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Category: Books and Reviews

Film as a counternarrative

A review of Donbas. A film written and directed by Sergey Loznitsa. Released in Ukraine, October 2018.
It has been nearly five years since the start of hybrid war in Donbas, which has come to resemble something of a frozen conflict in eastern Ukraine. And it is since the separatists, backed by Russian military forces, captured Debaltseve – rather than the Minsk II Accords – that the conflict has evolved into a low-intensity positional fire exchange.

January 2, 2019 - Jakub Bornio

A reflection of the modern populist

A review of Orbán. Europe’s New Strongman. By: Paul Lendvai. Publisher: Hurst & Company. London, United Kingdom, 2018.

At the end of November last year, a video of a meeting between Chuck Norris, the legendary Hollywood action film star, and Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s prime minister, went viral. The video depicts the meeting of the two figures and includes a scene where Orbán is driving Norris (and his wife Gena O'Kelley) to visit a counter-terrorism training centre. During the drive, Orbán admits to Norris, "I am a street fighter, basically. I’m not coming from the elite. I’m coming from a small village 40 kilometres from here."

January 2, 2019 - Adam Reichardt

The liberating holiday of Sânziene

A review of Bottled Goods. By Sophie van Llewyn. Publisher: Fairlight books, Oxford, United Kingdom, 2018.

Sânziene is a Romanian word for fairy. It comes from the Latin word Sancta Diana, the name of the ancient Roman goddess of the hunt and the moon. She watches over women during Sânziene, and her holiday has been celebrated in the western Carpathians since the time of Roman Dacia (ancient Romania). The yearly festivities on June 24th have claimed its place in Romanian folklore, associated with girls and women in white dresses looking for flowers that they can use to make crowns. Then they dance around a fire, jumping over the embers, to cleanse themselves and gain magical powers. Finally, they throw the crowns they made from the flowers over the houses. When a crown lands on the roof there will be a good harvest and wealth, if it falls on the ground there will be death. The protagonist of Sophie van Llewyn’s novel Bottled Goods takes part in this long forgotten ritual, which was illegal to practice in communist Romania.

January 2, 2019 - Kinga Gajda

A tribute to Nemtsov

A review of Boris Nemtsov and Russian Politics: Power and Resistance. Edited by: Andrey Makarychev, and Alexandra Yatsyk. Publisher: Ibidem-Verlag (part of the series SPPS edited by: Andreas Umland), Vol. 181, Stuttgart, 2018.

When I hear the name Boris Nemtsov, Russia’s alternative history often comes to my mind. I ask myself: what would today’s Russian Federation look like if there were more people like him? I then imagine the 1990s, when privatisation was performed in a more legal way so it could not become – as the Russians called it – prichvatisation (in English the word prichat means "capture") and the free market was seen as something more than an opportunity to make the rich even richer, and that democracy was not associated only with chaos.

January 2, 2019 - Agnieszka Legucka

We had a dream

A review of From Cold War to Hot Peace. By: Michael McFaul. Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.

It goes without saying that the United States and Russia are facing a new reality in bilateral relations. The cause behind this is not only the lack of common values but the fact that both sides seem to hold different visions of the world. In the case of the current Trump administration, this vision is not clear to read or understand. Yet not that long ago when relations between the old enemies were different, co-operation was closer. All this was taking place within the framework of the reset which was pursued by the Obama administration. Reflecting on this new opening today, a few questions arise. Namely: what was behind the change in US policy towards Russia, and why was it implemented?

January 2, 2019 - Jan Brodowski

The essence of Central Asia

A review of Buran. Kirgiz wraca na koń. (Buran. Kyrgyz gets back on the horse). By: Wojciech Górecki. Publisher: Wydawnictwo Czarne, Sękowa, Poland, 2018.

Wojciech Górecki, who is one of the most talented Polish reporters covering Eastern Europe and Central Asia, has just released a new book. Interestingly it comes out half a century after another Polish reporter, Ryszard Kapuściński (often nicknamed the “Cesar of reporting”) travelled to the most exotic republics of the then Soviet Union: Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. In his ventures, Górecki visited the same places as Kapuściński.

January 2, 2019 - Zbigniew Rokita

Postcolonialism in the Soviet Bloc

A review of Socjalistyczny postkolonializm. Rekonsolidacja pamięci (Socialist Postcolonialism: Memory Reconsolidation). By: Adam F Kola. Publisher: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Mikołaja Kopernika, Toruń, Poland, 2018.

During the latter half of the 1980s I was a student of English language philology and literature at the University of Silesia in Katowice. Through assigned readings we were introduced to the western discourse of postcolonialism, but the lecturers took care to not operationalise these analytical instruments for any research on books and essays written and published in communist Poland or the Soviet bloc. Some conclusions that we could arrive at about our own communist regime might be ideologically dangerous for ourselves and our tutors. When communism collapsed in 1989 and the Soviet Union broke up two years later, the imageries and analytical approaches of postcolonialism suddenly began to make much sense to my colleagues and myself.

November 5, 2018 - Tomasz Kamusella

A fresh look at political culture in Russia and Ukraine

A review of Ukraine and Russian Neo-Imperialism: The Divergent Break. By: Ostap Kushnir. Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham MD, USA, 2018.

Ukrainian political culture presents an intriguing and rather unique case for analysis. Often a cause for debate, its origin and development, influenced by the rigorous winds of history and political geography, are not easy to grasp or apprehend. The complexities of the country’s relations with Russia, in particular, tend to leave the outside observer in a state of bewilderment. This response tends to lead to an overgeneralisation and simplification of the problem, which does not contribute to finding good solutions. Ostap Kushnir’s new book, Ukraine and Russian Neo-Imperialism: The Divergent Break, does not aim to add further complexity. On the contrary, it seeks to deconstruct the phenomenon and replace confusion with clarity.

November 5, 2018 - Margaryta Khvostova

Countering the realists on Russia and Ukraine

A review of The Sources of Russia’s Great Power Politics: Ukraine and the Challenge to the European Order. By: Taras Kuzio and Paul D’Anieri. Publisher: E-International Relations, Bristol, England, 2018.

Since the onset of Russian aggression in Ukraine in early 2014, there has been a plethora of works dedicated to the conflict, its impact on the West and the liberal world order, and Russia’s motives in pursuing such a bold strategy. Ukraine Crisis: What it Means for the West by Andrew Wilson and Russia and the New World Disorder by Bobo Lo are just a few (excellent) examples that seek to bring light to the ways in which the conflict in Ukraine is affecting international politics.

November 5, 2018 - Daniel Jarosak

Past Continuous: Is Bandera replacing Lenin?

A review of Past Continuous: Історичнаполітика 1980-х-2000-х: Українатасусіди, (Past Continuous: Political History 1980s-2000s: Ukraine and its neighbours). By: Georgiy Kasyanov. Publisher: Laurus, Kyiv, 2018.

Historical policy is among the most discussed issues in post-Maidan Ukraine, and the discussion goes beyond Ukrainian borders. Important changes have taken place since 2014, namely decommunisation and the glorification of Ukrainian nationalism – including the controversial leader of Ukrainian nationalists, Stepan Banders, who is generally considered an extremist. This generates heated discussion outside Ukraine.

November 5, 2018 - Marek Wojnar

A miracle from the inside

A review of Wszyscy ci wspaniali chłopcy i dziewczyny. Osobista historia czeskiego kina. (All the bright young men and women: a personal history of the Czech cinema). By: Josef Škvorecký. Polish edition published by Wydawnictwo Pogranicze, Sejny, 2018.

This year the Polish publishing house Pogranicze published the first translation of Josef Škvorecký’s work on Czech cinematography – a book like no other. Hence four decades after it was original published it is worth reflecting on this book. Škvorecký, the author of the book, left Czechoslovaka in 1969, first heading to the United States and later to Canada where he spent the rest of his life.

November 5, 2018 - Maciej Robert

A welcome addition to North Caucasus scholarship

A review of From Conquest to Deportation: The North Caucasus under Russian Rule. By: Jeronim Perovic. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Oxford, United Kingdom, 2018.

September 1, 2018 - Neil Hauer

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