05. 04. 2006. 12:23

Eurozine: a European cultural journal

An interview with editor Simon Garnett

Eurozine, a network of Europe’s leading cultural journals, is an online magazine featuring texts taken from its partner journals on various pressing issues of our time, translated into English. HLO talked to editor Simon Garnett about the present, past and future of the magazine during the Budapest Book Festival.

Could you tell me a few words about the history of Eurozine?

Eurozine started out as an informal meeting of European journals whose editors had been meeting annually since 1983. Eurozine emerged as a well-defined organization in 1997, after it was decided at the conference in Moscow that continuity between the annual meetings needed to be established. The Internet was in the ascendant at that time, and the net magazine appeared as the network's natural medium. Eurozine now has fifty-five partners in thirty-two countries; the net magazine receives 150 000 individual readers a month and rising; and the "European Meeting of Cultural Journals" remains a central part of Eurozine's activity.

Appearing on the internet rather than in print form seems an obvious choice, if you want to reach the greatest number of people in various countries. But doesn’t the type of thing that you do – presenting points of view on various issues and generating debate – require sitting down in a comfortable chair with a drink and reading on for hours rather than sitting in front of the computer?

Yes, it is true that online content, on news sites especially, tends to be simpler and shorter than the same content in the print editions. What's more, the printed press - The Guardian for example - is adopting the form of online content platforms: shorter articles, less "black", a non-linear, "jumpy" feel to the read, and so on. Eurozine goes with this trend to an extent - eurozine.com is a large site, and navigation is designed to be as "intuitive" as possible; readers can get to what they want fast and via any number of routes, including receiving articles via RSS feed. We also publish a bi-weekly review of current issues, which readers can receive via email: it's written in a concise and upbeat style, includes images, and is very much an online publication.

As far as the articles are concerned, Eurozine's role is to provide an online platform for printed cultural journals, and is committed to publishing writing that requires a degree of time and concentration. We don't alter content for online publication as such. The digital medium is intended as a means of distribution for Eurozine, rather like an online library whose contents one can browse before borrowing. Articles have a print version option that produces a clean und uncluttered text: reading off the screen has its uses, however, for the extended read the print-out will be the preferred form for most people. So not only for reading in the armchair, but also the bath, beach, or cafe!

How can a journal become a partner journal of Eurozine? On what basis do you decide? Obviously, quality must be a condition, but what I would like to know is if you have an underlying agenda, political or cultural. In other words, where are the boundaries of your definition of a "cultural magazine"– would you accept articles from, say, a high quality communist or extreme rightist magazine, or, on the other hand, could a magazine on pop culture, again high quality, become your partner?

Partner journals are decided by the Eurozine editorial board, which is made up of four journal editors. Organs of the extreme Left or Right, or journals published by governmental agencies or business would not be taken on. Having said that, Eurozine doesn't exclude journals with an ideological commitment - that would be impossible, since all journals have a background and a raison d'etre: it's precisely this variety that makes the concept of a European public sphere an interesting one. There's a range of orientations amongst Eurozine partners. The Belarusian partner Arche, for example, takes a liberal-conservative line with regard to Belarusian cultural identity, a position that's in line with the politics of the Belarusian opposition, for whom "revolution" is about compatibility with European norms. This can broadly be said of all of Eurozine's partner journals published in the post-Soviet space since 1990, which originated in national independence movements and whose original mission was to contribute to the creation of a national civil society. Fifteen years down the line, these journals are suffering acute neglect in societies with economies far more de-regulated than anything that exists in western Europe. On the other hand, there is the French journal Multitudes, which, as its name suggests, takes its cue from Hardt and Negri. During the rioting in France last year, Multitudes unequivocally supported the rioters, whom it saw as a product of racist French Republicanism; the journal is declaredly activist, and advocates something like a twenty-first century version of the classical worker's revolution. And so on.

Another important thing to point out is that, in terms of the cultural journal, "Europe" is a pragmatic definition of the network's catchment area, which treats "Europe" in the broadest sense: there are Turkish partners, Balkan partners, a Russian partner, even an Israeli partner. Eurozine's policy is by no means to orient itself on Brussels, but to treat Europe's borders as porous, to avoid Eurocentrism, and to cooperate with journals in other areas of the world. Articles from our 2005 Istanbul conference, entitled "Only neighbours? Turkey and EUrope", exemplify that position.

Your question whether Eurozine takes on pop cultural magazines: while each journal has a different kind of content - ranging from literature and art through the social sciences to technology, they define culture in an inclusive sense, with a small "c" in other words. So articles and reviews on film, music, digital media, or mass culture in general appear regularly. If we received an interesting article on gaming, let's say, or football, or horror film, we would consider it as seriously as any other.

You claim on your website that "Eurozine opens up a new space for transnational debate". Do you actually manage to start debates on the issues you deal with? Isn’t there a danger that the website becomes a mere anthology, in the sense that all that happens in actual fact is that various points of view are stated and put side by side, so the reader can marvel at the cultural diversity of our good old continent? This is not yet debate – how do you make sure that Eurozine does not remain static? In other words, how do you contribute to the creation of a European public space, which is among your stated aims? Since your medium is the internet, an obvious idea that crops up is if you have thought of asking some people to write a blog on Eurozine.

Yes, we are very interested in developing Eurozine's participatory character. Having said that, there's a broad debate - that goes back to that between direct and representative democracy - about whether a meaningful public sphere is best fulfilled via a peer-review publication where contributions are filtered, or via blogs and comment boards, which create an unregulated space for a plethora of individual voices, and whose main value is primarily in participation per se. Articles come to Eurozine through a huge number of different channels, and each are the product of a debate that will continue beyond the articles' publication in Eurozine - that could be said of any print periodical consisting of multiple contributors, which are no more or less open to the "anthology" criticism. Yes, the blogosphere is taking on an increasing opinion-forming function, one Eurozine does not ignore - and we'll see what happens in that direction in the near future. But I'm not sure that open participation is the sine qua non of a publication, online or otherwise, whose aim is to contribute to the public debate. The publishing process has a traditional and effective role in steering and moderating debate; the possibilities for online participation, which can never claim to be absolutely egalitarian, doesn't make that role obsolete.

The "snowball effect" that very often takes place once an article has been published in Eurozine shows how debate that operates in this way takes place at a transnational level: an article submitted to Eurozine by editors of a journal in one country is read by editors of a journal in another, who then publish the article translation and offer the translation to Eurozine. For example, António Sousa Ribeiro's article "The reason of borders or a border reason" has been translated into Bosnian, Turkish, Portuguese, Macedonian and Italian; the article "Energizing the European public space" by Eurozine's editor-in-chief Carl Henrik Fredriksson has been translated into German, Estonian, French, Italian, Macedonian, Swedish and Turkish. It is the overlapping of the transnational with the national debate that Eurozine aims for, not the supremacy of the former!

Who edits Eurozine? When you choose a text for publication from your partner journals, on what basis do you decide? Do the partner editors give tips, or do they just hand in their table of contents? Do you sometimes commission them to write articles, or is it only their content they offer?

Articles in English, German, and French can be published without translation, since these languages are considered to have sufficiently wide currency. For journals publishing in those languages, the Eurozine editors decide, on the basis of the journal's suggestions, which articles we want to publish - it might tie in with an existing focal point or news item, or be interesting in its own right.
For articles originally in languages outside the "big three", the route varies. Sometimes the journal sends us a translation of an article its editors consider suitable; in that case, the journal will have commissioned the translation or the author will have written directly in English. Sometimes we will commission a translation on the basis of an abstract. And sometimes journals will send us original versions of articles that they have translated, which we then clear permission for and publish alongside the journal's translation. It's important to stress that Eurozine does not take any article automatically: occasionally, we have had to turn down articles that have been politically awkward - the hostility that exists in some post-Soviet states towards Russia, for example, sometimes makes itself felt in articles, which then can be difficult to publish in a transnational context. 

The journals themselves offer their content for free. As far as commissioning goes, most of our funds go toward translations - as a transnational platform for the partner journals, this is where Eurozine sees its role most clearly defined. However, for focal points, we do commission articles. For the first in the newly-launched "Literary perspectives" series, for example, we commissioned Gábor Csordás to write on the contemporary Hungarian novel.

Writing with an international audience in mind is very different from writing in your own language. There are certain authors who are known for speaking in a tongue many understand, and there are others whose ideas are lost in translation. Do you sometimes ask authors to rewrite articles for you that look very promising, but contain too many elements – facts, hints – that are incomprehensible for foreign readers? And does Eurozine have favourite authors?

Eurozine's favourite authors are the journals' favourite authors. There are around 700 authors in Eurozine, the minority of whom have more than three articles. You're right that some authors work better in an international context than others - author's who write directly into English as a second language generally have the international perspective built in. Having said that, there is the danger that articles produced with the international "market" in mind have had their cultural specificity "laundered out". When editing texts we try not to contribute to this process.

If we do make major changes or cuts we'll liaise with the journal editors; very occasionally we'll turn down texts for which we lack the resources to bring up to the necessary linguistic standard. With translations, we work with professional translators - they are the ones to provide notes or modify the content to an international readership.

What kind of ongoing projects do you have? Among your previous topics, which are those that were particularly successful or that you personally liked the most?

The "Neighbourhoods" focal point, which came out of last year's 18th European Meeting of Cultural Journals in Istanbul, has some very good articles which hit on a range of important topics: Turkey's EU accession and the enlargement process in general, the Armenian question and human rights in the twenty-first century, the legacy of the Ottoman Empire and the "clash of civilizations" debate. All these texts are original to Eurozine. Another very interesting feature is the news item on freedom of speech, a response to the recent Danish cartoon controversy. The bulk of texts here come from Eurozine's UK partner Index on Censorship, and represent a whole range of positions, from Kenen Malik, who argues for the social benefits of giving offence, to Tom Stoppard, who argues that the right to free speech cannot be claimed unconditionally. These articles are extremely lively and well written. And in the run-up to the elections in Belarus we concentrated heavily on the situation there, including bulletin-style updates on the arrest of opposition members with links to Eurozine. It was very satisfying to work with Arche towards contributing to what was probably the birth of a widespread European awareness about conditions in Belarus.

Concerning upcoming projects: we have two "Literary perspectives" in the pipeline: Denmark this month, followed by Ukraine in the summer. We are introducing an internal "syndication" scheme for "Literary perspectives", where participating journals will have first refusal on original articles. The idea behind is to bring back a model for the "re-transnationalization" of literary criticism, where the literary press in one country focuses on the literary scene in another - something that doesn't happen enough. Also to look out for will be the focal point "Friend or foe? Shared space, divided society", based on the Eurozine conference in London in September and co-hosted by Index on Censorship. Multiculturalism and its drawbacks, religion in the public sphere, the urban space, and surveillance will be among the topics raised.

When you have a topic, how do you make sure that you present the most perspectives possible – do you send a letter to your partners asking for contributions on a given topic or do you do research among your partner journals?

When planning a focal point, we will send out a call for papers and talk with the journal editors about their upcoming issues: most journals plan their issues around six months in advance. The core texts of a focal point will be published simultaneously; after that, related articles can be added. A good example is last year's "European histories" focal point, which coincided with the WWII sixtieth anniversary celebrations. The core texts here came from Osteuropa, a German partner, and Neprikosnovennij Zapas, our Russian partner; both also put out joint issues in German and Russian respectively. The collaboration allowed for a look at the differing national commemorative practices from both sides of the divide, as it were - resulting in a genuinely transnational publication. Afterwards, we continued to keep an eye out for articles that fitted the topic: as long as the discussion lasts the focal point will be open.

Who finances Eurozine? Do you have to apply for money constantly, or have you got long-term sponsors?

Eurozine is funded through a combination of public and private funding, which is more or less short-term, meaning that a year is about the longest in advance we can plan concretely. We have received funding from the European Commision Culture 2000 programme, the City of Vienna, the Austrian Ministry of Culture, and the European Cultural Foundation, among others. Eurozine's transnational scope tends to discourage public foundations, which define their remit in national terms, and commercial sponsors, for whom Eurozine would be an advertising opportunity, but again who define their markets in national terms. On top of that, we sell a limited amount of advertising space on the site, though that has yet to generate serious income.

Do you get any feedback from readers?

We are working on ways to get more feedback, including a reader survey. We also consult the journal editors themselves, reliable representatives of Eurozine's readership.

Tags: An interview with editor Simon Garnett