Review – New Europe, Old Problems – New Eastern Europe, Summer Edition 2012

July 2, 2012

Occasionally I get asked to review matters relating to Eastern Europe (normally specific to Ukraine) or write about them (sometimes for money) for specific clients on specific subjects.  It is always a pleasure to do both and be involved with Ukraine and its neighbourhood in any guise.

Anyway, some weeks ago, Adam Reichardt, Managing Editor of New Eastern Europe magazine asked if I would review the summer edition of New Eastern Europe, “New Europe, Old Problems” which hits the news stands in printed form today.  Without further ado, here are my thoughts on the latest quarterly:

Review – Summer Edition 2012 – New Eastern Europe “New Europe, Old Problems”

The New Eastern Europe train leaves the station with the summer edition “New Europe, Old Problems” and the editors selecting a number of articles from around the former Soviet Union reminding the reader of how, if not the numerous reasons why, these nations remain so very different from the former Warsaw Pact nations today.

Our journey in this quarterly publication begins with a very dour commentary from the BBC’s John Sweeney on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city located not far from the Russian border. It should be noted it is not the impression one suspects numerous Euro2012 football fans will have of Kharkiv in their brief time there, and having spent time there myself prior to the Euro2012 facade many times, neither is it the impression I have after spending the past 10 years living in Ukraine. Where we would agree is John Sweeney’s statement “another time, another world” as we must be in different ones despite the fact it is the same Kharkiv we know.

Next is with Grzegorz Gromadzki and the Russian power system. A well trodden path indeed it must be said, and very difficult to say anything new that has not been said many times before over the past few months. Nevertheless the article attempts to make comparisons with Brezhnev’s USSR and equate that economic stagnancy with today’s Russian political stagnancy and democratic legitimacy gap felt by numerous Russians.

Whilst still in Russia, Cold War diplomacy and espionage is the subject of Kelly Hignett’s piece. A reminder of the positions, interests and needs of the UK vis a vis Russia as sovereign states, despite the quite significant trade and business ties.

Following on, the subject of Russia Today, the Russian media outlet designed specifically to reach the foreign audience with English and Spanish language programmes and a considered piece of writing by Marcin Maczka. who takes us through the history, politics and current engagements of the largest Kremlin propaganda machine since the Cold War ended. Or is it just an alternative point of view made by undeniably well qualified RT employees?

Pussy Riot and the Orthodox Church come under Jacek Borkowicz gaze as the New Eastern Europe train remains in Russia for the time being. Naturally an emotive subject depending on the conservative or liberal mindedness of the reader. Regardless of personal positions, is the jailing for those involved somewhat overzealous? Read the article.

From Moscow we travel to Minsk – naturally – where Katerina Barushka leads us thoughtfully through the issues surrounding the 2011 attacks, subsequent arrests, trial and ultimately execution of what is a more than dubious functioning of the legal system with dire consequence.

Staying with Belarus, Pawel Kowal decries the EU’s policy or lack of policy towards Lukashenko. He should know. He is an MEP in the European Parliament.

Yegor Vasylyev returns us to Ukraine with an article charting the rise, fall, and rise once more of President Viktor Yanukovych, the implementation of the power vertical and subsequent installation of family and close friends in key positions as is the familiar modus operandi for those patriarchs who have few people around them they can trust. Vasylyev employs fact, myth and conjecture to work his way through the opaque and murky history of the Ukrainian political class and Viktor Yukanovych in particular. That is not a criticism by any means, there is no other way.

Staying with Ukraine, Natalia Snaidanko tackles the topical issue of language in Ukraine, noting quite rightly that there is no reasoned adult debate over the issue but rather is it a line upon which the politicians of East and West Ukraine stand either side of. Maybe wisely, she stays away from the politics of using Russian in courts and schools (or not) and looks at the literary gains by encouraging writing and publishing in both languages.

In a rare trip into the EU within “New Europe, old problems”Adam Bodnar and Irmina Pacho take a necessarily critical eye to the unresolved issue of US “black prisons” in Poland and the lack of accountability for the decisions made.

From Poland to Slovakia and our next stop in Eastern Europe where Pavol Szalai sheds light on the shenanigans of Slovak politics, social media and “gorilla files.” Terribly interesting article on a nation that draws so little international media attention.

Back to Poland and Basil Kerski debating the role and influence of Poland within the German, Russian relationship. An interesting article as it hardly acknowledges Poland’s ever more forceful and influential voice within the EU, instead concentrating on how, if at all, to influence bilateral relations between Germany and Russia to Polish benefit, or to the least detriment, directly.

That brings us to a selection of interviews including with Timothy Garton-Ash. A man who should need little introduction for anybody with an interest in Eastern Europe, it is, as always, simply a “must read”. Also in this section is an interview with Tad Taube on Jewish heritage and Poland,

Onward to the “Reports” section and here we find Russian protests have more journalists and police attending than protestors, according to the author Malgorzata Nocun. An interesting dynamic for an article entitled “We won’t disappear”. Read on to discover why, despite dwindling numbers, that headline may well stand the test of time. Also in this section, Wojciech Gorecki explores the oil-money funded construction boom in Baku.

Brian R Banks takes a fairly detailed look at the life and legacy of Bruno Schulz in the “History” section before the penultimate stop for New Eastern Europe at “People, Inspiration and Ideas” where Mayhill Flower casts an empirical eye over cross border culture, Ludwika Wlodek describes the life and times of Helene Carrere d’Encausse, former MEP and prophet of Soviet doom, and Slawomira Walczewska tackles the issue of feminism in Poland, prior to the latest book reviews relating to the region wrapping things up in time honoured fashion.

All in all, a number of well chosen articles, interviews and biographical pieces giving food for thought and well worth the cover price, so if you see it, buy it.  You won’t be disappointed.


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