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Archive for November, 2012

‘Together 2014’ movement emerges in Hungary

By Blog Admin, on 27 November 2012

Together 2014 rally (Photo: Erin Marie Saltman)

A new opposition grouping has emergence in Hungary, calling for an electoral alliance of grassroots movements and political parties to challenge the dominance of right-wing party Fidesz. However, it may soon find its cohesion  testsed, writes Erin Marie Saltman.

‘Together 2014’ (Együtt 2014) was announced on 23  October  at the large opposition rally against the government, founded by three civil society organizations. With largely divided and conflicting opposition facets competing in Hungary the question remains: how together will Together 2014 be?

Together 2014 is the alliance of three civil organizations joining forces to win a two-thirds majority in the next national parliamentary elections. This is the majority needed to override many of Fidesz’s recent controversial laws. Leading the alliance is Gordon Bajnai, the interim Prime Minister in 2009 and 2010 for Socialist Party, MSZP. Bajnai remains one of the most popular politicians in Hungary as a non-partisan technocrat hoping to bring together disgruntled voters from the centre-left and centre-right. Bajnai brings with him the Patriotism and Progress Association (Haza és Haladás Közpolitikai Alapítvány), a public policy foundation he leads, formed after the 2010 elections developing biannual policy packages. (more…)

Milan Mladenović’s street: does a Belgrade alternative rocker belong to Zagreb’s cultural heritage?

By Blog Admin, on 21 November 2012

Bělehrad, Terazije, odpolední provoz

Photo: Aktron / Wikimedia Commons

An initiative to rename a Zagreb  street after Serbian ‘new wave’  rock musician Milan Mladenović raises complex issues about Croatian cultural identity, finds  Catherine Baker

In 1990, Milan Mladenović and the rock band he fronted, Ekaterina Velika, was part of a vibrant cultural scene – the Yugoslav ‘new wave’ – that connected large cities throughout former Yugoslavia. Bands and their fans regularly visited the major metropolitan centres of Yugoslavia’s six republics as routinely, taking their mobility for granted.

 In 1992, when the route between Zagreb and Belgrade had become a notional line crossing an international border, a front line and a UN protected area, Mladenović was among eight musicians from Belgrade alternative rock bands (EKV, Električni Orgazam and Partibrejkers) who formed a supergroup called Rimtutituki in support of the Serbian movement to resist conscription. Their one recorded song, Slušaj vamo (Listen here), is probably the most significant protest song of the Yugoslav conflict:?

 Two and a half years later, in 1994, Mladenović was dead at the age of 36. He would be remembered as a musician who had refused to be co-opted by nationalist politics, and as part of a music scene that had to be re-situated within new wartime and post-war forms of cultural memory.

 Since the break-up of Yugoslavia, the music of Mladenović and his counterparts in the Yugoslav new wave – novi val in Croatian, novi talas in Serbian – has formed part of a complex of everyday cultural references turned identity markers. The new-wave scene was irreducible to any republic, future nation-state, or ethno-national culture. Even as it played on and fixed images of particular cities and their urban ‘asphalt’, mobility around the country gave it meaning. Novi val and novi talas, with that mobility and that country gone, would come to stand for a moment and a milieu where the difference between those who said ‘novi val’ and those who said ‘novi talas’ was of no significance. (more…)

1989 in fiction: a story that is not a story

By Blog Admin, on 17 November 2012

Tim Beasley-Murray on a story that slips under the radar of history

Pictures of 1989 - Exterior

Photo: Gribsche (Rob Sinclair). Creative Commons license via Flickr

Peter Pišťanek’s Rivers of Babylon is the best-selling Slovak novel of all time.  It tells the story of Rácz, a peasant from the Hungarian- speaking countryside, who arrives in Bratislava in Autumn 1989 and finds a job stoking up the boilers of the city’s top hotel.  With a combination of priapic brutality, Nietzschean will-to-power, and control of the heating in a freezing winter, he rises with meteoric speed to become, by the summer 1990, the head of a criminal empire, with the Hotel Ambassador, the city and its politicians in his pocket.

 This riotous and irrepressible novel is a combination of things: a video-nasty subversion of the Bildungsroman; a vicious satire of (Slovak) notions of the ethnic and moral purity of the countryside and the corruption and vice of the city (after all, it is Rácz who corrupts the city and not the other way round); and, with its cast of ballet-dancers-turned-prostitutes, intellectuals-turned-pornographers, secret policemen-turned-mafiosi and so forth, a Rabelaisian carnival of the birth of wild-East capitalism.

One of the most remarkable things about this remarkable book, however, is what it does not portray:  Rácz meteoric rise coincides exactly with the period that sees the fall of the Berlin Wall, mass demonstrations in November against the Communist regime in Prague and Bratislava, the resignation of the Presidium of the Czechoslovak Communist Party and the election of Václav Havel to the presidency at the end of December, and finally, in June, the first free elections in Czechoslovakia since 1946.  None of this appears in the novel.

(more…)

Does the eurozone crisis threaten liberal reforms in Eastern Europe?

By Blog Admin, on 15 November 2012

Uncertainties about the EU’s future are undermining mainstream parties throughout Europe. In Central and Castern Europe politicians can no longer sell the European model of liberal reforms when that model is itself in crisis, argues Sean Hanley

OccupyFrankfurt October 2011 EZB

Photo: Blogotron via Wikicommons

Although only three EU members in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), Estonia, Slovakia and Slovenia, have adopted the Euro, the knock-on  effects of stagnation in the Eurozone has pushed governments across CEE towards unpopular austerity programmes, exacerbating social tensions and collapsing support for incumbent parties. The uncertainties about the EU’s future are also undermining mainstream parties in the region. Politicians can no longer sell liberal reforms as part of a successful, tried and tested european model as they once did, when that model is itself in crisis. For many this seems to point darkly towards a turning away from liberal politics in CEE and a growth in euroscepticism, populism and nationalism. (more…)

What Bulgakov can tell us about reforming nursing in the former USSR

By Blog Admin, on 13 November 2012

Re-reading Bulgakov leads health researcher and guest contributor Erica Richardson to some sharp realisations about primary healthcare in the former Soviet Union

VelikiVrag-Medpunkt-1435

Photo: Vladmir Menkov via Wikicommons

I have now reached an age when I can go back to novels I read twenty years ago, reread them with fresh eyes and experience the joy of new discoveries.  Most recently, this has involved revisiting A Country Doctor’s Notebook by Mikhail Bulgakov, a collection of short stories based on his experience as a newly qualified doctor sent to a remote region for his first job practicing medicine.  I sincerely believe it is essential reading for all new doctors and cannot recommend it highly enough.  In the 1990s, I was struck by how little had changed in the rural Russian landscape despite the electrification and mechanisation drives under Stalin.  In 2012, I was struck by the way in which different members of the clinical team were presented.

Maybe this is because I’ve recently returned from Minsk, Belarus where I was representing the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies at a sub-regional policy dialogue on human resources in countries of the former Soviet Union.  As an aside to discussions about skill-mix and task shifting, a fascinating discussion developed around the concept of a ‘nurse’ and in the post-Soviet context, and where ‘feldshers’ fit into the picture. Nurses have their distinct heritage and philosophy which is focused on ‘care’, while the doctors are more focused on providing ‘treatment’.  So what’s a feldsher? (more…)

Pussy Riot: what the Church really said – and what others made of it

By Blog Admin, on 9 November 2012

The Russian Orthodox Church’s response to the Pussy Riot case has been more complex than many realise, argues Katja Richters

Pussy Riot at Lobnoye Mesto on Red Square in Moscow - Denis Bochkarev

Pussy Riot on Red Square Photo: Denis Bochkarev via Wikimedia

Since the beginning of the year, much has been said and written about the members of Pussy Riot who were convicted of ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’ after having performed a so-called punk prayer in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in central Moscow. Their trial was generally seen as politically motivated and Amnesty International declared the accused prisoners of conscience. In August 2012, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Ekaterina Samutsevich were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, but Samutsevich’s prison term was later suspended upon appeal.

 As their ‘crime’ was committed inside one of the Russian Orthodox Church’s most high-profile cathedrals the Church and its official representatives were dragged into the debate. Questions about the Orthodox hierarchy’s take on the matter and its relationship with the state were widely discussed in both Russian and international media. They were reinforced by the indictment and the verdict which highlighted the damage that the punk prayer had allegedly caused amongst the Orthodox.

 One line of reporting suggested that the Church had adopted a very strict attitude towards the incident. Given the obviously offensive and arguably blasphemous lyrics contained in the punk prayer, these reports are quite credible. But they only tell half of the story. In fact, it was mainly one cleric, the Church’s head of the Department for Relations with Society, Vsevolod Chaplin, who took a particularly tough approach to the case. (more…)

Fieldwork interviews: From phonebooks to fascists

By Blog Admin, on 8 November 2012

Fieldwork interviews in Eastern Europe can make big demands of young researchers. Careful preparation, creativity and persistence are the key to success, argue Erin Marie Saltman and Philipp Köker.

Ringbound notebook

Photo: Sikura via Wikicommons

Interviews are commonly used across a variety of disciplines – from anthropology to political science, from linguistics to economics.Sometimes, they are the only way to gain important information and, even when they are used alongside other research methods, can give researchers unique insights

However, despite the added value they can bring, conducting interviews is often a more or less a self-taught skill. While there are a few text books, these often remain general, sometimes leaving researchers with more questions than they started with. Courses offered by UCL cover interviewing more directly, but nothing quite prepares research students for using this method in the field.

Given the region’s history, people in Eastern Europe can also be suspicious of (foreign) researchers inquiring about their daily lives or political views. Structures like parties or civil society organisations are sometimes not yet well established enough or sufficiently attuned to help researchers find and contact potential interviewees. And even if you get an interview, the fact that even top politicians and experts often do not speak foreign languages makes interviewing more complicated (although admittedly, this can also be an issue in Western democracies). (more…)

How bad were the Ukrainian elections?

By Blog Admin, on 6 November 2012

photo 1

Photo: osepa (Neil Simom. Creative Commons license via Flickr

In a follow up to his earlier post, Andrew Wilson considers just how clean last week’s Ukrainian elections really were,

The Ukrainian authorities expected a relatively clean bill of health for the parliamentary elections held on 28 October. Voting day itself was fairly peaceful; there were 3,800 international observers and over 100,000 domestic observers; and the results apparently reflected the exit polls.

There was even a trend, in October at least, towards slightly more balanced media coverage. A media monitoring project in which I was myself involved judged that 32% of news in the final week showed a balance of points of view – which is still not a lot, but an improvement from a low base, though the main official First National channel hardly changed.

But the critical tone of the preliminary report by OSCE Office for Democracy and Human Rights (ODHIR) caught the authorities off guard. In large part, this was because ODIHR reports have cottoned on to the fact that the damage is usually done long before voting day itself, when the authorities build their various advantages into the structure of the campaign. So ODIHR front-loaded its report by criticising the ‘lack of a level playing field, caused primarily by the abuse of administrative resources, lack of transparency of campaign and party financing, and [overall] lack of balanced media coverage’, and referring directly to the cases of Yuliia Tymoshenko and Yurii Lutsenko, stating clearly that ‘the fact that they were not able to run as candidates negatively affected the election process’. (more…)

Ukraine’s double-edged elections

By Blog Admin, on 5 November 2012

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Photo: oscepa (Neil Simon) via Flikr  Creative Commons license

Ukraine’s ruling Party of Regions comfortably won flawed parliamentary elections on 28 October, but opposition groupings too polled well. The result leaves the EU with a dilemma. Andrew Wilson gives two cheers for Ukrainian democracy.

There aren’t many elections where all sides come out happy, but this arguably just happened in Ukraine this Sunday. The authorities were already happy a month or two before the elections, because they were confident of victory by fair means and (mainly) foul. So they could afford to ease off in the final weeks of the campaign. On the one hand, the ruling Party of Regions didn’t get many of the results it wanted – most notably failing to win a single seat in Kiev. In one suburban capital seat the far right Freedom party was able to declare victory over the acting millionairess mayor Halyna Hereha after a three-day struggle over the count. Other surprises included the victory for the candidate backed by the ‘semi-detached’ oligarch Viktor Pinchuk against a real regime insider in Dnipropetrovsk. The Party of Regions didn’t sweep the board in the territorial constituencies, where it once talked of winning 150 seats.

On the other hand, the Party of Regions still won 114 constituencies out of 225, making 187 out of 450 overall, with the 73 the party won in the PR vote. Most of the 44 ‘independents’ are expected to join their ranks, plus seven MPs from smaller parties. If Regions splits or corrupts the opposition, it’s potentially therefore not that far short of a two-thirds’ majority of 300 out of 450 seats.

The one area where the ruling party didn’t get what it wanted was the harsh initial judgement of the OSCE-ODIHR election monitoring mission.  In this respect President Yanukovych is like the Liverpool striker Luis Suárez. Having gained a reputation for diving, Suárez has started to complain that referees don’t give him the free kicks and/or penalties he actually deserves. But it’s his own fault – the men in black have adjusted to his past behaviour. The men and women from the OSCE are doing the same with Yanukovych. But this may make it more difficult to revive the EU-Ukraine agreements that are currently on hold.

The three prongs of the opposition ‘trident’ all did well, although this may not be such good news, as it decreases their incentive to cooperate. Most opinion polls put the ‘United Opposition’ Fatherland and UDAR (‘Punch’, because led by the boxer Vitaliy Klichko) neck and neck, but Fatherland ended up with 103 seats to UDAR’s forty.

Yuliya Tymoshenko was of course not allowed to stand, and it is impossible to judge the size of her sympathy vote, but it seems to have been a factor. Unless she gets out of prison, however, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the leader of the Front for Change, the other main part of the not-particularly-united ‘United Opposition’ coalition, is now the assumed front runner to challenge Yanukovych in the 2015 presidential election – assuming it goes ahead. No doubt alongside Klichko, and both men are all too obviously already planning ahead. UDAR’s campaign this time seemed to peak too early. It was also unable to shake off the suspicion that it might ultimately ally with Regions. Nevertheless, UDAR did well because it is new. (more…)