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Archive for April, 2015

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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