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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

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

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

September 2, 2018 - Maxim Rust

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

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:

September 1, 2018 - Natalia Smolentceva and Varvara Morozova

Oppositionists or dissidents?

An interview with Alyaksandr Klaskouski, a Belarusian journalist and political analyst. Interviewer: Zbigniew Rokita

ZBIGNIEW ROKITA: I

September 1, 2018 - Alyaksandr Klaskouski Zbigniew Rokita

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

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

September 1, 2018 - Tanja Setsko

Energy independence should be priority

Since independence, Belarus has not been able to overcome its total dependence on Russian energy supplies. With the construction of a Belarusian nuclear

September 1, 2018 - Tatiana Manenok

Little change in the Belarusian economy

For years the Belarusian economy has faced the same challenges. The main input to state coffers comes from a few gas enterprises and the military industry, while many branches of the economy remain ineffective. Heavy dependence on Russia is also a serious problem. The only cure is structural reforms. Yet, seemingly there is no political will for their quick implementation.

According to official projections, Belarus is to reach 3.5 per cent GDP growth this year. Less optimistic is the forecast of the IMF which believes growth will be at only 0.7 per cent. The National Bank of Belarus, in turn, assumes inflation will not pass seven per cent. Regardless of the source, the predicted growth is not going to result in any form of structural change to the Belarusian economy. Rather it will be a reflection of global economic prosperity and higher gas prices.

September 1, 2018 - Anna Maria Dyner

Between declarations and reality

Is Ukraine ready to regain control of the occupied part of Donbas?

Ukrainian officials are often under fire from critics due to their inefficiency in defending Ukrainian citizens in the occupied parts of Donbas. Unfortunately the criticism is deserved. Despite the creation of the ministry for the temporary occupied territories in April 2016, it is very difficult to find any positive results since its inception. Creating a ministry of information policy has not improved access to independent information. Even the rebuilding of damaged television towers and the building of new ones has been implemented very slowly and without any real success.

September 1, 2018 - Paweł Kost

Ukrainian media reforms: One step forward, two steps back

The development of the media landscape in Ukraine has taken an unconventional approach when compared to the countries of Central Europe and other post-Soviet states. While some success in terms of reform has been noted over the past two and a half decades, many barriers for a free and open media still exist.

For the past 27 years, Ukrainian media have gone through a difficult process of transformation. This process, however, is incomplete. Instead of state propaganda, private media have now emerged and developed. In the neighbouring countries of Central and Eastern Europe, the process of creating new media was closely intertwined with the processes of the democratic transformation. The media in Ukraine, in contrast, had to compete with the new Russian media after the fall of communism, which for several years afterwards was freely available in Ukraine. Russian media was well-resourced while Ukrainian media was bereaved by the similarity of the Ukrainian and Russian languages. Therefore, paradoxically, Ukrainian media had to use Russian language in order to compete with the Russian media.

September 1, 2018 - Roman Kabachiy

A clockwork orange

The media landscape in Hungary has all but collapsed, with nearly all major Hungarian online and print media in the hands of the government or pro-government forces. Only a few remaining independent sources exist, and they do so under constant threat.

There is a weekly news magazine in Hungary. It is called Figyelő. When they meet foreign colleagues, its journalists like to refer to it as the Observer (which is the English translation of the word figyelő) – it sounds dignified. On Thursdays, the day that the paper is published, everybody awaits the big story that will land on Figyelő’s front page. It was known as a reliable source of exclusive information, often prompting an official response to its stories. This was the case until the end of 2016.

September 1, 2018 - Szabolcs Vörös

Corruption is Russia’s biggest export

An interview with Ilya Zaslavskiy, head of research at the Free Russia Foundation. Interviewer: Olena Babakova

OLENA BABAKOVA: After the United States introduced new sanctions against Russian oligarchs in April this year, the value of their companies collapsed and the exchange rates of the rouble sky rocketed. The West showed, once again, that it can still exert pressure on Russia. Is this a long-term problem for the Russian economy or has it already learnt how to adapt to such restrictions?

ILYA ZASLAVSKIY: I think we should examine whether the Kremlin and its business circles adapted to the western sanctions or whether the economy as a whole adapted. The regime found ways to continue with its current policies and its various confidants that have been targeted still have lots of money in offshore accounts, so they only feel threatened but not bitten. Even more importantly, they feel confident. However, if we talk about the quality of life and wealth of ordinary Russians, standards have obviously dropped. Some estimates say it has fallen by as much as a third. However this is still better than the situation in the 1990s.

September 1, 2018 - Ilya Zaslavskiy Olena Babakova

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

A barbarian in the besieged city

Zbigniew Herbert felt suffocated in communist Poland where he lacked a creative atmosphere. Travelling inspired him and provided him an opportunity to write on a variety of topics beyond social realism. Yet, in the end, he simply could not live without Poland. He disliked communist Poland, but it was still Poland – his homeland.

Zbigniew Herbert is one of those writers that everyone has heard of but very few have read. People in Central and Eastern Europe had high hopes that he might win the Nobel Prize in Literature, but it never happened. Perhaps it was because two Poles (Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska) were already awarded the prize during that period. Be that as it may, now 20 years after the writer’s death, it is worth looking back and examining this outstanding figure from a different perspective: as a deep poet, a sophisticated essayist, a profound thinker, a dissident and an Eastern European barbarian who saw the garden of Western culture in his own way.

September 1, 2018 - Andriy Lyubka

Herbert, who looks at the cathedral tower

Lviv, the city of Zbigniew Herbert’s childhood, is a chapter that has never ended. It is something that once and for all acquired a metaphysical form for him. Herbert resolutely separated it from the chapter of his life almost immediately after leaving the city. Yet, the poem "My city", written in his notes in the 1950s, has a dedication: “For my city, in which I will not die…”

“Sir, don’t miss the strawberries or currants,” says a black-haired, middle-aged woman reasonably and calmly without yelling, which is unusual for this type of market. She sits on a low bench, opposite house number 55 on Lychakivska Street in Lviv. There is a whole bunch of baskets and pots with all sorts of berries in front of her: from the deep dark raspberry to the half-transparent, as if illuminated from the inside, red currant. Next to her is a late-blooming, assertive and impatient lilac. There are so many lilac branches that the woman cannot keep them all together. The lilac breaks loose and it seems that the saleswoman is paying less attention to the customers and rather speaking to the blossom inside that fragrant cloud, soothing and lulling it.

“Come on, lilaaac” she stretches the word. There is a lot of green and white one step farther: shaggy bundles of green onions sway between blocks of cheese, like the coast grass flowing between the dried up white stones at low tide. The water receded long, long ago.

“I thank you Lord, for creating such a beautiful and sundry world,” wrote the poet Zbigniew Herbert – who was born here, in Lviv.

September 1, 2018 - Ostap Slyvynsky

Like two gods. Herbert and Miłosz

An interview with Andrzej Franaszek, a biographer of both Zbigniew Herbert and Czesław Miłosz. Interviewer: Grzegorz Nurek

GRZEGORZ NUREK: You have written major biographies about two outstanding Polish poets: Czesław Miłosz and Zbigniew Herbert. Is there a chance that those biographies will be translated into other languages to reach a wider audience, outside of Poland?

ANDRZEJ FRANASZEK: The biography of Czesław Miłosz that I authored was translated into Lithuanian and Belarusian a few years ago. A shortened English version was also released by Harvard University Press and distributed in the United Kingdom and United States. It is difficult for me to say how well it is selling. It had a surprising amount of reviews in the media. When it comes to Zbigniew Herbert’s biography, it has only been recently released in Polish in two large volumes. But I am not sure if any foreign publishing houses would be interested in translating it. Time will tell…

September 1, 2018 - Andrzej Franaszek Grzegorz Nurek

Herbert and the East

The burial of the USSR became a personal culmination point for Zbigniew Herbert after a long and painful process of dealing with the trauma of communism and losing his hometown. Thus, the nostalgia after Lviv became a hidden but recurring theme in Herbert’s works.

An interesting collage can be found in the Zbigniew Herbert archives at the National Library in Warsaw. Most likely Herbert made it in December 1991. He glued his own photograph onto a picture he cut out of a newspaper which depicted the signatories of the Białowieża Treaty which led to the dismantling of the Soviet Union. The photograph included such figures as Leonid Kravchuk, Stanislav Shushkevich and Boris Yeltsin. They were the leaders of the Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian Soviet republics, respectively. In the photograph they were depicted as if they were posing for the camera after signing the document, applauding each other.

September 1, 2018 - Walery Butewicz

A nomadic writer

What interested Herbert the most were diversity and human beings. To understand them he was constantly deepening his knowledge, travelled to many places, all to experience different cultures and meet new people.

Zbigniew Herbert wrote many collections of poems and essays. Yet, there is one book that he never wrote, even though he should have. Or maybe he wrote such a book, but not literally. Not as a titled volume, but as many single pages. As a matter of fact, he was fully aware that many of his anthropological and sociological texts remained in drafts and excerpts. In his 1965 essay titled “Mr Montaigne’s journey to Italy” which was published in Tygodnik Powszechny a year later he admitted: “When a moment comes that my body will have only enough strength to fix the pillow under the head, I will have no choice but write a large piece of work, that is a book and not a collection of drafts, which will be titled: Introduction to the theory of journey.”

September 1, 2018 - Kinga Gajda

Rediscovering a Jewish Wrocław

The oldest piece of evidence of Jewish material culture in Wrocław goes back as early as 1203. Jewish life flourished there until it was brutally destroyed by the Holocaust. It was reduced further by post-war emigration and the infamous March of 1968 which pushed the majority of Jewish residents out of Poland. Some of them returned after 1989 and are now reviving the Jewish community. Thus, you can hear Jewish prayers in Wrocław today.

Wrocław is an extraordinary city. Its uniqueness lies not only in its charm, vitality and openness, but its extraordinary history, which is part of the history of Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria. It is also the capital of Silesia, a region where the European East and West meet, diffusing, enriching and inspiring one another. It is also a city where the memory of previous identities was often erased – as it did not serve the new nationalist, exclusiveness, which would doom the city’s past for centuries of silence and falsehood. Such was the case in Germany during the time of Bismarck and even more during the period of communist Poland.

September 1, 2018 - Aleksander Gleichgewicht

A welcome addition to North Caucasus scholarship

A review of From Conquest to Deportation: The North Caucasus under Russian Rule. By: Jeronim Perovic. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Oxford, United Kingdom, 2018.

September 1, 2018 - Neil Hauer

A portrait of Jobbik

A review of The Hungarian Far Right. Social Demand, Political Supply and International Context. By: Péter Krekó and Attila Juhász. Publisher: Ibidem-Verlag, Hanover, Germany, 2017.

August 23, 2018 - Adam Balcer

A pioneer in St Petersburg

A review of Nieprzetartym szlakiem. Wspomnienia pionierskiej farmaceutki Antoniny Leśniewskiej (An Unexplored Track. The Memoirs of Antonina Leśniewska, the Pioneer Pharmacist). Publisher: The Polish Consulate General in St Petersburg, 2017.

August 23, 2018 - Margarita Vladimirova

Following a grandmother’s life

A review of Babushka's Journey: The Dark Road to Stalin's Wartime Camps. By: Marcel Krueger. Publisher: I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd., London, 2017.

August 23, 2018 - Zofia Bluszcz

Democracy – not just an American thing

A review of How Democracies Die? What History Reveals about Our Future. By: Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky. Publisher: Penguin Books, Boston, USA, 2018.

August 23, 2018 - Matteusz Mazzini

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