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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
Tuesday, 16 September 2014 00:00

On the Brink: An Introduction

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Photo: Christian Diemer
Morning in Goshiv, near Ovruch, Zhytomyrs’ka region, Central Ukraine, back in 2010

 

Ready to get to grips with the real situation in Ukraine? E&M is launching a special series of on-the-ground reports that go far beyond the geo-political struggles that have been grabbing the headlines in Europe.

"Isn't it dangerous there?" "Mustn't it be very unpleasant at the moment?" "Why on earth Ukraine?!"

E&M author Christian Diemer regularly hears such questions when asked about his current whereabouts. And it is certainly true that Ukraine is unlikely to be topping many people's holiday destination lists any time soon. But while the conflict in Ukraine has been dominating the daily news for more than half a year and has long become a war of propaganda, the actual atmosphere and goings-on in the country remain vague and largely undifferentiated to much of the western European audience. Though not for any longer, thanks to Christian's on-the-ground reports from Ukraine, written especially for E&M’s Sixth Sense.

Christian has been working on his PhD about traditional music and national identity in Ukraine since 2012. He started travelling through the country when it was still unimaginable that the spectre of war would be seen again so close to Europe. Back then, Yanukovych was was firmly in the saddle and, despite some people’s frustration, the prospect of another revolution seemed remote.

Published in Under Eastern Eyes
Tuesday, 29 July 2014 00:00

Good Reads – 29/07/2014

Two of E&M's editors share articles that recently got them thinking about Europe. Diána kicks off by suggesting an interesting interview and also a book review that might just make you look at the news in a completely different way. Then it's over to Edgar, whose picks include an article on the difficulties of observing Ramadan in Norway.

Diána, Managing editor

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Little green men with faces

When we read it was 'pro-Russian separatists' or 'Ukrainian rebels' who shot down the MH17 plane flying over their disputed territory, it is often extremely difficult to imagine who those people on the ground are and why they see it as a realistic political option to call their territory The People's Republic of Donetsk.

The fighters themselves often seem to be missing from media coverage. From a European point of view, it can easily seem rather confusing, almost absurd, to be willing to embrace the authoritarian ways of the Russian leadership. This is why an interview with one of the so-called 'little green men' – the imported fighters from Russia – is an immensely interesting read. In the article, Artur Gasparyan, an Armenian-born former fighter, tells us about the details of his service, the complete anonymity of Russian recruitment and the often extremely chaotic conditions of the fighting involved.

Though the interview is not completely clear on certain points – personally, I'm not sure I understood why he was willing to talk and whether his position about Ukraine has now changed – one message comes across plainly: that for many in the post-Soviet world the very category of separate nation states still does not make sense. In their eyes, there are no 'Ukrainians', only 'Slavs'. For Gasparyan and the others still fighting for the Soviet Union, twisting time and space is possible in the present. However alarming that thought may be, this is an angle we need to tackle if we wish to understand what is going on along those borders.

Published in Good Reads

 Olympic Cauldron Relit for Sochi Winter Games 2014 Feb 21st 12690365295The Winter Olympic Games in Sochi earlier this year unexpectedly helped fire public debate in the Russian Federation

What impact do major sporting events have on local people? Do mainstream Western media only scratch the surface when it comes to popular opinion in the former USSR? Edgar Gerrard Hughes takes a look at a project that sought to discover exactly that.

Every so often, in the midst of a European television report about sporting events in one of the successor states to the Soviet Union, a local citizen will appear on screen for a few seconds and angrily denounce Western arrogance. They are presented as the voice of the nation, and the (intended?) response of many viewers is dismissive: these are not original or authentic opinions, but rather the regurgitation of official propaganda. We all know that media freedom in Russia leaves much to be desired, so when we see a vox pop from the streets of Sochi, it is easy to assume that the speaker is simply parroting their government’s self-interested agenda.

A response like that is, of course, at best lazy and simplistic. But how can we get a more rounded sense of the domestic impact of events like the Winter Olympics when these brief news cameos are our most readily available source of popular opinion? Five participants from Berlin’s prestigious Studienkolleg programme (incidently also the birthplace of E&M), which gives young people a chance to explore Europe on their own intellectual terms, set out to provide a better answer to this question. An answer based on the experiences of people actually living in the countries in question.

Published in E&M Reports
Friday, 20 December 2013 19:37

Revolution of consciousness

Revolution_of_consciousnessThe Ukrainian people, especially the young generation, have always felt European, they always wanted to be recognised as Europeans and saw their future in Europe.  They share the values of rule of law, freedom and democracy. For them Europe was a promise of hope, and when the Ukrainian government refused to sign the Association agreement at the summit in Vilnius, people took to the streets to fight for their future. 

Published in Under Eastern Eyes
Thursday, 19 December 2013 00:00

The spirit of Euromaidan

The escalator at Maidan Nezalezhnosti metro station in Kiev is the longest I've ever seen. It takes a few good minutes to reach the top, which leaves plenty of time to form expectations about what lies at the end of the climb. Yet nothing you read in the news or see in pictures truly prepares you for what happens after you come out of the underground. The Independence Square (or Euromaidan) is a kind of Hemingwayesque resistance city. It smells like burnt wood and rusty iron and improvised kitchens. Here and there fires lit in old trash cans give rise to grey columns of smoke. A few hundred people are already on the Maidan at 9 am in the morning, most of them holding tall Ukrainian flags.

In the centre of the main boulevard, a festival-like stage hosts speeches from opposition leaders and public figures, as well as live performances by popular Ukrainian artists. On the left hand side, there is a large banner of Yulia Timoshenko's elegant portrait looking towards the sky. People are silent and still, listening to the words coming from the stage. I can't understand a word of Ukrainian except when they say "Slava Ukraini!" (Glory to Ukraine), to which people reply unwaveringly, in perfect sync "Heroyam Slava!" (Glory to our heroes).

Next to the stage, on the Trade Unions House - now a bastion of the "revolution" - a huge screen displays a pixelated livestream of those speaking into the microphones. On the other side of the boulevard, a tall metal Christmas tree is now covered in Ukrainian flags, posters made by protesters and cartoons of Ukrainian politicians and Vladimir Putin. No sign of police or the feared Berkut officers anywhere. No sign of traffic or anything that doesn't serve the purpose of the protest. The Maidan belongs to the resistance.

Published in Contentious Europe
Saturday, 14 December 2013 10:46

#euromaidan

Ziemowit_Joswik

This time it is conspiratorial. From the clutches of the FSB, my friend, the politest, shyest, humblest young Pole I know, Z., has escaped. On a bus he has come, on a bus he will leave, appearing in Berlin for only a few hours before vanishing again into the East. Blackish clouds loom low over Warschauer Straße, where I wait for him, storm front Xavier blows squalls and gusts as he emerges. In the cellar of a Kreuzberg bar, where the world is upside down and no cellular phone can connect or be connected, E&M got this exclusive interview with Ziemowit Jóźwik, long-standing E&M author and the inventor of the #euromaidan.  

Published in Under Eastern Eyes
Tuesday, 10 September 2013 19:54

The City of Living Poets


E&M has not been to Russia. 

Christian Diemer is not reporting from Chernobyl.

It is not cold here.

Half an hour from the EU's border in Romania, at the foothills of the Karpathians, we are at the heart of Europe. What is now the smallest and remotest regional capital in today's Ukraine, was the Eastern outpost of the Austro-Hungarian empire; home to some of the most important German-speaking poets of the 20th century, and the epitome of multiculturalism and multilingualism for centuries. "A region in which lived humans and books", as Paul Celan put it.

For the fourth time now, region, humans and books have been reanimated. The past weekend, the big names of Ukrainian literature met authors from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Israel, Poland, Japan to light a firework of languages and arts. From the 6th to 8th of September, the International Meridian Czernowitz Poetry Festival was held - in the South-Western Ukrainian city of Chernivtsi.

Monday, 29 October 2012 00:54

Music and politics in Western Ukraine

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.”

Published in Under Eastern Eyes
Thursday, 25 October 2012 18:49

Elections in the Eastern Neighbourhood

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.

Published in Under Eastern Eyes
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