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The decline of the West and the joy in the East

Interview with Andrzej Chwalba, Polish historian and professor of history at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland. Interviewer: Andrzej Zaręba

November 5, 2018 - Andrzej Chwalba Andrzej Zaręba

More than independence. Poland and 1918

After the First World War Poland regained its independence. At the same time, it failed to recreate its former state, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and

November 5, 2018 - Adam Balcer

1918 – A geopolitical catastrophe for Ukraine

There is merit in perusing counterfactual history – which is not about what happened, but what could have happened. It allows us to reconsider simple

November 5, 2018 - Yaroslav Hrytsak

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

November 5, 2018 - Arnold Bartetzky

The failure of mapmaking and territorialisation of statehood in Polesia and Belarus in 1918

For various reasons, the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty, signed on March 3rd 1918 between the Central Powers and Soviet Russia, was published without the agreed

November 5, 2018 - Diana Siebert

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

November 5, 2018 - Koen Verhelst

Selective memory in the South Caucasus

This year is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the short independence in the South Caucasus. Politicians in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan have used

November 5, 2018 - Jan Brodowski

Is the blockchain revolution starting in Russia?

Russia, with its cheap electricity and talented tech professionals, has become an important hub for cryptocurrency. And it seems the Russian authorities are

November 5, 2018 - Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska

Russia’s economic policy in Putin’s fourth term

Despite some initial disruption, the Kremlin’s efforts to counteract and mitigate the impact of sanctions have been quite successful. The state-led

November 5, 2018 - Alex Nice

Russia’s denial syndrome

The HIV epidemic continues to spread in Russia while the authorities appear to be doing very little to effectively counter it. It does not help that the dedicated NGOs that try to prevent its spread are faced with legal obstacles and conspiracy theories claiming that the HIV epidemic is a hoax fabricated by the pharmaceutical industry.

In 2015 as many as 120,000 Russians were diagnosed with HIV. This figure is 70 per cent of the total number of new diagnoses in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. That year the number of officially registered HIV carriers in Russia exceeded one million, and the Russian authorities had to finally recognise the existence of a full-scale HIV epidemic.

November 5, 2018 - Olga Irisova

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

Old Moldova in new Europe

Since 2009, Moldova’s ruling elite have primarily based their political narratives on pro-European integration. Events that have unfolded in 2018, however, have made the continuation of this course nearly impossible.

In September 2018 Vladimir Plahotniuc, the leader of Moldova’s ruling Democratic Party and the most powerful oligarch in the country, announced that his party was set to change political course. Up until then, it had been the most important pro-European political force in Moldova. However, while preparing for the 2019 February parliamentary elections, it became a “pro-Moldovan” party. To many commentators this announcement was interpreted as a future turn towards Russia.

November 5, 2018 - Piotr Oleksy

Poetry, music, politics

A conversation with Tomasz Sikora, a Polish musician and member of Karbido. Interviewer: Zbigniew Rokita

ZBIGNIEW ROKITA: Your band Karbido has recorded several records with a symbol of Ukrainian literature – Yuri Andrukhovych. How did this co-operation between a band from Wrocław and a writer from Ivano Frankivsk begin?

TOMASZ SIKORA: It was actually by coincidence. Back in 2005 Serhiy Zhadan, Andriy Bondar and Yuri Andrukhovych were among some Ukrainian writers invited to a literature festival in Wrocław. The idea was that the poets would read their own poems on stage. However, the organisers were worried that the audience would fall asleep, so they suggested that our band create a musical background to keep people awake. Recitations of poetry do not stir much emotion in Poland – as I would later find out, public recitation or the singing of poetry is more engaging in Ukraine.

November 5, 2018 - Tomasz Sikora Zbigniew Rokita

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

Nord Stream: The narrative of a new Molotov–Ribbentrop pact?

The debates that took place on the first Nord Stream pipeline exemplify the politically detrimental consequences that can arise from the misuse of the past for political gains. Carefully analysing the context and history of the comparison shows that Polish politicians are not trapped in memories of the past, rather they have developed tools to play on their audience’s sensitivity to its own history.

History appears in various shapes within the public debate. Though not a Polish specificity, the Polish political sphere offers fertile ground for memory studies. History can be the object of public policy, as in the ongoing debate on the 2018 amendments to the 1988 Act on the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN law).

November 5, 2018 - Francis Masson

Postcolonialism in the Soviet Bloc

A review of Socjalistyczny postkolonializm. Rekonsolidacja pamięci (Socialist Postcolonialism: Memory Reconsolidation). By: Adam F Kola. Publisher: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Mikołaja Kopernika, Toruń, Poland, 2018.

During the latter half of the 1980s I was a student of English language philology and literature at the University of Silesia in Katowice. Through assigned readings we were introduced to the western discourse of postcolonialism, but the lecturers took care to not operationalise these analytical instruments for any research on books and essays written and published in communist Poland or the Soviet bloc. Some conclusions that we could arrive at about our own communist regime might be ideologically dangerous for ourselves and our tutors. When communism collapsed in 1989 and the Soviet Union broke up two years later, the imageries and analytical approaches of postcolonialism suddenly began to make much sense to my colleagues and myself.

November 5, 2018 - Tomasz Kamusella

A fresh look at political culture in Russia and Ukraine

A review of Ukraine and Russian Neo-Imperialism: The Divergent Break. By: Ostap Kushnir. Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham MD, USA, 2018.

Ukrainian political culture presents an intriguing and rather unique case for analysis. Often a cause for debate, its origin and development, influenced by the rigorous winds of history and political geography, are not easy to grasp or apprehend. The complexities of the country’s relations with Russia, in particular, tend to leave the outside observer in a state of bewilderment. This response tends to lead to an overgeneralisation and simplification of the problem, which does not contribute to finding good solutions. Ostap Kushnir’s new book, Ukraine and Russian Neo-Imperialism: The Divergent Break, does not aim to add further complexity. On the contrary, it seeks to deconstruct the phenomenon and replace confusion with clarity.

November 5, 2018 - Margaryta Khvostova

Countering the realists on Russia and Ukraine

A review of The Sources of Russia’s Great Power Politics: Ukraine and the Challenge to the European Order. By: Taras Kuzio and Paul D’Anieri. Publisher: E-International Relations, Bristol, England, 2018.

Since the onset of Russian aggression in Ukraine in early 2014, there has been a plethora of works dedicated to the conflict, its impact on the West and the liberal world order, and Russia’s motives in pursuing such a bold strategy. Ukraine Crisis: What it Means for the West by Andrew Wilson and Russia and the New World Disorder by Bobo Lo are just a few (excellent) examples that seek to bring light to the ways in which the conflict in Ukraine is affecting international politics.

November 5, 2018 - Daniel Jarosak

Past Continuous: Is Bandera replacing Lenin?

A review of Past Continuous: Історичнаполітика 1980-х-2000-х: Українатасусіди, (Past Continuous: Political History 1980s-2000s: Ukraine and its neighbours). By: Georgiy Kasyanov. Publisher: Laurus, Kyiv, 2018.

Historical policy is among the most discussed issues in post-Maidan Ukraine, and the discussion goes beyond Ukrainian borders. Important changes have taken place since 2014, namely decommunisation and the glorification of Ukrainian nationalism – including the controversial leader of Ukrainian nationalists, Stepan Banders, who is generally considered an extremist. This generates heated discussion outside Ukraine.

November 5, 2018 - Marek Wojnar

A miracle from the inside

A review of Wszyscy ci wspaniali chłopcy i dziewczyny. Osobista historia czeskiego kina. (All the bright young men and women: a personal history of the Czech cinema). By: Josef Škvorecký. Polish edition published by Wydawnictwo Pogranicze, Sejny, 2018.

This year the Polish publishing house Pogranicze published the first translation of Josef Škvorecký’s work on Czech cinematography – a book like no other. Hence four decades after it was original published it is worth reflecting on this book. Škvorecký, the author of the book, left Czechoslovaka in 1969, first heading to the United States and later to Canada where he spent the rest of his life.

November 5, 2018 - Maciej Robert

Belarus in a post-Crimean deadlock

The annexation of Crimea was planned as a response to the decrease in Vladimir Putin’s approval rating in Russia. Now, after the pension reform has been introduced, the president’s rating is lower than that of the military – for the first time ever. It may happen that Belarus becomes the next goal for the Kremlin’s revanchist policies.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union’s foreign policy towards the countries of the socialist camp extensively followed a simple formula: loyalty of its satellites was bought with cheap natural gas and oil supplies. Today, it is widely implemented by Russia in relation to its post-Soviet neighbours, and its main client is Belarus.

November 5, 2018 - Igor Gretskiy

Pragmatic co-operation amid eroding security

Belarus and Ukraine need each other now perhaps more than ever before, both in terms of security and economics. Despite Belarus’s allied relations with Russia and their synchronised voting in the United Nations, Minsk has become an important platform for peace talks over the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Being anxious about a possible Crimean or Donbas scenario in Belarus, Minsk contributed to Ukraine’s overcoming of difficulties caused by Russian trade restrictions, including dual-use goods.

The Ukrainian Revolution of 2013-2014 and the subsequent Russian military and neo-imperialist activities on Ukrainian territory put Belarus in a challenging and awkward geopolitical situation.

November 5, 2018 - Maksym Khylko

Past as weakness or strength? The shared history, strained present and uncertain future of Belarus and Lithuania

How can barriers between two historically close countries like Belarus and Lithuania be lowered or eliminated? What are the prospects of improved relations between the two states? Ultimately, closer ties between ordinary Belarusians and Lithuanians could serve as the best guarantor of closer political relations.

During his September 2018 visit to Vilnius, Pope Francis quoted Lithuania’s national anthem and encouraged people to “draw strength from the past”. He reiterated what is often common knowledge: for one to look to the future, one must first know and make peace with the past. In theory the same logic could apply to Lithuania and Belarus, two neighbours that, over the centuries, have spent more time together – that is, belonging to (or being ruled by) the same state – than apart.

November 5, 2018 - Dovilė Šukytė

Behind the thaw

For over two decades Polish-Belarusian relations have been connected to Belarus’s relations with the West. There have been oscillations between years of warming relations and colder periods. Since Russia annexed Crimea and the Russian threat in Eastern Europe has become widely recognised, many European countries have re-evaluated their policies towards Belarus, which although authoritarian is not aggressive. Poland is one such country.

The foundations for a new opening towards Belarus were laid before Poland’s 2015 presidential and parliamentary elections. It was in April 2014, during the first weeks of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, when President Alyaksandr Lukashenka asked the Polish government to join in a mediation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Poland’s prime minister at the time, Donald Tusk, turned down the offer for fear that the Kremlin was behind the initiative. Based on information that I have gathered from sources, this proposal called for placing Belarusian peacekeeping forces in Donbas, thereby disregarding the Crimea issue as well as the guarantee of Ukraine’s neutrality.

November 5, 2018 - Michał Potocki

Germany is wrong in bolstering the status quo in Belarus

The current way of thinking in Germany and the West, in shaping a policy towards Belarus, is to accept the political status quo, normalise relations with Minsk and help the Belarusian state preserve its independence. This view, however, is seriously flawed.

Europe has fundamentally changed its policy towards Belarus in recent years, and Germany is no exception. Previously, Berlin and other EU capitals addressed Minsk with clear demands to improve its dismal record on human rights, elections, civil society and democracy, and they responded with sanctions to the worst violations of these norms. Now, by contrast, the central driver behind German and European policy seems to be Belarusian independence, whose fragility has been thrown into sharp relief by the aggressive Russian return to geopolitics in the region. This effective shift to realpolitik is, however, fraught with problems and its success is far from certain.

November 5, 2018 - Joerg Forbrig

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