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Queering Poland in London

By Lisa J Walters, on 20 October 2017

Starting from the century of Polish women’s movement, and the LGBTQ politics to Polish art in London and Brexit.

Dr Urszula Chowaniec, Senior Teaching Fellow in Polish Language

Emancipation now seems to be in a backlash. In October, Polish women again demonstrated  to commemorate October 2016, when the whole of Poland was dressed in black; when thousands of Polish women and men demonstrated against a proposal to radicalize already one of the most radical abortion laws in Europe. This was also part of the London story; many Polish women also honoured October 2016 a few weeks ago in front of Polish Embassy. The story of women’s emancipation, gender politics and migration was a leading theme of many SSEES’ seminars and talks. Let’s recall some facts….

When I start my Polish classes, I ask my students about any Polish people; Copernicus, Fryderyk Chopin, Lech Wałęsa… Women hardly ever appear in the list, so I mention, usually to my students’ surprise, Marie Curie. (more…)

Danube-on-Thames: The New East Enders

By Blog Admin, on 30 May 2014

This year, 2-13 June, SSEES is running the second UCL Global Citizenship ‘Danube’ Summer School on Intercultural Interaction. This is one of the four summer schools that make up the first year of UCL’s Global Citizenship Programme. The Danube Summer School brings together nearly one hundred students from across the University to learn about the Danube and the people that live along its banks. Coordinated by Tim Beasley-Murray and Eszter Tarsoly, the Summer School draws on the expertise of a wide range of SSEES academic staff, language teachers, and PhD students.

Below is a text from the Danube Summer School’s blog that explains the rationale for the Danube-on-Thames project, one of the Summer School’s outputs.

danube-on-thames1

Historically, the region through which the Danube flows has been a region of extraordinary cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity. The realm of Empires (the Ottoman and Habsburg) that were multi-, rather than mono- ethnic, this was a region that did not care much for neat borders that separated one group of people from another. Here, you used to be able to find Serbian villages dotted in what was otherwise Slovak countryside, German- and Yiddish-speaking towns wedged between Romanian and Hungarian villages, pockets of Turks and other Muslims, Christians of all denominations (Orthodox, Catholic and varieties of Protestants) living across the region, and everywhere settlements of Germans (the so-called Danube Swabians or Saxons) as well those Danubian cosmopolitans, Jews, both Sephardim and Ashkenazim, and different groups of Roma.

A good, even clichéd image, of this cultural and ethnic plurality, as drawn, for example, by the Austrian writer, Joseph Roth, could be found in the classic Danubian café with its hubbub and chatter in many languages, its newspapers on sticks in German, Hungarian and Romanian, its Romany band playing music that draww on a complex fusion of musical traditions, its Jewish doctor playing chess with a Christian lawyer.

Today, much of this diversity has gone. The collapse of the multi-ethnic empires and the endeavour to create single-nation states, particularly following the First World War, started to tidy up the region and sorted people into national boxes. This process was continued in a much more violent way with the murder of most of the Danube’s Jews and a significant part of its Romany communities in the horrors of the Second World War. After the Second World War, this violence continued with the expulsion of the bulk of Germans from ‘non-German’ national territory – and also, to an extent, the removal of Hungarians from the more-spread out territories that they had previously occupied.

The raising of the Iron Curtain along the banks of the Danube, between Communist (Czecho)Slovakia and Hungary and capitalist Austria and between Communist Romania and non-aligned Yugoslavia, dealt another serious blow to the Danube as a site of intercultural flow. Most recently, the ‘ethnic cleansing’ that accompanied the Balkan Wars of the 1990s was a further step in the homogenization of the Danubian region.

The result is that the Danubian interculturality that this Summer School seeks to explore is not necessarily best explored on the banks of the Danube itself. Where then to look for it? (more…)

Postcard to Khodorkovsky

By Blog Admin, on 21 October 2013

Pussy Riot Global Day

London has become home to a growing, but fractious community of political activists opposed to the Putin regime, finds Darya Malyutina. 

With its long history of serving as a refuge for disaffected Russians, London today hosts a sizeable and heterogeneous Russian-speaking population.

Many of them express casual anti-Putin sentiments; some of them are more actively trying to unseat him. How effective is this activism? Is it helping to bring democratic change to Russia, or raising awareness of what is happening in Russia to the British public; perhaps, at the very least, gaining some moral authority in the eyes of Russian society, or is it just so much wishful thinking and hot air?

In the autumn of 2012 Andrei Sidelnikov, the leader of London-based Russian opposition group Govorite Gromche [Speak Up], decided that, after a couple of years of organising regular rallies and various protest demonstrations, the format of their activity should be changed to ‘intellectual discussions and educational meetings.’ Some of these meetings took place in a small basement bookshop in Central London.

The meeting I attended took the form of a Skype conversation with Pavel Khodorkovsky, son of the imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. About twenty Russians gathered in the shop and listened to Pavel speaking about his father: how he has managed to write a book; how ‘Putin and his gang’ have no intention of letting him out; and how he continues to be a ‘moral leader,’ even from his prison cell. ‘What can we, Russians living in the West, do to help fight for rights and freedoms of citizens? How can we move Russia back to the democratic path of the early 1990s?’ asks Sidelnikov. ‘We understand that our actions do not have much impact,’ replies Pavel. ‘But we provide inspiration for those who are in prison; and our actions establish a moral authority. And, of course, we might be able to influence Russia’s foreign relations, because protest can be a catalyst for solving political problems….’

We could have been in the London of Alexander Herzen, in the 1850s, discussing overnight ways to make the autocratic Tsar, a liberal. ‘And maybe,’ said Sidelnikov, ‘we could send Mikhail a postcard for the New Year?’

‘He would be very pleased,’ replied Pavel. The meeting was declared closed, and the evening ended in the traditional way – the democracy fighters headed to the nearby pub. (more…)

Where do London’s New Europeans live?

By Blog Admin, on 13 January 2013

Newly released data from the 2011 Census reveals some interesting patterns about London’s Central and East Europeans, finds Allan Sikk

I’ve been waiting for some time for the UK 2011 census data to come out to give me a chance to look at the distribution of  Londons ‘New Europeans’ – people from the ten accession countries that joined the EU in 2004-7 – and to use the R open source statistics package to visualise data geographically.

Map of people born in EU10 by London borough

Image: Allan Sikk

Overall, people born in the EU accession state make up 4.5% of the population of London. However,  but the picture is quite diverse across boroughs and across individual ‘sending’ countries. (more…)

LGBT rights under attack in Russia

By Blog Admin, on 24 October 2012

Putin Medvedev Berlin gay pride poster

Poster at Berlin Gay Pride/CSD event, July 2012

Anti-LGBT legislation in St Petersburg is having unforeseen consequences and mobilising Russia’s ‘gay diasporas’ overseas, argues Richard Mole

Almost 20 years after it was decriminalised, homosexuality in Russia is coming under renewed attack.  In March St Petersburg became the fourth Russian city to adopt legislation banning ‘homosexual propaganda’. While commentators argued that the vagueness of the law, which bans ‘public action aimed at propagandising sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism and transgenderism among minors’, would make it difficult to bring successful prosecutions against transgressors, LGBT rights activist Nikolay Alexeyev was convicted in May for breaching the law by picketing St Petersburg City Hall with a banner, which read ‘Homosexuality is not a perversion’.

 Alexeyev’s insistence that there were no minors present at the City Hall can be taken as proof, if proof were needed, that the law was not motivated by a desire to protect Russian children or Russian society but is the latest in a series of legislative measures used by the state to intimidate political opponents and generate an atmosphere of legal disquiet. Were activists to go ahead and hold meetings or rallies which were subsequently attacked, police could use the law to justify not intervening to protect activists, as the events could be deemed ‘homosexual propaganda’ –  a criminal offence. (more…)