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To challenge Putin’s regime

The Kremlin has nothing to offer Russian citizens except stability without economic growth and no clear perspective. This will eventually bring down Vladimir Putin’s regime. The opposition, however, is not yet fully ready to take power when that happens.

“Yes, Putin has many shortcomings, but there is no alternative to him.” I have heard this phrase in Russia countless times, from shopkeepers and artists, to professors of physics and retirees. I read it in Russian (mostly) state-controlled media. Nevertheless, I am surprised every time I hear it. “Well, of course not,” I usually reply. “After all, Putin takes all necessary steps so that no alternative will arise.” It is the main goal that the giant state propaganda machine, special services, heads of Russian regions and ordinary officials pursue 24 hours a day. Nineteen years after Vladimir Putin was first elected as president, the argument that there is no alternative illustrates only one thing: the absence of democracy in Russia. For many years, the country has been stuck with an authoritarian regime that has all but eliminated political competition and blocked any attempts to change the system. This is the regime’s strength as well as its weakness. Using an expression coined by leading Russian political analyst Lilia Shevtsova, the increasingly authoritarian regime needs a democratic form of legitimisation – this is the main political contradiction of the current regime in Moscow.

February 26, 2018 - Konstantin Eggert

Russia’s generation P

Russian digital natives have espoused a national identity that unites several governmentally sponsored narratives. The question, however, is how long Putin’s appeal to the younger generations will last. Even though they have not known anybody else in power, they might still be willing to trade great power aspirations for fresh tomatoes in winter.

With the presidential election looming, few people in Russia doubt that Vladimir Putin will remain the president. Google has already proclaimed Putin to be the winner. The Russian president might no longer enjoy 80 per cent support, but he is still by far the most popular politician in the country. A generation that has never known anyone else in power is now entering adulthood. And members of “Generation P” are going to vote this spring.

February 26, 2018 - Elizaveta Gaufman

In the name of Matilda

The controversy surrounding the recent Russian film Matilda reveals a great deal about Russian society today. While the film, billed as a big-budget historical romance of Tsar Nicholas II, fails to impress, the social sensitivities that have emerged as a result of the debate on the film illustrate a dangerous rise in extreme nationalist sentiments that may soon be beyond the Kremlin’s control.

Alexei Uchitel’s film Matilda (released in October 2017) was the most discussed cinematographic event in Russia last year. Similarly, strong emotions were generated in 2014 when the director Andrey Zvyagintsev released his Russian tragedy film, Leviathan. Both productions were accompanied by scandals and received widespread media attention. Admittedly, there is a fundamental difference between the two films. While the latter is a mature piece of artwork (one that tackles the profound problem of the citizen-state relationship), the former has very little to offer, both in terms of content and aesthetics. Assumedly, had there not been a scandal surrounding the release, the world would probably never have learnt about Matilda.

February 26, 2018 - Zbigniew Rokita

Russia’s Middle East crusade

Russia’s growing influence in the Middle East is a result of the United States’ lack of strategy in the region. Through its engagement in Syria, Moscow seeks a return to the first league of global players.

In mid-December 2017 Vladimir Putin unexpectedly visited the Hmeimim air base, southwest of the Syrian city of Latakia. He was the first president of a major power to visit the war-torn Syria since the conflict began seven years ago. The visit resembled a victory parade. While the level of triumphalism was clearly over the top, as Syria is still immersed in the fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, Putin, two years after sending his troops, can deem his endeavour a success.

February 26, 2018 - Paweł Pieniążek

How Russia could leave Crimea

The illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation is becoming a huge burden on the Russian economy and is limiting its modernisation potential. Therefore, one could speculate that a post-Vladimir Putin Russia may decide to undo the process of annexation in order to gain access to much-needed western investment and development aid. If such a scenario unfolds, there are some tools that already exist that could help ease the painful process of a Russian withdrawal.

Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea has resulted in damaging sanctions on the country as well as political isolation. Under the sanctions, Russia lost its potential for economic development and the annexation has hindered its modernisation. Nevertheless, the Kremlin continues to increase its military presence on the peninsula and refuses to backtrack on the issue. Since the Russian authorities believe the international community is not united on the issue, they believe that recognition of Crimea as Russian territory is only a matter of time.

February 26, 2018 - Pavel Luzin

The politicisation of Russian youth

In Russia, within the younger generation, a politically sensitive “subgroup” has formed and has been growing since 2010. It is no longer just Vladimir Putin's generation, but also the generation of Alexei Navalny and YouTube.

After the protests on the Maidan in Ukraine, the “electro-Maidan” in Armenia and especially Russia’s anti-corruption rallies in the spring and summer of last year, a debate about a new generation of post-Soviet youth has flared up in the media. Is it true that this new generation is more radical than the previous one? Why didn’t young people participate in politics before? How can we describe the life of the modern post-Soviet youth and are they able to finally build a democratic civil society in the post-Soviet space?

January 2, 2018 - Svetlana Erpyleva

Russia’s young and restless speak up

Today’s young Russian generation was born in the mid to late 1990s. They grew up with the internet and mobile phones. They witnessed the country grow rich and believed they too would receive the benefits of oil revenue and live happily. But alas it has turned out that the internet is censored, the benefits are gone and they are not going to get much in life.

In early 2017 Alexei Navalny announced that he will run against Vladimir Putin in 2018. In less than a year, he managed to raise, through crowdfunding, 200 million Russian roubles (roughly three million euros), which is an unprecedented amount for a Russian politician. He opened 80 headquarters across the country and organised a series of protest rallies that were attended in March and June 2017 by tens of thousands of people. These demonstrations were the first mass gatherings that swept across Russian provinces (some were organised even in small towns) since the 1990s.

Barriers and restrictions, attempts to discredit the demonstrations, media censorship and attacks by thugs did not deter the protestors. What is more, it was clear, starting with the first March rally, that a large number of the protesters were very young. They were primarily high school students and teenagers. This is a fairly new situation for the protest scene in Russia.

January 2, 2018 - Anastasia Sergeeva

Rewriting Russian history

The battle for the future shape of Russia’s education system is now in full swing. Not only is the Kremlin increasing its control over what it considers the correct version of the past, there are also signs of a gradual ideological return to promote the glorification of Joseph Stalin.

In 2015 the 70th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany was celebrated in grand style. During that time, a larger than usual number of Stalin monuments was erected in several cities especially in south-western parts of the country upon the proposal of the communist party. The communists’ call came after a 2014 law passed by the Duma introduced a criminal penalty for rehabilitating Nazism and criticising Soviet activities during the Second World War. The law stipulates up to five years in prison for “lying about history”. Similar steps have been taken with regards to teaching history in schools.

January 2, 2018 - Dagmara Moskwa

Ukraine’s wartime education reform

In the autumn of 2017, Ukraine passed an education reform law. Its passing caused strong reactions of neighbouring states, especially Hungary, Russia, Bulgaria and Romania as well as commentators in Western Europe. Yet, these arguments largely represent an ideological narrative without any proper understanding of the provisions in the new legislation.

On September 28th 2017 Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed the long awaited educational reform into law. Unexpectedly, some of the provisions were met with sharp criticism by neighbouring states. The issue that caused the biggest dispute was related to the language of instruction in the classrooms of ethnic minority communities in Ukraine. The passing of the law, and the international reaction it received, confirmed the still low level of understanding between European Union states and Ukraine and further revealed other conflicts that lie under the surface.

The law introduces serious changes within the education system. Ukrainian children are now required to attend school for 12 years and the law foresees changes in the system of organisation of school networks, their financing and instruction. The authors of the reform stress that its consistent introduction will lead to a decentralisation of education

January 2, 2018 - Wojciech Siegień

Education reform put to the test

Druzhkivka, a small industrial town in eastern Ukraine, is one of the testing grounds for the new system of schooling recently introduced in the country. The ceremony marking the beginning of the school year in a Druzhkivka school, which is now part of a wider network of base schools, was attended by Lilia Hrynevych, the education minister. It was also watched via live stream by Petro Poroshenko who, at the same time, was opening a new base school in Pokrovsks.

Druzhkivka is a small town in eastern Ukraine with a population of around 58,000. The city is the second to last railway stop on the Donbas-Kyiv route. Located just 18 kilometres from Kramatorsk, it can be easily reached by the local bus service, which is a popular way for the residents of Druzhkivka to commute. Between April and June 2014 the city was under the control of pro-Russian separatist forces. Even though tensions were not as strong as they were in the nearby Sloviansk, the town had its share of victims, with an Orthodox priest among them.

January 2, 2018 - Kateryna Pryshchepa

How can the West promote an East-Central European security alignment?

Western decision-makers should signal to the new East-Central European NATO and EU member countries that they can, and should, engage in cross-border multilateral coalition building with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. There is an urgent need for institutional structures that will make Eastern Europe’s grey zone, between Russia and the West, less grey.

Most interpretations of the current geopolitical instability in Eastern Europe focus on the intricacies of the region’s peculiar past, recent resurgent Russian imperialism and Ukraine’s specific significance for the Kremlin. While these and similar approaches address important themes, many such explanations tend to miss, or dismiss, the first and foremost cause and crucial aspect of the issue at hand. The current international crisis in Eastern Europe has arisen due to concerns over the East European institutional structure – or lack thereof. One can easily explain and assess the current tensions in Eastern Europe without much knowledge about the region by simply pointing to the organisational underdevelopment of post-Soviet international relations.

January 2, 2018 - Andreas Umland

Belarus’s complicated memory

Belarus has no institutionalised historical policy. The myths that are used in forming official historical policy today are largely shaped by the previous Soviet ones as well as the official state ideology, which places the Belarusian president at its core.

A characteristic feature for many post-Soviet states is a need to develop their own national historical policy, or politics of memory. This is a way to present societies with an adequate image of the past and confirm a collective identity. Belarus is no different in this regard. Unlike its neighbouring states, however, it has one more goal to achieve: it needs to create a shared national identity in a newly independent state.

It is quite noticeable that even though a quarter century has passed since regaining independence, Belarus has still not created its own, common historical policy, nor has it built a widely accepted national identity. That is why the fragmentation of historical memory, as well as the ideological and political disputes that accompany it, are present in today’s Belarus.

January 2, 2018 - Maxim Rust

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