viewpoint-east.org

EU and UK visa policy towards Ukrainians – ‘go back to Russia!’ (?)

Category: by Jonathan Hibberd, EU, guests, ukraine
Tags: , , ,

The shameful treatment of Ukrainians by the Schengen and UK visa systems continues to hit new heights, with at least two more atrocious stories emerging this week.

The UK’s Independent highlighted the rejections of visas for Ukrainian children who were due to spend a month away from the vicinity of Chernobyl. Whether these trips are healthwise still strictly necessary is open to question, but the point is that these summer trips have gone on for years without any problems. In just one example, only 7 out of 17 children due to spend part of the summer on the Isle of Wight were permitted to travel and, to make matters worse, they were in some cases informed only the night before travelling, with suitcases packed, that they would not be making the trip. The UK Border Agency tried to blame it on unsuitable host families in the UK, but the claims seem to be spurious.

Chernobyl/Pripyat Exclusion Zone (083.8244)
Photo from Chernobyl by Pedro Moura Pinheiro.

Another case highlighted this week was of two PhD students bound for Italy who had their student visas rejected. There is an exhaustive list of similar cases, including the Ukrainian dance troupe which protested against their UK visa rejections by performing outside the British Embassy in Kiev. A folk festival in Bellingham had been deprived of the same pleasure. A recent article in the Kyiv Post highlighted an unfortunate Ukrainian student’s extended stay in the departure lounge of Paris Charles de Gaulle airport due to the Icelandic volcano. The fact that he had friends in nearby Paris and was on a US student visa cut no ice with the French authorities despite clear evidence in favour of the applicant. Another case brought to my attention by my father was a group of Ukrainian steam train operators which was prevented from attending a gathering of railway preservationist organisations in Hungary. The gathering was part of the process of trying to bring Ukrainians round to creating the kind of railway preservation projects which have grown tourism in myriad places across the continent. Such developments are fairly alien in somewhere like Ukraine, but these are good examples of how visa rejections will serve to reinforce the status quo.

One not to be ignored result of this policy is the stress that it has caused to EU citizens in each case. With cases of a more personal nature this stress is amplified. In such cases the inviting party is treated as irrelevant to the matter in hand or even worse, de facto made out to be liars. These rejections are damaging business, cultural, educational, family and personal contacts of EU citizens. Don’t we have rights too?

With the common thread here seeming to be the apparently arbitrary nature of many visa rejections, does it smack of conspiracy theories to begin to question whether there is a more sinister motive at work here? Are the EU and UK in fact telling Ukrainians in fairly blunt terms to ‘go back to Russia’? The line has been drawn and, sorry, you’re on the Moscow side. If this is not the message they wish to give out, they’re not doing a very good job!

This was previously published at Chicken in Kiev.

Jonathan Hibberd recently completed post-graduate studies at Sussex European Institute, University of Sussex in the UK and has carried out research into questions of Ukraine’s European integration and the country’s relationship with NATO. He currently works with the British Council in Kiev.

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Moscow April 2008

Category: by sophie engström, russia

These photos from Moscow in April 2008 are perhaps my own favourites. Possibly because this was the first time I used Ilford b/w 3200 and I was very stunned by the grain and the mystery the pictures got through using that film.

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Moscow May 2010

Category: by sophie engström, russia

This is photos I took during my last stay in Moscow, in May. To take photos is only a hobby, and I try to avoid to have any clear ambitions, or goals with them. There are no hidden signs. Enjoy. Or of you don’t, just don’t enjoy 🙂

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Summer heat break

Category: by sophie engström

viewpoint-east.org will take a break during July and parts of August. I will however publish some photo sets from Moscow and Kyiv during the summer, and I aslo welcome new articles, picture etc. So contact me if you have any up your sleeve you’d like to publish at viewpoint-east.org.

I will move to Lviv in September and hope to be able to publish a lot of fresh and entertaining posts, such as I hope viewpoint-east.org will get a lot of new collaborators in the future!

summer feet

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When left wing criticisms supports Stalinism

Category: by sophie engström, movies, russia
Tags: , , , , , ,

When I was in Kyiv in January and February I meet several that said they had identified one very important lack in the Ukrainian domestic debate and that is the lack of left wing intellectuals. I must say I agreed fully since we do need a criticisms of liberal values, capitalism as a guarantee of democracy, the concepts like democracy etc. I can’t value wheather it is the recipe on a “good debate climate” but at least I can see the world (Western, Eastern, Northern, Southern, in actually all directions) has been living in a sort of liberal “dictatorship” for far too long. It is possible that I have a very simplistic understanding of what Ukraine needs, but at least I can see that the country need something to make the debate more vivid and productive. Furthermore, when I was in Moscow a couple of months later I heard the same point of view, what Russia need is left wing intellectuals that stands in contrast towards Kremlin and the political establishment.

But it was not until the other week, when somebody wrote on my chat that Ukraine need left wing intellectuals like you have in Europe I started to feel that something was nagging me, because I answered Yeah, yeah. But this is Scandinavia, and tried to forget about it. But I couldn’t since I stumbled over my irritation over and over again. It was not until this morning, when I read a review of Burnt by the sun 2 by Nikita Mikhalkov in the independent, but rather left wing, weekly newspaper Fria Tidning that I understood how I was irritated. The newspaper is not said to be left wing, but most of the articles printed there have a rather left wing approach towards different issues. I think that is a good thing, even though the political consensus in it really can make me feel sick some times.

Back to the review. I must begin with giving the author, Per Leander, credits for making the effort to write a review that is not pointing in the same direction as all other previous reviews of the movie. Mikhalkov has gone from being the Western Europe’s favourite director (by Burnt by the sun in 1994), to become one of the least popular such during the last couple of years. Most critics uses the same kind of words about his latest work, such as a patriot and nationalistic director with simplistic rhetoric that uses the Kremlin to authorize his expensive and vulgar movies. The two first remarks is perhaps indisputable, which is perhaps the reason why it is not mentioned in the review. However, to criticize a Russian director, that was formally exalted hero, can provoke Swedish left wing because he is, yes, Russian and from the Former Soviet Union. The review in Fria Tidning is a very good example on just that.

There has been a debate in Sweden during the last year if we can regard the crimes of Stalin as brutal as those of Hitler. Many on the left wing has said that we can not, all of those on the right wing have said “yes we can”. And of course you can see the traces from this debate in the review about “Burnt by the sun 2” when the author writes that “[…]in the sequel [from ‘Brunt be the sun’], he [Mikhalkov] wants to give the image of the Nazi terror that hit Russia, after all, much worse [than the Stalins terror did]” (my translation). My first remark is actually that he writes “Russia” not “the People of Soviet Union” or something more appropriate. Secondly, we have not yet been able to identify the full scale of the Stalinist terror. We do not even know the figures of those dead. I also suspect it depends a bit on where you stand, if you think the second world war was worse than the Stalinist terror or not. If you are from in example Ukraine you might say that this picture is not entirely true, and it is not easy to tell if some of the sacrifices the people in Ukraine did there during the WW2 was because of, or connected to, Stalin decisions. (The famine, called Holodomor, is like an open wound in Ukraine’s history). I dislike how easy he make it for himself by sweeping away the victims of Stalin’s terror with words that the WW2 was worse. It was horrifying, but it does not make the Stalinist terror less worse! This is the kind of left wing rhetoric’s you often see in Sweden. (Stalin was bad yes, but look at Hitler, he was worse and see what the Americans do in…. etc etc)

weirdoutdated
Old Soviet style furniture thrown away in Moscow, May 2010.
This things we should keep, though. It is old nomenclature we should get rid of

An other point is that the author criticizes the Western movie critics because they are not able to understand everything in Russian culture history and cannot understand the all paraphrases. It is interesting to see once again that a Swedish left wing movie critics actually uses the exact way of mechanism to exclusion such as Russian nationalists do. “You will never understand this because you are not Russian”. But in what sense does this make it a better movie? In my mind many references does not make a movie better, that’s all. It could actually be very contra-productive!

The last point is perhaps a stupid remark form my side, but I just can’t let it be. It is about Nikita Mikhalkov’s “great knowledge in music”. The author bases on the fact that he is the son of Sergey Mikhalkov that wrote the Soviet Anthem (Eh, I feel lost already). Mikhalkov JR reveals this great knowledge in music in using the titel of a very popular tune from the 1930s, a Polish tango. That is like saying that I have a lot of knowledge in the 1960s because I can sing “She loves me, yeah, yeah”!

This review is merely an example that i wanted to take to illustrate what I find problematic with the stand point that many Swedish left wing intellectuals have. My point is that a left wing intellectual movement or group is perhaps needed, but if it embraces Soviet Union and Stalinism (which is shown in the above mentioned review), just to be on contrast toward liberalism and capitalism, well, then you have a problem. I think it is rather fair to criticizes Mikhalkov and his movies. He is using his power in the Russian Cinematographers’ Union as much as possible, by giving himself money and excluding others. This is not mentioned even by one word in the review, which is very odd since there were a big crisis in April 2010 when many directors and filmmakers left the union in protest against Mikhalkov’s way of ruling the union!

In some odd way many leftist intellectuals in Sweden have found it important to defend old power structures in Russia and countries in the former Soviet Union. I understand it is a way of criticizing liberalism, but from my point of view it is the wrong way!

I would like to conclude by saying that I am pretty sure that Swedish left wing intellectuals will change and stop trying to defend old nomenclatura, when they meet the newly born such movements in Ukraine and Russia. And I do hope this moment will come as soon as possible.

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Art? Who cares?

Category: art, by sophie engström, russia
Tags: , , , , ,

The other day the Russian State Prosecutors asked for a three-years sentence for the organizers of the controversial exhibitions “Forbidden Art – 2006” in Moscow. The organizers, Yury Samodurov, the former Director of the Sakharov Museum in Moscow, and Andrey Erofeev, a former curator at the State Tretyakov Gallery, are charged under the Art. 282. The Art. 282 defendants can be facing a sentences to prison for five years! Samodurov and Erofeev claims it is a “fifty-fifty change” that they are convicted and take an example from 2005, when Samodurov and a museum worker Lyudmila Vasilovskaya were found guilty of inciting religious hatred and sentenced to a fine of 100 thousand rubles for another exhibition, “Caution, Religion!”.

On the accusations bench you find the Orthodox nationalists “People’s Cathedral”. They have sued the exhibition and the organizers for “offending religious feelings”. The exhibited pieces at “Forbidden Art – 2006” were such that was not athorized to be shown for the public. Among those works was a work by American artist Vagrich Bakhchanyan that shows a Soviet-era medal of Vladimir Lenin on a cross that should to give the impression that has been crucified.


From the exhibition “Forbidden Art 2006”

So I ask: Art? Who cares about art these days? Well, not many enough, some of you perhaps say. Far too many, the Russian State prosecutors seems to think and feel that they need to be protect us (or themselves?) from it’s force and power! Or is it just that the prosecutors believe that is possible to whatever they like with curators and artists? Since there are very few that protesters anyway?

It is actually high time we show them they are wrong!! We must act on an international level! We cannot let authorities (Russian, Swedish, Ukrainian, German, Italian etc etc) decide what kind of art that should be allowed to be shown. Show your support for the organizers and for the survival of freedom of expression!

Write on your blog about it!

Or join the Facebook-group shows the support for the organizers.

••••

Open letter from The European Cultural Parliament
Rights in Russia
At Russian News Line
At Radio Free Europe

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“FEMEN? Again?!”

Category: by sophie engström, gender, ukraine
Tags: , , , , ,

A couple of months ago I asked a friend of mine, Ukrainian researcher and gender specialist, if she could say something about FEMEN. She answered, with a deep sigh that could be heard even though it was on a chat “FEMEN? Again?! I just sent you some information about them! All foreigners only wants to know about FEMEN”. I answered her with a laugh: “But this is the first time I am asking you about FEMEN.” Even though she found that hard to believe, she decided not to argue about it.

The incident is mostly interesting because it illustrates how exposed FEMEN are in media and how their reputation have got far beyond the borders of Ukraine. It also implying that all other feminist movement in Ukraine are now even farer from the limelight. I don’t want to belong to those that gives FEMEN too much space, but I think it is important to analyze them seriously. Especially since it is had to decide what to think about FEMEN. I must admit I still don’t know of I find their actions repulsive and contra-productive (etc. etc.) or provocative in a good sense. I have however found it hard to find good analytic essays on FEMEN’s work, but Maria Dmitrieva’s eminent article in частный корреспондент shed a lot of light over how you can interpret FEMEN. (If you don’t know any Russian you can use Google Translate.)

The article is a solid work, but there are two issues that Dmitrieva looks into that I would like to highlight a bit more closely. One important point is however FEMEN denotes that they are a feminist movement or not. Interestingly enough, you can get two answers on that question, since FEMEN seems to have decided (?) to have one approach toward the international audience and an other for the domestic audience. In Ukraine they claim to be without any feminist ambitions, but on their international site they claim that they really are working for feminist issues. I find it very intrigues that this seems to come as such a surprise to Dmitrieva. Feminism has (as Dmitrieva surely knows) very different connotations in the West and former communists countries. And what does Dmitrieva means with a “feministic movement”? For me this is not completely clear. For instance, can we actually (as Dmitrieva seems to imply) call women that went out on the streets to demand bread in Russian Empire in the 1917 as an “feminist movement”? I would rather call it “women acting in a certain cause” or that it is a movement with a majority of women. From my point of view it is not an easy task to compare Ukrainian (which is not the same as Russian!) and Western situation without regarding their rather (or even, very) different political situation which has promoted feminist actions very differently.

I would however like to question something different in FEMENs action. FEMEN often shows their support for other issues than feminist issues. This is OK, of course, but I am not sure that I agree with that showing your naked bestas when protesting against the “blue buckets” outside the Russian embassy, actually contribute with anything significant… expect showing your breast.


From FEMEN at Flickr

The other important and interesting issue that Dmitrieva highlights is if FEMEN’s use of stereotypes are favorable for the feminist cause or not. Dmitrieva claims that this game of theirs, the play with patriarchy and gender stereotypes, will never work and will finally destroy FEMEN. FEMEN will be eaten alive if they continue to use gender stereotypes and play with patriarchy. I must say that in some sense I do agree with Dmitrieva. I also agree with Dmitrieva that it is unclear how and if FEMEN deconstruct gender stereotypes. But on the other hand, if they show how deconstruct the stereotypes, would it been so fruitful for their actions? Does we always be completely clear and transparent to be able to say we deconstruct? And what is “deconstructing” in these sense? To flash it like “Here we are deconstructing gender stereotypes”? Couldn’t the use of stereotypes be a way of deconstructing? I think that the performative act, by using stereotypes, can promote deconstruction and does not imply that we do not deconstruct att all. However, I agree with that it is complicated (and possibly dangerous) to play with values and norms like gender stereotypes. But I do not agree with her point is that FEMENs “play” will automatically imply that FEMEN will loose their cause.

By mentioning this I would say that Dmitrieva’s essay about FEMEN is actually the best and most important analyze on FEMEN so far. I do wish that somebody would translate it so it could be published for an international audience as well. And above mentioned remarks is not actual critic, but rather me getting inspired by an important and thought-provoking essay.

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