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Category: Magazine

Selective memory in the South Caucasus

This year is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the short independence in the South Caucasus. Politicians in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan have used this opportunity to remind about the history of statehood and present their own vision of those times and the current situation. Sadly, what is presented today is largely distant from the visions for these countries 100 years ago.

It was a sad morning in Batumi. Noe Zhordania – the founding father of an independent Georgia in 1918 – was standing on the deck of a ship waiting for his departure. The beautiful view of the mountains towering over the Black Sea coast was probably the last one he saw before leaving his homeland forever. At that moment he was unaware, but the prospects of his return were not too optimistic.

November 5, 2018 - Jan Brodowski

Is the blockchain revolution starting in Russia?

Russia, with its cheap electricity and talented tech professionals, has become an important hub for cryptocurrency. And it seems the Russian authorities are starting to see the benefits of blockchain technology, especially in terms of overcoming US sanctions.

“Can you see this bag?” Sanjarbek Nasirbekov, an Uzbek technology expert and bitcoin trader, asks me pointing to a black sporty backpack resting on a hanger. We are sitting in his Tashkent office on the third floor of a hip co-working space with a gym and a game room, sipping afternoon tea. “This is where I carry the cash when I go to Moscow,” he explains. Sanjarbek’s trips to Russia with the black backpack began when his business started growing and his clients’ demand for bitcoin increased. At the time, buying two bitcoins per day from his Moscow-based partner was no longer a sustainable option. Sanjarbek needed more. And his Russian partner could help him.

November 5, 2018 - Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska

Russia’s economic policy in Putin’s fourth term

Despite some initial disruption, the Kremlin’s efforts to counteract and mitigate the impact of sanctions have been quite successful. The state-led redistributive model has ensured that the authorities are well placed to respond to any disruption caused by the sanctions. In essence, the effect of the sanctions has reinforced a highly interventionist economic policy and a dominant role of the state in driving economic growth.

Is Russia’s economic policy a success or failure? The answer may strike many as self-evident. By most conventional measures, the economy has performed poorly in recent years. Between 2000 and 2008, Russia’s economy grew by an impressive seven per cent per year, driven by both rising oil prices and substantial productivity gains. Over the past ten years, however, Russia’s real GDP has risen, on average, by just one per cent per year.

November 5, 2018 - Alex Nice

Russia’s denial syndrome

The HIV epidemic continues to spread in Russia while the authorities appear to be doing very little to effectively counter it. It does not help that the dedicated NGOs that try to prevent its spread are faced with legal obstacles and conspiracy theories claiming that the HIV epidemic is a hoax fabricated by the pharmaceutical industry.

In 2015 as many as 120,000 Russians were diagnosed with HIV. This figure is 70 per cent of the total number of new diagnoses in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. That year the number of officially registered HIV carriers in Russia exceeded one million, and the Russian authorities had to finally recognise the existence of a full-scale HIV epidemic.

November 5, 2018 - Olga Irisova

Georgia’s liberal transformation. An ongoing adventure

Over the past two decades, the liberal capitalist transformation and the new cultural purification of post-communist Georgia has gained the form of political-ideological rituals and cultural exorcisms. All are invited to take part in post-communist exorcisms and rituals, but only the ruling class enjoys the fruits of the transformation.

What do we mean when we speak about the liberal and neoliberal transformation, or the purification, of contemporary Georgia? First of all it is the story of the post-communist order and mentality. And this story begins in the new era of the post-communist transition in Georgia, where the new elite resort to a number of western liberal canons that they perceived as the basic intellectual and ideological tools for an effective liberal and democratic transformation. Among those canons are: individual liberty and the idea of a liberal capitalist state.

November 5, 2018 - Bakar Berekashvili

Old Moldova in new Europe

Since 2009, Moldova’s ruling elite have primarily based their political narratives on pro-European integration. Events that have unfolded in 2018, however, have made the continuation of this course nearly impossible.

In September 2018 Vladimir Plahotniuc, the leader of Moldova’s ruling Democratic Party and the most powerful oligarch in the country, announced that his party was set to change political course. Up until then, it had been the most important pro-European political force in Moldova. However, while preparing for the 2019 February parliamentary elections, it became a “pro-Moldovan” party. To many commentators this announcement was interpreted as a future turn towards Russia.

November 5, 2018 - Piotr Oleksy

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

NGOs in Hungary learn to adapt under pressure

Since the passage of a new anti-NGO law in Hungary, civil society organisations have been on the edge. No one knows for certain what will happen. The biggest fear is that there will be a backlash after the European Parliament voted to support triggering Article 7 against Hungary.

It is an average Monday at Menedék, a Budapest-based NGO. The team meets in a big conference room to discuss weekly issues and report back from the weekend, while project managers share recent developments, good and bad. The phones are off, but there is always somebody waiting for a random client to show up and ask for some assistance or to sign up for an activity. The mood is casual, as usual. The team is very diverse and made up of old and young members. They are expats from non-EU countries, former refugees, university students and experienced NGO workers.

November 5, 2018 - Balint Josa and Anna Fedas

Polish Muslims, Polish Fears: A reflection on politics and the fear of the Other

Like other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, Poland’s public debate on migration and Islam has become a discussion about how to “prevent the danger” from entering the country. And amid it all, one group of voices is absent: those of Muslims themselves.

Through smashed windows, a few figures could be seen hurrying inside to afternoon prayers. Candles left by well-wishers flickered beneath the shards, beside a bouquet of flowers. In November 2017 unknown attackers vandalised the Ochota Muslim Cultural Centre, the largest Islamic community in Warsaw. It was just one more sign of rising intolerance against Poland’s few Muslims.

November 5, 2018 - Maxim Edwards

Nord Stream: The narrative of a new Molotov–Ribbentrop pact?

The debates that took place on the first Nord Stream pipeline exemplify the politically detrimental consequences that can arise from the misuse of the past for political gains. Carefully analysing the context and history of the comparison shows that Polish politicians are not trapped in memories of the past, rather they have developed tools to play on their audience’s sensitivity to its own history.

History appears in various shapes within the public debate. Though not a Polish specificity, the Polish political sphere offers fertile ground for memory studies. History can be the object of public policy, as in the ongoing debate on the 2018 amendments to the 1988 Act on the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN law).

November 5, 2018 - Francis Masson

Postcolonialism in the Soviet Bloc

A review of Socjalistyczny postkolonializm. Rekonsolidacja pamięci (Socialist Postcolonialism: Memory Reconsolidation). By: Adam F Kola. Publisher: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Mikołaja Kopernika, Toruń, Poland, 2018.

During the latter half of the 1980s I was a student of English language philology and literature at the University of Silesia in Katowice. Through assigned readings we were introduced to the western discourse of postcolonialism, but the lecturers took care to not operationalise these analytical instruments for any research on books and essays written and published in communist Poland or the Soviet bloc. Some conclusions that we could arrive at about our own communist regime might be ideologically dangerous for ourselves and our tutors. When communism collapsed in 1989 and the Soviet Union broke up two years later, the imageries and analytical approaches of postcolonialism suddenly began to make much sense to my colleagues and myself.

November 5, 2018 - Tomasz Kamusella

A fresh look at political culture in Russia and Ukraine

A review of Ukraine and Russian Neo-Imperialism: The Divergent Break. By: Ostap Kushnir. Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham MD, USA, 2018.

Ukrainian political culture presents an intriguing and rather unique case for analysis. Often a cause for debate, its origin and development, influenced by the rigorous winds of history and political geography, are not easy to grasp or apprehend. The complexities of the country’s relations with Russia, in particular, tend to leave the outside observer in a state of bewilderment. This response tends to lead to an overgeneralisation and simplification of the problem, which does not contribute to finding good solutions. Ostap Kushnir’s new book, Ukraine and Russian Neo-Imperialism: The Divergent Break, does not aim to add further complexity. On the contrary, it seeks to deconstruct the phenomenon and replace confusion with clarity.

November 5, 2018 - Margaryta Khvostova

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