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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

Ukrainians seek a Polish dream in Wrocław

It is difficult to determine the exact number of Ukrainian migrants arriving to Poland, but their presence is visible. In Wrocław, a city with slightly less than 630,000 residents, between 51,000 and 64,000 are Ukrainian – that is around one in every ten residents.

I arrange a meeting with Alina in a Wrocław pub called Idyll.. Wrocław is a city in the western part of Poland. Before the Second World War it was a German city known as Breslau. After the war and the border changes, the Germans were expelled and Poles moved in, many of whom were from the eastern part of the former Polish lands. Today, it is a lively city with a growing population – many of whom are immigrants from Ukraine.

January 2, 2018 - Olga Chrebor

Religion, migration and the dreams of Dagestani youth

An interview with Denis Sokolov, a Russian expert on North Caucasus. Interviewer: Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska.

AGNIESZKA PIKULICKA-WILCZEWSKA: As someone who specialises in the North Caucasus and has done a lot of work in Dagestan, how would you describe the youth there? What kind of dreams do young Dagestanis have?

DENIS SOKOLOV: Certainly everyone has a different dream, but I would say that young people in Dagestan are rather ambitious and they dream of success, which means different things for different people. One can also notice some divisions among young Dagestanis. Most of the youth there are increasingly oriented towards the Arab world, towards the world of Islam, especially the descendants of those who came from rural communities and the mountainous parts of Dagestan. They dream about having a career or owning a business because financial success and the ability to feed your family are very important. Today’s youth adhere to family values, Islamic traditions and, in some degree, the values of Dagestan’s rural communities, although they are gradually disappearing.

January 2, 2018 - Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska Denis Sokolov

There is no question – we are able to defend ourselves

An interview with Raimonds Bergmanis, the Latvian minister of defence. Interviewer Linas Jegelevicius

LINAS JEGELEVICIUS: In a recent interview, your Lithuanian counterpart claimed that the situation in which the Baltics face now is “the riskiest and most dangerous since 1990”. Do you agree with this assessment?

RAIMONDS BERGMANIS: It is relative and the context should be taken into account. In the 1990s, our countries were still in the process of recovery and building our new state institutions like the armed forces, intelligence, security forces, etc. Alongside the domestic challenges, we were experiencing Russian pressure as well. We were vulnerable back then and, by no means, were these risk-free times. We were lucky that Russia was also vulnerable. However, it was not until 2004 when we joined NATO that we were able to have a real sense of security.

January 2, 2018 - Linas Jegelevicius Raimonds Bergmanis

The story of the other Piłsudski

Many Poles still unfairly overlook the story of Bronisław Piłsudski, who remains in the shadow of his younger brother, the chief of state, Marshall Józef Piłsudski. Yet, Bronisław’s story is as prominent as his sibling’s, albeit with a more tragic ending.

Bronisław Piłsudski was a year older than his brother Józef. He was born in 1866 in the Piłsudski family mansion in Zułow, 60 kilometres outside of Vilnius. Maria Billewiczówna, their mother, gave birth to 12 children. The father, Józef Senior, was involved in the January Uprising of 1863 against the Russian Empire. They raised their children in the spirit of patriotism. In addition to Bronisław and Józef Junior, the couple had two older daughters, Helena and Zofia, and six younger children: Adam, Kazimierz, Maria, Jan, Ludwika, and Kacper. There was also a pair of twins who died shortly after birth.

January 2, 2018 - Grzegorz Nurek

The restless memory of Staro Sajmiste

The memory of Staro Sajmiste, the former Nazi concentration camp in Belgrade, will depend on how well Serbia’s discourse on the Holocaust continues to develop. Today, the Holocaust memory serves as a tool for highlighting both Serbia’s belonging to the European memory culture and the country’s narrative of Serbian victimhood.

The tower of the old Belgrade fairground, a former Nazi concentration camp, ominously peers down at the city. It is hard to miss, whether from the road connecting the airport with the Serbian capital or while wandering around the Belgrade fortress hill. Its characteristic spot right across the river can be well seen from the extravagant waterfront as the tower stands near the Hyatt Regency Hotel. It is an integral part of the city’s landscape.

In spite of the site’s proximity to the city centre, and its visibility, Staro Sajmiste is still a neglected and somewhat isolated area. Turning from the main road to Sajmiste Street feels like entering another world – trespassing the border and violating the privacy of the space. It can take some time to discover any sign of the site’s former purpose; especially since it has transformed into a residential area with a children’s playground and laundry hanging near to what was once a prison. Thus, while it has been officially recognised as a Holocaust memory site, Staro Sajmiste remains largely forgotten, in plain sight.

January 2, 2018 - Yulia Oreshina

The Ukrainian colony that never existed

The history of Ukrainians in the Far East is slowly coming to an end. It is a story of colonisation in the Russian Far East, attempts to maintain identity in unfavourable conditions and a fantastic colonial idea with humble attempts to implement it.

In Hej Sokoły (Hey, Falcons), the Polish-Ukrainian song from the mid-19th century written by Tomasz Pandura, the author yearns for “green Ukraine” – the Ukrainian steppe. The bilingual song is known to most Poles and almost as many Ukrainians. However, few people know that at a later stage the term “Green Ukraine” (written with capital letters) came to describe the territory in Russia’s Far East where, at the end of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century, a significant number of Ukrainians settled. The areas of Amur and Primorskaya oblasts, where many Ukrainians lived, were called Zeleny Klyn. The term “Green Ukraine”, however, contrary to Zeleny Klyn, conveyed not only the ethnographic meaning but also the national aspirations.

January 2, 2018 - Marek Wojnar

Civil society steps in to preserve Romania’s past

In Romania, despite a lack of political will, civil society is racing to save dilapidated old structures and help ensure the survival of the region's unique identity. Yet, will their efforts be enough to save the thousands of heritage sites across the country?

A dozen-strong group of volunteers gather at the stone base of a fortified Lutheran church in the small Saxon village of Filetelnic, Transylvania, as Eugen Vaida, head of the Ambulanta Pentru Monumente (Ambulance for Monuments), gives directions on how to save one of the church’s three-metre-high fortified walls. The wall, part of which dates back to the 15th century, is crumbling from the top down as a result of water infiltration. This would eventually destroy the wall, as well as the ancient inscriptions on it, which date back to the 16th and 17th centuries.

Sadly, Filetelnic is not a unique case. Many heritage buildings throughout this region have fallen into various states of disrepair, from crumbling medieval fortified churches to abandoned Hungarian castles, from old war monuments to centuries-old Saxon homes.

January 2, 2018 - Stephen McGrath

Start-ups take off in Ukraine

Start-ups are rapidly developing in Ukraine with many companies attaining million dollar investments. Thus, some of the very popular tech products on the market are ones you may not realise originate in Ukraine. For the moment they are just the tip of the iceberg, as the public and private sector are seeking ways to cultivate Ukraine’s emerging entrepreneurial spirit even more.

In the IT world, Ukraine is usually perceived as a country for outsourcing, where programmers work for somebody else’s business instead of starting their own. This theory no longer holds true as more and more Ukrainians have showed that they can become entrepreneurs too. Many have established new start-up companies and some even go through the seven circles of hell to get investments. They fail, they succeed, but they do not give up trying. You may even recognise some of the Ukrainian products which have managed to succeed on the global market, even though you probably did not know that they came from Ukraine.

January 2, 2018 - Yulia Lipentseva

Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation and its contribution to Ukraine’s independence. A Memoir

The Polish discussion on Ukraine and the “Eastern Question” filled the pages of many of the underground publications that existed in the 1980s in communist Poland. Similar to Kultura since the late 1940s, they called for reconciliation between former enemies and mutual forgiveness for past crimes committed by all sides.

Growing up in northern England I was surrounded by nationalisms of different kinds. Irish nationalists seeking a united Ireland were at war in Ulster and had brought their terrorist campaign to the British mainland. Eastern European refugees from the communist bloc had brought their nationalisms with them to Great Britain and these continued to open old wounds in the émigré ghettos. The two biggest of these nationalisms were Ukrainian and Polish. Most members of the Ukrainian community in Britain were members of the three wings of the OUN (Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists) with the Stepan Bandera wing by far the largest. Their primary enemy though was the Russians and the Soviet empire – not Poles or Poland.

January 2, 2018 - Taras Kuzio

A school like no other

For a quarter of a century the Moscow School of Civic Education, until 2013 known as the Moscow School of Political Studies, has trained over ten thousand graduates. Some of them have become influential figures in Russian political and civic life. Many use the skills and competences gained at the school’s workshops in their everyday life.

In 1992, Lena Nemirovskaya and Yury Senokosov, two Russian civic activists, saw their dream come true, one that was impossible to fulfil in Soviet times. They founded the Moscow School of Political Studies which started academic research in political, civic and social development in Russia. From the very beginning, Lena and Yury knew they could not limit the school’s activity to large urban areas (e.g. Moscow and Leningrad, which soon was renamed St Petersburg) and their goal was to reach out to the youth living in all areas.

January 2, 2018 - Kacper Dziekan

When being a prisoner becomes hip

A review of Inside Pussy Riot – an immersive theatre performance at Saatchi gallery, London.

On February 21st 2012, a group of five women wearing colourful balaclavas entered the Moscow Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and pulled off a 40-second show which changed their lives forever. Calling on the Virgin Mary to chase Putin away, the feminist punk band Pussy Riot protested against the growing authoritarianism, corruption and human rights abuses in Russia. Three of the band members – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich – were immediately detained and then sentenced to two years at a labour colony for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. After an appeal, Samutsevich’s sentence was suspended.

January 2, 2018 - Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska

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