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Category: Books and Reviews

A western in Warsaw

A Covert Action. Reagan, the CIA, and the Cold War Struggle in Poland. By: Seth G. Jones. Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2018.

When on December 13th 1981 the Polish communist leader Wojciech Jaruzelski introduced Martial Law in Poland, Ronald Reagan, the US president at that time, was vacationing at Camp David. The interpretation of this fact still remains ambiguous today: were the Americans surprised by the decision of the Polish communist authorities? Or was the president’s weekend outing a demonstration of his peace of mind? This question remains unanswered, even though it is widely known that the defecting Polish Colonel, Ryszard Kukliński, had informed the CIA about the communists’ plans to introduce Martial Law. Why, in that case, did the Americans not warn the Polish underground?

March 4, 2019 - Andrzej Brzeziecki

Inspirations and lessons for an oppressed world

The Final Act: The Helsinki Accords and the Transformation of the Cold War. By: Michael Cotey Morgan. Publisher: Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2018.

Many lessons and inspirations for our troubled times can be drawn from the Cold War. For example, we learnt that fascism has many outfits. Communism showed that even the humanist, enlightened pursuit of utopia leads to totalitarianism, as long as it is based on a philosophy that counters rather than values political, social and basic human diversity. Similarly, we saw that we should take ideology seriously. This lesson is particularly important for us today, in the world of Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orbán, Bashar al-Assad, Xi Jingping, Donald Trump, and Nicolás Maduro.

March 4, 2019 - Jordan Luber

An iron will

Prebijem sa! Štefánik. Muž železnej vôle (I shall prevail! Štefánik – a Man of Iron Will). By: Jozef Banáš. Publisher: Ikar, Bratislava, 2018.

“Were we not to follow the path of truth and prove worthy of the good and the work you have done on our behalf, we would kill you. Were we to act selfishly in seeking our own prosperity instead of the nations, we would kill you. Were we to search for the meaning of life in material things, in money, food and physical escapades that are all soul-destroying, we would kill you. Were we to love lies more than truth, were we not to purge our private and public lives of evil, we would kill you. Were we to lose our national consciousness and pride, we would kill you.”

These were the touching words of Evangelical Bishop Samuel Zoch at Milan Rastislav Štefánik’s funeral on May 11th 1919 in Bradlo, close to the general’s native village of Košariská in western Slovakia. The Czechoslovak government in Slovakia – which had to fight for its survival until the Treaty of Versailles would grant recognition of the new state and its southern borders – demonstrated its gratitude with a state funeral and a beautiful sepulchre (mohyla) that was worthy of a king.

March 4, 2019 - Josette Baer

A booze smuggler’s metamorphosis into the Righteous Among Nations

A review of The Mover. A film written and directed by Dāvis Sīmanis. Released in Latvia, October 2018.

“Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.” No, I am not quoting from Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning film Schindler’s List (1993), although it has popularised the saying. Actually this quote, taken from the Talmud, is the leitmotif of the recent Latvian film The Mover, directed by Dāvis Sīmanis. Though the quote is never mentioned in the movie, it stays in the back of your mind all the time. The Mover is a film based on the true story of Žanis Lipke and his family, who risked their lives to save more than 50 Jews in Latvia during the Second World War, and were later honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

March 4, 2019 - Solveiga Kaļva

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

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