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Stories and ideas

The slow shift of the status quo

As of the end January 2020, 52 Polish municipalities have adopted a resolution on being “free from LGBT ideology”. As a result, the French municipality of Saint-Jean-de-Braye has broken off its partnership with the town of Tuchów in southern Poland and the Central Region - Loire Valley suspended co-operation with Małopolskie Voivodeship.

On September 16th 2019, the city council meeting room in Lębork (a town of about 40,000 people in the north of Poland) is full of media and observers from local civil society organisations. There are also two members of the Polish parliament (one from the ruling party, one from the opposition). The session is being broadcasted on the city’s website, but apart from that two television cameras are also recording.

April 6, 2020 - Anna Fedas

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 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

Look, she is a terrorist’s wife!

This photostory is about the daily struggles of the Crimean Tatars in their new reality following the Russian annexation. This involves accusations of terrorism and legal battles with the new authorities that shake the core of the Crimean Tatar society.

January 10, 2020 - Alina Smutko

The Pomors

The Kashubians in Poland and the Pomors in Russia. They have different histories, ways of life and problems. However, there are many things uniting them. Primarily it is the sea. This is the second part in a series on the Kashubians and Pomors.

December 19, 2019 - Ekaterina Maximova Paulina Siegień

The Kashubians

The Kashubians in Poland and the Pomors in Russia. They have different histories, ways of life and problems. However, there are many things uniting them. Primarily it is the sea. This is the first part in a series on the Kashubians and Pomors.

December 13, 2019 - Ekaterina Maximova Paulina Siegień

Preserving the GDR

In Germany there is more than one narrative about its East German past. The official one, which can be seen in the Berlin-based GDR Museum, shows a rather murky picture of oppression in a totalitarian state. This story is complemented by an alternative narrative, which is created by the people who still hold positive memories of their country’s socialist past.

I start my journey with Berlin. With dozens of tourists I wait in line to the GDR Museum located on the banks of the Spree River. Opened to the public in 2006 it is one of the main attractions of Germany’s capital, advertised all over the city and, as expected, visited by thousands of people a year. They come from all over the world. The visitors, as I gather from the conversations I overhear while waiting in the line for a ticket, differ in age and knowledge of what they are about to see.

November 12, 2019 - Iwona Reichardt

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