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Lozova 1
Photo: Christian Diemer

Lenin likeliness – as if time had stood still, young Lozovans carry remnants of the Soviet past across the parade

Following on from his trip to Korosten' for the pototo fritter festival, E&M's Christian Diemer is again caught up in a Ukrainian city's celebrations as Lovoza marks the 71st anniversary of its liberation during the Second World War and honours the veterans who fought to achieve that freedom. However, thoughts of a more current conflict are never far from the surface.

"You are not one of us", says the man with the beer on the opposite seat. "Where are you from?" Early morning, I am on the train to Lozova, province town between the eastern Ukrainian metropolis of Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovs’k. "Ich – heiße – Sergey – hoh", he pronounces the words like a pair of copulating elephants, to make me understand how much he likes the decisive, harsh, and "manly" German language, as he puts it. Russian, he claims, is a soft language. French is for women anyway. Sergey gives me one of his beers. He is of the opinion that we should solve crosswords together.

Sergey is Russian. He studied in Saint Petersburg for eleven years before coming to Luhans’k. Is he one of those that Putin claims to protect? "Putin is the second Hitler", he makes clear. "Russia is a dictatorship. Here in Ukraine, you can speak freely, there you cannot." Like many, he is sure Putin wants a land connection to Crimea, which would, apart from Donets’k and Luhans’k, also involve the port city of Mariupol’. He assumes Putin will go further too, taking Dnipropetrovs’k and Odesa. And who knows whether that will be it.

Sergey shows me his passport, a temporary one, he has lost the original. The authorities in Luhans’k offered him a new one, but from their new government, the LNR [Luhans’ka Narodna Respublika, Luhans’k People's Republic]. "What the hell for, I don’t want that, I want my Ukrainian passport!" He left for Dnipropetrovs’k.

Published in Under Eastern Eyes
Thursday, 18 September 2014 00:00

On the Brink: Streets of Gold, Streets of Rubble

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Photo: Christian Diemer
En route to Chernivtsi earlier this month

 

In this first installment of E&M's new special series On the Brink, Christian Diemer shares a Ukrainian driver's views on Putin, women and Europe. A word of warning, though: it does contain some colourful language.

"Ukrainians should erect a golden memorial to the sprinter"

For more than twenty hours, with just a few ten-minute toilet breaks, Andri has been sitting behind the steering wheel, hulking neck, bald skull, tracksuit bottoms. A golden sun set over the endless plains of eastern Poland hours ago, while the white van was sailing along towards the end of Europe. Past it, beyond the border, the sailing has turned to trudging, rolling, shoving. Deep potholes, ruts, clefts, rifts, lengthwise and right across, make the paved road an obstacle course, forcing the speed down to almost zero every few metres. Dawn is still far off. Howling diesel in a lightless night, curving in erratic wavy lines, the sturdy Sprinter fights its way to where it looks as though the fewest bumps and traps lurk (and that is, if at all, on the opposite lane, where else). "What would Ukrainians do without the Sprinter!", shouts Andri. "What those cars have to endure on our Ukrainian roads, and still they never break!"

Published in Under Eastern Eyes
Thursday, 06 September 2012 05:43

In league with the devil

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.

Published in Under Eastern Eyes
Wednesday, 30 May 2012 06:33

Under Russian eyes Part 2

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? I asked two young students from St. Petersburg to give us their opinions. Here is part two:

Konstantin Tarasov is a Phd student at the European University at St. Petersburg. His major is Russian History with particular focus on the Russian Revolution of 1917.

E&M: What do you think about the election results?

KT: I think everybody knew the results before the election. For me, the actual percentage doesn't matter. Only Putin could win. That's why the opposition wanted to demonstrate even before the announcement of the results.

E&M: Can you understand people who are upset about Putin's re-election and who raise the issue of fraud?

Published in Under Eastern Eyes
Sunday, 27 May 2012 06:27

Under Russian Eyes Part 1

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?

Published in Under Eastern Eyes
Sunday, 25 March 2012 06:06

Return of the Monolith

Vladimir Putin is celebrating a decisive victory in the 2012 Presidential elections in Russia. After four years as Prime Minister, he returns to the highest position of power in Moscow. What can Europe expect from the return of a man who has never minced words?

Putin received more than 60% of the overall votes, although international observers such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have made several charges of fraud. No matter how (un)fair and (un)free these recent elections may have been, Europe has to deal with the return of a well-known political veteran.

It seems that Putin has managed to appease his political counterparts in Europe. While there have been statements from German chancellor Angela Merkel and from the EU's high representative for foreign affairs Catherine Ashton, praising the rise of civic movements in Russia and highlighting the need for political reforms, European leaders are mostly relieved that Russian politics look as if they'll remain stable. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé frames it in a pragmatic way: "The election has not been exemplary. That is the least you can say. Putin has been re-elected by a large majority, so France and her European partners will pursue its partnership with Russia." German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle expressed the hope that Germany would "continue and deepen the strategic partnership with Russia."

Published in Beyond Europe
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