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Stories and ideas

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

A Jan of all trades

During COVID-19 many people started to make masks and have turned their homes into mini-mask factories. With shortages of protective gear in hospitals, the demand for these products exceeds the capacity of many sewing machines, which needed a second life. In southern Poland it was given to them by Jan Wójcik. He is the only umbrella-maker in the country and a mender of broken sewing machines.

When asked about his age, Jan Wójcik says he is a war-time baby. Indeed, he was born in 1943 in the small village of Nieczajna in southern Poland. After having finished school, Jan left home to start his education in a bigger town. He became a mechanic and got his first job in a steel factory in Kraków’s Nowa Huta metallurgy. At the time this was a new district on the city’s outskirts built by the communists for workers and their families. Its goal was to counter-balance Kraków’s bourgeois life. Jan later moved to other places and conducted his mandatory military service.

July 7, 2020 - Marta Gruszecka

Volcanic vintage. The historic Hungarian wines of Lake Balaton

Writers and artists have long been attracted to the strange and romantic landscape of Badacsony, with its sharp volcanic hills overlooking smooth Lake Balaton. Stories about the wines from vineyards around Lake Balaton in west central Hungary go back over 2,000 years.

The fourteenth-century Hungarian King Charles Robert once travelled to Veszprém on the north shore of Lake Balaton to visit a bishop. Before dinner, the king noticed a gigantic cup in the monastery treasury. “The monks used to drink from it long ago,” the bishop told him. As they sat down to eat, the king asked that the cup be placed at their table. The bishop announced that none of the canons at the table could possibly drain the massive tankard, with the possible exception of the formidable Father Eusebius. The king challenged Eusebius to take the cup and uphold the honour of the house, but the father declined and held his ground despite the needling and beseeching of the assemblage.

July 7, 2020 - Eric Bryan

Riga in detail

A photostory exploring the city through details that often go unnoticed.

April 7, 2020 - Solveiga Kaļva

A tale of two collapses

Today’s Sievierodonetsk reflects wider processes that are taking place in the Donbas region. In the summer of 2014 de-oligarchisation and decommunisation began to progress in parallel. They resulted in two collapses.

Many of us probably do not realise the role that heavy-duty hand cleaning paste has played in the history of the Eastern bloc. In Poland, for instance, this product was called pasta BHP, and it was commonly used to remove stains from paint and grease. Its trade allowed one Polish family, the Kulczyks, to become billionaires. In the Soviet republics, that paste was called Landish and was popularly used in households as a washing detergent.

April 7, 2020 - Wojciech Siegień

Youtubers, influencers and creative activists are the new vanguard in Central Asia

It is a decisive moment for Central Asia. Societies of the region are receptive to the EU’s messages of transparency, democracy and rule of law, but they are also under pressure from other regional powers. If the European Union wants its new Central Asia Strategy to have a positive impact, it should reach out to innovative groups and individuals calling for change.

Over the past decade, the European Union has ceded ground in Central Asia, not only to Russia and a newly assertive China, but also to the Gulf states and Turkey, and experts forecast its influence is set to further decline. As EU Special Representative Peter Burian once quipped, “China is coming with an offer nobody can refuse, while the EU is coming with an offer nobody can understand.”

April 7, 2020 - Barbara von Ow-Freytag

Who is behind the plot to topple the Latvian parliament?

What started as a justifiable reason for protest was quickly hijacked by a handful of individuals looking to profit from the growing polarisation in Latvian society. A proposal by several anti-establishment political groups on November 14th last year called for the dissolution of the national legislature. It was at that point when it became clear that the groups had started a movement that would cause an unprecedented rift in civil society.

There exists a very common misconception in modern-day Latvian politics that all political conundrums can be solved by the most radical expression of civic action one can find within a democracy. However the idea of a movement pushing towards dissolving the national parliament, which is very popular, is flawed to the core and has the potential to stir up domestic and regional politics to an unprecedented level.

April 7, 2020 - Ričards Umbraško

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