Monday, 21 July 2014

How Far Were Russia’s ‘Little Green Men’ Involved in the Downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17?

By Kataryna Wolczuk, University of Birmingham

The shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 in Eastern Ukraine on 17th June has placed the conflict which has engulfed that part of Ukraine into an entirely new context. It has transformed the event from a localised, regional rebellion into a crisis that brings Russia’s role into the open.

At present the vast bulk of international opinion holds that Russian-backed separatists were responsible for the shooting down. And therein lies the difficulty: what exactly do we mean by “Russian-backed”?. That Russia has been supporting the separatists has been inferred from extensive and wide-ranging but mainly anecdotal evidence. As a result, is there evidence to conclude that Russia is implicated in the shooting down of the civilian airplane?

Saturday, 24 May 2014

The Politics of Broken Relationships? Croatia on the Eve of the European Parliament Elections

A short walk from the Croatian parliament is the Museum of Broken Relationships. Zagreb’s quirkiest museum displays countless artefacts donated by couples from around the world symbolizing the end of their love. The results of Sunday’s elections to the European Parliament may make the long-standing political parties in Croatia and their voters suitable for exhibition.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Notes on the ‘Worthless Dowry’ of Soviet Industrial Modernity

The monotown, or ‘town-forming enterprise’, was, and remains a key organisation of urban space in the former Soviet Union. Bound up with such a specifically socialist-conception of space is a host of social and cultural signifiers relating to class, kinship, social networks, local identity, and more.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Could Russia Repeat a Ukraine Scenario in Belarus?

Russia’s intervention in Ukraine has often been justified in terms of defending the interests of ethnic Russians. According to the 2009 national census, almost 800,000 Russians live in Belarus – 8.3% of the population. As the titular nationality, Belarusians are actually in quite a strong position – ethnic Belarusians make up a larger proportion of the population of Belarus than Ukrainians do in Ukraine or Russians do in the Russian Federation.

There are less Russians in Belarus than Ukraine as a proportion of population, but more Russian speakers. Based on the 2009 census again, Russian is the mother tongue of 41.5% of the population, but the language of convenience commonly used at home for 70% of the population. Russian is already an official language alongside Belarusian however, and it would be difficult to claim that rights of Russian speakers are being suppressed.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Can the CIS Survive the Ukraine Crisis?

The death of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) has been foretold many times during its history of (now) more than 20 years. Dissatisfaction with its weak and confusing institutional structure and a failure to promote effective regional integration has become an almost permanent background to its existence. Despite the remarkable resilience of the CIS, there are several signs suggesting that the current crisis is more fundamental and extreme than previous shake-ups.

Firstly, the present crisis focuses on a founding member of the CIS, Ukraine. It is important to remember that the very CIS formula came into being at the secret Belovezhskaia Pushcha meeting between Presidents Yeltsin, Kravchuk and Shushkevich of 8 December 1991 in order to accommodate Ukraine’s refusal to participate in a reformed Union,[i] and was very much ‘thrust upon’ the other former Soviet republics. Arguably, Ukraine was instrumental in shaping the design and ultimately the limits of the CIS in its gradual institutionalisation in the early 1990s. It did not sign the Charter of the CIS in January 1993 but took an active role in its drafting and, as President Kravchuk stated, considered itself a ‘member of the CIS, actively participating in its improvement’.[ii] 

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Déjà Vu? Regionalism and Separatism in Ukraine in a Longer Term Perspective

In 1991 Ukraine emerged as an independent country with strong regional differences. The reconciling of these differences has since represented one of the most profound challenges that Ukraine has faced and failed to address. A lack of effective and systematic efforts to tackle regional diversity has repeatedly presented grave ramifications for Ukraine’s political cohesion and territorial integrity. Rather than diminish, over the last two decades this regional diversity has metamorphosed into a political confrontation, albeit with a changing configuration of parties and elites. As a result, the political contest in today’s Ukraine is still fought along geographical lines, rather than being focused on the problems that plague the country as a whole - such as living standards and corruption - despite their top ranking in public opinion surveys in all its regions.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Welcome to the Centre for Russian and East European Studies' Blog

Operating since 1963 within the University of Birmingham, the Centre for Russian and East European Studies (CREES) has generated world-class social-scientific and humanities-based research and analysis on its region of focus for over half a century.  Recent events in Ukraine have once again demonstrated the strategic importance of its area of interest: the geographically vast territories between the river Oder and the Pacific Ocean, populated by states of varying power and coherence, with variably free societies and a wide range of ethno-political complications.

This blog will provide its readers with short articles aimed at stimulating thought and debate on current events, emerging research, and broader issues related to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, written by members of the CREES community, including current and former academics, researchers, PhD students and alumni.  Aiming to both provide ‘advice to the prince’ and ‘speak truth to power’ from within the social sciences and humanities, it will allow its contributors greater leeway than formal academic writing in expressing their opinions on subjects of acute concern to a wider audience.

Our first contribution is due to be published before the end of April 2014, with others to follow soon thereafter.  In time, we aim to transform this space into one of the premier sites for information and discussion on an always evolving and ever-complicated region.