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Sunday, 27 May 2012 06:27

Under Russian Eyes Part 1

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Vladimir Putin has been officially inaugurated as the new President of Russia, again. But is the country he is about to lead the same as it was when he stepped away from power in 2008? How do young people in Russia perceive Putin now and what does his re-election mean for the perspectives of their country? E&M asked two young students from St. Petersburg to give us their opinions in a two part series of interviews:

Oleysa Fedorenko was born in St. Petersburg in 1991. She studies both Tourism and Hotel Management and Conflict Resolution at Saint Petersburg University of Humanities and Social Sciences. She has spent time in Germany during an exchange semester at Fachhochschule Ludwigshafen.

E&M: Before and after the elections, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to show their frustration. Why do you think that was?

OF: People were angry because everyone knew they didn't vote for United Russia, they saw the fraud and it was horrible for them. In general, Russian people can be patient for some time, but when something like that happens they get a kick start and then they go to demonstrations. I think their most important demand was a re-run of the elections, but I can't say precisely.

E&M: Did you participate yourself?

Monday, 16 April 2012 16:48

Death in Smolensk: Two years on

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Two years have passed since the tragic plane crash in Smolensk. 96 people, including the ruling President Lech Kaczyński and former President of the Polish Government in Exile Ryszard Kaczorowski were killed. We still do not know exactly what happened. At the moment, only one person - the head of the Polish Government Protection Bureau - has been officially charged.

There are dozens of stories about the tragedy. Some claim that it was an assassination orchestrated by Russia, others would like to see the infamous President, assisted by a drunken Polish general, as having ordered the pilots to land despite dangerous circumstances. Some saw it as a metaphysical symbol or a chance for a re-birth of the old-fashioned Polish republican values, while others warned against the demons of Polish tribal nationalism that would be awakened during the mourning period. Finally, there were also people who wished that it could be some mystical chance for a new beginning in relations with Russia. To be honest, I can hardly see any of those narratives as being meaningful.

What is clear to me is that Poland lost its best president since 1989 and many important figures of public life. Other facts are no more positive. As was shown in the Polish Supreme Audit Office's report, since 2005 no VIP flight involving Polish officials has complied with legal safety standards.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012 07:37

No Romani, Poles, Romanians or Bulgarians allowed

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A few days ago I finally finished reading The Native Realm. A great book by Czesław Miłosz that is highly-recommended for anyone who claims to be European. "The native Europe" (which seems to be a more accurate translation) is a fascinating memoir and an intellectual walk along the meandering European paths of the 20th century. But this is not going to be a glorifying review of a brilliant book - although I do encourage you to read it. I'm referring to Miłosz for a rather less optimistic reason.

Last week European public opinion was once again bewildered by Geert Wilders (we all know this flamboyant platinum blond "statesman"). This time his Party for Freedom (PVV) launched a website where Dutch people can file complaints against immigrants from "Middle and Eastern European countries." The complaints are going to be presented to the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment.

Once you've entered the site and recovered your eyesight after being dazzled by Wilders's shining mane, you'll see giant headlines from Dutch newspapers: "Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians – increasingly criminal," "Eastern European gangs in villages" or "Problems with Poles" and a story about some supermarket with  misspelled Polish names (of course). The text underneath is even better. "The massive labour migration leads to many problems, nuisances, pollution [sic!], displacements and housing problems (…) Have you ever lost a job to a Pole, Bulgarian, Romanian or other Eastern European? Do you have problems with Eastern Europeans? We'd like to hear."

Sunday, 12 February 2012 06:50

Croatia’s EU accession: Curbed enthusiasm

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On Sunday, January 23rd 2012, the Croatian referendum backed accession to the European Union. In 2013 it will join as Member State Number 28. But what is being described as a "historic decision" by Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic attracted less than 44% of Croatians to use their democratic voting right. Simultaneously, the Eurozone Crisis still dominates media coverage nearly every weekday and the narrative favoured by the media makes European enlargement appear unreasonable. Indeed, welcoming Zagreb into the EU doesn't just provide opportunities. There is work to do, in particular to prepare the Croatian economy for the EU market. 

Of the 43.67% of Croatian people who cast their vote, about 66% were in favour of EU membership. Politicians and analysts have tried to find several explanations for this low voting outcome, arguing for a low participation of the Croatian diaspora, the current Eurozone crisis and an election surfeit after recent parliament elections. The reality is probably a combination of all three.

Even former General Ante Gotovina, now imprisoned for crimes in the Croatian War for Independence, voted in favour of EU accession. He explained his decision in a manner reminiscent of what Austrian journalist Adelheid Wölfl called a "return to normality." According to her research, many Croatians feel historically connected to Europe. For them, EU membership seems to be a logical step to overcome the terrible time of the Balkan conflicts and to seize their deserved role within the heart of Europe.

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