Belarus Votes: It Actually Matters for Once

By Blog Admin, on 23 October 2015

Andrew Wilson, Professor of Ukrainian Studies at UCL SSEES, analyses the recent elections in Belarus.

There were no real surprises in the presidential election held in Belarus on Sunday 11 October, with Alyaksandr Lukashenka claiming his fifth term since first assuming the presidency in 1994. Lukashenka’s official vote was a record 84 percent (compared to his modest 79.6 percent at the last election in 2010). Though according to the only real Belarusian poll agency IISEPS, only 46 percent of planned voters indicated that they would definitely vote for Lukashenka in September. As always, the elections were fixed in advance in three ways: mass early voting by ‘controlled populations’ like students, who are under strong pressure to vote a certain way (36 percent voted early); by a non-transparent counting process; and by controlling who can actually stand (see below).  


Belarusian presidential election banner. Wikimedia commons/Homoatrox.

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Round table on the refugee crisis in Europe at UCL SSEES

By Blog Admin, on 23 October 2015

On September 22 2015, SSEES hosted an event on the European refugee crisis. A report can be read on the UCL website here:


Gender, nationalism and citizenship in anti-authoritarian protests in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.

By Blog Admin, on 13 July 2015

Darya Malyutina, a recent UCL PhD, reports on a workshop that was held at the University of Cambridge, which was funded by CEELBAS and Cambridge Ukrainian Studies, and which involved the participation of several representatives of UCL SSEES. The event was organized by Olesya Khromeychuk, until recently a teaching fellow at SSEES and lector in Ukrainian at Cambridge, and soon to take up a position as Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of East Anglia.

Participants in the workshop: (L-R) Richard Mole, Anna Shadrina, Nadzeya Husakouskaya, Tamara Martseniuk.

On 20 June 2015, a workshop that brought together scholars, human rights and gender equality activists, artists and journalists working on Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, took place at Robinson College at the University of Cambridge. The participants discussed the implications and intersections of gender, nationalism and citizenship in the recent and ongoing protest movements in the three countries. The interdisciplinary discussions also addressed a number of related issues, from body politics and corporeality to migration and diaspora, from media and propaganda to art and literature, from war to ethical and methodological quandaries of research and activism.

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History through reality TV: Czech Television’s Holiday in the Protectorate

By Blog Admin, on 3 July 2015

Veronika Pehe considers the controversy over the recent Czech reality TV show “Holiday in the Protectorate” and reflects on the potential of such popular cultural forms to encourage audiences to engage with traumatic histories.

In May of this year, a new show on Czech Television, the public service broadcaster in the Czech Republic, sparked a controversy even before its premiere. The premise of the “docu-reality” programme is that a real-life three-generational family is sent back in time and for two months has to live in conditions replicating those of the Nazi occupation of Bohemia and Moravia. The fact that the programme was – ironically, according to director Zora Cejnková – called “Holiday in the Protectorate” did nothing to improve its reception even before it started. Interest from foreign media was strikingly high and mostly marked by outrage. The Times of Israel, for instance, wrote that ‘fortunately for the family, they will not be treated like the 82,309 Jews who lived in the Protectorate’ and the British comedian John Oliver ridiculed the concept of the series on his show.

Screen grab from “Holiday in the Protectorate”. Photograph: Guardian/public domain.

The criticisms seemed to stem mainly from the idea that the format of reality TV is not appropriate to this particular subject matter. Yet the concept was not entirely unprecedented: in 2000, Channel 4 broadcast The 1940s house, in which a present-day family re-lived the conditions of the Blitz. The project of Holiday in the Protectorate was more controversial perhaps because of the necessary presence of the Nazi occupiers – in this case, actors impersonating the Gestapo, who periodically turn up to terrorize the family. Yet the notion that we cannot deal with a subject such as the Nazi occupation through the format of popular television rehearses an argument about the suitability of particular cultural forms to certain types of subject matter. It thus reproduces unhelpful distinctions between high and low culture, which is predicated on the premise that certain types of (low) culture are not dignified enough for portraying certain historical facts. However, the boundaries of the permissible are negotiable and historically contingent. While in the decades following the Second World War, a comedy about this period would have been unthinkable, the passage of time has made such depictions acceptable. The Czech Republic has its own example, Jan Hřebejk’s Protectorate-era drama Divided We Fall (Musíme si pomáhat, 2000), which is narrated with a generous dose of humour. The format was deemed appropriate enough by the film industry abroad for the picture to be nominated for an Oscar. Yet such accceptance has not reached reality TV, even though this genre, which seeks to mediate various extraordinary experiences through the reactions of “real” people, is now part of our everyday cultural experience. There is no point in trying to prevent reality TV from dealing with certain subject areas; rather, we should demand that these areas be dealt with responsibly and well, in particular on public service television.

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How Western plans to fight Putin’s propaganda war could backfire

By Blog Admin, on 26 June 2015

Joanna Szostek, a Mellon Foundation postdoctoral fellow at UCL SSEES, considers the implications of Western proposals to fight Russian propaganda. She argues that injecting Western government money into Russian-language news content could backfire.

An information war is raging in Eastern Europe; at stake are perceptions of the situation in Ukraine. In both Russia and the West, the commentariat claims the other side manipulates gullible minds with propaganda.

Vladimir Putin on Russia Today. Photo: Wiki Commons.

In mid-May, Russian television ran a six-minute report about “battle formations” pitted “against Russia” on the internet and airwaves. By this it meant the volunteer Information Army established by the Ukrainian Information Ministry and the “myth-busters” Brussels hopes to recruit to defend its Eastern Partnership initiative against Russian disinformation.

A week later, the Latvian capital Riga hosted a conference where hundreds of journalists and assorted experts discussed how to counter the “Russian information threat”. EU officials were in attendance, promising tens of millions of euros to support “free media” across the six Eastern Partnership states.

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When is repaying public debt not of the essence?

By Blog Admin, on 19 June 2015

Raphael Espinoza

Raphael Espinoza (UCL, Centre for Comparative Studies of Emerging Economies, SSEES) reports on the latest research being carried out at SSEES into debt repayment strategies.

My co-authors at the IMF, Jonathan D. Ostry and Atish R. Ghosh, have written a blog post “When When i Repaying Public Debt Not Of the Essence”, summarizing our joint work that is contributing to the debate on debt repayment strategies in countries with fiscal space such as the UK or the US.

See for instance, in the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, The Economist , as well as comments by Simon Wren-Lewis, Martin Sandu, David Wessel, and Maya MacGuineas.

The original blog post is summarized below

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Why we don’t need to panic about Greece  

By Blog Admin, on 9 June 2015

Media coverage of the talks between Greece and its Eurozone partners sounds increasingly alarming, but there is no need to run for cover. Filipa Figueira explains why we don’t need to panic about Greece.

Yanis Varoufakis (Photo: Wikicommons).

The past few months have seen a series of “make or break” meetings between Greece and the other Eurozone countries – culminating on 24 April with a tempestuous Eurogroup meeting in Latvia. There, finance ministers allegedly accused Greek Finance Minister Yannis Varoufakis of being “a gambler, a time-waster and an amateur”, and blocked their ears while he was speaking to show their despair. This led Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to reshuffle the negotiating team – Mr Varoufakis has not been fired, but was sidelined, as Deputy Foreign Minister Euclid Tsakalotos will now be heading the negotiations with the Eurogroup.

So are we approaching “Grexit”? Most probably not.

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Różewicz’s Testament: Two Texts and an Enigma

By Blog Admin, on 6 May 2015

Barbara Bogoczek considers the last will and testament of the great Polish poet Tadeusz Różewicz, who died one year ago.

Tadeusz Różewicz in 2006 by Michał Kobyliński (Photo: Wikicommons)


God created man

in His image


the sequence is




it was man who created God

in his image


and later when he

could no longer bear the presence of

God – he erased Him

from his life


and suffers because that was

his greatest creation


Already a year has passed since Tadeusz Różewicz unexpectedly died on the morning of the 24th of April 2014. The previous day, with his wife Wiesława and son Kamil, he was still enjoying the sight of the cherry tree blossoming in their garden. He was 92 but apparently in good shape, still receiving visitors, answering phone calls, writing. The next morning – as he might have put it himself – his life went missing somewhere…

He left a short note, a wry ‘Last Will and Request’, which baffled at least some of his friends. Didn’t this great writer – author of volumes of poetry, drama, prose and screenplays spanning almost eight decades – confess his loss of faith in God at the very onset of his career? In a conversation just a couple of months before his death he said, ”I’m not in a hurry to go anywhere. Because there is nowhere to go.” And yet in this testament, jotted down in his unmistakable handwriting, dated ”Karpacz, 5.III.2003”, he asked for an ecumenical burial:

”It is my wish that the urn with my ashes be buried at the Augsburg Evangelical cemetery by the Vang Church in Upper Karpacz. I also request the local pastor to say the appropriate prayers, together with a priest of the Roman Catholic Church (of which I am a member through the sacrament of baptism and confirmation). I wish to be buried in the soil which has become close to my heart like the soil on which I was born. Perhaps this will contribute to good relations between two divided faiths and bring closer the cultures and nations which lived and are still living on this land. Perhaps the dream of the poet who prophesied ‘All people shall be brothers’ will come true. Amen.”

And signed: ”Tadeusz Różewicz (born 9.X.1921 in Radomsko)”.

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A prayer for the Russian dead

By Blog Admin, on 29 April 2015

Tim Beasley-Murray considers Emmanuel Carrère’s Retour à Kotelnitch and what it tells us about death in contemporary Russia. 

Retour à Kotelnitch (Back to Kotelnich) is a documentary film, made in 2003, by Emmanuel Carrère, a French writer of Russian descent, that tells of life in a small and unexceptional town eight hundred kilometers east of Moscow. The ending of the film is almost unbearably sad. Beneath the soundtrack of Carrère’s tender and unaccompanied singing of a Russian lullaby, Lermontov’s Bayushki Bayu, the images show us the desolate forecourt of Kotelnich’s railway station, under darkened skies, covered in frost and snow, an empty bench, leafless trees. We have already seen this place earlier in the film. In the earlier scene, Anna, a young woman whom Carrère has befriended, is with Lev, her baby boy of about four months, in a sling on her chest. She is talking animatedly and distractedly to the camera, proud, bubbling with the love of a mother for her child. Carrère, behind the camera, at this point in making the film, has begun to lose interest in Anna in terms of her value for his project. Nevertheless, in a cutaway from middle distance, Carrère sits on the bench and plays happily with the baby. In the book that accompanies the film, Un roman russe, the reader finds out that it is at this moment that Carrère sings the Lermontov lullaby to Lev in his arms. It is summer and the sun gently shines through the leaves of the trees on the station forecourt.

Kotelnich train station (Photo: Wikicommons).

Between these two scenes and these two views of the same place, one wintrily desolate, the other sunlit and full of a love that is low-key but self-evident, something terrible has happened: Anna and her baby have been brutally murdered. Anna, strangled in her flat with the cord of her telephone; Lev, hacked to pieced with an axe. Summer has turned to Winter. The viewer cannot but superimpose her or his experience of the two similar, but cruelly opposed scenes. (A clunkier film-maker would intercut a flashback here.) What we see through the falling snow on the empty Winter bench is the absence of this mother and child and the crushing presence of their death. The lullaby that Carrère had sung to a living, sun-dappled Lev, a lullaby that tells of a mother’s hopes for her child as he grows up, has now, sung again at the end of the film, become a grave-song for a life brought to an end, so soon, so unimaginably violently.

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Corruption and anti-corruption in Romania. Finally turning the corner?

By Blog Admin, on 18 April 2015

A recent anti-corruption spree, led by public prosecutor Laura Kövesi, has taken the Romanian political elite by ‘earthquake’. Daniel Brett discusses the multifaceted roots of the country’s corrupt practices: “If there is a historical legacy, it comes from the Communist period”, he argues, “and the absence of a political rupture in 1989 meant that its networks remained unbroken”. Nevertheless, today’s indicted politicians were just teenagers when Communism ended. Is history really to blame?

In a country where actions of an ignominious nature are even encouraged, and those of rapacity looked upon as mere proofs of dexterity and cunning, corruption of principles cannot fail to become universal.

William Wilkinson, An Account of the Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, London 1820

Elena Udrea, former Minister of Regional Development and Tourism, who was arrested in connection with corruption investigations in early 2015. (Photo: Wikicommons)

The on-going conflict between the Romanian public and the political elite over corruption has recently been given new impetus. Parliament’s refusal to lift the immunity of PSD Senator Dan Sova brought protesters onto the streets, demanding his arrest and the removal of the government. In a week in which gold and a Renoir painting were found in the finance minister’s safe following his arrest by the National Anticorruption Unit, Direcţia Naţională Anticorupţie (DNA), alongside continuing investigations of a number of high ranking politicians, corruption remains firmly on the political agenda in Romania.

Corruption and Romanian politics are often portrayed as synonymous. Romania ranked 69 out of 175 countries on the 2014 Transparency International Corruption Perception index and joined Italy, Greece and Bulgaria as the most corrupt of the EU states. However, over the last decade anti-corruption efforts have accelerated, in part due to the demands of the European Union during the accession process and of the wider public. This culminated in the arrest and jailing of former Prime Minister and PSD presidential candidate Adrian Năstase twice for corruption offenses. Since Klaus Iohannis’s victory in the November 2014 elections, a series of former and current government ministers have also been arrested. While the majority of those arrested are associated with Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s PSD, politicians from other parties, including Elena Udrea, and business figures have also been arrested.

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