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Stories and ideas

A looming humanitarian crisis in the land Orwell forgot

Turkmenistan, a desert republic of 5.6 million people and widely considered to be one of the world’s most repressive states, is heading towards a humanitarian catastrophe the effects of which could be geopolitically significant.

October 31, 2017 - Christopher Schwartz

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

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

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

The disintegration train has left Brussels

A review of After Europe. By: Ivan Krastev. Publisher: University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 2017.

Let me start this review with a disclaimer: the positive assessment of Ivan Krastev’s recent book is in no way related to the fact that the author is also a member of New Eastern Europe’s editorial board. It solely reflects the value of the publication and its relevance as it has been interpreted by the undersigned reviewer. That said, readers who are familiar with Krastev’s writings will not be surprised that his recent book, tellingly titled After Europe, focuses on disintegration rather than integration. They may even remember that on the pages of this magazine Krastev had written: “I know how things collapse; this is what I have been studying all my life. I was working on the Balkans and I know how they collapsed, and before that I studied how the Soviet Union had collapsed”.

October 31, 2017 - Iwona Reichardt

Cultural diplomacy at its best. Giedroyc in St Petersburg

A review of Ежи Гедройц: К Польше своей мечты (Jerzy Giedroyc. To a Poland of dreams). By: Magdalena Grochowska. Publisher: Ivan Limbach Publishing House, St Petersburg, 2017.

June 1st 2017 marked the 70th anniversary since the first issue of Kultura – a Polish-émigré magazine – was published by Instytut Literacki (the Literary Institute) in Paris. Without a doubt, Kultura was one of the most important Polish magazines of the post-war period. Focusing on politics, it deeply analysed the situation in Eastern Europe, paying great attention to literature and the role it played in the formation of citizenry. The first issue of the magazine was actually published in Rome. However in 1948 the editorial team relocated to Pairs where it stayed until Jerzy Giedroyc’s death in 2000. That date is tantamount to the closing down of Kultura as it was declared by Giedroyc in his will.

October 31, 2017 - Dorota Sieroń-Galusek

Legnica with a view to Russia

“Talking about Russia from a theatre stage in Legnica has much more meaning than in any other place in Poland,” says Jacek Głomb, who has been the director of the Modjeska Theatre in Legnica for the past 23 years. Legnica is a small town, located in Lower Silesia in western Poland with a population of about 100,000. It is no accident that for the 40th anniversary of the Polish theatrical stage in Legnica and the commemoration of the 175 years of the building’s existence, which will be celebrated this year, the theatre is preparing an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Demons.

October 31, 2017 - Grzegorz Żurawiński

Poland–Ukraine relations: The ball is in your court

Poland and Ukraine have recently been falling apart and it is clear that the undisputed friendship from the EuroMaidan days has been stalled.

October 31, 2017 - Oleksandra Iwaniuk

Millennials versus statistics

The image which emerges from statistics depicts a Czech millennial who is similar to his or her peers in other European states, but not identical. Young Czechs differ from their European peers in terms of life priorities: enrichment and chasing certain trends are not as important for them. They are also quite tolerant and open to other nations, which is an exception in the Central European context.

Millennials, also called Generation Y, Generation “What?” and the “lost generation”, is a generation often thought of as the bogeyman for big corporations. Yet this is the generation which is beginning to set trends and have a real impact on global affairs. It encompasses those who were born between 1980 and 2000. It is a generation that has been shaped by social media and horrifying historical events: terrorist attacks and mass migration issues. Millennials are described as being flexible (e.g., frequently changing their careers and location, and easily adapting to new circumstances) and are critical, especially towards information and media. They are also referred to as the “relational” generation; they choose their friends by filtering them on Facebook based on common interests in music, literature or politics.

October 31, 2017 - Kinga Motyka

A delayed success: The result of the Kwaśniewski-Cox mission in Ukraine

Viktor Yanukovych has been accused of treason. The former Ukrainian president is in hiding in Russia and did not appear at his hearing in Kyiv’s district court. It was therefore decided that he would be tried in absentia. Could he have avoided such a fate?

October 30, 2017 - Maciej Olchawa

The spectre of Homo post-Sovieticus

Homo post-Sovieticus is a permanent fixture of the post-communist landscape: resentful, frustrated, angry – and retroactively clairvoyant. As long as HPS exists, communism endures: it is the ancient regime that provides the interpretative templates which many citizens of post-communist countries use to interpret the world that surrounds them.

October 19, 2017 - Venelin I. Ganev

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