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openDemocracy, an editorial update

David Hayes
18 December 2007

This report covers the period from 23 October to 11 December 2007; a relatively short span of seven weeks, in comparison with the previous report. But though brief, the phase has been exceptionally busy, as the team have settled into new premises at London's Grays Inn Rd and continued or launched the range of editorial projects and partnerships to which we are committed.

A feature of the period has been the high profile of the sections and partner projects that have a regular place on the openDemocracy front-page as well as their own homepages. These are:

terrorism.openDemocracy.net - Kanishk Tharoor's sharp daily security digests are supplemented by regular commissioned articles and interviews. The period saw the first of what will become a regular series of seminars in cooperation with the new International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR), in which Anatol Lieven delivered an enthralling survey of recent events in Pakistan; this was recorded and turned into an excellent podcast

David Hayes is deputy editor of openDemocracy

Also in this series:

"Iraq: the best of openDemocracy, 2002-04" (30 June 2004)

"openDemocracy's five years: the editorial story" (12 May 2006)

"The media and openDemocracy: the garage tapes" (12 May 2006)

"openDemocracy, an editorial report" (22 June 2007) - covering the period 17 April - 19 June 2007

"openDemocracy, an editorial digest" (25 October 2007) - covering the period 20 June - 23 October 2007

OurKingdom - the conversation on the future of the British state and political communities continues to display exceptional vigour and verve. Its lively daily blog (already cited as essential reading in a number of high-profile print publications) is sustained by the strong, witty commentary of Jon Bright and Anthony Barnett, and it ingathers daily comments and presentations from many political activists and commentators on subjects as diverse as Welsh voting systems, the ID card controversy, judicial activism, post-devolution England, the reconfiguration of Irish politics and the great New Labour crack-up

▪ 50:50 - the focus of the team of Jane Gabriel, Jessica Reed and Grace Davies in the period has been the 16 Days project, which highlights and discusses the issue of violence against women around the world and in all its forms. The impressive internationalism of the coverage is reflected in contributions from Turkey, Ghana, Iran, Bangladesh and many other countries; the wide-ranging daily blog and accompanying articles have been the foundation of a distinctive offering which complements the ongoing collaborative project on "pathways to women's empowerment"

▪ Russia - a new openDemocracy partner project is yet to get fully underway, but a soft launch during an unmissable phase of Russian politics has seen its editor Hugh Barnes post analyses of the Duma election in the oDToday blog

In addition, the Global Deal project was initiated at short notice; a partnership with the environmental consultancy E3G arranged for the experienced analyst David Steven to blog from the Bali climate-change conference as the leading edge of a forward-thinking plan to track the next great challenge of climate-change diplomacy.

Commissioned articles

Alongside these developments, the central part of the main website has continued to publish material on a wide variety of topics that reflect both the principal events of global politics in the period and the pursuit of our core and evolving editorial ideas. In total, the period has seen 116 articles published on the front page.

Global politics

The major events of the period have included the tumult in Pakistan, tension followed by unexpected release between the United States and Iran, a flurry of diplomacy in the middle east, and the passing of the deadline to decide the constitutional status of Kosovo.

All have been to some degree reflected in our commissioned material. Pakistan has been a particular focus: articles have included Irfan Husain on the return of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and the manoeuvres of Pervez Musharraf; Shaun Gregory on the president's calculations on prolonging his rule and why they may be stymied from within the army or by the Americans; Saskia Sassen on the politics of public space in Lahore; Ayesha Siddiqa on the importance of the army to the Pakistani state and polity; and Salman Raja on why the lawyers are at the centre of the political and constitutional struggle.

Elsewhere in south Asia, Manjushree Thapa has marked a year since the peace deal in Nepal with a sobering assessment of the manipulations of the Maoists and the political myopia of the Kathmandu professional elites; and Ajai Sahni connected the bombs in Uttar Pradesh to Islamist militancy and local protest in West Bengal to portray the deficiencies of Indian security policy.

In China, Li Datong's fortnightly column continues to present an unillusioned portrait of the blocked, frustrated and alienated politics that China's economic modernisation cannot conceal; the subjects include his reports of the factional rivalries around the Communist Party's seventeenth congress, the argument for a unique Chinese path to modernity, and the spaces for media integrity in a state of authorised communication.

Rod Tiffen sent a marvellously detailed and cogent article on the reasons why John Howard's long hegemony in Australia ended, and Charles K Armstrong's lucid narrative of the prehistory of the North Korea nuclear crisis concluded that the latest deal represented a diplomatic triumph for the embattled Pyongyang regime.

Amid the grind of an already unavoidable United States election campaign, several of our writers have raised sights to look at long-term trends: among them Fred Halliday's counterintuitive scepticism about the imminence of any US decline; Godfrey Hodgson's questioning of whether 2008 will be a sea-change year in an ideological terms, James A Morone & Lawrence R Jacobs on the chances of major reform in US healthcare policy, and Paul Rogers's acute argument that a polarised presidential landscape may postpone the chances of a settlement in Iraq.

One of our writers, however, finds the 2008 race even less unavoidable than we do: after a series of forensic, excoriating columns dissecting these years of Republican hegemony and folly (as well as brilliantly illuminating the state of American journalism in a long piece on Walter Lippman), Sidney Blumenthal is taking a break to work on Hillary Clinton's campaign team.

Latin America continues to experience an era of extraordinary political ferment, and we have continued our extensive analyses of its search for new forms of political community. Celia Szusterman followed Cristina Kirchner's election with a cool look at the results and the problems "king and queen penguin" will face in coming years; Ana Carrigan investigated the hostage issue in Colombia and the scandals that surround it with immense care; Cecilia Sardenberg examined the question of abortion rights in an increasingly conservative Brazil; Arthur Ituassu drew lessons from the impact of a smash-hit violent cops-vs-gangs thriller for Brazil's social morality; Juan Gabriel Tokatlian tracked the failure of the "war on drugs" in the continent and called for a new model to address the crime-narcotics complex; and John Crabtree made sense of the latest developments in Bolivia's complex but absorbing efforts to draft a new constitution embodying unprecedented recognition of the country's indigenous majority.

The Bolivarian revolution of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela continues its tumultuous course. Justin Vogler wrote an insightful piece on the public spat between Chávez and the king of Spain at the Santiago summit, while Stephanie Blankenburg - now working for Venezuela's vice-president as an economic adviser - delivered a rich, thoughtful, melancholy, quietly partisan and honest account of the reasons why Chávez's side narrowly lost the referendum on constitutional reform.

In Europe, Juan Garrigues reported from Kosovo on the troubled preparations for qualified and disputed independence, while Ginanne Brownell spoke to Serbs who were apprehensive about the prospect of the remaining ties with Belgrade being sundered. In a Georgia where Mikheil Saakashvili has faced a stern test of his claims to democratic leadership, Alexander Rondeli explained the background to the protest wave that precipitated early elections and Robert Parsons of France24 offered a more sympathetic account of the dilemmas of power and the contradictions of Georgian opposition.

The approach to the Bali climate-change conference saw articles by Camilla Toulmin arguing for an urgent step-change in global concern; Tom Burke on the logic of immediate action and responsibility-taking; and Alejandro Litovsky on the importance of seeking a new international climate-governance regime. David Shearman, however, warned that democracy itself might be incapable of the decision-making and authority capacities needed to address the problem of global warming.

Krzysztof Bobinski interpreted the Polish election turnaround as a generational shift of real significance, while Neal Ascherson reminded readers that the Kaczynski twins nonetheless represented a Polish interest and sentiment that was far from negligible. Ann-Christina L Knudsen produced a fine analysis of the twists of a Danish election that was far more interesting than the result might have suggested. Patrice de Beer continued to follow the first months of Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency with a wary and mordant eye. Fred Halliday's presence at the verdict in the case of the 11M bombing trial in Madrid produced a fine tribute to the Spanish response to terrorism.

In Britain, Paul Rogers returned to the waste and strategic misdirection of defence policy in the absence of understanding that a new vision of "sustainable security" is needed; Piers Brendon drew on his new book to offer a moral balance-sheet of empire; Sandra Bell responded to the data-loss scandal by locating the argument over the state's information-gathering in confusions about the uses of information; and Christopher Harvie grounded the argument for Scotland's independence in underlying economic and developing strategic realities.

In Russia, Anna Sevortian lifted the pre-election gloom with a modestly optimistic piece about the active young single-issue campaigning around HIV/Aids which has generated new opportunities for training and expertise for a generation of activists. Shaun Walker lamented the apathy of educated young Russians about official politics, while Russia's new day of national unity was the occasion for Zygmunt Dzieciolowski's entertaining reflection on the changing calendar of official celebration since Soviet times.

European politics at union level was dominated by the final phase of the reform treaty's preparations. Ivan Krastev & Mark Leonard of the new European Council of Foreign Relations wrote an article based on new opinion-poll research of the world's views and expectations of Europe; while Mats Engström and Johnny Ryan took a close look at the political sensitivities and technological dangers of Europe's increasingly integrated internal-security policy.

The coverage of the global financial crisis continued with Avinash D Persaud on the long-term decline of the dollar and the prospects for an alternative reserve currency, and Ann Pettifor on a hidden debt crisis that has explosive implications for the global arteries of economic life.

Conflicts

The dynamic of the Iranian nuclear crisis was the subject of articles by Omid Memarian and Nasrin Alavi (explaining the machinations of the Iranian regime, especially the replacement of Ali Larijani by Saeed Jalili as chief nuclear negotiator); Paul Rogers continued to warn of the possibility of war in the Gulf "by accident"; and Jan De Pauw and (again) Nasrin Alavi responded to the astonishing US intelligence report with quick-fire but detailed and considered analyses which emphasised the need for caution and grounding argument on evidence.

At a moment when a Turkish incursion into Kurdish Iraq in response to PKK provocations seemed a real possibility, Soner Cagaptay and Safa A Hussein outlined the lineaments of possible peaceful resolutions of the crisis; and Gunes Murat Tezcur took a longer and subtle view of Kurdish politics inside Turkey to argue for long-term accommodation on the basis of a politics of democratic recognition.

The long approach to the Annapolis peace conference was marked by a strong article by Khaled Hroub arguing against Palestinian attendance; Mariano Aguirre & Mark Taylor's piece itemising the imbalance of forces and calling for a more active European role; David Seidemann's focus on Jerusalem as the hardest issue in any peace negotiations; and El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan's major pre-summit presentation of the foundations of a settlement as seen by Amman.

Where politics meets economics, Tarek Osman sought the institutional factors that in the middle east were inimical to a culture of risk and entrepreneurialism.

In Africa, David Mugnier explained the intractability of the North Kivu conflict; Michael Holman lambasted the Commonwealth for its timidity in face of human-rights violations, and contrasted Zimbawean and Kenyan experience of post-independence land reform; Tristan McConnell reported from a little-known conflict in Niger; James McDougall delivered a tremendous scholarly polemic on Nicolas Sarkozy's imperial view of Africa; and Gérard Prunier dissected the febrile rhetoric of the Sudanese regime with skill and humour.

Ian Hodgson on World Aids Day reminded readers of the enduring stigma attached to those living with HIV. Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch saw a space for progress in the global campaign against cluster-bombs. The intimate brutality of domestic violence and other forms of violence against women was a shaping theme in several contributions to the 16 Days debate featured on the front page - including Takyiwaa Manuh on African responses, Rahila Gupta on the experience of domestic workers and asylum-seekers, and James R Mensch on violence as an assault on bodily integrity that raises profound philosophical issues.

Ideas

The transforming media landscape was the theme of several articles. Mark Vernon looked at the tensions between privacy and disclosure in the rise of social networks; Philip Bennett of the Washington Post regretted the disappearance of individual civilian experience and suffering from coverage of war and conflict; and Laura Kyrke-Smith gave an unusual perspective on the failures and opportunities of "information intervention" in post-conflict societies.

The burgeoning arguments over religion in public life were represented by Mark Vernon's close reading of Charles Taylor new work on secularism, and Olivier Roy's rethinking of French laicite and of secularism more generally in the context of Muslim affirmation in Europe.

Susan Bassnett presented a swingeing, almost-despairing and always compelling reflection on the purpose of education from inside Britain's super-instrumental culture. KA Dilday's columns included a measured response to the geneticist James Watson's effusions on race and intelligence. Avi Shlaim shared an inside view of the last-controversy-but-one at the Oxford Union regarding an abortive debate on the one-state solution in Israel-Palestine. .

The death of Norman Mailer was marked by Kasia Boddy with a fascinating inquiry into how the sport and the symbolism of boxing was a current in his work; Birgitta Steene celebrated the centenary of Astrid Lindgren with a warm, detailed account of how the universal appeal of the creator of Pippi Longstocking was rooted in a very local, Swedish world; and the theologian Christopher Rowland argued that the heart of William Blake's social radicalism lay in an imaginative use of biblical ideas and themes.

Jim Gabour's vital New Orleans columns continue, and are collected in openDemocracy's next quarterly digest, to become available early in the new year.

An appropriately uncategorisable feature was the set of tributes to mark the landmark birthday of openDemocracy's founder Anthony Barnett, including several longstanding and honoured contributors (Paul Gilroy, Mary Kaldor, Hugh Brody and Susie Orbach among them) as well as a stand-alone article from Tom Nairn that redefined the phrase "the personal is political".

This body of material represents a small slice of the effort of openDemocracy and our valued authors to make sense of and think through the complex present, while keeping the longer term always in sight.

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