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Category: Interviews

The decline of the West and the joy in the East

Interview with Andrzej Chwalba, Polish historian and professor of history at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland. Interviewer: Andrzej Zaręba

ANDRZEJ ZARĘBA: The title of your book about the First World War is (Samobójstwo Europy) (The Suicide of Europe). Suicide suggests a certain will and a lack of determinism. Hence my first question: What would have happened on June 28th 1914 had Archduke Franz Ferdinand not been assassinated? Would war not have broken out?

ANDRZEJ CHWALBA: There were many assassination attempts on many important people at that time. There was no month without at least one assassination attempt. In the months before 1914 there were at least a dozen successful attempts, including the killing of the king of Serbia, the king of Italy, the Russian tsar, two US presidents as well as many prime ministers. Based on data from Austrian intelligence, there were eleven attempts to assassinate Franz Joseph – the goodhearted and beloved leader. There were attempts on Franz Ferdinand’s life as well – the June 1914 assassination, as we know, was the successful one.

November 5, 2018 - Andrzej Chwalba Andrzej Zaręba

Poetry, music, politics

A conversation with Tomasz Sikora, a Polish musician and member of Karbido. Interviewer: Zbigniew Rokita

ZBIGNIEW ROKITA: Your band Karbido has recorded several records with a symbol of Ukrainian literature – Yuri Andrukhovych. How did this co-operation between a band from Wrocław and a writer from Ivano Frankivsk begin?

TOMASZ SIKORA: It was actually by coincidence. Back in 2005 Serhiy Zhadan, Andriy Bondar and Yuri Andrukhovych were among some Ukrainian writers invited to a literature festival in Wrocław. The idea was that the poets would read their own poems on stage. However, the organisers were worried that the audience would fall asleep, so they suggested that our band create a musical background to keep people awake. Recitations of poetry do not stir much emotion in Poland – as I would later find out, public recitation or the singing of poetry is more engaging in Ukraine.

November 5, 2018 - Tomasz Sikora Zbigniew Rokita

The EU should take Belarus more seriously

An interview with Balázs Jarábik, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Interviewers: Iwona Reichardt and Daniel Gleichgewicht of New Eastern Europe

NEW EASTERN EUROPE: You recently attended the high-level Minsk Dialogue Forum. Among the speakers was Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. How do you interpret his participation in this event that gathers international experts and representatives of the third sector? What kind of message did he intend to send to the wider world?

BALÁZS JARÁBIK: The most important thing was the fact that he attended a civil society conference. As far as I am aware, this was his first such occurrence. It certainly illustrated how the attitude of the regime is slowly changing vis-à-vis civil society in Belarus. Currently there are several interesting areas internally where co-operation is moving and where the government is beginning to understand the value of civil society.

September 2, 2018 - Balazs Jarabik Daniel Gleichgewicht Iwona Reichardt

Oppositionists or dissidents?

An interview with Alyaksandr Klaskouski, a Belarusian journalist and political analyst. Interviewer: Zbigniew Rokita

ZBIGNIEW ROKITA: I have a feeling that the Belarusian opposition has never been as weak as it is right now…

ALYAKSANDR KLASKOUSKI: I agree. In the 1990s the opposition was capable of bringing 30,000-40,000 people to the streets. At that time they could also influence the masses and cause some fear among the authorities. Today things are different. There are maybe a few dozens of people that come to protests; this is thousands times less than two decades ago. The opposition has almost no influence on Belarusian politics, let alone economics.

September 1, 2018 - Alyaksandr Klaskouski Zbigniew Rokita

Corruption is Russia’s biggest export

An interview with Ilya Zaslavskiy, head of research at the Free Russia Foundation. Interviewer: Olena Babakova

OLENA BABAKOVA: After the United States introduced new sanctions against Russian oligarchs in April this year, the value of their companies collapsed and the exchange rates of the rouble sky rocketed. The West showed, once again, that it can still exert pressure on Russia. Is this a long-term problem for the Russian economy or has it already learnt how to adapt to such restrictions?

ILYA ZASLAVSKIY: I think we should examine whether the Kremlin and its business circles adapted to the western sanctions or whether the economy as a whole adapted. The regime found ways to continue with its current policies and its various confidants that have been targeted still have lots of money in offshore accounts, so they only feel threatened but not bitten. Even more importantly, they feel confident. However, if we talk about the quality of life and wealth of ordinary Russians, standards have obviously dropped. Some estimates say it has fallen by as much as a third. However this is still better than the situation in the 1990s.

September 1, 2018 - Ilya Zaslavskiy Olena Babakova

Like two gods. Herbert and Miłosz

An interview with Andrzej Franaszek, a biographer of both Zbigniew Herbert and Czesław Miłosz. Interviewer: Grzegorz Nurek

GRZEGORZ NUREK: You have written major biographies about two outstanding Polish poets: Czesław Miłosz and Zbigniew Herbert. Is there a chance that those biographies will be translated into other languages to reach a wider audience, outside of Poland?

ANDRZEJ FRANASZEK: The biography of Czesław Miłosz that I authored was translated into Lithuanian and Belarusian a few years ago. A shortened English version was also released by Harvard University Press and distributed in the United Kingdom and United States. It is difficult for me to say how well it is selling. It had a surprising amount of reviews in the media. When it comes to Zbigniew Herbert’s biography, it has only been recently released in Polish in two large volumes. But I am not sure if any foreign publishing houses would be interested in translating it. Time will tell…

September 1, 2018 - Andrzej Franaszek Grzegorz Nurek

Interview with Katerina Novikova, Head of Press at the Bolshoi Theatre

Interview conducted by Olivia Capozzalo and Smith Freeman of the She’s In Russia podcast.

July 4, 2018 - Olivia Capozzalo Smith Freeman

If we act, Russia might not react

Interview with Kersti Kaljulaid, the President of Estonia. Interviewer: Szabolcs Vörös

June 13, 2018 - Kersti Kaljulaid Szabolcs Vörös

The Kremlin is not going to stop

Interview with Luke Harding, British author and journalist with the Guardian, on the West's response to Russia's actions. Interviewer: Adam Reichardt

May 25, 2018 - Adam Reichardt Luke Harding

Peace is still far from reach

A conversation with Leyla and Arif Yunus, Azerbaijani human rights activists. Interviewer: Valentin Luntumbue.

VALENTIN LUNTUMBUE: I would like to begin by talking about the beginning of your engagement in the last hours of the Soviet Union, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the rise to power of Heydar Aliyev?

LEYLA YUNUS (LY): We are both historians and we began our work during the Soviet times. I was a member of the underground movement of national minorities against the Soviet regime and we were working with an underground newspaper, published in Moscow, called Express Khronika. The chief editor was Aleksandr Podrabinek. They had correspondents in different countries including Georgia, Armenia, Belarus and Ukraine; and we were responsible for Azerbaijan, together with Arif.

April 26, 2018 - Valentin Luntumbue

The Odesan myth and the Ukrainian façade

An interview with Professor Borys Khersonskyy, a Ukrainian poet, translator, clinical psychologist and Odesa’s leading intellectual. Interviewers: Tomasz Lachowski and Vitalii Mazurenko

TOMASZ LACHOWSKI AND VITALII MAZURENKO: Every now and then, the world reminds itself of the Donbas conflict, following the exchange of prisoners between Ukraine and the separatists or Kyiv’s efforts to reintegrate the region. The war thus continues. The question is: Is separatism still a real threat to Ukraine? Or, perhaps, it ended with the rebellion in Donetsk and Luhansk? You live in the Odesa region, which is ethnically diverse and borders the unrecognised Transnistria, where this question seems to be more pertinent.

BORYS KHERSONSKYY: First of all, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, independent Ukraine formed on the basis of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, which began to sovereignly govern over its territory. This place has been very diverse when it comes to historical and economic development as well as cultural and national identity. On the one hand, some of the regions in the eastern part of the country immediately fell under the influence of our northern neighbour, the Russian Federation.

April 26, 2018 - Tomasz Lachowski and Vitalii Mazurenko

On mythical identities of mythical countries

A conversation with Miljenko Jergović, a Balkan writer. Interviewer: Aleksandra Wojtaszek

ALEKSANDRA WOJTASZEK: We are meeting thanks to the recent publishing of a collection of your essays by the Kraków-based International Cultural Centre tilted Muscat, lemon and turmeric. It seems that a common denominator for these essays is Central Europe, which binds the descriptions of cities and biographies in your texts together. Do you believe that a Central European identity exists? If yes, what are its features?

MILJENKO JERGOVIĆ: I believe that we could talk about it in an unorthodox fashion. What is common to all of the peoples living in Central Europe is primarily all the traumas of the 20th century, such as the concentration camps. We are also connected by historical experiences such as being a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, or the bloc of socialist countries after the Second World War. In one sense, we lived our lives in a border region.

April 26, 2018 - Aleksandra Wojtaszek Miljenko Jergović

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