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The idea behind this weekly column is to explore the six Eastern Partnership countries “beyond the Kremlin” (so, beyond Lukashenka, beyond Saakashvili…). Too often, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are presented one-dimensionally or distorted by the western media. Eastern Notebook juxtaposes Culture with culture, and brings together reflections from inside and outside the region. Read July posts in Eastern Notebook: Nr 1 - Terra Malecognita, Shakespeare and Adjika, and Nr 2 - Kupala, Women of North Caucasus, Chantrapas.
Bringing frescoes back to life. While in Lviv (in western Ukraine) last week, I watched the frescoes in the magnificent Armenian Cathedral being restored. In the past, the city had a large and influential Armenian population, and the cathedral was first built in the 14th Century. The frescoes were designed by Polish artist Jan Henryk de Rosen and completed in 1929. The restoration is financed by the Polish Ministry of Culture – it’s great that they are supporting this unique piece of architecture (and worship), one of the symbols of multiethnic Lviv.
Memory in Ukraine’s East. An acquaintance of mine, Tanya Zaharchenko, keeps a lively blog about her research on memory in eastern Ukraine. Tanya is writing her doctorate at Cambridge University and is originally from Kharkiv/Kharkov, Ukraine. Her research uses local literature to explore the region’s hybrid identity, confronting stereotypes about Ukraine’s “unattractive” East. Her blog shares short articles, photos, and thoughts on writing a PhD thesis (do they sound familiar to the students here?), and is a nice introduction to this less-studied part of Ukraine. For Russian speakers, read her recent piece “Kharkov motifs: Three variations”.
When Skype is not enough. Phone calls across the EU’s eastern border are expensive. Many of us know that from experience. “Ukraine is not Africa” is a new Polish grass-roots initiative for cheaper calls to Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, from EU member states. The organisers explain: “the price of a call is currently as expensive as calling Africa, rather than our close neighbour”. This cuts off family and friends separated by the EU-border, but also hinders economic cooperation and the countries’ closer relations with the rest of Europe. Overall, the initiative is a good idea. (The title is catchy, though perhaps not “politically correct”). Will it make a difference? Follow updates on Facebook.
It’s raining teddy-bears! In Belarus last month, hundreds of soft toy bears were dropped from a plane flown by Swedes (watch this video). Around their necks they had messages promoting free speech. I wonder: did this strange summer “rain” made local children smile? However, the authorities were not smiling. They denied the event and then arrested a 20-year old Belarusian photographer. In the end, there were lots of toys, but nobody was playing games.
With the exception of a mini computer game inspired by the absurd teddy-bear incident, which you can play here.