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Category: Magazine

Between an axis of convenience and a return to the past

A review of A Wary Embrace: What the China-Russia relationship means for the world. By: Bobo Lo. Published jointly by: Penguin Books / Lowy Institute, London/Sydney, 2017. and Russia and China: A Political Marriage of Convenience – Stable and Successful. By: Michal Lubina. Publisher: Barbara Budrich Publishers, Leverkusen Germany, 2017.

The Chinese-Russian relationship has become a contemporary issue these days. For the last two years analysts and scholars have produced volumes of publications that scrutinised recent developments taking place between Beijing and Moscow. Prior to the conflict over Ukraine, relations between Russia and China were of interest only to a handful of specialists. The multi-billion dollar gas deal, a revived arms trade and high-level summits have brought the Sino-Russian relationship into the spotlight while observers of international politics began to discuss prospects for emergence of an anti-western bloc. Two books stand out against this background. At first glance, they could not be more different.

April 25, 2018 - Marcin Kaczmarski

Eurasia and geopolitical thought

A review of The Dawn of Eurasia: On the Trail of the New World Order. By: Bruno Macaes. Publisher: Allen Lane, London, 2018.

The notion of civilisational entities and grand, sweeping analytical concepts such as “Europe”, “the East”, “Africa”, etc., has been under sustained attack by social scientists for over two and a half decades. Indeed, within the humanities it is seemingly a sine qua non for any commentator on the “non-European” to provide a pre-emptive preface outlining why what they have written is not Orientalism (broadly, the study of the non-West, as essentialist and as a means to domination).

April 25, 2018 - Emre Kazim

Ballad of a common soldier

A review of Кіборги: Герої не вмирають (Cyborgs: Heroes Never Die), a film directed by Akhtem Seitablaev, Ukraine 2017.

Released in December 2017, the film Cyborgs: Heroes Never Die is a breakthrough for Ukrainian cinema. The film, as the title indicates, depicts the heroic defence of the Donetsk airport by Ukrainian fighters, popularly known as the cyborgs. It is directed by Akhtem Seitablaev, a Crimean Tatar who was born in Uzbekistan. Seitablaev came to Crimea in 1989 when his family returned to the peninsula. He studied in Crimea and Kyiv and then worked for the Crimean Tatar Academic Music and Drama Theatre in Simferopol.

April 25, 2018 - Piotr Pogorzelski

Russia’s wars on Ukraine

A Review of Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine. By: Anne Applebaum. Publisher: Penguin Random House, 2017.

When looking through Anne Applebaum’s most recent book Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine, readers interested in Soviet crimes will probably refer back to Robert Conquest’s The Harvest of Sorrow. This 1986 landmark book by Conquest, a British historian, was the first to analyse the collectivisation of agriculture in 1929-31 in Ukraine and the subsequent 1932-33 famine, known as Holodomor. The Harvest of Sorrow was based on the limited historical data that was becoming available to western researchers at the time.

April 25, 2018 - Wojciech Siegień

Confronting the Romanian church’s cumbersome past

A review of The Romanian Orthodox Church and the Holocaust. By: Ion Popa. Publisher: Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana USA, 2017.

In the summer of 2017, the Romanian media was rocked by a series of scandals relating to the Orthodox Church. These scandals, which were a stroke of luck for journalists who would normally be reporting on how Romanians spend their holidays, centred on acts of sexual impropriety perpetrated by figures in the upper echelons of the Orthodox Church, including one celebrity priest-cum-musical superstar. The Bishop of Huşi and Father Celestin of the Prislop Monastery of Maramureş were discovered to have engaged in same-sex sexual activities; the bishop was even caught on video being intimate with a theology student. These revelations were compounded by the fact that the musical superstar and priest Cristian Pomohaci was accused of having abused young boys who worked on his farm. Several young men came forward testifying that they were abused at the hands of Pomohaci. The journalist who broke the story first contacted officials within the church in reference to Pomohaci but received no response. Confronted with the church’s inaction, he finally went public.

April 25, 2018 - Alin Constantin

Russia and the Balkans: Navigating a minefield of opportunities

A review of Rival Power: Russia’s Influence in Southeast Europe. By: Dimitar Bechev. Publisher: Yale University Press, New Haven, USA, 2017.

“Russia re-enacts the Great Game in the Balkans,” wrote columnist Leonid Bershidsky for Bloomberg in 2017. Comparing the Balkans to a geopolitical playground for great powers, like infamously Central Asia in the 19th century, Bershindsky insinuated that Russia has developed renewed interests and influence in the region. It is in this context that one should consider Dimitar Bechev’s recent Rival Power: Russia’s Influence in Southeast Europe, as he undertakes the task of explaining Russia’s role in this “Great Game”.

April 25, 2018 - Millie Radović

Issue 2/2018: The many faces of Putin

Vladimir Putin is set to win a fourth term as president of the Russian Federation. The March-April 2018 issue takes a deeper look at the consequences of Putin's presidency and what could eventually come after...

February 26, 2018 - New Eastern Europe

A Tale of Two Putins

Having turned the law into an instrument of state policy and private vendetta and having turned the legislature into a caricature without power of independence, can Vladimir Putin afford to become an ex-president? Conventional wisdom would say that he cannot. Without being at the top of the system, he is at best vulnerable and at worst dead, and he knows it.

In March Vladimir Putin will, it is safe to predict, win re-election. The real questions relate to what happens after the election, with some predicting a thaw, while others expect even more authoritarian policies. Will Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev be replaced? Will there be renewed overtures to the West? In many ways, though, this may betray our own biases, as Kremlinologists from democratic nations naturally assume that an election represents a boundary point from one state to another. Yet in a system such as Putin’s, sometimes described as a managed democracy, it is much more clearly managed than democratic. Indeed, of late it has come to feel as if the Kremlin regards the various trappings of democracy – not just elections but also press conferences, legislative sessions and consultations – as an increasingly irritating burden.

February 26, 2018 - Mark Galeotti

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

Is Putinism sustainable?

At its core, Putinism is characterised by a fundamentally kleptocratic system that appears incapable of meaningful reform. For this reason, it is far more vulnerable to fissure than it may appear.

After nearly 20 years in power, Vladimir Putin has become more than just the symbol of an era – he is arguably its creator. A lawyer and former KGB officer, Putin is perceived by many to be one of the world's most powerful leaders and his cult of personality in Russia is unmatched by any other contemporary Russian politician. His tenure as president (2000-2008; 2012-present) and prime minister (1999-2000; 2008-2012) have left a permanent mark on Russia’s history. But is this regime sustainable? Does “Putinism” mean anything independent of its namesake?

February 26, 2018 - Łukasz Kondraciuk

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

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