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Stories and ideas

Along with Swab Germans in Georgia

The year 2017 marked the 200th anniversary since the first German settlers (mainly Wurttemberg Swabs) showed up in Georgia. A number of factors contributed to this migration. However, Wurttemberg’s internal affairs, such as constant warring conditions, increased taxes and economic hardship, played major roles. Moreover, the increased discontent towards the Lutheran church strengthened religious protests that sent the population searching for new homes. Even though, the Swab presence ended by the hands of those who had originally invited them, and much of its historical remains have been conquered by nature, their legacy continues to capture people’s hearts and minds in Georgia.

September 16, 2020 - Bacho Chubinidze

“Freedom for Tofiq Yaqublu”. The price of political opposition

Tofiq Yaqublu, the Azerbaijani opposition leader and prisoner of conscience, started a hunger strike demanding the reversal of his recent prison sentence. This is a desperate cry for justice in a country where everything depends on the whim of the president.

September 16, 2020 - Anna Zamejc

The pandemic’s toll on Lviv

Lvivians have much in common with Italians. They enjoy the company of others and lead social lives. They cannot live without coffee and gossip, and they gladly start conversations with strangers. Maybe this is why we have the highest infection rates in Ukraine.

I live in Lviv, where I work as a tour guide. I tell people stories. Today I have a story to share with you. It is about Lviv, Ukraine and guided tours in the time of coronavirus. The pandemic did not come to us unexpectedly. After all, we had been watching the news. It did, however, come suddenly, like a wave that covered the entire tourist sector and beyond. On March 9th, I was returning to Lviv from a weekend away in the mountains. Life was going on as usual. That day I picked up an advance payment for a hotel group stay that was planned for June. I also received an e-mail informing me of a cancelled a trip scheduled for March 21st. This request surprised me and seemed unfounded at the time. After all, we only had one confirmed case of coronavirus in all of Ukraine!

September 7, 2020 - Katarzyna Łoza

The cost of saving Europe’s asparagus harvest

In our “Europe without borders” that stipulates all European citizens have the same inalienable rights, the reality is very far from the ideal. The COVID-related scandals surrounding seasonal workers, slaughterhouses and overcrowded living facilities have brought an unspoken societal consensus to the forefront – namely, which lives we deem most valuable and worthy of protection.

As the economic plunge caused by COVID-19 erodes prosperity across the European Union, the distinctive vulnerability of migrant workers and minorities has been increasingly exposed. Although this discussion has focused on the staggeringly high mortality rates among the black and minority populations in the United States and the United Kingdom, a much less discussed, yet equally beleaguered, group includes seasonal and precarious workers from Central and Eastern Europe employed along both sides of the Dutch-German border, whom the economic slump provoked by the pandemic has turned into a disposable resource at greater risk of infection.

September 7, 2020 - Alexandra Wishart

Even before the pandemic, we have been living in isolation

The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on both Moldova and the breakaway region of Transdniestria. Moldova remains on the so-called “red list” of countries due to its high number of COVID-19 cases. Transdniestrians, meanwhile, face even more severe restrictions. Since March 16th a state of emergency was declared in the para-state and its borders with Ukraine and Moldova have been closed.

COVID-19 harshly hit the population on the banks of the Dniester River – those from Moldova, on the right bank, and those from the breakaway region of Transdniestria, on the left bank. While the people of Transdniestria have been living in a symbolic isolation for the past number of decades, the measures imposed by the de-facto authorities there during the outbreak made the region even more isolated. However this has not stopped the people of the region from exploring alternative ways of connecting with the outside world and with each other.

September 7, 2020 - Marina Shupac

Picking strawberries in a pandemic

Recently, there were over two million migrant workers in Poland. When the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic closed down companies and factories, many of them were left out of work. Some of them went back to their homes. Then came another problem – it turned out that the Polish economy does not function so well without foreign workers.

Every few minutes, a new van arrives at the market in Czerwińsk nad Wisłą – a village about 65 kilometres northwest of Warsaw. Crowds of merchants converge around every one of them. The driver does not even have time to park or open the door, the merchants surround him. The vehicle stops, the door opens. Another one arrives, with only a few goods, taking up a third of the van. There are several dozen boxes of strawberries inside. These are the only ones available. The crowd shouts: “How much? How much?”

September 7, 2020 - Magdalena Chodownik Omar Marques

How an absurd legal case turned into a fight for the future of Russian theatre

On June 26th Moscow’s Meshchansky District Court announced that theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov and his colleagues would face a suspended sentence along with a series of fines. The case of the alleged fraud of the theatre company Sedmaya Studia reverberated throughout the entire cultural community in Russia and abroad.

On June 26th the international theatre community awaited the decision of the Moscow Court regarding the fate of Kirill Serebrennikov. Serebrennikov, a leading director in Russia, was accused of committing large-scale fraud. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to over five years in prison. His case was covered by major European newspapers, from The Guardian to Der Spiegel and Le Monde, and was commented on by various celebrities, both in Russia and abroad. Even those unfamiliar with the case became suspicious when a director with numerous awards, whose work have been shown at festivals in Avignon, Venice and Cannes, was accused of stealing government money, particularly in a country ranked 149th out of 180 in the Press Freedom Index.

September 4, 2020 - Alina Aleshchenko

Armenia’s track record on criminalising domestic violence

In Armenia, traditional values, along with a lack of information on human rights, still reign. Society has not achieved a level of consciousness to oppose fake and easily digestible narratives. The same is true about intentions to ratify conventions criminalising domestic violence. The ratification process-experience has been episodic with manipulation and drama, sparking public emotion and a less-informed discussion on the content.

Domestic violence, according to the United Nations, is recognised as a violation of the fundamental human rights of women. Armenia has subscribed to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (1979), became a party to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995) for the advancement of women, and took commitments in the scope of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SCG), where gender equality and empowerment of all women stands as a separate goal.

September 3, 2020 - Valentina Gevorgyan

Corona in Kazakhstan: An authoritarian transparency offensive

Kazakhstan continues to defy the COVID-19 crisis. Official figures remain encouraging following the government’s harsh measures. However, these statistics do not only involve the virus, but also regime critics.

A lack of protective clothing, too few tests and no suitable treatment: Tolkinai Ordabayeva contracted COVID-19 and made some serious accusations. The 29-year old doctor is a specialist in infectious diseases and works in a regional hospital in Southern Kazakhstan. She wrote on Facebook that she had been infected by a patient because of the lack of appropriate equipment: “The hospital administration has forced the medical staff to sew their own masks because at work they do not provide masks or protective clothing.”

July 7, 2020 - Othmara Glas

Bosnia’s others

Despite the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, the political rights of the so-called “other” citizens are still hampered in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Today, we can observe the lack of effective mechanisms for the participation of minorities in public life.

National minorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina do not have effective access to their rights. The country is still deeply divided between the three constituent ethnicities – Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs – but also a fourth constitutional group, comprising more than a dozen other national minorities, called “the others”. The others are subject to institutional discrimination and they cannot fully participate in the country's political processes and are treated as second-rate citizens.

July 7, 2020 - Anastasiya Ilyina

Siberia is a feeling to me

A conversation with Sophy Roberts, a writer, journalist and author of The Lost Pianos of Siberia. Interviewer: JP O' Malley

JP O' MALLEY: What brought you to Siberia and why did you write this book?

SOPHY ROBERTS: I spent a lot of time in Mongolia where I formed a friendship with a pianist. When you spend time in a place like Mongolia, certain things start to resonate differently. You see that there are less boundaries, for instance, than there are in Western Europe. Especially when it comes to [physical] space. In Siberia, just across the border from Mongolia, I saw an extension of that feeling. You feel like you are stepping back into a world before we became such a dominant species. As a traveller with a curious eye, that appealed to me. I find it compelling spiritually. Siberia as a place has always carried a certain kind of romance to it. I still remember looking at a map of it when I was a child and thinking about how big it was but not knowing what lay within it. I'm also a bit of a loner, so those environments are places I'm drawn to.

July 7, 2020 - JP O'Malley Sophy Roberts

Incident. Or three short essays on solidarity

In the absence of civic traditions and positive social capital, society often organises itself along mafia-style norms. Ukrainian society after communism developed in two different ways: it developed mafia structures centred on the post-communist authorities, as well as grass-root civic networks as an alternative to these hierarchies. Every Ukrainian revolution since then can be seen as a clash of two different projects of state-nation building.

July 7, 2020 - Mykola Riabchuk

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