Archive for November, 2013

Premature donors? Development aid from Central and Eastern Europe ten years on

By Blog Admin, on 28 November 2013

St. Philip's School Mathare: support and development of the school’s potential, KenyaWhen they joined the EU Central and East European states committed themselves to meet EU norms on international development aid. Small budgets, weak social support and limited political commitment have so far limited the impact of aid from CEE. However, it is too early to dismiss them as ‘premature donors’ argue Simon Lightfoot and Balazs Szent-Ivanyi.

Eastern Europe (CEE) states becoming donors of international development aid. It is also the year that three CEE states – the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland – joined the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC).  DAC membership is symbolically important of joining the ‘donor’s club’, but it also commits members to certain norms and practices in aid spending.  Both events make this an opportune time to review the progress CEE states have made towards meeting global aid norms.

Before we do that it is worth asking whether these countries are ready to become donors.  They classify as high income countries and are number are OECD members, so economically the answer must be yes, despite the impact of the financial crisis on some CEE states. But socially, the self perception of these societies is that they see themselves are poor and awareness of development issues is low, so the answer here is more complicated. And politically, aid is not seen as a salient issue, so there is little political capital gained by ‘selling aid’ to the public.

All of these factors affect the quantity, quality and allocation of the bilateral aid given by the CEE states. On becoming EU members, the CEE states were set quantitative targets for aid as a percentage of GDP. They committed to providing 0.15% by 2010 with the ultimate goal of 0.33% by 2015. No country met the 0.15% target and most are unlikely to meet the 0.33% target. However, given the economic problems of the Eurozone, a number of the other DAC members are similarly unlikely to meet their own targets for aid, with aid levels in Greece and Italy particularly badly hit.

But quantitative targets, while important, do not tell the whole story. (more…)

A transnational lone-wolf terrorist: the case of Pavlo Lapshyn

By Blog Admin, on 21 November 2013

When Ukrainian postgraduate Pavlo Lapshyn was sentenced for racially-motivated murder and terrorism in the West Midlands, the response from Ukrainian media was to distort facts; from authorities to remain silent; and from British journalists to pin blame on UK society. These approaches obscure the uniqueness of the case, says Anton Shekhovtsov

On 25 October, 25-year-old Ukrainian postgraduate student Pavlo Lapshyn was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 40 years for a series of terrorist acts carried out in the West Midlands, UK. In Ukraine, Lapshyn’s case provoked a critical response in the media, revealing a distressing, if not unusual aversion to national soul-searching. In Britain, some of the significance of the case was obscured by the irresistible urge to interpret it in terms of British society. What is currently missing in the accounts of Lapshyn’s terror campaign is an understanding of its uniqueness.

Lapshyn came to the UK from the industrial city of Dnipropetrovsk, hometown of now jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, having been awarded a temporary work placement at the Birmingham-based Delcam software company. He arrived on 24 April 2013. Five days later he murdered Mohammed Saleem (82). In June-July, he detonated three home-made bombs near mosques in Walsall, Wolverhampton and Tipton. Fortunately, his lack of experience in making explosive devices meant there was no physical damage to anyone. However, in the course of his bombing campaign he was able to improve his skills and make his devices more dangerous. Only the timely intervention of the West Midlands police, who identified and arrested Lapshyn on 18 July,  prevented him from continuing with his deadly mission.

After his arrest, Lapshyn willingly cooperated with the police. He made no secret of the fact that his actions had been motivated by racism, of his desire to ‘to increase racial conflict’ and make Muslims ‘leave our area.’ In his room at Delcam’s premises in Small Heath (Birmingham), police recovered mobile phones he had adapted to trigger devices, chemicals and bomb-making equipment. There were also 98 video files and 455 photographic files on his laptop showing chemicals, firearms, component parts of explosives and images of Lapshyn manufacturing and detonating bombs, presumably in Ukraine. According to Detective Chief Inspector Shaun Edwards from the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit, ‘Lapshyn stressed he was acting alone – not part of a wider cell or influenced by any group – and was keen to take credit for masterminding and carrying out the attacks.’ After his arrest, Lapshyn twice rejected any legal assistance from the Embassy of Ukraine in the UK. (more…)

Stop signs of the times

By Blog Admin, on 14 November 2013

Gordy GRD Eric Gordy discusses how writing his new book on remembrance and responsibility in Serbia led him to reflect on the role of the  researcher and intellectual.

The primary goal of most of the people I did graduate study with was to become a ‘public intellectual,’ who would engage, explain, and bring the apparatus of organised knowledge to public controversies. Certainly in developing this goal we all had some models and references – maybe the most prominent for me were the legendary ‘New York Intellectuals’ of the mid-20th century who sought a central role for intellectual discourse in public culture. But the idea of the ‘public intellectual’ can be traced back a bit farther – one touchstone might be Ralph Waldo Emerson, who railed against isolation and obscurantism, arguing that ‘The office of the scholar is to cheer, to raise, and to guide men [sic] by showing them facts amidst appearances.’ And he set out this contrast in 1837:

Inaction is cowardice, but there can be no scholar without the heroic mind. The preamble of thought, the transition through which it passes from the unconscious to the conscious, is action. Only so much do I know, as I have lived. Instantly we know whose words are loaded with life, and whose not.

Maybe a bit more widely used is the reductive functional definition of the public intellectual, entirely consistent with our bureaucratic overseers’ concept of what constitutes ‘impact.’ For the astrophysicist, novelist and essayist Alan Lightman, the public intellectual is an academic ‘decides to write and speak to a larger audience than their professional colleagues,’ sometimes outside of their field of expertise.

These minimal definitions still compete with some more contemporary ones that (bombastically?) elevate the importance of our research and writing. In a (1993) articulation by Edward Said, he celebrated ‘the intellectual as exile and marginal, as amateur, and as the author of a language that tries to speak the truth to power’; in this view the intellectual is ‘someone whose place it is publicly to raise embarrassing questions, to confront orthodoxy and dogma (rather than to produce them), to be someone who cannot easily be co-opted by governments or corporations, and whose raison d’être is to represent all those people and issues that are routinely forgotten or swept under the rug.

In that vein Said cites C Wright Mills, to the effect that ‘If the thinker does not relate himself to the value of truth in political struggle, he cannot responsibly cope with the whole of live experience.’ Taken together these are high demands on the production of publicly engaged knowledge that imply a (self-serving) superiority over the debate and demand a level of consciousness and conscience that few if any people can claim. In a similar spirit David Palumbo-Liu argues that ‘today’s public intellectual is a provocateur who also provides a compelling reason to think differently.’

The romantic notion of public intellectual as heroic tribune is naturally a bit more appealing than the functionalist one of public intellectual as person who talks to media. But it is difficult to accomplish not only because few of us have the qualities of courage and sacrifice that seem to be demanded (I for one do not), but also for some prosaic practical reasons. Emerson warns that ‘Such an attempt, of course, must have difficulty, which no genius could surmount.’ What sorts of difficulties might be involved? Here are a few that I encountered in trying to come up with an account of public memory in Serbia (Warning: they are less exciting than the prospects that Emerson and Said have to offer). (more…)

Curiosities from the Russian Classroom

By Blog Admin, on 11 November 2013

 The British Library holds some rare early Russian grammars and language materials, which offer remarkable insights in culture, publishing practices and language learning, writes Katia Rogatchevskaia.

Cultural history and history of education is a relatively new research trend, so it was not obvious to the previous generations of librarians and curators that future scholars would want to examine textbooks. This type of material is difficult to collect and preserve. Although produced in large quantities and numerous editions, textbooks, like newspapers and ephemera, are not meant to survive. Older foreign textbooks and practical guides for teaching and learning represent an especially precious category of items. What was meant to be cheaply-produced learning material now becomes invaluable for the simple reason that very few copies survive. One of the most treasured works in our collections is Ivan Fedorov‘s  Azbuka, printed in Lviv in 1574, the first printed and dated East Slavonic primer. This is an extremely rare item – there is only one other recorded copy in the world, at Harvard University Library.

Fedorov's primer 2
Fedorov’s Azbuka 

A Slavonic Grammar by Meletii Smotritsky was first printed in 1618-1619 and reprinted several times in the 17th century. Smotritsky made an attempt to codify the contemporary Church Slavonic language as used in the Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian lands. The book had a significant impact on the development of these languages. In 1648 the grammar was reworked to reflect the norms of the language as used in Moscow at that time. We have two copies of the 1648 edition. The latter copy comes from the collection  of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753)  and bears notes in Latin, which suggests that the book was used for learning purposes. Interestingly, all notes are made on the page where the  principles of Russian syntax are explained, which probably suggests that the learner was quite advanced. Before belonging to a foreign owner, this copy was in possession of a priest – one Andrei Petrovich Peresvetov.

Sloane’s copy of Smotritsky’s grammar (C.125.d.14) showing the Latin notes


Did the end of Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign cause Russia’s mortality crisis?

By Blog Admin, on 4 November 2013

Russia experienced an extreme spike in death rates in the immediate aftermath of the break-up of the Soviet Union. Jay Bhattacharya, Christina Gathmann and Grant Miller  write that while this has typically been explained using political and economic arguments, the real cause of Russia’s mortality crisis may have been the end of Mikhail Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign.

Following the demise of the Soviet Union, Russia experienced a 40 per cent surge in deaths between 1990 and 1994. As a consequence, life expectancy for men declined by 6.6 years from 64.2 to 57.6 years. The magnitude of this surge in deaths – coupled with the Soviet Union’s international prominence – has prompted observers to term this demographic catastrophe the ‘Russian Mortality Crisis.’

What caused this dramatic increase in mortality? Many people attribute the Russian mortality crisis to political and economic turmoil that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, and to restructuring and reforms during the 1990s. We develop an alternative explanation for the observed pattern: the demise of the reputedly successful 1985-1988 Gorbachev Anti-Alcohol Campaign.

The Gorbachev Anti-Alcohol Campaign was unprecedented in scale and scope – and it operated through both supply and demand-side channels, simultaneously raising the effective price of drinking and subsidising substitutes for alcohol consumption. At the height of the campaign, official alcohol sales had fallen by as much as two-thirds (Russians responded by increasing home-production of alcohol called samogon – although our estimates suggest not by nearly enough to offset the reduction in state supply). In practice the campaign lasted beyond its official end – restarting state alcohol production required time, and elevated alcohol prices lingered.

Figure 1 illustrates our basic logic. Age-adjusted Russian death rates had been increasing linearly between 1960 and 1984, plummeted abruptly with the start of the campaign in 1985, remained below the campaign trend throughout the latter 1980s, rose again rapidly during the early 1990s to a temporary peak in 1994, and then largely reverted back to Russia’s long-run trend.

Figure 1: Age-adjusted death rates in Russia (1960-2005)


NoteData available from The Human Mortality Project. Pre-campaign linear trend estimated using ordinary least squares regression of mortality per 1,000 population on pre-campaign year.