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Stories and ideas

Russia’s grassroots are more active than the West may think

Despite the Russian government's crackdown, Russia’s civil society is still alive and far stronger and more active than many in the West may think. In order for it to thrive, it needs to gain more self-confidence and more consistent cross-border co-operation.

According to international human rights organisations, in the past six years Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian rule has dramatically shrunk the space for actors of civil society with alternative views of government policy, who are often labelled as disloyal, foreign-sponsored or even “traitorous”. An enduring central feature to the current situation has been the Russian legislation introduced in 2012 requiring independent non-profit organisations to register as foreign agents if they receive any foreign funding and engage in broadly defined political activity.

March 4, 2019 - Andreas Rossbach

The Havana connection still stands

The Cold War may be long over, but worlds and narratives still collide on this Caribbean island, just 100 miles away from the American coast. In Cuba, the past is far from dead.

To get to Cuba these days is no longer the daredevil’s accomplishment that it was two or three decades ago. Major airline companies operate regular flights to La Havana from nearby aviation hubs such as Mexico City or Fort Lauderdale. On the capital’s airport runway, there is no shortage of trans-oceanic connections. One of them is the Russian Aeorflot, offering daily direct flights to and from Moscow. Citizens of the world can comfortably stretch their legs in a spacious business cabin and watch Netflix while crossing half of the world in literal terms and at least an entire world in daily life realities.

March 4, 2019 - Matteusz Mazzini

Connecting the past with the present

After years of construction and delays, the Kaliningrad New Synagogue was opened 80 years after the destruction of the Königsberg synagogue, before the war. This impressive new building, constructed on the same location as the previous one, has become quite a challenge for Kaliningrad Jews. It will take some time before we can say this challenge has been met.

October is warm and sunny – a real Indian summer. The synagogue building site is surrounded by a tall fence. I wait obediently next to the gate. After a while a security guard lets me on to the construction site. Natalia Lorens is an architect responsible for the building of the Kaliningrad synagogue. She moved around the site from one group of men to another. She is a small brunette, wearing jeans with a jacket covered in dust, she speaks loudly. From a distance, I can hear the word “problem” repeated a lot.

March 4, 2019 - Paulina Siegień

To be or not to be a Jewish student activist?

The European Union of Jewish Students is an umbrella organisation of national Jewish students throughout Europe and the political representation of 160,000 Jewish students and young professionals. Today, after four decades of existence, the organisation must now take on the challenge to gain wider recognition and take responsibility to challenge the status quo.

On the February 7th 2019, the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS) had the privilege to open a high-level conference to address antisemitism, hosted by the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Heavy-weights of Jewish advocacy made their way to Brussels to engage in discussion and, through their mere presence, reinforce the importance of the topic.

March 4, 2019 - Alina Bricman

Where Eastern European intellectuals sit today

I was once amazed when someone said that without inheriting an apartment it is impossible to pursue an artistic profession, as all your energy would go towards paying off a mortgage. I heard these words in Eastern Europe around the year 2000. They were uttered in a discussion with a group of well-educated artists.

Italo Calvino’s The Baron in the Trees is a unique novel about a public intellectual. Its protagonist meets all the characteristics of what we call a man of letters. Cosimo Piovasco di Rondo, as was his full name, read books, was involved in intellectual disputes with the brightest minds of his time, reflected on a variety of issues and had a positive impact on the life of the local community. At the same time, he had a unique personality. After having rebelled in his youth against eating snails, which he was trying to save, Cosimo escaped to live in the crown of a tree, a place he had not since left.

January 2, 2019 - Zofia Bluszcz

The house that Mykola built

Mykola Golovan believes that Ukraine is changing and becoming even more beautiful. It is being built anew, just as he has been rebuilding his house. It only needs to get rid of some wrongful ideologies and open itself more to the world.

“I get my energy from the river. Recently I was bathing in the Vistula river, but it was cold and I could not stay there very long” – these are the first words I hear from Mykola Golovan who continues with his life story to tell me more about his art. Indeed, the story told by this 75-year old Ukrainian artist from Lutsk is not so much expressed by his words as it is to be found in the language of culture. It is depicted in his sculptures, bas-reliefs, rotundas and ornaments. For over 30 years now, Golovan has been the creator of a house which he calls an exhibition.

January 2, 2019 - Kinga Gajda

A day in an Istrian olive grove

Olive oil is a symbol of Mediterranean culture and antiquity, so special that the ancient Romans poured this drink of gods into painted amphorae. It is no coincidence that, for centuries, olive oil has been used as chrism for anointing during worship. It always seemed to me that those who produce olive oil with their own hands belong to some higher, secret culture.

Even in the ancient world, olive oil from Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula had a remarkable reputation and was served to Roman emperors. After the Second World War, when the region became a part of the socialist Yugoslavia, this sector fell into decay. Nonetheless, interest in the cultivation of olives has experienced a true renaissance since the early 2000s, and the area of olive groves in Istria has increased tenfold. It is the revival of tradition that is essential for the local identity, part of its cultural code.

January 2, 2019 - Andriy Lyubka

On food and power

It is an interesting exercise to compare two types of culinary cultures – the utopian Soviet ideal and the capitalist fast food one. While the totalitarian culture relied on food scarcity and hunger as a tool of authoritative disciplining, the present-day culture relies on temptation and abundance.

Culinary culture is a field of culture that regulates the human experience of food. The need for food is not merely a need for calories and nutrients. Food encompasses a wide range of cultural connotations. Through our food choices we choose who we are, and our adherence to our family, society, culture and even the state. Food also has political meaning. Therefore, food and its consumption has always been of interest to those in power, who often ration, control, distribute and identify food in particular ways.

January 2, 2019 - Irina Soklhan

The land of the warm breeze

Behind the cellars we come across a billboard with a mosaic showing a map of today’s Hungary. Overlaid on it is the map of Hungary from before the Treaty of Trianon. Marked in blue on the map are “Hungarian rivers” – the Danube, Tisza, Mureș and Sava. This piece of patriotic art reminds everybody that this 1920 defeat hurts Hungarians until today.

The Polish city of Krosno was drenched in sunlight. For a few days the warm wind wafts from the mountain pass. That southern gale is characteristic of this part of the Subcarpathia, or podkarpackie in Polish. In the autumn the wind brings beautiful, warm weather. Scholars call it a tunnelling wind to distinguish it from the foehn wind, or halny as it is called in the Polish Tatra Mountains. The wind follows the path once used by military troops and trading caravans – the lowest part of the bend of the Carpathian Mountains in the Dukla Pass. Today, the pass is known as expressway S19, the road that once served as the route through which Hungarian wines were brought to Poland.

January 2, 2019 - Katarina Novikova and Wiktor Trybus

Lublin and beyond: A new place to call home for Ukrainian Donbas migrants

For eastern Ukrainians, Lublin is the new place to be. Its low cost of living, high level of education and proximity to the Ukrainian border allow migrants fleeing the conflict back home and economic hardships that come with it find peace. All it takes is one arduous bus ride and the willingness to start over again.

December 17, 2018 - Tatiana Kozak

Welcome to Casa Jurnalistului – where Romanian reporters are rebuilding the media industry from the ground up

In an era of fake news, clickbait content, and cut-throat downsizing, it is no secret that journalism is undergoing a crisis. Although it is a global phenomenon, in Romania, the impact has been intensified by economic instability - 40 per cent of Romanians living under the breadline - and a corruption so rampant that the government is now decriminalising it. Frustrated at working in a climate where quality reporting was becoming increasingly difficult, Bucharest-based journalist Vlad Ursulean decided to take on what seemed like an impossible task - finding a sustainable alternative.

December 5, 2018 - Elizabeth Short

In Georgia, a fight to the end

They camp around the clock in the company of friends and supporters in front of the old parliament on the main arterial road of Tbilisi, Rustaveli Avenue. They have one tent, several camp beds, flags – Georgian, European, American – as well as photos of their sons and others who were murdered by a regime they consider criminal, that of Bidzina Ivanishvili.

November 21, 2018 - Wojciech Wojtasiewicz

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