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Category: Issue 1-2 2020

What’s next for Ukraine’s oligarchs?

Ukraine’s oligarchs have established themselves as an independent component of the socio-political and economic system, whose lack of interests has become impossible in current times. The challenge for Volodymyr Zelesnkyy is how to confront the influence of the oligarchs. Current developments suggest three scenarios between the oligarchs, the new political elite, and civil society.
The collapse of the Soviet Union opened up opportunities for Ukraine to implement economic reform, democratise state institutions and shape the country around liberal values. The experience of post-war western democracies appeared as successful cases for Ukraine since the collapse of the USSR.

January 28, 2020 - Anton Naychuk

God, luck and Viktor Orbán

Over the last ten years, Hungary has become a textbook example of systemic corruption and clientelism in the heart of the European Union. Yet despite the fact that EU institutions have developed a wide range of tools, they could barely curb Viktor Orbán’s regime with regards to its feudal system of corruption.
In order to understand the nature of Viktor Orbán’s regime in Hungary, it is worth reading the classic Hungarian novel Relatives by Zsigmond Móricz. Móricz tells the story about a fictional town that is a hotbed of systemic corruption and a clientelist network of provincial nobility between the wars in Hungary. After 30 years since the democratic transition, its thesis about feudal dependency applies to contemporary Hungary more than ever: “In a certain way, everybody depends on the government.”

January 28, 2020 - Edit Zgut

The intervention in Kosovo revisited. Twelve lessons for the future

The 20th anniversary of the NATO campaign in Kosovo, which led to the beginning of a long process of state-building, was recently commemorated. Yet it is worth recalling what led to the campaign and understanding the lessons of its aftermath which are very much relevant today.
In 1999, NATO launched an 11-week air-campaign to halt the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Kosovo. The intervention in Kosovo is arguably one of the most important events in contemporary history. It was the first time NATO operated outside its territory and the first sustained use of force since its establishment in 1949. Furthermore, it was the first time that force was used to enforce UN Security Council resolutions for the purpose of halting crimes against humanity.

January 28, 2020 - Visar Xhambazi

Illegitimate election observation and conflict resolution

The observations of illegitimate elections in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples’ Republics in 2014 and 2018 by far-right and far-left European politicians serve the purpose of augmenting the number of actors and dimensions of a conflict with the aim of protracting any conflict resolution process. What is more, these elections violate the sovereignty of the state, since they take place in areas not recognised by the international community.
Politically-motivated election observation, noted in the post-Soviet region since the beginning of 21st century, aims to provide a counterbalance to assessments of international missions working on the basis of transparent methodologies and long-term observation. The political observation is also extended to elections in separatist regions of the former Soviet Union, where it is used to influence the conflict resolution processes.

January 28, 2020 - Daria Paporcka

Russia and its Tatar diaspora in Europe

The Tatar diaspora in Europe is not very significant in size, but it has the potential to shape the political landscape of their European homes, particularly in the promotion of heritage and lobbying their interests on the international stage. That is why the Russian-speaking Tatar diaspora in Europe could be a significant tool in Russia’s compatriot policy of the “Russian world”.
Tatars are Turkic-speaking people living primarily in Russia, with around 5.3 million living in the Russian Federation (according to the 2010 census). They are primarily Volga Tatars concentrated in the republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, which is no more than 30 percent of all Tatars. Less numerous groups of Tatars also live in Europe. They came to Latvia and Lithuania as citizens from different parts of the Soviet Union, mostly from the Volga region.

January 28, 2020 - Aleksandra Kuczyńska-Zonik

The drama of the Polish outsider

The Polish psyche is affected by the tragic conflict between what is ours and not ours. This huge dissonance stems from the fact that the outsider is a native: both come from the same country, share a nationality, live among their own people and, at times, inhabit the same person. Hence, Poles’ attitude towards others, to a great extent, arises from their inner struggle with “the outsider within”.
“Pretty. Shame it’s not ours.” This sentence is uttered by one of the characters of Zimna wojna (Cold War), a film directed by Paweł Pawlikowski. An audience unfamiliar with the intricacies of Polish culture will find it hard to recognise the drama lurking behind these seemingly innocent words. Ours, in this context, is Polish, not ours is part of the Lemko people’s cultural heritage.

January 28, 2020 - Krzysztof Czyżewski

The Swedish Academy and Peter Handke: Justice for whom?

Austrian writer Peter Handke was awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature. The award renewed a debate surrounding this author – his ardent support for Serbia and Slobodan Milošević, who was the Serbian leader in the mid-1990s – and puts the integrity of the Swedish Academy into question.
On December 10th 2019 the well-known Austrian author Peter Handke, received the Nobel Prize for Literature. A number of ambassadors from the Western Balkans boycotted the ceremony, as did Peter Englund, a historian and former secretary of the Swedish Academy. Kosovo declared Handke persona non grata. The controversy is about Handke’s position on Serbia. He is accused of supporting the regime under Slobodan Milošević or even genocide denial.

January 28, 2020 - Joanna Hosa

The revolution on the periphery and the reflection of 1989 in Slovakia

The developments in Slovakia leading up to 1989 can be interpreted as a belated response to momentous changes in Moscow and, more immediately, in Prague. They could be classified as a “revolution on the periphery” – a phenomenon describing how the wave of change travelled to provinces and distant cities from the centre. Nevertheless these events shaped Slovakia’s development and their interpretation plays a role in politics today.
Looking back now at the precarious post-communist transformation and pondering the turbulent period that we witness today, we might ask to what extent the current condition in Central Europe in general, and Slovakia in particular, were affected by the events of 1989 – that annus mirabilis when the communist regimes of Central Europe fell after four decades in power. Was the current status quo somehow predetermined by the events and developments of that year? Or did the post-communist transformation contain its own dynamics, reflecting the longer-term conditions and political cultures of the countries that now form the Visegrád Group?

January 28, 2020 - Samuel Abrahám

No one will hear us if we scream

The Donbas conflict has been taking place for over five years now. Some significant steps have been achieved since the implementation of the 2015 Minsk Agreements, and with it the official war might have reached an end. Yet, peace remains elusive.
Nataliya wears a Tryzub around her neck. It is a trident, a monogram of the Ukrainian word воля (volia) meaning liberty and known as the official Ukrainian coat of arms. The 66-year-old pink-haired Ukrainian volunteer and activist clutches it firmly as she narrates her ongoing life chapter of being a citizen of Stanytsia Luhanska. This urban settlement on the banks of the Seversky Donets River operates as a border town between Ukraine and the pro-Russian, self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic.

January 28, 2020 - Omar Marques

Herzog continues puzzling love affair with Gorbachev

Werner Herzog’s documentary Meeting Gorbachev seems to be a cinematic expression of the West’s love of Mikhail Gorbachev. And if there is one central theme to the film, it is Gorbachev shunning responsibility for his failures one after another.
In 2001 George Bush infamously proclaimed he had read Vladimir Putin’s soul – and liked what he saw. Last year, the acclaimed German filmmaker, Werner Herzog, engaged in a similarly occult exercise with Mikhail Gorbachev, reaching an equally favourable conclusion. To call Herzog’s ambitiously titled documentary Meeting Gorbachev occult is hardly an exaggeration, since any factual account of Gorbachev’s legacy would produce a more mixed verdict. Sympathetic to Gorbachev’s old age, and even more to the gradual erosion of many of Gorbachev’s achievements over the last 30 years, Herzog brackets out Gorbachev’s shortcomings and takes his seductively peace-loving rhetoric at face value.

January 28, 2020 - Kristijan Fidanovski

Azerbaijan: A new chapter?

Azerbaijan may not be on the cusp of a major reform, but developments of recent months have formed the most interesting socio-political dynamics this rather boringly-stable Caspian Republic has seen since 2003.

It is not the first time “reform” has become a buzz word in Azerbaijan. The authorities made several pledges in the past to overhaul and diversify the economy and uproot corruption – especially ahead of elections or in moments of social unrest. Yet apart from a few cosmetic changes, the system and its people remained largely intact. So when the 57-year old president recently announced a package of sweeping reforms and started replacing older officials with young technocrats, many shook their heads in disbelief, taking it as yet another empty promise aimed to pacify the public and create a façade of change.

January 28, 2020 - Anna Zamejc

The Herculean task of saving Europe’s oldest spa town

Băile Herculane, a small town of about 5,000 in western Romania, claims to be the oldest spa town in Europe. According to legend, the Roman god Hercules once stopped in the valley to bathe, lending the town its name. Today, a statue of the hero stands proudly in the centre, but his crumbling surroundings appear to be just a few years shy of becoming a ghost town.

It is after sunset, and the sound of trumpets blare through Băile Herculane station, signalling the arrival of old trains from the communist era. The platform is lined with shell-embossed lanterns, while unkempt vines drape over the seating area. An alpine scent permeates the air, and even at night, in the green glow of the lamps, the mist that hovers around the surrounding mountains is visible. No one who departs the train is under 50 and, as is common with most places where young people are few and far between, the station has retained the feeling of being from another era.

January 27, 2020 - Elizabeth Short

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