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Monday, 29 October 2012 00:54

Music and politics in Western Ukraine

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A man with a rather large bushy grey moustache plonked three glasses of thin brackish coffee down on the fold-away table of our railway carriage and demanded 12 hryvnia (around 1 euro). It wasn't so much the clink and crash of the glasses as they hit the table which surprised us the most, but rather the hard look on the man's face as his arm swung round releasing the cups, almost throwing them down, and the way he spoke as he asked for the money: short and succinct, to the point. There was no question of not paying, despite grimacing as we reluctantly swallowed the hot watery liquid.

Respublica festival

We are on our way by train from Lviv to Khmelnytskyi in Western Ukraine, and then by minibus to Kamianets-Podilskyi, where we have been invited to play on the AZH Promo Stage at the Respublica festival, located in the Khmelnytskyi Oblast near the border with Moldova and Romania. We, consists of the three members of the band Grace Beneath the Pines as well as Ivanna Cherukha from AZH Promo who is acting as our guide and interpreter. The festival was advertising itself as “an anti-commercial festival action whose aim is the concentration of attention on cultural and social problems of small cities, as well as in the country in general.”

The organisers were also encouraging festival-goers to throw away their televisions by stating on the events page of their website: “Throw away your TV – get a ticket for the festival! TVs are useless idiot boxes. So get rid of them now! The first 15 people who bring their TVs to the daylight stage will get a free ticket for the festival. Others will be able to buy them with a 50 % discount.” Other social projects were also advertised as taking place including an eco-action “to clean up the trash from the canyon of the River Smotrych ... [which] will become a bright example for the residents of Kamianets-Podilskyi and the younger generation.”

Thursday, 25 October 2012 18:49

Elections in the Eastern Neighbourhood

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Georgia has just chosen its new parliament. The elections in this Caucasus State were the second of three held in Eastern Partnership (EaP) States this autumn. Besides Belarus, which was given (as opposed to choosing democratically) a new assembly in September, Ukraine is also going to vote in a few days. Each election is different. How will they shape the EU's closest neighbourhood?

All quiet in Belarus

I guess the best summary of the Belarusian elections came from one of my Belarusian friends, who is currently living in the US and posted on her Facebook wall that she's curious as to whether anyone voted in her name (and for whom). Partly funny, partly scary - entirely true, unfortunately. There was no need to wait for OSCE reports or EU statements. Even before the election campaign it was obvious that the opposition was too weak (after its demolition following the last presidential election) and that Lukashenko was unwilling to share his power with anyone (or even give the opposition a chance to promote their ideas during the campaign). As a result, the Belarusian parliament is a pro-government monolith - the more insignificant due to the presidential system of government in the country.

Georgian dreams and reality

Georgia's case is a completely different story. Even though some violations of democratic rules were also recorded - both before and during the voting process - the Georgian elections may serve as a good example for the whole post-Soviet area. At least for one reason: it seems that they will lead to a constitutional transfer of power. There were no "anointings," which we observed in the case of colonel Putin (both in 1999 and recently), no man-hunting as in Belarus nor politically inspired litigations as in Yulia Tymoshenko's case. As Akhmed Zakayev, Prime-Minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, stated: "The results of the elections are a real victory for the Georgian people." This is true - as long the Georgians' choice was not forged. The quick acceptance of electoral defeat by President Saakashvili's United National Movement (UNM) is nothing less than the triumph of democratic principles in the country.

Monday, 15 October 2012 13:37

Change: How Badly Does Romania Want It?

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As citizens, I think we all have an exhausting duty to know what our governments are up to, and it is cowardice or laziness to ask: what can I do about it anyway? Every squeak counts, if only in self-respect.” Martha Gellhorn, The Face of War

As the Indian summer of Romania’s political turmoil continues, it is clear the last hope for stability stands in the upcoming parliamentary elections this December. Yet “change” is a funny word for Romanians. No one believes it anymore. Hoping for change is considered naive and inexperienced, and talking about democracy is frowned upon in bitter speeches which ask: “What democracy?” For generations the general discourse in this apathy-hit country has been: “Get real, don’t bother trying to change things. God forbid you might get your hands dirty.” However, as grand as it may sound, the country is preparing for its most important elections since 1990. If ever there was a time to think, act, speak up and try to change things, that time is now.

Băsescu the survivor

As expected, President Traian Băsescu is back in his seat following the failure of last July’s referendum. Băsescu is nothing if not a survivor. He might subordinate the justice system and cut pensions, but he will also put on a t-shirt, hold a baby in front of the cameras, and people will buy it. The problem is that this referendum was a close one: although a little over 46 per cent of the registered voters participated, leading it to be declared invalid, 87.5 per cent of that group voted against the president, which adds up to 7.4 million people. If you consider that in 2009, Băsescu was elected for a second term with only 5.23 million votes, it’s safe to say the population doesn’t want Traian Băsescu as president. So why is the country still stuck with him? As Martha Gellhorn would say: “If we cannot blame our leaders (…) we can only blame ourselves.”

Thursday, 06 September 2012 05:43

In league with the devil

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Mainstream journalists are failing to recognise that the most resolute reactions to Pussy Riot's recent incarceration are originating from outside of Russia. Moreover, the majority of the Russian population disagrees with the group's actions. The chances of political change in Russia need to be placed within the context of the ongoing power of the Russian Orthodox Church within society, and we have to see today's differences from those historical events that did trigger mass revolutionary movements.

Before its protest on March 3, 2012 in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, most people had never heard of the group Pussy Riot before. They staged an illegal performance, which they called a 'punk prayer' at the altar of the tallest Christian Orthodox church to get rid of Vladimir Putin. Specifically, their protest was aimed at Putin's re-election and the Orthodox Church which continuously supported the Russian president. At the trial, Judge Marina Syrova reasoned the high sentence of two years in penal camp by elaborating how thoroughly the group planned their crime and how they activated internet bloggers to distribute their protest online. The church quickly branded the group members sinners and Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Church's department for relations with society, accused the members of representing a campaign of 'satanic rage'. While such statements might cause laughter in many European countries, the Orthodox Church has a solid and influential role in Russian society.

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