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Stories and ideas

Identity building after the rupture. Post-war memorials in Central and Eastern Europe

Following the First World War, a significant number of conspicuous monuments and memorials were put up in Central and Eastern Europe. More than just an attempt to come to terms with the trauma of the war, they were also a method of nation- and state-building. Consequently, it was associated with the revival or invention of traditions in order to stabilise the societies in the newly founded, re-founded or reshaped states.

The First World War was followed by the construction of mass number of monuments and memorials. In Central and Eastern Europe, however, the erection of new monuments was first preceded by the destruction of existing ones. In countries which had gained or regained their independence, symbols of the former regimes were removed from public view as they were associated with foreign rule and oppression.

November 5, 2018 - Arnold Bartetzky

What does independence mean in the Baltics?

The three Baltic countries are celebrating 100 years of independence this year. What kind of societies have they become in the last century marked by both freedom and occupation? Three creative leaders from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania reflect on their struggles.

Not a lot of countries are so often mentioned in the same breath as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. When Pope Francis visited the three Baltic republics in September, he did not even need a whole week to set foot in all the countries. In recent history, of course, the trio have a lot in common. All suffered under Soviet occupation for nearly half of the 20th century, a period included in the 100 years of independence because they (plus the western world) never agreed with Moscow that the Baltics entered the USSR voluntarily.

November 5, 2018 - Koen Verhelst

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

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

Zbigniew Herbert. A witness to his time

A special selection of essays dedicated to the life and writings of Zbigniew Herbert from New Eastern Europe.

September 1, 2018 - New Eastern Europe

Belarusian culture: national, European, post-Soviet

I dare say the Soviet cultural project is unlikely to survive in Belarus for another 20 years. The fact that there are artists working in Belarus today who represent the European or national layer of Belarusian culture is a result of the disintegration of the earlier mechanisms.

In June 1987 a group of enthusiasts wanted to prepare an exhibition at the Vitebsk regional library in Belarus. It was dedicated to Marc Chagall – a native of Vitebsk who was widely recognised in the West. However, in that summer attitudes towards Chagall in his hometown was somewhat ambiguous. First of all, a large exhibition of his art had been earlier held in Moscow. Secondly, a well-known magazine Ogoniok (Огонёк) had already published his work which aimed at rehabilitating the artist.

September 1, 2018 - Victor Martinovich

A change from within

Belarus is said to be Europe’s last dictatorship. Yet, even in this post-Soviet state there are people who are changing the country from the inside: bringing authorities to account, fighting to reduce the consumption of plastic and re-designing the public spaces together with local residents.

Walking along Praspiekt Niezaliežnasci, the main avenue in Minsk, it is easy to imagine yourself back in the Soviet Union. The avenue, built in the 1950s, spans 15 kilometres with vast spaces and Stalinist architecture. But do not be fooled by the first impression. A 15-minute walk from the city centre to Kastryčnickaja Street will bring you to quite a different Mink: one with building walls full of colourful graffiti, hipster fast-food restaurants and Berlin-like bars. Even though it might not be obvious at first sight, Minsk has changed a lot in recent years and many of those changes are thanks to its active citizens.

September 1, 2018 - Natalia Smolentceva and Varvara Morozova

Hello, generation Lukashenka

Thousands of Belarusians are now coming of age but have only known one leader of their country. Little is known about the Lukashenka generation. But these are young people who soon will determine its country’s future. A recent online video depicts a young man playing the piano accompanied by a singer who performs in Chinese. The interior of the room has a rather solemn appearance: the camera pans to a framed photo featuring the Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife in the company of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his youngest son Kolya – the same person playing the piano. After the song, the teen stands up and reads out a prepared text in Chinese. In February this year, the Belarusian ambassador to China posted the video on Twitter calling Kolya “the most famous Belarusian teenager in China”.

September 1, 2018 - Hanna Liubakova

Exclusion in Belarus: pieces of discrimination

Discrimination in Belarus has its peculiarities and nuances. But in general, its origins lie within the common attitudes of the patriarchal world where people are still divided into a “majority” and “minority” group.

In April this year, one of the schools in Gomel, a city in the south-eastern part of Belarus, hosted a meeting of residents at the residential building number 18. The issue that brought the people together was the total lack of facilities for those with special needs. Andrey Antonenko, a resident, uses a wheelchair and needs a platform stairlift to leave his apartment. The day before the meeting, 106 people voiced their opposition to the installation of the stairlift in the main entrance hall of the apartment bloc.

“And how are we to live?! How are we supposed to move furniture?” the neighbours asked resentfully. “And the noise? That thing will make noise!”; “How much space will it take up?”

September 1, 2018 - Tanja Setsko

The disease of the Romanian health care system

Romania’s healthcare system is seriously ill. A combination of poverty, corruption and the remnants of communism, exacerbated by the mass amounts of doctors moving abroad after the country joined the European Union in 2007, has led to a system that leaves patients in dire straits.

It was the middle of the night when Roxana Popescu’s phone woke her. Her aunt on the other side of the line sounded concerned. “She told me she was at the Bucharest University Hospital with my 26-year-old cousin, Catalin,” Popescu says. “He was in a coma.” A long story preceded this alarming and undesirable phone call – a story that, in many ways, demonstrates what is wrong with Romania’s healthcare system, and in a broader sense mirrors what is happening in a society that is attempting to liberate itself from its communist past.

September 1, 2018 - Fieke Snijder

Public involvement in urban development: The case of Novosibirsk

In Novosibirsk, the involvement of the local population in urban development and decision-making has been on a rise in recent years. It is related to the activity of local civic organisations and their effort to promote participation and dialogue between the authorities and the local residents.

"So, what actually is the city of Novosibirsk? First, it’s the winter. It’s just eternal winter and frost. Second, there are 30-40 wooden houses inhabited by dozens of people. Third, there is a lonely snow-covered tram without glass in its windows that runs through the city, through its one and only street." (The description of Novosibirsk by a local punk band called SPiD).

Cold, darkness and mountains of snow, one cannot provide any better impression of mid-January on the journey from the Novosibirsk airport. Peering through the taxi window at the other traffic on the renovated roads, we try to understand to what extent the city has changed over the last decade. People are talking about new shopping malls, restaurants and cafés, and what you can buy and where you can spend your money. We look at the places that have stayed the same – Lenin’s monument in front of the Opera Theatre, Heroes of the Revolution Square and the constructivist House with Clock, museums and libraries in the city centre.

September 1, 2018 - Yulia Oreshina and Olesya Shvets

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