Editor’s Note: This is a review of New Eastern Europe (NEE) issue 5 ‘The new rules of the game’, which can be bought online here. The new issue of NEE can be bought in digital or hard copy here. E&M has an ongoing content partnership with the online edition of New Eastern Europe called ‘Transnational Perspectives’ which can be viewed in the Sixth Sense or here.
New Eastern Europe is a one and a half year-old magazine and website dedicated to focusing on central and eastern European affairs. There is a clear need for this magazine, as Eastern European issues tend to be ignored in Central or Western European magazines, unless they are deemed to be directly relevant to their audience. An example was when the Eurovision song contest was held in Azerbaijan last year and there was a sudden flurry of interest in that country, but a flurry that quickly dissolved. The magazine is a mix of reviews, opinion pieces, interviews, journalistic analysis, and reports, often written by people who live in or at least have significant knowledge about the respective countries.
The articles range quite widely in regard to topic, with a somewhat heavier emphasis on matters of political import. For example, in an interesting long piece called “Water Wars”, Anna Cieślewska and Elwira Wysocka (in a translation by Iwona Reichardt) explore the scarce resource in central Asia, specifically Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan. The issue is complicated for a number of reasons, including the fact that some countries feel that dam reservoirs are too expensive, and the inability of these countries to compromise and to come up with a system that works fairly for them all. Although these central Asian countries are free of the Soviet Union, Cieślewska and Wysocka argue that they are in fact still quite dependent on the old system, and have not yet found a way to make a new, independent system work.
Staying in that general region, Jadwiga Rogoza dicusses Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, in an article entitled “All the President’s Men” and translated by Tomasz Bieroń. She writes that power in Russia is in the hands of the elite, which of course will come as no surprise to those who keep an eye on the news, but does analyse some of the key figures, who will be less known outside the country, such as Igor Ivanovich Sechin and Vyacheslav Volodin. This is where New Eastern Europe gets really useful, because a careful and curious reader can begin to make connections between the various articles. That is to say, what does Russia’s political situation have to do with events elsewhere? Well, just take a look at Cieślewska and Wysocka’s piece, or at one by Vitaly Portnikov on the current state of Ukraine, or an article by Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska that discusses how Russia does not necessarily comply with the European Court of Human Rights and what this means in the context of Europe. In other words, the articles are related, and not simply on disparate, random topics.
A reader of this magazine can follow threads, learning about the current situation in a variety of nations.
A reader of this magazine, then, can follow threads, learning about the history and contemporary situations in a variety of nations, and also how they connect to one another. The links are usually not made explicit, but they are there all the same, and they are there in an accessible, approachable way. While some seem to look to the EU to help solve problems, others are wary. But although politics is a main focus here, there are other topics explored in New Eastern Europe, generally cultural issues that further deepen our understanding of the political ones. For instance, Maia Lazar reviews the exhibition On the Other Side of the Torah: Wartime Portraits from Tübingen, at the Galicia Jewish Museum, in Krakow, Poland. Lazar seems to be arguing that this exhibit is significant in part because it helps Poles begin to come to terms with their role in the Holocaust and its aftermath. In contrast, Iwona Reichardt’s understanding of an exhibition at the International Cultural Centre in Krakow entitled GDR: Stories from a vanished country is that it manages to bring East Germany alive and offers viewers a “unique” opportunity to experience the time and place, even if, it leaves viewers with many questions.
Annabelle Chapman’s review of Orlando Figes’ book Just Send Me Love, about the Gulag, suggests that although it may not add much from a historical perspective to our understanding of the horrors of the Soviet Union, it does personalise it. These reviews bring the cultures to life, showing readers less familiar with them what it might be like to live in these places, with these historical contexts.
In sum, this relatively young magazine offers a thorough, interesting look at still underresearched and underreported topics. It ranges all over eastern and central Europe, making connections both within the region itself as well as to other parts of Europe and the world, and tackles a fascinating variety of subjects. While the English is not always as smooth as it could be (one suspects that some of the writers and translators are not native speakers), this matters less than the importance of the issues the journal is raising. The NEE website announces, “The objective of New Eastern Europe is to enhance understanding, raise awareness and further dialogue surrounding issues facing the states that were once a part of the Soviet Union or under its influence.” It indeed does this, and it is a welcome contribution to journalism.