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Stories and ideas

When bridges turn out to be walls

With all due respect to my western friends, I cannot accept calls to construct “bridges” with Russia right now, unless and until Russian proxies stop killing my fellow citizens. Only after the shooting stops and Russian troops withdraw from Ukrainian territory can we engage in any kind of dialogue.

The only bridge I remember seeing in my childhood was the railway bridge across the Styr River. It separated the city of Lutsk, where I was born, and Rovantsi, a village where I used to spend my summer holidays at my grandparents’ house. The bridge separated two banks of the river rather than connected them. I do not misuse the word. The bridge was closed for civilians and only military personnel from a small garrison nearby were allowed to cross, maintain and guard it from the high towers on both banks.

May 2, 2019 - Mykola Riabchuk

Rail Baltica strives to stay on track

The ambitious Rail Baltica project that aims to build a rail link from Helsinki to Poland has hit many hurdles and continues to face many setbacks. Despite some progress in overcoming these barriers, many questions remain unanswered – including whether the rail system will be operational in 2026, as planned.

The staggering 5.8 billion euro Rail Baltica project, to be built from the Estonian capital of Tallinn to the Lithuanian-Polish border, has become so complicated and sophisticated that the Latvian Transport Minister, Talis Linkaits, recently admitted that “Something will be built by the end of 2025, for sure.”

May 2, 2019 - Linas Linkevičius

Eastern Europe’s last tango. A journey through the interwar musical scene

The early Polish interwar music, which merged traditional folk motifs with intoxicating modern rhythms, spoke of a more technologically minded, progressive Polish musical scene where arrangements altered day-by-day as musicians skipped between bands, and new compositions could be finalised overnight. But it was the tango which often took centre stage. And this was true for many other countries in the region at that time.

C’est sous le ciel de l’Argentine, où la femme est toujours divine (It is under the sky of Argentina, where the woman is always divine), croons the absorbing refrain of the French “Le Dernier Tango” (“The Last Tango”) – a seemingly commonplace helping of the early 20th century tango-fever which had taken Western Europe by storm. Though written in 1913 by French musicians, it was still unquestionably Argentine. The melody had been pilfered from the 1903 “El Choclo” (“The Corn Cob”) by Argentine composer Angel Villoldo and the French lyrics bore those familiar flashes of delirious desire prevalent in any tango of the period.

May 2, 2019 - Juliette Bretan

The curse of perestroika

Perestroika spawned entrepreneurship and readiness to undertake independent actions. It broadened access to managing the country and created the ground for creativity and innovation from one side. However from the other side it opened the Pandora’s Box of social, ethnic, national, economic and territorial conflicts.

It became common in Russia to remember Mikhail Gorbachev only in the negative sense and to blame him for the “breakup of the Soviet Union” and further troubles of Russia. Only one person was worse than him – Boris Yeltsin – and nothing was possible to do with this stereotype. However this year has seen a new trend – on March 2nd, Gorbachev’s birthday, positive comments and wishes for long life were posted on Facebook and other blogs. He was thanked for perestroika, for the freedom he gave and the opportunities he provided. At such moments one becomes witness to how eras change: a new generation is emerging.

May 2, 2019 - Anastasia Sergeeva

Art and sex in communist Albania

Stalinist dogma called for socialist realist art that was meant to reproduce an enhanced (that is, unreal) reflection of the reality of “the people’s work and progress”. The stories of the pieces on display at a 2015 art exhibit in Tirana’s National Art Gallery demonstrate that socialist realist art was also quite prudish – but sometimes sexual, “anti-communist” art made it past the censors.

April 10, 2019 - Tomasz Kamusella

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

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

To be or not to be a Jewish student activist?

The European Union of Jewish Students is an umbrella organisation of national Jewish students throughout Europe and the political representation of 160,000 Jewish students and young professionals. Today, after four decades of existence, the organisation must now take on the challenge to gain wider recognition and take responsibility to challenge the status quo.

On the February 7th 2019, the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS) had the privilege to open a high-level conference to address antisemitism, hosted by the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Heavy-weights of Jewish advocacy made their way to Brussels to engage in discussion and, through their mere presence, reinforce the importance of the topic.

March 4, 2019 - Alina Bricman

Where Eastern European intellectuals sit today

I was once amazed when someone said that without inheriting an apartment it is impossible to pursue an artistic profession, as all your energy would go towards paying off a mortgage. I heard these words in Eastern Europe around the year 2000. They were uttered in a discussion with a group of well-educated artists.

Italo Calvino’s The Baron in the Trees is a unique novel about a public intellectual. Its protagonist meets all the characteristics of what we call a man of letters. Cosimo Piovasco di Rondo, as was his full name, read books, was involved in intellectual disputes with the brightest minds of his time, reflected on a variety of issues and had a positive impact on the life of the local community. At the same time, he had a unique personality. After having rebelled in his youth against eating snails, which he was trying to save, Cosimo escaped to live in the crown of a tree, a place he had not since left.

January 2, 2019 - Zofia Bluszcz

The house that Mykola built

Mykola Golovan believes that Ukraine is changing and becoming even more beautiful. It is being built anew, just as he has been rebuilding his house. It only needs to get rid of some wrongful ideologies and open itself more to the world.

“I get my energy from the river. Recently I was bathing in the Vistula river, but it was cold and I could not stay there very long” – these are the first words I hear from Mykola Golovan who continues with his life story to tell me more about his art. Indeed, the story told by this 75-year old Ukrainian artist from Lutsk is not so much expressed by his words as it is to be found in the language of culture. It is depicted in his sculptures, bas-reliefs, rotundas and ornaments. For over 30 years now, Golovan has been the creator of a house which he calls an exhibition.

January 2, 2019 - Kinga Gajda

A day in an Istrian olive grove

Olive oil is a symbol of Mediterranean culture and antiquity, so special that the ancient Romans poured this drink of gods into painted amphorae. It is no coincidence that, for centuries, olive oil has been used as chrism for anointing during worship. It always seemed to me that those who produce olive oil with their own hands belong to some higher, secret culture.

Even in the ancient world, olive oil from Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula had a remarkable reputation and was served to Roman emperors. After the Second World War, when the region became a part of the socialist Yugoslavia, this sector fell into decay. Nonetheless, interest in the cultivation of olives has experienced a true renaissance since the early 2000s, and the area of olive groves in Istria has increased tenfold. It is the revival of tradition that is essential for the local identity, part of its cultural code.

January 2, 2019 - Andriy Lyubka

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