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Archive for October, 2012

Hungary’s fractured opposition

By Blog Admin, on 30 October 2012

saubere Hände für unabhängige medien

Photo: Beate Firlinger. Creative Commons license via Flickr

Only time will tell if Hungary’s divided liberal and  left-wing opposition will be able to put aside differences and unite notes Erin Marie Saltman

Those less intimate with Hungarian political culture should be aware of the significance of March 15th and October 23rd, national memorial days for the 1848 and 1956 revolutions against Hapsburg and Soviet powers. These national holidays have been used increasingly to stage political speeches, demonstrations and protests in recent years, paralleling the rising discourse around Hungary’s ‘illiberal’ turn, as reported on by international news and human rights watchdogs.

As political forces in Hungary have polarised, so have the streets of Budapest, divided into an array of camps for and against the government. Since the parliamentary majority victory of the right wing party, Fidesz, and the significant electoral gains of the radical right party Jobbik, there has been increasing talk of Hungary’s movement away from liberal democratic values and the country’s increasing Euroscepticism. The lack of cohesion of liberal-left political forces for the past six years has turned political polarisation into political hegemony of the right.

But the events that took place on October 23rd may indicate a fundamental shift toward the development of a united liberal opposition movement. The national holiday was a litmus test for the failing of old opposition powers, the continued strength of right-wing forces, and potential new alliances’ strengthening unity among grassroots and political opposition. (more…)

Karadžić trial: If I were a prosecutor

By Blog Admin, on 30 October 2012

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić has presented evidence in his defence to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia – it almost amounts to a second prosecution case, finds Eric Gordy.

Evstafiev-Radovan Karadzic 3MAR94

Photo: Evstafiev via Wikicommons

If I were a defence lawyer for Radovan Karadžić – currently on trial for genocide and war crimes at International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague –  I would be inclined to offer the advice most defence lawyers offer to defendants in criminal cases: do not present a defence unless you have to. The prosecution is required to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and the defence does not have to prove anything to get an acquittal – all the defence has to do is raise doubt. When it starts presenting its own evidence, it raises the risk of providing additional material for the prosecution.

This is especially the case if the defendant is, like Radovan Karadžić, guilty. Prosecutors love it when this kind of defendant decides to offer a case. It becomes a second prosecution case, offering the prosecutors both new evidence and the chance to introduce in rebuttal evidence that they were not able to introduce when it was their turn.

So let’s have a peek at the some of the evidence that Karadžić submitted on 15 October in his defence. He gives us a written statement by Blagoje Kovačević, a Republika Srpska Army (VRS) colonel who ranked high among the commanders in the siege of Sarajevo from 1992 to 1995. (more…)

Human rights should be more than a buzzword

By Blog Admin, on 28 October 2012

Four freedoms human rights

Photo: dbking via Wikimedia Commons

Kristen Perrin reviews an enlightening new collection that argues that it is imperative that we cultivate a rich awareness of both human rights and peace

Challenges facing human rights are talked about so often in our current global climate that ‘human rights’ as a buzz-word manages to be both constant and elusive. The concept is constant in that conflict, poverty, upheaval and justice are rarely mentioned without human rights in tandem, and elusive in that the reality of human rights within these very discussions is never fully explored outside of terminologies that are both vague and obtuse in scope. The common trap of human rights literature is that it is almost impossible not to lean on these vague definitions, leaving the scholar lost in a sea of phrases depicting ‘the essence of being human’ and ‘fundamental moral codes’.

Fortunately, the vastness of the human rights literature has forced its own evolution  and overly optimistic language has been met with sharp analysis, the evidence of experience and current applications. Activating Human Rights and Peace: Theories, Practices and Contexts edited by Goh Bee Chen, Baden Offord and Rob Garbutt (Ashgate. 2012) is a new collection of essays, which balances itself well in the existing literature, linking human rights with concepts that have been widely discussed – such as law, immigration, and conflict – as well as adding innovative perspectives from education, tourism and storytelling. The brevity of the essays included allows for creative ideas to be introduced but not overdone, leaving the collection as less of an in-depth study and more of a jumping-off point to further inquiry. (more…)

Letters in Russian literature: A top ten

By Blog Admin, on 26 October 2012

1875 wmkhoriz t4k 2x2k

Image via Wikicommons. Public domain


Letters, ranging from the absurd to the tragic play an important role in Russian literature, notes Sarah Young

Letters play a significant role in some of my favourite works of Russian literature, and a couple in particular have been very much on my mind lately.  Here is my top ten, which manages to encompass everything from the absurd to the tragic. Apologies for the plot spoilers (especially in entries 10, 7 and 4), which were unavoidable. I adhere to my usual rule that no writer may appear more than once.

10. Lermontov, A Hero of Our Time. The letter Vera writes to Pechorin in ‘Princess Mary’, in which she informs him she is leaving and will never see him again, is remarkable not so much in itself as for the reaction it causes. Pechorin, so cool and calculated in his actions elsewhere, rides after her in such a frenzy that he kills his horse. The image of his anguish outlasts his own acid comment, ‘anyone who saw me at that moment would have turned away in contempt’. Russian text | English text

9. Olesha, Envy. Two letters feature prominently in part one the novel as important expressions of their authors’ personalities. Kavalerov’s outburst of hatred for the man who saved him, in chapter 11, fixes the dominant characteristics we have already defined, but Volodya’s letter, in chapter 13, is downright sinister, admitting his jealousy of Kavalerov, and hinting at a viciousness we might otherwise not suspect in his character. Meanwhile his paean to the machine has become a key passage in the formation of the New Soviet Man. Russian text

(more…)

Greedy presidents

By Blog Admin, on 25 October 2012

 Presidents in the former Soviet Union need to play a shrewd political game to stay in power, argues Andrew Wilson

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Viktor Yanukovych Photo: Roland Goodman

Most East European states are a long way from democratic; but the stability of their regimes depends on respecting certain rules of the game, such as dividing the spoils. It is normally the President who acts as ‘Lord of The Rings’ to keep the various circles of interest in balance – though there are several ways of playing the role. The president may be above the game, or he may control the key forces of balance in the game, like kompromat or ‘judicial resources’. He may be a player himself (less likely herself), which would give him weight; but if he and his supporters win control of too many resources they will not be trusted by the other players.

More than twenty years after the fall of the USSR, ‘transition’ may be a forlorn hope, but time can undermine balance: several East European regimes are now showing destabilising signs of incumbents’ greed. (more…)

Eastern Europe on a roll

By Blog Admin, on 24 October 2012

The humble toilet roll offers unsuspected insights into the East-West relationships in Europe finds Wendy Bracewell

Toaletni papir nekrepovany JIP

Czechoslovak toiilet paper c. 1980. Photo: Ludek via Wikicommons

Why is toilet paper such a commonplace in writing about Eastern Europe?  Anglo-American disgust at local toilet facilities – or their absence – certainly didn’t appear with the Cold War: this was an old cliché in Western depictions of East European and Mediterranean societies.  (Reactions to postwar Greek plumbing –especially the little basket for used paper – continued in this tradition, showing that while Greece was on the right side of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, it was on the wrong side of the Paper one.)

 But Westerners also attached new, more ideological connotations to toilet paper.  As early as 1948 commentators saw blips in supply as the Party-State’s contempt for everyday human needs. (Concern for the ‘ordinary citizen’ seemed less important a decade later, with Americans questioning whether their success with consumer disposables, symbolized by toilet paper, measured up to the Soviet conquest of space with Sputnik.) Toilet paper was handy for dramatizing the humiliations visited on dissidents: interviewers with Milovan Djilas in the 1960s were less interested in what he had written during imprisonment than in the fact that his words had covered thousands of sheets of toilet paper (supply clearly wasn’t a problem). (more…)

LGBT rights under attack in Russia

By Blog Admin, on 24 October 2012

Putin Medvedev Berlin gay pride poster

Poster at Berlin Gay Pride/CSD event, July 2012

Anti-LGBT legislation in St Petersburg is having unforeseen consequences and mobilising Russia’s ‘gay diasporas’ overseas, argues Richard Mole

Almost 20 years after it was decriminalised, homosexuality in Russia is coming under renewed attack.  In March St Petersburg became the fourth Russian city to adopt legislation banning ‘homosexual propaganda’. While commentators argued that the vagueness of the law, which bans ‘public action aimed at propagandising sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism and transgenderism among minors’, would make it difficult to bring successful prosecutions against transgressors, LGBT rights activist Nikolay Alexeyev was convicted in May for breaching the law by picketing St Petersburg City Hall with a banner, which read ‘Homosexuality is not a perversion’.

 Alexeyev’s insistence that there were no minors present at the City Hall can be taken as proof, if proof were needed, that the law was not motivated by a desire to protect Russian children or Russian society but is the latest in a series of legislative measures used by the state to intimidate political opponents and generate an atmosphere of legal disquiet. Were activists to go ahead and hold meetings or rallies which were subsequently attacked, police could use the law to justify not intervening to protect activists, as the events could be deemed ‘homosexual propaganda’ –  a criminal offence. (more…)

SSEES research blog launches

By Blog Admin, on 23 October 2012

School of Slavonic and East European Studies

Photo: Steve Cadman via Wikicommons

The UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies has launched a new academic blog.

This is the inaugural post of a new blog written by academics and researchers at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London (UCL SSEES).  In the new SSEES Research blog we aim to provide accessible, high-quality analysis and discussion of Russia, Central, Eastern and South-East Europe and the Baltic, drawing on the  research expertise of SSEES specialists. The blog will cover all aspects of culture, economics, history, politics and societies of the region, as well as broader issues such as migration, diasporas and European identities.

Blogs are an increasingly important channel for bringing academic research and expertise to a wider audience and enhancing public debate. To this end, we aim to offer regular updated content written for the blog  from the full range of discplines at SSEES, as well as archiving some of the best writing by SSEES staff to appear elsewhere. Our first posts will appear tomorrow.

To learn more  please contact the blog’s editorial co-ordinator  Sean Hanley or simply follow us on Twitter at @SSEESResBlog.