Russia and Eastern Europe

The Wall

I was at the library at Northwestern University, putting the final touches on the galleys of my first book, which addressed the topic of Soviet foreign policy. There was a FedEx box at the library, and my deadline was the last pick-up time. In a mad rush, I finished the remaining fact-checking chores, did one… Continue reading The Wall

Blog, Eastern Europe, Europe, Russia and Eastern Europe

Meet the Polish Activists on the Cutting Edge of a Possible Left Resurgence in Eastern Europe

Its corner location was unbeatable. But Brave New World cafe faced steep competition on Warsaw’s most fashionable thoroughfare: a pricey French bakery, a trendy sushi restaurant and the famous Café Blickle, which began serving coffee and pastries long before World War I. Moreover, as even its passionate defenders would admit, the food at Brave New… Continue reading Meet the Polish Activists on the Cutting Edge of a Possible Left Resurgence in Eastern Europe

Russia and Eastern Europe, Security, US Foreign Policy

The Cold War Never Died

In ’89, it looked as though the war had finally ended. For five decades the conflict had ground on, and both sides had grown weary of it all. There had been previous pauses in the hostilities, even a détente or two, but this truce looked permanent. Sure, there were still tensions after ’89, and a… Continue reading The Cold War Never Died

Europe, Russia and Eastern Europe

Divorce, European Style

“All happy families are alike,” Leo Tolstoy wrote at the beginning of Anna Karenina. “Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Imagine, as Lenin liked to do, that a country is a marriage of different nationalities. Lenin believed, and he enshrined this principle in the Soviet constitution, that if the federal family was unhappy… Continue reading Divorce, European Style

Russia and Eastern Europe, Uncategorized, US Foreign Policy

MH17: Cold War Replay?

The most bizarre conspiracy theory surrounding the recent downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine comes from a leading pro-Russian separatist, Igor Girkin. Relying on second-hand information, Girkin asserted that many of the passengers from the crash had already been dead before the plane had even taken off. His underlings had reported to him that the bodies… Continue reading MH17: Cold War Replay?

Russia and Eastern Europe

To Die For

Nathan Hale spied on the British in 1776 and was hanged because of it. Before he mounted the scaffold, he reportedly uttered the famous phrase, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” His country, the 13 former British colonies that formed a tenuously United States, had been conjured… Continue reading To Die For

Russia and Eastern Europe, US Foreign Policy

Obama in the Funhouse

When Barack Obama enters the geopolitical funhouse these days, the distorting mirrors reflect back very different images of the U.S. president. The mirror held up by the Republican Party shows a presidential beanpole, a 98-pound weakling who is continually getting sand kicked into his face—by Syria’s Assad, North Korea’s Kim, Cuba’s Castro, and assorted other… Continue reading Obama in the Funhouse

Asia, Russia and Eastern Europe, Uncategorized

What the Crisis in Ukraine Means for Northeast Asia

International borders are manmade. They are arbitrary, although they often conform to some natural feature of the landscape. And they are very difficult to change. It is a cornerstone of the international system that borders should not be altered by force. Particularly since the end of World War II, the international system has resisted any… Continue reading What the Crisis in Ukraine Means for Northeast Asia

Russia and Eastern Europe, Security, US Foreign Policy

NATO on Viagra

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization just hit 65. That’s retirement age, especially for an alliance structure that was born, grew up, and prospered during a bygone era. The war in Afghanistan is winding down. European countries are, by and large, reducing their military spending. The United States is theoretically engaged in a pivot to the… Continue reading NATO on Viagra

Russia and Eastern Europe

Brown Is the New Black

The new spring season is just around the corner, and it looks as though the new “in” color is brown. That’s brown as in “brown shirts.” Perhaps you thought that fascism went out of fashion in the 20th century. But there’s nothing like a lingering economic crisis to bring out the vintage ideologies. The far right… Continue reading Brown Is the New Black

Russia and Eastern Europe, US Foreign Policy

If I Didn’t Have a Hammer

For the long eight years of the George W. Bush administration, progressives decried the over-militarization of U.S. foreign policy. The Pentagon’s budget doubled, and U.S. military exports surged. Instead of deploying international law against Osama bin Laden, the United States deployed troops in Afghanistan. It went on to invade Iraq and threaten Iran. The Bush… Continue reading If I Didn’t Have a Hammer

Human Rights, Russia and Eastern Europe, US Foreign Policy

Who Are the People?

The people have spoken. They have elected a government. No, wait, I hear the angry shouts of a demonstration in the streets. “We are the people,” they are crying. The crowd is getting larger and larger. They are pressing against the gates of parliament and the presidential palace. And now the government has fallen. The people… Continue reading Who Are the People?

Russia and Eastern Europe, US Foreign Policy

The Standoff in Ukraine (and also in Washington)

As the fate of Ukraine hangs in the balance, U.S. politicians from both parties have been scrambling to take advantage of the crisis. Republicans in Congress have slammed President Barack Obama for his “trembling inaction.” Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has revived the hawkish approach of her pre-secretary of state years by comparing Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s… Continue reading The Standoff in Ukraine (and also in Washington)

Russia and Eastern Europe, US Foreign Policy

Ukraine: The Clash of Partnerships

The Cold War is history. For those growing up today, the Cold War is as distant in time as World War II was for those came of age in the 1970s. In both cases, empires collapsed and maps were redrawn. Repugnant ideologies were laid bare and then laid to rest, though patches of nostalgia persist.… Continue reading Ukraine: The Clash of Partnerships

Russia and Eastern Europe, US Foreign Policy

Ukraine: Out of the Frying Pan

In the end, the street triumphed over the elite. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych tried to hang on to power, and failed. Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to maintain Russian influence, and failed. The EU tried to mediate, and failed. And the United States tried to…well, I’ll get to that in a moment. Over the weekend,… Continue reading Ukraine: Out of the Frying Pan

Blog, Eastern Europe, Europe, Russia and Eastern Europe

The Cancer in the Middle of Europe

There’s no goose-stepping in the streets. There are no curfews or explicit censorship or martial law. The cafes, in fact, are full of happy, laughing people. Tourists continue to flood the country. If you don’t speak Hungarian and if you don’t speak to Hungarians, you could visit Budapest and believe that you’re in just another… Continue reading The Cancer in the Middle of Europe

Blog, Eastern Europe, Europe, Russia and Eastern Europe

Taking It to the Streets (in the GDR)

The home movies show a bunch of young kids doing skateboard stunts all around their neighborhood. Without the sound, the action could be taking place almost anywhere. The kids have clothes and haircuts that look like the late 1970s, the town they live in has a prefab drabness. But their goofiness and exuberance is universal.… Continue reading Taking It to the Streets (in the GDR)

Blog, Book Reviews, Eastern Europe, Europe, Russia and Eastern Europe

The Secret History of Yugoslavia

In the 6th century, in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, the historian Procopius penned an account of the misdeeds of the emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora. The Secret History is a compelling account of the court intrigues of a treacherous emperor in a crumbling empire. That Justinian enjoyed a high reputation, the result of the military victories… Continue reading The Secret History of Yugoslavia

Blog, Eastern Europe, Europe, Russia and Eastern Europe, Uncategorized

You Don’t Know Squat

It was breathtaking. We emerged from the forest on the outskirts of Moscow and saw, looming above the tall grass, an enormous ruined palace. It was 1985, and I was studying Russian at the Pushkin Institute. We heard a rumor about a grand edifice, the unfinished palace of Catherine the Great, that was moldering not… Continue reading You Don’t Know Squat

Blog, Eastern Europe, Europe, Food, Russia and Eastern Europe, Uncategorized

Eating History

The GDR Museum in Berlin is actually two museums in one. And these two parts, both devoted to everyday life in the German Democratic Republic, subtly contradict one another. That might not have been the intention of the museum founders. But this tension actually captures the ambiguities of East Germany and the ambivalence that many… Continue reading Eating History

Blog, Eastern Europe, Russia and Eastern Europe, Uncategorized

Escape from Ignorance and Chalga

There is a joke in Bulgaria. What are the two ways out of the current crisis? Terminal One and Terminal Two. Those would be, of course, the terminals at the Sofia airport. An enormous number of people have left Bulgaria since 1989. Over the last quarter century or so, the population dropped from approximately 9… Continue reading Escape from Ignorance and Chalga

Blog, Eastern Europe, Europe, Russia and Eastern Europe, Uncategorized

Serbia’s Strategic Ambiguity and the EU

Serbia this week adopted new guidelines for its talks with Kosovo. As usual, the Serbian parliament declared that it would never recognize the independence of the breakaway region. This was not a surprise. But the parliament also called for more autonomy for ethnic Serbians living in Kosovo. On the face of it, this latter statement… Continue reading Serbia’s Strategic Ambiguity and the EU

Blog, Eastern Europe, Europe, Russia and Eastern Europe, Uncategorized

The Failure of Funding Roma Inclusion

Shortly before the last national elections in Bulgaria in 2011, an incident took place in the village of Katunitsa, which is not far from the second-largest city of Plovdiv. On the night of September 23, a 19-year-old ethnic Bulgarian Angel Petrov was hit by a car and died. It was an accident, but it wasn’t… Continue reading The Failure of Funding Roma Inclusion

Blog, Eastern Europe, Europe, Russia and Eastern Europe, Uncategorized

Where Bulgaria Went Wrong

Bulgarians can talk at great length about what went wrong in 1989-90 and why the country didn’t immediately become economically successful and politically liberal after the end of the Cold War. Some will tell you that the politicians didn’t embrace the Western model quickly or thoroughly enough. Others will wax conspiratorial about secret Communist Party… Continue reading Where Bulgaria Went Wrong

Blog, Eastern Europe, Europe, Russia and Eastern Europe, Uncategorized

Taming the Wild East

Even during the communist era, Bulgaria was a center for organized crime. As Misha Glenny reports in his book McMafia, Bulgaria’s arms export firm Kintex started out in the late 1970s smuggling arms to insurgents in Africa, “but soon the channels were also being used for illegal people trafficking, for drugs, and even for the… Continue reading Taming the Wild East

Blog, Eastern Europe, Europe, Russia and Eastern Europe, Uncategorized

Croatia on the Brink

In order to get into the European Union, Croatia needs the support of each one of the current 27 members. So far, 20 countries have ratified Croatia’s EU accession treaty. As long as the other seven countries do the same, Croatia will become a member on July 1, 2013. In December, as a final sweetener,… Continue reading Croatia on the Brink

Blog, Eastern Europe, Europe, Russia and Eastern Europe

The Future of Serbian Civil Society

The Serbian elections in May 2012 shocked many liberals in the country. They assumed that the electoral coalition that coalesced around former President Boris Tadic – the Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Christian Democratic Party, the Green Party, the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina – would handily win the election. Instead, Tomislav… Continue reading The Future of Serbian Civil Society

Blog, Eastern Europe, Europe, Russia and Eastern Europe

The Persistence of Discrimination

Much has changed in Eastern Europe over 22 years. But one group that has seen relatively little improvement in its fortunes over this period has been the Roma. Unemployment levels among Roma remain high. Access to decent education, health care, and other social services is limited. Representation in politics and business is minimal. And discrimination… Continue reading The Persistence of Discrimination

Blog, Eastern Europe, Europe, Russia and Eastern Europe

The Oracle of Belgrade

When I sat down with Sonja Licht in Belgrade in 1990, it was like visiting the Oracle at Delphi. And her predictions of the future were not bright at all. I’d met Sonja earlier that year through the Helsinki Citizens Assembly (HCA), which she would eventually co-chair with British activist and academic Mary Kaldor.  HCA was… Continue reading The Oracle of Belgrade