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Category: Issue 2 2019

Who can make Ukraine great again?

The upcoming Ukrainian presidential elections are an opportunity to continue the reform process that has, so far, produced effective results and to instil a political will to deliver other fundamental changes. But this opportunity is likely to be missed, as many candidates offer band-aid solutions with no clear strategic vision.

Much like champagne and fireworks, the presidential address delivered before the countdown to midnight is a traditional ingredient of New Year celebrations in Ukraine. As 2018 was ending, 1+1 – a top TV channel owned by oligarch, Ihor Kolomoisky – broke that sequence. It aired Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comedian and entertainment producer, announcing his long-speculated bid for the presidency. “There is a third way: to try and change something in the country and I have chosen it for myself,” he said in a soothing voice familiar to his comedy show, jewellery ads and TV show The Servant of the People, a series where he plays an honest schoolteacher who accidentally becomes president and sends corrupt officials to jail amidst dramatic soundtracks and standing ovations from vyshyvanka-clad extras.

March 5, 2019 - Anna Korbut

Ukraine’s economy. A chance for success

In January of last year, Ukraine’s parliament passed a new law on the privatisation of state-owned and municipal property. The law, prepared with the assistance of the EU and the IMF, introduced clear rules for the process of privatisation of state property. But will the current reforms be enough to convince foreign investors to come to Ukraine?

Ukraine’s economy has improved significantly since the crisis it was caught in after Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014. As a result of the war that broke out in the eastern parts of the country, Ukraine lost important industrial territories, which in 2012 generated as much as 15.75 per cent of its GDP. It was also forced to quickly and radically increase military spending. Not surprisingly, in 2014 – the year of the most intense military activity in Donbas – the Ukrainian economy was in trouble.

March 4, 2019 - Paweł Purski

Integration impasse

Since the early stages of the creation of the union state between Belarus and Russia, leaders of both countries have exhibited distrust towards one another. This was even more visible in recent years, especially since the annexation of Crimea. The last few years have seen more differences emerge which could actually close any path to full integration.

Despite being considered a pariah in Europe, Belarus belongs to many international organisations. In addition to being a member of the OSCE, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Eurasian Economic Union, it participates as a member (or observer) in lesser known organisations such as the Non-Aligned Movement or the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation. It was also a signatory of an agreement with the Russian Federation which, in 1996, established a formal union between the two states. This moment is annually commemorated by both countries (every April 2nd) as the Day of Unity of the Peoples of Russia and Belarus.

March 4, 2019 - Maxim Rust

The ghosts of Armenia’s past

The Velvet Revolution in Armenia brought not only Nikol Pashinyan to power but also hope of changing Armenia’s trajectory. However, overcoming the challenges that Armenia faces, particularly in geopolitics and foreign policy, will be critical in order to break the cycle of events that has plagued the country since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Political analysts and scientists frequently forget about their core responsibility, often preparing a simple analysis of events and extrapolating superficial conclusions. However, the actual challenge lies in an attempt to find patterns and long-lasting determinants behind power relations in everyday political dynamics. In the case of Armenia, much has already been written about the revolutionary events from last spring, which brought an end to the decades-long ruling class and a new face to the political scene – most notably Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. The order of events, possible outcomes and varied predictions were produced by many from different angles of interpretation.

March 4, 2019 - Bartłomiej Krzysztan

Orbán’s dangerously familiar discourse

Hungarian rhetoric vis-à-vis its minorities throughout Central and Eastern Europe find more and more similarities with Russian policy toward its own Russian (speaking) minorities. Meanwhile, Hungary’s concept of “Christian Democracy” finds common roots with the Russian concept of “sovereign democracy”.

Viktor Orbán’s political power relies on his ability to build a philosophical skeleton for Fidesz’s domestic and foreign policies. In that sense, Orbán follows Vladimir Putin’s path in building an unstable system for his own reign’s sustainability: making Christianity the structure of the political and social system and elevating themselves as guarantors of self-declared Christian values while scapegoating the decadent West which has humiliated Hungary’s or Russia’s greatness.

March 4, 2019 - John Mastadar

Russia’s grassroots are more active than the West may think

Despite the Russian government's crackdown, Russia’s civil society is still alive and far stronger and more active than many in the West may think. In order for it to thrive, it needs to gain more self-confidence and more consistent cross-border co-operation.

According to international human rights organisations, in the past six years Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian rule has dramatically shrunk the space for actors of civil society with alternative views of government policy, who are often labelled as disloyal, foreign-sponsored or even “traitorous”. An enduring central feature to the current situation has been the Russian legislation introduced in 2012 requiring independent non-profit organisations to register as foreign agents if they receive any foreign funding and engage in broadly defined political activity.

March 4, 2019 - Andreas Rossbach

The Havana connection still stands

The Cold War may be long over, but worlds and narratives still collide on this Caribbean island, just 100 miles away from the American coast. In Cuba, the past is far from dead.

To get to Cuba these days is no longer the daredevil’s accomplishment that it was two or three decades ago. Major airline companies operate regular flights to La Havana from nearby aviation hubs such as Mexico City or Fort Lauderdale. On the capital’s airport runway, there is no shortage of trans-oceanic connections. One of them is the Russian Aeorflot, offering daily direct flights to and from Moscow. Citizens of the world can comfortably stretch their legs in a spacious business cabin and watch Netflix while crossing half of the world in literal terms and at least an entire world in daily life realities.

March 4, 2019 - Matteusz Mazzini

War was not inevitable

A conversation with Dominic Lieven, professor of history at Cambridge University. Interviewers: Adam Reichardt, Andrzej Zaręba and Edmund Young (New Eastern Europe).

NEW EASTERN EUROPE: Could you tell us a little about you relatives from the old Russian aristocracy?

DOMINIC LIEVEN: Well, they were Russian in the broadest sense of the term. They would often be described as Baltic German. Ultimately, they were Livonian. They were there when the German knights arrived. And of course in terms of identities and mixtures, they were everything you could imagine – but Russian can be a good shorthand here.

March 4, 2019 - Adam Reichardt Andrzej Zaręba Edmund Young

Nurturing a Jewish revival in Poland

An interview with Shana Penn, executive director of the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture. Interviewer: Daniel Gleichgewicht

DANIEL GLEICHGEWICHT: You have worked in support of Jewish cultural revitalisation in Poland for many years now. How would you describe the way Jewish life in Poland has changed over this time?

The end of state socialism in 1989 made it possible to reimagine Poland as a place where Jews might live openly, in relative freedom and security. The options were manifold, drawing from the cultural vibrancy that once made Poland the centre of the Jewish world, to one’s exposure to Jewish life in the US, Israel or other parts of Europe, to the extension of one’s own Jewish upbringing in Poland.

March 4, 2019 - Daniel Gleichgewicht Shana Penn

There are just too few of us

A conversation with Konstanty Gebert, Polish journalist and Jewish activist. Interviewer: Maxim Rust

MAXIM RUST: You have been helping to build Jewish life in Poland for decades now. If you were to assess what were the main changes that have taken place in this regard since the collapse of communism in 1989, what would you say they were? What were the achievements and what were the failures?

KONSTANTY GEBERT: Actually, the biggest change that has taken place is that that we now do have Jewish life in Poland. It erupted suddenly right after communism fell in 1989, after the long decline of the few officially sanctioned organisations which existed under communism. Since the early phase of the transformation, new Jewish organisations, initiatives and clubs began to emerge. Naturally, along with them also came disputes and quarrels.

March 4, 2019 - Konstanty Gebert Maxim Rust

Connecting the past with the present

After years of construction and delays, the Kaliningrad New Synagogue was opened 80 years after the destruction of the Königsberg synagogue, before the war. This impressive new building, constructed on the same location as the previous one, has become quite a challenge for Kaliningrad Jews. It will take some time before we can say this challenge has been met.

October is warm and sunny – a real Indian summer. The synagogue building site is surrounded by a tall fence. I wait obediently next to the gate. After a while a security guard lets me on to the construction site. Natalia Lorens is an architect responsible for the building of the Kaliningrad synagogue. She moved around the site from one group of men to another. She is a small brunette, wearing jeans with a jacket covered in dust, she speaks loudly. From a distance, I can hear the word “problem” repeated a lot.

March 4, 2019 - Paulina Siegień

The second homeland. Georgian Jews throughout the centuries

In the spring of 2018 the Georgian government officially recognised the “26 centuries of Georgian-Jewish friendship” as an intangible cultural heritage of the country. Yet, the story of Georgian Jews still leaves many questions and further research is required.

"When I went to Tbilisi, I went to the synagogue one evening… it was packed. Tbilisi is the capital of Georgia, from which there's a major movement." Marshall Weinberg's Report on his trip to the USSR to the JDC Administration Committee, October 25th 1972.

The movement which is mentioned in the 1972 report refers to the movement of Georgian Jews outside the Soviet Union, mostly to Israel. “Every single Jew we met, there were 80 or 90, was talking about Israel, Israel, Israel,” Weinberg wrote. As soon as the Soviet Union lifted the ban on Jewish emigration in the 1970s, thousands of Georgian Jews moved to Israel.

March 4, 2019 - Yulia Oreshina

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