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Category: Magazine

In search of the enemies of the state

Despite a declaration of religious tolerance, the system developed by President Emomali Rahmon in Tajikistan can be referred to as authoritarian secularism. Religion is pushed to the margins of public and social life and replaced by a new artificially created tradition.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resulting ideological vacuum, Islam found new ground in Central Asia. Formerly oppressed religious groups began to mushroom with the help of Saudi, Turkish and Iranian funds flowing into the region in support of brothers in faith. Tajikistan, located in the contentious area adjacent to the Afghan border, is considered one of the most religious countries in the post-Soviet Central Asia region. It has a Sunni majority adhering to Hanafi mazhhab and a small minority of Pamiris following the Isma’ili branch of Islam. Religious leaders have played a very important role here and religious families are part of the local aristocracy, influencing both the formal power structure and society. Apart from the mainstream “clergy” (theologians, imams, mullahs), Tajikistan has a network of semi-formal spiritual leaders, including Sufi masters, vagrant mullahs, healers, clairvoyants, as well as female religious leaders (bibi otun/bibi khalifa) who conduct various religious and spiritual services.

Today, however, religion is being pushed to the margins of the public life. Religious and spiritual leaders have become enemies of the system, which mirrors some of the bleakest periods of the Soviet era.

October 31, 2017 - Anna Cieślewska

Putin and his monsters

The Russian president is flipping the switch after 17 years in office. At the start of the new presidential campaign Vladimir Putin has already attempted to gain the sympathies of the younger generation, but avoids facing the worrying reality created by his system.

Russia is in a nervous period of transition as preparations are being made for the next presidential election in March 2018. Vladimir Putin was already asked by “ordinary Russians” from a village in the Buryatia region to run for office for the fourth time since 2000. He replied that he still needed time to make his final decision, but he also indicated he does not want to retire. According to sources at the RBC news agency, the Kremlin has already set plans for the presidential campaign and the one and only real candidate will be Putin. Meanwhile, the president is said to announce his decision at the end of the year during a large event in Moscow.

This presidential term that Putin will soon be completing is the first six-year term of the Russian presidency (prior to 2012, terms were only four years). The five and a half years of this term were tough, nervous and full of conflict – both domestically and internationally. Russia’s aggressive foreign policy is combined with the harsh treatment of independent media and NGOs in domestic policy. Putin decimated the separation of powers in the early 2000s and after the 2012 election he made the system more repressive, allowing it to intervene into the private lives of Russian citizens.

October 31, 2017 - Artem Filatov

The Kremlin sets its eyes on YouTube

In Russia YouTube is becoming the main platform for political conflict and a battleground for young voters. While the opposition is able to attract followers with content, the authorities are experimenting with ways to establish control over the video portal.

The year 2017 has definitely become the year of YouTube. Already in 2016, the video sharing social network became the second most visited website in the world after Google.com. In June 2017 YouTube claimed that its monthly audience of registered users passed 1.5 billion people. In Russia, 87 per cent of internet users watch videos on YouTube and the number of monthly active viewers is more than 62 million unique users. Some research indicates the figure could be even more than 80 million. In addition to a growing audience, it is important to emphasise the main advantage that YouTube has: younger generations of Russians now prefer YouTube over traditional media as their main source of news and information. Those within the 25-34 year-old age group are the most active users of YouTube in the country.

Despite its rapidly growing popularity, the Russian authorities at first did not pay much attention to YouTube. This changed in March this year, however, when a single film brought tens of thousands of people to the streets in 82 Russian cities. The majority of the protesters were young.

October 31, 2017 - Svitlana Ovcharova

Central Europe is more vulnerable than it appears

Since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, far-right and extremist organisations in Central Europe have redirected their attention to geopolitical issues. They not only agitate against NATO and the European Union, but also share a particular sympathy towards Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Clear evidence points to direct support for groups coming from Russia or pro-Russian sources.

In April 2014, just a few weeks after Russia annexed Crimea, Tamás Gaudi-Nagy, a Hungarian lawmaker from the far-right party Jobbik, gave a speech to the Council of Europe’s General Assembly. The tone of his speech reflected his t-shirt which read “Crimea legally belongs to Russia, Transcarpathia legally belongs to Hungary”. After the “legitimate” annexation of Crimea by Russia, he argued, it was time for Hungary to take back lost territories such as Transcarpathia – a part of Ukraine that belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1920.

One year later, in autumn 2015, Gaudi-Nagy made an even stranger statement during a TV debate: he claimed he was encouraged by his Russian counterparts while he was delegated to the Council of Europe to revise the border with Ukraine, hinting that Russia would back such a move. He said the time has come to change the course of history. But these performances were not the only actions by the far-right and extreme right to put pressure on Hungarian and Ukrainian authorities to aid in the secession of Transcarpathia.

October 31, 2017 - Edit Zgut Lóránt Győri Péter Krekó

The rebranding of Jobbik

The far right party Jobbik plays a significant role in Hungary’s political system. It now has its sights on the 2018 parliamentary elections and has indicated its plans to be a serious challenger to Viktor Orbán. Whether it is really able to move to the centre and appeal to a broader set of voters remains an open question.

Hungary’s Jobbik, a radical right-wing political party, was established in 2003. Its creation was a response to the discontent noted among young voters who felt disappointed with the political situation and was largely related to the right wing’s loss in the parliamentary elections in 2002 when a liberal-left coalition, composed of the Hungarian Socialist Party (Magyar Szocialista Párt, MSZP) and the Alliance for Free Democrats (Szabad Demokraták Szövetsége, SzDSz), came to power.

Jobbik, in fact, emerged from a transformation of a group called the Community of Right-Wing Youth (Jobboldali Ifjúsági Közösség, or JIK for short), that was set up in 1999, after the victory of the Fidesz-Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) coalition. JIK was to become a platform for exchanging ideas and working towards consolidating groups with similar right wing and nationalistic views. The group was set up by around 50 people, including Dávid Kovács and Gábor Vona.

October 31, 2017 - Dominik Héjj

Is it too early to speak about justice in Donbas?

There is no clear post-conflict strategy for Donbas. This is to a significant extent caused by the hybridness of the conflict which effectively prevents the fundamental goal of peace. If peace were to be achieved, however, experience from the field of transitional justice could point to some ways post-conflict justice might progress in Ukraine.

Much has been written about the Donbas conflict since it evolved into a full-fledged war in the summer of 2014. One aspect of the conflict which has been given almost no attention, despite its obvious importance for Ukraine’s long-term development, are reflections on its aftermath. The debate in the West has predominantly focused on highly pragmatic and technical questions like how to stop the violence and move the conflict into the political realm. Ukrainians, on the other hand, are stuck in a black-and-white characterisation of “treason vs victory” in terms of virtually all aspects of the conflict. In the background of both approaches, there seems to be an assumption that the conflict can be resolved rather easily and the situation will return to what existed prior.

This assumption is misguided. Any stable and long-lasting resolution of the conflict should be accepted by all interested parties as just. This implies that such a resolution is yet to be found.

October 31, 2017 - Gerhard Kemp Igor Lyubashenko

Visas for Georgians are not enough

It has been over six months since the European Union lifted visa requirements for Georgian citizens travelling to the EU. In recent years, this issue was the main engine of EU-Georgia co-operation and was hailed as a success of Georgia’s pro-European policies. The euphoria felt among Georgians after achieving visa-free travel, however, may fade over time. Therefore, it is necessary that the EU presents Georgia with concrete goals towards continuous participation in the Eastern Partnership.

Since the 2003 Rose Revolution Georgia has been treated as a model student, first in the European Neighbourhood Policy and then the Eastern Partnership. The United National Movement led by Mikheil Saakashvili unequivocally expressed the intention to integrate with Euro-Atlantic structures and despite the authoritarian tendencies of its leader, the party managed to implement an ambitious internal reform plan.

The pro-western trajectory of the country was not shaken by the five day war in August 2008 or the rise to power of Saakashvili’s opposition, the Georgian Dream. Many observers worried that the party, controlled by the oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, would take a more pro-Russian course in its foreign policy instead of deepening its co-operation with the West. Despite a slight relaxation of relations between Tbilisi and Moscow after 2013, the activities aimed at Georgia's integration with the EU have continued.

October 31, 2017 - Mateusz Kubiak

The curse and miracle of Kupiškis

Lithuania has the highest suicide rate in all of Europe. The country underwent a difficult transition after the fall of the Soviet Union and still struggles with problems from the past. However, things are changing and an unlikely group from a small town is now leading the charge.

It is a three hour bus ride from the nation’s capital, Vilnius, to the north-eastern part of Lithuania. The trip through the country is picturesque. In an old bus on a bumpy road, we pass by idyllic woods and shining lakes. When we arrive to our destination, a 1.5 metre tall sign greets us –“Welcome to Kupiškis.”

At first glance, Kupiškis looks like any other city in a rural area. The bus station is old and grey and is the only connection to the rest of the country. A large church and its two tall towers can be seen from most of the city. The main street takes you through the city to the municipal building, a cultural centre, a tourist information point and a few local shops.

October 31, 2017 - Emil Staulund Larsen Noah Groves

Russia is unprepared for the next world order

An interview with Bobo Lo, expert on Russia and China and author of the books Russia and the New World Disorder and A Wary Embrace: What the China-Russia relationship means for the world. Interviewer: Adam Reichardt

ADAM REICHARDT: It has been two years since you published Russia and the New World Disorder in which you concluded that Russian foreign policy is not well suited for the current geopolitical context. Yet, if we look at Russia since 2015, it has projected itself as a strong country, one that can defend against sanctions, intervene in Syria, advance its interests in its near abroad and project an image of itself as a real global player. Would you still argue that same thesis today?

BOBO LO: This is a question I often get asked. I stand by my original thesis. True, Russia is not going to become a minor power straight away, the regime will not collapse anytime soon, and Russia will not buckle under western pressure and be forced into concessions. However, we need to look at Russia and the world in the longer term. What will happen over the next decade, two decades, three decades and beyond? Can Russia adapt to a world that is changing in all sorts of uncontrollable and unpredictable ways? This is about much more than just Russia’s interaction with the United States, the United Kingdom, France or Germany. It is about whether it can operate effectively in a more complex, disaggregated and disorderly international environment crowded with competitors – not just the West and China, but many others as well.

October 31, 2017 - Adam Reichardt Bobo Lo

How Russia interprets 1917

The question of revolution, particularly the "colour revolutions", is something that fills the Kremlin with fear and paranoia. This is how attitudes towards 1917 are now being shaped. I would not be surprised if we hear one narrative on 1917 which labels it a “coloured revolution" – carried out with foreign aid, to destroy the wonderful country of Russia.

In Russia, there is no definite and clear position on 1917. The new democratic Russia, which emerged in 1991, had undergone a notable transformation since then and therefore we cannot speak today of those ideological postulates that were used to assess the 1917 revolution during the 1990s. At that time, historiography in Russia freely developed and evaluated the event as one that started the construction of the totalitarian system and repressive state. After all, the ideas that underpinned 1917, in many ways, were both totalitarian and repressive in nature. In order to understand this, it is sufficient to read the documents that form the Marxist-Leninist doctrine. And it is enough to read the communist party manifesto in order to see what a world built in accordance with this recipe would look like.

Today, we see a completely different picture. It is not complete nonsense, because there are certain signals. For Russian historians today, 1917, along with many other issues, constitute what is called “difficult issues in history”. An attempt to create a single, unified textbook in Russia also runs into problems.

October 31, 2017 - Nikita Petrov

Stories from Russia’s coal country

The Russian region of Kuzbass is one that is entirely dependent on the extraction and export of coal. Despite some resistance by local communities and indigenous peoples, there appears to be no will among authorities to slow the spread of coal extraction, which has already devastated several towns and villages in the region.

As we travel around the surroundings of Novokuznetsk, in the heat of the Siberian summer, we come across endless green fields patched with boreal forests and small wooden villages. On the roads we witness huge dump trucks loaded with coal leaving behind dusty trails as they pass by. Far away on the horizon, the cloudless sky is concealed by a layer of brown smog. “People here are used to breathing all the elements of the periodic table”, our taxi driver complains.

Located in the Siberian region of Kemerovo, Kuzbass (shortened form for Kuznetsk basin) is home to 40 per cent of Russia’s coal production. Here, open-pit coal mines sprout up like mushrooms, resulting in a devastating impact on the environment and the livelihood of nearby residents. Toxic coal dust contaminates the air and soil which, according to the Russian state monitor Rosprirodnadzor, has a pollution rate that is twice the national average. As the mines expand, forests die, fertile soil turns barren and the land slowly transforms into a lunar landscape.

October 31, 2017 - Giovanni Pigni

The curse of Ján Ľupták’s duck

Rimavská Sobota is a small town in the south of Slovakia, not far from the Hungarian border. Despite its size, it has seen a lot of changes and tragedies throughout the last 100 years. The story Ján Ľupták and his family woes may be one of the best illustrations of this town’s fate.

It all began with a duck. “Not quite,” Michal corrects me. “Negative emotions were mounting in the family for a while. The woebegone duck was like a snowball. It triggered an avalanche, which has been falling ever since”.

It certainly began in Rimavská Sobota, a small town in the south of Slovakia. In the Ľupták family everything begins in Rimavská. And usually ends there: births, funerals, and weddings, school, work and friends. Few are capable of leaving this place and never coming back. One teacher managed to leave. She ran a theatre group. When she fell into debt, she decided to pretend to be mentally ill in order to avoid repayment. She ran around the square in her pyjamas, singing out load and jumped up on monuments. The court sent her to a psychiatric ward for observation (yes, indeed, Rimavská has a psychiatric ward), but the doctors claimed she was faking it. She ran away to Prague and today she works in a shop and does not want to hear about Rimavská. But such stories are rare.

October 31, 2017 - Dariusz Kałan

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