sexualized Violence – The Case of Indigenous Women.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 10.2 (June 2008): 216-233.