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Category: Magazine

Countering the realists on Russia and Ukraine

A review of The Sources of Russia’s Great Power Politics: Ukraine and the Challenge to the European Order. By: Taras Kuzio and Paul D’Anieri. Publisher: E-International Relations, Bristol, England, 2018.

Since the onset of Russian aggression in Ukraine in early 2014, there has been a plethora of works dedicated to the conflict, its impact on the West and the liberal world order, and Russia’s motives in pursuing such a bold strategy. Ukraine Crisis: What it Means for the West by Andrew Wilson and Russia and the New World Disorder by Bobo Lo are just a few (excellent) examples that seek to bring light to the ways in which the conflict in Ukraine is affecting international politics.

November 5, 2018 - Daniel Jarosak

Past Continuous: Is Bandera replacing Lenin?

A review of Past Continuous: Історичнаполітика 1980-х-2000-х: Українатасусіди, (Past Continuous: Political History 1980s-2000s: Ukraine and its neighbours). By: Georgiy Kasyanov. Publisher: Laurus, Kyiv, 2018.

Historical policy is among the most discussed issues in post-Maidan Ukraine, and the discussion goes beyond Ukrainian borders. Important changes have taken place since 2014, namely decommunisation and the glorification of Ukrainian nationalism – including the controversial leader of Ukrainian nationalists, Stepan Banders, who is generally considered an extremist. This generates heated discussion outside Ukraine.

November 5, 2018 - Marek Wojnar

A miracle from the inside

A review of Wszyscy ci wspaniali chłopcy i dziewczyny. Osobista historia czeskiego kina. (All the bright young men and women: a personal history of the Czech cinema). By: Josef Škvorecký. Polish edition published by Wydawnictwo Pogranicze, Sejny, 2018.

This year the Polish publishing house Pogranicze published the first translation of Josef Škvorecký’s work on Czech cinematography – a book like no other. Hence four decades after it was original published it is worth reflecting on this book. Škvorecký, the author of the book, left Czechoslovaka in 1969, first heading to the United States and later to Canada where he spent the rest of his life.

November 5, 2018 - Maciej Robert

Belarus in a post-Crimean deadlock

The annexation of Crimea was planned as a response to the decrease in Vladimir Putin’s approval rating in Russia. Now, after the pension reform has been introduced, the president’s rating is lower than that of the military – for the first time ever. It may happen that Belarus becomes the next goal for the Kremlin’s revanchist policies.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union’s foreign policy towards the countries of the socialist camp extensively followed a simple formula: loyalty of its satellites was bought with cheap natural gas and oil supplies. Today, it is widely implemented by Russia in relation to its post-Soviet neighbours, and its main client is Belarus.

November 5, 2018 - Igor Gretskiy

Pragmatic co-operation amid eroding security

Belarus and Ukraine need each other now perhaps more than ever before, both in terms of security and economics. Despite Belarus’s allied relations with Russia and their synchronised voting in the United Nations, Minsk has become an important platform for peace talks over the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Being anxious about a possible Crimean or Donbas scenario in Belarus, Minsk contributed to Ukraine’s overcoming of difficulties caused by Russian trade restrictions, including dual-use goods.

The Ukrainian Revolution of 2013-2014 and the subsequent Russian military and neo-imperialist activities on Ukrainian territory put Belarus in a challenging and awkward geopolitical situation.

November 5, 2018 - Maksym Khylko

Past as weakness or strength? The shared history, strained present and uncertain future of Belarus and Lithuania

How can barriers between two historically close countries like Belarus and Lithuania be lowered or eliminated? What are the prospects of improved relations between the two states? Ultimately, closer ties between ordinary Belarusians and Lithuanians could serve as the best guarantor of closer political relations.

During his September 2018 visit to Vilnius, Pope Francis quoted Lithuania’s national anthem and encouraged people to “draw strength from the past”. He reiterated what is often common knowledge: for one to look to the future, one must first know and make peace with the past. In theory the same logic could apply to Lithuania and Belarus, two neighbours that, over the centuries, have spent more time together – that is, belonging to (or being ruled by) the same state – than apart.

November 5, 2018 - Dovilė Šukytė

Behind the thaw

For over two decades Polish-Belarusian relations have been connected to Belarus’s relations with the West. There have been oscillations between years of warming relations and colder periods. Since Russia annexed Crimea and the Russian threat in Eastern Europe has become widely recognised, many European countries have re-evaluated their policies towards Belarus, which although authoritarian is not aggressive. Poland is one such country.

The foundations for a new opening towards Belarus were laid before Poland’s 2015 presidential and parliamentary elections. It was in April 2014, during the first weeks of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, when President Alyaksandr Lukashenka asked the Polish government to join in a mediation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Poland’s prime minister at the time, Donald Tusk, turned down the offer for fear that the Kremlin was behind the initiative. Based on information that I have gathered from sources, this proposal called for placing Belarusian peacekeeping forces in Donbas, thereby disregarding the Crimea issue as well as the guarantee of Ukraine’s neutrality.

November 5, 2018 - Michał Potocki

Germany is wrong in bolstering the status quo in Belarus

The current way of thinking in Germany and the West, in shaping a policy towards Belarus, is to accept the political status quo, normalise relations with Minsk and help the Belarusian state preserve its independence. This view, however, is seriously flawed.

Europe has fundamentally changed its policy towards Belarus in recent years, and Germany is no exception. Previously, Berlin and other EU capitals addressed Minsk with clear demands to improve its dismal record on human rights, elections, civil society and democracy, and they responded with sanctions to the worst violations of these norms. Now, by contrast, the central driver behind German and European policy seems to be Belarusian independence, whose fragility has been thrown into sharp relief by the aggressive Russian return to geopolitics in the region. This effective shift to realpolitik is, however, fraught with problems and its success is far from certain.

November 5, 2018 - Joerg Forbrig

Issue 5 2018: What’s new with Belarus?

It often seems, at least from the outside, that Belarus remains isolated from the West and very static in its transformation. Yet, despite its relative isolation, Belarus is indeed changing.

September 2, 2018 - New Eastern Europe

Softly, softly Belarus

One might not notice it, but certain changes are taking place in Belarus. This may be good news for European policymakers and diplomats who seek to engage Belarus and keep it balanced in its relations with Russia, as long as expectations are not kept too high.

Belarus is changing. It is changing in ways that help European engagement. But, to be clear, the area where change is minimal is probably the one where Europeans want to see the most improvement. This is the political sphere. The label “Last Dictatorship in Europe” may be out of date, but Belarus is not about to become a democracy any time soon. What is driving change is the concept of sovereignty. First is the logic of sovereignty, which has been operative for some time; but often belated or delayed by political factors, namely Belarus’s formerly close relationship with Russia. Second is the threat to sovereignty since the situation in Ukraine from 2014; though partly this threat can be traced back to the war in Georgia in 2008.

September 2, 2018 - Andrew Wilson

The EU should take Belarus more seriously

An interview with Balázs Jarábik, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Interviewers: Iwona Reichardt and Daniel Gleichgewicht of New Eastern Europe

NEW EASTERN EUROPE: You recently attended the high-level Minsk Dialogue Forum. Among the speakers was Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. How do you interpret his participation in this event that gathers international experts and representatives of the third sector? What kind of message did he intend to send to the wider world?

BALÁZS JARÁBIK: The most important thing was the fact that he attended a civil society conference. As far as I am aware, this was his first such occurrence. It certainly illustrated how the attitude of the regime is slowly changing vis-à-vis civil society in Belarus. Currently there are several interesting areas internally where co-operation is moving and where the government is beginning to understand the value of civil society.

September 2, 2018 - Balazs Jarabik Daniel Gleichgewicht Iwona Reichardt

A Belarusian house of cards

In the early stages of the system transformation, the division of the Belarusian political elite into the ruling-elite and counter-elite was more symbolic than a reflection of reality. Today, both demonstrate the features of the Homo post-Sovieticus, fitting into the post-Soviet model of political culture. However, while Lukashenka’s transformation and authoritarian modernisation have gained public support, the model promoted by the counter-elite has proved ineffective.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 the political elite played a key role in the process of systematic transformation within post-Soviet territories, including Belarus. The first years of the country’s independence marked a very important stage when the nature of establishing the political elite determined the further course of political, economic and social developments. It was the activities of the elite and counter-elite (i.e. the opposition) that influenced the dynamic of socio-political changes in Belarus.

September 2, 2018 - Maxim Rust

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