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Category: Issue 1 2018

Issue 1/2018: The growing generation gap

How today's post-Soviet youth is radically different than previous generations - new issue now available!

January 2, 2018 - New Eastern Europe

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

A generation in transition

Last year, the European Union finally decided to allow Georgians to travel to the EU visa free. Many Georgians like to joke that the current generation, unlike their parents, take weekend getaways in Berlin, not Moscow. Yet in reality, many young Georgians cannot afford to leave the country as they are faced with economic and social hardships.

Georgia's geographical position between Asia and Europe is both an advantage and a challenge for the country. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the restoration of independence, the country had gone through war and devastation; it lost 20 per cent of its territory and currently struggles to find a development path with the threat of Russian intervention. Yet, as local political leaders like to repeat, Georgia has made its civilisational choice.

Tbilisi is confident the European model of democracy, and the Euro-Atlantic security system, will help preserve the country's stability and sovereignty. Despite the open aggression of Russia, which does not want to lose its sphere of influence in the South Caucasus, Georgian officials actively co-operate with the EU and dream of one day becoming a NATO member. Like their peers in the West, young people in Georgia struggle to make a start in life, but they also hope for a brighter future.

January 2, 2018 - Marta Ardashelia

The growing religiosity of Kyrgyz youth

The once Soviet-controlled atheist societies like that in Kyrgyzstan, which for 70 years were subject to forced secularisation, have been rediscovering Islam after the collapse of Soviet Union. This is especially true for young people, who are increasingly more religious.

The early morning call to prayer woke Kairat up. He got up with haste, as he was anxious not to be late. He wanted to make it to morning prayer in a community mosque located 700 meters from his home. As he put on his coat and heads out of the house on a chilly, late-November morning, he could not resist the feeling of guilt that he almost overslept. He returned from Bishkek quite late the night before and was very tired.

In Bishkek, Kairat and others were discussing sublime ideas of how Kyrgyzstan’s youth view the country changing by 2030. Their visions could easily be applied to Kairat’s home village of Kolduk in the Issyk-Kul region. “We are living in changing times,” he thought. Back in the Soviet times his village had not had a single mosque and today there are four in the tiny community. He and others believe that the growing religiosity in Kyrgyzstan is an issue that needs to be addressed.

January 2, 2018 - Keneshbek Sainazarov

Playing for high electoral stakes in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan likes to portray itself as Central Asia’s only democracy – but dog-whistle politics and dirty tricks deployed in the October 2017 presidential election muddied its democratic credentials.

“It’s like a game of poker,” said Medet Tursaliyev, a young man emerging from a polling station in Bishkek, the leafy laidback capital of Kyrgyzstan. “They’re playing all in – for high stakes.”

As Kyrgyzstan went to the polls on October 15th last year, Tursaliyev had hit the nail on the head: it was a high-stakes political battle of a type never witnessed before in Central Asia. His country made history by staging the first ever truly competitive presidential election in a region ruled by strongmen who usually cling to power for decades.

January 2, 2018 - Joanna Lillis

Long live Kim Jong-un: how Russia helps the dictator thrive

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said there is an estimated 40,000 North Koreans working in Russia today, with some assessments indicating that this number will continue to grow. Human rights activists describe these workers as modern slaves, whose working conditions are harsh under the pressure to complete preparations for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Kim Jong-un's North Korea is now at the centre of international news with its nuclear tests and reported preparations for more missile launches. Last autumn Kim Jong-un promised to complete his nuclear programme, despite new sanctions imposed by the West. Russia’s Vladimir Putin has rejected US calls for new sanctions on Pyongyang, claiming that it would be a counter-productive “road to nowhere” and may trigger a “global catastrophe”. This statement could be interpreted as an act of solidarity with the North Korean regime, since Putin's friends and senior officials are also under western sanctions.

However, upon closer examination this is not the only explanation. One of the major proposals of the sanctions package against North Korea is to cut off sources of foreign currency, limiting its ability to continue developing its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. This would signify a major shift for Moscow, as it would have to stop employing cheap North Korean labour.

January 2, 2018 - Artem Filatov

Security in Europe with Russia and/or from Russia?

The debate among German foreign policy experts on how to end the crisis with Russia has heated up once again. Yet, many observers continue to neglect the primary determinants of Russian foreign policy, which are rooted in domestic politics and are not going to change any time soon.

The Russian military exercise “Zapad 2017” held on the borders of NATO member states showed a significant increase in Russian forces in the Baltic Sea region. Just like during the Cold War, this exercise had the goal of demonstrating Russia’s military might to the West – the country’s alleged enemy. With the illegal annexation of Crimea as well as the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine, Russia and the West have manoeuvred towards an increasingly militarised confrontation. Moscow’s questioning of the European security order marked the climax of the alienation and antagonisation that started much earlier. With Vladimir Putin’s 2007 speech at the Munich security conference, where he accused the West of systematically countering Russia’s interests in the region, as well as the Russian-Georgian war in 2008, it became clear that Russia is defining its interests in opposition to the West. Russia does not want to be integrated into the West but has the ambition to further integrate former Soviet states into its orbit.

January 2, 2018 - Manfred Huterer

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


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