25 February 2013

Monday Book Review

Calypso Editions, ever the gracious bestower of books, has given me yet another to sink my teeth into.  Froth: Poems by Jarosław Mikołajewski is a poem anthology of a contemporary Polish poet.  Overall, I really enjoyed the collection.  The introductory description of the book said that it had texture, and the poems really do.  The collection is a feast for the senses--it is sensual and earthy.  The words echo an almost instinctual feeling towards nature, our relationship to it (agriculture), and toiling in the earth.  In many ways, it encapsulates the romanticism of peasant life while cloaking it in metropolitan clothes.  They are the dreams of a city boy recalling his peasant life.  This palpable feeling reminds me of The Horse of Pride by Pierre-Jakez Helias.

22 February 2013

Roundup of the Week

Today's post is rounding up both the big news from Europe and some discoveries I've made. 



Bulgaria: This is the most recent and biggest news in Europe.  If you haven't followed up on it, simply scroll through my twitter feed to the right of this post to find numerous sources on it.  Borisov has made a somewhat unusually gallant gesture by stepping down, but it's also just that: a gesture.  His choice of words were, at the very least, an excellent homage to the fundamental ideals of democracy: "The people gave us power and today we are returning it."  Politics is part performance and that's part of its power, but the other part comes from action and there hasn't been much movement on that front.  It has been remarked that Borisov is the tip of the corruption iceberg, hence why people are still protesting.  Presseurop did publish an article showing the cyclical patterns in Bulgarian politics and pointed out that this isn't exactly new fare for the impoverished nation.  It shouldn't be surprising that Bulgaria has struggled so much to shake the weights of the past since it was the most loyal USSR satellite and had the most centralized and sovietized economy in the bloc.  Like everyone else, I'm waiting to see the results of these protests and if they will materialize into either a real political movement, simply a reactionary movement with no clear agenda, or a knee-jerk reaction to austerity that will mirror Greece. 

20 February 2013

The Window of the Past

I discovered the delightful website Ablak a múltra.  The name means "Window to the Past" and it places modern pictures as the backdrop for older photos and matches them up.  It's a visually striking way to see the changes in Hungary over the past century and how that change has affected the visual aesthetic of people, as well as the places themselves.  Signs and details aren't the same and some buildings show serious decay.  I highly recommend looking at all the locations for some truly interesting contrasts between now and then.

Take a look!

18 February 2013

Monday Book (and Lecture) Review

This week's review is a double.  I wanted to review the lecture I attended at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs back in early December, but I didn't think it made much sense to do so without including the book.  I saw Anne Applebaum speak about her new book, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944 - 1956 at CCGA.  I bought the book at the event since I had read glowing reviews and I totally jive with the subject matter.  I find the era leading up to the establishment of communism in Europe really fascinating (which was my favorite part of this book, actually) primarily because it was such a tumultuous time period.  The geo-political landscape had fundamentally altered after the most (up to that point) devastating war and there was a lot of assumptions, grievances, and fears thrown into the pot at once.

14 February 2013

Communism and Fire

Self-immolation is a way to get attention.  Just ask Ndreca, Palach, Plocek, and Zajíc.  There is a whole list that I can barely fathom, especially since the last one was in 15 days ago.  They've picked up popularity, though I wasn't aware of almost any of the immolations in the past 10 years, which have to do with Tibet or an Indian province that would like to separate.  But they had a strong tradition in the USSR.

11 February 2013

Monday Book Review!

It is no secret that I really love Slavenka Drakulić.  She ranks right alongside Vàclav Havel, Ryszard Kapuściński, and Dezső Kostolànyi as one of my favorite authors to read from the other side of the Iron Curtain.  Her journalistic writings have the same narrative power as Kapuściński with the idealism and compassion of Havel.  I was aware she had a number of fiction novels to her name as well, but it wasn't until recently that I gave it a try.  I ended up buying A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism at THE bookstore in NYC during my first ever visit to that metropolis.  The title, the author, and the subject matter all sang to me.  I thought it would be a continuation of what I loved so much about her writing.

05 February 2013

Topical Tuesday: NPD aka Neo-nazis

I had found this data visualization from Der Spiegel on one of my favorite blogs, Global Sociology.  There isn't much explanation on the article about the rise of NPD's popularity, particularly in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.  There is actually a pretty simple explanation of the phenomenon and it goes like this: NPD is the successor of the overly-familiar Nazi party of yore and has the same legacy of xenophobia and extremist nationalism.  Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is the most economically depressed region of Germany and I have often heard Germans remark on the rural character and insularity of that region; some have said that it was like it's own land that they can't understand.  When people are economically depressed, they turn to more extreme politics (like in 1920s Germany? 2010s Greece? Anyone?).  It's surprisingly a pretty straightforward connection and though it sounds overly simplistic, it's the truth. People are angry they don't have economic security and they turn to the "other" to scapegoat and place blame on economic forces that do not have a face.  It's not satisfying to blame an immaterial thing, like fate or the global market at large.