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Category: Issue #5/2017

Issue 5/2017: Homo post-sovieticus

Stories of an unfinished transformation Anyone interested in Central and Eastern Europe understands that this region is far from monolithic, also in the implementation (or lack thereof) of western economic and political systems. At the same time we cannot deny there is something idiosyncratic about the former Soviet bloc, something which links its societies together. Either through common experience or history (or both).

October 7, 2017 - New Eastern Europe

Traces of the Soviet Union

Is talking about a post-Soviet reality justified? Or is it more of an offence? Does the term “post-Soviet” even make sense today – 26 years since the Soviet Union collapsed? Political scientists tend to answer this question with a “no”. Yet, the works of a collective of photographers, known as Sputnik Photos, show that what we are seeing now is something of a “Soviet afterlife”.

In early April this year I attended a presentation in Berlin of a photo project titled Lost Territories. The project was carried out between 2008 and 2016 by a group of photographers, collectively referred to as Sputnik Photos. During the Berlin event one of the photographers, a Pole named Michał Łuczak, presented the main purpose of the project. His presentation was followed by a discussion with a Russian writer, Sergey Lebedev and me. During the conversation we came to the conclusion that the greatest value of the project did not lie in the artistic quality of the photographs or the interesting travel recollections that were shared by the photographers. Rather, it was how it captured the traces of the Soviet Empire, both material and non-material, which can still be found today in what some call the post-Soviet space. Does this fact mean the Soviet Union, which formally ceased to exist over a quarter century ago, has survived, despite conventional wisdom? Or perhaps, its death is a slow and painful process?

October 4, 2017 - Wojciech Górecki

A 21st century Homo sovieticus?

Instead of portraying the remnants of the Belarusian Homo sovieticus as a problem, we should see it as a challenge and potential advantage: subservience and passivity as potential openness; collectivism as a chance to build a civil community; adaptability and opportunism as resourcefulness; and the multi-layered identity as an expression of a modern civil nation.

October 4, 2017 - Maxim Rust

A new Georgia?

The more peripheral an Eastern European country is, the more vigorously it waves the European Union flag. Georgia waves it the most vigorously, even though it is located in Asia. Europe could not have been moved to Georgia neither with pleads, nor with threats. Thus, Georgia has decided to settle for an imitation.

October 4, 2017 - Kaja Puto

Seeking the ties that bind

One would not consider Slovakia and Georgia to have much in common. However, there are some common denominators worth exploring. A visit to both states brought some surprising results, defying our expectations.

October 4, 2017 - Katarina Novikova and Wiktor Trybus

Tired of the status quo

An interview with Nikolay Artemenko, co-ordinator at the Vesna Youth Democratic Movement. Interviewer: Iwona Reichardt IWONA REICHARDT: What is the face of the Russian youth that we saw on the streets in March and June 2017? NIKOLAY ARTEMENKO: There is no single face of those who came to the streets this year. They represent different social groups, different professions, different lifestyles, etc. What brings them to the street is the feeling of being very tired.

October 4, 2017 - Nikolay Artemenko

What is a Russian oligarch?

The use of the term “oligarch” or “oligarchy” in the Russian context speaks to debates about the very nature of the Russian political system. Historians and political scientists have long described Russia as oligarchic.The problem with using the term oligarch, however, is that its usage has changed repeatedly since Soviet times. Today, it seems to be much more about power than anything else.

The term “oligarch” is applied so flagrantly to Russians, it is hard to tell where Russia’s oligarchy begins and ends, who exactly inhabits this coterie and what ring do the oligarchs orbit around Vladimir Putin. Indeed, the meaning of the word oligarch is difficult to separate from Russia. According to the Oxford English Dictionary an “oligarch” means “a very rich business leader with a great deal of political influence”. Though this definition could easily apply to most countries, the OED added a curious addendum: “Especially in Russia.”

October 4, 2017 - Sean Guillory

Conspiracy theories and the fear of others

Anti-West conspiracy theories in Russia which have been instrumentalised since the 19th century became widespread during the Soviet period and are now a common tool for public mobilisation of the Kremlin. The effects of these theories on the nation and its perception of the world will have consequences for the decades to come.

October 4, 2017 - Ilya Yablokov

Has the war really changed Ukrainians?

Three years have passed since the onset of war in Ukraine. As a result some changes have occurred in the Ukrainian mentality but questions still remain: How deep are those changes? And what would it take for a reversal in attitudes towards the West? Results from recent opinion polls may come as a surprise in an attempt to answer these questions.

October 4, 2017 - Andriy Lyubka

Inside Ukraine’s ideological renewal

The Cossack House is a vibrant community centre founded in April 2016 by young nationalist activists. It is widely known for being a civil bastion of the radical Azov movement, dedicated to promoting right-wing views and bringing about a rebirth of Ukrainian nationalism.

October 4, 2017 - Nina Boichenko

Oxford on the Vistula

There seems to be a widely held view that the bout of illiberalism that has spread across Central and Eastern Europe since the economic crash of 2009 came out of nowhere, much like its later cousins Trump and Brexit. And if one were to read nothing but the Anglo-American press coverage of the rise of the current governing Law and Justice (PiS) in Poland, this might appear to be the case. Yet, if one delves into the social fabric of Poland’s post-1989 transition one will see that PiS never wasn't really there, in spirit if not always in office.

October 4, 2017 - Jo Harper

A thief’s fear of punishment is incompatible with democracy

An interview with Anastasia Kirilenko, an investigative reporter based in Moscow. Interviewer: Maciej Zaniewicz

MACIEJ ZANIEWICZ: After watching your film, Who is Mr. Putin, one gets the sense that the whole Russian political system today grew out of the criminal world of the 1990s, which was created by Vladimir Putin himself.

ANASTASIA KIRILENKO: When Putin was a presidential candidate in 2000, journalists rushed to explain who he was. I remember very well the headlines: he is a man who came out of nowhere. In fact, in St Petersburg everyone knew very well who he was. There were enough criminal scandals connected to Putin. In 2000 many journalists were confused. Reporters from the Moscow Times went to St Petersburg and found people who had worked with Putin, but those people could not recall any details about what it was like to work with him.

October 4, 2017 - Anastasia Kirilenko Maciej Zaniewicz

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