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Stories and ideas

When being a prisoner becomes hip

A review of Inside Pussy Riot – an immersive theatre performance at Saatchi gallery, London.

On February 21st 2012, a group of five women wearing colourful balaclavas entered the Moscow Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and pulled off a 40-second show which changed their lives forever. Calling on the Virgin Mary to chase Putin away, the feminist punk band Pussy Riot protested against the growing authoritarianism, corruption and human rights abuses in Russia. Three of the band members – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich – were immediately detained and then sentenced to two years at a labour colony for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. After an appeal, Samutsevich’s sentence was suspended.

January 2, 2018 - Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska

To understand Russian nationalism

A review of Lost Kingdom. A History of Russian Nationalism from Ivan the Great to Vladimir Putin. By: Serhii Plokhy. Publisher: Basic Books, New York, 2017.

In the 19th century Russian poet and diplomat Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev wrote:
“Russia cannot be understood with the mind alone,
No ordinary yardstick can span her greatness:
She stands alone, unique –
In Russia, one can only believe”.


Tyutchev was strongly involved in the pan-Slavist movement, often criticising the West. After defeating Napoleon and before the Crimea war in the middle of the 19th century, Russia was considered a superpower. Parallels between Russian imperial times and the Kremlin's policy today are clear. Particularly so, if we look at the way Russia is confronting the West and forging its own vision of politics – not only when it comes to its international position but also the role of the Russian nation. The question which constantly returns is thus: how to understand Russia?

January 2, 2018 - Jan Brodowski

Illustrated chronicles of the forgotten and furious in Putin’s Russia

A review of Other Russias . By: Victoria Lomasko. Publisher: Penguin, London, 2017.

What happens when graphic journalism meets human rights activism in contemporary Russia? Other Russias, a newly published book by Victoria Lomasko, is one result of this prolific encounter: a powerful reportage casting light on some of Russia’s most serious social injustices. In Other Russias, Lomasko condensates eight years of research and travel, giving birth to more than 300 pages of drawings produced from life, rather than reproduced from photographs, and writings collected between 2008 and 2016.

January 2, 2018 - Laura Luciani

A historical optimist

A review of Magnetic North: Conversations with Tomas Venclova. By: Tomas Venclova and Ellen Hinsey. Publisher: University of Rochester Press, Rochester New York, 2017.

Today our world is plagued with massive flows of information, chaos, propaganda, post-truth and fake news. If we play on John Austin’s conception of doing things with words, one might have a feeling that our world is simply cramped. There is a tendency to equate being prolific with being great, as literary criticism and economics prefer easily quantifiable works. Aware that culture has origins in the Latin cultivare, we should expect it to bear fruit once a year. The Lithuanian poet and Yale professor Tomas Venclova, however, approaches it with much more patience.

January 2, 2018 - Laurynas Vaičiūnas

Islam and Russian power politics

A review of Russia and Its Islamic World – From the Mongol Conquest to the Syrian Military Intervention. By: Robert Service. Publisher: Hoover Institution Press, 2017.

At the opening of the Moscow Cathedral Mosque in September 2015, President Vladimir Putin called Islam an integral part of Russia’s spiritual life. In the 21st century Islam in Russia is one of the most challenging research topics, since the Russian Federation hosts the largest Muslim minority in Europe and shares an ambivalent history with various Muslim groups. In addition, in 2015 Russia intervened militarily in the Syrian civil war. These facts lead us to question if it is possible to link Russia’s role in domestic politics with its foreign policy in the Muslim world?

January 2, 2018 - Tibor Wilhelm Benedek

Latvia’s Kuš comics turns ten

Kuš, a Riga-based comic publishing house, singlehandedly created the comic arts scene in Latvia, and has since fostered the talents of new generations of young illustrators and artists making surreal, sweet, deeply foreboding, or sometimes just plain confusing collections of images using a wide range of mediums.

December 12, 2017 - Aliide Naylor

Russia’s disruptive narrative on Bolshevik revolution

While Putin’s Russia is proud of the big achievements of the Soviet era and views the collapse of the USSR as “the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”, it has failed to form a clear view of its past, including the Bolshevik Revolution. As long as that is the case, the country will hardly build a vision for the future.

November 30, 2017 - Rahim Rahimov

The way to Ukrainian-Jewish understanding

Interview with Yosyf Zisels, a former dissident, chairman of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (VAAD) in Ukraine and a board member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union. Interviewer: Kataryna Pryshchepa.

November 20, 2017 - Kateryna Pryshchepa

Tajikistan: Between security and objectification of female body

After a long political struggle against the Islamic opposition, Tajikistan's government initiated a “traditional-national” policy, according to which women should wear “traditional-national” garments. This objectification of female body serves to perpetuate the political power of the ruling elite.

November 13, 2017 - Hafiz Boboyorov

Azerbaijan’s civil society exiled from a captured state

The Azerbaijani opposition has survived, even though the civil society has been significantly repressed. They have observed Ukraine and Georgia and learnt from the two countries successes and mistakes. Next time Ilham Aliyev’s power is shaken, they will be ready to act.

November 6, 2017 - Valentin Luntumbue

The complex reality of radicalisation in Central Asia

An interview with Bhavna Davé, a senior lecturer in Central Asian politics with the department of politics and international studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Interviewer: Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska

October 31, 2017 - Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska Bhavna Davé

The crawling threat of the Crimea scenario

Kazakhstan staunchly sides with Russia in global affairs and supports many of its integration initiatives in the former Soviet space. However, following the annexation of Crimea the fear that Kazakhstan's ethnic Russian regions might share the peninsula's fate has returned.

Kazakh citizens arriving at the railway station in the northern sleepy town of Petropavlovsk may find it puzzling that the clocks on the station’s walls show a time different than the local time zone. The oddity stems from the fact that the Petropavlovsk station, as well as many other Kazakh stations in North Kazakhstan region, lies along Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway and is operated by the Russian Railways company – hence, the clocks show Moscow time, which is three hours behind the local time. North Kazakhstan is also one of the two Kazakh regions, along with the neighbouring Kostanay region, where ethnic Russians still outnumber ethnic Kazakhs, despite the continuing depopulation processes caused by the emigration of ethnic Russians to Russia and higher birth rate among ethnic Kazakhs.

October 31, 2017 - Naubet Bisenov

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