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Archive for December, 2013

Storming the Winter Palace

By Blog Admin, on 20 December 2013

Storming the Winter Palace, a SSEES languages and culture photo competition on the theme of Russian and East European London, led students and staff to contemplate cultural resonances, contemporary identities and stereotypes – and language-learning opportunities! In the final post of the year on the SSEES Research Blog, Sarah Young introduces a selection of entries. Commentaries are by the photographers, unless otherwise stated.

Harbry Ellerby’s photograph of the Hungarian stall in Camden reminds Eszter Tarsoly that every encounter with Eastern European food in London invites us to reflect on cultural exchange, language, and translation:

Harbry Ellerby: Hungarian stall in Camden

Harbry Ellerby: Hungarian stall in Camden

The photographer took this shot in front of the Hungarian stall in Camden Town. The food on sale here, instead of the grilled sausages more usual on Polish and other East European stands, is lángos, a deep-fried flat bread whose dough is similar to that of pizza. It is traditionally seasoned with garlic and tejföl, a wide-spread diary product in Eastern Europe known in various guises in the region (e.g. Romanian smântână and Czech smetana) and most similar perhaps to soured-cream. How much a simple, hearty food – particularly recommended after a long, hearty night – can teach us about translation! The man’s silouette in front of the stall and the hanging flower baskets are revealing: the image, while entirely authentic, could have been taken only on a somewhat manicured market. This video clip of the song ’Lángos, tejföl’ by the band Kaukázus shows how lángos is enjoyed in Hungary.

Seeing a street sign commemorating one of the many Eastern European revolutionaries who lived in London during the nineteenth century, Eszter Tarsoly‘s thoughts turn to today’s immigrants:

Eszter Tarsoly: Kossuth Street: a Cul-de Sac

Eszter Tarsoly: Kossuth Street: a Cul-de Sac

In a quiet, respectable, yet exhilarating corner of Greenwich stretches a modest Cul-de-Sac called Kossuth Street, named after Hungary’s larger-than-life revolutionary hero, one of the driving forces behind the 1848-49 Revolution and War of Independence. Lajos Kossuth, after the demise of that Revolution, resided briefly in Britain, and legend has it that he stunned English-speaking audiences with his knowledge of English acquired in prison, or rather, with the kind of English he had acquired (only from written texts) in prison. We do not know exactly what Kossuth’s English was like. But not far from Kossuth Street, just across the Thames near Limehouse basin, there are entire blocks of flats inhabited almost exclusively by Kossuth’s contemporary compatriots, sharing overcrowded accommodation, having little hope – in the absence of knowing good English or who knows what other skills – to move on. A dead end…?

The reality of contemporary immigration from Eastern Europe is the subject of the first of two photographs by Ger Duijzings:

Ger Duijzings: Automatic Door

Ger Duijzings: Automatic Door

This image was taken during a cold night in February 2012 at just after 3 in the morning, at a bank branch opposite Victoria Station. Together with my research student Cezar Macarie I was doing a night walk around the area. Underneath a row of ‘fast, easy, and convenient’ cashpoints, in the glass protected bank area, a dozen or so Poles and Romanians are sleeping rough. As it is outside of official opening hours, the automatic door is kept open by a traffic cone. A Pole smoking a cigarette in front told us that he had been working in London for seven years, the first five years on a contract, but the last two working on-and-off.

Ger Duijzings’ second entry confronts insular British views of Europe and the question of what ‘Eastern Europe’ means in this country:

Ger Duijzings: SKY for Eastern Europe

Ger Duijzings: SKY for Eastern Europe

A quick snap shot taken at the end of November 2007 at Luton Airport which shows how outdoor advertising at UK airports targets low-budget travellers from East Europe. I had just returned from one of my frequent commutes to so-called ‘Eastern’ Europe which for some natives in the British isles apparently starts just across the North Sea. I took the photo from the inside of a bus waiting to take me into Central London. A lone individual is about to put his luggage into the belly of a bus: it may have been an East European guest worker or student, perhaps. The cold and grey image has the impersonal and slightly gloomy quality of what Marc Augé would call a ‘non-place’.

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Stuck in transition?

By Blog Admin, on 20 December 2013

Economic reform in Eastern Europe and the former USSR is stagnating suggests the latest Transition Report from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).  However, as debates at a joint EBRD/UCL-SSEES launch event highlight, the responses needed may not be straightforward, reports Randolph Bruno

The idea that some countries are Stuck in Transition – to take the title of the EBRD’s 2013 Transition Report – has resonated for some time in the literature. It is now it is time to take stock and ask whether transition is really over – at least for some countries.

The 2013 EBRD Transition report tries to address this by asking two main questions. Firstly, why has convergence slowed? The standard of living of the best performing countries in Eastern Europe is still around 60-70% of the average for rich Western European countries. Secondly, can economic institutions be improved if there are constraints on political reform– a question which could also be asked in a very similar fashion of Western European countries. As far as the first question is concerned, the data clearly shows an end to the productivity catch-up (moving closer to the EU average) observed at the turn of the millennium.

Why should this be the case? One possible answer is stalled political reform. The up-to- EBRD transition indicators in the Report show political reforms plateau-ing and this is worrying. The attitude of the citizens in transition states shifted in 2006-2010, basically dropping the consensus that the market economy is a good mechanism for allocating resources.

Reforms matter

However, the main element is the increase in the so called Total Factor Productivity – productivity derived from the increase in efficiency not accounted by factors of production such capital and labour. In other words, the injection of new capital or new labour has a very limited impact on productivity whereas new technology and innovation play a major role.

The EBRD downgrades of the top reformers’ rankings are concentrated in the EU countries and with the current policy convergence will slow. However, the other side of the coin is that if economic reforms are improved convergence will improve. On this point the EBRD Transition Report is very clear: keep going with reform –or re-start reform- and this can make a substantial difference. Still more worryingly, in some cases (for example in Belarus) reforms have been reversed. (more…)

Reacting to Ukraine’s protests

By Blog Admin, on 5 December 2013

The return of sustained protest to the streets of Ukraine has hugely raised the political stakes comments Andrew Wilson

The protests in Kiev are now two weeks old. They began after the Ukrainian government first decided to suspend negotiations with the EU on 21 November, but have gained new intensity after President Yanukovych left the Vilnius Summit on 28-29 November empty-handed, without signing the key AgreementsBut the attempt at violent dispersal of the crowds on his return, on Saturday 30 November, only led to bigger demonstrations on the Sunday.

At the time of writing (Monday the 2nd), the protestors were looking more embedded – literally so, as several buildings have been occupied and barriers set up in the centre of Kiev. The stakes are especially high because the OSCE Ministerial Council is due to be held in Kiev on 5-6 December – the opposition want to keep the protest going until then, the authorities want to stamp them out. The ruling party is losing key members and morale.

What happens next?

One of the most depressing features of Ukraine’s many failures after the Orange Revolution in 2004 was that people lost the will to protest. Political demonstration even became an entirely artificial affair, with being-paid-to-protest becoming big business in Ukraine. So the return of real protests changes things dramatically. Participants at the first big demo held up signs saying “we are not paid”. The authorities are relying on the tired and discredited narrative that this is an artificial protest, ‘”paid for” by domestic oligarchs or foreign powers. At least in Kiev, everyone knows this is false. (more…)

Why fair pay policies are needed to stop the East European brain drain

By Blog Admin, on 5 December 2013

Flags MakóA significant proportion of the EU budget is spent on research grants to encourage research and innovation across Europe. Although this funding is vital, there is Michael Galsworthy argues a substantial East-West divide which is encouraging a ‘brain drain’ from Eastern Europe.

Within the European Union there is an East-West gap, in health and innovation. The gap is widening because eastern European member states (such as Poland, Romania, Latvia, Hungary and Slovakia) are winning a tiny proportion of science grants from European central funding.

Scientist salaries and jobs have hit rock-bottom following austerity measures, not only in eastern Europe but also in many southern member states. Scientists are fleeing westward, fleeing out of the EU, or just out of science. Although the main funding body European Commission is now working to help, its current policies on salaries may be causing a brain drain.

As the EC prepares its research and innovation pot of €71bn to be awarded competitively under the “Horizon 2020” programme, it is also preparing additional programs to help struggling regions restructure to be more competitive for that money. However, the most powerful medicine for the recent cocktail of grim circumstances may be a simple principle: Equal pay for equal work.

Eastern Europe has huge scientific potential, but getting there from where we are now will require smart actions at the EC, national government and grassroots levels.

How bad is the situation? With regard to winning a share of central funds, the EC’s own impact assessment of health-related research found that the 12 newest member states participated on only about 6% of projects. Worse, they took home only 2.5% of the total funds collectively. Compare this with the original 15 member states with 78% participation and 85% of funds (the rest of the funds went to participants outside the EU). To put this in context; the original 15 member states had received 34 times more health research funding, a difference that cannot be explained by their 3.8 times larger population nor even their 12.8 times greater contribution to the EU budget. Other areas of science show similar patterns.

So what is in place to help poorer member states under Horizon 2020? Unfortunately, acknowledgement of a crisis and plans to tackle it are largely missing in the standard documentation. You have to call up the right people in the EC and connect the dots. (more…)

Ukraine: Provoking the Euromaidan

By Blog Admin, on 3 December 2013

Far-right activists have been infiltrating the protests in Ukraine and provoking  police and demonstrators to violence reports  Anton Shekhovtsov.

The U-turn on the Association Agreement with the EU by the Ukrainian government has sparked the most massive social protests since the ‘Orange Revolution’ in 2004. Unlike the ‘Orange revolution,’ however, the new protests, named ‘the Euromaidan,’ have been marked by the government’s disproportionate use of violence against the non-violent protests. The authorities have been making use of paid instigators who infiltrate the protests and then start attacking the police to provoke a ‘retaliatory’ suppression of ‘violent protestors.’

1 December was a day of blood and violence. The Ukrainian opposition had planned a peaceful protest against the brutal beating of several hundreds of protestors, the day before, by 1,000-2,000 members of the ‘Berkut’ special police unit. However, the gathering of hundreds of thousands of people was overshadowed by the clashes on Bankova Street leading to the building of the Presidential Administration, where the Berkut held the line against an extremely violent 200- strong crowd.

Media reports at first referred to this hardcore group – many of them masked – as ‘unknown activists;’ unknown because nobody knew if their actions were, in fact, sanctioned by the opposition. Since the opposition had specifically renounced any use of violence, the media soon started to refer to these men as ‘provocateurs.’ They threw flares, smoke bombs, Molotov cocktails and stones at the police, beat them with chains, fired tear gas, and brought up an excavator to break through the police cordon.

The police did not respond, stood their ground and used megaphones, urging the troublemakers to stop. Some other protesters, later joined by businessman and politician Petro Poroshenko, understanding the deliberately provocative nature of what was happening, tried to calm things down, which only resulted in fights between protesters. Eventually, the violent crowd again started attacking the police. This time, the police were replaced by the Berkut troops, which dispersed the crowd severely beating dozens of people including 40 Ukrainian and foreign journalists. Guilty or not guilty, everybody in the wrong place in the wrong time was beaten up. The opposition’s leaders, Vitali Klitschko (UDAR) and Oleh Tyahnybok (far right Svoboda) themselves went to Bankova Street to urge the troublemakers to join the peaceful protests on Maidan (Independence Square).

Who were these troublemakers? (more…)