Reviews

Review: New Eastern Europe

A recent edition of New Eastern Europe has a focus on Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Paul Hansbury considers it a thoughtful and balanced read.

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The EU is no ordinary foreign policy actor. Its ability to act is constrained by the reluctance of member states to relinquish sovereignty in matters of national security and the incompatibility of their goals. These constraints must be borne in mind while assessing the EU’s role in Eastern Europe, but – as the lead article in this issue warns – passivity in the region may be more costly in the long-term than the costs of acting. Dominik Jankowski and Pawel Swiezak’s call to action argues that East European stability is not only firmly in EU interests, but that it is the only actor who can fulfil the role in the region.

Vlodomyr Horbach’s nuanced analysis of Ukraine’s 2012 parliamentary elections claims that it was a contest none of the main political strategists wanted to win. He points to division within Yanukovych’s own Party of the Regions, as well as suggesting that opposition parties were wary of compromising their positions ahead of the 2015 presidential elections. The article offers a note of hope, since the elections were competitive and relatively fair. There is also a note of hope to be found in Sebastien Gobert’s account of civic protest in ‘Hostynny Dvir’ (hospitality palace), a building occupied by activists in Kyiv. Is this part of ‘a quiet revolution,’ signalling a return to the path of democracy?

There is no consensus with regard to the recent civic unrest in Moscow, which is the guiding focus of a series of short pieces. The decline of Putin’s powers is contrasted with doubts about the unification and viability of the opposition. Garry Kasparov and Tatiana Stanovaya agree that the opposition is being kept outside of the political system, although both think change is slowly on its way. Fyodor Lukianov acknowledges an awakening of social conscience, but doubts that the street protests have anything to do with opposition to the regime. All three authors are sceptical about the role of ‘systemic opposition’ – those operating within the political system. Jakub Korejba takes a cultural perspective, arguing that there is incompatibility between Russian identity and democracy. The multiple viewpoints offer rewarding reading.

The extract from BBC journalist John Sweeney’s book about Lukashenko’s Belarus has an awkward tone. It mixes comedy with tragedy, which leaves us wondering whether Sweeney wants to mock or provoke with his narrative. Far better is Katerina Barushka’s eye-opening report of Belarus’s growing cooperation with China, a development that has received very little attention in the West.

The issue is not exclusively about politics. Vostok Cable contributor Annabelle Chapman offers evocative reflections on her travels in Ukraine and Poland on the trail of Yiddish poet Itzik Manger, and there are also a range of interviews and book reviews. In sum, New Eastern Europe is a balanced and worthwhile journal, and the latest issue a welcome contribution to on-going debates in the region.

Issues of New Eastern Europe are available through the journal’s website, http://www.neweasterneurope.eu

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