viewpoint-east.org

Att vara, eller inte vara med i EU…

Category: by sophie engström, EU, photo by prallin, poland, ukraina, ukraine
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… är en fråga som visserligen bara några få ukrainare brottas med. För det finns nog nästan inte någon som tror att Ukraina verkligen vill, eller kan, bli en del av den EU-gemenskapen. Men härrom veckan fick jag ändå anledning att fundera över denna fråga, när jag hade en kortsemester i underbara Krakow. När man åker tåg från den ukrainska gränsen till Krakow slås man av den enorma skillnaden i levnadsförhållanden som till och med syns genom ett tågfönster. Polen verkligen exploderar av infrastrukturprojekt. Infrastruktur är en god markör för välfärd. Längs hela sträckan från ukrainska gränsen till Krakow byggs det t.ex. dubbelspår och stationerna renoveras. En nybyggd motorväg syns också genom fönstret. När man sedan stiger av tåget ser man även att landet har många synliga sociala projekt och till och med fler än jag ens ser i Sverige. Det är inte utan viss förvåning jag ser hur bra Polen mår av vara en del av den byråkratiska jättekolossen EU.

Jag vill påpeka att jag är egentligen inte är någon ensidig EU-förespråkare, men i en jämförelse med Polens östra granne, kan jag bara undra om det kanske är så att länder med behov av stor samhällelig upprustning faktiskt kan tjäna stort på att gå med i EU.

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Sedan Polen blivit ett EU-land har landet lyckats få bättre placeringar på Transparency Internationals lista över korruption. Som ett exempel kan man ta att bara sedan 2009 har Polen gått från plats 49 till 41 år 2012. Det är helt OK placering, men klart att den kan bli bättre. Men hur ser det ut för andra EU-länder? Polen ligger klart bättre till än Italien (72), Slovakien (62) eller Tjeckien (54). Ukraina däremot har, under samma period, gjort kräftgång på listan och befinner sig just på på plats 144 av 174 platser.

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Många pekar på att Ukraina står i ett vägskäl, mellan att närma sig EU eller den tullunion Ryssland leder. För en region som Lviv skulle det vara katastrofalt om Ukraina närmade sig Ryssland. Regionen lever på de myrstigar av handel och kontakter som går mellan Polen och Ukraina. Samtidigt är det så att Ukraina måste börja arbeta med sin utbredda korruption om man närmar sig EU. Och det är inte så enkelt. Det är nämligen de som sitter på makten som samtidigt är de som tjänar på korruptionen.

Men att närma sig Ryssland är inte heller helt problemfritt. Jätten i öster har nämligen problem. Ryssland största problem är inte demokratin utan just korruption. Det är korruptionen som upprör medborgarna mer än demokratiproblem och de leder dessutom till att de svagaste i samhället drabbas. (Lyssna på Johanna Melins reportage från Noginsk i Ryssland).

Så frågan om Ukrainas vägval är knappast så enkel som det ofta sägs. Och ingen av alternativen verkar helt bra. Från mitt perspektiv vore det faktiskt bäst om Ukraina slapp välja. Jag skulle önska att det fanns möjlighet att samarbeta och utvecklas med Polen. Att få ta del av polackernas nyvunna självförtroende och vägledning hur man tyglar korruptionen. Kanske vore Polen en bättre och mer realistisk inspirationskälla än flera av de övriga länderna inom EU.

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viewpoint-east.org recommends: Taras 3000

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

August heat still covers most parts of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus (such as the rain pours down at the Swedish West coast), but as far as I have heard the rain and chill is on it’s way during this week (but a storm has already hit Northwestern Russia). I think, however, it’s time for a new hot recommendation: Taras 3000.

Taras 3000 is the alter-ego for Dmitri Yaponets, DJ, performer and producer from Moscow. I have never liked to label music so I refrain and let you decide for yourself what you think and feel.

05 Bi2 – Muza by Taras3000

Check also this recording from SONAR09. Here is the program and link to Sonar10.

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Cops on Fire: The True Story

Category: by sasha pas, guests, music, russia, theatre
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The Cops on Fire-story started more than a year ago. One evening I met my friend Sasha Kholenko (DZA) in the 16tonns cafe in Moscow, the club where DZA together with how2make-crew made concerts and gigs during the time. He told me about one of his projects, a radio play based on a detective story about cops and killers. The play included more than 30 hip-hop tracks, each track was a short episode in the play. DZA made all the beats and loops for that project called “Cops On Fire”. He asked if I want to meet the other guys in the project, and make this on stage and not only on radio.

So, why did he ask me? At that moment I was working with the theatre group  “Le Cirque de Sharles La Tannes”. In 2005 we staged The Crystal World, a short story by Victor Pelevin. The interesting thing was that all the music for The Crystal World was composed by another member of how2make-crew, the talanted electronic musician Roma Litvinov (Mujuice). It felt like a good chance to make another experiment with how2make-crew on stage. But now with hip-hop.

So we started to work…

We had however no budget. So by the time we had the idea of how it could be on stage, we started search for sponsor. We thought we needed more or less 8000$ for the whole production. (Finally it costed more than 10000$). But we failed to find any sponsor. Probably we didn’t try hard enough. Everyone was eager to start the production and rehearsals as soon as possible, and to search for sponsors are a rather boring work. So we, me and my partner, Jury Kvyatkovsky (the director of “Cops On Fire”) invested our own money. But many helped. One of our friends proposed us a studio for the rehearsals, another found some costumes, another made the decorations on credit. And in September last year we had a call from S:t Petersburg and they invited us to the Sergey Kuryokhin Festival. We agreed and had only two months to finish everything.

The premiere in St.Petersburg was very sucessful. Even though we didn’t like the technical result – the place was a cinema but we prefer a theatre. The audience loved it though. Directly after that we started to work with the Moscow premiere and tried to make it in the best possible way. After several months of working it seemed as everyone finally started to believe in what they were doing. The premiere in Moscow got only one negative comment and that was that we used to much slang and bad language in the play, and we have now cut some of those.

However, the most interesting thing with our project is that we, subconsciously, have made a very social and actual project. In Russia there were several scandals connected to the police last year. There where for instance a shooting at a supermarket by a Major Evsukov and a video message for Medvedev. Our story is opposed to real life with the most fair cop. He is a true social order keeper. He spares no effort to put his vision of what’s right and what’s wrong into practice. Still there are very few comments from theatre audience about this connection.

“Cops on Fire” gives two shows every month in Moscow at the theatre centre “Na Strastnom”. In June it will be the 10th show in Moscow. Each time the house is full. About 3000 people have seen the show so far. In May “Cops On Fire” gave a live show on “TransMusicales” festival, and in September we will take part in international theatre festival GOGOLFEST in Kiev, Ukraine. And we have also started a film project….

…to be continued…

Cops on fire at facebook

Sasha Pas is art-director of Le Cirque de Sharles La Tannes – an independent creative group of actors, directors, musicians and artisits, based in Moscow, Russia. In past recent years – editor and founder of 55 pdf magazine. Now works as a creative producer of Cops On Fire project.

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Feminism in Russia? Like a sleeping beauty?

Category: by sophie engström, gender, russia
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During my stay in Moscow last month, I one night ended up looking at Russian TV at a friends places. My friend and her old mother was zapping through the channels and ending up at the news. While we was sitting there consuming the information (or whatever the TV viewer are expected to do) I started to feel physically sick. Since I never look at TV in Sweden I am probably rather sensitive towards what I see. At first I thought it was because I had too much tasty food to eat, but rather quick I understood it was the news in the box infront of me that was the course of my sickness. And why did I feel like that? Well, it was not the actual news. They look the same as they always have in Russia, so this did not upset me (enough, I should add).

No, it was an other unpleasant aftertaste I could feel. During the 30 minutes or 45 minutes news show there where not even one woman speaking. I could see women crying or walking in the background of some guy being interviewed, but not even one woman had a voice. Coming from a country where the newsrooms and editorial work have, may be not great, but at least an awareness how important representation and diversity actually are, I felt like I was pushed back to some kind of Medieval landscape just in one blow. It is true that women’s representation in Russia in, for instance, the Parliament, sucks but this was just too much! (Check the statistics at Wikigender.) And I might alos add that this is a rather unpleasant change since all my previous stays in Moscow and Russia. I felt an urge to talk to a feminist that could put some light on how it became like this.

I was lucky. The day after I had a meeting with one of the most prominent feminists in Moscow, Nadezhda Azhgikhina, journalist, literary critic, and executive secretary at Russian Union of Journalists. I asked her why women have vanished from Russian TV and why I can’t hear or read any protests. Nadezhda implies that most bosses or executive bosses are men, so basically the newsrooms or editorial are stuck with those. But when it comes to why TV news shows almost no women Nadezhda has a very interesting theory. She denotes that Russian TV should be regarded a theatre play. This play has as a purpose in trying to fool the viewer into believing that the government actually is in charge and can handle all occurring problems in the society.


Nadezhda Azhgikhina

– Men doesn’t show fear and are therefor regarded as the most effective power. So by excluding all women, they try create the picture that Russia is the strongest and best country in the world.

The second part of her theory is that she implies that TV, including all other media, do not want to promote the idea that there exists any gender problems in Russia of today. One explanation could be that it just don’t sell. The younger generations have not interest in feminism or gender issues, basically because they do not want to be influenced by “old” values. By “old” she denotes feminist values from 1990’s and during the Post Soviet Era. The feminist movement back then was very strong, but has drastically declined and today there are almost no feminist movement, she implies.

However, during the 90’s the feminist movement managed to create a good and stable network among those that are working with the questions.

But even so, I urge, while looking at Russia today I can only see stagnated stereotypes and mostly values promoting, for example, macho-masculinities and sticky sexisms when it comes to feminities. From my perspective Russia gender situation appears to be more conservative and obsolete than ever. I point at Ukraine and FEMEN and ask Nadezdha why we can’t see any reactions like that in Russia. Her answer actually surprises me. She claims that Ukraine is 10 years behind Russia., and that Ukraine’s radical feminist movement will also languish away. Her rather fatalistic attitude scares me, however she can be right. In Sweden we have had several strong feministic movements that have subsided. While Russia had a strong feminist during the 90’s, Sweden and many other countries, for instance USA, had a rather heavy backlash on feminists issues. From some perspective I would say that Sweden has never really recovered from that backlash.


FEMEN dressed as policemen protesting against the limitation of democratic liberties and freedom of the press during the first hundred days of Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency commemorated today.

The question we should ask ourself is perhaps how feminism can survive between every intervals of activity. What will for instance happen with an organization such as FEMEN when Ukrainian media has lost their interest in them? What plans do they have to survive the situation? After my meeting with Nadezdha I strongly feel that this is perhaps one of the weakest points of all feminist movements around the world. (And all other activism, I suppose.) When media turns their heads in other directions, too many feminists activists vanishes from the scene. How come? Not all feminists are exhibitionists for sure!!

But hopefully social media could play an important and different role for making campaigns to survive longer. FEMEN has been able to create their own media flow, with twitter, flickr etc etc. And I do hope that they have the strength to go on, even after the Ukrainian establishment has recovered from the chock that FEMEN (still) creates.


From FEMEN’s last campaign “Bloody tits”

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A Western Coalition? – Western Ukraine needs a new strategy

Category: by Jonathan Hibberd, guests, ukraine
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Where is Western Ukraine in the new political order? You could be forgiven for thinking it had disappeared from the map altogether. The new President has put a Russian in charge of the country, and set out on a course coherent with restoring Ukraine’s place to that of the ‘little Russia’ which had for the past 19 years existed only the minds of out-of-touch, chauvinistic Muscovites. Western Ukraine is now a marginalised and, some would argue, despised frontier province with nothing to offer the new order. It may even now, some might suppose, become the ‘enemy’ on which the need for ‘stability’ (meaning authoritarianism) is sold to the people, in the way that Russia scapegoats the clearly terrifying Estonia and Georgia (and up until now Ukraine) as reasons to stick to ‘strong government’. Egg-throwing and rostrum-blocking in parliament does little to dispel these insinuations.

If the new order is to persist, it poses questions to the west of the country that have never before been so prescient. Independent Ukraine was born of what one might call an unholy alliance between the communists of the east and the nationalists of the west. For many years this grand bargain carried benefits as well as disadvantages for both sides. Whilst an eastern-based business mafia held sway over the country’s industry and economy, a kind of ‘cultural mafia’ advanced a linguistic and cultural agenda that more favoured the west of the country. This grand bargain is now breaking up. Some would say this breaking up was started in the Yushchenko era. Others might contend that it is now, under Yanukovych, that one side of the country feels most disenfranchised. What is clear is that nothing is now being done with the aim of enhancing national unity. Instead of an over-arching, inclusive, reform-minded government under a prime minister such as Tigipko which the most optimistic might have hoped for, the new President has opted for a Russo-centric position. It is difficult to see how divisive appointments such as Tabachnyk can be considered necessary pragmatism. The idea that in the country that suffered the Holodomor children might in the very near future be opening textbooks that state that Stalin was a ‘strong leader who made tough decisions for Russia’ is going to be most sickening to those in the west.


Oleskiy Palace. Photo by Em and Ernie

Part of Western Ukraine’s problem is that the figures they have backed in the past have in fact served the region’s wider interests very poorly. Although large numbers turned out in the presidential second round to support Tymoshenko, there seemed little to recommend her, apart from that she wasn’t Yanukovych. The orange politicians who wrap themselves in Ukrainian patriotism in fact have interests much closer to the centre. At the other extreme, Ukrainian nationalist or patriotic parties can be seen as somewhat eccentric, perhaps extremist, in any case for many people not truly electable. Western Ukraine is clearly different to the rest of the country, culturally and linguistically and in its aspirations. These differences are only being exacerbated in the current circumstances. Western Ukrainians themselves need to start thinking about how to empower themselves against the current unenviable odds. A lot will depend on what sort of system emerges over the next couple of years.

If the current semi-parliamentary system persists, the west might look at its options modelled on regional/cultural political blocks in other European countries. In Italy, the Northern League sheds any illusions that it is a party of national consensus, and seeks to represent its regional interest within the country, where it feels under-represented. In Romania and Slovakia, the Hungarian minority is represented by Hungarian coalition parties. These coalition parties host within them a diverse set of views, from moderates to nationalists, but who manage to agree on over-arching concerns, and lobby for concessions in these areas, frequently as kingmakers in coalitions. Strong patriots might feel a need to prioritise issues such as UPA recognition, but in reality, forsaking the bigger issues over such matters does little to help the next generation. Even the People’s Self Defence block, which is an attempt at coalition party building, does not have a broad enough appeal. As the Conservatives in the UK who are learning coalition politics from scratch now realise, one has to look at the big picture. The over-arching issues for Western Ukrainians are obvious: education and language, relations with Europe and the need for a credible economic development policy for the region. So a kind of ‘Western Coalition’ could be the answer.


Lviv. Photo by Lyncis

However, we face the real prospect that the 2012 parliamentary elections may mean very little. Even if they are free and fair, including access of all political groupings to the media, the acquisition of ‘tushki’ might allow the powers that be to ‘tidy up’ any slightly messy outcome to the vote. Or who is to say at the moment that these elections won’t go the way of the currently delayed local elections? If this election finishes with the west of the country having no voice, thoughts will inevitably turn to the idea of secession. A strategy for independence would then need some serious thought. If there is a clear sentiment in favour of the idea, unofficial polls might be conducted, perhaps modelled on the unofficial pro-independence referendums that have been taking place across Catalonia.

Independence would have many advantages. Patriotic Western Ukraine would have the over-arching unity of purpose that has benefited the likes of Hungary and Poland. The overseas diaspora would be able to assist in the kinds of ways they were in Estonia, for example. Also, with suggestions that Moldova might just sneak into the EU because ‘it’s small’ (a lame criteria perhaps, but it is how many in Brussels seem to think) perhaps the EU will be able to stomach a bite-size Ukraine of, say, 7-10 million people rather than 46 million, a good chunk of whom it can be argued don’t even want to be there. A small ship is easier to turn. Observe how previously backsliding Slovakia leapfrogged its neighbours to join the Euro.

This may all of course be pie in the sky. Secession is difficult to achieve from any country. However, if aggravations produce policy concessions rather than independence, this may in itself be valuable enough, and would be preferable to marginalisation. Against this however there is the question of the west-looking centre of Ukraine. They might be the next to be marginalised.

Perhaps a separatist approach is not the best way forward at a time when a united opposition is most crucial, but nonetheless Western Ukraine needs to think very carefully before persisting with politicians who talk the talk, but in fact have little interest in the region. There is a grave danger of Western Ukrainians continuing to throw away their votes to minigarchs, thugs and tushki, and it is perhaps time that, as a united front, the region acts for itself. In any case, if the coming years prove to be difficult, a distinction may develop between those who understand and defend their civil and democratic rights, and those who are prepared to allow their freedoms to be compromised for the ‘greater good’.

Of course, the best scenario is not independence for Western Ukraine but for the entire country to be anchored into the EU accession process which helps to foster civil rights, democracy and economic reform for the country as a whole, and which would put pay to many of the worries that currently exist. It is only in the complete absence of a membership perspective for Ukraine that worries about where Ukraine is drifting have become all too real, and hence the need to possibly take a look at some radical alternative scenarios. The alternative of wait and see could be very costly.

To take the analogy of Belgium, another European country that is frequently described as divided, a few decades ago the French-speaking south dominated industrially and culturally, whilst the Dutch-speaking north was poorer. A few years on it is now the north that is in the ascendency with its new industries, with the once proud south a decaying rustbelt. Steel and coalmining are yesterday’s industries, light manufacturing, services and tourism are tomorrow’s, and it is Western Ukraine that is best placed to grasp this opportunity, if it is allowed to.

This has previously been published at Chicken in Kiev (or) Kiev Rus

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Boris Ryzhy – The unwilling survivor

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

How do you describe a suicide, what it implies in loses and sorrow for people close to you? How do you describe the devastating emptiness and hopelessness that the survivors need to live with? I would say that in many aspects it is not possible, but if you have an interest in understanding, without exploiting, there are a possibility that you will be able to describe both the cruelty in being left behind, and how survivors find their way out from the labyrinth of sorrow.

In the documentary Boris Ryzhy, about the poet with the same name, made by the dutch filmmaker Aliona van der Horst, you can actually feel the sorrow in your own breath while watching it. van der Horst has managed to find the special situations, when words has no use and life itself seems to be more grim than ever.

In the introduction we see a woman wondering around in a suburn district. She is trying to get a hold on somebody that knew Boris Ryzhy. After being reprimanded by a babushka, she finally finds somebody that wants to help her and let her enter a staircase in one of the houses. The woman explains that she and her brother lived in this house when they were small. She starts to ring the door bell to the first flat in the house. She does not present herself to the lady that opens the door, but tells her about the film that Ailona van der Horst is making. She says it is a film about her brother, the poet Boris Ryzhy. She asks the old lady if she remember him, and the old lady does not remember him. The woman, the sister of Ryzhy, starts to recite a poem that Boris Ryzhy wrote, but her voice cracks, and finally she starts to cry. The woman that opened the door starts immediately to ask her about why she is crying: “Is he dead? What happened to your brother?” she asks. “He is dead. He committed suicide”, answers the sister. I believe most spectators literary can feels the pain in her voice.


The trailer for the documentary by Boris Ryzhy by Aliona van der Horst.

The documentary then continues with, as it seems, an endless desire to try to understand why Boris Ryzhy decided to end his own life. Was it because many of his friends died already? Was it because he and all his friends lived in a violent world, with gangsters that lacked empathy for suffering? Did he feel alienated or was he just a mad genius that took suicide as a desperate wish to be accepted as a poet? Aliona van der Horst investigate and gets self-disclosure and fearless help from Boris Ryzhy’s family – the wife, son, sister and mother. But even so, she never comes close to explain why, except that it is necessary to accept the unacceptable. The death of somebody you love. This is however not a failure by van der Horst, but actually a strength to a story, that could have became extremely pathetic if it was made in a less intelligent way. To tell the truth, this is actually one of the best documentaries I have ever seen, and I have seen quite a few.

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Boris Ryzhy, born in 1974, grow up in Yekaterinburg. His family was well-educated family and his father was a geologist, unknown what his mother did, though. When he was rather small his family moved to a rough area in Yekaterinburg. There Boris had to learn how to survive in the tough environment. He started to boxing in the same age as writing poems (14 years old) and violence and poetry seems to be utterly connected for him. Boris Ryzhy’s poems often depict and describe the neighbourhood that he and his sister grow up in. It seems like he never left the area in his soul. One of his very old friends, that Aliona van der Horst managed to track down, describes Boris as rootless and very lonely man, even though so many loved him.

Boris Ryzhy committed suicide by hanging in May 2001, 26 years old. It is impossible to tell how his talent would develop, because his poems mostly describe the Jelstin years during 1990s. How crime and gangesters are more usual than ordinary jobs and loving and caring situations. Even so, Boris Ryzhy was not a gangster all though, but was also a PhD in Geophysics.


The poem “Show me, Gypsy woman” read by Boris Ryzhy.

In the documentary it is perhaps Boris Ryzhy’s wife that says the most devastating words. She tells about her and Boris childhood, how they were encouraged to believe in the communist future, and they thought they lived in the perfect socialist society. But when they finish school in 1991, the Soviet Empire fell apart. It didn’t come as any surprise for them, but after the fall of the empire, the “first generation of perestroika” was abandoned by the society itself. The only way that far too many saw, was the road of criminality. “We are the generation of body guards”, she says when she stands at Boris grave at the cemetery, and around her we see hundreds of graves for young men born in the beginning of 70s that dead in the mid 90s.

It is obvious that Boris Ryzhy felt as a survivor, and to survive in this “war”, like one of his friends remarks in the documentary, is “a shameful business”. We can only hope that Boris Ryzhy’s legacy will survive, because his poems is not only violent but alos beautiful. And they are a legacy from a time that we all must try to prevent to return.

If you want to read Boris Ryzhy in English you can find some here.

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The Russian-Chechen-conflict: A reminder

Category: chechnya, russia
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The motto “violence begets violence” seems, sadly enough, to be confirmed a day like this, the day after the bombing in Moscow metro. While my thoughts goes to all those innocent victims that this conflict seems indefatigably rearm, I would like to remind you about the essay The Russian Chechen Conflict factors that triggered the conflict to become an armed conflict in 1994-1996 and then again in 1999 (divided in two part) that Anders T Carlsson published here previously. Part I and Part II. To deconstruct and get a deeper understanding, can actually imply a better possibility to defeat anger and fear!


Photo from Georgia, near the Chechen border. Thank for photo from cinto2.

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