PC Press Digest

Weekly Press Digest – August 28

Political Critique's weekly selection from the Eastern European press.

Michal Chmela’s selection

Last week started with the anniversary of Soviet invasion of the Czech Republic in 1968, which various media took as an opportunity to remind us of different things. A2larm brought us an interview with a historian analyzing what could have been and never was when Russian tanks rolled over reform socialism. Echo24, on the other hand, went out of its way to point out the times feel really similar to 1968, without providing any clue regarding what this line of reasoning is based upon, making it quite possibly the least relevant political scare in the history of Internet journalism.

Our hopes were shattered and prayers ignored, President Zeman is still alive. After an extended period of blessed silence that almost raised the expectation of some semblance of political culture in this country, the man is back at full strength of alcohol-and-senility-fueled dementia: in three public  performances, he managed to insult the EU, once again pledge his support to Russia and China, defend the corrupt-as-hell Finance Minister Babiš and even offer some comments on the weeks-old swimsuit scandal in the vein of “we should totally be able to dictate what women wear into the pool” while also sneaking in a bit of good old sexism and body-shaming. What a guy.

And in order to provide some much-needed culture, things are afoot in the Prague film academy – one of the biggest names on their roster, the documentarist Janeček, is being fired over politics. Apparently he had some choice words to say about the way the school is run and that just is not done in a venerable academic dictatorship. His co-workers and students are preparing an open letter in his support, for whatever good it may do.

Michal Chmela is a translator and journalist.


Nino Sichinava’s selection

Fire took over the Borjomi region for 6 days. Russia offers help
Starting 20th of August the Borjomi Region’s forest, close to the border with Russia, was blazed with fire for the following 6 days. Some sources believe that fire wasn’t just an accident. Witnesses saw Russian side of the region preparing for it. Other sources blame the previously ruling ‘Nationalist party’ sabotaging the country right before the elections. These two theories seem to be most popular. Meanwhile, Russia has offered the help when the situation in Borjomi region seemed out of control. The leader of ‘Patriots Alliance’ stated that Georgia shouldn’t be afraid to accept Russia’s offer to help since many European countries would probably to do so in the case of crisis events.

Are racism and homophobia still an issue in Georgia?
This week was quite intense for all minorities in Georgia.

On August 25 a protest was held against police regime in the center of Tbilisi. The reason for the demonstrations was the recent scandal, where the members of LGBT community ‘Equality movement’ were beaten up and tortured by police officers in Batumi. According to the victims, the incident happened in a club where prior to the arrival of police, a transgender woman was bleeding after a fight with one of the clubbers. Instead of helping her, the police officers confronted her friends, members of ‘Equality Movement,’ and arrested them. The Ministry of Interior opposed their words by stating that the LGBT activists were as aggressive towards the police as those who attacked the above mentioned transgender woman leading to their arrest. The public prosecutor of Georgia opened an investigation concerning the case.

The very next day a black man was attacked in Tbilisi by a group of drunk Georgians. And once again the victim’s complaint was not taken seriously by the police. According to the foreigner, the Georgian men told him ‘that he shouldn’t be here because he is black.’ However, in the video published on Facebook, one of the attackers referred to a misunderstanding and being the only English speaker in the group apologized for misinterpreting the words. He also stated that the black man was the one who attacked one of his companions first, leading to a fight.

As a highly religious and nationalistic country, Georgia is still on the road to accepting minorities’ rights. Hopefully, the visa-free movement and increasing number of tourists will contribute to the liberal way of thinking in the country’s society.

Russians are intimidated by total surveillance
International Human Rights Association “Agora”: ‘The state control over its citizens is getting stronger. However, as an objective reality – it is happening in all countries of the planet. So instead of panicking, you need to learn to live in a new “digital era”.’ The question of when the matter of social security ends and the right to personal life starts is becoming one of the most discussed issues in the country.

Nino Sichinava is an International Relations student at Lazarski University (Poland) and Coventry University (UK). A contributor for Political Critique and European Alternatives.


Anna Azarova’s selection

Three weeks ago a man died during traffic control, and Abcug looked into the statistics on official violence in Hungary. The numbers are ugly but not surprising: hardly any accusations ever develop into a case, and even fewer ever turn into a charge. According to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, there are around 1000 accusations per year; only 4% of these become legal cases, and only in 1% of all instances do officers receive any kind of punishment. At the same time, while equally hard to prove, violence against officers ends in a legal case 70% of the time. The main reason behind this huge imbalance is the police’s institutional culture, all the way to the top: even if an officer is sentenced to a (suspended) sentence, the Minister of Interior himself pardons officers 55% of the time.

You into educational YouTube channels? Batushka answers, a young Belarusian Orthodox priest who posts about the church’s perspective on video games, evolution, sex, or Lenin, is gaining more and more popularity. In an interview with Meduza, he also shares his opinion on Pussy Riot’s influence on the church, the new oppositional movement, and rap battles.

Meduza also made a podcast explaining the case against theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov. By the way, the culture minister’s commentary was that the arrest is “a very sad situation,” and that he “knows for sure” the case was “not ordered” by anyone.

Anna Azarova is a graduate student in Budapest and a freelance translator.


Sophie Rebmann’s selection

The German network for news on Eastern Europe “Ostpol” published an interview with US-American ethnologist Kristen Ghodsee about the backlash to women’s rights in Eastern Europe: While socialist societies treated women and men equally, this equality now is often attacked by right-wing parties. In arguing against capitalism feminist organizations could fight for women to have it both: careers and children, Ghodsee observes. Eastern European feminists should focus more on the national history of women’s emancipation rather than see feminism as a western import, the scholar argues.

Watching the elections of Donald Trump and the rise of various right-wing populist parties and movements, German journalists tend to often go back in history asking how Nazi propaganda was able to rise in Germany. Fabian Scheuermann published an interview with his grandma who up to this day says she cannot understand herself having joined the Nazi youth organization “Bund Deutscher Mädels” (League of German Girls), one of the reasons being that coming from a working-class family she finally felt included. A similar interview was published lately by the European magazine Cafebabel: the magazine interviewed Rainer Höss, the grandson of an Auschwitz executioner who now fights propaganda.

Sophie Rebmann studies Political science and Comparative Literature in Tübingen (Germany), Kraków, and Sarajevo. She likes writing for magazines/newspapers and the radio – and mostly from abroad.

Featured photo by Dimitris Kamaras via Flickr.