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The joker becomes king: what happened in the Ukrainian election and why Chantal Mouffe might also vote for Zelenskiy

Lisa JWalters14 May 2019

Authors: Olena Yermakova (@O_Yermakova) and Michael Cole (@NotTheMikeCole), Early Stage Researchers for the UCL SSEES-led FATIGUE project

Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke” – Will Rogers, American actor 1879-1935

It has been almost a century since American actor Will Rogers made that observation about US politics, yet in Ukraine’s 2019 presidential elections such a description has proved to be even more apt. Often referred to off the record as some kind of ‘Wonderland’, in Ukraine the roles of joker and king are now both being performed by just one person. Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a popular comedian, who’s been mocking politicians on stage for the past two decades, is the new President of Ukraine.

Virtual Politics

It all started with a TV show, The Servant of the People, where Zelenskiy plays a history teacher, who following  an impassioned rant against corruption which went viral, much to everyone’s surprise, not least his own, becomes President of Ukraine. The real-life Zelenskiy says in the show he was portraying his pipe dream for Ukraine ─ a dream of an honest man becoming President and really changing the country for the better. Then people around him started talking. Why not try and make that dream come true? Imagine all the Ukrainian people, joining him in that dream? And though Zelenskiy may be a dreamer, after gaining over 73% of the votes in the second round of the Presidential elections, it’s clear he’s not the only one.

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Ukrainian Politics is Like a Box of Chocolates…. You Really Never Know What You’re Gonna Get

Lisa JWalters10 May 2019

Written by Michael Cole and Olena Yermakova, – Early Stage Researchers for the UCL SSEES-led FATIGUE project
(This post was first published on 21 April 2019.)

Matryoshka Dolls for Sale

Matryoshka Dolls for Sale on Adrivskiy Uzviz, Kyiv. Even here, customers can choose between Darth Vader, a Babushka in National Costume, ‘a Real Politician’ or a comedy character. Photo Credit – Michael Cole 2018

 

On May 25th 2014, following the events of Euro Maidan, ‘Chocolate King’ Petro Poroshenko was elected President of Ukraine in the first round of voting. Purely by coincidence, I spent the day visiting the ghost town of Pripyat and the Chernobyl exclusion zone. On the way to our destination we stopped at a service station, which seemed rather busy considering it was at the side of an otherwise deserted highway. The reason for the commotion was a brief visit to use the facilities by another presidential candidate on his way to Kyiv with his death stare firmly set on the main prize. Standing at a urinal next to Darth Vader, leader of the short-lived ‘Internet Party of Ukraine’, was just one of the many times when I realised that every time I start to think I understand, I’m only setting myself up for the next reminder that in Ukraine you really never do know what you’re going to get.

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East European liberals’ accommodation of ethnic nationalism has left the region’s democratic institutions vulnerable

Sean LHanley18 March 2019

Photo: Akron/ Wikipedia Commons

East Central Europe’s democratic deterioration is as much  about the limitations of mainstream liberal forces as the rise of illiberal populists argue James Dawson and Sean Hanley.

Less than a decade ago the newer EU member states of East Central Europe (ECE) were considered the great success story of post-communist democratisation. This success was held up by scholars as a textbook illustration of how the EU, through the attractiveness of its political and economic model, and the toughness of accession conditions, could make a decisive difference by empowering pro-European liberals in the region’s shakier democracies to push their countries firmly on track to liberal democracy (and EU membership).

While poorer and more corrupt than the EU’s West European core, ECE was assumed to be a region safe for democracy with good long-term prospects for economic and political catch-up. Today this narrative of democratic progress is dead, replaced by one of democratic backsliding – and even sliding into authoritarianism – under the auspices of populist and nationalist politicians.

What has been especially disconcerting is that it has been the early frontrunners of democratization – Hungary and Poland – where such democratic backsliding has gone farthest and fastest: after winning decisive election victories (Fidesz in Hungary in 2010, Law and Justice (PiS) in Poland in 2015) conservative-nationalist governing parties have moved rapidly to dismantle liberal checks and balances, capturing or neutralising constitutional courts, state agencies, public (and in Hungary private) media and NGOs.

More strikingly still, Fidesz and PiS were not radical outsiders emerging from the fringes, but large right-wing parties once considered part of a pro-Western centre-right mainstream, whose representatives still sit with German Christian Democrats and British Conservatives in the European Parliament. (more…)

Why Romania’s protests have failed to bring about real change

Lisa JWalters20 September 2018

Dr Daniel Brett, Teaching Fellow in Social and Political Science, UCL SSEES

(This blog was originally posted on LSE’s Europe Blog on 19 September 2018.) 

Romania has experienced large anti-government protests on multiple occasions in the last few years, most recently in August this year. Yet as Daniel Brett explains, the achievements of these protests have been modest and short-lived, with the country’s ruling Social Democratic Party still maintaining power. He highlights that while the protesters and opposition parties may be united in their opposition to corruption, they have radically different views on social and economic issues, hampering their ability to change the direction of Romanian politics.

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Russia’s Global Legal Trajectories: International Law in Eurasia’s Past and Present

Lisa JWalters29 May 2018

Review by Julia Klimova, PhD candidate at UCL SSEES.

On 16 and 17 of February 2018, School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES) at UCL hosted an international workshop on “Russia’s Global Legal Trajectories: International Law in Eurasia’s Past and Present”. Organized by Dr. Philippa Hetherington with generous support of the British Academy for Arts and Sciences and Pushkin House, the workshop was dedicated to the history of legal issues in Russia from the Russian Empire, Soviet Union and Russian Federation. The workshop lasted for two days and consisted of 6 panels and the total of 14 speakers. It united historians with legal scholars, which provided a rich basis for discussions of issues of legality at various points in Russian history.

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The First East European Mainstream Film About Lesbians History of Sexualities, Politics and Cinema under Communism in Eastern Europe

Lisa JWalters28 February 2018

Dr Ula Chowaniec (Impacts of Gender Discourse Series)

The LGBT History Month, February is almost over, but it is never too late to talk about equality, justice and LGBT issues, especially in regions such as Eastern and Central Europe, where many issues, like same-sex marriage, are still to fight for. This text is based on my Lunch Hour Open Lecture,  that I delivered at UCL on the 5th of December, 2017 (See below).

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The Mauritian Miracle

Lisa JWalters29 January 2018

By Dr Elena Nikolova, Lecturer in Economics, UCL SSEES

Both Mauritius and my hometown of Varna, Bulgaria are famous for their sandy beaches. Mauritius, for its five-star resorts on the Indian Ocean. Varna, for its breath-taking Black Sea coast. But Mauritius attracts travellers looking for luxury, while Varna (no less beautiful, by the way) – those looking for cheap sun.[1]

Mauritius is slightly richer than Bulgaria, but not by much. Bulgaria’s GDP per capita (in PPP terms, 2010 constant USD) in 2017 was $7, 967.70, while the corresponding figure for Mauritius is $9,822.0 (World Bank). The Mauritian government has set itself the goal of turning Mauritius in an inclusive, high-income country (with GDP per capita above $14,000) by 2030. If communist-era statistics are to be believed, Bulgaria was actually richer than Mauritius until 1990 or so. However, in recent years the gap between the two countries has widened further (Figure 1).

As of 2017, Mauritius is ranked as number 25 in the Doing Business Database, which measures the ease of doing business in a country based on indicators such as how easy it is to get electricity or resolve insolvency (as a comparison, France’s ranking is 31, behind Mauritius). By comparison, Bulgaria’s ranking is 50. Mauritius is also less corrupt than Bulgaria. Transparency International ranks Mauritius as the 50th least corrupt country in the world, while Bulgaria occupies 75th place (this comparison is based on data from 2016). And, Mauritius is a much happier place than Bulgaria: Mauritius is ranked as the 64th happiest country in the world, while Bulgaria’s ranking is 105 (out of 155 countries, 2017 World Happiness Report).

Figure 1:

Source: World Bank and author’s calculations.

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Into the void: Rethinking Dostoevsky’s Radicalism

Lisa JWalters29 November 2017

Dr Sarah J. Young, Senior Lecturer in Russian

Over two blustery October days as Storm Brian loomed to the west, scholars, students and intrepid members of the public gathered at UCL to look east and discuss the latest developments in Dostoevsky studies. The conference, titled ‘Revolutionary Dostoevsky: Rethinking Radicalism’ to tie into this year’s events marking the centenary of the Russian Revolutions, recalls Dostoevsky’s legendary status as a prophet of revolution and totalitarianism, as well as his own revolutionizing poetics.

The theme for the conference places in the foreground the contradictions and tensions that continue to make Dostoevsky’s works such a rich source of debate and discussion, not least the paradox of this supposedly conservative writer – at least in his mature years – whose characters, as Carol Apollonio noted in her entertaining keynote address, are never satisfied with the status quo. The idea that Dostoevsky might have as much to tell us about the so-called ‘alt-right’, Islamic fundamentalism or the perpetrators of ‘lone wolf’ massacres, as he did about the revolutionary Populists and anarchists of his own era, or indeed the murderous repression of Stalinism, indicates that his subject was fundamentally a deeper one. Beyond the vicissitudes of ideological fashions, and the provocateurs and opportunists who use them to justify violence (and who appeared in more than one presentation), the state – and fate – of the human soul is always at stake in Dostoevsky’s novels.

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